Fishy Tales from the Emerald Isle –

Angling First Charity Trip – A charitable day out, part 2


Angling First Charity Trip


A charitable day out, part 2


After our successful trip chasing spurdog and bull-huss along the deep, off-shore marks of the Antrim Coast, we opted for a change of scene for day two. Our move further north would also give us a change of species, and on this occasion, our target species was tope. The lads from Angling First charity had never seen a tope let alone experience the pull of a small shark on rod and line. I couldn’t wait to hit my usual hot-spot and see their faces as line rips, seemingly un-stoppable from the reel!


mackerel as bait


The necessary drop for mackerel a few hundred yards out from the harbour proved to be a simple formality thank goodness. Most skippers will agree that they can be frustratingly difficult to locate at times, yet present in huge numbers when you least need them. With a box of fresh bait and the prospect of calm seas, all was well as we steamed seven miles off-shore to a mark that has produced large numbers of tope on almost every occasion.

Opting for the Ugly Stik Braid rods and Penn lever drag reels, I attached the tope traces below a tubi-boom, running ledger style. I explained that the twenty four inches of 150lb biting wire is a necessity when dealing with the tope’s formidable array of small teeth. Some anglers use 200lb nylon; I have tried this but lose too many fish in the time it takes to play a tope in such deep water. Above this, is approximately ten feet of 200lb rubbing trace. A tope’s skin, like all shark species, is made from millions of over-lapping scales called “denticles” that are tiny, exact replicas of their teeth. These will make short work of braid or lighter main line without the protection of a rubbing trace. There is also the chance of picking up a stray porbeagle in this area, so it pays to ere on the side of caution!

On this particular mark, and in over 300 feet depth, drifting is the usual method, although I would love to try anchoring some time to see what else is about. The sea bed is mostly clean, with small, scattered reefs and tiny patches of rough ground. The mackerel flapper rigs are dropped to the bottom, and lifted five-ten feet to avoid snagging, reels put on ratchets and the waiting game begins.

As we approached the hot-spot, a rod gave a heavy nod followed by a screaming ratchet. When drifting, takes are rarely gentle affairs! Our youngest member of the crew was first to taste the delights of tope angling and couldn’t believe the power these small sharks possess. From experience on this mark, I tidied the deck and prepared the tagging and weighing equipment, knowing that action for the other rods would not be far behind. While the first fish was working its way upwards through the depths, the remaining three rods bounced and signalled we were really in business. Four fish on at once, as is often the case on this mark, can sometimes lead to disaster, but they all appeared on the surface one after the other, as if on a conveyor belt, allowing ample time for weighing, tagging, measuring and that all important photograph as a memorable keepsake.


young Ashley with his first tope


Needless to say, my boat crew were buzzing and as we drifted out of the hot-spot, we had time to re-group, bait up and steam up-tide of the mark for our second attack. Now the guys knew what to expect, I could see the anticipation as they waited, rods at the ready for the second drift. This scenario continued for a couple of hours until the tide eased and our tope went off the feed. A god-send to be honest, as by this stage I had wrestled, tagged and weighed several dozen tope and felt as if I had done ten rounds with Mike Tyson!


Levi lands a healthy thirty eight pound fish


Mark is delighted to get in on the action


another large tope for Levi


At this quiet spell, I gave the lads two choices. Pollack and wrasse on spinning gear close to the headlands, or dropping the anchor in the deep water to see what was about. The big-fish bug had really set in by this stage, and the unanimous decision was quickly made to try our luck at anchor. Good lads!

I instructed my crew to chop up a few dozen mackerel to go in an onion sack on the anchor, as I steamed to a mark that I’ve intended to try for some years now. With the baited anchor eventually holding firm, we endured several hours without so much as a tweak on the rod tips, and I began to have doubts that anchoring was indeed a method worth pursuing at this venue. During this quiet spell, a basking shark swam between the anchor line and the bow, rubbing its back along the keel, then barged through two lines, snapping them like cotton! After the Minkie whale the previous day, it seemed our boat had some strange attraction for large marine animals on this trip.


basking shark close to the boat


young Ashley can’t get enough


Lee with a thirty-plus


This incident put two rods out of action, but a spare up-tide rod in the cabin, although a little light, would have to suffice. It would do fine if any more tope appeared. As the tide eased, tope showed again giving the crew some final sport before packing up. As we made moves towards tidying up, the up-tider bounced and nodded fiercely.  Lifting into the fish, I realised we weren’t going anywhere for another hour or so! A common skate had decided to go for the lightest gear on the boat, and the probability of landing it in 350 feet of water was slim to say the least!


Mark putting the pressure on to bring the skate to the surface


With young Ashley fully harnessed, he was first to experience the pain of a tug-of-war battle, and after twenty minutes, was relieved to hand the rod over to Lee. A further twenty minutes later and Levi took over, finally handing the rod to Mark who successfully brought the creature to the surface and alongside the boat. I still cannot believe the up-tider survived the ordeal! Measurements put this large female skate just short of 200lbs, an experience of a life-time for the lads and a superb way to end an amazing two day trip.


Happy crew with a bonus common skate just shy of 200lbs


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