Summer is well and truly here but you would not think it after looking out the window! Rain has been a constant feature since around mid April. I have not been coarse fishing much at all recently; local fishing is a far more feasible option for me at the moment which ultimately excludes decent coarse fishing. What I have “on my doorstep” are various types of game and marine angling. On the days that have been calm enough I have taken the kayak out onto the sea although at times these windless days have been few and far between. When I have been able to get out the sport has been slow. There is no shortage of dogfish and, in amongst them, the occasional bull huss. The odd gurnard is showing too but the mackerel seem to be scarce so far. In local waters anyway. I wonder if the deluge of rain adding to already swollen rivers, pumping far more freshwater than is usual out into the sea has pushed them a bit further out to sea? My trip to Co. Cork a few weeks ago has spoiled me with double figure Pollack and now I am back and have to contend with the east coast fishing again for a while.
But it’s not all bad. One feature of the east coast in mid to late summer is the arrival of the tope. These small to medium sized sharks turn up around the start of July and anybody who has ever fished for them can attest that they are the providers for one of the most pleasing sounds of the summer – not Swedish House Mafia but the scream that a multiplier reel makes when the ratchet is engaged and a tope tears off with your bait. If you have heard this sound before you will be familiar with the feeling of excitement that rushes over you because you know that as soon as you flip that reel into gear, battle will commence. To me, it is one of the best sounds of the summer and I look forward to hearing it every year.
I approach tope fishing from a kayak. The method is not for everybody, it is still a relatively new concept in Ireland but it is starting to gain popularity and momentum, fast. In principle, the only real difference between kayak fishing for tope and boat fishing for tope is the fact that you use a much smaller craft to target your quarry from. Rods, reels, lines, traces, baits and techniques are all pretty much the same from both types of vessels. In this piece I am going to explain the tackle I use for tope fishing, and why I use it. Fishing for tope is immense fun, especially from a kayak, but must only be recommended to those confident in their kayak handling, fish playing, fish handling and unhooking skills. It is not a method for the faint hearted.
When it comes to gear, use tackle that is made for the job. I use an ABU “Seven” rod to fish for them from either a boat or kayak. The rod is seven feet long and in the 30lb class range. It has enough backbone to end most fights within ten minutes and allows you to boat the tope while it still has a bit of energy which will greatly increase the fish’s chance of swimming off strongly. I use a 30lb class outfit because I have grave reservations about using lighter gear for such powerful fish. Some claim that it gives much more fun and a “sporting” fight from the fish. I see nothing sporting about wearing a creature to such a state of exhaustion that it has very little chance of recovering from its ordeal. Only a fool would go fishing for tope with a little rod suited for mackerel. The reel I use for tope fishing is an old Penn 209 level wind that is loaded with 50lb braid. The reel is possibly as old as I am but it has served me well and continues to do so. Using an Albright knot, I have attached about thirty feet of 60lb mono to the end of the braid. This keeps the braid free of rocks on the bottom if I am fishing over rough ground.
When I am setting up to fish, the end of the mono is threaded through a short boom that has a clip attached to it for the lead. A swivel is then attached to the line and my rig will be attached to the swivel. The lead that is used for fishing will vary on the strength of the tides you encounter whilst fishing. The marks that I frequent require anything from an 8oz lead on a slack day to a 1lb lead when the tide is pushing through hard. Below the boom comes the all-important rig. First off is about seven or eight feet of 150lb mono. This acts as a “rubbing trace” – tope have pretty rough skin and a big powerful tail that swishes from side to side to propel themselves through the water with power and speed. Fishing in shallow water or playing a running tope close to the surface in deeper water narrows the angle between the rod tip and the fish. This sometimes brings the trace into contact with the tope’s tail and the normal mainline would get nicked and broken after a couple of passes of the tail. The thicker 150lb line acts as a little bit of “insurance” against break-offs caused by the swishing of the fish’s tail. Inspect this section of mono carefully for any signs of weakness after each catch and if there are any nicks in it, replace it immediately.
