KOTC 2016 - Sea Winner, Ben Creaser - Prize Report

It feels like just a few weeks ago that I travelled up to Angling Direct HQ to attend the prize giving day for King of The Catch and yet here I am, back in the UK after my Sportsquest hosted holiday to Havøysund, northern Norway!

As the trip was for two people, it was David Cheal (my regular fishing buddy) and I who departed from the Isle of Wight by Hovercraft the morning of Tuesday the 30th of May. Laden with hold luggage, hand luggage, a cool box rammed with food and a well packed rod tube carrying extra pirks and leads for ballast! The taxi up to Gatwick was smooth, (if we don’t mention the rod tube sliding forward and hitting the gear stick twice on heavy breaking!) with plenty of time to check in and have a drink and a bite to eat at the flying horse with Matthew Rickard (our Sportsquest host) and some of the guys who were also on the trip.

It wasn’t long before we were boarding our first flight to Oslo in the afternoon, followed by a short Taxi ride and an overnight stay at the Gardermoen Airport Hotel. Bags, boxes and tube safely stowed in the room, we joined Matthew and the rest of the party for something to eat and a beer in the Hotel restaurant that evening, and at £12 a pint… it was just the one! A short taxi ride back to the airport after a 6am breakfast and it was time to check in once again for the second leg of our Journey to Alta. There was a ‘do it yourself’ bag drop-off for luggage, but it refused to take our ‘just overweight’ bags, a little tip though – just lift the corner slightly and then press the button. Only then did the drive belt eagerly accept the luggage!

After another 2 hour flight, we finally arrived in Alta. Once there, we all stood together at baggage reclaim with our fingers crossed, hoping that both bags, cool box and rod tube would soon make an appearance. Fortunately, everyone received their luggage relatively quickly and we soon found ourselves on the coach, about to begin our 3 hour coach journey to the camp. It was pretty cold outside and as the coach journey went on, it only got colder! I was reading the temperature read out display at the front of the coach (IN>19°C / OUT>1°C). Looking out the window everything was white, and about half way through the journey it begun to snow!

On arrival, we got into groups of four and found our cabins. Dave and I would be sharing with Matthew and Paul, two great chaps who were a pleasure to spend the week with. We started to unpack and put together our rods and reels that had made the journey unscathed in the well packed rod tube. We loaded the fridge and cupboards with food, leaving an empty cool box ready to be filled with halibut fillets for the return journey… you’ve got to think positively!

Everyone attended a welcome meeting in the bar at 5pm where we were briefed on the rules, the weather and the fishing. The outlook wasn’t great, strong winds and snow forecast for the next few days and lower than normal water temperatures for this time of year. Normally sea temperatures would be around 8-9°C for the start of June, but we were looking at 5°C, and because of this, the fishing would be slow, with most of the Halibut still in deeper water. The wind for the first few days fishing was very strong and there was talk about not fishing at all on day one. However, if we wanted to, we could go at 8pm that evening and fish through until midnight before the wind got up too much! Everyone agreed and it was back to the cabin to get something to eat, tackle up and dress warm. We just about had time to visit the local supermarket to pick up drinks before it was time to head out.

We were in boat 6 (that would remain our boat for the week) and our guide for the night was 18 year old, Andreas. The 23ft, aluminium built Arronet boats looked stable and roomy, powered by a Suzuki 150hp four-stroke outboard motor, fed by a 160ltr inbuilt fuel tank. Shane Shelly made up the quartet on boat 6 and would remain with us for rest of the week. With the boat loaded we set off in the wake of the guide boat, a larger Arronet sporting twin 150hp Suzuki’s. It was at this point I was very glad that I’d purchased some savage gear neoprene, fleece lined gloves. These were to prove invaluable in keeping my hands warm and working! Once underway, away from the shelter of the land, it became evident that these boats were designed to take a beating. Despite the conditions, the ride was soft with very little spray reaching us inside. When conditions would allow, we would reach a top speed in excess of 30 knots!

We set up for the first drift in the lee of an Island to the west of the camp, working lures and fishing dead baits for Halibut (In Norway it’s forbidden to fish with live baits!). The fishing was slow and apart from the small haddock and cod we caught for bait, we didn’t connect with anything else. One boat, consisting of 12 Brits did manage to land a 90cm halibut (which are always announced on the radio) before everyone called it a night and headed back at 2am. When it stays light for 24hrs a day, it’s very difficult to keep track of time!

