Naming my marks

To those that fish with me who have seen the title and are now having palpitations, please calm down! I am not about to name our marks, just give a light-hearted account of how some of our favourite marks acquired their names.  It not one of our regular short(ish) and sweet blogs posts, but is I hope worth the extra effort. ( Apologies if you read this before in the BASS mag or in “Waterlog” magazine).

And if you also have any tales as to how your marks got there names, feel free to share them in the comments section below .

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Most of my efforts to catch bass are undertaken along a few stretches of English, Welsh or Irish coast. A large proportion of this ground is hidden away and inaccessible, requiring either a small boat or a strenuous hike to reach. In fact the obsession my partners in bass harassment and myself share has made it likely that we know these isolated places more intimately than any other living people – hardly a surprise given there is little obvious reason for others to undertake the high level of effort just to set foot in these places.

In my day to day life my memory is shockingly poor, to the extent I am often unable to remember the name of a patients I treated just 24 hours ago. When it comes to fishing however, it seems my brain is wired differently, and not only can I recall precise details of trips from many years ago, I can also visualise the exact layout of the remote locations I fish. An evolutionary biologist would probably tell me the ability to store such details, with photographic clarity in the brain, existed to enable our forbearers to hunt more successfully.

Despite my fishing companions and myself having precise charts within our heads, studying actual maps of these areas reveals our specific marks have been largely overlooked by cartographers. Although this observation is reassuring to this somewhat secretive bass angler, I am unsure what to conclude about mapmakers themselves: do they have no interest in fishing, or are they fellow bass addicts who deliberately seek to be sketchy about details and anonymise such places? Even with our own mind maps however, it invariably requires a memorable event to occur before a small bit of coast rises from being mere geomorphology, to become a place deserving of a name.

The nameless state of these small bays, insignificant promontories and submerged rocks we “discover” leads us to delude ourselves that we are in some way explorers. And like all pioneers we feel the need to name our discoveries, so the few of us who know of these places can easily reference them when speaking of them. Yet there is some importance in what we call them, as the words must not leave those who don’t have the survival of the bass at the top of their priorities any wiser as to where they are. So the titles of such marks are (hopefully) meaningless, or even better confusing, and occasionally may reflect in jokes or possibly even contain a degree of poetry.

If I think of some of the marks in Southern Ireland the places that come to mind are: Mark 1 and Mark 2, The Cistern, Minty Gulley, Lesbian Ledge, The Elephants Arse, Lazy Point and (most magical of all) The Bay of Dreams. A roll call of such places that, (rightly or wrongly), envelops me in a warm glow merely through listing them.

Although I am giving the impression that there is a calculated process that results in the christening of our marks, in truth, the names invariably arise on the spur of the moment with little consideration. The blandly named Mark 1 and Mark 2 for instance were merely the first couple of access points along a big area of inaccessible coastline. Lazy Point joined our vocabulary when I visited this place for the first time. As I arrived, I met a man carrying his tripod and box seat the 30 yards back to his car after a fishless session. My casual enquiry about the little promontory a few hundred yards from him – the very feature on the map that had drawn me here in the first place – resulted in him stating he was unsure if it was any good as it was too far to walk with all his gear. I fished the point for the hour I had available, caught 5 bass and then got kelped by a genuine whopper and the name reflected my sense of smug self-satisfaction at that time.

Although marks generally gain names for being good there are exceptions to the rule. One fabulous promontory in Ireland I know well has a shallow rocky reef and a great rip of tide, yet it has hardly ever produced a fish for us. We know it as Crappy Point. For years we fished here from shore and boat yet Al (Hughes) is the only one of us to have caught a bass there to date. Displaying his usual creativity (and luck) Al was casting a diving plug with a teaser fly 3 foot up from the lure. A mackerel took the fly and just as he was bringing the fish to the boat a bass darted from under the Zodiac and tried to ambush the mackerel. Despite now being preyed upon by 2 different feisty predators, the mackerel proved to be both spirited and agile, so after 30 seconds of the mackerel dodging the bass, the disheartened predator tired of the chase and instead settled for the consolation meal of plug being towed behind the mackerel. The bass weighed 7 1/2 pounds. Had this occurred on one of our earlier visits to this mark its likely Julian and myself would have named the point differently. But once a name is given they seem to be permanent, so “Jammy Git Point” never came to be.

Al Hughes

Al “Jammy Git” Hughes

Of all our named marks, it is the circumstances leading to the naming of one of my favourite places I recall the clearest: a place I readily visit in the zodiac when ever conditions allow, yet somewhere I frequent for many more hours in my daydreams. It was a classic dull, soft Irish afternoon, and any body parts insufficiently waterproofed had already become drenched. The force 3-4 wind and residual swell from a big blow 2 days before was adding a pleasing amount of movement to the water, making looking down to tie a hook nausea inducing, yet not so rough you would contemplate dragging the little boat out and going shore fishing instead. All in all, perfect fishing conditions for catching bass on lures from the inflatables.

