Wicklow, on the east coast of Ireland, is the new jewel in the Irish sea angling crown. In the past, the south and west coast of Ireland have dominated catch reports leaving the east almost forgotten, but this is about to change! I spent two days recently in Wicklow fishing with new charter skipper Kit Dunne aboard his boat “Lisin 1” targeting smoothound. I can only describe the fishing as incredible and it was one of the highlights of my summers fishing!
I was to join a group of Inland Fisheries Ireland personnel along with some of Ireland’s top competition and freelance anglers to witness just what this coast can produce and to try and catch some coveted Irish specimen smoothound.
My two days would be separated by a week, so we had small neap tides the first day and big spring tides for the second. The tide run over these banks off Wicklow is fast, but easily fishable. However, due to the power of the tide and the power of a big smoothound, I chose to fish with an MTI 20/40 braid rod, a 2-speed prototype Penn reel you’ll hear more about in due course, and 30lb braid. However Kit’s boat is fitted out with Shakespeare Ugly Stik rods and Penn reels if you prefer to hire tackle.
My rig would be a simple running ledger with a short sliding boom, a bead, then tie on a swivel, and add 48-inches (120cms) of 40lb Fluorocarbon line and a 4/0 hook. Bait would be fresh peeler crab or soft crab cut up to release lots of juice and bound tightly with bait elastic to give good presentation.
First drop down two or three rods rattled then pulled over to the smash and grab take of a smoothound. These were smaller fish between 3 and 5lbs, and I landed my first at about 4lbs.
Second drop down, after a couple of minutes wait, I felt a triple thump on the rod top. It was hesitant and I waited. Within seconds another triple bang on the rod tip pulled the rod over and as I struck the rod took on a powerful curve. This fish hung head down tight to the seabed, always a good sign of a big fish. It stayed this way with me applying heavy pressure and the smoothound responding. Eventually it weakened and slowly but surely I worked the fish up through the water column. It looked a good size and the experienced IFI crew shouted “It’s a specimen”, and with the specimen weight set at 6.62lbs, or 3.0kgs, it looked much bigger than that.
Weighed on the boat it looked to be about 9lbs, but Kit Dunne has a large plastic box that can be filled with water and aerated with fresh seawater to keep some fish alive and healthy. My fish would be put in the box and regularly checked, then at the end of the day, would be officially weighed back at port before release.
It was non-stop -smoothound action with everyone hitting fish after fish. Norman Dunlop, and old friend and now retired Sea Angling Advisor, was enjoying some great action on the port side of the boat. Having fished with Norman for over 20-years I watched carefully as he hunched over at the shoulders and went in to a familiar high concentration mode indicative he was in to a big fish.
The battle was long and hard with the fish difficult to work up off the bottom. Slowly the fish came up taking line at times, and shaking its head. It broke the surface and looked huge. Kit netted the fish and a gasp went round the boat. The scales suggested somewhere about 14lbs, just 2.58lbs below the Irish record. The fish was added to the live well.
That day there were well over 60 smoothound brought aboard the “Lisin” and no less than ten were over Irish specimen weight, but with the aerated box only able to hold four fish, the rest were instantly released.
Back onshore my starry smoothound was officially weighed at 8lb 15.5ozs, and Norman’s smack on 14lbs, with two other specimen fish officially weighed for Mike Hennessey and Des Chew. Having kept these fish in the aerated tank, it was great to see how good a condition this had kept them in, and as we released them they took off for the depths like a bullet none the worse for wear.
I had to head to the west of Ireland for a few days, but came back a week later for another day on the smoothies. The tides were now big springs and the tide really fast, but I got away with 10 to 12ozs most of the time, and only briefly needed heavier over the peak flow.
The fish seemed even thicker on the ground and came in from the off in huge numbers. Several times there were three or four rods all in to fish at the same time. I was concentrating hard as I wanted to get a second specimen fish, and hopefully up my weight with a double figure fish my aim.
I caught a fish well over specimen weight, probably about 8lbs, but chose to instantly release it. Mike Hennessey got two specimens, one of which looked about 10lbs, with Gerry O’Connor from Kerry also recording two specimens.
I was on the starboard stern corner and decided to change to a lighter lead weight and trot my bait well away from the boat. It wasn’t long before I felt a savage pull on the rod tip. I waited for the second series of tugs and set the hook. The 20/40 buckled over and line was dragged off the reel. This was another big fish and it hung head down, tight to the seabed.
It came up in the water twice, but then took back all the line and headed back for the seabed. It came up to the surface and kited in the tide, then made one last shallow dive before skipper Kit netted it. It looked bigger than my previous fish and was added to the now full aeration tank.
We fished on and boated well over 70 smoothound that day. There were some smaller sub 2 and 3lb fish, but there were many in the 5 to 7lb bracket, fish that really pull and fight hard.
Back on the quay my fish was weighed at 10lb 2oz, so I’d got my double. Biggest fish of the day was Mike Hennessey’s 10lb 7oz fish.
Looking back over two days fishing, the banks off Wicklow had given us close to 150 smoothound, at least 14 Irish specimens though we instantly released these without verification , and that corker of a fish at 14lbs for Norman Dunlop. To give you some idea of the significance of the 14 plus specimens, had they all been claimed, for the whole of 2011 only 6 specimen smoothound were recorded in the whole of Ireland.
If you would like to try the smoothound fishing with Kit Dunne, and he also has excellent general ground fishing for a variety of species throughout the year, he can be contacted via the following….