Gareth Davies goes afloat for some top predators off the Welsh coast – SHARKS!
I was delighted when a short-notice trip popped up for me on board the legendary White Water, which is skippered by Andrew Alsop. It’s been moored in Neyland, Pembrokeshire, for the summer for one reason only, and that is to keep the large population of sharks on their toes, so to speak.
Andrew routinely captures more sharks in a day than the entire combined fleet generally catch in a week – not a slur on the other skippers but a proven fact. It’s years of dedicated sharking and an ability to sniff out the slightest whiff of a blue, porgie or mako in his quest to be Britain’s number one shark skipper.
Today the crew consisted of my son Craig and me, along with Harry and Mario Asprou and new blood Daniel Crump, with deck hand Gareth Baker. Dan is a very accomplished angler who is part of the White Water yak team, recently sponsored by Navionics, who have helped him massively in his quest to become an asset to the team.
The unforgiving eye of a blue shark
The plan was simple – get Dan a shark!
With the boat moored at Neyland, it meant a really early rise for me. Up at 3am and on the boat for a 5am sail, no time for messing around, load the car previous evening, leave a note on A4, ‘MACKEREL’. No laughing, I don’t know an angler who has never forgotten the bait.
Ammo bait loaded, we were at the moorings for 4.45am, all loaded and hitting the mouth of the estuary by 5.15. Sailing times to the grounds vary from two to three hours plus, depending on sea state, which today was giving us a little discomfort with the odd slam, although at nearly 20 knots into a decreasing swell and light northwesterly breeze we were in for a good day. Andrew likes a chop on the sea because it really helps to break out the slick of oil from the chum, sending it far and wide in the hope we get something big and angry trying to put the paying angler in the hurt locker. It’s mad to think anglers pay to get beaten up by ocean-going sharks that have the ability to do some serious harm if you do not treat them with the utmost respect.
Both the Asprou lads felt a little queasy on the way out, which in all fairness is a rare thing to witness. I would have thought it more likely to get a passing goose drop a golden egg on deck than Harry going a lighter shade of green. Fair play, he kept it down and continued to pulverise the chum while Dan mounted both herring and mackerel double baits onto the Mustad super-strong hooks ready to be lowered at various depths and distances. The slick was stretching as far as the eye could see, with a constant soup ladle feeding lumpy chum both wind side of the vessel and into the transom. Keeping fresh chum working is paramount; little but often along with the dedicated feeders, which are made of tough stuff because sharks often appear and try to literally disembowel the free offerings from sacks or anything that can provide a free meal.
With rods set and light drags on the ratchet we were ready for that telltale noise that we all associate with Captain Quint from Jaws. The noise is like a drug to the seasoned shark angler. Music can be blaring through the sound system and the lads can be smashing the chum pot in a virtual frenzy with one thing on their minds when, ‘click, click, zzzzzzzzzzzzz’ goes off and it’s business time.
Gareth Baker got the look from the boss and it was all hands to stations. The orders flew around.
“Get those rods up, move the box’s, put the knifes away...”
Then it was the moment we all pray for – will Andrew call my number?
Now, Andrew and I had a chat on the way out, and with Harry, we agreed that the first fish is Dan’s because, you never know, we could have a bad day. Unlikely, but you never know; it’s a funny old game this shark fishing.
Boom, as the fish dived the hook was set and the rod handled expertly by Dan. He is used to catching 30lb tope on his yak, so is no stranger to the feel and buzz of sharks trying to break him up. This fish was no monster but a respectable blue in the region of 30lb or 40lb. Dan was elated; he is quite a cool character who keeps his emotions under control, but today we got a few big smiles and he even shared his sweets! We were made up for him, as was his mentor and chief sponsor Andrew.
After the action we settled down to the general banter, chum was steadily fed into the easing sea, much to the delight of the resident sea gulls, which are a great early warning system to imminent sharks because they suddenly lift off and give a disgruntled squawk as a pectoral fin or large tail slap announces something with large teeth and attitude needs to eat either feathers or flesh.
As it happened, Craig was the next man up to do battle. With number two called it was his job to wrestle in the hurt locker. This fish was much heavier than the first and didn’t want to mess about with the best part of 300 feet of water between us and the seabed. It hit the bottom and kept going. We got a glimpse as it mouthed the bait, which was set shallow near the boat, so we knew it was going to go well over a ton. Craig hung on for dear life. With some deep, long runs and the GoPro capturing the action on his head, it was a good 15 minutes before he started to make good gains. The leader was nearly visible when the unthinkable happened – the hook pulled and all went slack. The whole crew fell silent, even Baker looked on in disbelief stating: “It happens occasionally. Not to worry, you will get another.”
With the thought of more sharks coming along soon, it was time to get a brew on the go. With hot, sweet tea in tin tea-stained mugs making everything feel ‘mmmmm lovely’ it was chocolate biscuits and Mr Kipling’s finest to help raise spirits.
