For one reason or another I never got to do anywhere near the amount of fishing that I would have liked this summer. Work commitments, a transient existence that saw far too many hours behind the wheel of a car, family bereavements, microbiological issues and, at times, unfavourable weather conditions were some of the circumstances that conspired to keep me off the water and away from the fishing. Take the weather for example; a lot of the time I was stationed in Clare there would be a westerly blowing. A few times when I dashed over to Wicklow for a bit of fishing the wind turned and started coming in from the east! It was just one of those summers, from a fishing point of view. Sure, I could possibly have tried a bit of shore fishing but in all honesty, since starting the kayak fishing I just don’t get the same ‘buzz’ from bank fishing that I used to. I’m sure it will return but for the moment this angler is very much one that prefers to be on the water. Any bank sessions I have had in the last couple of years have seen me standing, looking out on the water and thinking to myself, “I could reach more fish if I had my kayak with me!”
With the summer all but gone it was time to stop moving around and to head back to Galway to recommence college as a third year freshwater and marine biology student. This year promises to be an interesting one with an extensive chunk of the programme set aside for a work placement that can be completed in Ireland or abroad. Who knows where that will take me? In the meantime and just before third year started I figured that It would be a good idea to get out onto the water and try my luck once more before the winter rolls in and with it a huge drop in water temperatures that sees a lot of fish move offshore. They will be replaced by others but I hope to spend a good deal of the cooler months floating on freshwater, assuming that we do not revisit the conditions of a couple of years back and everything becomes solid with ice.
For my last trip of the summer ‘holidays’ I decided that I was going to fish in Galway Bay for tope and ray. I packed up the van, made sure I had all the necessary equipment and bait, I checked and double checked everything and off I went. The relatively short drive had me at the beach and setting up the kayak, carefully loading all the necessary equipment and marvelling at how lucky I was to be treated to such glorious weather for the expedition. As is normal, a few passers-by stopped to chat about the odd looking contraption I was preparing for the session. I chatted to each of them, patiently answering all questions that were directed to me. One elderly lady asked me what I was fishing for and scolded me when I told her I was after sharks. “Don’t you make fun of me! There’s no such thing as sharks in Ireland.” I proceeded to tell her that in fact there were at least 28 species of shark that have been recorded in Irish waters and showed her some images saved on my phone. She stood corrected!
I had everything ready so I launched the kayak and headed out into the middle of the bay, stopping sporadically to drop feathers for mackerel. There were a few in the bay but not in huge numbers and they were of a rather small size too. Still, they would make fine baits and were of a particularly handy size for casting when pike fishing which I knew I would probably be doing the following afternoon so I kept a handful of them. Upon reaching my desired area, a part of the bay that had a clean, flat bottom but was not far from a rocky and weedy reef, I started to think about gearing up for some static bait fishing. It was only then that I realised my mistake; I had forgotten my anchor setup. Static bait fishing had just gotten up and jumped clean out through the window! A brief moment of uncharacteristic panic set in. I had two options; the first consisted of paddling back in, drive home, collect the anchor, drive back and paddling out again at the expense of potentially a couple of hours when you factor in the traffic in Galway. The second option was to make the best of a bad situation and look for an alternative. I chose the latter.
It is rare that I do not have a small lure rod and selection of lures with me and today was no different. With the water being as calm as it was there was a rocky outcrop that serves very well and is utilised as a roost by various gulls and shags. On a normal day this small ‘island’ serves as a break and water hits it, surging up violently. Under normal conditions it is a no go area for the kayak. The breaking swell on it is just too unpredictable but today was different. This time the surrounding water was glassy calm and it was too good an opportunity to pass up on. I figured that if there were exposed rock there then there had to be rough and broken ground all around it and would most likely harbour pollock. I set up the lure rod and approached with care. The echo sounder showed me that the bottom was indeed rough and there was plenty of weed present to harbour a few predatory fish.
First cast into the shallow water saw the rod arch over after just a couple of turns of the reel handle. I was convinced that I had hooked into a pollock and it immediately took line from the tightly set drag as it crashed into the weed. Steady pressure encouraged it to leave and after a short tussle the fish was ready to be brought aboard. It was not a pollock but a feisty ballan wrasse and a decent one too. A couple of pounds in weight, it hammered the soft plastic lure that I was using. I took a quick picture, unhooked and released the fish, worried that an instant fish can sometimes herald a slow session. Not this time! Second cast and I started to turn the reel handle. One turn, two, three……bang! There are few fish of their size that can hit a lure or bait so hard and enthusiastically. When a wrasse hits your hook it feels like a jolt of electricity travels up your line and into your hand. Many an unwary angler has lost a rod through their vicious bite.
After the first fish, I was ready. This second fish also made a dive for the weeds but the drag had been tightened up since the previous fish and this move had already been anticipated. Steady pressure and the unwillingness to give this fish an inch of line resulted in another fine wrasse sitting on my lap and awaiting the removal of a hook from its jaws. Job done and photograph taken, the fish was slipped back into the water to fight on for another day. The third, fourth, fifth and sixth casts all resulted in hard fighting wrasse, each eagerly hitting the plastic bait more or less as soon as it hit the water. The fish varied in sizes but all were over a pound and a half in weight. If memory serves me correctly the seventh cast resulted in a lot of ‘plucks’ but there was no hook up. I was using a four inch long bait and I assume that the plucks were smaller fish that were just unable to get the hook into their mouths. The shredded soft plastic that came back to the kayak confirmed this, the wrasse’s impressive dentistry doing damage to the tail of the lure.
Mangled but still usable, the next few casts all resulted in decent wrasse hitting me and providing me with an enjoyable tussle each time. After a succession of hits the plastic bait had finally succumbed to the constant battering of fish and had to be replaced. The replacements suffered the same fate. This scenario played itself out in this fashion for a couple of hours in what turned out to be a red letter day for me with this species. I could have fished on and would have caught more if my small supply of lures had not been annihilated by the gnashing jaws of these powerful predators. I am glad that I am not a sprat that has to try and avoid the lunging attacks from these fish. With my arsenal of baits hammered by the fish, it was time to move off to deeper water and try my luck at something else. The lures were saved and will be repaired with the aid of a hot iron which will be used to melt and fuse the plastic bodies of the lures back together.
Deeper water saw a continuation of catching but the species changed. I switched over to sets of hokkais and proceeded to jig for pollock and mackerel on every drop. The jigging produced only small fish of both species but it was most encouraging to see such a large number of fish in the bay and hopefully this is the sign of a bright future. I will return to the spot early next summer to see if they have gained in size. I have no doubt that they will. Shortly after the turn of the tide I decided to quit while I was very much ahead and turned the bow of the kayak towards the shore and headed home.
Fishing is a funny game and what can often be perceived as a minor disaster can be turned into a triumph with a reappraisal of the situation and a willingness to adapt to the conditions and setting that you find yourself in. Having forgotten my anchor my hopes of fishing static baits had been dashed but by being prepared for a couple of eventualities I was able to turn a negative into a positive. That is part of the beauty of the sport. When I left the shore wrasse were one of the furthest things from my thoughts but a change in circumstance ensured that they provided me with a wonderful afternoon’s entertainment. You just never know what opportunities could be presented every single time you go out and in a world where mobile phones and electronic planners have taken a lot of surprises from us and push a trend where everything has to be organised well in advance, very few things seem to be left to chance. That is partly why I love the sport; its unpredictability. I could just have easily headed home early and missed out on a fantastic session.