This is the time of year when the silver mobsters are fattening up and muscling in to make a kill on anything they can catch. Fins bristling with anticipation, sharp eyes flickering to spot the tiniest flash of baitfish, the Bass is now in its prime, and any angler worth his salt will now be looking to cash in on some seriously good fishing. While many readers hear about the bassing on wrecks and sandbanks offshore, roving reporter Graeme Pullen homed in on the inshore dinghy scene, and soon discovered the ultimate…
“BASS FEEDING FRENZY!”…….
It may be advancing years. It may be I haven’t spent a huge amount of time bassing.But I am getting more and more drawn towards this species. Of course I’ve done my share of shore bassing, but the big sharks have always pulled me offshore. But it was a tip off from Ireland’s top skipper, Mark Gannon, that saw me returning open mouthed to the UK after a tackling the new found bass scene in Ireland. The species unfortunately tastes good, and its fine cuisine flesh is reflected in the high prices charged at the top restaurants. Such is the popularity of the species that it is now farmed, as commercials simply cannot catch enough of them, and this in itself presents a problem. Much of my bassing from the shore was done around the Ring of Kerry in Ireland. Wading into what was truly the best surf fishing for the species in Europe. But inshore netting gradually took its toll, and even my meagre shore catches started to dwindle. Aware that this simply couldn’t go on, the Irish authorities thankfully put bans on fishing for bass, with strict limits on what could be taken for consumption. Successful Bass tagging research has proven that this slow growing species will often return to the same areas of beach, and with commercial interests aware of this it is not difficult to see how the species crashed. The same happened in British waters, where over fishing is still a problem in many areas. While high market prices make it an attractive product to pursue, it is only when the species are virtually wiped out that they become financially unviable to catch, and the commercials turn to other species. Of course then it can be too late, and with slow maturity species like Bass there is a huge risk they might never come back at all.
Having been to Ireland most years for sea fishing I was a keen observer in the improvement of the Irish bassing. Both shore and boat catches were steadily improving, but 2010 was seen to be a particularly important year as it was one of the best year classes of fish to come through nature’s system. As I write this I can only say I am already planning a return trip in September as the species are even bigger in the winter months of October to January. I am sure you will respect my intentions when I say I simply cannot give the exact location away, as while I was over there I heard rumblings that commercials were putting on the pressure to let them hit the bass again. They too, had seen the huge improvement the Irish Fisheries had created by the ban and angler limit catches, yet there seems this madness that commercial interests just cannot see it could easily happen all over again. Let’s hope it doesn’t go through, as I’m sure Ireland would lose more from tourism falling than it would ever gain from letting commercials kill all the bass again.
The venue is the south coast harbour of Courtmacsherry, but let me say straight away the bass invasion is all around the southern and western Irish coast. Courtmacsherry was my primary area purely because it has several self drive boats that you can use to go bassing. It also has an Outer Bay area, as well as fishing right up the estuary, where you can always get out in almost any weather. The fleet of self drive boats are open 16 footers, powered by 8hp Yamaha 4 stroke outboards. Fuel is extra, and while I always take a 25 litre tank over from my own boat “Hi Sea Drifter”, we have yet to run out and use it. Quite frankly, these 8hp Yams are superb as far as trolling speed goes and amazingly economic, even with the amount of trolling I do. Some anglers may well know that Ireland’s top shore bass spot is round the Seven Heads peninsula, and down in Clonakilty Bay. Here you can hit an amazing average of fish using plugs around the rocks. But the bass are now so prolific that the entire area has seen it return to its rightful status of the finest fishery in Europe. Take into account the magnificent clean countryside, (Murphy’s!!!) lack of traffic (Guinness!!!!!), 15,000 birds (Smithwicks!!!!) and wildfowl of the estuary, and you see why it’s so popular. The water is clean, and it’s not unusual to see Seals and Dolphins right in the Bay, and while there we heard rumours of a possible sea otter around the rocks.OK, so forget the wildlife, Courtmac also gives you a great crack in the evenings with the local refreshments!!
