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Good Times in Devon, July 2018

 
 

 

Foreword by Phil Watters: "My friendship with Mark Bennett goes back to 1968, and from the mid seventies we both shared a love for mullet fishing. At that time we lived in Cornwall and have both since moved away but still kept in contact. In 2016, we had a reunion after a period of 25 years and enjoyed some mullet fishing along with a great deal of catching up with old times. We vowed to make this an annual event, but sadly last year events conspired to prevent a get-together. However, this year we are back on track as Mark arrived in early July to set about the grey beasts of deepest Devon."

 

Been looking forward for some time to the latest trip to Devon, to join Phil Watters for some proper rod-bending action. Made arrangements for the cat and made sure all of the tackle was in place, including, at the last minute, replacing a broken tip on my first-choice rod; very grateful to Drennan for getting that shipped with no messing about. The night before, stuffed a ridiculous amount of bread into the blender, as Phil was working until late on the day of my arrival and we wanted an early start on the following morning.

On the day of departure, July 5th, opted for a leisurely drive down, avoiding peak traffic hours. Encountered only one serious backside-portal on the way down, a lorry driver whose vehicle straddled both lanes near Stonehenge and who angrily berated motorists who tried to pass him; surprisingly, couldn't see any scuff marks on his dragged knuckles. Took a detour on the way to visit a stretch of road where I nearly cashed in my chips during 1983 - looked nothing like I remembered it, but still left me feeling a bit off balance, just by being there.

Arrived in Plymouth during the very hot afternoon, and despite an almost irresistible temptation to wet a line, didn't want to start without Phil. Used the time to recce and photograph a number of locations we had fished previously, and some others nearby which I'd picked out from aerial photos. There were a lot of thinlips in evidence as the tide flooded, and plenty of bladder wrack in the margins to attract foraging mullets various.

Getting hungry - the first misstep was to acquire a sort of fried chicken thing 'with Surprise Potato' - the surprise (or maybe not) being that it was truly (beyond expletives) disgusting, but after a few mouthfuls, I have to say I started to warm to it. I later came to regret this oversized snack, as Chinese was on offer during the evening, which I then had to decline, sadly.

Beyond excellent to see Phil again - discussion immediately turned to mullet, with no time wasted on other nonsense. Level of anticipation was high; tides were good / right, and if anything, the weather was going to be the problem - too hot by far.

Day 1, up and out early the next morning, and started off at a previously-productive marina where I soon managed to slice myself up on a bed of oysters(?). That's about as good as it got; despite the great early-morning conditions and superb setting, the mullet decided not to put in an appearance. Arriving at the next location, the day continued with a small dog poised to use my backpack as a urinal. After chasing it across the car park feigning reciprocation, largely for the benefit of the owner, whilst of course observing the rules of decency (phew!), we got started with the job in hand.

As the tide rose, Phil hooked something respectable that was gone immediately; this he nominated as the official first muppetry of the day. His rod arched over impressively before there was a loud crack as the 4lb Maxima parted. Closer inspection revealed that the line had caught behind the anti-reverse lever on the reel, preventing it from being pulled off against the drag. Not quite the start we had hoped for, and I was definitely thinking the exact same thing that he said out loud. Some ongoing swan-related misery and a brief swan-oriented disagreement with a disagreeable old crab (with dog), and I was starting to get a bit too warm.

       

Soon, we'd had a few small mullet each, unweighed, but infinitely more welcome than the usual Hamble bass, so I wasn't complaining. The high tide arrived, and being a quiet period at so many venues, including this one, we decided to make a move to a point beside a couple of derelict wooden boats. A handful or so of groundbait went in, followed by the float, set shallow. Looked away, looked back, and with more than a degree of irritation in my voice, I demanded of no-one in particular "Where's my $@£!&*% float?", and struck. Phil growled "Yuuuuuusssssss!!!" as the water erupted, and the rod tip pointed accusingly towards the culprit, definitely what we wanted to see. Due to the tandoor-like weather conditions, Phil had opted for trainers instead of boots, and they were soon well-sunk into the soft mud as he grabbed the landing net and 'assumed the position'. Despite the mullet's very best efforts to get into a hefty floating woodwork project and also to mess me up in the bladder wrack, Phil was soon scooping it up, ready for its obligatory photo opportunity. It was a very good feeling to get the first one on the bank, at 3/05.

