I am eternally envious of my good friends Ross Macklin and Sid Kennedy who live down in County Cork, Southern Ireland. It seems as though Sid steps out of his front door with a rod in hand, and hooks into a specimen something or other before reaching his front gate! In reality, I realise that Sid, similar to many like-minded anglers invests a great deal of time, skill and effort in an area of huge angling opportunity, and it shows. His tally of specimens each year seems un-stoppable!
However despite this, two species that have managed to elude Sid and his buddies over the years are cuckoo wrasse and spurdog, and these falls into my remit. It was time to put that right!
With a perfect window of opportunity looming, tides were excellent, wind speed had dropped away, and in fairness to Sid and his son Derick, a quick call and they dropped everything, packed their car and headed north. We met at the harbour, with my old pal Dessy joining us for the day.
Mackerel were abundant, thank goodness. I ran into a shoal over a large sand bank that isn’t even noted on the admiralty charts. It was immediately marked for future investigation. It looked the ideal habitat for turbot and rays through-out spring-summer. Apart from mackerel, and using only un-baited mackerel traces, we took various smaller species such as gurnards, codling, poor cod, coalfish, whiting and even weaver fish. This mark definitely warrants further exploration! Weaver’s are a great indication that blonde ray are about.
No stopping for rays on this occasion however. We were on a mission for spurs and cuckoos, without distraction. Venturing further off-shore, I anchored in an area that has produced well for me over the years. As the anchor “bit” on the sea bed and the Fast Fisher swung her bow into the current, I quietly asked the man upstairs if he would cut the lads some slack and give them a day to remember.
He must have heard me, as within minutes, we had our first spurdog over the gunnels, a female fish of ten pounds plus, and things were looking well for a busy session. Spurs tend to shoal in separate packs of males or females, and rarely mix. It’s always good to find the females as these generally tend to be larger.
Sid soon broke the magical twelve-pound specimen barrier, and then again with a fourteen-pound fish. He was like a kid in a sweet shop as he lifted his third specimen into the boat.
The curse of the spurs had been broken, and all eyes were now on Des and Derick to find a few of the larger ladies. Cheers went up as Derick landed a twelve-pound plus, followed by another and then a fourteen. Dessy only had the one specimen out of the many boated, but at seventeen pounds, it stole the limelight.
As the tide eased, and for my third trip in a row, a rod bent to the weight of a common skate. Young Derick had the honour of playing this one. We kitted him out with a harness and butt pad and talked him through his first ton-plus fish. In skate terms, it wasn’t a “lunker” but at 112lbs in 450ft of water, it was a great achievement and rounded the deep-water session off nicely.
It was now time to give the cuckoo wrasse a try, and so it was a case of lines up and a move to one of the numerous off-shore reefs scattered about this area. Thankfully, the cuckoo wrasse were in plentiful supply, eagerly snaffling our hawk rigs baited with small strips of mackerel belly fillets. Without the hectic madness and heavy tackle required for deep-water spurdog fishing, we were also able to target poor cod, pouting, pollack, ling, coalfish, scad, and ballan wrasse. Sid was delighted to find three specimen cuckoos amongst the vast numbers of feeding fish. We rounded the afternoon off watching several basking sharks feeding around the boat, always a humbling experience.
An early day was called for, as Sid and Derick were working the following day, and the five hour drive back down to Cork is not advisable with tired eyes! Back at the harbour, we said our good-byes, the two lads absolutely delighted to head home with nine specimens between them.
For these deep-water venues, the Penn Waveblaster Evo 30-50 range of rods are un-beatable, light, comfortable, fast taper with bags of power. They handle large lead weights and double shots of spurdog with ease and plenty of back-bone in reserve when those bonus skate show up. Teamed with the Penn fathom 40 loaded with 65lb Whiplash makes a superbly balanced set-up.
Spurdog rigs need to be tough, tied with at least 150lb nylon to stand any chance of resisting their razor sharp gnashers! 6/0 hooks are ideal, but heavy duty versions are a must, again to stand a chance of landing larger bonus fish. Do not be afraid to use big mackerel baits, plenty of spurs are taken on skate baits.
For the cuckoo wrasse, I used to tie complicated competition rigs, spreader rigs with flicker spoons and day-glo beads etc. These work well, but after years of fishing, I found standard small-hook mackerel rigs, especially the Shakespeare luminous hawk rigs baited with fresh mackerel strip. These are simple and extremely effective. They won’t snag the reefs as readily, and losses are minimal especially with a weak link to the lead weight incorporated. There is rarely a need to go beyond 10oz of lead with this style of angling, and so, the lighter, “tippy” 8-12lb class waveblasters are superb.