Ballycastle, Antrim Coast
Our off-shore trip this weekend was scuppered by strong north-westerly breezes (not for the first time!) and a contingency plan had to be quickly drawn up. Rather than heading out into the deep waters of the north-channel, we decided on the safer; and a great deal more comfortable plan of targeting some inshore sand banks and reefs to see what was lurking about.
Luckily, a few mackerel shoals were still hanging about, they usually become few and far between by October. With a couple of boxes of frozen calamari squid as back-up, we only needed a small amount of mackerel for the session.
As the forecast gave winds to drop slightly as the day wore on, we opted for a drift over the ray banks, picking up gurnard, whiting and dogfish on baited mackerel traces. As the tide eased, a switch to flowing rigs and whole calamari kept the dogs coming, with a bonus Brill for Big Phil. Finally, we found a few rays, with Glenn landing his first cuckoo ray, delighted at adding a new species to his ever-growing list. I think he is trying to catch up with Mike Thrussell!
At slack water, it was time for a move. The tide will soon be heading in the wrong direction for rays on the sand bank, but perfect for pollack around the rocky headlands. Berkley Power Worms are the secret weapon on this mark and absolutely deadly fished on a long, flowing trace. It wasn’t long before rods buckled under the power of hard hitting pollack, and plenty of them to keep the crew amused.
There are few fish to match the adrenaline rush and ensuing battle from a decent pollack, but on this occasion, I opted for a different tact. There are decent shoals of cuckoo wrasse on this reef, and although they offer little resistance for a rod battle, the colours are something to behold, with an added attraction of possibly bagging an Irish specimen.
A few smaller female fish showed, usually because there are more numbers of females in the under-water harem, but it wasn’t long before a larger male appeared. At 1lb 10oz, it was a bruiser in the cuckoo wrasse world and well over the specimen barrier, fooled by Shakespeare Hawk Lures and a small strip of mackerel.
As action on our second venue began to slow down, it was time for a third and final move of the day. A small wreck lies close to the shore and holds its fair share of conger, wrasse and pollack and is always worth a couple of hours at anchor to round off the day. With an onion bag of finely chopped fish bits tied to the anchor for added attraction, and carefully dropped up-tide of the wreck (too close and you run the risk of losing an anchor), the Fast Fisher swung round and close in to the mark.
Without ragworm, Ballan Wrasse were difficult to tempt, but a slow retrieve with a blue-tailed Power worm soon had the pollack queuing up again, superb sport on the light Ugly Stick spinning rod, and a great way to pass the time until the congers came sniffing about. The trick is to lure the congers out of the wreck into safe, open water and they readily obliged. With nothing showing over twenty pounds on this occasion, what they lacked in size, they certainly made up in numbers, offering a busy end to a potentially disastrous day, taking the weather into account.
It always pays to have a back-up plan, and venues such as Ballycastle have so much to offer, it’s a rare occasion when you can’t get out and make something of the day. Any anglers wishing to sample the wide range of sea angling here can launch at the excellent and safe slip facilities available, launching fee £9.50 or yearly subscription of £69 for regular users, or simply book the best professional charter skipper in the area, Sean McKay on 07712167502, you won’t be disappointed.