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Luck, Skill and Guinness!

(Part 1 of a tale of Irish Bass fishing)

It was mid-way through my second trip to Ireland that year and still I hadn’t caught a Bass, in fact I was beginning to think that either the place or I were jinxed!

My ‘partner in rods’ for this trip was a friend called Silas, A musician from London, who is one of those naturally good, but lucky anglers who has an uncanny knack for being able to catch fish when all looks lost! This trip was no different. He was on-form again and had taken three nice Bass to around 3lb apiece. I had fished the same reefs using similar flies and a similar technique to him but try as I might; I couldn’t get a sniff.

Silas with an Irish Bass

The pair of us had faired a lot better at the Pollack marks and Ireland has plenty of them, both marks and Pollack that is! On only our first trip out we caught around twenty between us in just a few short hours before rain and slippery rocks brought play to an end. The biggest Pollack of the whole trip was the first fish caught and after only fifteen minutes of getting to the desired spot!

I had just risked life and limb climbing down the equivalent of ‘the north face of the Eiger’, so I could stand on a relatively flat piece of rock and fish. I had made two or three casts into the briny, when I heard this sort of bellowing sound. I looked around to see what and where it was coming from but couldn’t manage to decipher what it was, or its whereabouts, so carried on fishing. Then it came again and I thought it sounded louder and a little more desperate, like a bull setting eyes on a receptive cow for the first time!

Still unable to fathom just what was causing this noise I carried on with my fishing. Out the corner of my eye I saw a movement and glanced to my left to see my friend perched precariously on an outcrop of rocks with his rod bent double and a crazed look in his eye. The noise came again and I saw just what and who were making it! As quick as I could I cleared my line, stowed my rod and began to climb back up ‘the wall’. Once at the top I had to negate a slippery slope back down to where my friend had decided to fish and hook his leviathan.

The fish was all but beat by the time I arrived and was plodding around under the rod top. “That’s a good fish” say’s I, stating the obvious. “Where have you been” was all I received for my trouble! Anyway the next part was to get the fish up onto dry land, which can be tricky and dangerous with a big swell. On the third attempt the fish was landed.

It was a beautiful fish and it’s colouring was quite exquisite, why Pollack aren’t targeted more by UK saltwater flyfishermen is beyond me. I love catching them!

I took a number of photos before the fish was returned alive. It was only then that we speculated on the fish’s weight, as it was the first fish caught we were a little unprepared and thought this to be the norm and that more this size would follow. We guessed the fish to be around 6lb and although more fish were caught on that trip, many more, none were as big as that first fish… Lesson learned!

Silas with nice Pollack 

After the post catch chaos was sorted I decided to move to another outcrop of rocks further along the coast, but within sight of each other, just in case something awful happened… Like me catching a bigger fish than my friend!

I landed around nine or ten fish for my trouble with the biggest looking to be around 4lb.

Steve with a Pollack

 It was only a couple of days later when a local caught a fish we both guessed to be around the 4.4lb. When weighed it went 5.8lbs… We were way off with our guestimates and lamentably wondered just how big that first fish really would have been?

Our days were filled with moving from one area to another. We would jump into the hire car and drive from place to place, loading and unloading wet sandy gear, trying to hit each mark at the best state of the tide. I could almost hear the Avis girl saying “we’ll have to charge you for cleaning all this mess”. Great fun, but exhausting and thirsty work. Just as well we were in the land of Guinness!

For our evening meals we found a lovely pub in Waterville. The name of it escapes me now but there was a large plastic Lobster hanging on the outside wall. Surely a give away!

From the outside it looked quite unfriendly and foreboding, but once through the threshold and into the warmth it was like a home from home. Comfy chairs, a warm fire roaring and then to top it all… “What will you be having den fellas” An Irish lass serving the best tasting pint of Guinness I ever drank. The food was that good we decided to eat there every evening, highly recommendable.

 The weather for our stay was to be quite warm but wet. When we arrived it was in glorious sunshine and not a breath of wind, a condition that only lasted an hour before we prepared for our first outing. After that it was all North Westerly’s swinging to a true Westerly by weeks end. This somewhat limited where we could and couldn’t fish; for the most part we were in Ballinskelligs Bay, Co Kerry which afforded us some protection from the N.W winds. Not so good once the wind switched to West, then it was straight into our faces.

With the ever-increasing wind, casting from beach and reef marks wasn’t too bad as you can overcome a wind blowing over your wrong shoulder by casting backwards. Either that or make much shorter casts with as fast a front-haul as you can apply. From the Pollack rock marks however, fishing was a dangerous affair with huge swells rising as much as thirty feet. We had to pick our marks very carefully and by the end of our stay it became impossible to get down to some of them.

