In this blog I'm going to try and answer the question posed to Major Craft by a friend Will Pender on a recent post of theirs, i also aim to address one of the issues I've struggled with over the years.
Brief timeline of LRF
In 2011, Keith White publishes The Rockfish Files after years of studying what the Japanese were doing with Light Game 'LRF' as we affectionately got to know it. There were blogs appearing all over the place and there were subsections created on fishing forums as lure anglers clambered to take part and learn more about the sport.
Around the same time Marukyu arrived in the UK selling their Ecogear, Marukyu and Nories brands into the trade. We saw the creation of the Weymouth, Plymouth and Cornish LRF movements and new friendship groups being made around the sport of LRF.
2010 saw the birth of The Art of Fishing who quickly become the leading figure in introducing LRF specific light lure fishing tackle into the UK from Japan, 2011 the inaugural Cornish Lure Festival and it gained momentum from there to it's current position which is one that is disjointed with many LRF setups gathering dust in peoples tackle den whilst a juxtaposition exists with an ever growing stream of anglers fishing worm and baits on LRF tackle, you only have to go to the piers along the South Coast during the summer to see this at hand.
LRF garnered the interests of anglers both old and young, the pursuit of chasing fish on artificial lure during the slower months for bass appealed to some, for others it was the lure of the unknown, for others it was the fancy Japanese tackle- LRF was throwing up all manner of weird and wonderful species and for others it was how social and accessible this new form of fishing could be.
What is LRF? Before we go any further, for those unaware of the acronym LRF or Light Rock Fishing put simply is a form of lure fishing with light lure tackle, with anglers typically using lures with weights as low as 0.5g through to around 7g.
Marukyu and the trade
We can't talk about LRF without mentioning Marukyu, Marukyu a Japanese firm set up distribution of their products in the UK, they brought Power Isome a much loved artificial sand worm imitation along with their Ecogear and Nories brands. Nick Marlow headed up the marketing team and ran a strong group of anglers across the country promoting their products and the sport across social and written media. Power Isome single handedly changed the game in the UK in my opinion, it accelerated the growth of the sport and suddenly people were out catching species across the length and breadth of the country on LRF tackle, without it - the position for the sport would be somewhat different to what it is now.
Marukyu are sadly no longer in the UK with it being left to independent retailers and distributors to import the product for the small demand that still exists.
The angling trade started to adapt to this new market, distributors such as Nice Fish and Lure Heaven started to bring us specialist tackle from Japanese brands such as Sunline, Major Craft and Graphiteleader, the Art of Fishing, Chesil Bait n Tackle, Lure Heaven and Mr Fish Jersey all started bringing quality, high end light game tackle to the market whilst George Cunningham and his team from UK based Tronix took a different approach and provided the market with affordable, modern lure tackle. I think most reading this will be familiar with their HTO brand and the HTO Rockfish range.
My own experiences with LRF
Growing up in the Midlands i used to holiday in Weymouth and Devon every year and was always curious about sea fishing, my first wrasse was at a very early age from Weymouth stone pier and I've always been fascinated by what lurks down there rather than the pursuit of the largest fish in the sea. I used to travel to the coast of a weekend to fish for bass and would often shun holidays abroad to fish the UK coast. My first taste of LRF was in 2011 using my UL trout rod, a pack of Isome and some fine jig heads i had endless sport from pollock, wrasse and other small species, excusing the pun i was hooked. I ended up moving to Weymouth Harbourside in Spring 2013, asking work for a role on the coast if one ever come up and up until recently have fished 3-7 days a week every week since then unless the weather prevented it.
It was easy to become completely besotted with the sport that i could find within walking distance of my front door no matter the weather or state of tide, I have manage to catch over 30 species now from Weymouth harbour and it still has a draw to this day.
Completely immersed in the intricacies of the tackle, lure presentation, individual species feeding and movement habits and just being at the waters edge led me to spend unhealthy amounts of time fishing, thinking about fishing and talking about fishing. My phone would ring or ping at the sound of a call/ message and within 10 mins i'd be harbour side introducing someone else to the sport of LRF. The biggest draw for me, and still is larger fish on LRF tackle, pollock, garfish, bass, flounder and gurnard top the list with wrasse still being a firm fan, if not a little easy to come by when the goings good. I've no preferred method, I'll use whats needed to catch consistently throughout the session or what is going to give me the most satisfaction.