There were still fish in evidence nearby, and Phil was getting a regular string of infinitely missable 'unmissable' bites, and then another explosion of muddy water, and he was 'in'. The fish wasn't having any of it, but neither was Phil, and he was soon looking pleased with himself, with mullety hands - 3/08, a lovely strong fish.

Several frustratingly quick bites later, with the usual high-flying tackle and distinct blue tint in the air, he was suddenly involved in a frantic negotiation with another almost-identical fish, and again, it all ended very well - 3/04 this time, and it was turning into a very enjoyable session.

 

 

The water was dropping down dramatically, and I had been frustrated by a couple of surface feeders in an awkward spot that had given me a couple of rocket bites, but which had otherwise ignored my shallow sunk bait. Feeling that a feeding-related blunder might still ensue if I were to persist, I switched to a floating bait, and after a couple of enthusiastic hits where I don't think the bread was actually taken, there was a dramatic boil and no float. I'd hooked what was probably one of the smaller of the feeding fish, but was still very pleased to have enjoyed another success - 2/05.

 

 

Not much water, no more fish, so it was time for a trip to Ron's - Big Mac, even better after an enjoyable day spent in the company of mullets.

 

Day 2, back to the scene of the previous day's success, and it was thick with thins. Too many fish to resist, so uncharacteristically, we had a bash with the baited spinners. For the first part of the session, there were multiple follows, often more than one fish at a time, and were it not for the dense bladder wrack, we would have been drawing figures of eight with the lures as the fish came right to the bank. Surprisingly, after a few nips close to the shore, the first proper take came in deeper water, where the lure was not visible from the bank, and my rod bent over as the fish darted for the floating woodwork - this was becoming a bit of a theme. Persuaded it otherwise, then safely in the net, my first ever thinlip; very pleased, although not a large fish, at 1/11. Only been half-heartedly trying to catch one for eight years... as Phil pointed out, all I needed to do was come down to Devon...

It was getting really uncomfortably hot again by the time we arrived at a nearby marina, where there were quite a few fish cruising by the boats and pontoons. A mild but annoying side-wind plus seabirds that went into misery overdrive every time we tried to get some bait in, and we were soon on the move again. A different part of the marina, and a couple of cruising thinlips in the overly-clear water, but we decided to have a go, and sat on a couple of stone bollards while the occupants of the pub behind us cheered wildly. Either England had scored, or there were a lot of Swedish folks in there (http://www.hexmaster.com/stopcallingusswedes/). About 45 seconds later, the pub across the harbour joined in, their TV feed on a longer time delay. There came a point when it was clear that it just wasn't happening, so we headed off in search of some more allegedly unhealthy but extraordinarily tasty 'junk' food.

Day 3, started at a marina, where there was very little sign of any fish, so we moved to a sea wall where there had been mullet previously. Groundbaiting in relatively deep water, a few small ones started to appear, fairly close to the surface. No shortage of fast bites, again very missable, with the odd real take that leaves one wondering how the heck it was missed. It emphasised to me how differently and less well I reacted to a float disappearing into moderately clear water when viewing it from almost directly above, as opposed to seeing a float dip when viewed in the normal perspective, from a river bank. A few better fish turned up, and still, we managed to keep missing the bites, until I touched one - just felt the merest contact on the strike, and then they all vanished. The smaller fish reappeared later, but the best chances had been squandered. Still an enjoyable day, if a little too warm again, and the Colonel generously provided some welcome consolation for the lack of a fish. Out for a pleasant and thankfully cooler evening at nearby Milton Combe, blowing the froth of a couple of cold ones.