I was sharing my boat with a man I had barely fished with before. A lumbering, Welsh, grandfather, with a fondness for a joke, named Rob Thomas. Although a fine angler from the shore with both bait and plugs, he was to obviously unfamiliar with fishing from a small boat. He sat perched towards the front of the craft, squeezed into whole body condom in a tasteful shade of pillar box red (attire he called a drysuit), with only his head exposed to the drizzle. Rob’s face was dominated by a chunky moustache; a downturned growth capable by itself of expressing complex emotions. The problem for its owner was that although the muscles and eyes of his face were well trained in blank pokerfaced displays, his mozer was like an innocent 4 year old that does not understand about secrets and invariably betrayed his attempts at disguising his inner feelings. In particular the moustache would twitch excitedly whenever he undertook his seemingly favourite pastime, of winding people up. In fact, to me on that boat that day, it seemed his tash rarely sat still.

In addition to Rob’s top lip pet, it appeared he also carried a Tourrett’s like affliction, for around every 10 minutes whilst he cranked his lure back there would be a sudden explosive shout of “Yesss!” A cry followed by a long pause and the line “….we have no bananas” delivered in his booming Welsh tenor voice. I had been afloat with Rob for 2 days, yet I was still regularly caught out by this, as I instinctively turnned my head in the belief that he had hooked a fish – much to the amusement of Mr Thomas and his dancing caterpillar. Quite how he had come to be in my “care,” for so long I was unsure. Though why Julian so readily opted for the (only slightly) less demanding task of keeping Al from harm for the past couple of days was becoming more and more apparent.

The window of opportunity we had to be afloat looked as if it would end tomorrow when another low front arrived. With this in mind I fully intended to bounce my lure off as many of the likely looking rocks that pixelated this area of as yet unexplored coastline. The short chop, that jarred our bones as I sped between various marks, caused Rob to wince as he bounced down onto the hard plywood bench beneath his backside. I however was on too much of a mission to slow down for the sake of Rob’s comfort.

If I was acting like a spaniel on Red Bull, it seemed that for my boat mate haste did not exist in his dictionary, as he appeared to have been born with just one (slow) gear. In fact Julian, Al and myself believed if we poured our petrol on Rob’s backside and threw a match at him, he’d sit there stroking his moustache, pondering the situation at length, rather than immediately diving arse first in the nearest rock pool, as any sane bass angler would do (three words that on reflection constitute an oxymoron!) While his sloath like characteristic had been a source of mild bemusement when trying to get him out of the house, in time to fish the first glimmer of daylight, I presumed that when things came together and we found feeding bass, like the rest of us, he too would burst into a frenzy of activity and maximise these premium fish catching opportunities. When after these two quiet days of fishing we finally encountered some consistent action, my assumption was quickly proved to be misguided.

I set us up to drift through a deviation in the coastline that it would be over-generous to call a small bay. The area was one that on first glimpse had promise, filled as it was with tight gullies, fingers of submerged rock and a few bigger fist like rocks standing proud of the surface. The promise of the area was confirmed when our first drift produced a bass of around 4 pounds for me before we were swept out of the bay again into deeper water. Throughout the time I played and released my quarry Rob patiently fished his preferred shallow diving lure without success. As I repositioned the boat for another drift, I suggested he might find a surface lure more productive. Acting on my advice he stared deeply into his lure box, as if seeking deeper enlightenment.

I fired my lure back to the border between land and ocean. The cast again resulted in an eruption around my surface lure. Playing the bass, I looked up to see the Zen master still meditating on his lure choice. In exasperation at his apparent indecision, I abandoned subtle suggestion, “Rob, just tie on a bloody Slider, for god’s sake!”

When I finished playing out my third fish, I saw he was now apparently deliberating on which knot to use to knot the lure to his line. It was at this point I realised my various briefings over the past few days about fishing from the boat, should have included mention that should opportunities like these arise they rarely last long and speed of action is of the essence. Yet in truth it probably would have done little good, as it was becoming clear that Rob was geared differently to normal mortals, and “fast” clearly had a different meaning to him.

On the next drift it appeared Rob was now trying to change his leader. Although keen for my shipmate to succeed in catching a fish I was even more anxious to stave off the developing possibility he’d drive me to a nervous breakdown. I shook off another bass at the side of the boat and calmly offered him a suggestion, delivered not with composed reassurance as I probably intended, but in a despairing and agitated high pitch squeal.

“For f***s sake Rob, just use my rod to catch one!!”