Species hunting, the appeal of finding new fish and feeding habits and the thrill of showing off your latest capture and ever growing species list appealed to me in many ways, both satisfying my competitive nature and also inspiring others to try new things.
In 2017 i joined Shimano as a consultant and the sport started to change a little for me, i was suddenly surrounded by big fish anglers, top match anglers and then there was erm... me filling the shoes of household names that had gone before me.
It was a different world for me and whilst I carried on with my passions i will admit it felt awkward having so much enjoyment with LRF whilst the guys in the background were ribbing me for catching small fish, i started to get a complex and started switching it up deciding to drive 200 mile round trips to catch specimen perch to keep up appearances rather than focusing on what I loved.
To take a position like Shimano at consultant level was challenging, i had some excellent times and hope that i done the brand justice in the work that i did during my time with them and one day hope to do more work with the brand if the opportunity arises.
Like many before me, the involvement with a brand skewed my love for LRF in one way or another, Shimano are a power house in light game/LRF in Japan, rods, reels, lures etc but what i learnt from my time with them is the market in the UK is tiny and really is a niche within a niche and really wasn't something they would enter into in a big way.
I left Shimano in 2018 to focus on moving house, my day job, writing Hooked on Lure Fishing and Team England Lure Squad, this also freed my thoughts and in my spare time and my passion for LRF returned in a big way. I had some excellent times and hope that i done the brand justice in the work that i did during my time with them and one day hope there may be an opportunity to to do more work with the brand if the opportunity arises and there is a need.
Around the same time as the Shimano contract i had my own wobbles about whether i should be using Isome and Gulp! (both are actually artificial baits rather than lures) this was born from reading about Adam Kirby and Dan Sissons personal quests to go through the season without using them- it had me questioning what i was doing and enjoying, it sounds ridiculous but I've a lot of respect for Ad and Dan and it put me off my own fishing for a while.
It's funny how the mind works and i hope in sharing this it may help others that go through periods of self doubt and is a timely reminder that social media can make even the most confident feel inadequate at times not to mention the wind up merchants and trolls who lurk in the shadows who thrive on stuff like this, I like to turn the electronics off and go fishing to get away from them!
Competition and species hunting
Species hunting and competitions changed the sport in many ways, the South West LRF leagues brought people together but at the same time drove them apart however other incarnations around the country seem to have still got a following.
Competitions are good in moderation and will hopefully continue to be a pivotal part of the LRF scene in the future but in my opinion in many areas they have stumped peoples progression and stopped people trying out new techniques, many reach too quickly for the comfort blanket that is Isome or Gulp! and species hunt and use it almost exclusively through their session missing out on other sport.
Some that i speak to think LRF is just gobies and blennies on split shot and drop shot rigs, many see this as the norm because of the species hunting that we do not realising what sport is available from the larger pelagic fish, pollock, bass, flounder etc.
Why LRF, 'Why bother'?
LRF/ Light Game finesse methods will help you to be a better all round lure angler in my opinion. Understanding how to control your lure and use finesse tackle in the various scenarios that we are faced with from the rocks, harbour, deep water marks, estuaries, pelagic fish will help you when you do step up to use larger lures for bass or more exotic species and even when moving across to freshwater. Understanding the different feeding patterns of fish, how they act at night etc. All of this is transferrable, and what better, LRF is there for you when you can't get on the beach or rocks for bass.
LRF is accessible, anyone can do it, regardless of fitness level, angling ability or age.
'Why bother'? I've had this question asked a few times and it's a difficult one to answer, i think the easiest way to is this, if you are looking for a more social style of fishing, something that can be done in almost any weather at any state of tide with an endless variety of species then LRF is worth a try, if you like rock pooling with the family or as a kid you'll enjoy LRF but it isn't all about small fish!
Let's go there, most people possess an ego of some sort, social media has made this situation 10 times worse but when you strip it all back and look just at LRF anglers, we are out catching small fish, the species lists and competitions can have a tendency to get peoples ego's running wild whilst everyone looks for their endorphin hit. Unfortunately, whenever you introduce competition into something it is always going to put someones nose out and people will become secretive or less likely to share marks, experiences and techniques with others, this will always exist to an extend but there needs to be a balance.
