IFD: Mike Thrussell is a one of the best known faces in sea angling, having been a top angling journalist since the 1980’s, Mike has written several books and also been involved in the tackle trade as a consultant for many years and He is as keen about his fishing as ever Mike has amassed an amazing 110 species from UK and Irish waters and continues on his hunt for the remaining species. So now on with the questions…
What were your earliest memories of fishing?
My earliest memories of fishing were on the Mawddach Estuary in Wales, not far from where I now live. I was about 4-years old and I’d pestered my dad to buy me a rod. We broke some mussel off the rocks for bait and I caught a flounder on my very first cast. It was to prove quite some time before I caught another fish, and I realise now that that flounder was the key to a lifetimes fishing. If I hadn’t caught it, would I have lost patience and interest in angling? We’ll never know, but I think I owe that flounder a lot!
Can you tell us about the early days of your fishing career, where did you fish and what was the fishing like back then?
Until my early teens we lived just outside Sheffield in South Yorkshire, so I could only during family holidays in Wales and elsewhere. It was mostly estuary and a little beach fishing. My catches were pretty poor initially as I had no one in the family that fished, and no one to show me the right and wrong way to do it, so everything was trial and error. I spent my pocket money on magazines, such as Creel and Angling, and learnt from those, and from my many mistakes. Gradually things got better and I caught plenty of flounders, dabs, whiting and other common species, then caught my first bass, and became obsessed with them.
Looking back, without doubt, fish stocks were way better back in the 60’s and early 70’s. It wasn’t difficult to catch good fish once you had a basic strategy and learnt to put the right bait, in the right place, at the right time. I went to live and work in West Australia for 5-years in the mid 70’s, and returned to Wales in 1980. The fishing was still pretty good then, and remained so through the 80’s.
I noticed the beginning of what has been a constant decline from about 1990. I’ve always kept a fishing diary. I’ve not missed writing up a trip since I was 14. It tells me that bass numbers started to fall after 1990, and the flounder thinned out in my local estuaries. I was doing a lot of shark fishing, mainly porbeagles, in the late 80’s, and doing well, but the shark were hit by netters and longliners west of the Bristol Channel and their numbers fell to virtually nothing by the mid 90’s.
In my home waters of Cardigan Bay in Wales, the tangle netters hit the once prolific thornback ray, and within a few years they were pretty much gone. Even today their numbers have not recovered to any significant degree.
Lets not get too bogged down in how bad things have become. There are still some great fish to be caught, but it does take a lot more work and effort nowadays than it used to to catch a decent fish. Also, thankfully, the decline has been less noticeable in Ireland than it has in the UK, in my opinion.
You are an angling journalist, author and tackle consultant and you have also made numerous television appearances. How did you make the transition from pleasure angler to full time angler?
As a child, and while at school, when people asked me what I wanted to do, unlike the other kids, it was never to be a Fireman, Astronaut or Train Driver, it was always to be a writer. The bug to write was always there. In fact I did do some writing for junior newspaper pages in my early teens.
It was the early 80’s when I started doing a basic local catch report for a newspaper. I was then approached to write catch reports for a new fishing magazine, this being the original Sea Fishing Magazine. The editor, Bob Hawkes, was of the old school, a Hot Metal Press man and a proper journalist. He taught me a lot! After submitting the catch reports for a few months, Bob asked me to write a feature. Initially I didn’t do so as I was busy running my own retail clothes business, something I hated. Bob kept coming back and persuaded me to write that feature, the first one being about bass. I sent it in and he came right back to me and asked for 12-months worth of features. That’s how I started. The transition to being a full time journalist and working in the tackle industry followed on from that. I was very lucky that fate led me down the path it has.
It is strange, but I often get called a “full time angler”, yet nothing could be further from the truth. Being an angling journalist does not allow you to go fishing everyday, as many believe. If you are a writer, then during work hours, you write. Its just like any other job, there has to be an end product. I learnt that very early on. My actual fishing time is not huge, but I do work hard when I fish to make the most of the day.
Alongside writing, I’ve been a consultant for 25-years, but only worked for three companies in that time, Shakespeare, Leeda, Fox, and then returned to Shakespeare in 2005 before Shakespeare became part of the Pure Fishing group. I’m currently working in product development on the Penn, ABU, Shakespeare and Greys brands.
You have caught an astounding amount of species, can you tell us how many and how did the species hunting come about?
I only include species from UK and Irish waters. I’m on 110 now! I have strict rules too. Fish have to be hooked on rod, reel and line. I would not include a foul hooked fish, it has to be fair and square in the mouth. A good example was that I needed a freshwater goldfish. Catching one in somebodies garden pond would not be acceptable to me as its too easy and artificial. I found a coarse fishery where goldfish were present, paid my day ticket, and caught them legitimately, as you would any other coarse fish. In short, I’m brutally honest with myself. You have to be, otherwise there is no point doing it!
I initially started off targeting specimen fish, and still do, but then realised that to catch big fish consistently you have to play the percentage game. By this I mean catching a lot of one species to gain enough knowledge about them to specifically target the bigger ones. Also some friends and I started to count up each year how many different species we’d caught. Once I started to aim for an annual species count, it was only a matter of time before I counted them as a collective. My intention, about 25-years ago, was to get to 100, and even having gone past that now, I still really enjoy the highs, and inevitable lows, of trying for something new.
