The big day has finally arrived, it is the Sunday of the all-Ireland football final and Mayo are playing Dublin in Croke Park. The build up to the game has been muted as Mayo are total underdogs this year, but the villages and townlands are now bedecked in green and red flags. Excitement has blossomed over the weekend and half of the county seems to have begged or stolen a ticket while the other half are planning where to watch it on TV. Outside of Ireland few know about this annual pilgrimage but hereabouts this sporting occasion generates near religious fervour.
Now while I can watch a game of Gaelic occasionally I would not be e huge fan. So I decided to go fishing this morning with a view to staying out all day if the fish were in a cooperative mood. As the rivers and loughs are out of sorts just now I opted for a spot of shore fishing. That huge harvest moon we can see now means big tides, always a good sing there will be fish around. On Saturday I dug a few worms in preparation. The lug were very deep down in the muck but I managed to find enough for a couple of hours fishing.
I awoke in a dark and fumbled for the clock – 5.30am. Pitch black and with a hint of coolness now in the air I hurriedly dressed and munched some breakfast before loading the car with gear and waterproofs. The latter were a necessity as the morning was promised to be wet, and for once the forecaster had got it right. A nor-westerly airflow was dumping rain on the west of Ireland, leaving everything you touched cold and sodden. Even as I pulled out of the driveway and heading into the gloom I had no clear idea of where exactly I would fish, only that it would be somewhere on the Belmullet peninsular. I had time to make my final decision as the road across the bog from Glenisland to Belmullet takes a good half hour to navigate. A heavy mist descended, the wipers swished hypnotically and I thought about all the shore marks I knew around the area. Initially I thought of Portacloy, that wonderful little inlet with a sandy bottom which usually yields flats and gurnards. The problem with that mark today was dropping from the low clouds, fresh water running off the land seems to push the fish out quickly into deeper, more saline water. While there was only a steady breeze today there had been stronger gusts at the end of the previous week which probably meaning a heavy Atlantic swell would be breaking on the west-facing marks. That is not a disaster but it can be dangerous and it those conditions I much prefer to fish with others. Swish, swish, swish, where else is there?
There is an unusual mark on the North coast of the peninsular called Blind harbour. An extensive mud flat is connected to the open sea by a narrow opening which has always given me a few fish. Blind harbour it would be! I arrived soon after sunrise and tackled up in rapidly drying conditions. Taking my time, checking knots and sorting out the gear in my waistcoat pockets, I noticed half-a-dozen cormorants flying low over the inlet. Suddenly they all banked, landed on the water and within seconds had dived. I awoke from my dithering and nearly ran down to the gravel beach. If the birds could see food there would be fish there too.
To reach the mark itself involved a walk along a gravel beach and then some scrambling amid wet rocks and fording a deep channel. This brought me to a point where I could fish with only one more ridge of rock in front of me. The water between looked too deep to cross even in my chest waders so I cast out and over the offending ridge. Let the gear sink then sweep the rod back, let it sink again and …………………. Bang, the rod bucked like a wild thing and line disappeared off the reel. The weight on the end of the line was initially shocking and it took me some seconds to register what was going on. By pumping hard I managed to lift the weight of fish up in the water column only for a sudden dive to pull out the line again. This was either very big or there were a lot of them. Then everything just went solid, immediately the other side of that damn ridge of rocks. Now what was I going to do?
I reassessed the depth of water in front of me and decided it was not that deep after all. Slithering into position I gamely tried to lower myself into the briny while holding the rod (with fish still on) above my head. The anticipated ‘thigh deep’ water actually came to within an inch or two of the top of my waders and I only just struggled up on to the ridge without a soaking. Breathless, I looked for my fish, just in time to see a three pound Pollock twist itself off the bottom hook and disappear back into the sea. However, two of his compatriots were still firmly hooked and were soon dispatched. No wonder there had been a heavy weight on the line, each of those Pollock were between 3 and 4 pounds.
I checked the gear; despite all the rubbing on the rocks the heavy trace was still in good condition and experience told me to get the lures back in the water as quickly as possible. In a narrow channel like this the fish can move extremely quickly and you have to maximise every minute before they have gone. I cast out again – another heart stopping thump signalled more action and the process of hauling, swearing and sweating began again. The line sang in the wind as I bullied the fish towards me, again three Pollock were on the lures but this time I was in a better position to land them all. The next cast was ignored so I aimed further ‘downstream’ in case the shoal were dropping back with the tide. Wallop! Yep, that’s what they are up too. This time the weight was too much for me to do more than just hang on. Pumping the fish up against the vicious current was impossible and they dived deep, snagging me on the rocks. No matter how hard I tried I could not free the hooks and after a few minutes the line snapped.
I won’t bore you with the fine detail of the next 40 minutes or so. Suffice to say scores of Pollock were landed and lots more were lost. A solitary Mackerel was the only other species I caught and the Pollock were all within a few ounces of each other. I returned most of them, keep just 4 for the table. The action stopped just as if a light switch had been flicked. One cast was greeted with the by now normal hard pull then the next cast was ignored, as were all subsequent ones. The fish seemed to simply vanish. In truth, they had almost certainly moved down the channel chasing their prey and were now out of casting range.
Thirty minutes without a take and I stopped to consider my options. The chances were that the shoal of Pollock would not return and the tide was dropping fast. Time for a move and as the weather was turning wet again I decided to opt for the pier at Ballyglass. This is not a great mark, it yields a few small flats sometimes but not much else. The attraction this morning was that I could get out of the rain by sitting in the car with the beachcaster on the rod rest. Maybe my laziness prompted some fishing related karma and all that took my squid and worm cocktail baits were pesky crabs. I stuck grimly to the task for an hour but without success so I figured I’d take a look at a rock mark on the west side.
The southern 8 miles of the western side of the peninsular are storm beaches with the rest of this coast made up of exceedingly rough ground and soaring cliffs. Annagh head is a great mark on a calm day but can be deadly when there is a sea running. Scrambling down towards the mark I stopped to watch and observe the sea before going all the way down. At first it looked OK but after about 15 minutes the sea drew back, like a wolf bearing its fangs. Then a wall of green water rushed in and swamped the rocks I would have been standing on. I can’t stress too strongly how important it is to take care when rock fishing on the Atlantic coast. Even on seemingly calm days a swell can appear out of the blue. I took some photos but fishing was out of the question today. Time to pack up and head for home.
The distended crops on all the fish proved to be due to them gorging on sandeels.
And the big game? It ended in a draw and they will have to play again!