There is little doubt that the charter skippers of the British Isles can lay claim to pioneering the art of fishing over sunken wrecks. It was over forty years ago that the rough ground and reef fishing started to show a decline in catches due to commercial over fishing. Skippers were taking their vessels further offshore in an effort to locate good sport for their customers. Up to this time the better skippers were able to locate rough ground marks by being passed day marks which were basically three different bearings that could be cross referenced onto an Admiralty chart giving a fairly accurate area to search. Of course many day marks were not marked on charts and could be headlands, hills, tower blocks, masts, or brightly painted buildings. The skipper would then circle the area with his echo sounder on, usually a paper printout version, looking for pinnacle rocks or rough ground that would afford fish shelter from commercial trawlers. As the boats had to travel further from shore so the day marks became less visible and so successful trips were dependant on good weather.
It was around this same time that Decca Navigator systems were being popularised by a few skippers in the West Country who used the system to pinpoint good fishing areas out of sight of land. It was then the commercial fishermen actually gave something in return, as they had recorded the areas where their nets were snagged and lost, using the same Decca number co-ordinates. The charter skippers gradually built up a log book full of these numbers, and with the location of the wrecks that snagged the commercials nets, came mind blowing catches by rod and line that shook the angling world. Catches of ground fish from the wrecks were measured in the thousands of pounds, with 3000lbs of gutted fish being by no means uncommon. Obviously this meant extra cash in addition to the fee charged by the charter boats, and angling parties were soon lining up to book trips.
The areas offshore in the Western approaches were subject to fierce tides, so the better trips were those when neap tides occurred, giving the least amount of water flow, and angler’s baits could remain hard on the seabed where the fish had the better chance of finding them. The average size of fish from a wreck also started to increase, as the areas were really like an oasis for all manner of predators. Conger, Ling, Pollack, Coalfish and Red Bream soon established new rod and line British records. Much of the tackle available to the angler of that time had to be upgraded. 30/40/50lb outfits were considered essential for hauling up the bigger fish, and the essentials grew rapidly, creating a boom in sea angling tackle sales. Star drag reels in the 6/0 range were adequate as line was rarely given to hooked fish, but the search for better equipment saw a few shops starting to stock American Lever drag reels. At this time Shimano was not on the scene and the market leaders were Penn, with the Policansky used for lighter fishing. The drawback to these latter models was burst side plates, and I experienced two myself, both in the 4b Monitor range. Sport wasn’t quite on the agenda back then, and the success was measured in fish size alone. Because the wrecks were extremely snaggy places the sale of terminal gear was extensive. Plenty of large leads, booms, beads, heavy mono, crimps, hooks and barrel swivels made the tills ring. You lost a lot of gear, and no mistake!
Over in the States the charter skippers were also finding a lot of good fishing in and around wrecks, but they had a tremendous advantage, with a much larger importation system of high-tech Japanese fish finding systems. Silicon Valley was in its infancy, and as the microchips got smaller, so the realisation that new technology could target wrecks even more accurately became apparent. Eventually the techno-babble found its way over here, and wrecks even further afield could be targeted. Overnight expeditions were needed, as the better wrecks were located near the French coast. Remember that these wrecks were the result of two World Wars, and with the narrow confines of the English Channel being a primary trading route a massive amount of shipping was lost. With the new fish finding technology came a full circuit course between commercial and pleasure fishing. The commercials used the early Decca systems to let them know when to avoid trawling their expensive nets near the snaggy wrecks. Meanwhile, over exploitation of regular fishing grounds pushed angling boats to buy the same electronic equipment to fish the wrecks precisely. They caught huge amounts of good eating/selling fish, so when the technology allowed even more precise location, so the commercials could use it to get so close to the superstructure of any wrecks that they could clean them out quite effectively. Now the wrecks have been pretty well hammered, the angler is in fact back where he was forty years ago, when the reefs were overfished! So how are things shaping up now in the sales departments that caters to wreck fishing?