You only have to read some of the threads on social media or listen to the bitchiness of some anglers in tackle shops, there is always a green eyed monster lurking somewhere both in fishing and every other sport I've come across, we need to see past those mood hoovers.
One of the very reasons i love LRF is no-one ever queries the weight or length of your fish and apart from the wrasse fishery that exists in the South West generally no-one wants to hammer your mark commercially, apart from the odd troll, usually on Facebook anglers are generally buoyant about the catches that they see others share online.
One of my all time most liked posts on Facebook is a fifteen spine stickleback, I'm not sure what that tells you about my friends list but i know that you can't have a bloody ego when you're out fishing for sticklebacks!
Do mackerel hold the key?
In the UK the buzz species are mackerel, sea fishing participation is at its highest when the mackerel are in, my local tackle shops sell mackerel kits by the dozen over the summer weekends, heavy beach rods, reel, line, feathers and weights. It's crude, it's destructive but for many it's all they know, this isn't about sport, it's about landing a bag full of mackerel to eat.
At the same time, enthusiastic anglers follow suit using the same methods to fill up their bait freezers without stopping to pause to think about the sport they are missing out on. They become machine like going through the motions.
Cross the pond to Japan, a completely different culture, whilst I've never been there and only have my own limited studies of how they fish what i can see is that their mackerel equivalent (Aji) has a lot more respect given to it than we give our mackerel, the Japanese have their own lures, rods, reels, lures and have their own dedicated subculture who appreciate the tackle and sport that can be had from this pelagic, shoal fish. The Japanese still take their catch home but they more importantly enjoy the sport that they provide.
For LRF to garner more of a following in the UK i feel we need to move away from promoting the species hunting side of the sport and appeal to our existing anglers firstly and not the occasional ones, we need to promote what fun can be had using light tackle for mackerel, i appreciate some anglers do use spinning gear and spoons/ wedges for them but the proportion that still throw feathers outweighs this.
So where do we go and why do we need to go there?
From the work i do in the trade I can see that the demand is weaning for LRF tackle all the time, as the demand weans, less shops will invest, distributors will stop importing and it will become harder for existing and newcomers to get access to the kit. Experienced people within the trade will tell you the market isn't there for LRF on the whole and they are right, it doesn't take an expert to see it but this isn't about the trade, for me it's about the sport that others are missing out on and educating them.
In the opening words of our Hooked on Lure Fishing book we wrote this 'On a more sobering note, in an era when less than 5% of shore-caught sea fish weigh over a kilo, this has to be a better way than to maximise enjoyment than the traditional broom handle rod'.
There has to be more to angling in this country than sitting behind two heavy rods watching the tip, waiting for the palm sized pouting, whiting or dogfish that most loathe to snaffle your bait.
It's hard for me to step back and to understand it as i've been immersed with LRF for some time, bass fishing on LRF is insane, bass fishing on the estuaries and beaches can be great fun, the wrasse fishing is incredible on LRF not to mention flounder, gurnard from the beaches scad and mackerel, i struggle to understand why everyone isn't doing it whilst me and friends are catching endless amounts of fish whilst the bait anglers rods are sat untouched.
As a collective we have to harness the power of YouTube, Instagram and Facebook to share our sport if we are to make a difference and inspire the next generation if we cannot appeal to the exing.
Major Craft, HTO and the Art of Fishing and the likes of Carl and Alex on YouTube hold the key to the future in my opinion, if they can work together to produce videos and blogs that put the sport out there i think people will start to embrace the sport again.
There are many experienced heads out there in the UK, i don't need to name drop you- you know who you are if you are reading this, if we were all to collaborate with the same enthusiasm that existed at the start i believe we could make a real difference. Get in touch if you have any ideas, leave me a comment, once Covid-19 is out of the way i welcome anyone to drop me a line and we'll get out fishing like the old days!
Thanks for reading.
If you are curious to know more about LRF and particular species habits check out my book Hooked on Lure Fishing which is available in the Shop section of this website.