LEAGUE OF GEN­TLE­MEN

There’s a full range of char­ac­ters de­ter­mined to catch a wide va­ri­ety of fish in this species event

Sea Angler (UK) - - SEA ANGLER | CONTENTS -

Catch ac­tion from the Species League.

It’s a lit­tle be­fore eight in the morn­ing, and along with 23 an­glers I have some­how man­aged to cram my­self in­side the none-too-spa­cious Beach House Cafe on the seafront at Lyme Regis. A black­board be­hind the counter proudly an­nounces the day’s spe­cial is a hal­loumi and avocado baguette, but so far there have been no tak­ers.

A veg­e­tar­ian butty might well cut it with some of the posh city-type vacationing clien­tele who will likely walk through the door later that day, but it cer­tainly wasn’t go­ing to tempt any of this bunch of hard­core an­glers. Th­ese guys wanted an equally hard­core break­fast, and noth­ing short a choles­terol-en­riched full English, or at the very least a ba­con and sausage sand­wich, was go­ing to sat­isfy this bunch.

Out­side of the warm and cosy café, Lyme Bay was bleak and un­invit­ing, sit­ting grey and mis­er­able be­neath a low and heav­ily over­cast sky that al­ready was spit­ting the first cold drops of rain that had been fore­cast for the rest of the day. The north-east wind cur­rently whip­ping across the bay made the day feel more like early Jan­uary rather than Easter.

Clearly, though, a bit of in­clement weather wasn’t go­ing to dis­cour­age th­ese an­glers from en­joy­ing their day afloat and the mood within the cafe was buoy­ant. Aside from the oblig­a­tory pre-char­ter ban­ter and bull-hype that pre­cedes any day’s boat fish­ing, it ap­peared that the fish­ing off­shore was cur­rently pretty good.

Eaves­drop­ping as I qui­etly tack­led my break­fast, I quickly picked up that the whit­ing fish­ing had been par­tic­u­larly con­sis­tent, and also that there were plenty of dog­fish. I learned we could ex­pect to see some pout­ing, poor cod, bull huss, strap con­ger eels and lots of wrasse. I couldn’t wait to get out there.

HUGELY POP­U­LAR

Species hunt­ing is hugely pop­u­lar with many sea an­glers, and while there are those who sim­ply like to tar­get and catch a few un­usual species dur­ing their day afloat, there are oth­ers who take species hunt­ing to an en­tirely dif­fer­ent level.

I would be fish­ing with some of the coun­try’s top match an­glers, in­clud­ing the cur­rent Eng­land team man­ager ‘Stain­less’ Steve Batch­e­lor, along with nu­mer­ous other top in­ter­na­tional an­glers past and present. To a rod, th­ese are men who take their com­pe­ti­tion fish­ing very se­ri­ously, men who get as much sat­is­fac­tion from catch­ing half-a-dozen pout and pin whit­ing from an in­shore reef as they would hook­ing dou­ble­fig­ure pol­lack from an off­shore wreck.

Of course, all an­glers like to catch large fish, but in com­pe­ti­tion angling the main ob­jec­tive is to beat your fel­low an­glers on both the boat you are fish­ing, and those fish­ing aboard the other boats en­tered in the day’s com­pe­ti­tion. We had three char­ter boats booked and al­ready each an­gler had drawn for his boat and place. I would be spend­ing the day aboard Pe­ga­sus, with skip­per Lewis Hod­der, the other two boats fish­ing were Alice Rose and Blue Tur­tle.

One big ad­van­tage with species hunt­ing is that it is rarely nec­es­sary to spend sev­eral te­dious

and in­vari­ably un­com­fort­able hours steam­ing out to dis­tant wrecks be­fore you ac­tu­ally get to fish. Barely 30 min­utes after leav­ing har­bour, Lewis throt­tled back and an­nounced we had ar­rived at our first mark, where we would be an­chor­ing over a patch of mixed ground with whit­ing, dog­fish and pout be­ing the pri­mary tar­get species.

BAIT SUP­PLIED

The rules of the com­pe­ti­tion stated that each species of fish is worth a cer­tain amount of points, and that each com­peti­tor was al­lowed to catch a cer­tain num­ber of each species. Hav­ing caught their al­lot­ted tally of one par­tic­u­lar species, any fur­ther cap­tures of that species were worth­less.