After a short morning of broken sleep we were up for breakfast at the bar at 8am. The wind forecast had dropped slightly so we were heading out on the official ‘day 1’ for a shorter day’s fishing. It was cold and windy, with intermittent snow showers. The fishing was again, pretty slow going with just the odd wolfish taking an interest in the dead baits. Our guide Andreas looked pretty tired after just a couple of hours sleep and I think everyone felt the same way by the time we headed back. One more halibut was taken by our group of 12 just over the 120cm mark.

Day 2 and the wind had changed direction, but not strength, so we headed east to fish in shelter at a different location. We had Isaac as our guide today, another teen on his last day at the camp before heading home. The drift speed was a little fast, hindered by the wind but with the engine ticking over in reverse we were able to slow the drift to around 1 knot (perfect speed for Halibut). It was another slow day on the fishing front but our dead baits were getting some interest from wolfish and the odd cod which did break up the day with a bit of action.

As we fished into the afternoon, the sun started to shine momentarily and it was around this time when Shane had a Halibut take on his small cod trailing along behind the boat. After setting the hook, he had a great fight with a fish around 85cm. Finally we could announce on the radio that boat 6 had caught a fish!

With renewed enthusiasm we persevered, but unfortunately that was to be the only fish of the day for the group. It was at this point (almost halfway through the week) I realised that given the temperatures and restrictions dictated by the weather, the mission was to catch ‘a’ fish rather than expecting several… no pressure then!

Day 3 started in much the same way, with wind, snow and an early breakfast. Another boat ride, this time heading west to a different venue (named Eagle bay) with Andreas on his last day at the camp. Now it was here that there was some activity from Halibut, two fish landed and several missed/dropped by the other boats on baits and lures certainly gave us some confidence.

The bay was well sheltered with a perfect drift speed, sea eagles were screeching and circling overhead and in between the snow showers the sun did shine occasionally! Another lost fish on a lure was announced on the radio just before I started to get a bite on my coalfish bait, it was slow and progressive and had to be a halibut. I gave the fish plenty of time to get a hold of the bait and lowered the rod all the way to water as the weight of the fish started to load on the rod. As the rod loaded up, I hit into the fish to set the hook and nothing, S#IT! A missed fish! Seconds after I missed that fish, I turned to see Dave now bent into a Halibut. After a quick scrap, the fish came to the side of the boat where Andreas was ready and waiting with the flying gaff. He slipped the gaff into the lower jaw and pulled it into the boat – followed by photos and handshakes! This one was 103cm and weighed in at 27lb.

The next couple of drifts proved fruitless and in the late afternoon the Guide boat announced that they would fish their way back home. We followed with a few drifts on route and a rough bumpy ride back to camp where we set about filleting, bagging and freezing the first Halibut.

We’d always discuss the following day’s plans in the evening, and for Day 4 the plan was to head back to a similar area for Halibut fishing. With Andreas and Isaac leaving the camp we were down to 3 in boat 6, letting us loose at the controls – being seasoned boat owners we were more than happy with this.

Day 4 came with much the same weather - strong winds but being 1 or 2 degrees warmer meant the snow was now rain/sleet! We followed the guide boat to the first mark where we spent the best part of the morning drifting without a bite or a murmur on the radio. Getting a little twitchy, we agreed on a new game plan, we radioed the guide boat for permission to break from the group and head around to the opposite side of the island (back to Eagle Bay). Permission was granted and off we went, maverick style!

We settled in on the previous day’s drift lines to cover the same ground where we’d found fish. The wind was a little stronger than the day before but with the drogue deployed we were able to slow the drift up to around 1 knot. With baits in the water, we started the first drift and it wasn’t long before we had some action! Shane missed a take from a fish playing with his bait, I had something snatch at my lure that I didn’t connect with and Dave managed to hook up to another Halibut on a small coalfish. This fish fought harder than his first and we were expecting to see something a little bigger hit the surface; we were surprised to see a smaller fish of 85cm (weighed at 16lb). Still, what a great start on the first drift though!

We motored up to start a second drift, deployed our baits and took some photos of Dave’s second Halibut. The sun was out, the eagles were back and the fish were on the feed!

