Sporting Gun’s announcement that it was adding a ‘Sporting Swaps’ section to its hugely popular free ads section set me thinking.
The intention may have been to give readers the opportunity to exchange unwanted kit, but I could see another angle.
Why not offer one type of sport in exchange for a different one? The obvious thing for me to offer was a day’s fishing.
I’m a former England International sea angler, (beach, boat and big game), with plenty of spare gear and access to some superb boats.
What would I fancy in return?
That was a fairly easy decision. Apart from the odd muntjac on one farm here, my various South East Essex shooting locations are virtually deer-free zones.
Decision made – a “Help Me Put Some Venison In My Freezer And I’ll Make Sure There’s Some Fish In Yours” advert was soon on its way to Sporting Gun.
The response was tremendous. Within hours of the magazine hitting the newsagents I was getting enquiries and over the next week more than a dozen people phoned.
Several months later the offers are still coming in.
All the calls came from interesting people who were a pleasure to chat with but one or two thought I could perform miracles, the most notable being a fellow who asked if I could guarantee him a double figure bass.
I only wish I could!
Top of the list was Colin Brooks who was anxious that I came up to his patch of stalking near Thetford Forest on the Suffolk Norfolk border whilst the reds and the roe does were still in season to give me the best chance of a shot.
So… A few weeks later we were drinking coffee in the estate’s shooting lodge and stacking 20lb or so of vacuum-packed frozen cod fillets and skate wings I had taken Colin into the freezer.
This wasn’t part of our agreement, but I love deals where everybody comes out feeling they’ve done well.
Given the choice of stalking on foot or a high seat I opted for the high seat, as I usually do on strange ground.
There’s no chance of wandering over a boundary, and it’s easy to check the safe backstop from a high seat.
If you are walking you are sometimes reliant on the local stalker to tell you when a shot is safe, and I’m not happy with that.
There are two other reasons why I prefer a high seat.
Firstly I love to watch the wildlife emerging at dusk or coming to life in the morning.
Secondly, my favourite deer rifle is my heavy barrel Sako 308. It’s a lovely tool, but carrying it far gets tedious.
My next task was to choose a high seat.
The one offering the best chance of a roe sounded interesting, but after consideration I chose one at the other end of the estate where Colin reckoned there was a realistic chance of a red.
The high seat overlooked a field of emerging wheat over to a wood about 200 yards away. Perfect!
I was asked to leave any big red stags but otherwise anything in season was fair game.
That suited me down to the ground. I’m of the “shoot it, catch it, kill it, grill it” persuasion, so the last thing I wanted was a tough old red stag.
A young hind would do nicely.
I’d been in the high seat for a couple of hours when two hinds appeared from nowhere, running alongside the wood at the other side of the field.
As they drew almost level with me I whistled, shooting the first one as they halted momentarily.
The second made off in a half-hearted confused manner and then made the mistake of looking back when I whistled again.
Two down, job done!
Just before dark I added a muntjac doe, and minutes later Colin drove up in his truck to collect me.
Both hinds were young animals, perfect freezer fodder.
Colin made short work of gralloching them using a battery operated saw to cut through the sternum and centre of the ribcage.
Next morning I set up in a different high seat hoping for a roe doe.
I had an opportunity but the pair, a buck and a doe, stayed outside of my comfort zone with the 308.
I had no wish to risk a badly placed bullet, and so just watched them for half an hour or so as they grazed about 300 yards away.
Had they been foxes and I had my flat shooting 22-250 it would have been a different story!
All too soon it was back to the lodge for a cup of coffee before heading back to the badlands of South East Essex… albeit with a muntjac and a red hind for company!
THE RETURN MATCH
Thanks to almost continuous gales it was six weeks or so before I was able to invite Colin down for his ‘return swap’.
Eventually a window in the weather coincided with a few fish and it was ‘Game On’.
Colin came down the day before our trip, bringing me some more venison for my freezer. Good man!
It was then off to the foreshore to top up the supply of bait I had been gathering for several days.
Having never been crabbing or bait digging this was a bit of an eye opener for my guest.
An even bigger eye opener awaited him on our way back from the beach.
Colin’s shooting is in a well-keepered area where foxes are a rarity. Deviating just half a mile from our route I drove him along a quiet road, which runs between our local rubbish tip and Country Park.
The foxes there wander about in broad daylight like cats on a housing estate.
We saw ten or a dozen in a few minutes. Colin was amazed, but this wasn’t a lot.
A few weeks later when the cubs were above ground it looked like the fox version of Watership Down.
Heaven help us if rabies ever gets to Essex!
By 5.30am next morning we were at Wallasea Island Marina climbing aboard my mate Stewart Ward’s 30ft Southcat ‘Reel Busy’.
Stewart’s one of those blokes who doesn’t mess about. ‘Reel Busy’ is a lovely boat, fast, modern and equipped with top quality electronics and safety features.
At 25 knots it didn’t take long to get to the first mark where we would try for a bass or two.
Colin had only been sea fishing once before and so we gave him a quick tutorial on casting with a multiplier before we started.
We got a few bass but they were not as big or as prolific as we would have liked so we moved to the next mark in search of thornback rays.
This was my banker, and it didn’t let us down.
BRACE OF BEAUTIES
Within minutes one of Colin’s rods keeled over as a big ray steamed off downtide with his bait.
With minimal instruction he slowly eased the fish back to the boat and into the waiting net.
At 12lb 6oz it was a big female full of purses. My grin was as big as Colin’s, the pressure was off!
While we were admiring the fish his other rod keeled over, and shortly after a nine pound female joined the first one on the deck.
Just time for a quick photo before they both went back.
Within half an hour Colin had caught two more, a male and a female.
The females come to the area to lay their purses so we return them.
The males are less fortunate, and Colin’s male joined the bass in our fish cooler.
As Colin had four good fish under his belt I could now take it easy and get my own rods out.
To say we had a good session would be an understatement. Between the three of us we landed 29 thornies, with Colin getting nine of them.
Not bad for someone who had only been sea fishing once before!
We returned all the females which left Colin and I with 15 males to skin on the way back.
We’d had a smashing day, and Colin had two freezer boxes full of thornback wings and bass to take home.
The system had worked brilliantly.
We had both done our very best to give the other a good day, and I’d like to think that we both came away pleased with our swap.
More importantly friendships had been forged, and it certainly won’t be the last time Colin and I fish or shoot together.
“I had a smashing time and a great laugh along the way – I never knew there was so much to learn about sea fishing so digging bait and the like was an eye-opener. I’ve done a few sporting swaps in the past and never had a bad experience. What amazes me is that more people don’t try one themselves – you don’t spend a fortune trying something new, you have loads of fun in the process and you make new friends at the same. What more can you ask!”
• Why not try a Sporting Swap yourself? Most shooters and fishermen have something they can offer so the opportunities are endless. Perhaps a day’s pigeon shooting in exchange for a day’s rabbiting, a day’s rough shooting for a couple of duck flights, or a session lamping foxes in return for a chance at a goose over stubble?
• It’s a brilliant way to try something different and meet new people. The advert is free in Sporting Gun so you’ve got nothing to lose.
Go on, give it a try!