As a nation, we are a funny bunch of people. We moan and kick up about the terrible summers every year for at least the last few and then, when a decent one finally descends it only becomes a matter of time before somebody has to say it – “It’s too hot today”. I will remind that particular person of that comment when the icy winds of January have found us once more. The general public’s quirks can be matched, or possibly surpassed even, only by the Irish angler in their ability to produce fantastical excuses for not connecting with fish. For years it was common to hear gems such as ‘There’s too much water’, ‘The temps haven’t risen to anywhere near where they should be’ and one of my personal favourites ‘The water’s too coloured’. Predictably, this summer has seen these excuses turned on their heads and now the opposite are being wheeled out – ‘There’s not enough water’, ‘The temps are too high’ and ‘There’s no colour in the water’.
I jest. The delivery of fine weather is a breath of fresh air and it seems, for the most part, to have had a very positive effect on many aspects of fishing up and down the country. Apart from the obvious one; mackerel. I touched briefly on the topic last month; Ashley Hayden looked at it in greater detail. I had been telling myself that everything would be fine; the mackerel were just going to be late this year following the prolonged Winter/Spring that seems but a distant memory at this stage. But all is not well in Irish waters and these shoal fish that constitute an integral part of the food chain have just not appeared in any meaningful numbers at all. I do not wish to be an alarmist but thinking back to the amounts that were about ten years previously, it becomes a very depressing notion to think that I have been able to witness the destruction of the most abundant summer visitor to the brink of near collapse. A decade is all it took. This is a very sad state of affairs indeed.
It has been a long time in the making but finally anglers are starting to make some noise about their concerns. I hope they do not get heard before it is too late. Popular consensus is that the Faroese and Iclandics are to blame for the decline and the EU are right to impose sanctions on the small island nations. I am of the opinion that it totally disingenuous to lay the blame at a pair of small nations who have decided to fish for a species that has only appeared in their waters recently due to rising ocean temperatures. The way I see it, if the stocks had been properly managed for the last few decades by the European fleet then there should still be plenty of fish to go around. They have not been well managed and as a result we are about to enter an era of embargos and stand-offs. Research what the EU fishing fleet are doing in North African waters and also the health of the stocks in Norwegian (non EU governed seas) waters if you have trouble stomaching my claim of mismanagement.
There is going to be no winner in this situation. The commercial sector is going to lose a huge amount of revenue if the mackerel stocks are allowed to collapse. Angling in Irish and European waters will be changed irreversibly. The increasing scarcity of the mackerel ensures that prices will skyrocket and the consumer is going to be hit hard. Most tragic of all though, remove an integral part of the food chain and all marine life will suffer terribly. Once again, the product of man’s greed will ensure that calamity ensues and the natural world will be the one that has to suffer the most. I have never seen things as bad as this and even if a compromise is reached I feel that the damage that has already been done will take years of very responsible planning and foresight to rectify if indeed the powers that be actually grasp the severity of the problem in time.
Besides mackerel, another migration that a fine summer can induce is that of people flocking to the water, such is their desire to cool off. With this come hazards that most of us have unfortunately been made aware of through bulletins on news features. I am speaking about the tragic series of drowning that have touched many families during this time of prolonged good weather. The frequency with which drownings have occurred in Ireland this summer is nothing short of shocking and my sincere condolences must be extended to all who have been touched by these awful events. As an angler, particularly an avid kayak angler, not to mention a very amateur diver, water safety is never far from my thoughts as it should be with any member of the public that interacts with the aquatic environment. According to Irish Water Safety there are on average 140 drownings in Ireland every year. I imagine that this year that figure will be higher.
One thing that can be a feature of some Irish and some visitors to our nation is a complete disregard for the power of water. In my mind, the drowning figures each year are low in comparison to their potential, given the propensity for individuals to totally disregard their own safety when it comes to water. Harsh? I think not when you take into account a couple of the eye-wateringly stupid incidents of a lack of respect for the water that I have witnessed this summer;
Case Study One: the video that the RNLI released which featured three mackerel ‘fishermen’ who had to be pulled from their ‘boat’ following concerns for their safety. This trio of genii decided that it would be a smart to head out to sea on a ‘boat’ that they knocked together with some polystyrene and a wooden pallet. There was not even a life jacket between them. Potential Darwin award candidates right there. Sound unbelievable? Watch the madness online. These guys were suffering from the common illness that has been termed ‘extreme stupidity’. Hopefully a cure can be found for them.
