A sting in the tail

With the local fishing still not up to scratch, I was recently looking forward to a week in Tralee Bay, in Kerry, Ireland.

I’ve been targeting a stingray for my all-time species list which only includes fish caught in UK and Irish waters, and so far a stinger had eluded me. The Tralee area is though, one of the best for stingray. However the late and cold season was just as prevalent there and it was only literally just prior to my trip in late May that news filtered through of the first stingers being caught, but only the odd one.

To succeed with some fish targets, you need good advice, and I was lucky as I’d be fishing with local stingray specialist Jerry O’Connor, and Mike Hennessy, Angling Information Officer based in the southwest of Ireland.

I set up with a simple pulley rig armed with a single 4/0 hook and baited with a large peeler crab that I’d halved then bound together with bait elastic. One thing that does surprise with stingers, immaterial of their size, is that they swim within a few yards of shore, so short casts are usually the most effective. I lobbed the bait only 25-metres out, set the Penn 525Mag on ratchet, and waited.

As a collective, we had a few dogfish, then a run of flounder. I’d rebaited after catching a flounder and dropped the bait just tight in to a clump of stone and seaweed. I noticed the line twitch before I watched the rod tip shudder. The rod tip stayed static, but the line was lifting and dropping, so I left it. Then the rod tip jagged forwards a few times. I lifted the rod up, released the ratchet and as I did so, the fish started to take line. I let it run for a few yards, then set the hook.

There was good weight there and the fish turned and headed out to sea dragging a few yards of line off, then bolted back uptide, turned back and ran downtide. It hung out there, went to ground for a few seconds then started to come in to the pressure of the rod. The other lads were in front of me now, but I saw the stingers tail break water and took it steady as I really wanted this fish on the shore. Slowly it edged in, and eventually slid ashore to hoots of delight from me. Judged by Jerry at between 12 and 15lbs, I settled on 12lbs, got my photos and slid the ray back in to the sea to watch it flap away. That’s species 107 and a really difficult one ticked off!

The weather was difficult though while in Kerry, with strong and sometimes gale force north-westerly winds blowing. On a really rough day, and just to prove we didn’t have it all our own way, Jerry and I teamed up and went to find some shelter inside the Shannon Estuary. We settled on a pier mark near Foynes that looked to give us easy casting access in to the main channel. Our target species were maybe huss, but we had high hopes of some thornback ray action.

Although this area can be alive with thornies, the late cold conditions and a wind gusting so hard it was difficult to stand up at times resulted in me catching just one small thornback late in the evening on a squid bait. It wasn’t for the want of trying as we’d both had two rods in the water and tried numerous changes of tactics and baits to find the fish, but it was not to be.

What was pleasing to see while in Ireland are the numbers of flounder which are increasing in numbers rapidly and this is reflected here in the UK too, and especially in Welsh waters. While in Tralee, even though we were fishing big baits for big fish most of the time, we still had a steady stream of sizeable flounders that greedily crammed the baits in to their mouths. Double shots of flounder where also common when fishing two-hook rigs.

One high point for this coming summer and autumn is that Ireland looks set to potentially have a bumper bass year. Prior to the bass close season between May 15th and June 15th, Irish contacts where telling me in all areas that the numbers of bass were as good as some can remember. The majority of fish are sub 4lbs, but there seems to be a nice mix of fish up to 6lbs, with much bigger fish available too. Those of you visiting from the UK to fish the famous bass beaches or looking to work plugs and soft plastics should enjoy some great sport looking ahead.

For anglers looking to visit Ireland general accommodation information is available online at www.discoverireland.com, and specific angling information on any area from the excellent www.fisheriesireland.ie website. For ferry services visit http://www.stenaline.co.uk .

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