I have loved charter boat fishing since, at the age of 10, I was sent off by my grandfather on a boat full of gruff Yorkshiremen for a day wreck fishing off Whitby. I was properly looked after on that day by all the lads on North Star, I believe she was called.
The gear I hired weighed nearly as much as me, the reel being a traditional â€˜Scarboroâ€™ style of centrepin, about 12 inches wide and turned out of a lump of solid wood with no gearing. The men were fishing pirks, a kind of bright chrome tube with treble hooks hung off the bottom, and muppets (rubber octopi) attached in line above. These are dropped to the depths, and jigged up and down. This kind of work, added to it the strain of lifting the fish caught up from 200 ft depths, was a bit much for me at that age. In the end the skipper rigged me up with a lead weight and mackerel strip for bait.
That day I caught 7 cod, the biggest 9lbs, which must have been more than half the height of me. Over the years I did much more of this, a couple of years later my little brother and I caught 7 Â½ stone of cod between us. Before I was a teenager, I caught cracking fish from Falmouth on Leo Too over the long summer holidays, including an 18lb cod and a 22lb ling.
Over the last few years I havenâ€™t done much charter boat fishing, but in a moment of pure self indulgence I thought Iâ€™d treat myself to a birthday trip out and try and relive the endless summers. Living near Brighton, it was obviously the place to head out from. I had been out on Grey Viking II with skipper Ray a couple of times in the past, and he just happened to have a place left on a â€˜premiumâ€™ day bass fishing. The premium days have far fewer anglers on the boat, and tend to be booked for the better tides.
I had spent a bit of birthday cash gearing up for boat fishing again â€“ I was very excited to use my new rod and braid line, and also a bit over excited, having never really fished from a charter boat in the deep for bass.
We got going catching mackerel for bait â€“ small whole ones were the order of the day. I landed a string or two, along with others on the boat, and we were away.
After drifting a few wrecks for bass, we were struggling. There was one, about 5lbs, on the boat. Ray explained there hadnâ€™t been a quota on bass over the winter, and even some of the smaller commercial boats were making catches recorded in tonnes. Rayâ€™s idea was to push on to some off shore wrecks for some cod and Pollack.
After a couple of wrecks, I wasnâ€™t doing so well. Others had landed some codling in the 4-5lb bracket, and a few small Pollack, but I couldnâ€™t make it work. There was a suggestion of using some bait for a change, which I did. All that happened was that I suffered nibbles from small fish, so in the hope of catching something for the day, I put a smaller hook on and dropped down.
I caught a couple of whiting to make up the numbers, and then when we were nearing the last wreck of the day I thought I better try and catch something bigger. So I took one of the whiting, sliced out the backbone and dropped it down on a huge hook as a â€˜flapperâ€™ bait.
As soon as it touched the bottom, my gear got hooked in the wreck. I tightened into it, ready to snap it off, and then something happened. The wreck kicked. Or did it? It kicked again. By this time, I had attracted the interest of the anglers next to me, and the skipper came to look. I was clearly into something big, but no one knew what. To my mind, it had to be a ling or a conger, and there arenâ€™t many big ling left in the Brighton area. The skipper was also convinced it was a conger.
By now, I was tangled up with at least two other anglers who just gave up and came and watched. I was seeking advice on how to bring the fish up, and how hard to pressure him, on the basis that it had been such a long time since Iâ€™d caught a decent deep sea fish that I didnâ€™t trust myself.
Eventually a shape started emerging out of the blue â€“ this is the moment of truth, particularly exciting when you donâ€™t know what fish to expect. A few more turns of the reel handle, and it was obviously a ling, and a pretty good size one too.Â Finally it came alongside the boat, and Ray lifted him into the boat with the biggest net I have ever seen.
A big angry monster writhed on the deck before he was silenced, and it was only then that I noticed all the other anglersâ€™ tackle wrapped around him. When I looked closer, the clip swivel from someone elseâ€™s rig had got caught on my braided line and worn to half its original thickness. I would have found it hard to forgive if the fish had disappeared back down to the depths!
We weighed him, and when the scales only pulled to 22lbs, Ray looked a little circumspect. Sadly no one else on the boat had scales, and no way was I going to take him home to gut and fillet. So the weight stands at 22lbs. Personal best? No, it matched the weight of the ling I caught at the age of 13 on my birthday, from Leo Too.