Plans for this day afloat had changed so often that I had begun to suspect it would never happen. The original day was supposed to take place last month but a strong wind whipped up the sea and it was cancelled at the last minute, leaving us all huddled in the rain on the quay in Westport trying to balance disappointment we would not be fishing with relief we would not be thrown around the deck of a heaving boat all day.
Next up was a rearranged date and a switch to fishing from Roonagh. But the weather managed to upset even that idea with a strong southerly once again leading to a cancellation. The next idea was complex but just might work. Catch the ferry to Inish Turk and fish with the local lads in the lee of the island. Having never been that far out this idea appealed greatly to me. Happily, this one actually came to fruition.
I wake early, too early and so I try in vain to go back to sleep. I’d like to say this was due to excitement but in fact poor sleep patterns are just another sign of old age. It’s getting darker in the mornings now as the year wears on. Darker and cooler with the first hint that frosts are on the way. I read for a while before feeding the cat and make myself some breakfast. There is tackle to be sorted out before I can pack the car so I get dressed and commence the hunt for all the necessary tools of the trade. Some come easily to hand, others are lost to me for now and I leave without them.
I always seem to be so disorganised when heading out on the high seas, too many boxes and bags with all the tackle and clothes muddled through each other. Because I have not been doing much sea fishing for many years now a lot of my gear needs to be replaced due to wear and tear or the inevitable blight of corrosion from the salt water. When I am old out on the boat once or twice a year it is hard to justify the expenditure on shiny new tackle or smart new waterproofs but some of my kit is falling apart so I plan to invest in some gear over the winter. Anyway, back to Saturday…………….
We finally found ourselves on the ferry to Inish Turk this Saturday, crossing the outer bay to link up with a local boat who would take us out to fish in the what we hoped would be relatively calm water behind the island for a few hours. We gathered on the deck of the ferry looking nervously at the weather, a big Atlantic swell was pounding the pier even as we sat tied up there. The forecast was for strong southerly winds all day meaning no let up for us. The trip out to Turk takes about an hour and the red ferry pitched and rolled as she climbed each wave and dove into the following trough, water cascading over the decks and anyone foolish enough to venture out there. I had found a nice dry spot for the journey but some of the unwary looked as if the had just rounded the Horn by the time we docked on the island.
Gear and bodies transferred from the ferry to our boat and we were soon heading back out to sea. The journey out had given us a taste of the conditions we were going to have to embrace and sure enough the impressive swell kept up for as long as we were out. The strong wind whipped us along at a fair old pace and the 20 foot swell rocked us endlessly. These were challenging conditions and it was hard work just to keep you feet, let alone fish properly. The scenery was majestic, tucked under the cliffs as we were with the waves crashing and foaming on the rocks sometimes only a few yards away.
I started feathering to try and catch some Mackerel for bait. The first couple of drifts were fruitless but on the next drift we hit a shoal and all the rods stated to catch. As soon as I could I switched to my favourite flying collar rig to search the seabed for Pollock and Cod. Over the years I have found this to be the most effective way to catch Pollack from a boat but on Saturday they were having none of it. Some of the other lads started to pick up Pollack on feathers so I had to swallow my pride and go back to feathers but I baited mine with long strips of fresh Mackerel. Shortly after setting up like this I had a viscous take and a very heavy fish bent the rod hard over. I had got the fish off the bottom and all seemed well only for the line to snap at the middle hook. I’ll never know how big that fish was but it felt like a really good one.
Drifts were short and brutal affairs, the swell throwing us around the deck like rag dolls. Sea sickness afflicted some of the gang and they took to the shelter of the cabin to recover. But gradually the box filled with fish, a mix of Mackerel and Pollock. Codling began to show up, smallish fish of 2-3 pounds. I managed a couple of them before another hefty take saw me boat a nice Pollock of about 8 pounds.
I was happy with that Pollock, the best one I have caught for a while. Soon after we encountered a shoal of Scad, good sized ones at that. Scad are pretty much inedible but the skipper asked us to keep some for the commercial fishermen on the island as they make good bait for their lobster pots. Half a box was filled in no time at all. Next up was a shoal of Mackerel which were high up in the water. Those lads using just feathers could not get down through them and were whipping them out with every drop over the side. I was using large pieces of Mackerel on my feathers and so got through the shoal unmolested. Under the Macks there were cod and Pollock who were happy to take my baited hooks and I had a productive spell with both species. A small ling then turned up, just a bootlace but welcome never the less.
The day passed quickly as is does when you are catching fish. Another good sized Pollock snaffled my baited feather and when it came aboard it turned out to be only slightly smaller than my earlier 8 pounder. By now the fish box was looking healthy.
Some more Scad and Mackerel came aboard and then I caught something unusual – an Octopus. The small pink fella was easily unhooked and returned to the sea. Not to be outdone, Paul landed two of them a few minutes later.
We called it a day and fought our way back to the harbour to hear the other boat had stopped much earlier and found their way up to the community centre on the island. We hitched a lift and found them all happily enjoying a few pints. The views from the community centre were awe inspiring and I am planning on visiting Inish Turk properly next year, maybe with an overnight stay.
In the end I went home with some fine Pollock, 4 codling and a host of Mackerel, some for eating and the smaller ones to be frozen down for bait. Not too shabby for a day of high winds and a huge swell. If we had been more fortunate with the weather I am sure we could have doubled our catch. Our leads were constantly being lifted meaning our baits were not on the bottom where the fish were. I’d like to go back there on a better day!
Tuesday: there is a twist to this tale! I was in Dublin on Monday so did not return to work until Tuesday morning. Toby called me first thing, wanting me to come and discuss a purchasing issue which I thought had been put to bed. Anyway, I stomped off in his direction and entered the large open plan office where he works. I could sense something wasn’t right and sure enough when I reached his desk there was a large silver cup sitting on it. Turns out I had caught the most fish and had won a trophy, the first in many, many years. Happy days!