Big Bold Ballans
Big Bold Ballans
During the summer, we spent a couple of days in search of specimen Ballan Wrasse around the stunning Kerry Coast.
With temperatures now in single digits, and frost on the lawn, it's time to change tact and begin the hunt for our Irish freshwater predators. Pike come readily to the fly rod, surely the most enjoyable way of catching them, and lure fishing or dead-baiting are deadly when conditions dictate. This is now my seasonal target species in Ireland, and am looking forward to creating an adventure or two to share over the next few weeks.
Something about seeing a float disappear, the anticipation keeps the adrenaline flowing.
But I'm a warm weather angler at heart, and during these chilly winter months I yearn for the long summer days, jeans and tee-shirt, easy fishing I call it, where you aren't dressed in ten layers of clothing before you start! At this time of year I fondly reminisce of the successful trips around Ireland, (conveniently forgetting the blanks) and my hunt for Ballan Wrasse during the summer of 2019 immediately jumps to the forefront.
Simple sliding float set-up, with the sexy Suveran rod from Abu.
I joined my old hombre, Sid Kennedy down in County Cork, in search of Trigger Fish, but as is often the case with this species, they were unreliable in making an appearance, so Big Bold Ballans were the back-up plan. Similar float-fishing tackle set-up, bait, tactics and habitat as for Triggers, so a species switch is really no hardship at all. I had a Suveran 10' bait rod from Abu Garcia to put through its paces, and I reckon a decent sized Wrasse would certainly test its metal!
Peeler crab and legs whipped on to a strong size 1 hook
We tried a few likely looking rock marks and well-known hot spots with very poor results. Sadly, Wrasse are now on the commercial hit list, with huge areas around Ireland decimated as hundreds of thousands are stolen from the environment to be used as "cleaner fish" to help de-lice salmon in the contentious salmon industry. Our wrasse species seem to have a short life span under these un-natural conditions, and many are locally and regularly sourced. Farmed Salmon methods must be radically altered, in my opinion, before our entire coastal ecosystem is irreversibly damaged..........anyway.....
Bill Brazier, red hot at this wrasse on the lure malarky
Third Wrasse landed while we were putting bait on the hooks!
We turned to Bill for local advice. Bill Brazier I am proud to say is a fellow angler and good friend for many years, and among his talents, he is an academic, great angler, creator and publisher of the fabulous and free to download "Off the scale" online magazine, and all-round good guy. He up-rooted and moved to the Kingdom of Kerry several years ago, and wasted no time in hunting down some "hot" shore marks. He let it slip that he found some great Wrasse marks, targeting them on light tackle and artificial lures, bad move! That's like showing a rat to a Jack Russell where Sid or myself are concerned.
Penn Battle, perfect, rugged reel and superb drag system for this type of angling
I know these lure tactics are currently "hot to trot", but Sid and I are bait anglers at heart, and if Bill were to guide us to some decent angling, it would be interesting to see how natural crab baits would fare against soft plastic lures. Bill was up for the challenge and we met up at his place, kindly putting us up for the night for a fresh start the following day, corresponding with the correct tidal conditions and wind direction of course. There is no substitute for local knowledge and experience, both in targeting fish and importantly, personal safety!
A powerful Wrasse making for the kelp bed, he didnt get there!
Loving it! The rod looks soft, but soon locks up when needed
Sid and Bill with a fine brace
Once on the shore mark, as Sid and I baited hooks, Bill was into a fish! Gobsmacked to say the least. Landed and safely released, Bill was immediately into another. By the time we had actually made our first cast, which was less than a few minutes, Bill was playing his third fish, simply ridiculous. I knew lures worked, but always thought it a bit "gimmicky", with an attitude of "why make life difficult for yourself, fresh bait cannot be beaten! " As I often say, every angling day is a learning curve, and Bill's knowledge and expertise in lure fishing was without doubt an eye opener!
Seems like all sea species enjoy peeler crab!
From that moment, we were playing catch up, but happy to say, our natural baits were every bit as productive, and we worked away at eroding Bill's lead. I have always believed from previous experience that natural bait, and in particular, large crab baits tend to sort out the bigger Wrasse, and this seemed to be the case with Sid and I finding several stunning specimens around the 5lb mark, the largest going to Sid at 5lb 10oz. But of course, Bill blew this theory out of the water on a return trip the following day, landing two fine specimens around the 5lb mark on small artificial lures!
A perfectly proportioned 5lb'er for Sid, a new specimen for the tick list!
In case of any doubt, a half a metre Wrasse!
We ended our short three hour session with an amazing 150+ total landed, Bill easily winning the numbers game with around 60 fish at a guess, but the bait brothers landing the larger specimens. Most averaged 2-3 lbs, at least twenty fish over 4lbs and two individuals well into the 5lb bracket. What a fabulous shore session, and permanently embedded into the happy memory bank. The session was short, as the tide soon pushed us back from the water's edge, and safety dictated it was time to pack up and leave, but with quantity and quality angling, we packed up delighted. I don't think our bait supply would have lasted another hour to be honest!
A brace of beauties Bill tempted on a return trip (pics courtesy Bill)
So which method was better? On this occasion, we couldn't keep up with Bill's speed and skills, especially having to bait up on every cast, but we weren't far behind to be fair, and certainly landed the larger specimens. I guess it's down to personal choice, the lure, fished weed-less and bumped along the underwater rock faces was a killer method, but as an ageing match man, I simply can't resist seeing the float dip, dither and bury several feet below the surface, attached to an armour plated powerhouse! Thanks to Bill, we found our target species, and the rod from Abu survived the ordeal, performing admirably under extreme conditions!
At 5lb 4oz, equals my personal best
Before heading home, back up to the North, I had to sneak in one more session, joined by Sid's son, Derrick. We tried a few new areas with little success, and only managed one hour on Bill's mark. The Wrasse queued up yet again, with the largest topping 5lb 4oz and some decent Pollack thrown in for variety. How fabulous that Kerry Coast is, and how I long to be back there again, exploring and catching. Bill, you're a lucky guy! Thanks to Bill and Sid for the shared knowledge, companionship and going out of their way to find a few fish for me.
Derrick with a fine shore-caught Pollack
Wrasse and Pollack are the mainstay of Irish rock-shore angling, a sustainable boost to the Irish economy and a wonderful pastime for families and friends and youngsters. We must push for protection of our inshore waters, form organisations, and clubs lobby local politicians. It is becoming more difficult as each year passes to find decent angling around our shores and more now than ever before, our inshore species need our help.