There is a well-known angling charity in Northern Ireland named “Angling First”. The charities’ motto reads, “Taking kids off the streets and into fishing”. Through its director, Mark McGivern and his small team of angling volunteers, the charity manages to give over two thousand youngsters a professional angling experience every year, and as each year passes, the numbers increase!
Mark McGivern of ‘Angling First’
As a reward for the volunteers’ hard work, Mark usually persuades me to take them all on a sea angling trip each year, something that is rapidly becoming a tradition. This year I decided to treat them to a day targeting spurdogs. As the charity is exclusively involved in fresh water angling, this is a species none of them have had the opportunity to come into contact with. It was time to rectify this!
My target area was the deep waters off the Antrim Coast that run between Northern Ireland and Western Scotland. With neap tides and light westerly winds, conditions were looking favourable for a decent angling session. The mark I had in mind usually produces good numbers of spurs, with double figure bull huss, conger, the ever-present dogfish and on the odd occasion, a bonus common skate. As the lads have no sea angling equipment, I was able to supply the tackle. Shakespeare Ugly Stix and Penn Waveblasters were the order of the day. Teamed with Penn Fathoms and graphite lever drags, they are more than a match for the deep water, two pound lead sinkers and any large fish we may encounter.
With the anchor down bang on the mark, (no mean feat in 450 ft of water if I say so myself), it wasn’t long before the “doggies” appeared. They may seem like a nuisance at times, but in these big-fish areas, they are definitely a vital link in the food chain! As the scent from large baits such as whole calamari squid or a mackerel flapper works its way down-tide, the larger predators home in on the source and we soon have the heavy thump and nod on the rod tip indicating the “spurs” have arrived.
First fish over the gunnels came to fourteen year old Ashley’s rod. A decent double, around eleven pounds, but more importantly, it’s a female. The males and females normally shoal in separate groups, and as the females are usually larger in size, this was a great sign of things to come. The normal scenario when a large pack turns up is that they go into a feeding frenzy and queue up to be caught, thankfully today was no exception!
The lads were quick to catch on to baiting techniques and so, all I had to do was wait in the wings, help with any un-hooking, and stick a red rota tag in the dorsal of each fish that landed on the deck. The spurs kept coming, with some good doubles up to sixteen pounds, and my newly converted sea anglers were having a “whale” of a time. I mention “whale”, because the only break in the angling session was when a thirty foot Minkie whale decided to take a close look at what we were doing. A little too close I felt, as it circum-navigated my boat, and then thankfully decided to head off on its journey again. A daunting experience, but fabulous to see none-the-less, and a memory that will stay with us all for years to come.
Too close for comfort……
Four hours of spurdog fishing in deep water is equivalent to a hard day’s work, especially for these guys who weren’t used to deep water angling with heavy weights, never mind double shots of double figure fish attached! As they slowed down a little, I managed to wet a line once or twice and plucked out a couple of specimens and a bonus bull huss.
Stunning bull huss….
Unfortunately, the common skate failed to appear, but I promised them one on the next trip. With so many spurs about, I don’t think the skate could get a look in! As it was a two-day trip, we could try another area to see what’s about, but that’s for another blog!
One for the captain (that is me!)
Approaching slack water, bites dwindled away and it was time to lift the anchor and head back to the harbour. The spurdog session was a success on this occasion; I only hope I haven’t spoiled the lads. I don’t think they will be able to look at a roach in the same light again!