This all started a couple of weekends ago. There I was, sitting in the brilliant sunshine admiring the stunning view with a pint of the black stuff to sup on. Pretty near perfection I think you will agree. But being a fisherman I was fretting about the sunshine and the adverse effect it has on all types of fish. The more I thought about it the more I realised the time of year had come to start angling in the darkness.
My earliest experiences of night fishing were neatly split between fly fishing for sea trout (mainly on the Aberdeenshire Don) and autumn / winter shore fishing for Cod from the rocky coastline south of Aberdeen. The cod fishing was a pretty macho game all right. Pumping that old Tilley lamp to keep the pressure up and the light shining, the roar and crash of breakers 40 feet below, those insane ‘jump back’ bites when a codling swallowed my bunch of lugworms somewhere out there in the black void. Inching toward the edge while winding in, mindful that one slip will be fatal. Delight when a nice cod is swung ashore and the bitter pain of loss when a big fish, beaten and wallowing in the surf below, sheds the hook. The cold – I remember the frozen fingers, so stiff it was near impossible to carry out the simplest task. Long gaps between bites dulled the mind as I tried to shut out the pain of my poor hands. Those slithering king ragworm which made such great bait but the buggers would nip me when I was baiting up. Looking back on it now, ‘enjoying’ being bitten by huge worms in the dark on the top of a wind blasted cliff in December probably says all you need to know about my mental health!
Fishing on a summer’s night off the Mayo coast is much less demanding. Sheltered bays and calm weather are the norm. I am targeting different species here too. Sadly, Cod are extremely scare around here but dogfish are plentiful and Thornback Rays can liven up a night session sometimes. The vast majority of the dogs will Lesser Spotted Dogfish, universally abbreviated to ‘LSD’ by the sea angling fraternity. Mixed in amongst them can be their bigger bretheren, the Bull Huss. Neither of these fish can be described as great fighters, even good sized Huss comes in tamely once hooked. They do make good eating though when properly cooked so some find their way to my dinner plate.
K.I.S.S. really does apply when it comes to night fishing. Anything fiddly or requiring excellent visibility becomes a nightmare under a moonless sky so preparation is hugely important. Being organised is not really my strong point but I do make the effort when it comes to late night forays on the coast. I cut down the amount of gear I take to an absolute minimum. There is no point in lugging everything with you when I will use the same end rig all night. My float gear gets left at home and the same for most of my spinning tackle. I do spin in the dark but with only one or two lures, so the boxes of various lures also remain at home.
Illumination is vital, so I bring at least three lights with me. One will be a headlamp which, while short on sartorial elegance, does give me great freedom and the use of both hands. Then I have a pair of small, battery powered LED lamps. All three use the same size of battery so I carry a few spares with me – just in case.
Last night after I finished work I headed off to the sailing club mark. The twisty road leads out to near the end of a peninsular and a convenient carpark. From there it is a 10 minute march to the mark which can be difficult to locate in the dark. The bottom here is a mixture of gravel and tackle hungry rocks, the size and shape of footballs. Plenty of weed adds to the difficulties so my faithful pulley rig was the best choice and it gave me at least a fighting chance of getting my gear back in one piece!
That sense of excitement has never left me even after all these years. The quickening pulse as I set off, crunching across the gravel above the high water line and heading for a shore mark in the dark. Why does fishing at night appeal so much? What long dormant emotions are prodded into life just because the sun has left the sky for a brief period? Is it just because the whole experience is so totally different to our everyday modern lives of safety and convenience? A lot of the things we all take for granted during the day become very different at night. You need to switch from sight to other senses if you are going to fully enjoy the darkness. Sounds become important and it never ceases to amaze me how much noise there is, even on a still night. Your sense of direction seems to sharpen (well mine does at least).
This is a low water mark, one which fishes best the hour before low tide to the first hour of the rising water but beggars can’t be too choosy and I fish through the rising tide last night. Both beachcasters were in action. The big fixed spool on my 4 ounce and the 6500C on my heavier 6 ounce. Long casts are neither necessary nor sensible at night, as the fish will come closer in the darkness. Gentle, controlled lobs are preferred.
So why do I have a pair of rods with me? I like to use the lighter, 4 ounce rod to pop the baits out maybe 60 or 80 yards. With the heavier, 6 ounce rod I tend to aim drop a much larger bait closer in, let’s day 40 or 50 yards from the shore. This seems to work OK for me so I stick to this formula unless I have a brainwave and try something different for a change. On a slow night I will set up the spinning rod and flick a Krill or something similar out and wind it back in fairly smartly, hoping for a sea trout.
When it comes to bait I have a liking for squid when hunting Bull Huss. I also like to mix baits for them, so a chunk of squid with a piece of Mackerel is a good option in my book. This makes for a large bait and to keep it in line I use a pennel hook set up. Sandeel works too, especially half of a large Launce.
Big baits are difficult to cast so I use a bait clip when targeting Huss. This keeps the bait tucked in behind the weight, increasing distance and reducing tangles. Afraid the fish did not appreciate all my efforts last though and the night passed without so much as a quiver from the rod tips. I am not too upset because last night was more about getting back out into the dark and making sure I was fully prepared. The mark I was fishing really needs low water to allow you to hit the right spot so it was always going to be a tough session in terms of offers. Everything went more or less OK and the only item I forgot to bring was the tripod for the camera. The tackle box needs a bit of reorganisation but other than that I am looking forward to the next night session.