Case Study Two: the inflatable ‘kayak’ that a certain European supermarket decided to try and hawk for the princely sum of fifty Euros. It was not long before the advertisements drew curiosity and before long, people were eyeing them up with a view to using them for kayak angling. Nothing serious, just for around the bays and the rocks in tidal waters. I could nearly hear the personal reassurances being muttered all over the country, ‘Sure it’ll be grand’. Well, chances are it probably won’t. Flimsy inflatables like these are not suitable for Irish waters and are most certainly not up to the job of getting you out of a rough patch of weather should Nature decide to become difficult all of a sudden. I imagine that those whose judgement allows them to head out to sea on a fifty Euro inflatable kayak from a German supermarket would also be of the opinion that safety gear such as flares and VHF radios are surplus to requirements. When I first saw these items being advertised I assumed that it would mean a busy few months ahead for the coastguard and as if to back up that train of thought, the Irish Coastguard made an official statement a couple of weeks later asking for the public to refrain from buying such ‘kayaks’.
Case Study Three: the willingness and frequency that small boat owners and users have to head out to sea without even a lifejacket, never mind any type of signalling or communication equipment. Granted, the vast majority of trips out to sea end happily but there is always a chance so why risk not having something that could save your life. Is it bravado, is it a case of suffering from the dreaded ‘extreme stupidity’ illness that I mentioned earlier, is it laziness? I know that I have mentioned this before but a short, cheap, mandatory boating course would be no harm at all for a lot of water users on this island.
So there you have it. A trio of irresponsible acts that occur more frequently than many people would realise, except for the first one and I really hope that is an isolated incident that is never emulated. Is it any wonder that there are not more tragedies on our fair isle with prevailing attitudes such as those outlined? By the time you read these words, summer will possibly be drawing to a close and that will see an outflow of water users from the coasts and lakes. Irrespective of this fact, whatever time of the year you do decide to venture out on a boat, please ensure it is sea worthy and that you carry all necessary essential and emergency equipment. It is not just yourself that you pose a danger to; you also risk the lives of each member of crew that is scrambled to assist you should the worst happen. Bear this in mind next time the phrase ‘It’ll be grand’ enters your mind whether it came from your own thoughts or through your ears.
Believe it or not, I actually did some fishing this month when I was not picking holes in water safety attitudes! Very little of it was carried out on terra firma and my forays consisted of a few various kayak fishing trips mostly. Highlight of the month had to be a last minute place on Wicklow Boat Charters which is run by the more than capable Kit Dunne. Unlike other charters that I have had the displeasure of using, Kit offers a fantastic service and has swiftly become the man to go and see if you want to experience some fine fishing along the Wicklow coastline for the animal species. We had a busy morning of pulling in smoothounds followed by an afternoon of fun with the tope. The at times hectic sport was punctuated by a couple of fine bull huss. The man himself even had time to fix his customers a cup of tea which accompanied a chocolate cake that he had brought along for one of the lads fishing with us for the day who happened to be celebrating his birthday. Kit Dunne knows his species, his marks and more than knows how to look after his customers. I honestly would not have a bad word to say about the service that is provided and before conclusions are jumped too – I paid like everybody else did. A great day and thoroughly recommended, I look forward to my next.
I spent a few very interesting hours along one of the Wicklow beaches a couple of days ago. It is that time of year again and I knew that tope would be a viable target from the kayak once more. Nothing new there. However, accompanying me this time was a boat with a small camera crew. Some of my photographs from last year had grabbed their attention and they decided that they may be enough interesting angles to put together a documentary on what I was doing, with their particular interest drawing them towards the larger than average tope that seem to be attracted to the area. I went out, I fished hard but as Sod’s Law would have it, not even a sniff of a tope for the cameras. Undeterred, I have to meet with the group again next week for another attempt so fingers crossed for a more successful outcome then. I will be out after the tope tomorrow but the crew are unavailable. Sod’s Law will also dictate that I probably will have a red letter day tomorrow!
I am also currently working on a web project that I hope I can launch before I pen my next piece. Stay tuned……
If anybody has any comments or queries then please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org