Not at all like the last couple of years, have we finally been treated to some sunshine for periods longer than a week this time around? Indeed we have! After an uncertain start to proceedings this year the sun and the summer have arrived presenting plenty of angling opportunities. For starters, I spent a couple of days kayak fishing along parts of the incredibly rugged and breathtakingly beautiful Cork coastline. I fished from the kayak with soft plastic sandeel imitations and managed a few respectable captures with the spinning gear. I also fished with various baits and lost a couple of wrasse, one very good one, right at the side of the kayak. My mackerel baits could not tempt any of the ray that are being caught there as I write. Good fish were captured, notably a couple of big pollack but the fishing was a yard or two behind the pace of last year’s trip. Perhaps the sea was still a degree or two cooler from the prolonged winter/spring and the cycles are just a couple of weeks out of synchronisation? I hope so but just to err on the side of caution, I may leave it until a little later in the year before venturing down next year, just to be sure!
Shortly after returning to Wicklow from the ‘Rebel County’ I went for a drive south on the N11 for a mullet reconnaissance. Surprisingly, I did not find them in a couple of areas that I would expect them to be frequenting at this stage in the year. Undeterred, I travelled further south and checked out a few more areas, all the while noting suitable launch points for the kayak. The expedition was a success on two counts; a couple of handy launch sites have been identified and a few mullet were observed, hugging close to a harbour wall. Everything was noted and a return visit for the mullet is on the cards as soon as I get a replacement tip for my float rod – fishing rods and van doors do not make good bedfellows as I found out a couple of weeks ago. Again!
A couple of days after the ‘mullet and kayak launch reconnaissance’, Ashley Hayden from An Irish Angler’s World and I decided to return to the little tench pond that we had fished a few weeks previously. Admittedly, we probably arrived a little too late in the morning to make a decent impression on the resident tench but it did not prevent us from trying our luck. As my feeder rod settled on its rest following my second cast, the tip hooped around and I lifted into a very plump little tench that almost pulled the scales around to read 5lb. A fish within the first couple of casts can lead to a bounty or a slow session and unfortunately this capture signalled the latter. No more tench were caught during the session but we did manage a few small perch and rudd, more striking in their pristine condition rather than their size. I must try more sizable bait on a second rod if I happen to return to this water; it would be very interesting to see if anything larger resides in the lake that may be fooled by it.
The busy schedule continued with another trip down the N11 in search of smoothhounds. The idea was to meet a couple of kayak anglers from the Irish Kayak Angling Club and launch a trio of kayaks from the beach. We hoped to anchor and fish peeler crab baits from our carefully positioned craft. A smoothhound’s worst nightmare, to see us lot headed in its direction! Luckily for the hounds, the wind decided that things were going to proceed in a manner most unsatisfactory to the kayak anglers. A southerly breeze against the tide had whipped up quite a lot of foam and white horses. Whilst the choppy sea was fishable, it would have been in no way comfortable so we decided to relocate. After travelling north we found some shelter on the lee side of Wicklow Head but, somewhat predictably, we only managed to pick up dogfish. Not to worry; the hounds will still be there for another while yet. Plans were made for future trips and the preliminary planning for a raid on the local tope from a kayak was organised.
“You can only catch what is in front of you” – never a truer word spoken. One thing that kept springing into mind while trying to organise a tope kayak fishing meet was whether or not there would be fish in the area to target. I reassured the lads from the kayak club that I would keep an eye on things and would give them a call when our adversaries had arrived. A couple of days and text messages later saw me in Greystones harbour, teaming up with Ashley Hayden again for a trip out in the boat to ascertain if there were many, or indeed any, of the sleek predators in the area. We had an eventful morning with Ashley managing to land a cracking fish. Luck, however, decided to desert me on the day. Connecting with three tope, I managed to land not a single one of them. However, it was a pleasure to be present for the capture for a fish as fine as Ashley’s and to experience a couple of interesting phenomenon that can make up the highs and lows of a day’s tope fishing – having a rod almost wrenched out of your hand as a bait gets hammered in mid-water by a tope as you retrieve, watching tope at the surface having followed your bait right up from sixty plus feet, feeling the power as the tope surges along against the tide and the feeling of confusion as the line inexplicably goes slack.
