Well, it’s that time of year again!
As I write this, rivers are currently over their banks, and lakes and loughs are flooded into the fields, almost a replica of this time last year. Hopefully the rain will ease soon, with rivers and lakes “fining down” nicely for a fair crack at the pike through these colder months.
With my angling options somewhat limited at the minute, I will use this opportunity to look back over 2011, and briefly recount some of the more memorable trips that came my way. From a specimen hunter’s perspective, what a great year it turned out to be. It must also be noted that this was my first year targeting specimens where every item of tackle and bait came from the Pure Fishing stable.
Chasing large pike through-out the winter can be quite a hit or miss affair, but determination and persistence usually pays off in the end. Having endured my fair share of blank sessions over Christmas, my luck finally changed with a superbly conditioned river pike on the second day of January. It looked huge and could easily have passed for a mid-thirty, but at twenty eight and a half pounds, I certainly wasn’t complaining. It is always a great feeling to find a specimen fish so early in the year, and personally, a much needed “shot in the arm” to help endure the cold and desperately short days until things liven up in April.
February brought me back down to earth with a bump, although later in the month we did manage to find some good sea angling in the deep water off the Antrim Coast. Spurdog, conger, huss and ton-up skate came to our rescue in March, with a few double-figure spurs to keep the specimen tally climbing. The Penn Wave blasters and Fathom 40’s were a superb combo for this deep-water angling.
At last, a long awaited low pressure system moved in with gale force southerlies forecast. This typically heralds a slight rise in temperature and oxygen levels, and is my cue to head south for my once a year carp session. With new “Razor” rods from JRC and Abu Cardinal reels to play with, it was imperative to find a few lunkers to put the tackle through its paces. The Gulp Irish cream boilies shone through once again, with a dozen doubles between us for the camera. Not bad considering the severe winter we have endured.
With the lean months behind me, April beckoned and I could hardly wait for the warmer air and lengthening days to bring some extra sunlight and a little temperature rise to the country. A break in the erratic weather and my regular crew and I were back out over the deep off-shore marks picking up spurs, conger and some bonus specimen Black-mouthed dogfish. Stunning little sharks with anaconda markings and a huge appetite, I have even had them on skate baits in the past. Having caught the first officially recorded specimens many years ago, I have a soft spot for these delicate elasmobranchs.
As we moved into May, the season really took off for the specimen hunter. I find myself wishing we had two months of May in a year, as four week-ends simply isn’t enough time to chase all the Irish species on offer!
An invite from the Inland Fisheries Ireland to aid the important Twaite Shad survey swung the decision for me, and so, it was a long weekend at Lismore targeting Twaite Shad on the rivers Blackwater and Suir. Lady luck smiled again, as amongst many Shad caught, I landed the first scientifically documented specimen shad from the Blackwater, with my angling buddy Mark Corps matching the achievement on the Suir. This opens up all sorts of future possibilities other than salmon and trout on these two superb Irish waters.
Returning again to the south of Ireland the following weekend in search of Rudd-Bream hybrids, I fell into an angling session that could have been straight out of the heady days of the Lower River Bann over a decade ago. My angling buddies had pre-baited an area with dramatic results. Everyone “bagged-up” and my personal tally over one evening ended with almost two hundred hybrids averaging between three and six pounds apiece. I will let you do the maths!
With only a few days of May remaining, I managed to tempt some wary Tench, happily breaking the specimen barrier a couple of times in the process. This was rapidly becoming a good year for me, and with June just around the corner, it re-enforced the fact that May is simply too short!
By the time July had arrived, summer was in full swing. 2011 offered quite a few pleasant days to bask in sunshine, and a spur of the moment angling- camping trip with my youngest daughter produced a stunning, seven pound tench for wee Lucy. I was as proud as punch as she brought the hard fighting fish to the landing net, a lasting memory for both of us and her first specimen fish. A home-made mix of ground-up Irish Cream boilies, Gulp pellets and kitekat did the damage this time!
The weather held out through this month giving me the opportunity to take some of the guys from Angling First Charity out to sea in search of a few toothy critters. I’m glad to say that all went according to plan, with spurdogs galore, plenty of tope and a bonus skate just short of the two hundred pound barrier. The trip was definitely one that will stand out in my angling memory, and I know the lads had the experience of a life-time. The basking sharks, porpoises, Minkie whale and porbeagle shark that showed themselves around the boat was something to behold! Wave blasters and Penn 15kg’s performed faultlessly. What will it take to kill this equipment!
August was here, and hard to believe we were so far into the year already. As we age, we realise how short our allotted time span is, and the months seem to roll by quicker each year. In the north of Ireland, August is the prime time for Grey Mullet, and as always, I enjoy dedicating many hours in search of this wary and worthy species. Finding my first specimen on the fly was a personal challenge achieved at long last,
and rewarding to catch it on my home waters of Strangford Lough. I have taken several on the fly but never managed to crack the five pound barrier until now, and the ensuing battle on the Shakespeare Trion outfit was well worth the wait. What a memorable fight!
In-between the mullet forays, I took a good friend and his son out over County Antrim’s deep off-shore marks aboard my trusty Red Bay 21. They wished to add specimen spurdogs to their ever-growing list of species and they weren’t disappointed. My old mate Dessy joined us, boating over sixty spurs and numerous specimens between us. Dessy topped the day with a seventeen pounder. Day two and we changed tact, heading for the
off-shore reefs in search of cuckoo wrasse. Again, lady luck smiled, and the lads travelled home that night with nine specimens recorded between them. My good deeds were rewarded when a huge mullet showed up around the boat as I tidied up back at the harbour. I grabbed my fly rod from the jeep and soon had a silver torpedo heading for open sea! At just under seven pounds on a seven-weight Shakespeare Trion, the fight was amazing. I want more!
The seas are at their warmest in October, which offers superb salt water sport. However, the cruel irony is that the weather patterns become more erratic leaving fewer opportunities to fish in safe water. Strong southerlies saw us sheltering below rocky headlands for most of our October adventures, but no hardship as double figure Pollack and specimen cuckoo wrasse were in abundance. A break in the gales and I targeted an in-shore sand bank for blonde rays. My angling buddy Glenn Drennan had never caught a blonde ray and he soon had his first, landed, tagged and released. His next fish proved a little tougher to land, as he bent into a stray common skate over the shallow mark. Great fun, but a tad scary on the twelve pound class gear he happened to be using at the time! An hour later, he skilfully brought the beast to the boat, measurements putting it at one hundred and eighty three pounds, quite an achievement, and another lasting memory for all on board.
As I finish this article, it is now the beginning of a new year and we have come full circle in my specimen hunter’s calendar. I am watching the weather, waiting for the rain to ease and the temperature to drop further. Esox is calling, and the thermal under garments are ready and waiting! Happy new year to all, tight lines for 2012, and a huge thank-you to Pure Fishing for helping to make it all possible.