Bream and tope worlds collide
Late summer wreck trips for bream and tope are what boat fishing dreams are made of as far as Isle of Wight angler Des Westmore is concerned. This is a tale of bumper bream, tearaway tope and a bruising battle with a bigger toothy brute.
August and September are my favourite fishing months as it’s the time of year that the wrecks south of the Isle of Wight really come to life. Anchored to a wreck on a neap tide could result in any number of species, but bream are the first choice for my regular buddies and myself. Tackle tarts one and all, typically we go armed with three rod-and-reel set-ups, which makes even a large boat resemble a porcupine. Many use a 4-8oz Abu Suveran uptider or 12/20lb downtide rods, which live with about 12oz of lead when downtiding. 20/30lb downtide outfits are also widely carried for use when more lead is required because you can need 1 1/2lb in the middle of the tide even during neaps around the island.
Those with a stronger leaning towards conger and tope reach straight for a meatier 30/50lb outfit. As for choice of reels, Daiwa’s Saltist and Saltiga are very popular among our regular crew. Finally, some bring a spinning/bait-caster outfit to have a bit of fun with at slack water when you can get away with 2-4oz of lead; often casting towards the wreck to fish “Down the ruddy funnel where the cuckoo wrasse live!” as Pete Stotesbury puts it.
Armed with all this gear, plenty of frozen squid and mackerel feathers and half a ton of sausages and bacon we left Yarmouth aboard Southern Star on an idyllic August morning. Not far from the harbour, a dolphin came jumping round the boat cunningly avoiding the clicking cameras. We were soon passing the Needles with two and a half hour to kill until reaching the distant wreck.
Paternosters and Pennels
The tide was running well when we arrived and 1 – 1 1/4 lb of lead was required on the standard 20-30lb braided lines. Not the most sporting of situations for bream but the tide would soon ease. Bream tend to feed more on the bottom when the tide is running and most people opted for two or three hooks fished below the weight on a flowing trace. Then, as the tide eases, paternoster rigs tend to out-fish the flowing rigs.
Hooks varied among the crew with Grauvell Teklon hooks, Kamasan Crab hooks and Mustad Circle Streamers all finding certain favour. A couple of the guys opted for pennel rigs made up with Aberdeen style hooks. Everybody could make cases for their choices and I use VMC circle hooks in sizes 1 to 1/0 to good effect for bream having a lot of confidence in them. I often have to leave the rod resting against the side when taking photographs, and these little circle hooks generally get the job done despite (or because of) my lack of involvement.
It wasn’t long before Dave Cheal’s rod danced with the first bream as it tried to rid itself the pennel rig. It was unsuccessful and the first plump bream was soon boated. I was taking the photos when the shout “Your rod!” rang out. The trusty circle hooks didn’t let me down however and the hook bit home. I took things steady, playing the fish against the tide where it felt a reasonable size on the 20-30lb Abu Suveran rod despite the 1lb of lead needed to hold bottom. I could still feel every head shake and sideways flurry so synonymous of a decent bream. The rod’s sensitive tip and mid section absorbed every twist and turn clearly felt along the stretch free braid.
A good bream of 3lb was eventually netted. Skipper Greg Woodford always gives me stick about how slowly I reel a fish in, he suggested that this bream was actually 2lb when I hooked, but it put on weight during the fortnight it took me to get it to the net… he might have been right!
More bream followed with action for all rods. Dave Cheal reeled in a mini conger on his bream bait, while Milo Pragnell boated the first of several gurnards. Brian Gourley has a bit of a reputation for being theatrical with a fish on, but a healthy bend in his rod suggested his strained body language and tennis player grunts were for real this time. Indeed superb bream tipped the scales at 4lb 7oz. Brian couldn’t resist clowning around and held the fish out at exaggerated arms length for the picture but it was a big bream nevertheless.
A few of the guys switched over to big fish gear and the first tope was soon caught and released. Plenty more tope followed with quality bream showing up among them, while a few incidental poor cod, pout, scad also came over the gunnels, and were largely greeted by curses.
