By 9am Sunday morning, Glenn Drennan, Phil Oliver and myself were standing on Benone Strand, the beautiful surf beach on the northernmost reaches of Northern Ireland, looking across to Donegal, Moville and adjacent to the large commercial fishing port of Greencastle. To explain, Glenn had won a beach outfit in a small competition, and although an accomplished angler, he had yet to try this discipline of our sport. Big Phil and I took it upon ourselves to give Glenn a
crash course in tackling a typical surf beach.
We thought it wise for Glenn to have a few practice casts along the strand, and explained the need for a shock leader. As the name implies, this is a short length of heavier breaking strain nylon necessary to absorb the shock of a powerful cast.
Attached to the main line, it should be of ample length that when ready to cast, there are several turns of shock leader remaining on the spool. Beach angling over clean ground rarely requires the need for heavy main line, with 15lb b/s being ideal. However, with each ounce of lead used, the leader must be stepped up by at least 10lb b/s for maximum safety. As we would be using 5oz grip leads on this occasion, it obviously equates to a 50lb b/s shock leader.
The next step is the business end, the bit with the hooks! There are endless rig patterns designed to cope with a multitude of scenarios, conditions and species, but on this occasion, as it was a basic introduction, we opted for the simple two-hook paternoster. This comprises of two 25lb b/s snoods, locked into position with swivels, beads and crimps on a metre of 50lb b/s rig line, a swivel at one end and a lead link at the other, simple yet effective. Two size 1 Aberdeen-style hooks attached, and some beads and sequins for added bling. It only takes a couple of minutes to construct a two-hook “flattie” rig, and once Glenn had tied up a couple of similar design, we were ready to actually fish!
The surf looked good, with reasonable clarity and no annoying weed or dangerous surges pushing up the beach. In these ideal conditions, a simple over-head lob of around thirty yards is all that is required. In a stable surf, flounder and bass will hug the shore-line picking up anything edible or injured, dislodged by the crashing breakers. Glenn had been pre-warned that the seasonally severe drop in temperature during these bleak winter months usually drives any remaining species off-shore into deeper water, and he should not to expect too much; a blank session when shore angling in mid-winter is unfortunately all too common, and believe me, today was bloody cold!
As if to make me eat my words, his first cast produced a series of thumping nods on the new rod and he was soon into his first beach-caught species. It certainly wasn’t a flounder bite and we guessed either a bass or out of season sea trout. To our delight, it was a school bass, a first for Glenn and his new rod and reel had been christened with a worthy species. A quick photograph and the bass was safely returned to the surf. How wonderful it would be if this sport fish was offered
full protection from the commercial men, and allowed to develop and multiply around the Ulster coast.
Taken on lugworm, our digging efforts the previous day were now proven worthwhile. As Glenn refreshed the hooks, I explained the match tactic of “double patting”. While waiting for a bite to register, another rig is baited and hung on the tripod in readiness. When it is time to retrieve the gear due to a hooked fish, missed bite or simply to refresh the bait, un-clip one rig and replace it with the other and re-cast. This saves a great deal of time, especially effective when shoals are passing through on feeding patrols. I realise that this is “bread and butter stuff” for the shore match man, but useful information for the novice pleasure angler hoping to improve his catches. Five minutes saved each hour, over a six hour session is thirty minutes added angling. A great deal can and often happens in that extra thirty minutes!
One-nil to Glenn, but it wasn’t long before Phil evened the score with a fine flounder, and I crept up in third place with a “blazer badge” to save a blank. Fishing was far from hectic, but missed bites and the odd flounder were showing regular enough to keep us interested. It was no real surprise that as the tide turned and began to flood, also coinciding with nightfall, bites increased to the point that I was reluctant to pack up. Most shallow surf beaches fish with greater consistency under the cover of darkness, where fish are prepared to feed reasonably confidently in the shallow water. With high water expected around midnight, it would have been interesting to stay a while longer and see if any more bass were about, especially as a few small whiting were now showing, a popular food source for many marine predators.
However, Glenn had an early start at work the following morning to consider and the two hour run home had also to be taken into account. With fish still feeding, it was time to break down the gear and reluctantly head for home. Next time we try a shore adventure, it will have to be a Saturday night- Sunday morning affair for maximum opportunity. On the positive side, I think we achieved our goal. Glenn received his introduction into salt-water shore angling and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. With bait digging and rig tying now under his belt, he is well on his way to adding another angling string to his bow. The new rod and reel has had an airing, and we all caught enough fish to keep us occupied. The trouble is, after watching us cast with multipliers, Glenn is now looking into the option of trying out one of my 6500’s. I feel a casting lesson looming on the horizon, and so it continues!