Fishing in Ireland, sea angling, shore fishing

The wonder of Woolies

I hate shopping. I mean I really, really do hate shopping. There, it is out in the open and you can launch as much criticism as you like at me for my profound dislike of the retail experience. Freud would be delighted to know that I trace this back to my childhood and the trauma (OK, slight over exaggeration) of shopping on Union Street in Aberdeen with my mother. Three kids in tow, she would battle the Saturday morning crowds to get us new school clothes, shoes, football boots or whatever else we required. I simply could not fathom why it was so important to get the right thing, why there had to be so many items to choose from and why it took so long to complete the whole dreary exercise. To this day I hold all shopping in complete and utter contempt. Except for buying fishing tackle!

Woolworths on Union Street, Aberdeen

Funnily enough, the only high street shop I didn’t mind was Woolworth’s. Universally known as ‘Woolies’ (well, in Scotland at any rate) they were purveyors of what was probably best described as general goods and wears under the brand name ‘Winfield’. The Aberdeen branch occupied a prime site on Union Street behind one of those solid grey granite facades. It had a small section upstairs for fishing gear, so every family visit saw me shoot off up those wide stairs with the tiny mosaic tiles to examine the tackle in detail. Occasionally, pocket-money allowing, I’d purchase a packet of hooks or maybe even stretch to a small metal devon minnow. But it was the multiplier reels which I was always fascinated by. Way, WAY beyond the reach of my pre-teen pocket money, I still gravitated to them and always spent some time looking at and handling these inaccessible machines. They seemed to be so exotic and incongruous perched there in their Teal blue boxes on the shelves between haberdashery and baking/cake making. Shiny black side plates enclosed by glittering chromed rings, free spinning spools, the ‘clunk’ when the gears were engaged and those star drags that I had only ever seen in books.

By the time I was working and in a position to buy my own tackle I had become more circumspect and Woolies finest was disregarded in favour of ABU and Hardy’s. I moved away from the city, the shop in Union Street shutdown and the shiny multipliers therein were forgotten about. It was many long years later that somewhere along the line I bought some fishing junk in a second-hand shop and in amongst the various items of tat there was a big old Winfield multiplier. It brought a smile to my face but I had no thought of actually using it. Meaning to sell it on later, this old reel lay in the bottom of a drawer or in various boxes as I moved around different cities with work over the years. I’d unearth it periodically, give the handle a spin and chuck back into the box it came from. Then an odd thing happened, I came to buy a few other Winfield multipliers. It started off as just seeing a cheap complete reel or one which required repairs which could be bought for an insignificant price. Useful, cheap reels. Over the year though my resonance with these reels has grown and developed into an appreciation of these solid testimonies to Japanese manufacturing.

So what is the attraction of these old sea fishing reels? It is hard for me to put it into words because, at the end of the day, they are pretty agricultural in use. No silky smooth drag systems, no ceramic spool bearings or hi-tech anti-backlash brakes here! Winfield fishing gear was universally known as being cheap and not of particularly good quality but I am not sure this is the truth. The reels were good copies of the popular American Penn models of the day and were manufactured in Japan by the same company who built the Matchmaster and Chuyo reels. Over the years I have heard lots of tales of stripped gears and disintegrating spools which may or may not be due to bad technique in use or poor maintenance. I can only comment on Winfield multipliers as I have zero experience of any other Winfield reels (they were purveyors of fixed spool and fly reels too). To me the build quality was OK. Unsophisticated perhaps, but the materials used and the way they were put together was not bad for that era.

Woolies stocked a bewildering array of multipliers. Why they thought they needed so many variations beats me and it must have been hard to turn a profit out of so many stock lines. The minor differences between the surfcaster and the shore caster for example can hardly be described as significant yet both models were on sale at the same time. The one reel which stands out for me is the tiny Bassfisher. These are actually sought after these days and if you own one which you are not using you will have no trouble selling it on the second-hand market.

