Not Forgotten Association (NFA) Event
This ‘tale’ is extracted from a report written by Captain Andy Bridson who put on a charity fishing event for the Not Forgotten Association which provides leisure and recreation for wounded serving and ex-service men and women with disabilities – guys who deserve total respect. Anyone wishing to make a contribution to their cause can do so via this link.
Andy’s report …… The idea in my head was perfect as I looked out of my office over a dreary winter’s afternoon. I’ll wait till the summer and then take a load of injured veterans out from the Tri Service Community for a day’s boat fishing; should be easy enough to arrange. A good friend of mine and himself seriously injured in Iraq put me in touch with the Events Organiser at The Not Forgotten Association (NFA) who asked me to plan for the 14 July, in the Dumfries area.
The borders may be well known for the devastating floods and the more recent gun tragedy but it certainly didn’t ring any bells with me about its charter boat fleet.
Not put off I scaled the event back to 10 veterans and two boats and kindly accepted the offer of a professional charter boat from Portpatrick Charters run by Husband and wife team Ian and Lesley Cerexhe and an Ayr Sea Angling Club(ASAC) friend of mine and club chairman Willie Kennedy assisted by another club member Jamie Soons.
Rosie Thompson, the event’s organiser for NFA, used her charms to get 10 sets of Tope gear provided free of charge by Fox International. Mr Stephen Bennie, the manager of Troon Yacht Haven took care of Willie’s fuel for the day and everyone gave their time for free and aimed to give the lads the best day out. Boats, skippers, crew, tackle and fuel sorted all we had to do was pray for the weather.
The day arrived and strong Easterly winds were bending trees at the crew’s base in Carsthorn and a few hesitant, non sailing types were starting to doubt the decision to go. With two double amputees and a complete non swimmer what could possibly go wrong. A re-assuring phone call they set off for the two hour drive to Portpatrick. Kitted out in Military Suits they were soon warm and dry and off we sailed into the semi unknown. The waters around the North Irish Sea at this time of year should be teaming with Tope and Mackerel so I was confident enough we could do something for the lads.
At our first mark and the plan was to feather up some Mackerel for bait and a scent trail and then maybe put the pick down for some Tope or other small shark species. The strong wind over a spring tide stopped us from getting too far out and when we dropped down at the start there was a haunting silence as the feathers started to be worked. I put on a small set of sabikis and managed the usual grey gurnard and occasional Mackerel but this was slightly worrying at the lack of Mackerel. With no worm to keep the costs down I was starting to think just how long minimal fish would keep these guys happy for with the first man starting to look a bit green already. I needn’t have worried as the skippers had done the business and we soon got reassuring calls of, “I think I’ve got a Fish on Andy,” and then “I’ve caught 2” then 3, then full strings. I put my rod away and spent the next hour or so unhooking a steady stream of mackerel. I think the lads would have been happy doing that all day and it never ceases to amaze me just how much pleasure novice anglers get from hooking 20 or 30 mackerel.
Next we tried briefly some drift fishing over a large offshore bank with bait as the tide eased. Willie and Jamie got there first in “Reel Deal” and with the pick down he was catching a steady stream of Dogs, Huss and other species for his 4 man crew. As members of The Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network (SSACN) all Ayr SAC members actively tag and return UK shark species. Royal Marine Sea Anglers work closely with both Ayr SAC and SSACN and although SSACN couldn’t make the day personally they recently donated £100 to RM charities for help in the organising of the “Shark a Tag” event and gave out Sharkatag hats and T shirts.
Willie, Jamie and the lads tagged a few nice Huss, the best of them being a 9lb 9oz fish for an injured fellow RM Commando. On the drift we continued to bag more species with more mackerel, whiting, dogs, Tub Gurnard, Coalfish and a small codling, but it wasn’t pleasant fishing with a significant swell still present. Lesley was doing an outstanding job of cooking up bacon and sausage baps and unhooking fish and best of all she kept the two flavours apart. With two double amputees on our boat and one rather green looking lad we ran for the shelter of land and an inshore mark, while Willie stuck it out.
Close in on the drift the lads were shown some techniques for Pollack and it wasn’t long before a few nice “pan sized” fish were coming aboard. The species kept rolling in and we started to catch a few nice codling also which also made it to the pot. Using Mackerel for bait we also had the inevitable dogs and plenty more Mackerel which the lads happily returned. Between drifts they continued to amuse themselves by hand feeding the gulls and watching in awe as gannets dived around the boat for bait discards.
For our final hour or so, we put the pick down ourselves albeit close inshore. The lads continued with baited paternoster rigs and the skipper and I put down a scent trail bag and some big Tope rigs. I only brought one rod so with 20lb braid and a 20lb class ugly stick I was hoping for a nice small pack fish just as a demo for the lads. They continued to bag up on Cod, Pollack, LSD, Whiting and Mackerel while I changed baits regularly as the endless stream of dogfish tried to choke themselves on whole Mackerel and a 10/0 hook.
