My First Tope Trip by Simon Gibson
My First Tope Trip
Well what can I say that I know about tope fishing? Well as it happens not an awful lot!
Coming from a pike fishing background anytime I came into contact with a sea fish, it was when I was putting size six treble hooks into it and using it as dead-bait.
Over the last few years I decided to focus on all fish of specimen size (specimen fishing) if you will, and when the opportunity came for me to try my hand at some seriously big fish I jumped at the chance. It was due to a request that I posted on Facebook asking for some information on who with and where would be the best place for me to go to catch a tope, and of course I was flooded with lots of people's views and opinions on who was the best in the country to help me with my intended quarry. It was soon after, that I got speaking to a guy that not only owned his own boat but graciously agreed to take me out on a tope trip.
What a start! A Mackerel just short of specimen weight.
So the date was set to go and all I needed was the weather to be kind and of course, the all-important sea sickness tablets! All being well, we were good to go, and so, on the 31st of August with great weather and a calm sea, my friend and I set off towards Carlingford Lough with the hope that by the end of the day we would be coming home with the tale of a monster from the deep.
We met our skipper for the day at 7am and headed to the launch point (a beach) which was a first for me. There wasn't a ripple on the water, almost like glass which I was over the moon about due to a bad experience with sea sickness.... This explains the need for the sea sickness tablets. I soon understood the need for the waders as I was up to my chest in water helping with the boat launch and as soon as the engines were started we were off.
Two-pound Mackerel are a rarity in Irish waters
First part of the plan was to catch bait. I was made aware that the crabs would quickly make light work of the mackerel on the end of our hooks, therefore that would require us to change our bait every 20 minutes or so. The mackerel jigging started off very slow with only a few being caught over the first few drifts, on one of the drifts I felt what I thought was a full rack of mackerel but turned out to be a small fish on the top feather and a huge mackerel on one of the bottom feathers. Paddy the skipper said " it was the biggest he had ever seen" and it weighed just under 2lb, It was a great catch but unfortunately just shy of specimen weight.
As the tide strengthened there was a definite increase in numbers of mackerel and when we had enough bait the decision was made to drop anchor over one of the tope marks. The rods were baited, four to be exact and all with tackle that looked so alien to me, 20oz bombs which looked a similar size to an apple. My excitement was starting to build by this point, what sort of monster requires gear like this.
The scales say it all, over the hallowed forty pound barrier
The water was still calm even though the wind had picked up slightly, the tope rods stayed quiet for the first part of the morning. I continued to jig for mackerel to ensure that our frequent bait changes didn't leave the bait-box empty. Every now and then due to the strong tide some line would get pulled from the reel causing my heart to stop each time. A few more hours passed and by this time we were approaching high tide when suddenly Paddy the skipper jumped up shouting an lifting the far-left rod and passing it to me.
The run was strange with just a few knocks on the end of the rod and a small bit of drag being taken each time, then suddenly there was a full-steam run. I was advised not to strike into the fish until it was in a steady run, finally the fish took off with the line zooming off the reel and I lifted into what I felt like a good fish. The rod had doubled over and I felt the power of the fish for the first time, it was unlike anything I had ever felt before. I then got a horrible feeling that it had threw the hook but I realised it was running towards the boat. I soon caught up and regained control of the fish and it surfaced about 50yards away an slowly but surely, with steady pressure, it was coming towards me.
What more can you ask for
I have seen many sights in my life but seeing a huge tope in crystal clear water at the side of the boat has to be right up there and a memory I will never forget. When we finally got the fish on board the realisation set in that I had caught the biggest fish of my life! The tope weighed 43lb and after a few quick photographs for posterity it was released unharmed. The experience left me with a burn on my arm but I didn't care, to say I was on cloud nine was an understatement. Unfortunately there was nothing else caught the rest of the day and because it is now so late in the year I'll not get out after them again this year. One thing is for sure though, I'll be back next year looking for a bigger one!
Watch out for skin rash from the Tope's abrasive denticles (tiny tooth-like scales that cover the skin)
Check out a short video clip here