A drawer full of old Winfield reels

I have a couple of nice, clean Bass Fishers which are in great condition for 40-year-old reels. I also have a couple of somewhat battered examples which have obviously seen a lot of action in the past and I keep them for spare parts.  These reels have very narrow spools which mean you can brake them during casting by applying pressure to the inside surfaces of the spool as the lead flies out. Don’t imagine for a single minute that this means this reel is a good casting machine – it is not! These old reels were bereft of any sort of braking system beyond your thumb, so bird’s nests are not infrequent if you try to push for distance. But then again, this reel was not designed for lashing 6 ounces over the far horizon. It was meant for dropping a peeler crab or lugworm just beyond the third breaker, typically a gentle lob of 60 yards or so. Use it for that kind of work and you won’t be disappointed.

I’ve got a real soft spot for my Bass Fishers. Gloriously quirky, they are unlike any other reel I own. Yet they are strongly built for such small reels and I know that if I keep looking after them they will last for many more years. In an age where everything seems to be dumbed down so the user requires less and less actual skills my wee Bass Fishers demand a small degree of ability to use them properly. I like that. I enjoy mastering the physical learning process of handling the reel so I can cast with it without getting too many bird’s nests.

We don’t get a lot of bass around our part of the Irish coast here in Mayo. The odd one or two turn up in the summer and autumn but fishing specifically for them will entail lots of blanks! The old Bassfisher reels don’t get as much use as they should but I still like to give them a try on those occasions when I’m casting over roughish ground looking for anything that forages on the bottom.

All the reels in the original range of beachcasters had black side plates (I will call them mark 1 but there was no designation on them). These were replaced by reels clad in the much nicer green side plates (mark 2?). As far as I can make out the mechanics of the reels were basically unaltered and the side plate colour change was for cosmetic purposes only.

Shorecasters and Surfcasters were the same reel but with longer bars to give a wider spool on the Shorecaster. I use these as pier reels where nothing more strenuous than a lob of a few yards is required of them. The idea of a full-blooded pendulum cast with one of these is terrifying! They would make nice little reels for jigging for Mackerel from the boat and you can pick them up for a tenner on a certain well known online bidding site. I’d say the Shorecaster is the weakest of the Winfield stable due to the width or the reel. To my mind the Surfcaster is a better balanced reel given the design which is all screwed together. I use the Shorecaster with my venerable Milbro Monarch glassfibre rod for pier fishing.

Lord only knows where the ‘DB’ series fitted into all of this! Were they the forerunner of the surfcaster reels? I honestly don’t know but they were certainly available along with the others in the 1970’s and I have seen the odd one on the market. These reels are instantly recognisable because of the odd semi-circular thumb rest on them.

I want to emphasise to you the need to protect plastic spools on older reels. You can easily destroy old spools by not cushioning them effectively from the high compression forces of tightly wound nylon lines. By this I mean winding on the layer of compressible material first before winding on your mono or braid. I use cheap fly line backing, just running on about 3 or 4 layers of the backing then joining that to the line and continue to fill the reel as normal. Trust me, the few minutes extra and the small outlay for a few yards of backing will be worth it in the long run.

I don’t remember seeing this next reel as a child so it possibly came along later in the 1970’s or even ‘80’s. By then ABU had the shore multiplier market all to themselves with the exceptionally smooth and refined Ambassadeur series of reels. Winfield boldly took on the challenge by introducing a level-wind model. Sporting oddly shaped end plates which were strangely prescient of the ultra-modern casting reel in use nowadays, these level wind models don’t seem to have sold in big numbers as they are not common finds these days. I managed to make one out of a bag of bits which I bought for next-to-nothing online. Trust me, this was no major feat of engineering; the insides of the Winfield reels were simple and easy to understand. Thoughts to self: I must have a proper search through all the bits and pieces which were left in that bag, I might have enough to make a second Woolies level wind!

Buying broken reels or even just parts is something which has served me well over a lengthy angling career. These days it is much easier to source parts than it was in the past. There are specialist companies who deal in spares or upgrades for the most popular brands and even a cursory search online will yield a range of these businesses across the globe. It does begin to get expensive when ordering bits online due to the high cost of postage. Over the years I have picked up everything from complete reels, stripped down  and packed in old boxes right down to gear trains, end plates and handles sold separately. I guess it all depends on what you get enjoyment from – I’d rather repair a good reel and keep it running than rushing out to buy a replacement. The downside is the mass of bits and pieces which are in boxes in the fishing den. I have boxes upon boxes of parts for freshwater, shore and boat fishing reels!