The last piece of the puzzle is the tope trace. Tope have a mouthful of sharp teeth and some sort of protection is needed to stop them chewing their way through the line. Some anglers prefer to use heavy mono, doubled over. I prefer to use wire. I’m not saying one way is right and the other is wrong, I just prefer wire for peace of mind. I make my traces myself due to a deep-rooted suspicion and lack of confidence in shop brought traces. I construct mine with about 24 inches of plastic coated 80lb wire. At the end of this I crimp an 8/0 Cox and Rawle meat hook and at the other end I crimp on a strong 2/0 swivel. The swivel is used to attach the wire trace to the “rubbing trace”. Use the best, sharpest, strongest hook you can get. Tope are a powerful adversary and will make a mockery of cheap or sub-standard gear. That is pretty much my entire setup and when I hit the water all I bring with me are a couple of spare wire traces, leads, booms and a spool of line for “rubbing traces”.
After doing a bit of experimenting with baits, I have found that whole mackerel are the best to use. The fresher the mackerel, the higher my confidence in it and I prefer to catch my bait, where possible, on the paddle out to my mark. Frozen bait is a very poor second option, in my opinion. A lot of people advocate the use of mackerel flapper baits but I have stopped using them because I find that I get plagued by dogfish whenever I try them. A whole mackerel sounds like a big bait and it is but I assure you that even a small tope has no problem engulfing such an offering. Incidentally, either does a large huss. I have had a couple of cases where I have taken in my whole mackerel baits to find that an exceptionally greedy dogfish has chewed itself halfway up the bait and hung on until I brought him to the surface but this is rare. If you cannot get through the dogfish whilst tope fishing then switch from flappers to whole baits and you will be well on your way to eliminating those nuisance doggies. To attach the bait I insert the hook into its mouth and out through its head. I thread the hook right through the head and insert it again near the dorsal fin. I thread it through the skin on the back and leave the shank of the hook along the backbone with as much of the bend and point free of the bait as is possible. Then lower the bait to the bottom, leave the reel in free spool and click on the ratchet to begin the waiting game.
When a tope does find your bait it will steam off on a long powerful run. The fish picks the bait up and because tope usually do not travel alone it is theorised that this initial run is the tope carrying the bait to a quieter spot out of the way of its pack mates for an unhindered meal. To strike too early will pull the bait and the hook out of the fish’s mouth. As this initial run just starts slowing down is the time I like to strike and this nearly always results in me hooking fish at the front or side of the mouth which is nice and easy to deal with when we get them up close. One piece of advice I will give is to urge you to check and double check your drag is set before you strike into the fish. I lost my first tope of the year a couple of days ago through this silly mistake. Not realising I had forgotten to check the drag, a tope had screamed off with the whiting bait I had sent down to the bottom. When I clicked the reel into gear the rod arched over and my mainline just snapped like a piece of cotton thread. Gutted is not the word…..
Undeterred, I hit the waves again a couple of days later hoping to connect with another tope and, hopefully, land it this time. Of course, fate had other ideas and all I managed on this outing were a few dogfish and a small bull huss. Tope can be a little elusive at the time of writing (mid July) in the locality. There one day, gone the next, I have found that their numbers in presence can fluctuate from day to day. It’s as if the first fish I hit was an early scout, its brothers and sisters will be following behind. One thing is for sure though – connecting with that powerful running fish on Monday was just a prelude to good times ahead. Come the first week of August they should attend local marks in abundance, leaving me to enjoy the heart-thumping few weeks few weeks of action that is local tope fishing that will see out the end of the summer. Assuming the weather lets me.
If you have not tried tope fishing before then I urge you to try it, if not from a kayak then certainly from a boat. Tope are picked up from the beaches on occasion but to give yourself a really good chance of making contact with one then a boat is your best option. Generally you won’t need to venture too far from the shore to find deeper water on the Wicklow and Wexford beaches either. My preferred tope mark sees me fishing baits in thirty feet of water only. One thing I will encourage strongly is the use of tackle that is capable of beating a tope in a fairly efficient manner to give the fish a sporting chance of a full recovery.
Now without further ado, I’m off to bed to dream of what might happen following my dawn start tomorrow morning. Here’s to tight lines and high hopes of hearing a dawn chorus that includes the sound of the summer.
If anybody has any comments or queries, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org