Day 4, needed to get back on track. Not a good start, seeing a Samways Fish Merchants truck with a picture of a large dead mullet on its side - piss poor, given the Marine Conservation Society's clear guidance, mullet being the 'number one' unsustainable fish that we shouldn't eat...

Reaching the bankside, the thinlips were there again, but they seemed to disperse more quickly than previously as the tide rose. Off to a new venue (for me), and it was getting uncomfortably hot again. Quite a few fish in evidence on arrival, and a hookup looked imminent. Typically of mullet fishing, what seemed inevitable just wasn't, and so I went walkabout, leaving Phil enjoying a few bites from the dwindling numbers of fish at our starting position. Employing a bit more stealth than is usually demanded in the Hamble, I parted some long grass to see a small group of fish circling over an area of exposed mud amongst the growths of weed. In went some very fine groundbait, and I also managed to get a float in without spooking them. Unsurprisingly, they showed absolute disinterest, until a respectable fish cruised in, hesitated, and then casually took the hookbait. I didn't wait for the float to move, and got stuck into it with a vertical sweep of the rod, hoping for a proper top-lip hook-hold. Mullet wasn't happy at all, and tore off downstream. I tried to coax it back upstream towards me, so it tore off downstream some more. My 'walkabout' hadn't included a landing net - that would be far too sensible - so a loud exclamation of "Phil!!! Net!!!" brought him charging up the bank, in the still-growing heat. Fortunately for him, the fish was towing me downstream just as quickly, so we met somewhere in the middle. I didn't think it was within his reach, so was grateful and totally impressed in equal measure when he lifted a goodly mullet from the water. 3/10, don't think I gained much line at all from that one, should have brought some water skis...

Went out for an enjoyable feed at Burrator in the evening - great steak, followed by a large amount of ice-cream - magic.

Day 5, last day. Visited an unproductive marina fished earlier in the week, but too windy to consider wetting a line. Off to a more sheltered venue that we'd looked at a few days previously, another marina. Soon after the groundbait went in, there were some odd bites, and I hooked something that rattled away like a mad thing on the other end, the best way I can describe it. Wondered 'what the heck?' and was soon looking at my first gilthead bream, sadly the first of several.

                    

Phil was equally tormented by these greedy little blighters, and then a few small mullet unexpectedly started to get themselves involved. A better bend in the rod, and Phil landed a modest but lively and very welcome mullet of 1/11, just before it was time to move again.

Back to the scene of the previous day's success, and there were a lot of fish in evidence. It wasn't long before I was hooked into one, which sadly was lost to an undramatic hook pull after a short time. Hooked another, a better fish, and it tore off a lot of line, heading towards a half-sunken tree. In the mean time, Phil was still getting bites, so I decided to move downstream and keep out of his way. That paid off, as he was soon into a fish as well. There was a small island in front of me, ideal for netting 'my'* fish, which was still putting up a strong fight. Being a mullet, it didn't stick to the plan at all, and kited around the lower end of the island into some weed, at which point it snagged, transferred the hook, and went away to do something mullety elsewhere. Meanwhile, Phil's fish was giving him some proper grief, so I splashed through the rising waters back upstream with the net. Soon, but not that soon, relieved to see his mullet on the bank, at 3/06. Like the previous day's fish, it put up a surprisingly strong fight and was difficult to coax line from.

* so, in the end, it wasn't really 'mine' at all

 

Soon afterwards, I hooked my third fish of the session (third one's a charm, or so they say), and after stupidly letting it dive under a submerged log whilst trying to get it in the net, managed not to mess it up any further and had it on the bank, at 1/13.

 

 

By now, it was horribly hot, and the fish had dispersed, and that was it for this year. Hugely enjoyable fishing, great company, and definitely to be continued - thanks Phil, memorable for all the right reasons, local death toll not withstanding...

 

 
Last updated 08.12.18