Speaking of the boat, Woolies stocked a range of bigger multipliers for use afloat too. These were pretty robust affairs which, at first glance, looked identical to the Penn’s of that era. The shore reels all sported plastic spools but these were replaced with proper metal spools on the boat reels. Whether the internals were perfect replicas of the near-bulletproof Penn gear train is not certain. Again, there were Winfield boat reels in an impressive range of sizes. The International sized reels in 20, 30, 40 and 50 formats can still be picked up for a song on the secondhand market. The metalwork on the Winfield boat sea fishing reels all seemed to be heavily chromed and they do appear to be lasting very well if they have received a minimum level of TLC over the years. Even the best reels on the market will be reduced to a ball of rust if neglected and the simple job of a good rinse with warm water to wash of the salt takes only a few minutes after a trip but it will add years to the life of your reel. I’ve seen excellent reels like the big ABU 20’s and 30’s destroyed by salt just because the owners were too lazy to wash them in fresh water after use and keep them properly lubricated.

An International 50

I have a venerable ‘International 50’ (this was the first one I bought all those years ago) which suggests to me it was built to cope with 50 pound test lines and the rigours of heavy leads / tides / fish that go along with that class of reel. I don’t go in for the skate and shark fishing this reel was made for, I just happened to pick it up as part of a job lot of tackle and I use it sometimes for general bottom work. Having seen at first-hand how some modern reels fail utterly when out on the boat I think my old Woolies job is at least as robust as some cheap new kids on the block. I will admit to having doubts about my International 50 being up to hauling a barn-door of a skate up off the bottom of Clew Bay!

this is the 50 I am using for spares, note the missing reel seat screws

I was lucky to pick up another ‘International 50’ for use as spare parts recently for a few cents. The gears, side plates, drag and handle were all in good condition with just some of the smaller parts missing or broken. With luck I should be able to keep the good reel ticking over for many years to come.

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Skipper Darragh McGee lifts Sean Fahys prizewinning skate aboard the White Water II in Clew Bay

Then there is the International 40 which I bought only this year. Senility must be creeping in because I have parted with cash for a reel that I do not intend to fish with. This reel has never seen the water and comes with the original box, instruction leaflet, oil and spanner. It is just too damn pretty to use! It’s like those reels I drooled over as a schoolboy a lifetime ago.

 

I have a Winfield boat reel badged the ‘Nautilus 30’ but I’m not sure if they came before of after the ‘International’ reels. Somewhere out there I suspect there lurks an avid collector who could tell me more about these reels but for now I will have to remain merrily ignorant. The Nautilus I own sports a metal spool and looks the same as an International of the same size. This reel is in poor condition and needs a total re-build. Once it is repaired it should hold enough line for the type of bottom fishing I do out in the bay. Another wee project for this winter!

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The Nautalis 30. Note the metal spool on this reel

Those of you long-suffering masochists who read my blog on a regular basis will already know that I have a certain penchant for using vintage (read – old) fishing gear. The link with the past, the better quality materials which were used, the ‘feeling’ you get using old rods and reels are part of me and how I approach this life. New-fangled contraptions are generally beyond me and so I stick to the gear I know well and have enjoyed using all my life. It’s not just fishing tackle this extends too – I could go into a showroom tomorrow and buy a new car if I so desired, but my trusty 17-year-old VW does me just fine, thank you very much! Like its owner there are too many miles on the clock, the bodywork is a bit tatty and it can’t reach top speed anymore. But it chugs along and so do I, each of us comfortable with the others foibles.

Earlier on in this post I mentioned stripped gears. To void this always ‘pump’ heavy loads instead of winding against them. This applies to weeds/rocks as well as fish. Reels are not built to withstand high pressures and the best of them will fail if you keep winding against a load. Lift the rod up high then lower it quickly, winding in the resulting slack line. Stop winding and lift the rod again. Keep repeating this until you have retrieved the line. If you are stuck on the bottom and can’t free the hook by pumping them give yourself some slack and wrap a cloth around your hand then pull until the hook frees or the leader breaks.