To en­sure a de­gree of fair­ness, each com­peti­tor was also pro­vided with a stan­dard pack­age of bait, which on the day con­sisted of frozen mack­erel, squid and rag­worms. Other than fish they caught dur­ing the day, no other bait would be per­mit­ted, which was ap­par­ent by the care and at­ten­tion each an­gler put into care­fully pre­par­ing his al­lot­ted sup­ply of bait so as to maximise it.

The species league is or­gan­ised by Ray Evans, who was fish­ing with me aboard Pe­ga­sus. I asked him to run me through the aims and ob­jec­tives of this clearly pop­u­lar se­ries of com­pe­ti­tions.

“The Species League was started in 2005 with a small group of an­glers who wanted to have a species boat com­pe­ti­tion once a month,” he said. “Over the years more an­glers have joined in and the league has grown at­tract­ing an­glers from all over the UK.”

Fish­ing is from var­i­ous ports on some of the best char­ter boats that spe­cialise in species events. Matches are usu­ally fished on Fri­days, which sup­ports skip­pers, as most fill week­end trips more eas­ily, and week­day char­ter also helps keep costs down.

“Dur­ing the year we try to cover as many types of fish­ing as pos­si­ble, from deep sea an­chor­ing for con­gers and tope to drift­ing wrecks, bank fish­ing for flat­fish and fish­ing close in­shore for wrasse and mini species,” said Ray. “Most com­pe­ti­tions will cover a num­ber of fish­ing types over dif­fer­ent marks, and dur­ing the sum­mer months we reg­u­larly catch more than twenty species in a day.”

Each com­pe­ti­tion is based upon the win­ner of each boat gain­ing 100 per cent, then all oth­ers score a per­cent­age of the win­ner’s score. With 12 scores across the year, if there are no lost events due to weather, the win­ner has the best to­tal of nine per­cent­ages, with the three worst scores dropped. It means if you miss a day, that score can be dropped.

IN­TENSE COM­PE­TI­TION

Min­utes after the an­chor was dropped, the first fish were be­ing swung aboard. Soon there

were shouts of “whit­ing for five” or “dog for six” or “pout for two,” as each an­gler called out the species just caught, along with the al­lo­cated boat space po­si­tion for Lewis to en­ter in the day’s score sheet. From the off, the com­pe­ti­tion was in­tense, which is ex­actly what it should be, but, of course, the ban­ter never let up.

After an hour or so, Lewis called for lines in and an­nounced we were run­ning a short dis­tance in­shore to fish on the drift over the East Ten­nants Reef, with the tar­get species be­ing wrasse and pol­lack. The crew were soon boat­ing fish. I heard calls of “cuckoo for three”, “ballan for one”, “pol­lack for four” and “an­other cuckoo for three”. The fish­ing re­ally was very good, with ev­ery­one con­sis­tently catch­ing fish.

Had this been a nor­mal day’s char­ter fish­ing with leisure an­glers look­ing for big fish for tro­phy shots or meat for the ta­ble, no doubt there would have been those who were some­what dis­ap­pointed with what was be­ing caught, but all I could see were happy, smil­ing faces. I heard an­other shout of “ballan for six!”

The third and fi­nal mark was a rocky ledge, where Lewis in­formed us that con­gers and huss would be our tar­get species. We were fish­ing at an­chor and, again, the crew were al­most im­me­di­ately call­ing in their lat­est cap­tures. Now we were catch­ing some de­cent-sized fish in­clud­ing con­gers to well over 20lb and dou­ble­fig­ure huss, which the crew were suc­cess­fully land­ing us­ing they’re in­tri­cately-tied rigs and funky tele­scopic rods. We’ll take a closer look at th­ese, along with other species-hunt­ing tac­tics and tech­niques the next time I spend a day afloat with The Species League. “Con­ger for five!” ■

Gary Den­nis with a whit­ing

Strips of squid take a bat­ter­ing

Alan Bird found plenty of pol­lack

A wrasse for Mar­cus Wuest

Andy Smith gets to grips with a huss

Dar­ren Herbert plays a con­ger eel

A pol­lack for Ray Evans

Dar­ren Herbert and skip­per Lewis Hod­der ad­mire a con­ger eel

A whit­ing for Steve Batch­e­lor

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