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