Ever since I first went fishing for gobies with my buddy Marcel as 7-year olds while we were camping next to the Adriatic Sea with our respective families, I am a fan of this sport, even though I hardly ever get a chance to practice it.
It’s relatively relaxing, certainly doesn’t usually require enormous effort, you’re out in nature, enjoying the sun, and maybe best of all, you get yourself some nice dinner onto the table, what’s not to like. It’s got something archaic to it like hunting, mountain-climbing, boxing or foraging.
While polo is perhaps best left in my view to the Camerons, Borises, and Rees-Moggs out there, surely fishing was for me, the common man (or equally the common woman, if she likes; Ms B is not very fond of it though). I’m saying this despite a horrific fishing incident outside Dallas, TX, in 1991, when I sat down with my fishing gear on what I thought was a nicely shaped tiny hill. It turned out to be the home of roughly 100,000 vicious so-called red imported fire ants. Let’s say we didn’t hit it off to a good start.
For several years now I had been planning on trying my hand at deep sea fishing. Going for the real big ones sounded exciting to me. Several trips got cancelled over the years, including the one we had booked for our visit to Norfolk last year. (Back then we went on a seal safari instead, not to catch any seals, obviously, but to watch the furry fluffballs play in the water.)
Another day and I had booked another trip, this time from Brighton with Ray Burn’s Grey Viking II. When I was calling at 5pm the evening before the trip, as requested, I was fully expecting him to tell me that it was a “no” due to adverse weather conditions (more than 50% of trips get cancelled this time of year, at least Ray offers refunds, which is very good of him). However, he confirmed it was a “go-ahead”.
It didn’t feel great when my alarm went off at 4:20am the following morning, but gotta do what you gotta do. I put on a whole ton of sun lotion, my all-terrain, water-proof gear, including heavy hiking boots, rain-proof over-trousers which went over my jeans, and my waterproof hoodie jacket over several layers of clothing, including scarf, beanie, and waterproof ski gloves, just to be safe. If you’re proper British, not just recently naturalised, like I am, then clearly that means you’re 100% cold-resistant and I’d recommend you simply where a T-shirt, shorts, and a pair of sneakers, hoping it won’t rain too hard.
I had already packed my backpack the night before, including a change of clothes, a towel, and plenty of food and drink. My belongings were protected by one waterproof sack inside the backpack and another waterproof cover that went over the packed backpack.
I arrived early for my 5:14am Gatwick Express from Victoria, which reached Brighton station right on time at 6:13am, stopping only once at Gatwick. My pre-ordered Uber (£10) picked me up at the agreed time and before I knew it I was enjoying a 2,000-calorie, completely non-nutritional breakfast at the 24h McDonalds at the Marina. I was so tired I nearly fell asleep and made my way to the tackle shop way too late to pick up the bait. As advised, Ray had reserved the bait for all passengers, so I just had to pick it up and pay, then make my way to the pontoons.
When I finally arrived at Pontoon 6, Ray had already lifted the plank back into the boat and was readying his Grey Viking II to leave. It was only 7:48am, three minutes after the agreed deadline, but still 12 minutes before the official time of departure.
Soon after, the two 220hp, 6.8 litre, turbocharged John Deere diesel engines were propelling our 12m long vessel to its maximum speed of 43 km/h. The sea was mostly flat as a pancake and there was next to no wind. The sun was shining, we felt lucky to have caught such a magnificent day.
We arrived at the first wreck roughly an hour later. The water is 50m deep. Out of our group of eight men, six of us borrowed all our gear from Ray, two of us brought their own gear. We cut open the bags of bait, attached the bait and the lead weights, then we simply let the weight and bait drop to the bottom of the sea and waited. It took no more than 3 or 4 minutes, until the oldest member of our group, a roughly 65 year old, grey-haired, tall, wiry, quiet gentleman who had brought a lot of gear with him, caught the first fish: a dogfish, which he threw right back into the sea after he removed the hook.