I was over to get several stories for the mag with number one son Mike, who was on his work placement from Uni. Now down to techniques. Previously, I had fished the area with drifted live sandeel. These had been collected by hand from the gravel humps and bars created by the surging current of ebbs and floods about 300 yards to the right of Courtmacsherry Hotel. There’s a car park, you walk onto the beach and start your dig (using your hands) on the downtide edges of the gravel tops. The sandeel are not called “Quicksilver” for nothing, and you may only get half of those you grab for. Grab them, pop them into a bucket of water and gravel, and you are ready for a session bassing. A small 1/0 hook, through the front of the eye sockets, six feet of 10lb flowing trace, barrel swivel and bubble float complete the rig. Start up in the estuary and drift down, running back three live eels with light drags. This was the standard area method. But many of the locals do well fishing the shore at a place called “Woodpoint”, where the estuary empties out into the Bay. It would be unusual not to see anyone standing there in any evening from May to October, and the self drive bassers drift just forty yards off from the shore anglers. Trolling with shallow diving plugs then became popular, and the shore anglers started to get the word and also hauled the silver beauties up the rocks. Last year I heard a report of one angler getting 25 bass in a day, and with a two fish per man limit it meant 23 of them went back. In some cases all the fish go back, which is great.
Then a couple of years ago I blew out on the live sandeel collecting. For some reason there were few in the gravel bars, so we soldiered on anyway, baitless, with the exception of the trusty Redgills. We caught with some regularity so I now no longer worry about getting live eels. Down in Falmouth I would take the bass on a method the Cornish call “Whiffing”. This entails running a Redgill back about fifty yards or more, and towed them slowly behind the boat. It was highly successful and I had used it before in Ireland. The first evening of fishing I stood on the concrete and tried out a new, small Sidewinder in pearly white. It had a lead head so was castable.I just wanted to see what it looked like in the water. Fourth cast I came up solid and was into a 4lb bass. More casts were not so lucky, but next morning while Mike loaded the boat I couldn’t resist trying it again. The older Redgills I had in my box had no integral weight so could not be cast, but the Sidewinder was different. I could fire out even the smallest version on an 8lb graphite spinning outfit, and get 30 yards or more. I lucked into another bass, and saw several more moving around the pilings stalking the sandeel and pilchard shoals. It was looking good. Outside the estuary we towed Sidewinders and Redgills around the edges of the rocks cliffs, and picked up several nice bass. The water is so clear in Ireland you can often see the bottom, and Mike spotted a Dogfish lying right in amongst the kelp in eight feet of water, the first time I had ever seen that. In amongst the kelp fronds were small schools of sandeel, and while our catch rate was 50:50 between Sandeel and Sidewinder I had a feeling something was about to kick off. So many smaller shoals of sandeel means there is plenty of fodder fish for “Mr Silverback”, and if they started to ball the smaller shoals into one large bait shoal something was sure to kick off.
The following day we had been out wrecking on Mark’s 32 footer, but Ireland isn’t the place to put your feet up if the weather is good. You fish from dawn to dusk until the weather stops you, and take my word for it, facing the Atlantic it surely will. We fuelled up and took one of the self drives out. “What’s that white stuff in the air, by the cliffs?” said Mike. Using my 2:2 vision I could barely see the cliffs, but did see white smudges. Gradually the Yam eased us closer.”I think its a few gulls, but they are dipping on something that’s for sure” I said. The usual feathered indicator of the boating bassman is the Tern. A delicate, sharp pointed bird that hovers over sandeels, and when feeding they will drop into the water like white snowdrops. These were plain herring gulls, which I found unusual as they are generally scavengers. First troll through WHAM, over goes a Redgill rod. A 5-pounder hits the deck. We troll to our hotspot, but had no further takes, so pulled three Redgills back to the half dozen gulls. WHAM…over goes two rods, squealing line. A 6-pounder and Mike is on a really good fish for ten minutes. Eventually the net goes under a 9-plusser and we whoop with delight. We get another two bass before the sun hits the horizon and they shut down for the evening.