At 1430 I got a run and not wanting to speak too soon I picked up the rod and slowly wound down into what felt like a Trident Submarine. Watching my 150 yards of braid disappear rapidly I managed to turn the fish with a few turns of line left before the knot and apply the first bit of real pressure. Confident I had a solid hook hold I got one of the lads who hadn’t managed to keep his lunch down onto the rod. After another two hard runs he was beaten and handed over to another one of the lads to finish the fight as he massaged his forearms. Coaching the second angler up the boat the skipper and I lifted a perfectly clean female fish onto the deck. A wet towel over the eyes allowed us to take measurements of the large female and she was tagged and returned after a group photo.
After the adrenalin rush had subsided I had a quick look at the size conversion chart and an average fish is estimated at 60lb for that size. When the final size conversion was done on land she came out as 64lb. A perfect end to a cracking day with 10 species being caught by the all novice crews and some great guys, I look forward to repeating this again. The tackle donated by FOX held up well and will be used to for the RM sponsored Father’s & Sons grass roots trips from Exmouth.
Some of the best comments received from the veterans who participated are listed below.
Darren Swift (Swifty) – ex 1 Royal Green Jackets, double amputee blown up in Northern Ireland
Fantastic day; the whole group had a great day (even the guys that chundered). I’d never been sea fishing before and wasn’t really sure what to expect but Andy and the two skippers soon had us all reeling in the fish with the highlight of the day being the catching and tagging of a 60lb Tope shark. "Awesome".
Johnnie Ray – Ex Grenadier Guards, double amputee lost his legs in a training incident in Canada along with two others.
Andy what a fantastic day. Before I got to the harbour I wasn’t sure but as soon as we got on the boats it was the start of a fantastic day. You and the skipper were brilliant both with many years of experience. The day was great when we were catching fish but the highlight of the day was catching a 60lb Tope. Wow! What a great end to an already awesome day.
Shane Rex – 2 Yorks – 3 months back from Afghanistan – involved in 6 major contacts – very much in need of some r n r
I had a fantastic time, quite possibly the best thing I have done in a long long time. To say I can’t swim at all, I wasn’t bothered at all about being out so deep. Catching the shark is a once in a lifetime experience for me. A big thank you for an outstanding day.
Dan Bonham – 1 Royal Anglians – injured during Afghanistan pre-deployment training
It was a brilliant day even though I ended up feeding the seagulls my breakfast over the side of the boat. The guys showing us how to fish couldn’t have been better. Thank you for a great day.
Stuart Robertson – 1 Royal Anglians – injured in Afghanistan
From start to finish it was a perfect day (apart from emptying my guts in the sea)! It was my first time fishing but with Andy and the other two skippers’ guidance and help I was pulling in the fish in no time and even assisted in pulling in a shark! Thanks guys.
Lolos Lako-Tombe – Marine 42 Cdo – injured in training
Fantastic experience all round Andy, my view in fishing has completely changed. I would definitely recommend to others to experience this type of fishing. It has inspired me to want to do an add-qual in sailing then hope to fish in my own down time. Thank you.
Jimi Healey – 2nd Yorks – again 3 months back from Afghanistan – involved in 6 major contacts and again very much in need of some r n r
Thank you Andy for a brilliant day. Never done anything like this before and enjoyed myself from start to finish. "Feels like I am still on the boat got my sea legs but oh cant get rid of them now" Tagging the shark was an experience I will not soon forget. Thank you. X1X
Marine Alan Coman – 42 Cdo, injured during training been in Base Company for 18 months and desperately in need of a break
An absolutely hoofing day, enjoyed from start to finish, even if the other boat cheated and bought a Tope before we set off and then doctored video footage to prove it. They didn’t fool me!! Would do this again in a heartbeat!
Nigel Smith – ex Royal Navy – single amputee, lost his leg in a motorcycle accident
Great day despite the choppy sea. Excellent skipper very knowledgeable and informative answering a range of questions and knew the best spots. The mate (skippers wife) supplied hot food through the day, always good for morale. I was pleased with my catch – 5 different species and the highlight was the big tope, nothing was too much trouble for the crew and look forward to the next time.
Acknowledgements: Without the help and support of the following people this event would not have been possible.
- Ian & Lesley Cerexhe: Portpatrick Charters (on board Rhins Ranger)
- Willie Kennedy: Chairman – Ayr Sea Angling Club (on board Reel Deal)
- Jamie Soons: Bad Panda Graphics – Ayr Sea Angling Club member
- Mr Stephen Bennie: Troon Yacht Haven
- Mr Fox: Fox International
- Ms Rosie Thompson: Events Organiser, The Not Forgotten Association.
- SSACN: Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network