IN SEARCH OF IRISH BASS
Dedicating time to the pursuit of fish is a key part of angling and whilst it is possible to devote many hours in ones local waters it is undoubtedly an advantage to have a foray each year in fresh pastures. I try to have at least an annual week away with a few mates focusing totally on catching a few fish. This year I have been very fortunate to enjoy two such excursions.
The first was to fish the Copper Coast in Ireland for bass primarily using lures. The second was a trip to Sark in the Channel Islands where we have enjoyed some great sport over several years landing specimen grey mullet and black bream. Both trips this year failed to live up to expectation in regards to fish caught. So it was just as well there was the joy of fishing, savouring some spectacular scenery and of course enjoying the company of fellow anglers.
It was late June, long days and a trip to Ireland to fish for bass along the famed Copper coast. Expectations were high having read much about the stunning coastline and the hard fighting bass that dwell in the clear Atlantic waters.
The four of us, Colin Joy, Ashley Clarke my son James and I arrived after a long journey at the Copper Coast calling into Absolute Tackle for a chat with the owners. Inspired and armed with a few new lures we set off along honey suckle lined country lanes to walk along cliff tops decorated with brightly coloured wild flowers. After locating our accommodation and off loading the gear it was back to the coast, rods in hand to seek bass in clear waters that were being given a touch of fizz by a brisk South West Wind. Perfect conditions!
On this first day Ashley lands a brace of bass of around 4lb apiece. A good start we think and look forward to the week with optimism. Seven days ahead on some of the best bass fishing ground in Europe.
On day two after a hearty breakfast we set out to the coast to find many marks are blown out with weed everywhere, fouling the lures within seconds of starting the retrieve. We end up fishing the mouth of an estuary where the weed is slightly less problematic but after a few hours of casting our lures we admit defeat and head back along the coast taking a look here and there. We spot some large mullet pushing into several tidal creeks and I vow to return one day with my mullet tackle. Offshore we watch gannets plunging into the turbulent seas.
On day three it’s an early start as we meet up with some local experts to fish for bass in a large shallow bay. We wade out waist deep as a powerful offshore wind blows. It’s more like November than late June. For two or three hours seven of us hurl surface lures out to the horizon and twitch them enticingly back. It’s a vast vista of sea and sky backed by rolling Irish hills and mountains.
After another blank session we head off for a coffee and snack before travelling to the estuary around Dungarvan where we see more big mullet! A short session casting our lures fails to bring a result so we head back to the open coast. More murky water, weed and surf. We stop at a narrow estuary and peer into the clear waters as high tide meets the clear waters of an Irish river. Big mullet everywhere!
Time for a Guinness and a conference in the pub, we talk of lures, the weather of which we have no control and vow to chase that delightful moment when bass meets lure in a savage take followed by bent rod and screaming reel.
Day four and we head to yet another wild and wonderful stretch of the Copper Coast where coastal erosion tells the story of millions of years of life on earth. Remnants of old mines tell of mans attempts to exploit the land. Choughs cry out as they glide along the cliff tops. We cast our lures into the clear waters in perfect conditions for several hours without so much as a follow. We are starting to get a little demoralised now. James has not yet caught a bass on a lure and lacks the belief that Colin, Ashley and myself have built up over several years of catching bass on lures. We have at least a memory to inspire us.
It’s an early start for Ashley, Colin and myself as we converge with the coast at first light with mist draping over the cliffs. Weed again entangles the lures rendering them lifeless. We arrive back at our cottage to awaken James from his slumber; first light is the key I had told him. He had chosen to ignore this and enjoyed a few more hours’ sleep. First light is bloody early in June! Its only 7.30am!
The rest of the day is spent chasing bass in the estuary as shoals of mullet swim past. The sight of hundreds of mullet is too much for James who persuades me to have a mullet session. Colin and Ashley drop us off at the quiet cove we had visited on day three.
We set up our quiver tips and cast two hook paternosters baited with bread-flake into the river mouth as the tide pushes into the creek. Its not long before we glimpse the tell tale flash of a mullets flank. Our rod tips tremble; before James rod top dips decisively over and battle commences. After a few exciting minutes a plump three-pound plus mullet is in the net. After many fishless hours I am delighted to see James smiling face.
As the tide advances we move up the creek. Bird song resonates through the evening and we enjoy the tranquillity of the spot as the waters of the river that has risen high in the mountains cascading down the Mohan falls before eventually meeting the vast Atlantic.
My own rod tip eventually bounces and a hard-fighting mullet is safely netted.
Colin and Ashley arrive to collect us having cast their lures in vain once again.
