It seems depressing that at the time of writing (early August) it appears that the summer has been and gone. It must have visited when I blinked at some stage during July but there you go! I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as bad weather, only soft people and one of my personal mantras that I offer to others when they complain about the weather is; “Sure if you let the weather dictate what you do in Ireland, then you will never get anything done.” This is all well and good but one element of the weather has stopped me in my tracks this summer – the wind. As mentioned last month, I have had very few breaks with the kayak this summer. Every time Windguru or one of the other forecasting websites has given the possibility of calm days in the near future, hopes are invariably dashed when winds have picked up, making kayak fishing next to impossible. Although my photos and actions may seem foolhardy to some, if I am in any doubt I do not go out. It is just not worth it, why make your next fishing trip your last one?
Having said all that, despite the laughable summer there have been a few opportunities to get amongst the fish. I met a few like-minded souls a couple of weeks ago at an organised kayak fishing meet, all users of www.irishkayakangling.com. True to form, the original date had to be changed due to wind concerns and it was decided the right day to get out was the one prior to the organised date. We were to be fishing in the Dun Laoghaire area and you can call me a sceptic but I just do not have much faith in the area at all. Really, I was interested in joining the group that day not for the fishing but to meet a few new faces and swap fishy stories and angling techniques with other kayak anglers. I am delighted to say that the fishing pleasantly surprised me. We had been told that there would be wrasse on the cards and the outside possibility of cod.
The session started disastrously for me, realising that I had come with the wrong tackle box. All I had were a few soft plastic lures and jigheads with me. No plain hooks, leads, booms or anything else that might have been some use! Undeterred, I decided to jig some of the plastic worms in the hope that the wrasse may be interested. They were not. Feeling a little foolish after my mistake, I came to the conclusion that soft plastics were not going to cut the mustard this day and I really needed to be getting some of the ragworm that I had purchased down to the bottom. My solution was a little on the unconventional side and as I lowered it down I questioned whether it would work at all. All I had was a couple of one and two ounce jigheads. I figured that maybe I could bait up one of them with ragworm and a wrasse might be stupid enough to hit it. The tidal pull was not strong and I was using a low diameter braid so I reasoned that the one ounce size should be heavy enough. I loaded it up with a pair of ragworm and off it went in search of wrasse. What happened next was a bit of a surprise….
After feeling a good ‘double thump’ through the rod I struck and straight away the light jerk baiting rod buckled over. The baitcaster I was using had been set tightly and instantly line began to peel off it. It was a wrasse; it had to be with dives like that and a good one too. After a few seconds I started to get the upper hand and reeled the ‘wrasse’ up to the surface. I was very surprised to be greeted by a nice codling. Now don’t get me wrong, this fish was by no means large by national standards but it was a great surprise to get it in Dublin Bay and on such a crude method as well. I was made up and I did not care what I caught for the rest of the day. Incidentally, I happened to catch a few nice ballan wrasse over the course of the next couple of hours, the single codling of my first drop being the only one of its kind for me that day. Still though, the wrasse provided wonderful sport and it just goes to show that even a method, rig, lure or fly that looks ridiculous to the human eye might just look appealing to a fish’s eye!
About a week later and after spotting another couple of days with a window of calm weather, I headed for a local beach a few miles south of where we had encountered the wrasse and codling. North Wicklow was the general area I decided to launch from and the target was tope. As mentioned last month, fresh bait is a must for me so I spent a while jigging hokkais, hoping to hit some mackerel. After over an hour of jigging I had managed to secure three mackerel – a pathetic haul and one that mirrors catches up and down the country this summer in what I hope does not turn out to be the start of a very worrying trend. Still, it was enough bait for a couple of hours of tope fishing and I took out the stouter gear and sent the bait to the bottom. Two dropped runs later and I was wondering if my luck was out. I lowered the last bait to the bottom and after a short wait it was picked up. I struck into a spirited fish and after a few minutes of battle she was smiling for the camera. She must have been specimen weight and was a fantastic fish to mark my first of the season.
