Those lucky owners with boats over 17 feet will generally have it fitted out with all the latest electronics, much like their larger cousins in the charter boats. You get all the plotting accuracy for ease of travel to your destination. The relaxation of knowing you should be able to find your way home even when the land has sunk below the horizon. And you certainly found the mark you intended to fish. But what about those with smaller vessels. Anglers with open boats and a 5 or 10hp engine on the back? What chance do they really have of getting among the better inshore fish? Well Graeme and Mike Pullen have been pounding the wild Atlantic, and using their charts and some of the latest electronics, have stumbled across……….
Small boat fishing from open boats is not for the faint hearted, and in my experience is a spring to autumn thing. Having owned and fished a 13 foot bass boat, while they are easier to launch and generally trail, they have limitations. Speed is one. So you can’t run twenty miles offshore to a wreck. And temperature control is the other. They get so damn cold when there is any sort of breeze. You can’t get up and move around like a 17 footer, and the lack of cuddy protection means any runs into a head or quarter sea will have spray kicking up over the edge, making you even colder, and soaking everything. But if you do pick the right weather, and scale down your tackle, the satisfaction when you finally hit some good fish makes it all worthwhile. Plus now, there is no reason for not getting right on the best inshore marks using the latest handheld GPS sets like the brand new Garmin GPS 78s handheld unit. If you want accuracy you are certainly going to get it, so how do you capitalise on the fishing?
First you need a good Admiralty chart of the area you intend to fish. Then when you select what you think is a good fishing area, you can work out the lat/longs, feed them into the Garmin and off you go. Or you can get the numbers of a good mark from someone else (a very good friend?) and you will be right on the money. Mike and I decided to take it for granted that we knew nothing, and wanted the challenge of finding a brand new fishing spot. Looking at the chart we came up with a section of reef, just to the West of a small island known as HORSE ROCK in Southern Ireland. Half a mile to the south was always a good mackerel spot for the local charter boats, and to the north the dinghies would ply their trade for small Pollack. Talking with local skipper Mark Gannon, he said to the west was an area too shallow to do any good with his larger charter boat. Maybe the throb of the big turbo charged diesel put them off or the slap of a large hull on the surface. This seemed like a challenge to us, so we took out an open 16-footer, and soon found Horse Rock in the distance.
It is definitely not the place to fish when a big Atlantic Swell pumps it up, as monster waves can burst right over the top. But with a high pressure system flattening the sea to nothing, we could creep up close enough to have twitching noses from the guano left by seabirds and seals. Usually half a dozen seals will be drifting in and out of the kelp fronds, or simply lie there sunning themselves on the rock like they were in St.Tropez.Remember we had no sounder, so although I knew the area a bit, fishing a flood tide drift that pushed us towards the western edge of the rock did seem slightly alien. The west reef was a bit out on the GPS due to our inaccuracy in working out the numbers from the chart to the Garmin Unit, and by watching the depths of our snagging leads, concluded where the edge and top of the reef was. I had taken out my own Dan bouy, with 100 feet of courlene and a sash weight for anchor. As we found the top of the reef by looking at the slight rip on the surface, we motored uptide, dropped the Dan over, then reset the Garmin with the “Man Overboard” setting, and instantly had our first accurate GPS point. We called it the “Western reef”, although in truth it was little more than 200 feet from the main rock.However, with such shallow water at least we could work away for Pollack where the charter boat could not get. Now as most anglers know, the best fish don’t always lie right on top of the reef. They could be on the uptide end, or the downtide, depending on where the maximum baitfish moved. First fish were mackerel, then 2lb Pollack, then larger fish. Within six drifts we had nailed down a good spot, and using the Dan buoy could work out when to reel up a few turns, and when to drop deeper. When Mike kicked off with a big 5lb Goldie flank Pollack I simply hit “Man overboard” again, and we had the actual taking point of the fish. Now you would think that was what the big boats do and you are right, but this was an open dinghy with a handheld GPS unit and we were doing the same thing. You can never dispute a Dan buoy anchored on the bottom as it is a fixed point of reference, so it was good to see and get the confidence using the GPS numbers as confirmation. So next time we don’t have the actual Horse Rock and Dan buoy as a reference point we will have the confidence to believe the material supplied by the Garmin handheld. Small boaters are suddenly able to compete with the big boys on the same level except distance.
However, while we were using this as something of an experiment, we were in no way prepared for one of the most amazing light tackle days at sea I’ve ever had. We were rigged with ultra-light outfits, Shimano baitrunner fixed spool reels, 12lb line, and mini-spin rods of 6 feet in length. Truth is, they were my baitfish rods that I used for catching Pinfish (Tarpon bait) in the Florida Keys. When I saw the scrap Mike had on the light outfit, I quickly packed the 15lb class rods out of the way. First few drifts we were eaten alive by 2lb Pollack using the smaller Sidewinder lures in white. Most of the fish came on the drop, as that fabulous fluttering tail proved irresistible to them. Of course, the temptation to dally on the bottom amongst the kelp fronds did see a few cusses as we lost lures. But as the saying goes, “No pain, no Gain”. Due to the shallow nature of the reef it was impossible to fish a sidewinder on a French boom, because if you retrieved, twenty turns would put the lure in the boat! If you left it down with just the lead o the boom hitting, then wound off the bottom, the sidewinder would still sink deep and snag up. Hmmmmm…Time for a rethink. I wanted to keep a lure on a horizontal plane, in the optimum taking area for the maximum time. The only answer was a rubber worm like a Firetail, on the end of a six foot flowing trace to a French fine wire boom and a lead on no more than an ounce.
