Jim Morrison said it during the montage of music that is ‘The End’ when he declared ‘The West is the best’. I realise that he was referring to west coast America, particularly California, but I feel that this adage can easily and equally be applied to Ireland. The West is the best, perhaps apart from the weather! I moved to Galway three years ago to start a degree course in freshwater and marine biology. With a year of the course to go I am rooted firmly here and with the prospect of commencing a family in the next couple of months (late October) I imagine it may be some time before I leave, employment being most probably the factor that may/will cause me to move on. In the meantime I have been and expect to enjoy what the West has to offer in terms of scenery, culture, opportunities and, of course, the fishing.
There is one thing that is missing from the west coast though and that has to be the appearance of particular types of fish. Smoothhounds are not to be found on the west coast and they have seen me returning home to Wicklow each summer since moving to Galway to do battle with them. These small, hard fighting fish are members of the elasmobranch family, made up of the sharks and rays. This information should tell us that they are predatory and indeed they are, smoothhounds being particularly partial to crab baits. Small fish, they can get to over 20lbs in Irish waters but fish in the 3lb to 6lb bracket are by far the most common capture. The fish are sleek, strong and capable of very tight turns at speed which makes them a worthy adversary for anglers. They can be caught from boat or beach or, my favourite, from a kayak and they are well worth making the cross country trip for.
I have only managed the trip once this year and the conditions were too rough for the kayak so we headed with Kit Dunne from Wicklow Boat Charters as detailed in an article a couple of issues back. Work has kept me away from them for the most part. I undertook a work placement as part of my college course and it now seems to be getting in the way of quality fishing time! I jest; I am grateful, delighted and relieved to be working full time again, even if I must stop to return to college for my final year in September. When an opportunity arose to get back home and the prospect of calm seas meant that I could get out and try my luck I grabbed it with both hands. This year’s El Nino event has played absolute havoc with the weather, the resulting winds making things very difficult for kayak anglers in particular. I cannot see it easing any time soon so we just have to grit our teeth and take our chances when they come, few and far between as they are.
The settled patch that landed over the east coast that weekend was brief but it was long enough to get out for a bit of fun. For quite some time Craig Murphy has been keen to get out and give the kayaks a go. We met in Wicklow and started to get set up for the day afloat. True to form, the bait was going to be peeler crab, frozen and live. After paddling a short distance out I dropped anchor and tethered Craig’s kayak to my own. Sitting over ten metres of water with a temperature just shy of seventeen degrees I think the water may have been warmer than the air that day, some summer! We had positioned ourselves over a flat area which featured a couple of rocky outcrops not far away. This looked a good place to start the hunt and with a strong tide running for the day it was just a matter of time before the fish found the scent and followed its trail.
As it turned out, we were right although first blood was that of a dogfish. I joked that we should photograph it in case it turned out to be the only fish of the day but it was swiftly followed by a hard fighting hound. Not a huge fish, it was a welcome one and the first I have had to the kayak this year. It is always nice to get started but I was not alone and before long Craig had a smoothhound on the kayak, not only his first hound to a small plastic boat but his first kayak caught fish. Delighted is an understatement! Having sampled the delights of kayak fishing he was keen for more and the bait went back to the bottom almost as faster than the hounds could move. More solid tugs betrayed the presence of more hounds and before long we were both fighting another brace. Things did slow down throughout the morning but the slowdown was in the form of dogfish replacing the hounds. Expensive bait thieves! They cleared off and we resumed business with the smoothhounds.
With morning turning to afternoon it was time to call an end to the session and head for shore. Winds were forecast to strengthen and I was very aware that it was Craig’s first excursion on the kayak. I did not want it to turn into a baptism of fire for him! We landed on the shore and reflected on the time on the water. For a short session we had over half a dozen hounds, a couple possibly pushing specimen weight. Craig has often asked me about the benefits of kayak fishing and a big one for him was the stealth aspect of kayak fishing. We discussed before how we feel that the kayak is the perfect craft for sneaking up on wary fish. Acoustics under water are incredibly loud. Walking about on the deck of the boat sounds like tapping the hull with a hammer when you are in the water. I have dived and snorkelled and if you have not had the pleasure of such an experience then I would most definitely suggest you try it. Not only will you be blown away by the aquatic world’s beauty; you will also maybe learn a couple of things that can be applied to your fishing.
Sound and Stealth
Sound becomes amplified under the water, to an incredible extent. I have been snorkeling in the royal canal (long story for another time perhaps) and I was amazed to hear people walking along the towpath when I was a couple of feet underwater on the opposite side of the canal. Ever since hearing that I have taken a different approach to my fishing and I try to minimise any sound that can potentially be transmitted through the water from avoiding loose stone and gravel to keeping bankside chatter to a minimum. A lot of people ask me why a lot of my fishing is done solo and the simple answer is that I know I can trust myself to keep quiet but many others seem to either overlook the importance of this or just disregard it altogether. If you cannot blend into your surroundings then you will struggle to catch good fish. In the Sea Trout Bible, ‘Fishing for Sea Trout’ by Hugh Falkus, the author extols the importance of finding fishing buddies that are not ‘…prone to prattle on all night rather whisper to you as they float past in the event of falling in’. I can see where the great man was coming from…
The kayaks are a great tool to stay stealthy and out of the range of hearing for the fish. Fish have ears and one very easy way to age them is to count the rings on their otoliths (ear bones) much the same way as an archaeologist counts the rings on timber found at historical sites. The lateral line on a fish will also pick up vibrations in the water and considering that sound travels in waves it stands to reason that at least some fish may have not one but two methods of hearing approaching danger in the form of noisy anglers. Suddenly a couple of layers of old carpet or underlay on the deck of the boat seem an excellent idea! In a kayak you have nowhere to go. You cannot walk about so there is little danger of your footsteps being transmitted through the hull and down through the water column. Having said that using the kayak in an oafish manner will negate the fact that one cannot walk around. Dropping pliers will transmit noise, as will any other loud sound produced.
Keeping this in mind Craig and I made sure to add a buffer between our tethered kayaks in the form of our legs. This ensured that the kayaks did not bump or bash each other and create unwanted noise, an action that probably put an extra couple of better fish onto the kayaks for us. Next time you are having trouble tempting better fish ask yourself what is potentially going wrong. If it is noise, try to eliminate it and perhaps the catch rate may improve.