Day six and I am woken by a phone call at 6.30am; bass 8lb my experienced bass angling friend excitedly exclaims. We head for O Brien’s Tackle Shop in Waterford where we discover a vast selection of lures each designed to copy a food source or trigger a response from a hungry predator. We are seduced by the potential sexy wiggle of the lure and their seductive shapes; well and truly caught we open our wallets before once more heading for the coast.
The estuary empties out into the vast surf filled bay. We join a dozen local anglers casting lures into the ripping ebb tide. Again we see many mullet many of them could well be golden greys and again I think of the potential for a concerted attempt at the mullet. A couple of hours later and our newly found confidence again start’s to fade as not a single bass is tempted by any of the anglers.
Its back to the coast; James and I once again dropped off at the cove we fished the previous evening. But even the mullet fail to show on this night and we wait into the fading evening for the return of Ashley and Colin who have once again persisted with the lures fishing on into the twilight. Both have had bass swirl behind their lures injecting a little more hope into their casts.
Day seven and Ashley, Colin and myself rise before daylight heading for the coast. We wind our way down a rugged cliff path relishing the dawning of a new day. The coastline stretches before us descending into a mirror calm sea. The glow of the yet to rise sun is starting to bring a subtle colour and light to the dawn. We stride onto the shingle and to the waters edge casting surface lures. Colin’s cry of exclamation shatters the silence seconds after I see a huge swirl behind his lure. A big bass without a doubt just inches away from success.
At 7.30am we stand at the top of the cliff gazing out over the bay that is now lit up by a blazing sun. A solitary fishing boat chugs along across the mirror calm blue sea. A solitary gannet dives off the headland. A soft green Irish landscape rolls away to the distant mountains and cows graze contently in the fields.
There is time for a last session that evening and once again we all blank. I glimpse a bass in shallow water as I wade out, just enough water to cover its back!
To be honest we have been well and truly beaten by the bass. We tried hard casting many lures for many hours. In hindsight we could have concentrated our efforts more at the turn of the light.
Next time I vow to target the mullet by day and just fish for the bass at dusk and dawn.
ELUSIVE GREY GHOSTS
A couple of months later James and I arrive on the unique Island of Sark with five days of fishing ahead of us. Having visited on numerous previous occasions there is a comforting familiarity as the tractors trundle up the harbour hill loaded with tourists and their luggage. We chose to walk the steep harbour hill savouring the prospect of the days ahead.
John Avery, Nick Phillips and myself were veteran Sark visitors with James on his second foray to the Island. After an enjoyable stroll through the high street we came to Peter and Sally’s B & B where we were soon sat down with a refreshing pot of tea. Soon after our luggage arrives we are off down the harbour hill once again to begin our fishing adventure.
The clear waters around Sark had always been kind to us on previous visits with plenty of hard fighting grey mullet and black bream. We had high hopes that this visit would once again give us good sport so long as we put in the effort to locate the fish.
The next five days were to prove frustrating with the fish very difficult to locate. We visited several of the normal haunts casting our bread-flake baits from lichen-coated rocks to dangle tantalisingly beneath freshwater style floats.
On many occasions I have waxed lyrical about floats bobbing optimistically upon the water but after a couple of days here there were times when I watched the float bobbing pessimistically upon the water.
We did manage to catch a few mullet that as always gave exhilarating tussles on the light tackle we were using. The best fish of the trip fell to John Avery and weighed a creditable 4lb 10oz. In all we landed around a dozen mullet but no black bream. We were not alone in struggling to find the fish as local anglers all told of a very poor season for fishing with the black bream not yet present. Perhaps we had arrived a few weeks too early? Perhaps the fish were late arriving?
I did manage to extract a few wrasse using soft plastic lures the biggest a modest couple of pounds. Exciting fishing nonetheless with wrasse clearly visible in the pure clean waters around the Island as they followed the lures.
There is undoubtedly some extremely good ground on the island for targeting bass on those lures. Perhaps I should have spent a week casting lures here for bass instead of chasing elusive mullet.
Highlight of the week was a trip around the Island with George Guille on his trusty fishing boat. A Sark resident since well before the war George relayed a fascinating account of Sark history including German Occupation and the arrival of the Barclay Brothers on the nearby Island of Brecqhou in 1993. If you ever get the chance take a trip around this Island and share in the tales told by George, a fine raconteur.
I am sure we will return to Sark one day and seek those grey ghosts of outsize proportions that we have glimpsed on previous trips. In the meantime perhaps its time to seek pastures new? Or should we chase the fish of our dreams in our home waters?
Some would question the value of such forays, its certainly a little embarrassing returning home with few fish to report. But there is far more to fishing than catching and I will never tire of this game played out on such a vast and exciting playing field.
Next cast could well be the one!