Thursday, 29 July 2010

Northern Excursions

Judy's daughter Zena had a flight to catch last Friday Morning from Manchester, bound to Chicago. We decided to use the opportunity, as Judy was now off work for the college summer holidays, to stay up near the Lake District at Arnside, one of the country's premier flounder marks, and then take in a visit to some friends expecting their first baby up in Baildon, near Bradford, and then over to Whitby for a little fossicking, a round or three of beer drinking and of course, a cast or two of some long desired beachcasting.

The airport delivery meant leaving at three on the morning but on arrival we found that we'd mistimed by three hours, so we camped out in Costa Coffee upon a particularly comfy leather couch till the flight. We then found that we weren't allowed to leave the airport until the flight was in the air, as Zena was an unaccompanied minor. We were in the god forsaken place for five hours, luckily, at Manchester terminal three you can go outside, walk up the road to a clear view of the runway and watch the planes take off. Entertaining, for half an hour...

We then went visit Judy's parents in Accrington, had lunch and then set off for Cumbria. First stop was the tackle shop at Kendal for some sundries and a pack of black lug for flattie bait. We arrived at Arnside late afternoon with the tide going out - well the tide was probably coming in out at sea but as the water has to traverse miles of Morecambe bay and push all the way up the Kent estuary before it reaches Arnside, often as a dangerous tidal bore, it looked as if it were.

We checked into the YHA up on the hill, which smelt faintly cabbage like, dumped the gear in our shared room, and then went out to the beach so that Judy could get some kip whilst I caught some fat flounders.

JW Avon Quiver rod with quivertip fitted was slightly undergunned on the day. The Avon top would have been just fine though

My aim was to set a personal best, and at Arnside this is quite possible as the flounders run up to about three pounds and probably larger still, with large bags taken of thirty fish or more on very good days. And the good thing about Arnside flounders is that unlike most other flounders caught from muddy places, they are caught over sand and so they are quite tasty to eat.

I failed in my aim with only a brief period of bites coming an hour or so before the flood and producing a solitary small fish of six ounces. It was stone dead by comparison with my previous trip here in September two years ago when the shore was lined with anglers all catching furiously. I should have known that the enjoyably deserted beach this time meant that the flounder run was poor. However, Arnside beach, flounder or not, was as ravishing as ever.

Next day we visited our friends. As we approached the house across some rough grass with the stumps of a privet hedge lining the garden path, Judy tripped across them and fell flat on her face along the concrete path, her upper jaw landing smack against the edge of the step. I didn't hear a sickening muffled crack but I picked her up really expecting hospitalisation, a smashed and broken jaw with cracked teeth, or worse, but all she got was a horrible fat lip, some cuts and abrasions here and there, and was pretty much healed in three or four days. How she avoided serious injury I will never know. She has a guardian angel, evidently.

Next day she looked like a beaten wife out on the town with her persecutor the morning after when we arrived in Whitby, which was an experience just a tad too uncomfortable for the both of us, but we were intent on a good time whatever, so we braved the crowds...

Whitby was great. A busy, bustling kiss-me-quick atmosphere in what is still a serious working town, with a seriously diminished commercial fleet compared to yesteryear, but boasting one of the UK's largest charter fleets with no less than eighteen boats operating out of the port and taking anglers to the some of best cod ground in the UK.

For those South Coventry anglers who may have ever wondered what is below their feet, well here it is - I give you, the blue lias

Whitby really is Mecca to Northern cod anglers (and fossil hunters too) indeed the record cod of 58lb 7ounces was caught out of Whitby, and not from a wreck either, but over rough ground, just offshore. In winter, cod fishing from the shore is exceptional and even in summer, if you have local knowledge, it's possible to catch 'Kelpies', those russet coloured cod who have taken up residence amongst the kelp beds under the cliffs on a permanent basis and been died by the experience.

I had no local knowledge whatsoever, and as local knowledge, like good tea, is best made for oneself, I just went along for a recce in advance of a mooted 'informed' weekender shore trip in autumn. I expected to catch now't, my black lug was starting to stink horribly in the heat of the car boot (which would have been great for the flounder) so I binned it and bought myself a £4 wrap of fresh rag (in non-sea peat, of all the things certain to kill them within the day), the only worms the shop had in.

I didn't get out till the next day and then only after an abortive trip to Robin Hoods Bay where the beach was just too full of frolicking pleasure seekers for my comfort did I eventually settle on the sea wall to the West of town as quiet enough and likely looking.

I shared the wall with an old boy who caught a couple of tiny flounders as I was setting up. I was already regretting chucking the rotten black, which would have just ripe enough for that species, if that was all that was out front. I fished my trusty combination of ABU three piece thirteen footer and de-level wound Ambassadeur 6500 CT and tied up an old fashioned, straightforward two hook flapper with size 1/0's on 20lb black amnesia snoods tied straight to the trace of fifty pounds with surgeons knots. I find this rig simple and effective, and it's one that can be made up in the dark as opposed to the incredibly fiddly clip up rigs composed of and incorporating beads, crimps, swivels, snap links, clip up's, springs, impact shields, sequins, flouro beads and other paraphernalia that sea anglers (very like carp anglers) are generally encouraged to make, and when they fail in trying, buy!

Such technical rigs are hardly ever necessary unless you are seeking extreme distance, and too bloody expensive to trust to chance over unknown ground. If I was chucking out six ounces of lead off a red blooded pendulum cast then I might well have had worries about the surgeons knots weakening the trace, but as I was packing just a three ounce breakaway lead and looking at a spirited overhead chuck at most, I really wasn't bothered by safety issues. Besides, there were so few tourists around to kill...

I had a nothing for an hour and then the sky greyed and the misty rain started reducing visibility, bringing the horizon to within touching distance.

...and that's when the bites started...!

Only I couldn't seem to connect, the bait coming back munched and broken but nothing fishy attached. Small flatties probably, and obviously too small for a 1/0. I had fun though, as you can see. It's the greatest thing about beachcasting, that when the fish ain't biting and the tourists have passed safely by that you can always get in some hardcore casting practise and try your very best to break your tackle ~

To infinity, and beyond!

Later, Judy returned from town with a 'fishin umbrella', bottle of wine and a little picnic and cheered me right up. The rain stopped and so did the brief flurry of bites...

Next time, there will be cod...

We took home some kippers bought from the only surviving Whitby smoke house, Fortune's. I had a good old gander in the jet black and greasy looking smoke house itself as the smokers split and tentered the current smokehouse herring batch by setting them up on hooks fixed to wooden tenter sticks ('tenterhooks' comes from the wool trade, they say...) and then smoking for six to twelve hours, depending on weather conditions.

Anyways, when cooked, the best kippers I ever ate, bar none.

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