Two days later I headed down to the same mark again to see if I could repeat the feat. Turns out I ended up outdoing myself! I was using an experimental bait and the session had been long and very slow. As I thought of heading in to shore to try again some other day the ratchet on the reel started to scream. I flipped the reel into gear and the rod locked over into a heavy fish. Within seconds I knew that this fish was going to be better than the last offering. She ran further, fought harder and made a much greater effort to evade the angler perched on top of his kayak. After what can only be described as a gruelling battle and a Herculean effort to pull the fish on board I snapped a couple of photos and let her swim off again. I have no idea what weight the fish was. All I know is she was immense. I have heard guesstimates that range from 50lb to 90lb. I’ve been told that there is no question about it being a record beater. All I know is it was longer than six feet. Have a look at the picture and see for yourself. I am fairly confident that it is the largest fish landed by a kayak angler in Irish waters to date.
While I was buzzing from two great consecutive catches, the capture of them allows me to once again spell out what I think is a very important approach for fishing for any fish but in particular, large specimens. Always go out after your target with the appropriate gear to land them quickly and efficiently so you can release them with the least amount of stress caused as is possible. This applies to ALL species of fish, not just tope. I shudder when I hear of ‘anglers’ fishing with gear that is just not up to the job – fly fishing for pike with trout gear, for example. There is nothing sporting about tiring something to the point of near total exhaustion. It is short sighted and greatly diminishes the chances of the fish’s survival. A properly balanced set up for the intended species will not only land the fish with minimal fuss, it allows it to swim away again if that is what the angler wishes. Needlessly prolonging a battle is not only cruel, it also supplies ammunition to the ever increasing ranks of the ‘anti group’. For the record, the larger of the tope I caught was beaten with 30lb class gear which was stretched to its limits. Anything less and with the strong tide that I was also fighting, this fish would not have been landed. Certainly food for thought next time you think 15lb class gear will be ‘grand’.
One question that has been put to me a couple of times is what are my sanity levels like! As far as I know they are fine and this all comes back down to the appearance of foolhardiness but anybody who knows me well also knows the amount of planning, calculating and consideration that I put into targeting big fish from a kayak. I study things like forecasted wind strength, wind direction, swell height, tide height and tide times. If any of these factors are not to my liking then the kayak does not get wet. A trip scheduled for a couple of days ago was called off despite most conditions being perfect. Tide time and strength played against me that day so the best and most sensible option was stay on the shore. Frustrating but the tope will be there for a couple of months and eventually the conditions will become favourable again. Every trip I make out onto the waves is generally completed within three hours and at least as much planning and meticulous calculation goes into each excursion.
Also not mentioned last month when I was detailing the fishing gear was the safety gear that the kayaker, and indeed the small boater, should bring out to sea with them. I fish at anchor used in conjunction with an anchor trolley for a stable safe platform that will not move. I have already gone into kayak anchoring in detail in a previous article. Every time I venture out I also carry mini flares, a handheld VHF radio with spare batteries which is clipped onto my chest, a Personal Floatation Device/life jacket, a diver’s knife, a compass, a torch, a first aid kit and a pocket survival kit. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, have fun but above all remain safe particularly when it comes to water.
By the time this article has been printed I will have moved to Galway to pursue a degree in Applied Marine and Freshwater Biology. I am excited about this move and really looking forward to getting stuck into the course. I am a little apprehensive about the distractions that I may find there – Galway Bay right beside me, Clew Bay and Clare coastline within striking distance. The mighty Corrib will be on my doorstep and the River Suck will be about fifteen minutes away. For the first time in my life I will be living in close proximity to some quality coarse fishing, not to mention some special waters for marine life and game angling opportunities. I am looking into making a downrigger for the kayak with the intention of targeting big pike and trout that live down deep. More on that later. I wonder if I can write any of it off as research?
If anybody has any comments or queries, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org