Talking of old shops in Aberdeen, who remembers this one?

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Fishing in Ireland, sea angling

Del Mar drag

A calm morning on the quay at Westport.

I can’t recall exactly how old this reel is. I do remember picking it up at a house clearance in Beith, North Ayrshire and even then it was attached to an elderly glass boat rod. Until this evening I had never separated the two. You see this unpretentious combo have been my Mackerel outfit for many’s a long year. I figured they would last me one or two seasons and then they would be consigned to the bin or I might strip the reel down for spares. I confess to treating them terribly, a quick spray with fresh water when I landed ashore after a day on the boat but nothing else. ‘Ah sure, I’ll get one more season out of them’ was my oft repeated motto. Each summer they had the cobwebs blown off them and I’d use them for the messy business of feathering Mackerel for bait. Covered in scales, slime and salt water they only ever received that short, cold blast of fresh water before being chucked, unloved, in a corner until the next trip.

So it was the same procedure this evening. I fetched the rod and reel in preparation for a trip out in the bay this coming weekend. As always, I spun the handle and tried pulling the line to see if the drag was still working. Nothing. Pull as I might that drag was absolutely solid. A frown wrinkled my forehead, the last thing I wanted to do now was strip down an ancient reel! I had in mind a glass of red wine and my feet up in front of the telly. But no, this task had to be done now.

So let’s get down to the basics. The reel in question is an old Penn Del Mar. These were workhorses of reels which were well designed and built. Penn’s suffer from poor metalwork in my opinion and the Del Mar was no different. The gears are very good and the metal spool means they handle any type of line with ease.

The drag obviously needed to to taken apart, checked and lightly greased if all the washers were in good condition. After removing the reel from the rod with the aid of  a big wrench (yep, that is how long it had been on there), I removed the screws from the side plate taking care to keep the shorter ones which secure the reel seat to one side. WD40 was required in liberal quantities to aid the removal of the screws.

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Next, I removed the handle and spun off the star drag. out popped the spacer which lives under the star drag

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The main shaft pushed out and I grabbed the tiny ratchet spring and kept it safe. With the main shaft on the bench the problem became obvious, the drag washers were seized solid into one mass of fibre and brass. It took some careful prizing to split the drag washers. Close examination showed the soft washers were still in reasonable condition for the kind of work I wanted this reel for. A light greasing of the washers was all that was required then they were put back on the shaft in the right order. Re-building was straightforward with just the positioning of that tiny ratchet spring to look out for (I put a blob of grease on the base plate and stick the spring into it). I double checked all the screws were tight and tried the reel – it all worked fine, including the drag!

So you are probably thinking why bother with the drag on a reel which is used for Mackerel fishing? The shoals of Mackerel can be found at any depth ranging from just below the surface all the way to the bottom. When you are feathering near the bottom you are just as likely to catch Pollock a mackerel so I want to be able to give line if I bump into a reasonable sized Pollock.

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Fishing in Ireland, sea angling, shore fishing

No macks

The pier at Roonagh is a favourite spot to fish and each summer I try to get over there to spin for Mackerel (macks). The great thing about Roonagh  is the views across to the islands, so even if the fishing is slow you can still be captivated by the ever changing vista.

the target………………..

Yesterday evening seemed to be a good one for such a trip. What constitutes optimum conditions for Mackerel? I much prefer calm seas and good water clarity. Mackerel hunt by sight so dirty water makes it harder for them to locate my lures.

Off we set and arrived to find the pier deserted – not a good sign! The word spreads like wildfire when the macks are in and the locals throngh the short pier, heaving strings of feathers into the sea. Trust me, venturing on to the pier when the fishing is at its height is not for the faint-hearted. The empty pier which greeted us was a clear sign the fishing would be tough.

Tackling up I decided to try a bait ledgered on the bottom as well as spinning, so the 4 ounce beachcaster was strung up and a sandeel cast out. Happy that everything was as it should be I turned to the spinning gear and perched myself in my favourite spot at the end of the pier. The old rythym of cast, snap back the bail arm, retrieve was repeated numerous times, each cast being completely ignore and shiny lure made its jerky way back to me totally unhindered by the fish.