Species hunting has to be a lifetime’s vocation. You need to learn about each individual species, its habits, habitat and feeding preferences. Over time it gives you a real perspective of the marine world and all its diversification. You come to understand how important the little gobies are in the grand scheme of the eco system. Everything is there for a reason, and all vitally important!
Is there any species you still have to cross off your list?
Loads! The peak species time, summer and autumn, is a time when I actually don’t get a lot of fishing in due to work commitments, so I can miss a species or two where the time window of opportunity for them is Iimited. I still need an undulate ray, so will be heading back to Kerry at some stage, also a thin-lipped mullet, red mullet, tadpole fish, topknot, hake, torsk, angler fish, albacore and witch. The likes of mako shark, and deep sea species such as greater forkbeard, maybe Spanish mackerel, are obviously on the hit list, but you have to be practical and acknowledge that these are, for the most part, once in a lifetime fish and impossible to specifically target. If one happens along, great. It makes more sense though, to target the attainable and work on from there. In my remaining life, if I got to 120, I’d be very happy. Anything above would be a a massive bonus!
You have a great love of fishing in Ireland, can you tell us about your Irish fishing experiences and when did you first come over?
Ireland has been a 25-year love affair for me. Its given me so much, and I’ve enjoyed the company of some truly incredible people, made many lifelong friends, and learnt a lot from them about fishing, and even life in general. Some of the very best times of my life have been spent in Ireland!
I think my first trip was 1987. It was to cover a competition for a magazine on the east coast near Bray. I then came over on a fishing holiday in 1989 with a friend, and I’ve been lucky enough to come over every year since to fish or work. I’ve literally circumnavigated Ireland, fishing wise, and loved every minute of it.
There have been way too many fishing highlights to mention, but here are a few. Getting two specimen tub gurnard off Brandon Head the same day was a good one, and the next day I got my one and only john dory off the Magharees Reef. Hitting 32 mullet in a day to specimen size from a Wexford Harbour with my lad was another one-off, very special experience. My first common skate caught in Clew Bay, the bluemouth off Cahersiveen. A catch of shore thornbacks taken from a beach near Dingle when we were really up against storm force weather all week and under massive pressure to get a good feature, which we did on the very last day. The big blue sharks off Union Hall, Donegal, Cobh, and Kinsale are a favourite. Just last year my first stone basse off Union Hall comes to mind, and my first gilt head bream from the Clonakilty area, a fish I’d really had to work hard for over a long period of time having repeatedly missed out.
Your son Mike Jr. has also followed in your footsteps in the fishing world, that must make you very proud?
I’m immensely proud of him! He does work within angling, but we travel very different roads and he’s independent from my work, though he has written a few features for the magazines too. I never forced him in to going fishing as a youngster. He came of his own free will. He’s an exceptional boat angler, less keen on shore fishing, but really enjoys fly-fishing in all its forms. He too shares a great love for Ireland. Fishing together is a true joy, and something we don’t do enough of.
What have been your personal favourite catches over the years?
Being the first angler to catch any fish over 200lbs in Welsh waters on rod and line, a porbeagle of 205lbs back in 1989. A bull shark in excess of 250lbs in Florida caught on 15lb class spinning tackle, this being my first 10 to 1 fish. Catching both blue and striped marlin in Mexico. Also a yellowfin tuna estimated to be about 80lbs caught on a ABU 7000C and 18lb line, and a 35lb rooster fish on 12lb line, again in Mexico. A 100lb plus tarpon in Florida. A shore tope in Wales lengthed and girthed in excess of 55lbs, but released alive. Another tope, caught on my own boat, lengthed and girthed close to 80lbs, again released after tagging. Getting 53 sea species within a calendar year is also something I will also always remember. Finally that specimen gilthead bream near Clonakilty, because it was so damn difficult to actually achieve after so many near misses and setbacks.
If you could relive any session what would it be?
Back in the 80’s, I once caught 37 bass in three consecutive nights fishing, all over 4lbs, the best just under 8lbs. I didn’t count the smaller school bass. That was non-stop fishing that I’ll never ever experience the likes of again in my local waters. I’d also like to relive the battle with the blue marlin, the big bull shark, the yellowfin tuna and the tarpon.
What are your fishing hopes for the future?
I’d like to see sea angling, and sea anglers in general, get more respect from governments and politicians, for the contribution we make to national economies. In turn see anglers and angling have a greater influence on how fish stocks are managed for all.
I think sea anglers can also contribute more in the future to the scientific side of marine and marine species study. This proved by the excellent work over the years in Ireland tagging blue sharks, common skate etc. The more information we have, the better we can protect these fish in the future, and I feel anglers can lead the way here.
Personally, my main aim is to fish for as long as possible, and as much as possible. I shall continue to target species and will just keep chipping away to get as many as I can. Having got my Irish ten specimen award in 2014, I would also like to get my ten specimen species award, I have three to go. I also enjoy fly-fishing for trout, sea trout and salmon, and hope to do a little more of this over the coming years, though saltwater will always be my first love.
Well thanks for your time Mike and hope you have a great 2015
You too lads no problem…