By searching areas out of the wind we did find some additional marks that yielded some good Pollack. In fact one such spot was were I caught my largest fish of 5lb. It was here that we were getting follows from Ballan Wrasse, a species I hadn’t caught on fly before. Unfortunately it stayed that way for me, as I couldn’t get one to eat my fly. Silas managed to get one of about a pound and had a huge fish of around 5lb follow his Black/White clouser right up to the surface, exciting stuff and something I plan to experiment more with, when I next return.

One thing I hadn’t allowed for on this trip was the amount of flies we would get through fishing for the Pollack. These fish live in and among some tough weed and kelp and you can loose a fly every other cast!

Silas had made up a couple of weed less flies by way of a piece of 25lb mono attached at the back of the hook and looped back around to the eye of the hook, covering the gape. It out-lasted my flies by about 10-1 but eventually succumbed to the ‘dreaded kelp’. As a point of reference we reckoned that 30lb mono would have been slightly better as a weed guard for this kind of fishing… Another lesson learned!

Best coloured flies for the Pollack were red, Black, white or a combination of these. That said virtually everything worked at one time or another but these three colours and especially the red seemed to prove the most consistent. Clousers and deceivers type patterns were No 1 choice but I wouldn’t worry too much about specific designs for these fish. Concentrate on numbers of the right coloured flies rather than quality, otherwise it will cost you a small fortune!

To get the flies down to the required depths we used either lead-core shooting heads or Airflow Di-7 super fast sinking factory heads in standard 35ft length, one size above the rods rating. The latter was far superior in its sinking and casting ability, which I put down to the thinner diameter of the line. Another tip is to use a floating running line. When you come to retrieve your fly, a floating running line does just that and your fly tends to rise in an upward motion, straight through any kelp.

With an intermediate running line, it sinks and the angle of retrieve changes. Flies tended to get stuck more often, resulting in even more losses!

Irish rock mark

As I mentioned at the start of this article I was yet to connect to a Bass. This was to change one morning when we decided to try the local estuary, why we hadn’t fished here before was beyond me as it looked superb. Plus the fact I love estuary fishing anyway.

The spring tides had been increasing all week and this morning we were in situ at just the right time. The weather was perfect, other than a 25mph wind blowing across our right shoulders! We had cloud cover, a falling tide and Silas had just hooked his 4th Bass of the trip. The fish used the current to its advantage and was onto and running against the reel, which is always better anyway. I watched as he walked down stream with rod held aloft to help keep as much line out of the water and ultimately, the raging current. The fish put up a good account of itself making several blistering runs and it was a good five minutes before it was landed.

It was another fish of around 3lb, which was quickly returned after the obligatory photo call. A sudden splash returned our attention to the water in front of us, as we watched more eruptions appeared as unseen baitfish met a sticky end. Spreading out we commenced fishing and I decided to change my fly. I had been using a chartreuse deceiver about 5” long, these baitfish were smaller and better represented by a 3” fly. The only flies that size in my box were medium weighted closer minnows in chartreuse/white and olive/white. I plumbed for the old favourite, chartreuse/white.

Casts were made across the current letting the fly swing round on a dead-drift. After about my third drift I felt a take but had a little to much slack line on the water, resulting in a momentary bump and then nothing. “Oh dear”- never mind” I exclaimed, or words to that effect! Drawing on the positive… at least my fly was working. Taking a few steps down current so as to change angles I continued to fish in the same manner as before. It was inevitable really, but when at last I finally had a solid take I really bullied that Bass in, not giving an inch until I could take hold of the leader and claim my first Irish Bass. Success was sweet and after a quick photo it was back to the fishing. You can never tell how long this sort of action will last and the tide was falling fast!

My best Bass that morning was a fish of 4lb 2oz caught using the same cast out-drift across current style, but also putting an occasional twitch into the fly as it tumbled about in the out-flowing current. If a certain style isn’t working for you then it pays to change things, whether it be the flies sizes, weight, colour or the way in which it is retrieved and at what depth. Some days are easy and tin foil on a hook will work, these estuary fish were particularly fussy that morning and by constantly making little adjustments meant we continued to catch fish. By the end of play we had caught eight Bass between us in a couple of hours. I’ve had more fish in just a half-hour spell but working out just what those estuary fish wanted and how was much more pleasurable and challenging.

Steve with an Irish Bass