I have a love-hate relationship with Tope. They are one of my favourite species to catch. Hard fighting with powerful runs and the whole element of danger handling a toothy critter on the kayak makes fishing for these small sharks quite exhilarating. Whist brilliant fun to catch, I have blanked far more times than I have caught when fishing for them and after several back-to-back blanks it can be frustrating to keep targeting them. Nevertheless, they present a challenge, and it wouldn’t be half as interesting targeting these fish if they were jumping onto the hooks every cast!
A Lack of Mackerel
I headed out with Andrew from Cornwall Canoes one evening after work. The light evenings give us about 3-4 hours fishing time so we have to time sessions right with the best of the tide to stand any chance of finding fish. We half-heartedly fished for bait knowing full well they just weren’t there. Persisting with big frozen baits we found the usual obligatory dogfish and a few Bull Huss but the toothy target failed to show. Perhaps they just hadn’t moved in yet with the lack of food fish. At least the sunset made up for it...
A Positive Sign
We planned to fish the bottom half of the Ebb down to low and then the full Flood back up to high, giving us the best of the tidal range in the hope that the Tope would show at some point during the day. We launched mid morning on a blissfully warm day. The plan was to drop baits around reefy ground and move around every so often in the hope of finding the fish. I would be fishing with my trusty Tope Tamer combo in the form of a 12-20lb Ugly Stik Braid rod paired with an Avet MX5.8 loaded with 40lb J-Braid. Down went a sliding ledger rig with a 6ft trace consisting of 5ft of 80lb mono and 1ft of 100lb coated wire. The hook of choice is a 11/0 Mustad circle hook. I switched to circles a few years ago and have found a much better hook-up rate compared to J-hooks and the benefit of an almost 100% jaw hook-up rate. This makes for much easier unhooking on a kayak, and the greatly reduced chance of deep hooking is better for the fish too.
Finding the Fish
There was a healthy bend in the rod as I put the brakes on the fish and turned it into the tide. A few minutes of tussling and a grey shape lurked beneath the kayak. This is where the real fun begins. The Tope is on the surface beside the kayak and all of a sudden those teeth feel very close. There’s no real danger if you are confident in controlling the fish on the trace and when handling the fish. It’s a case of waiting for the opportune to pull the fish onto the kayak. Trace in one hand, grabbing one of the pectoral fins with the other and you can control the fish as you slide it onto your lap. You can then hold the fish down as you unhook the fish, with a quick photo or two before release. At any point the fish can be pushed back into the water if it gets a bit too feisty! It was an average sized fish of around 15-20lb. A good start to the session.
Ed was getting a little perplexed as to why I was catching and he wasn’t. He was even using my rigs and my bait so he couldn’t use that as an excuse. There are anglers and there are danglers! To rub salt in the wound I hooked another fish soon after of around 20lbs. I never get bored of catching these awesome fish!
The tide was now in full flow and the dogs were annihilating the baits. Sometimes a nuisance but I reckon that the commotion they cause attracts the larger fish, especially as little bits of bait are ripped off and drift down tide. You just have to persist and wait for a better fish to turn up to the party. This is usually signalled by the sharp savage bites as a tope rips into the bait. This is in stark contrast to the plucks and pulls of the smaller fish and certainly gets the heart pumping! Rod in hand, the bites turn into a run as the fish powers off with the bait. Hook set and the fun begins again. This one felt a little better, staying deep and generally giving more savage head shakes. A good few minutes of the fish racing around and I could see it emerge from the depths. It looked to be the best of the day. After a proper soaking from the fish as it thrashed beside the kayak I soon had it calmed down and on my lap.
Calculating Tope Weights
A Bull Huss of around 10lb and an incredible sunset made for some consolation. I have a theory that with the lack of Mackerel the predators have to cover more ground to find any food and won’t hold up in any one area for very long. These fish are more than capable of covering several miles of coast on a single tide. Until the baitfish return, I think it will be a case of getting lucky and hitting it right when they fish happen to be sniffing around the area you are fishing. One thing is for sure.... I’ll be waiting for them!