Now Andrew doesn’t like to bottom fish generally when sharks are feeding because braid on braid can result in lost fish and nasty tangles. However, on this occasion, with the drift slowing and the sea state becoming settled, we were able to drop baited feathers on 12oz to 16oz leads. Whiting made up the bulk of catches up to 2lb and also help bring sharks to the boat with the visual stimulation and vibration through the very clear water.
Mario and I being competitive had a little head-to-head. In my mind I got the better of him but, as is standard, this 17-year-old superstar, who incidentally fishes for the ‘Tronix dream team’, gave me another lesson in how not to be so cocky.
Daniel Crump with his first-ever blue shark!
Luckily he gets to sample all of Tronix’ latest tackle designs. On this trip he had a brand-new super-light short braid rod (Hart Energy) designed for deep water and a fixed spool (Shimano 8000 FS with 80lb PowerPro braid) set at about 20 feet below the boat straight down through the chum. He had first dibs on anything wanting to break his new rod! He hit two fish through the day, nothing massive but respectable sizes that gave him and the rod a really good workout. I was quite envious because I fancied doing battle with this setup because it looks a bit more user-friendly on the smaller fish.
As the day progressed we all had a couple of fish each, with final head count going 11, of which the best was just short of a 100lb. We were gutted for Craig because his lost fish would have no doubt been a new PB and given him bragging rights. We also got buzzed by several sunfish just chilling in the sun oblivious to sharks and sea gulls.
Andrew seems to be going from strength to strength, with a new boat looming, which unfortunately is running a week behind schedule. It’s slightly larger than his existing Cheetah Cat and will be faster, longer and wider with state-of-the-art electronics supplied by Navionics because they sponsor along with Veal Mail Order (VMO).
Andrew uses the best rods and reels that money can buy, preferring Fin Nor as his reel choice for the sharks and his personal selection of his branded White Water rods, which we were able to use today.
Here are some of Andrew’s accomplishments to date:
Welsh record blue shark 222lb
Welsh record mako 194lb
Welsh record porbeagle 300lb
Welsh stone bass 3.19kg
Welsh record megrim 0 .544kg
Welsh record conger eel 64lb
IGFA shark slam, three species over 100lb in one day by one angler (mako 194lb, porbeagle 119.7lb, blue 120.4lb)
Largest fish caught in true Welsh waters, porbeagle 300lb
Largest fish caught in Welsh and Northern European waters on fly rod, porbeagle 194lb
Most sharks caught in one day to shark angling club members, 88, all returned.
Age and living: 26 years old and lives in Barry, South Wales.
Job: “Former car mechanic, which I did for seven years and then fancied a change after being covered in grease from head to toe daily. Today I work at my local tackle shop, Holton Road Angling. I am lucky to work with Ray Christopherato who is a legend and taught me loads over the years; we are both on the same wavelength.”
How long fishing: “I have fished for 17 to 18 years and I love all aspects, whether hitting the local ponds chasing carp, yaking chasing tope or hitting the craggy rocks of west Wales chasing down tope and huss! It’s all fishing and a way of life. Any fish will do. Big or small I wanna catch ’em all!’
Preferred tackle: Rod choice is a pair of Century T1000s coupled to black and gold Daiwa saltist 30s and Daiwa Hyper Sensor main line in 20lb. My favourite hook has to be the Sakuma Manta Extras. Baitwise, if I had to pick one it would be fresh mackerel every time, it’s so versatile.”
Daniel Crump memorable moment
“It has to be a cod that was expertly landed by my good friend Gareth Griffiths (White Water short Team) in the most horrific weather! It was an early start at 4am, still dark with a raging sea; well sketchy back in 2012. The wind was gusting westerly at 55 to 60mph. I remember the sky looking very dark and angry. Having decided to fish off the left corner of Nell’s Point (near Barry Island), we were casting with the wind over our shoulders, which was causing the sea to kick right up. Then, at around 6am the thunder and lightning started and Gareth and I looked at each other under the beach buddy and agreed it was quite scary! We were watching the lightning hitting the Bristol Channel – I get goosebumps every time I think about it. At around 7am, apart from the wind, it all suddenly stopped and at that very moment my rod buckled over and dropped back slack. I quickly jumped up and wound the slack double speed then it started – thump, thump. I lifted into the fish and shouted to Gareth: ‘Fish on!’ It stayed very deep, fighting hard left to right.
Gareth said: ‘What do you reckon? Eel?
I said: ‘This ain't no eel mate,’ and called ‘Cod!’
“With the weather being so bad the swell was around eight to 10 feet coming around the point; incredibly dangerous conditions. Gareth went down the slope ready to scoop it up in his arms, then the fish broke the surface. ‘WOW!’ was the scream.
“I was on the edge thinking we wouldn't be able to land it but I carefully guided the fish to Gareth and, bang, he chinned the fish and it was ours. It hit the scales at 22lb 3oz and a new PB. I was over the moon.
“Later that day I repaid the favour, landing Gareth a PB bass of 7lb 6oz, and that’s why it’s the most memorable experience of my fishing time so far.”