I held out my lure rod for him to take, having seemingly developed a nervous facial tick to mirror his twitching moustache. As he sat, stroking his tash with his head tilted to the side wearing a thousand yard stare considering the offer, I impatiently barked “Just bloody take it!”

“Ohh, oh…Okay” he nervously stammered in reply.

Mr Thomas and his top lip pet

Mr Thomas and his top lip pet

Obviously flustered by the progressive development of psychosis in the man guiding him, his first cast unsurprisingly smacked the water in front of him as he struggled to master the mechanics of the bail arm of my reel. The second effort was far better; in fact it was so good it resulted in my lure arrowing gracefully far onto the shore where it snagged a large boulder. With an expression of surprised pleasure followed by a nod of approval, Rob commented favourably as to how well the rod cast. Given small boats lack brick walls, I instead banged my head against the palm of my hand as two realisations became suddenly apparent: angling writers who meditate happily on the thought that fishing bringing a sense of serenity had never fished with this man; and secondly it was probably safe to scratch fishing guide from my list of potential career moves.

I got Rob to slacken off the line, altered the position of the boat and fortunately the lure flicked off the rock when pulled from a different angle. In the time it took me to retie Rob’s leader and the lure to his rod he had several fish slash at the plug attached to my rod, but no hook ups resulted. With the task completed I offered Rob his rod back. Studying him fishing with a plug that was unfamiliar to him, he continued to be plagued by near misses but no hook ups. To me it seemed he was following his instructions and imitating the way I fished my lure, so whatever the missing ingredient that would bring a bass was, I could not identify it. I wondered if it was just one of those inexplicable runs of bad luck you encounter in angling.

Our next half dozen drifts under the cliffs produced three more fish for me, but none for my shipmate, and the action was noticeably slowing. As I went around for another drift I gave up on fishing as we passed the small area which now seemed to be the only part of the bay where any attacks were occurring. Given my desperation for Rob to catch his first of the day I had no intention of lessening his chances.

“Hmm, that Rock over there looks like a sarcophagus” commented Rob using his rod to try and point out something on the shore.

“What one?” I replied as I compared 40 or more similar boulders on the shore line

“The bloody great one shaped like Tutankhamen’s coffin” he dryly stated, this time gesticulating more clearly to a lump of sandstone at the far end of the bay -which to give him his dues did look exactly as described.

Perhaps it was something to do with this distraction relaxing him so he reverted to his preferred speed of life, rather than the pace I was trying to impose on him, but as we scanned the coast for other signs of a distant outpost of the ancient Egyptian civilisation, Rob’s lure was finally (in his words) seized violently from behind. Thus laying to rest the possibility he might be afflicted with a Pharaoh’s curse. As his rod burst to life and he yelled “Yesss!” but for the first time that day (and to my eternal relief) it was not followed by a statement about an absence of yellow tropical fruit.

As I recall the fight was spirited and filled with brief periods of high anxiety as the fish attempted to dive behind several boulders, causing braid to judder along rock, but eventually the verdict went in favour of the Welshman. As I leant out and netted the biggest bass of the day, Rob expressed his thanks to the God’s with a loud cry of

“Thank you Sarcophagus Bay!”

“We can’t call it that,” I fired back “We’ll never be able to say that after a few beers.”

“Mmm, Mummy Bay just about simple enough for you then” was Rob’s withering reply. It was.

And that was that, a casual conversation with little appreciation to any future significance the place might have, and another name entered our vocabulary of magical places. Yet in many ways the name is apt, for it is a place that remains mysterious, and moody. Producing bounties of treasure (some large) on occasions, yet never in a predictable way – characteristics guaranteed to keep you interested in any mark. On other days however, it can seem sinister, leaving me cold and fearful, almost believing powerful forces are at work. Such tricks of the mind obviously cannot compete with the call of monsters though, and I always return. On more than one occasion I have been tempted to land and carve in an ancient Egyptian style the profile of an angler with a moustache holding a bent rod on the sarcophagus rock. But apathy and foolish paranoia that it may betray our mark has to date kept me from doing so.

It is strange how a shared event changes the dynamic between two anglers. To this day Rob remains as enigmatic as Mummy Bay itself – although he does seem to have discovered at least one more gear. Yet the most significant change, came I believe, through our shared discovery of this mark, which resulted in Rob changing from being merely Al’s buddy, fishing in Ireland with us, to being a true fishing companion. The shared event also had other effects too. After this point in time there was a dramatic reduction in the frequency of his no bananas chant. Strangely enough, it was around the time I noticed this change when I finally “remembered“ to pass on to Rob that when motoring through a choppy sea, sitting on the cushioned inflated tube is infinitely more comfortable to bouncing your piles against a hard wooden seat. I think he appreciated the information.

© Matthew Spence

2 Comments
  1. Brilliant. Really enjoyed the read.

  2. Great read Matt, very amusing.

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