"Once upon a time, two naughty schoolboys bunked off to go fishing..."
In my head, that's exactly how I felt as @Saintly Fish and I met up yesterday afternoon whilst normal people were still at work. With Jersey Girl in the water for 2pm we loaded her up and set off through Portsmouth Harbour, where we fell in behind HMS Dragon who was under tow as she left the Harbour.
Once clear of the Harbour limits we turned to starboard and headed towards Gilkicker, where our target would be early cod.
En route we spotted something so rare in the Solent these days that neither of us could quite believe it - a shoal of mackerel pushing whitebait to the surface! The water was fizzing with life! They say that every day's a school day, and here's where we learned our first lesson despite skipping school... always be prepared! We had no feathers rigged up, so we spent a frantic few minutes circling the shoal whilst we rigged up a spinning rod with some feathers and dropped in to retrieve a full string of mackerel.
But no sooner had we bucketed the mackerel than the shoal had disappeared. Nothing on the surface nor on the sounder. Our lack of preparedness had bitten us on the bum like six of the best from Mr Bronson.
Suddenly, with the sound of fizzing water alerting us to its location, the shoal reappeared to our stern! The next half hour was spent playing "whack-a-mole" with the mackerel, ekeing out threes and fours at a time, but only having enough time for a single drop before the shoal would move on. At last, with a bucket full of blue gold we called time on this fun but frustrating game.
We headed over to Gilkicker Hole to drop the hook and settle in for the flood. Over the side went a chum bag each to draw in the fish and down went our cod baits - three squid per hookbait. From the off we had little nibbling, pecking bites. We left the rods alone, hoping that the small fish would draw in the bigger fish. At least, that was the plan... what actually happened is that after 10 mins we were retrieving empty hooks to rebait. Neil wound up a decent-sized brown crab that he managed to bump off on the transom - schoolboy error!
I got lucky and managed to hit a particularly promising-looking rod rattle and snagged a small bream, so at least we now knew who the culprits were.
As the afternoon wore on we heard a commotion from the Isle of Wight and looked round to see the Red Arrows performing over Cowes. If you squint you can even see the planes in the pic below.
Not long afterwards my rod gave a decent tug and I wound down into what felt like a half-decent fish.
This set the scene for the next few hours. We both managed regular congers as the sun dipped low to the horizon and the wind picked up, gusting mid-teens for an hour or so and a small chop developing.
As darkness fell we kept our fingers crossed and spirits up at the thought of an early cod gracing our rods. The wind speed fell away to mid-single figures and the waves flattened off nicely. A regular procession of strap congers came up, but nothing brown and spotty.
Sadly it wasn't to be. We called it a night at just before 10pm and headed back round to the Harbour entrance and home, following the previous plotter track to avoid any unseen pot markers in the darkness. We quietly motored back into the marina and slipped into a Jersey Girl-sized space on the pontoon between two other boats, with Neil tapping into his inner Rhinestone Cowboy as he defly lassoed a cleat from the cockpit to draw us alongside.
A quick clean up, then in the car by 11pm, home by half past midnight. A long but enjoyable day, slightly frustrated by the lack of cod but speechless with surprise that we found some mythical mackerel in the Solent. Our final lesson learned? The cod aren't in yet, or if they are we can't find them, or Neil needs to find a better skipper. But we'll be back out again soon - I have high hopes for this mark this season.