In Search of Black-Mouths
In Search of Black-Mouths
Black-Mouth Dogfish are a deep-water cat shark that prefer the deeper drop-offs around our Irish Coast. Predominantly found in 300-500 feet of water, they seem to be more abundant around the Northern coastline of Ireland, and in particular, the Antrim Coast and across to Western Scotland.
It is for this reason that my friends south of the Irish border travel up to me in search of this elusive specie, that and my radiant personality of course!
Sid and his son Derrick recently joined me in this deep-water adventure, a two-day trip with our sights set on finding a Black-mouth or two, and hopefully finding an Irish specimen among them, that is, a fish weighing one kilo or greater. The alternative is a length based specimen of at least sixty seven cm from nose to tip of tail. But at the end of the day, I will be fishing with good friends, and that's what it's all about. I love the personal challenge of targeting Irish specimen fish, but as I've grown older, and hopefully matured a little, I have realised that quality time spent with good people is extremely important. Fishing is a fabulous and harmless medium for socialising, and more often than not, finding peace of mind.
Almost loaded and ready to launch
I haven't seen Sid and Derrick since our Smooth-Hound adventure down the south-east coast earlier in the year. It was great to see them again, to chat and load up the Fast Fisher and get her afloat. First stop as always, was for Mackerel and thankfully there are still a few about. We were too early for the start of the flood tide which gave a spare couple of hours to try some off-shore reefs for mixed fishing on light gear. This is always interesting if there are fish about.
A pretty female Cuckoo Wrasse, falling to the Shakespeare Blitzers
When you concentrate your time and effort on deep-water, heavy line and powerful tackle, it is easy to forget the fun that can be had dropping baits down the edge of deep gullies and over underwater ledges in search of smaller species. The fish were feeding and numerous enough to expect a rod tip rattle within seconds of reaching the sea bed. A welcome change from having to wait hours for a bite in deep water. I opted for the Shakespeare "Blitzers" baited with fresh Mackerel strip. These are fabulous wee luminous traces, with small but strong hooks for Wrasse but heavy enough trace line to land larger Pollack, Cod and Ling.
Shakespeare "Blitzers". Good all-rounder but killer rig for Wrasse
Derrick with an Irish Specimen male Cuckoo Wrasse
Sidney soon "winkled" out a specimen as well
Brightly coloured Cuckoo Wrasse made an appearance as expected, along with their hard-hitting cousins the Ballan Wrasse. These were interspersed, as we drifted over different terrain, with Pollack, Ling, Coalfish, Codling, Pouting and Poor Cod. Nothing huge but extremely entertaining on light balanced tackle. A couple of specimen sized Cuckoo Wrasse showed, giving Derrick a new species over the Irish specimen weight. Reluctantly it was time to leave the reefs and head for the deeps, and see if we could find those elusive cat-sharks.
Oh dear! A Skate decided to pick up a small bait on a light rod! Pic courtesy Ronald Surgenor
At anchor, it was a 50/50 mix of the "big guns" in case any leviathans were about, and lighter gear for the Black Mouths, two rods each to "hedge our bets". It soon became apparent that there wasn't much about below. The ever-present lesser Spotted Dogfish showed, of course they did, one species our seas are abundant with, sometimes in plague proportions! Is it simply coincidence that dogfish aren't a sought after table fish? I think not. Our target fish were absent, or at least, refusing to play.
Penn Wave Blaster and Fathom 4/0 taking the strain.
It was a long six hours, and tough work reeling in standard Dogfish from the depths with the added hindrance of 4lb of lead, although the gentle breeze and warm summer sunshine certainly helped for a relaxing atmosphere. As the tide slackened towards high water, and we talked about possibly trying some other off-shore reefs, my Penn Wave-blaster gave a nod.
Approximately 170lb, wrong rod but got there in the end!
Lifting into the preceding "thump", I was now attached to a Skate. Of course I was! With three powerful Skate rods in position and three huge baits attached, a large Common Skate decided to lift a comparatively tiny bait on a spreader rig, small hook and an under-powered rod. This was going to be interesting! Not wanting this to be a drawn out affair, I threw caution to the wind, putting rod and fish, not to mention my back, arms and groin under as much pressure as I dared. I opted not to use the harness and butt-pad on this occasion! My arms are in fair shape, back...not so much, and I don't intend having any more children so groin could do what it wanted!
Thankfully the tide had slackened which left me fighting the fish and not the tide as well, soon bringing her under control and off the sea bed. As she neared the surface, it became apparent she was a fair lump, and committing the cardinal sin in a bid to get the leader within reach, I brought the rod tip too far back and "crack"! She snapped like a gun-shot going off. Completely my fault, my beloved two-piece Wave Blaster that had landed so many large fish over the years was now a three-piece. Talk about going out with a bang!
Derrick lands his second Irish specimen of the day, a male around 110lb
The standard issue IFI measure mat shows accurate proof for length-based specimens
Video clip of Derrick's Skate...click here!
Luckily the leader was within reach, and soon safely on the deck for measurements and tagging. At over 2 metres from nose to tail, she was in the 170lb bracket. Using the cargo net to lift her over the gunnels and back to the depths, another rod "nodded" but this time on appropriate tackle. Derrick took the reins, borrowed my harness and quickly "pumped" a feisty male to the surface. At over 1.9 metres this too was an Irish specimen, and Derricks second new specimen species. No target species that we were looking for but fast turning into a memorable trip. With the turn of the tide and now on the ebb, we called it quits for the day. Back to harbour for some grub and chat, and much-needed kip for the following day.
Lovely to see a few Ballan Wrasse present
Day 2. Another specimen for Derrick
Yours truly had to get in on the act sooner or later. A good specimen (the fish!)
And another. Wonderful colours and patterns. Reel them in very slowly for a chance to go back
Following morning conditions were a little cooler and slightly breezier for our second session, but still pleasant weather. After some discussion, the flood tide would be too late to fish, as the lads had a five-hour journey home and work the following day. Heading back to harbour for 9pm would not be a sensible decision! We gave up on the deep water option, and of course any hope to find a Black-Mouth and decided to search for some new reefs for "easy" mixed fishing.
I have landed hundreds of Cuckoo Wrasse. This is the first female I have seen over specimen size!
With the pressure off, in trying to land the target species, I could relax and scan the plotter for likely areas. Ronald Surgenor kindly donated a mark to explore, but with the tide pushing us over it at 2.4 knots we struggled to locate fish. Well worth trying again over slacker tides. Closer inshore where the tide had eased we meticulously explored the wealth of reefs in the area, picking off more or less the same species as the previous day.
It wasn't ALL Cuckoo Wrasse, other species also showed like this pristine Pollack
Fish queued up to our baits, easy fishing, great friends, good weather, relaxed atmosphere, probably one of the most enjoyable trips of the year. As Sid once said to me "any trip where you land an Irish Specimen, is a great trip". We managed two specimen Skate and eight Specimen Cuckoo Wrasse between us, amongst numerous other species. I think that qualifies as a great trip!
Some extra pics of the trip