There is little doubt that the stand-up fishing rod and reel outfits, popularised on the west coast of America are ideal for wreck fishing.30 and 50lb outfits coupled to Shimano or Penn lever drag reels are strong sellers, with the only difference being there is now a vast array of lines to choose from. If you have bait near a wreck for a large predator, and that could be a 100lb conger eel in the English Channel, or a 300lb Grouper lying in a porthole on a Florida wreck, the last thing you need is any line stretch to allow them to get back into any snags. No stretch monofilament lines and braids should be the way to go. You don’t need to fill the reel up with braid. Sell the client a 2/300-yard fill of cheaper line and top it off with either braid or better quality mono. Then, when they do lose line in the snags you can sell them a filler spool of just 1/200 yard. Emphasis should be on tackle losses in the terminal gear. Why not give them a discount for any bulk purchases?Tell them it is better value to buy barrel swivels by the 100,or large bait hooks in the same numbers. You can afford to knock them out at a discounted price due to the numbers, and suggest a group or club would be getting better value by splitting the cost between them. Look after the groups with bulk sales, and they will look after you. It goes for that mono line as well. Why not stock a filler spool range in 30/50lb test, but offer complete reel spool ups as they do in the States. You may get sponsorship from a line company if you push their range and they give you a line-winding machine. Buy 3lb jumbo spools and do a deal with the club to spool up all their reels at a good price. It is common in America, and needs to be exploited in Britain and Europe. It also ensures the angler has to come into the shop to get the spool up, rather than just buy mail order, therefore you have the chance of one-to-one chats and a few bonus sales.
Deep-water wreck fishing can be hell on the back muscles. Pump and wind. Pump and wind. Obviously a need for the lightweight shoulder harnesses, and a good wide butt pad. We aren’t dealing with big sharks, so the Sampo range of mesh harnesses will suffice, plus they fold up small to go into the tackle box. Hook into a giant Grouper off a Florida wreck and you will be digging deep for dollar bills to purchase one! In America they actually have a program especially for wreck fishermen. They simply tow out old coasters or steamers, and having cleaned them of any pollutants, they are blown up and sunk, generally on the edge of any reef, to enhance fishery programmes. On a group trip I ran some years ago we had maybe 17 anglers on the 60 foot “GULF LADY” out of Bud n’ Mary’s marina in the Florida Keys. Wreck fishing was on the agenda and we hooked up with Little Tunny and Jack Crevalles. Only when on the bridge interviewing the captain did I learn that the “wreck” was indeed a Chevy Blazer 4WD truck, sunk as part of this programme! So small only half the guys had baits between the exhaust pipe and windscreen wipers!
Wreck fishing should be divided into two sectors. Heavy tackle fishing for big fish using baits fished hard on the bottom, and light tackle outfits designed to catch the species swimming over the top of the superstructure. This latter method should see you push tackle in the 12/30lb range, with lightweight Penn multipliers and a selection of lures. In Britain, the species to go for are Pollack, Coalfish and Cod, generally using an artificial Sandeel like Redgills, on a long trace and flying collar. The alternative is to pirk with a lure, jigging straight up and down, as close to the superstructure as possible. The Bridun ranges of lures are good for shallow wrecks, but you need heavier pirks to cope with deeper water and fast tides. Off America they use a lot of baited jigs. These are available in a variety of sizes, with bucktail streamer and bait topping of shrimp or squid. They are dropped down to the bottom and either jigged quite violently in one depth, or speed-wound up to the surface. The addition of bait certainly seems toad to the strike rate.
It is the world of electronics that has created the boom in wreck fishing, and even the small boat owner now has the capability of hitting the better marks. Better planning hull design, larger, more reliable outboards and marine electronics all give that extra edge of safety. GPS (Global Positioning Satellites) now come in almost pocket size packages, not much larger than your mobile phone. For a few hundred pounds try the GARMIN range which are possibly the market leaders. Some come with plotters that even give you direction to different waypoints to find your way out to the wreck, and back again. They are an item that you wonder how you ever managed before, and they are constantly being upgraded. They give you a pinpoint accuracy of a few yards after travelling several miles, and are handy as a safety backup as well as fish finding device. Actually it is the sounder that should be called the fish finder, as the GPS can only find the co-ordinates that you put into it, not the actual fish. The vast range of colour video sounders are there to tell you not only the shape of the sea bed, but its consistency, i.e. mud, rock, shingle etc, and even individual fish. Yet more advanced is the side scan sonar, enabling you to pick up fish swimming near the bottom on an even wider area. Handheld GPS units would be the selling point in a tackle shop, where for a nominal stock outlay you have something that could also be sold as as safety factor for many outdoor sports enthusiasts. If you have an angler wanting a more sophisticated device for his own boat, how about the Northstar 961XD. Accurate after miles of travel to just NINE FEET! So you can see the world of wreck fishing is now expanding globally due mostly to the advent of high tech location devices like GPS. The wrecks have been there years; the fish are stacked over and under them. But if you are 100 feet away you are out of the strike range. The same goes for those customers. Keep abreast of the location technology and the anglers will move with you, whether it is chunking for giant Bluefin Tuna over a Cape Cod wreck, anchoring for Conger Eel a few miles from the French coast, or deep dropping baited jigs for the Amberjacks of Florida. The fish are there. All you need add is GOOD WEATHER!
COPYRIGHT: Graeme Pullen. All rights reserved.