Acting on an invite from Nick Ward, I found myself heading south yet again, this time to the east coast in search of Mustelas asterias, or to the lay-man such as me, smoothies, smuts or hounds. The plan was to join my old buddy Sid Kennedy and his son Derick for a relaxing week-end in search of this hard-fighting mini-shark.
Nick’s vessel is “Neptuna”, a well equipped Redfin powered by a 115 HP two-stroke, and as we soon found out, is spine-shatteringly fast! Launching at the public slipway in Arklow harbour, we were soon north-east bound, heading for potential Smooth-Hound grounds. One of Nick’s young sons, Conor, also joined us on this two-day trip. He was tiny, and I couldn’t believe he could even hold a rod. It soon became clear that he could fish as well as any of us!
Having “thrown the pick” Neptuna was now stationary, and it wasn’t long before the hounds came sniffing around, following the scent trail of fresh peeler crabs, juices oozing from our elastic bound hook-baits. The beauty of these small, delicate-looking sharks is they don’t mess about when letting you know they’ve taken the bait. Severely rattling the rod-tip and fighting every inch to the boat, smoothies really are fantastic sport.
We spent our time amongst the hounds, and as Nick had to be home by early afternoon, eventually called it a day and made for harbour. With the boat retrieved and safely lashed down on the trailer, I noticed a local lady feeding the ducks a short distance upstream of the slipway. Little did she realise that she was also feeding a shoal of Grey Mullet, stealing any morsels that the ducks had missed. With my emergency back-up, ready to go float rod stashed in the jeep for just this type of occasion, I was sitting comfortably and somewhat stealthily downstream of the ducks in a flash. The remains of some left over sandwiches came to the rescue as bait and by the second cast; I had Conor playing and landing his first Grey Mullet. Lovely stuff!
Day two and we found ourselves north of Arklow at the quayside of Wicklow Harbour, a change of scenery, but hopefully we were in for a repeat performance of the day previous. In the blink of an eye, it seemed, we were clear of the harbour and skimming towards our off-shore destination. The hounds were thin on the ground today, and Nick worked hard to find fish, putting us over most of his known hot-spots. We found enough “smuts” to keep us happy, along with a few decent Bull-Huss that were a welcome change and broke the quiet spells.
A final move put us over Tope territory, and this is where the back-up bait of frozen Mackerel came into its own. The tide was running a little hard, but we persevered, with Nick finding the first run of the late afternoon.
I soon followed suit, with a feisty female that ripped off 100 yards of line in an instant, using the pace of the tide to full advantage. I have caught many tope over the years, including fish from over 500 feet down, but I really began to think I wasn’t going to land this particular one! I was blinking knackered by time she came alongside the boat!
A fierce squall moved in, beating hailstones and rain upon us and it was with great regret that we were forced to run for cover, and call an end to our very enjoyable two-day trip with Nick. It was a long drive home so I dare say probably a blessing that nature forced me to quit for the day. My angling mates will tell you if you ask them, I do not know when to pull the plug!
Choose a light boat rod, 12lb-20lb class and suitable matching reel, or if preferred, an up-tide rod for casting ahead and away from the boat. This will suit most species encountered in this area. The up-tide kit can be a good option in shallow water where boat noise may, on occasion push fish away from the immediate area.
20-30lb braid is fine, with a 50lb shock-leader required when up-tiding. The fine diameter to strength ratio of braid obviously helps to cut through fast tides in this area, allowing the use of lighter leads. Boat leads range from a couple of ounces up to a pound, maybe a little heavier in the larger tide runs, plus a range of up-tide grip-leads.
For a simple rig, make a single-hook paternoster, but trap the 20-30 inch snood using beads and crimps just above the lead-link. Finish with a size 3/0 Kamasan. These are sharp and strong and hold a crab well. The snood should be at least 40lb B/S to withstand abrasion from the Smooth-Hounds toothy-bony crushing mouth plates. Obviously this is a general guide-line, use what you know and trust. You can also construct a short, running ledger with a tubi-boom etc if preferred.
Peeler crab is the main bait for Smooth-Hound. It is easily sourced from most dealers or collected if you don’t mind hard work. Whip the crab onto the hook with bait elastic to withstand casting, fast tides, and the sneaky Smooth-Hound removal from the hook. Hermit crabs are excellent if you can get them. Smoothies will also take fish baits and calamari squid, but this is no comparison to juicy peeler crab.
Tope can be targeted with the same tackle, but obviously, step up the end gear a little. Use at least 100lbs rubbing trace with a 20 inch wire “biting” trace and size 6/0-8/0 hook to give yourself the best chance of landing a fish.