Clare Island

Even as I had been tackling up my attention was drawn to a tiny boat out in the bay. It was too far out for me to be sure exactly what kind of craft it was but somehow it didn’t look ‘right’. As I was fishing the blue dot in the middle distance came a little closer and I could see it properly. Two men were fishing off of an inflatable dingy barely 12 feet long and with a freeboard which could be measured in millimetres. The sea calm enough for Clew Bay but even still there was a wave of maybe a couple of feet running. The bright blue dingy could be seen flexing in the middle with every wave which passed under it. I personally would not have got into that thing in a bath, never mind on the Atlantic! The closer the two anglers came the clearer I could see them and it became obvious they were not wearing life jackets. I was both stunned and angered in equal proportions, stunned at the stupidity  of not wearing life jackets but also angry that if they got into trouble the press would have been happily reporting two ‘fishermen’ were in difficulty. None of the fishermen I associate with would ever do something this foolhardy. Even the wash from the small ferry would have been sufficient to overturn that joke of a boat.

The beachcaster gave a languid nod, no more than that. Tightening up the line I could feel a very faint bite so I struck with an upward sweep of the 12 footer. There was a considerable weight on the end but not much of a fight as such. Out of the crystal clear waters emerged a mass of thick, brown weeds. Somewhere below a dogfish was wriggling so I hoisted fish and weeds on to the concrete. A lesser spotted dogfish, very dark in colour, had swallowed the sandeel. Far from the most exciting catch, he was none the less a welcome sight on an otherwise fishless evening. Unhooked, I lowered him back into the water and he swam off, none the worse for his adventure and probably thinking that was the last time he was going to eat a sandeel he found lying on the bottom!

At least I caught something!

We fished on but the macks were simply not there to be caught. Having failed to locate them on the north Mayo coast and now at Roonagh the next venue will be further south. Sunday may be a good day.

 

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Fishing in Ireland, sea angling, sea trout fishing, shore fishing

Portacloy

Just for a change there was some drizzle this morning. You could not dignify the gently falling moisture with the title of rain, it was just descending wetness which barely kept the dust down. Today was going to be a good day, today I was fishing in North Mayo.

High tide at 2pm meant a leisurely start to the day. No need for an alarm, strong black coffee in bed, thick slices of hot, buttered toast. Bliss! Then an hour or so spent sifting through the sea fishing gear to make sure I had everything to take with me. Don’t you hate it when there is a little, niggling voice in your head questioning if you have packed this or that? Today I had time to eliminate all of those negative thoughts and the battered black tackle box was stuffed to overflowing with all manner of goodies to tempt the fish.

Ben was going to be my companion on this jaunt and we rendezvoused at 11 am as planned. The road was quiet as we drove up that well trodden road to North Mayo. The heat was building already so we motored with the windows down, the bird song brightening the journey for us as we sped through the gorgeous countryside. It takes the guts of an hour to get to Portacloy, past the foot of Nephin, across the bog to Bangor then down the ever narrowing roads until the lovely bay comes into sight.

The plan was for Ben to spin and fly fish from the beach while I tried bait fishing from the inner pier. Ben was targeting sea trout and Bass while I was hoping for flat fish on the sandy bottom. Tackled up, we went our separate ways. Ben worked the waters close to the sand, methodically casting and retrieving all the way along the strand to the rocks at the far end. He repeated the exercise by returning to his starting point but the fish were not responsive. Meantime, I set up a pair of beachcasters and hurled sandeel baits as far as I could, then waited………………… And waited some more…………………. Nothing!

One beachcaster out, I am re-baiting the other one

Now this was more than a little perplexing as Portacloy is quite possibly the most productive mark in the whole county. I have never landed a big fish here but there are usually plenty of smaller fish to keep you busy. Today there seemed to be no fish hanging around at all. Even a cormorant which was fishing right next to us came up with an empty bill each time he dived. He swam off in the end and I couldn’t blame him. By now Ben had come back to the pier and explained he had managed to wade too deep for his boots and was soaked. He removed the offending socks and promptly went to sleep. I fished on, grimly determined to show Ben and that bloody cormorant that there were fish there. I was wrong.

time for a wee nap…………….