One very worrying trend that has emerged over the past couple of seasons spent tope fishing, and I say trend because this theory is formulated from observations made over a period of the last few years rather than weeks, is the lack of mackerel being caught along the east coast which I find very disturbing. There have been many occasions over the past three summers when I have decided on a day’s tope fishing. The prelude to tope fishing is dropping lines for bait – mackerel. This should be a five to ten minute job; find a shoal, drop a few hokkais and keep ten or twelve mackerel as bait for a couple of hour’s tope fishing. The other day, two rods jigging solidly for two hours produced four mackerel. Pathetic. There has been many an occasion over the past three summers where I have spent more time fishing for bait than I have for tope. I know that on many of my trips out, both on a kayak and a bigger boat, had I been able to catch more bait more efficiently than I have done, then my tope catches would have at least doubled.
As it happened, I ventured out on the kayak a couple of days later and I was forced to call the trip off early, having not found any mackerel for bait after little over two hours of searching. I have been guilty of heading out on a fine, early season day in the past expecting to catch a few mackerel and then they failed to materialise. This can be explained away by over eagerness in the early part of the season and of course the fish won’t show up for another few weeks until the water temperatures rise. Scenarios like this are fully understandable in early May but by mid July, one would expect that mackerel should be abundant. Something is seriously wrong with mackerel stocks in Irish waters and conversations with anglers up and down the country have and will continue to confirm this worrying trend. Collapse of the mackerel stock will have dire consequences for the tourism and angling trades in this country. Mackerel are a very important link in the food chain in Irish inshore waters and many of their predators may be forced to relocate. Why would they hang around if one of their large food sources is not there anymore? Hopefully ‘things will pick up’ but you get the feeling that that expression has been wheeled out every year for the last while now…..
Not wanting to end on a negative note, allow me to tell you about a place that I found which contains an abundance of curious fish and plants. With the spell of glorious weather beating down upon us, I decided I would get into the water again and give the underwater filming another attempt. I wanted a venue with good clarity within easy reaching distance from Dublin/North Wicklow. I decided on a small stretch of the Grand Canal that is usually gin clear. As luck would have it on the day, Waterways Ireland were clearing weeds from this long stretch of canal which resulted in a fine suspended sediment throughout the water column, giving everything below the surface a peculiar green tinge to it. This suspension did hamper visibility to some degree but there were still plenty of things to observe. The margins were teeming with life. Pin fry seemed to be everywhere I looked along the edges and that is where they stayed, utilising the shade of lilies and the shelter of grass-like Bur reeds. Here they stayed, occupying a space that extended only a couple of feet out from the bank and dropped down to roughly the same depth.
Venturing beyond the margins, the water became deeper and darker. Rudd in the eight once size bracket started to envelope me. They seemed oblivious to the visitor to their watery world, happy to swim within a few inches of me, totally undisturbed. To observe nature at close quarters is a privilege but to see something like this, that only a tiny fraction of the population may see in its natural habitat is something quite special indeed. I must have stayed in the water for over an hour; it is incredibly easy to lose track of time when an activity as distracting as snorkelling presents itself! I did hope to see a few tench or bream, perhaps even a hungry canal pike but they did not materialise on this occasion but I am sure that they were moving about, just out of sight through the green tint. When I return, hopefully it will be during a time of total clarity and I may be able to pick a couple of them out.
The one thing I learnt from my previous few trips below the surface is how incredibly easy sound moves through the water and also how much it is amplified in this medium. Even the tiniest sounds can be easily picked up as it travels through water. If divers can hear it, I am sure fish have no issues at all about picking up any unwanted, external noise. It might be useful to bear this in mind next time you are charging up and down the bank or clomping about in your boat. You would be as well to drop speakers overboard and start pumping electronic dance music at full blast at the fish, such is the effect noise on the bank or in a boat could have on your fishing.
I am going to leave it there. I have not had a chance to have a go at the mullet yet but as soon as I wrap this piece up, I will be going to Southside Angling to pick up the replacement tip from my float rod. Those mullet must be getting nervous now!
If anybody has any comments or queries, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org