Fishing in Ireland, sea angling

Jimmy Burke cup

The middle portion of Clew Bay is ‘dogfish central’, home to packs of Lesser Spotted Dogfish, Bull Huss and a few rays. For this reason it is a popular mark for competition anglers who can bag up on LSD if there is nothing else biting. Saturday past saw me gently bobbing at anchor slap bang in the middle of the bay in the company of some like-minded souls. I was fishing the annual Jimmy Burke memorial cup.

boats at the quay ready for the off

Strong winds and heavy rain have battered the west coast for weeks now but the day in question dawned fine and calm. My old 30 pound boat rod with the 10000 on it was lobbed into the car with all my other gear. Would I remember everything this time? More by luck than good judgement I brought all the necessities along.

it’s all in there somewhere!

Thursday had been windy and wet, Friday the same. But for one the weather Gods smiled upon us and Saturday dawned wet but with only light winds. The forecast was for showers and that is exactly how the day panned out with occasional heavy burst of rain in between long fine spells. A day of rainbows.

Just one of the spectacular rainbows we saw

This particular competition had a rule that you could only use one hook, so the night before I tied up some single hook ledger traces. I used some size 2 hooks, smaller than most anglers use for dogfish but they have relatively small mouths and I like the smaller hooks to match this. As it turns out, my mate Paul handed me a trace to try and I clipped it on and left my own ones in the box for the duration of the day. I have not seen too much written about traces for dogfish in the mainstream angling press bur small changes to traces can make a huge difference to your catch rate. I’ll write a short post soon about this topic.

I was drawn on the Restoric with Tom the skipper. My mate Paul was also drawn on the same boat. Tom knows the marks in the bay like the back of his hand so we were confident he would find us fish. All anglers were given a smart black shirt when they signed in.

Bait consisted of the ubiquitous Mackerel strips, held on to the hook by some shirring elastic. I had a few in the freezer from my last trip out on the boat. While rummaging around amongst the peas and potato waffles I unearthed a bag of sardines so I brought them along as well. Someone had a couple of squid so I pinched some scraps of that too.

bag of frozen bait

note the small size of the chopped bait, it does not need to be big when targeting doggies

Lines went over the side at 10.15am precisely and we were into fish pretty much right from the start. Within minutes I had a heavy thump on the line then it all went quiet so I waited for the bite to develop. Sure enough, after a few minutes the rod began to nod and I lifted into a fish which turned out to be a small Thornback Ray. A doggie soon followed and then a second ray, this time a little bit bigger. My good start was amply rewarded by a white envelope containing €20, the prize for the first person to get three fish in the boat.

Sully lifts up a Thorny

Next to me Sally was hauling in dogfish to beat the band and she continued like this the whole day. Cries of ‘another dog for Sally’ being the soundtrack to the afternoon. Mary started slowly but picked up a few as the day wore on. She then boated a large spider crab which was safely returned (as were all our fish as this is a C&R competition). Paul, seemed to be slow out of the traps too but he made some changes to his traces and after lunchtime he went into overdrive.

Mary’s crab

I was catching steadily with a LSD every 15 minutes or so. These fish hunt by a combination of sight and scent and it takes them a little time to find your bait when it is lowered to the bottom. It is easy to be distracted by the scenery when fishing the bay, especially on a day like Saturday with the vistas constantly changing.

 

3.15pm was lines up and it was time for the reckoning. Somehow Paul had caught Sally with a tiny ray on his last drop. Each species attracted a different number of points with the humble doggie giving 5 points but a ray adding 15 points to your score. I came in a respectable third for the boat but with 50 anglers spread over 5 boats I was well off the prizes. Ah well, there is always next year.

The Westport boats will be lifted out of the water next week, signalling the end of another season’s fishing in Clew Bay. Winter is coming…………….

steaming home through the Bertra gap with Clare island on the horizon

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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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