I am very pleased to announce that I was the second person on the team to catch a fish: a young pouting (pretty cool in that it is a codfish, not so cool in that it was tiny), which I also threw right back into the sea.
The plan was to catch congers and ideally some cods. European congers (different from their Asian cousins) are not a great food fish (even though I was planning on cooking my catch), but they are quite a rarity, given some respect within the fishing community. Our boat’s record was a 2.30m long, 40kg conger, but the longest ones of this species can grow to 6m and reach a weight of more than 150kg. They are known to have anger issues, razor-sharp teeth, enormous strength, and they will not let themselves be heaved on board peacefully and thank you for your effort.
On the other hand, I should mention that the average conger caught in these waters off the southern coast is just under one metre in length and weighs around 5kg. You still shouldn’t put your fingers into its mouth, but there is no risk of serious harm with these smaller ones.
The atmosphere on board was very blokey and fun, with lots of crass jokes, colourful tales of conquest relating to the fairer sex, and plenty of unexpectedly witty banter. Ray, who didn’t talk much during most of the trip, got a little bit more communicative towards the end of it. It became clear that he’s a man who says the f-word when he means the f-word, and also, that he means the f-word bare minimum half a dozen times per sentence.
It was quite hilarious to listen to him share stories of when people had brushed him up the wrong way, like the guests who had cut their bait on top of his brand-new £350 Cabela cooler box instead of on the two large plastic cutting boards that are sitting on top of the central storage container on the deck.
I had absolutely no complaints about Ray, but it is fair to say that the good man’s a bit rough around the edges. For example, there is no toilet paper in the toilet, just a sign that advises that you will be charged £50 if you put down paper in the toilet, because this will block the toilet.
I didn’t have to use the toilet for such serious business, but I guess I would bring paper tissues and a plastic bag, then put the used paper tissues in the plastic bag, seal the bag and put the bag into the general on-board rubbish bin. Ray’s advice on the other hand was different: “Don’t have a shit or if you have one, don’t use paper. You don’t have to.”
We stayed at the first location for another 90 minutes, but except for a small sea bream, all we caught were dogfish of varying sizes. At some stage we decided to try our luck at another location. We pulled up our fishing lines and fastened the hooks. Ray pulled up the anchor, and off we went to the next ship wreck. This one lay only 25m deep. We let the baits down to the ground and waited.
Nothing much happened for a while, then the old guy caught first a dab, then a mackerel and seven more dogfish in quick succession. The rest of us split five dogfish between us. Still no sign of congers or cods.
My fascination with the grey-haired wizard grew by the minute. Among other equipment, he had brought a robust plastic box with him that contained different bottles, syringes, and other equipment. The bait he had brought separately, was equally weird. Some of it seemed rotten, others super-fresh. He cut little bits off the rotten fish, then little bits off the fresh squid, it very much looked like a precise science. Then he used the syringes to pump liquids into them, then he arranged them in layers on the hook.
Another hour later we moved to a third location, closer to the marina. But our luck was not going to change that day. More dogfish and one seabass which we had to release again because it was out of the fishing season.
At 2:45pm we packed up and started cleaning the surfaces. Shortly past 3pm we were back at the marina. There was a slight level of disappointment in not having brought home any catch, but we all felt that it had been a great day out. 5 out of 5 in my book.
We all paid the extra £25 that were due (£15 for the gear hire and £10 for the additional fuel used because we did a whole three locations and went far offshore). It was only when I sat down at the Five Guys at the marina, after I had ordered my two double cheese burgers, that I realised how dead tired I was. Because of the chilling temperatures of 6 to 8 degrees Celsius I had not really sat down for more than a few minutes all day, constantly keeping my muscles working by trying to counteract the roll movement of the boat.
For restaurant reviews you might want to have a look at our articles about Ekeberg, Oslo, Tapabento Trindade, Porto, Solar 31 da Calcada restaurant, Lisbon, and Imlauer Sky Bar & Restaurant, Salzburg.