Obviously the Sandeel were running and the birds were the giveaway. Remember this is in eight feet of water less than thirty yards off the rocks. Next day was a Sunday. Disaster!! The whole fleet of small boats were booked out on full days, so despondent we hung around doing the tourist thing. I did manage a monster 5lb Mullet so that was a bonus. Eventually we got aboard the dinghy at…..730pm! With a race to beat the dark we headed out .This time there was no mistaking the bird activity, the air looked like fresh blown snowflakes with the gulls shrieking at each other as they gorged on the packed eels. There was no doubt bass were the culprits, and with a bait shoal like this I had no intention of using anything but the trusty Redgills. First troll through I was virtually shaking. WHAM…three rods fold over, two going away from the boat, the third disappearing up towards the clouds?????? Two Bass on and one gull. The bird got the priority, mainly because I was desperate to get the Redgill back (we only had the three, two black one blue).The bass were 4-pounders, unhooked and released. We raced round again, taking care not to drive the boat over the bait shoal. The gulls had seen their comrade released so had immediately learned to avoid the Redgills, but luckily the bass hadn’t and slammed the gills almost as soon as they were in the water. I have no idea how many bass were pummelling the sandeel baitball; it could have been a hundred. On the light tackle rods they scrapped like crazy, and our production line fishing technique lasted right until sunset when the bite stopped. In less than two hours we had fought no less than 16 bass to the net, mostly 4 to 6’s,and also had four, 3lb pound reef Pollock that also cashed in on the action. I am sure, given the enormity of the baitball those bass would have nailed anything in the water, spinners, bait, plugs, even fly-fishing would have worked.
The point to remember is that this is just one tiny corner of the Bay, which is in itself several miles across. The same bait feeding frenzy is occurring right round the south-west of Ireland, and I dare not imagine what goes on at Clonakilty Bay given the right conditions. The Irish conservation method has worked big time, and all credit to them for now presenting the finest light tackle bass fishery in Europe. The benefit of all this is that all bass enthusiasts can now get in on the action. The 16-foot open dinghies are ideal for saltwater flyfishing, and lure enthusiasts could go right through their tackle box and really see which patterns catch. Kayakers would have a field day as there are so many headlands and coves to work around. So what exactly do you need in the way of tackle? In my opinion the best of the sport comes to light rods, with small multipliers, or even fixed spools. It’s possibly best to take both so you can either troll or cast, depending on your preference.
I use the following, as I don’t mind light rods but I’m not busting a fish off on stupidly light line. Shakespeare 6-foot spinning rods and Spiral Graphite 8lb test spin rods. Reels range are all Shimano, TLD5, Beastmaster and a pair of old Bait runners. Line is no less than 12lbs.The rig is simplicity itself. A Redgill (unweighted variety), six feet of 12lb trace to a small barrel swivel. The swivel stops the eel twisting the line up, but also snags any bits of weed so the gill remains clear so even if it bunches on the swivel you still have the chance of a hit from a bass.
You need to run the unweighted gills back about 30 yards on the left, forty yards on the right, and I put out a centreline about 15 yards back, with my foot on the rod butt. Drags should be able to give line under pressure. Too loose and the hook won’t pull home. Too tight and you might kiss a rod goodbye on a ten pounder. Take a net, but remember you are only allowed to keep two, per day, per person. That’s if you want to keep any at all. Set yourself a target; say a boot and a half, or 18 inches. Trust me; you should have no trouble catching a keeper if you want one. As to line, I use 12lb Ande but remember we fish low light conditions. If you intend fish all day and the sun is high you might want to invest in some fluorocarbon, and use that as your trace length. If your reel already has braid on it I suggest you overwind about 50 yards of nylon. Braid has no stretch, whereas you get a 10% safety stretch on the nylon which acts as a cushion on a big fish whereas braid is unforgiving and you could rip the hook on a big fish. So get yourself over there on a Stena Line ferry and rent one of those self drives. With dawn to dusk fishing you are sure to stumble across one of those Irish “BASS FRENZIES!”
FACTBOX- Travel to Ireland’s south-west coastline means a ferry trip from Fishguard to Rosslare. This takes about 3 ½ hours, but they also run a fast ferry service on a smaller boat that takes 90 minutes(depending on sea conditions)They run from Fishguard to Rosslare. The drive to the south-west corner takes three to four hours. Contact www.stenaline.co.uk for details of fares/sailings etc.Cabins are available if you want to get your head down after a long drive.
THE BOATS-16 foot open dinghies with 8hp Yams on the back operate from Mark Gannon in Courtmacsherry.He will give you all the best spots to try, and is an avid bass enthusiast himself, especially with light spinning outfits. We caught him one morning spinning off the pier before he took his wreck boat out, and he had a 4 pounder as well. He has had them to double figures off his moorings on live mackerel.
Cost-95 euro per boat, per day. Takes 4 anglers. Fuel is extra, and he will always lend a spare tank if you want to troll all day.
Half day costs 50 Euros. Contact Mark on Mob+35386850905 or email him at email@example.com.
His wife Trish can do B&B, plus packed lunches at “Woodpoint”, a short drive from the pier.
COPYRIGHT: Graeme Pullen. All rights reserved