I moved from the east coast of Ireland to the west coast a few weeks ago to study for a degree in Applied Freshwater and Marine Biology. Yesterday I took a trip out to very west Galway to concentrate on a small bay that I had briefly test-fished for a couple of hours a few weeks previously. The test fishing consisted of an hour of drifting, casting soft plastics for pollack or wrasse and the second hour saw me dropping anchor to fish static baits on the bottom, just small slivers of mackerel. This short visit threw up some small pollack and thornback ray and I wanted to return and see if I could find some bigger fish. On arrival I was greeted by a typical west of Ireland ‘soft’ day – very dark, ominous clouds and constant fine drizzle which, on occasion, turned heavier and gave me a few good soakings. Still, the wind was light and that is generally my main concern when launching the kayak.
Paddling out through the breakers, I decided to ignore the pollack that were probably lurking about the reef to my right and headed for deeper water with a relatively flat bottom. When the echo sounder showed an area with potential I dropped the anchor into forty feet of water and set about rigging up my rods. The stouter gear was set up first and used to send a full mackerel bait down to the deck. A full mackerel is maybe a little large for an average ray but you never know what could happen in Ireland and I like having a big bait on the deck just in case a leviathan comes along. The second rod was used to target the smaller fish with sand eels to provide me with some sport while I waited for something to find the mackerel bait.
After the first drop down with the sandeel the rod hooped over within minutes. Soon I had the first fish of the day on board and I unhooked him, took a quick photo and let him return to the depths. This first fish made me a little anxious; it often happens that an immediate fish is a prelude to a quiet day but not this time. Every time a fresh bait was lowered to the bottom it found a thornback ray. For the first hour or so all the ray were smallish males, punctuated by the occasional dogfish. To say the sport was hectic would be a slight overstatement, there were periods where I may have had to wait almost ten minutes for a bite but every time a bait went down a bite was forthcoming. Consistent would probably be a fairer way of describing it.
As much fun as catching the smaller ray was, some action on the heavier rod soon caught my attention. The tip started to nod erratically and I waited for a more positive indication before striking. This was not forthcoming so I retrieved my bait to find that there was very little of it left. My assumption is that a couple of small ray had been tearing lumps out of it, probably assisted by dogfish – not the monster I had been hoping for. Undeterred, I put a fresh mackerel onto the rig and sent it back to the sea bed. Once again, the same thing started happening, a feature for the rest of the day. The big bait did not catch a big fish on this occasion.
It was surprising to me that the winning bait for the bigger fish would be the sandeel. After an hour of catching and landing small males I stuck into something a bit more solid. Instantly I knew this was a better fish and it took a bit more effort to get it up beside the kayak. Hauling it aboard to unhook it, I could see that it was a female and the first of the day which also turned out to be the biggest. I had a weighing scales with me and I tried to get a weight but the fish maxed them. Admittedly, the scales limit is 7lb and it just happened to be in my pocket after a coarse fishing expedition I had been on a few days earlier. Back down went the sand eel and back up came another female. It seemed that some of the better fish had finally found the sand eel. Perhaps they were not interested in the large mackerel bait but I couldn’t help but think that the scent trail from it may have drawn them in after it had been sitting on the bottom for a while.
The afternoon continued to play out in this manner. After an initial flurry of four very decent-sized females the pattern was broken by another small male. Every time a bait was lowered, a fish was caught. There seemed to be no shortage of them and I would have loved to stay out there picking, them off one by one for many more hours than I was able to. A few hours in I experienced my one regret of the day and that was the fact that I had not brought enough sand eels to feed any more ray.
I headed for shore, soaked from the intermittent showers but with a smile on my face and safe in the knowledge that I had once again experienced the peace and tranquillity of bobbing about on the waves. I had taken in plenty of fresh sea air and spent the day in wonderful surroundings. But above all I had found some really fantastic fishing. Many times I have been asked whether or not kayak anglers catch more. I may be a little biased when I say “Yes” but I spotted a couple of shore anglers fishing so I decided to land between them. I explained my day to them, commenting that the bay was stuffed with fish.
“Have you had much luck yourselves?” I asked.
The response was short but firm “No”.
Another result for the kayak anglers!