This was the drift where it all happened for me! Same sort of bite that I had the day before but this time I connected with the fish… and it felt like a good one! I bullied it up off the bottom on a fairly tight drag - there was a lot of weight to the fish with the occasional head shake and not much more until I got it about half way up, that’s when it woke up! Tearing line off the real and heading right back down to the bottom, at this point we all knew it was a better fish! I managed to get the angry fish back to the halfway point after coaxing it back up, only for it to take another screaming run back to the bottom! Now my forearms were paying for that tight set drag! The fight continued and this time after a pause and a bit of protesting at the halfway point, she continued to come up and meet us at the surface. I steered the fish towards Dave who was waiting with the flying gaff, it went into the bottom jaw and she was hauled aboard!

Elated and relieved, this was the moment that for me was the pinnacle of the trip! She measured in at 120cm and was later weighed at 50lb, a new personal best and I’m definitely happy with that!

The third, fourth and final drift resulted in nothing, I guess we’d had the peak time, with rain set in and with the wind worsening we made the call to head back. We had no radio contact with the boats on the other side of the Island so we didn’t know what else had been caught and likewise, no one knew what we had!

The journey back was bumpy and wet to say the least, described by Shane as a ‘white knuckle ride’ but the boat took it in her stride and 45 minutes later we were back at camp. Tally for the group that day was two Halibut – Yes, we were the only boat to catch and there were a few green eyes at the dock too! After filleting and dinner we had the usual 8pm knock at the door with Day 5’s weather forecast and plan of attack. The wind was dropping overnight and this would be our best weather day so the aim was to head North West to fish in deeper water for Cod before the wind freshened up again in the late afternoon.

Day 5 came and after breakfast we fuelled up and left the harbour. The sea was pretty flat until we rounded the headland into the open sea. Big rolling swells greeted us, the result of the recent strong winds. The pace of the boats slowed to keep them in the water rather than in the air and we steadily made our way out. Matthew was riding the waves in parallel to us so I took the opportunity of taking a short video.

We drifted some deeper holes to 135 metres and some shallower 30 metre plateaus with a steady stream of 5 to 15lb cod, haddock and wolfish coming to the boat. Best cod of the day was a fish of 26lb, which gave me the run around on a spinning rod! Some smaller halibut also put in appearance on the shallower plateaus with Shane managing a 65cm fish that was returned to do some more growing!

As the afternoon wore on, the wind got stronger and the swell got larger, up to 8 metres at times. We’d often lose site of the other boats and land momentarily in the trough then they’d reappear on the crest of the next wave. With the conditions worsening, the guide boat called lines up – time to head back before it gets nasty! Back at the camp, it was clear every boat had targeted cod! The fish cleaning room was packed, including the tables on the pontoon! With our cool box already filled with frozen Halibut, Dave and I had returned all of our fish, so all that remained was a leisurely walk back to the cabin to put the kettle on.

We hatched a plan to pop back out for an hour or two that evening to have a go at the plaice and dabs, it wasn’t hectic fishing by any means but we did manage to catch a few with the best plaice around 3lb.

On Day 6, our final day of fishing, the breeze was fresh but the sun was shining, it even felt a little warmer! Today we were heading to a mark called the channel, renowned for big halibut and a favourite spot with the guides. After a 6am breakfast, we left early and headed east of the camp. With the sun shining, this was definitely the day to take some scenic photos and enjoy the surroundings.

Bait fish were easy to locate but the Halibut on the other hand were not! Every boat fished hard, with many still trying to find their first Halibut of the week. The only Halibut caught came to Mike in the guide boat, a decent fish of around 40lb. The slow fishing didn’t matter though, we’d already nailed some in the week and with the warmth of the sun it was just a pleasure being there!

The day ended earlier than usual, so that we could get back and clean down the boats. The ride back was the smoothest of the whole week – typical that only now the weather decides to get good! With the boat cleaned, fuel bills settled and the last day done, it was time to start packing! Packing isn’t quite as fun when you’re on your way home!

We travelled back the following morning (glorious weather), with coach, both flights, taxi and car ferry to the Isle of Wight all on the same day.

What a great trip and prize! We’d both like to say a big thank you to Angling Direct, Sportsquest Holidays, host’s, guides and of course to the lovely people who voted for me to win King Of The Catch!

New friends and great memories made, can’t recommend Sportsquest and the camp enough!!

Thanks again, Ben.

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