The tide reached high water and I roused Ben from his slumber. We needed a plan B. He suggested a mark he had seen but not fished, Carrowteigh. It was only a short drive away so I agreed. Let’s give that a lash so.

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Head of a Launce

It was only the work of a few minutes to load up the Jeep and drive over to the new mark. Rods re-assembled, we were quickly back fishing again in crystal clear waters. The scenery was breathtaking, golden beaches and azure waters, Surely we would have more luck here?

First fish of the day!!!!!

Well, yes we did. We actually caught lots and lots of fish. The only issue was that they were Launce (Greater Sandeel). They are superb for bait but catching them on medium spinning rods cannot really be classed as sport. We fished the tide down the afternoon punctuated by the silvery eels grabbing our tiny feathers. I reckon we landed about 20 of them, enough for a number of baits as some of the Launce were huge.

The photo does not do this gigantic sandeel justice, it was well over a foot long

I tried a small, rocky mark located across a field but only succeeded in losing lots of gear on the tackle hungry rocks. So I returned to the pier again my pockets lighter now as a few traces and lures were lost to the underwater rocks. All afternoon I was plagued with crabs stealing the bait. In the blink of an eye they could strip all the hooks of bait and even avoided being caught themselves. Until the very last cast!

A sandeel after only a few minutes attention by the crabs

the culprit

into another eel

We called it a day at 6pm, having not registered a single bite to the bait rods all day. Only the Sandeels saved the blank but we both enjoyed the fabulous weather and the fresh air. Shore fishing is often like this, a process of eliminating the places where the fish are not until you find where they are. I will be back on the edge of the sea again very soon, only this time I will head for the other end of the county. Until then…………….

 

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Fishing in Ireland, sea angling, shore fishing

Bristol

The weather continues to thwart the efforts of all the freshwater fishers that I know. I’m told there are some grilse in the fast water below the Galway weir but the thought of fishing there while being watched from the bridge by all those pairs of eyes leaves me cold. The sea fishing in Clew Bay has turned up some better catches of late apparently but work has prevented me from venturing out on the briny. This past week I had to leave the costa-del-Mayo and travel to England to attend a training course. The journey at least gave me time to re-think my plans for what is let of the season.

Knock airport, for all its drawbacks is a remarkably pleasant experience in these days of frantic queues and the cattle-herding mentality of the larger airports. Knock is tiny, handling only a few short-haul flights each day. Constructed on the top of a hill by a priest (this is not the plot line from a Father Ted script) it services the west of Ireland and providing visitors with an easy gateway to the surrounding area.  Monday saw me boarding one of Flybe’s turboprops for the short hop to Birmingham. The sun shone with a force and energy which we are rapidly becoming used to as I stood with my fellow travellers on the tarmac in an untidy line. The smart blue plane shimmered in the heat haze and stepping inside was akin to entering a furnace. We sweltered and sweated our way across the Irish Sea at 28,000 feet.

The pilot assured us the weather was just as Mediterranean in the English midlands just as the over priced snacks were being served. As we banked to swing around on our final approach I looked down on countryside beginning to look parched. Dun-coloured fields are replacing green ones as the lack of rain starts to bite. We approached Birmingham International over Coventry where my great auntie Mary used to live. As a small child I recall the visit to her, my dad’s old Austin chugging all the way down from Aberdeen in what, in those pre-motorway days, was a journey of epic proportions. To this day I remember those dimly lit streets that all looked identical with gaps in the terraces where Luftwaffe bombs had wrought their destruction. Coventry looked much more appealing on this sunny Monday afternoon.