We could check the Garmin, run upwind/uptide, drop down, and as the worm had no lead it would sink slower. So when we felt the lead hit bottom, we could crank up about eight feet and be sure the worm was twisting its way over the top of the kelp fronds as the boat drifted along. You could either hold the rod, or put it down with light drag. Well I assure you, if you’ve never hit a kelp Pollack in twenty feet of water on an ultra light spinning rod you have real shock coming as they dive down like a Kamikaze pilot on Crystal Meth!! It couldn’t be hit-and-hold as you could break either the rod or the line, so you had to max out the rod, set the drag just so, and get the most amazing scrap ever. Now these Pollack had undoubtedly never been reached by the charter boat before because we reckon we had them close to double figures. Drift three-a double slammer of fish. Drifted again, and fish on all three rods creating mayhem and panic. Drift again, a huge slammer that rips line from the spool and pops me in the kelp, undoubtedly a double figure. It went on and on. A 5-pounder was nothing, it was the 7 and up we were after. I tried all colours of worms, going right through the box, and they pretty much ate anything. With a good net we released them all, keeping a few for the B&B and lads who helped with the boats at the dock. If I said we had FIFTY good Pollack I would no be far out, and it ranks as one of the best “buckled rod” sessions I have ever experienced. We did try drifts in our usual spots, but the virgin territory of the western reef was a jaw dropper. The water is crystal clear, and when on top of the reef we could look over and see the tackle-robbing kelp fronds waving at us below. I also got a few fish on belly cut strips of mackerel, which is a proven big Pollack taker when fishing deep water reefs at anchor. While we tried to run three rods each drift, each rod with a different worm on, it soon became apparent there was no need for the bonus rod, as two were as much as we could handle.
This year there seem to be more Pollack around than ever, on wrecks, reefs, and close inshore over rough ground. Quite why this should be so remains a mystery, but gratefully accepted nonetheless. This year is the first time I have truly used what I would term ultra-light outfits, and they have undoubtedly raised the excitement factor considerably. Reef Pollack are not tackle shy, so use the same 12lb mainline for traces, but if you get a big hit of takes, always check the last six inches of leader near the hook as this is where it can get roughed up by the Pollack’s rough lips. If it feels rough, cut off and tie again, or simply freshen up with some new leader. Another tip when using the worms is to pull the 6/8 foot leader under quite hard pressure for about thirty seconds. Use your pal at the other end, but do it without the hook added, to avoid accidents. This pressure stretching takes any coiled spool memory out of the leader, it will lay straighter, and the worm will fish better. Only a small tip, but I do it every time, when fishing mono leaders for most visual feeders.
When working Pollack like this (or bass) in shallow water, it is important not to steam the boat straight back up over the reef to start your drift again. This will alarm the predators, and undoubtedly push out any potential bait shoals to deeper water. When you finish the drift, move back upwind or uptide in a large arc around the taking area, and come in quietly, and then kill the engine. Keep your boot and tacklebox movements to a minimum as all those vibrations go towards making them spooky .There is no doubt in my mind that they see the black of the hull silhouetted against the sky, but providing there is no sound, the fish will remain confidant longer. The era of the handheld GPS for small boat anglers has undoubtedly come to fruition by the popularity of the device with walkers, cyclist, joggers and ramblers, or indeed anyone interested in knowing exactly where they are in the great outdoors. While you may have relied on visual transits and bearings to get you on the mark when small dinghy fishing before you can now target more specifically an area of hot fishing. I’m not one of the techno-heads of fishing, but even I can see this is a piece of “must-have” kit if you are going to move your catch rate forward. There must be thousands of dinghy anglers around the British coastline who could take advantage of handheld sets, not just to give them more confidence in navigation, but to specifically mark the exact areas that are most productive. We have enough going against us in the small boat scene, what with inclement weather and perpetual “wrong” winds. So this is when you need to capitalise on the few days you can get out. For my part, I can’t wait to get back in that 16-footer and set a course for the Great Western reef and those “Powerhouse Pollack”. All I need are some AA batteries and those suckers are as good as mine!!.
Lures for worming- Try Veal’s, Soft Plastics, fished either with a lead head jig, or with an integral hook and swan shot pinched right in front of the nose. They do a Sidewinder plastic 7” (170mm) worm in packs of 10 or 50.Originally from America where they are rigged Texas style as a weedless lure for Largemouth Bass fishing, available in various colours. Shimmer eels have a holographic strip for catching the eye of any predator, or the Viper Ringed worm, which was the model we were finding most successful. These are 6” (150mm) eels that are ridged and alleged to give off bubbles when they vibrate. (Sounds quite kinky?) I don’t know about that, but you can leave them static without retrieving and any tidal current will still make the coloured tail twirl enticingly. You can also buy the various special worm hooks that prevent the rubber slipping round the bend of the hook.
For the new Garmin GPS78s, check your local electronics dealer or visit the Garmin website at www.garmin.com
COPYRIGHT: Graeme Pullen. All rights reserved.