During the height of our glorious summer that eventually arrived back in July, my angling mate Andy Wolsey and I decided to head for the Cork coastline. This was in search of a new species for us, namely the Gilt Head Bream.
The original plan was to allow three days to find our target species, and possibly stretch to a fourth day if things didn’t happen to go our way. Although day one was a failure of sorts, we tempted a few thick-lipped Mullet and their close cousins, Golden Greys to break the monotony. The beauty about this type of light shore angling is there are Bass, Flounder and the three Mullet species available on most venues in this area. If the Gilts fail to show over the last two hours of the ebb and the first two hours of the flood, the wise angler will change tactics, or make a move. On the Cork Coast-line there is always another species to target!
The following morning found us digging fresh lugworm. I say morning, in reality it was 3am, such was our determination in catching the correct tide. God knows what any passing locals would have thought, with two strange, insane creatures wandering around in the early morning mist with headlamps attached, scanning the sand for tell-tale worm casts! Perhaps they are used to this scenario, or in reality, wisely still tucked up in bed.
By first light, we were on yet another chosen mark, somewhat eerie in the mist and absolute silence, typical of these isolated shore marks, but yet, I didn’t wish to be anywhere else in Ireland. There was an optimism this time, a flow of adrenaline. I am un-able to put my finger on it, but when everything feels right, you can sense that a result is on the cards. Within minutes of casting into the gloom, my light carp rod literally leapt off the make-shift rod rest, despite having the clutch slackened slightly! The fish did not feel huge, but the fight was like nothing I had experienced.
The turn of speed was incredible, with line ripping from the reel and the fish capable of executing right angles in a nano-second. This could only be my target species, nothing else in Ireland can move at such incredible pace, as far as I am aware. After several blistering runs, I guided this silver plate to the landing net, the distinct bar of gold glowing in the dawn light, my first Irish “Gilty”. I always know when a catch means so much to me; my hands shake visibly, so much so that I can hardly bait a hook! If or when that reaction ceases, I will hang up my rods! The scales pushed round to over four pounds. I wanted to catch and hold a Gilt-Head, that was my mission, and the fact that it happened to be over the magical Irish specimen weight of three pounds was an added bonus, the icing on the cake!
We hardly had time to catch our breath, with Andy’s rod buckling as a shoal passed through. These fish have to be attached to the national grid; it’s like trying to harness a mini-bolt of lightning. The nearest I can liken it to was the battle I had with a seven pound salmon last year on the River Nore. Finally beating it on a light spinning rod and six pound line, the Salmon fight was electric, but the four pound “Gilty” on a carp rod definitely had the edge! God knows what a double figure Gilt-Head battle would be like! Amazingly, Andy’s fish broke the specimen barrier too; he felt like it also broke the sound barrier as well! We were two happy dudes to say the least, with mission now accomplished; anything else would be a bonus.
Needless to say, we repeated the routine the following morning, and almost to the minute, (allowing an extra hour for tidal adjustment), we were back into the “Gilties”. They really are an extremely addictive species, long may they in-habit our beaches and estuaries. With any luck, they may even venture north of the border. I know for fact that a four-pound plus fish was taken four years ago on Portstewart Strand in October.
In the quiet back-waters, estuaries and sheltered beaches, there is no need to use “beefed-up” beach-casting gear. Being able, on most occasions to get away with one or two ounces of lead, a light carp rod is more than ample. Matched with a suitable spinning reel and 15lb B/S braid, you will have a light, balanced set-up that will handle Bass, Flounder, Gilt-Heads, Sea-Trout etc.
My two-hook paternosters were constructed with 19lb B/S Flouro-carbon and 15lb B/S Flouro snoods, with size one Kamasan hooks. Hooks need to be extremely sharp and strong. I camouflaged my lead weights by covering them in hot-melt glue and dipping into dry coral sand. This probably isn’t entirely necessary as Andy caught on plain leads during the same session. Whilst participating at the Slovenian World Boat Championships, the locals (and subsequent winners) were adamant that any metal on the line was off-putting for Gilt Heads. They avoided swivels, using 4-way glass beads instead, and coated all lead weights with a rubber type powder coating. I thought this was food for thought, and did the same, however as previously mentioned, it did not seem to make that much of a difference, although I had the first fish and greater numbers. Personal choice I realise, but when committed to targeting a species, I prefer to leave no stone un-turned.
What we soon found out about some of the Gilt Head Bream is they must be quickly un-hooked and safely returned, facing into the flow allowing time to recover. Any messing about and they struggled to regain strength. This may have been the un-usually high temperatures and probable low oxygen levels, but whilst targeting this species, we had measure-mats, weigh-sling, scales and camera at the ready, and soon had the fish returned.
I am sure Gilt Head Bream have a broad range of food stuffs in their diet. Those grinding molars in the lower jaw, pointed upper teeth and tough mouths suggest a very mixed selection, probably crab and shrimp, marine worms, seed mussels and cockles, small clams, small bait-fish etc. What we found out without question, is they love lugworm.