After 5 years of not being to sea, I finally persuaded Neil, a friend from the village to join me on a tope fishing trip.  Neil and I last fished together on a conger eel mission off Rye in East Sussex in 2004. We’d driven a long way and the forecast just turned overnight and what was going to be a smooth sea was decidedly choppy the next morning.  The skipper said that offshore congering was not on, but as we’d driven all that way he’d try and get our strings pulled with some inshore bass fishing, using live joey mackerel.  To cut a long story short, we just drifted at a ridiculously fast rate and caught nothing.  Neil spewed repeatedly and got madder and madder with himself.   After 2 hours even the skipper admitted defeat in the rough sea and we called it a day.  As far as Neil was concerned, he vowed never to set foot on a bar-steward boat ever again…….

Beer, particularly the home made variety from our village pub,   (which has its own micro brewery)  is a wonderful liquid for persuading people to take on challenges and so it was a few weeks back, late one Friday night, when after a few, Neil dropped his guard.  My tales of what excellent tope fishing we had round here and the fact that we wouldn’t be steaming out to sea for hours, persuaded him.  A trip was booked with ‘Browny’ from Brid.   The tides for the day in question looked perfect, so all we needed now was decent weather.

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On the lead up to the trip the weather looked increasingly poor and I think Neil was quite relieved when, the previous evening, I let him know the trip was off.  Before he had any ideas that he was off the hook, I told him I’d re-booked a week later!  The tides were not so good, but we’d go and just make the best of it. As the day approached, the forecast looked good, but Neil was not to be persuaded by the Met Office, XC Weather or the skipper’s views on what may lay ahead the following morning.  No, he had to see the sea for himself!   It was agreed that he’d follow me to Brid and if the sea was not to his liking, he’d turn round and just leave me to it!    Anyway, on Tuesday this week, the sea was as predicted and was smooth to slight.  Neil climbed aboard!

I’d mentioned to Browny that I might call in at a supermarket for some mackerel “just in case”. Browny thought I was barking, but as it happened I hadn’t realised that the fish counter doesn’t stay open on a 24hr supermarket and it was gone 8.30pm ewhen I called in, so I couldn’t buy any.   Doh.     So off we set in search of some fresh bait.    Nothing doing at the sh*t pipe, so we moved out to the ridges to try there.  I’d warned Neil that he might hook a weever on the mackerel feathers and so it proved on one of his first drops.  After trying a number of ridges, all we’d had were launce, weevers and a handful of whiting.  For those that fish marks around the Smithwick Banks and Flamborough head will know how the sea can be quite rough and so it proved again.  Neil’s face said it all,   no bait a snotty sea, why on earth did I get talked into this………

Browny then took the decision to head south.  We tried a couple more marks, but still no mackerel.  Maybe a trip to Morrison’s hadn’t been such a daft idea after all?   At least had flattened off again and my companion didn’t look quite so glum now.  Close to the tope mark, we came across another private boat tope fishing – they’d picked mackerel up close inshore and soon we did likewise.  At last we had a few baits flicking at the bottom of the fish box.  The mackerel were very patchy, we all hooked a few, and then they vanished, only to reappear 5 minutes later.  Once we’d got about 15 in the box, Browny said “F*** It, lets get the pick down and give it a go”.

The mackerel were halved and two uptide rods were cast downtide with plain 6oz leads.  I had two of my own uptiders a Shimano Beastmaster and a Team Daiwa uptider both rated 4-10oz. The reels were two ABU 7000 lever drags with the level wind removed, which makes gripping the spool with slimy hands so much easier, the third reel was a ABU 7500 again with the level wind removed.  All my reels were spooled with 20lb mono and had a 5m rubbing/shock leader made of 80lb mono.  A 3’ 75lb home made wire trace crimped to an 8/0 bigmouth extra hook completed the rigs.  A friend had lent me a 10’6” catfish rod, with a 5lb test curve as another casting rod.   Browny lent us a fourth uptider complete with a Penn coffee grinder reel.    A tope on a fixed spool would be a first for me!  With two rods out the stern and two cast with grip leads to the side, the traps were set.  I explained to Neil how the tope pick up the bait and the procedure for playing them.  Browny likes to see them run and doesn’t like to see them played too hard as he says it can make them roll up in the trace.  Anyway, as Neil had never seen a tope in real life, let alone catch one, the first run was going to be his!

We fished for an hour or so, but with no enquiries at all.  I was half tempted to try for some more mackerel whilst we were near the inshore mark, but Browny thought we’d get some further out so we set off to try another mark where he’d caught previously.  Half an hour later we had the pick down once again and all four traps set as before.   I always leave a mackerel rod over the side of the boat and Browny was first to spot the rod tip jiggling.  Phew – more bait at last.   It was all hands on deck to catch a few more before they vanished, when ZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz   tope on!   The Daiwa uptider was away and judging by the speed of the run Mr tope had already been hooked.  The rod was passed to Neil.  Zzzzzzzzzzzzz the coffee grinder was off too and Dave wound down to the fish only for the line to part.  We think Neil’s tope had snagged the line somehow.

Neil gently played the tope and I could tell by his Cheshire cat grin that all thoughts of sea sickness had finally vanished.  It took around seven to eight minutes to get the tope to the side of the boat so that Browny could lift it in.  With the hook out, we put it in the weigh sling – I guessed it would be 30 odd pounds, but it took the needle to a smidge under 40, not bad for a first tope.

Half an hour later the same Daiwa rod was away again.  This time is was my turn.  It was 12 months ago since I’d played my last tope, so it good to feel the yellow 20lb mono being stretched once again.  The fished looked slightly bigger than the first and the spring balance weight showed 50lbs.   A new tope PB for me.

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Nothing happened for the next hour or so, but as the mackerel were prolific, we took the opportunity to cash in whilst they were there and fill a box or two to freeze down for rubby dubby for the next porgie trip. In the midst of mackerel, the spool on the fixed spool indicated another tope run.  The rod was passed to Neil, but the fish soon spat the bait.  The hook point had been masked as the tope turned the bait and it had failed to find a hold.   I said to Neil we wouldn’t count that one!     Back to mackerel again, which was interrupted as quickly as it had started.  This time, it was the catfish rod that had gone.  Neil was still dealing with his mackerel rod so I wound down and hooked the tope for him.  A gentleman’s stand off then ensued with Neil saying I should carry on and me saying no, it was his turn.  I pushed the rod at him and the matter was resolved once and for all!   The tope was moving at some speed and it suddenly breached at the stern of the boat with an impressive splash.  I wish I had that moment on video!    Browny thought it would be a smallish fish to breach like that, but as the fight went on, so the estimation of the tope’s size grew.   The catfish rod coped with the tope quite easily; in fact its through action in many ways made it a nicer rod to use than a ‘tippy’ uptider.   As we picked up colour in the water I had my video ready and captured the boat side action.   It then became evident that this was the best of the day – it was a cracking tope at 65lbs!!

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That was to be the last of the action for the day, but what a day indeed.  Neil had chalked up three PB’s launce, weever and tope and I chalked up my fourth PB of the year with my tope.  Neil described the day as 110%, which pretty much sums things up.    As with any form of fishing, luck plays its part, but on this day it was Browny’s experience that put us on the tope.  The private boat, we had spoken to earlier in the day had blanked and had said that their three previous trips had been blanks too – so toping isn’t a certainty at all, but when it comes right, boy is it good fun.