Marcus Corney, who had been fishing for tope, connected to something extra fast, which motored uptide caused some muttered shark speculation. Line was emptying alarmingly from his Albacore reel, when the fish suddenly turned and bolted back towards the boat. This change of direction presented just enough time to get a butt pad on. As the fight laboured on we half expected the heavy mono rig to burst. But it didn’t and Marcus steadily gained line and managed to get the brute… whatever it was – directly beneath the boat.
The fish however, had other ideas and took off like a freight train just when the end was in sight. Marcus was being properly battered and was quickly found himself down to his backing line with a full 300 yards of braid out between him and the fish. Despite the pronounced bend in his 50lb class rod it showed little sign of slowing. In fact, it was so far away that the line appeared to be parallel to the surface and you couldn’t see where it entered the water.
Meanwhile, tope and bream continued to fall to the other rods and the skipper was kept busy with the T-bar and net. He also jumped in and out of the galley stopping the sausages and bacon from being cremated… geez, talk about juggling all balls at once!
Sheer Shark Heart Attack
I drew Greg’s already split attentions to the lack of line on Marcus’ reel, and in another feat of multiple dexterity, he quickly buoyed off the anchor and we gave chase. The combination of fish with attitude, superb weather and the fact that Greg was driving the boat from the flying bridge gave the befuddled impression of big game angling. Marcus managed to claw some braid back as we kept pace with the speeding fish. More line was gained as whatever he was attached to began to began tiring. Suddenly, there was lots of shouting and pointing, greeted our first look at what was indeed a porbeagle shark breaching some way off.
The fish then dived down deeper but came quickly to the surface again some 80-100yards from the boat. If I was to suggest that this is building towards a glorious anticlimax you’d surely guess that the hook then immediately pulled free as the shark thrashed wildly. None of us had expected to see the fish landed, but snared by the excitement of possibility, we were all disappointed when it eventually came off. Marcus just collapsed in a heap, happy perhaps to be
disconnected from a sure shark heart attack. Amazingly, the 130lb mono trace was found to be still intact and we concluded that the shark must have been hooked right in the front of the mouth. I checked my watch as we steamed back to the wreck – it wasn’t even midday – and I couldn’t believe we had crammed so much into the morning.
The afternoon continued in much the same vein as the morning, with plenty of tope and bream. There was even a small cod for Dave, which fell some way short of the 20 pounder he landed on 8lb Fireline last year.
As word spread over the radios Marcus was tagged “Shark whisperer” and Greg was renamed “Quint” from some old film about fish with teeth. Marcus underlined his legend by going on to boat a host of tope and the day’s only smoothhound. Malcolm Collier and Milo had managed to avoid the bream all morning but they came good after lunch. As we would end on slack water, Greg put a shark rod and balloon out for the rest of the day, but not a whisper.
The day eventually ended in semi-spectacular fashion when a tope picked up Brian’s bream bait. A true sporting fisherman, Brian was using a spinning rod with a Penn Generation reel and 15lb braid, which was disappearing rapidly. We yelled for him to put some extra pressure on the fish. He wasn’t going to chance his putting thumb anywhere near the smoking reel, and luckily the line parted and he retained all of his fingers. It had been a hell of a day with twelve species if we included the nasty porbeagle.
As a footnote, Greg returned to the same wreck a few days later. This time he put out a chum trail at slack water and a couple of shark rods. He duly hooked a shark, and after giving the rod to one of the customers, gave chase again and this time got a porbeagle estimated at around 175lb to the gunwale door. The hook was then snipped off, allowing the shark to go free. Tackle used was an Abu 50lb class Conolon, Shimano Beastmaster two-speed reel and 30lb mono main line.
We returned to the wreck a month later and enjoyed another day’s superb bream and tope fishing, adding conger to 60lb and spurdog to the species tally. At one point, hooked bream were being bitten in half and before Gregg could get the shark rod out, and another porbeagle picked up Lee Frampton’s tope bait and the madness started all over again.
The anchor was buoyed off and chase given. This was a fast fish and Lee was trying to put as much pressure on as he dared via his Shimano Antares 50lb rod and 50lb Power Pro braid. His reel was a Shimano Calcutta and the drag was squealing like a stuck pig by the time he started to make line. We even poured water on the reel it was getting so hot! Anyhow, the end result was another late shark escape as Lee desperately attempted to manoeuvre it to the boat side – the lack of long shark trace meant there was nothing strong enough to grab hold of and take full control.