Dateline – July 17, 2010, Portsmouth, England
It was a great relief to have survived Paris and taken the Eurostar back to civilization. There were, I grudgingly admit, a few moments of faint interest in the City of Light, notably the Bastille Day festivities. In driving rain, we got to watch the French Army parade by, drilling so they can march into captivity at a moment’s notice. And there were beautiful fireworks in the evening, although at the sound of the first explosion the army showed back up again and surrendered. Marta may think the shopping, culture, and pastries were nice, but how can all that hold a candle to fish and chips? Three cheers for London! Finally, after 5 long days, a place where I could go fishing.
The French Army practices marching into captivity
Enjoying the lovely Paris summer weather
My favorite restaurant in London – L’Autre Bistro
My introduction to British angling was courtesy of a man who has become a great friend and angling partner over the past 10 years or so – Roger Barnes. Roger is a rare breed – a guide in the mold of the 19th-century Thames rivermen, and the resident expert at the Compleat Angler hotel, a beautiful old riverside property in Marlow west of London. He is also quite the jack of all trades – an accomplished writer, naturalist, musician, and local historian. He is the picture of English modesty and understatement – “It might be a touch chilly” actually means “It’s 12 below, stupid” and “We might pack up a bit” means “It’s 9pm and pouring rain. We were supposed to finish at 4 for God’s sake I haven’t eaten or gone to the bathroom in 12 hours you madman.”
I had business meetings in London Friday and Monday, but Roger set up 2 very special trips on the weekend. Sunday was booked for classic pike fishing on the River Thames at Marlow. But in the interest of getting some new critters, I had asked Roger to organize a Saturday of fishing on the south coast of England, which has quite a bit of saltwater variety and also some lovely tourist destinations such as Portsmouth and Chichester.
So Marta and I dragged ourselves out of bed on the 17th to get an early start to the south coast. First by train from London to Roger’s house in Twyford, then by car, with Roger and his fishing buddy Peter, to the port. We were treated to a lovely sunrise drive through the English countryside. It was a rare clear and sunny day, but the wind was blowing hard, which did not bode well for sea conditions. Marta took the intelligent path and had us drop her off in Chichester for a day of tourism. So she ended up discovering Roman ruins and medieval churches, while the rest of us tried not to discover each other’s breakfasts.
After some navigational adventures in which I learned some new and interesting British bad words, we arrived in Langston harbor and boarded the Dawn Venture. The “DV” is a solid coastal charter boat, ably run by Captain Ross Burnett, a good guy who has been fishing these waters for more than 20 years, and who also mentioned it might be a bit blustery on the open water. As it was, most of the fun on this trip happened before we ever untied the boat from the dock. Ross suggested that I try the pilings with a light rod and some rag worm, and I was instantly rewarded with a spirited wrasse. A quick look at the ID book showed it to be a Corkwing Wrasse – species #991.
The Corkwing Wrasse – shockingly garish for a British fish
I then cast toward a rock wall – a leftover “Mulberry” piling from World War II. (These segments were formed into giant temporary harbors off two of the D-Day beaches – the ruins of one of them can still be seen off Arromanches on Gold Beach in Normandy.) I caught another wrasse – a Ballan – which was unaware of all this history and just wanted to eat the ragworm. Species #992.
Ballan Wrasse – note subtle “Angler’s Mail” hat, courtesy of Ben Weir
And then we made the mistake of untying the boat and heading out of the protected harbor. Fundamentally, there are three distinct levels of rough water – “Oh my goodness,” “Oh my God,” and “Oh my balls.” The waves outside Langston were running 3-4 feet of wind-tossed fun, and they were coming every few seconds. In other words, we had clearly reached level three by the time we tried to anchor, and we stumbled around the deck like Courtney Love at an awards show. This was getting very old very quickly – right until I hooked the first fish. At which stage the sea conditions became a mere inconvenience, and I blithely ignored Roger and Peter going a bit green around the gills. Roger dealt with the situation like I would have – he went to sleep. Of course this means that we (meaning “I”) placed a squid on his groin and took photos, but this is a natural consequence of falling asleep on a charter, or indeed anyplace where men are left to their own devices without adult supervision.
Just before placing the squid
We stuck it out for about an hour and a half, during which time I caught a number of small shark species, notably the starry dogfish – which would in fact be a new one – #993. The crew were clearly game to stick it out, no matter how rough it was, but we did not seem to be catching much variety, and my stomach started making vaugue threats. The gas station BLT I had eaten earlier didn’t look all that good the first time around, so it was time to move.
A starry dogfish. Roger hasn’t found the squid yet.
We moved the boat as far as we could into the lee of the Isle of Wight, but the swirling wind still spun us quite a bit on the anchor. We dropped some baits and actually did get some interesting fish, notably a large Ballan wrasse. I also got something that looked like an odd mackerel, but Roger quickly pointed out it was a small pollock. An interesting species this – one of 9 on the “Red List” where I had caught the species but had not photographed it. (Fish are not counted in the total until photographed, or else the corkwing would have been #1000.) So, now that I had photos, this one counts as #994. Not a bad day, all things considered.
We count our fingers and toes and give thanks that no one threw up
The drive back was even more scenic in the evening sun. We pulled back into Twyford, Roger’s hometown, around 8, and headed for the Land’s End, a local pub with excellent food, run by one Steve Collier, who was one of the main players in the effort to get me a tench in July of 2009. Mr. Collier has an astonishing collection of mounted trophy fish he has purchased from all over England, fish far larger than I have caught there, but this doesn’t bother me a bit. Really. Not at all. Sure, it was torture looking at mounts of tench and gudgeon years before I caught either species, staring balefully at the preserved specimens while my dinner got cold, but it DIDN’T BOTHER ME. We enjoyed a lovely meal, Roger’s friend Peter drove us to Marlow, and we were quickly asleep in anticipation of a Sunday on the river. All was right with the world.
The Land’s End, where there is always hot food and warm beer