My first trip out on the salt this weekend was somewhat unusual for me in that it was a competition. Drafted in to fill the always difficult fourth man slot in a team, I was due to fish for my current employer (Westrock) in the annual Allergan competition. We would depart from the quay in Westport at 10.30 on Saturday morning for a short session in Clew Bay followed by a longer ‘session’ in the Towers afterwards! This was going to to be very much a social event rather than a serious fishing outing.
The rules limited the number of hooks used to a maximum of two, meaning all my feather rigs were not allowed so I made up some new ones the night before. All fish caught were to be safely returned so there was no need for the usual knives and cutting boards.
The limited time meant long runs out to the far side of Clare Island were not feasible and instead we would stick closer inshore, looking to find some doggies on the bottom in the shallows near the inshore islands.
On the day I was allotted a position on the ‘Barracuda’ with skipper Pat. We headed off into the bay along with the other boats looking for all the world like we were going to pick up some troops from Dunkirk rather than doing some fishing! All the boats stopped and dropped anchor close to each other and at the stroke of 11.30am we all dropped our lines over the side and the competition began in earnest.
At this juncture I have to confess I am rubbish at competition fishing. I like to try different places and techniques, so just lowering a chunk of mackerel on to the bottom for doggies to nibble on is a pastime I find a bit tedious. As a result I am not good at the necessary skills for this form of fishing and I was the last one in the boat to land a fish. By then some of my shipmates had caught half-a-dozen or more LSD’s.
It became clear I was in the company of some very experienced doggie anglers who all used the same two hook ledger. Without exception they incorporated large numbers of brightly coloured attractors above the hooks. Beads, flashing blades and even muppets were all used and they certainly seemed to make the difference as my unadorned hooks were studiously ignored by the fish. Eventually I made up a similar trace and used this the rest of the day with slightly more success.
The other boats close by were all catching too so there must be a good head of dogs in the bay. Irene, fishing at the end of our boat landed a small Thornback Ray and a short while later pulled in a Bull Huss. In terms of the competition these were valuable fish as they were worth additional points.
Towards the end of the a couple of large spider crabs were boated. These make good eating but nobody wanted them so they went back over the side this time.
Fishing stopped at 4.30 and we upped the anchor and returned to Westport which was bustling with tourists on this pleasant summer’s day. With things to do at home I gave the nights ‘refreshments’ a body swerve. I know only too well from years of experience that sea anglers develop voracious thirsts when out for a day. Pints of porter tend to be consumed in a glorious if ill-controlled session once they get their bellies to the bar. There would be no prizes for our 4-man team this time. Three of us came ashore with around 10 dogs each meaning we were well down the rankings.
A major downside of the day for me was my old Penn reel. As I was winding up one fish the reel made a funny scraping noise which I tracked down to a crack in the cage. This venerable 49M is all of 35 years old and has seen many, many days at sea. I could repair it by investing in a replacement cage but at this age and general state of wear (the reel, not me!) I think it time for me to buy a new reel. Here in lies a dilemma for me; I have very little faith in modern reels as they seem to be built to a price rather than too a high material specification. I may have to hunt around the secondhand market for a good example of an old reel that has been little used instead.