Aftermath of the Coventry blitz

I had elected to catch a train down to Bristol rather than hire a car. I detest driving and the opportunity to let the train take the strain was gladly accepted. A window seat allowed me to view the world as it rushed past. Middle England looked well and the route took the train through fields and villages which Turner could have painted. A pair of Red Kites wheeled and soared close to the track at one point, fabulous birds that were apparently once an everyday sight. Their kin, the Black Kite, is common in Indian cities where they find plenty to scavenge but they look sinister to me whereas the red ones are much more graceful to my eye. But I digress……………

As we clickety-clacked along the rails my thoughts turned to the fishing. The lack of rain looks set to continue for perhaps another two weeks so any thoughts of serious salmon fishing need to be put on hold. Instead, I would put my efforts into shore fishing. The Mackerel can’t be far away and Pollack should be more active now. What I need is to get off the damned 2 – 10.30pm shift at work so I have some time to get out with the rods!

I’d rather be here than on a training course!

The train disgorged many of its passengers at Cheltenham, took on some new faces and then sprinted off down the tracks towards my destination.  I was keen to see Bristol as the only time I have been there before was to visit a factory many years ago. That time I drove along the M4, held meetings with managers, viewing a highly technical process in a low-rise 1950’s shed then drove back on the motorway to London. I saw nothing of the city that day (and I didn’t buy the machine either as it turned out). Now, I would get my first real view of this old city. Not being a city dweller, I generally dislike the noise, overcrowding and lack of green spaces in most cities but Bristol turned out to be a very nice place. On my last evening there I walked out to the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Looking over the edge is a dizzying experience!

The Great Britain

I suppose I had better make a confession. When I found out I was going to Bristol I did what every fisherman does – Google to see if there are any tackle shops where I was going. Sure enough, Veals have a shop near the middle of the town. They have been in the angling retail business for generations and their shop on the second floor of an old building was full of everything any angler could want, be they game, sea or coarse enthusiasts. If, like me, you find yourself in Bristol it is definitely worth a visit to the shop. I invested in some odds and ends for sea fishing as by now I was making firm plans for the next few weeks.

The week passed quickly enough with days filled to the brim of health and safety training and the evenings spent getting to know my fellow trainees and wandering around the city centre. Friday came around and the reverse journey back home. I love travelling and seeing other places but there is always that comforting feeling when you take the first steps of the trip homewards. The lock on the hotel room door clicked as it shut behind me and off down the corridor I marched, laptop slung over one shoulder and the wheels on my case making a god awful racket as I dragged it behind me on the wooden floor. Checked out and into the already bright sunshine, chap in a three lions shirt was singing ‘football’s coming home’ as he passed me in the street. It is 6am for God’s sake! The whole country seems to have lost the run of itself after the penalty shoot-out in Russia. I get a text telling me that I need to work the early shift next week, marvellous news which means some time off in the evenings for a change.

The train journey to Birmingham New Street was bliss, a near empty carriage and a coffee to sip as the plan for the weekend and some angling takes shape. The North Mayo coast would be my first target, looking for Pollock and Mackerel over rocky ground. If that fails to produce I will try have a go around Killery. One of the marks I like down there has a sandy bottom which produces rays and dogs but I fancy there may be some flats there too, maybe Dabs or even the odd Plaice. I will make up some Plaice traces just to be prepared.  While I am at it I need to make some new pulley rigs too, using the nice new swivel/beads I bought in Veal’s.

I have been thinking about replacing the braid on my 6500C for a while now. I never really fell in love with braid as a line for shore fishing. So I bought a big spool of 18 pound mono and filled up the old silver multiplier when I got home.

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder and I certainly felt glad to be back home on Friday. Bristol was nice but I am excited to be fishing this coming week. It’s been ages since I was fishing and even longer since I caught something!

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Fishing in Ireland, sea angling

Doggie bashing

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.

Clew Bay

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.

the reek in the distance

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.

leaving Westport quay

The Atlantic Queen came over from Inisturk for the day

The Atlantic Queen came over from Inisturk for the day

Declan, Tommie and Michael Joe McGreal putting the world to rights

Declan, Tommie and Michael Joe McGreal putting the world to rights

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 doomed Penn is on the right of this shot

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.

into another dog

 

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.

Clare Island in the hazy distance

Clare Island in the hazy distance

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.

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Fishing in Ireland, sea angling, shore fishing

Night Moves

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.

6 pound thornie

a 6 pound Thornback ray I caught one night a few years ago

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!

here is the mark in daylight

here is the mark in daylight

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.

making up rigs

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.

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