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Several weeks ago, Alex McDonald, who works for Exeter based, Swift Tackle Ltd, the distributors of the excellent range of “Sakuma” hooks to the trade, was chatting to me. You may recall Victor Kayam, who famously said on his TV advert for Remington shavers, “I liked them so much, I bought the company”. Alex told me that Swift have done the same for “Red Gill”.
The Red Gill ranges of lures were the brain child of Alex Ingram who designed and manufactured the original sand eel imitations in the Cornish fishing village of Mevagissey during the 1950’s. To this day the lures are still made in the South West of England and although they have often been copied, they have never been bettered and still account for a huge amount of fish from our waters every year.
The seed of an idea was planted. We hatched a plot to enjoy a day fishing for the big hard fighting Winter Pollack on the mid-Channel wrecks. We invited several accomplished and enthusiastic angling pals for a day aboard Dave Harrison’s very popular Dartmouth charter boat, his bright orange coloured Blyth 33 catamaran, “Gemini”.
Tuesday 24th February dawned as forecast, with overcast grey skies, ideal for fishing, but not so good for photography, but you can’t have everything. A soft breeze from the North West wafted over a 4.4 metre middle sized tide. At 6.30am, Mark Barnett, who works for his Mum and Dad at the Devon Angling Centre, Chillington, Nr. Kingsbridge, picked me up from my home in Dartmouth. We loaded rods, reels, booms, weights, spare line for traces and sufficient general tackle to catch any specie of fish anywhere in the world, into his van. I always say, “A man can never own too much fishing tackle.”
We headed down to the River Dart in the centre of Town, where we met Alex and his pal, Gary Tucker, who had driven up from Plymouth. We were greeted by our “Skipper” Dave Harrison as we boarded “Gemini”. Mick Hallam, Dave’s jovial crew, handed us steaming mugs of tea and coffee as we crossed to the opposite bank of the Dart to collect the rest of our pals from the pontoon at Darthaven Marina. We were joined by Graham Dryer who is the proprietor of Brixham Bait and Tackle, together with Brian Coles, “Big Al” Jones, Alan Edwards and Charlie Sayers. What a happy band.
Dave leant gently on the throttles of the throbbing twin diesels in his big cat, as we slid out past the twin Castles which guard the harbour entrance. Our speed gently increased taking us swiftly out into the English Channel, where there are many wrecks, which were submarine casualties from both the World Wars, with a sprinkling of fishing boats and merchant vessels too. As you know, predatory fish love structures from which to ambush smaller fish. Wrecks provide the perfect environment. We were off to ambush some predators, those huge Winter Pollack which congregate on the rusting hulks on the sea bed for their spawning frenzy at this time of year. Their raised testosterone levels and prime condition make for great sport. These fish have serious attitude. They are a worthy adversary.
Alex opened a box which contained several assorted packets of multi coloured “Red Gill” lures and invited us to “help ourselves”. I was lounging, part way through my second mug of tea and almost missed the moment. I picked up a pack of “Red Gills” in plain red, black, and two shades of bright orange with matching single coloured tails. There were also black bodied gills with red or orange tails. Yellow bodied gills with green tails, purple backed gills with lime tails, or red backed yellow bodied gills with yet more coloured tails, plus the well favoured blue back and silver tailed variety. The choice included a myriad of colours. Alex explained that Swift intend to replace the hooks in this range with new, specially designed patterns from their Sakuma stable. That makes good sense.
Around 9 am the “thrum” of the engines decreased as Dave approached our chosen mark, a broken up wreck, in 240 feet of water, which holds some spectacular fish. We were in luck; it was free of the commercial gill nets which so often hinder our sport.
We had rigged our tackle during the out-bound voyage. The preferred choice was a 20 lb class boat rod of between 7½ and 8 feet in length. Some utilised a slightly longer “uptide” style rod which also serves well for general fishing. A responsive rod action which cushions the crash dive of an angry Pollack is essential. All chose good quality “7000” size multiplier reels, from a variety of manufacturers. A smooth clutch which can be accurately set is the prime necessity. A clutch which is too tightly set or which “snatches” as line is stripped from the reel is a certain recipe for failure. Everyone had chosen braid main line of between 20 and 40 lbs breaking strain, with a 12 foot “rubbing leader” of 20 to 40 lb monofilament line securely tied to it with either a double loop, or my preference, a “double grinner” knot.
The guys led the rubbing leader through a hollow plastic boom, followed by a single bead to prevent the knot chafing, where it was tied to a swivel. Alternatively, some chose a wire “French Boom” tied directly to the rubbing leader. We all attached a lead weight of 10 ozs to the boom. We clipped the weight to the plastic boom, or tied it to a loop of 15 lb mono as a “rotten bottom” on the “French Boom”. To the opposite end of the swivel, we attached a trace of around 8 feet of 30 or 40 lb monofilament or fluorocarbon line, finishing off with a “Red Gill” lure of our preferred colour.
Dave positioned “Gemini” to drift over the wreck which was clearly visible on the electronic screen of his sonar fish finder. I saw there were substantial shoals of fish just above and close to the wreck.
The guys let down their terminal tackle to the sea bed. They all appreciated the need to control the speed of the descent to avoid their lure and trace tangling around the main line. As they approached the wreck, the guys wound up 30 to 50 turns on their reel and then let the gear back down, repeating the operation as they glided over the wreck. You feel a “take” as a savage pluck on the lure. It is important not to strike at the fish. You just keep winding and the fish will grab your “Red Gill” and hook itself.
I soon heard the cry of “Fish on”, followed by “24 turns up on an orange Gill”, which was quickly followed by others as they bantered and enjoyed the first crash dive of an angry Pollack as it headed for the sea bed in a desperate bid for freedom. This is when you realise the necessity for a properly set reel clutch. Your heart skips a beat as the adrenalin kicks in. Let the fish run and avoid any temptation to use your thumb to brake the spool of your reel; that is what the clutch is for. Once the initial crash dive has slowed, you can start to pump up your fish. You lift the rod tip to retrieve the fish and then wind in a couple of turns on your reel as you lower your rod tip, keeping a tight line at all times. If you give these big fish half a chance they will use a slack line to shake their head violently to throw a lure and make good their escape.
Everyone caught spectacular Pollack in good numbers and huge sizes. Mark Barnett caught the best fish of the day, a Pollack which was later weighed-in back on shore on calibrated scales at 21 lbs 7 ozs, he caught another of 19 lbs 6 ozs 8 dr, a more than fair pair. Graham Dryer also caught a solitary Ling, bearing marks on its body from a gill net, which greedily slashed at his “Gill”. The “Red Gill” lure is particularly durable and long lasting. I shall be using my “lucky” colours again next time. All too soon, it was time to head back to Port, tired but very happy.
I shot a 10 minute video of our spectacular day “Gilling”. Just go to www.youtube.com and type “Fishing Dartmouth” into the search box. You will see a list of my videos, which includes, “Fishing Dartmouth Red Gill Lure Pollack aboard Gemini 240209”. If you have any lingering doubts as to the authenticity of this happy tale, or the success you will enjoy when fishing “Red Gill” lures, then see for yourself.
My happy reunion with “Red Gill” lures was like meeting a good friend I had not seen for several years. I quickly discovered that I still enjoyed their good company. I will certainly add more “Red Gills” to my armoury of lures. They do what it says on the tin. They catch big fish.
by Mike Concannon - www.fishingdartmouth.co.uk