Sid's Specimens (archive 2011)
An archive article originally written for Irish Angler Magazine, 2011.
Living in County Down, as I am fortunate to do, I am privy to a beautiful and scenic part of this island of ours. With Strangford Lough and the Mourne Mountains, we have more than our fair share of areas of outstanding natural beauty to admire. However, as an angler that enjoys all disciplines of the sport, it pains me to say that County Down lacks one vital ingredient, fish.
Before anyone starts shouting at me, yes, there are a couple of worthy marks scattered about this area, but compared to the rest of Ireland, we are dangerously low on stocks. Is it coincidence that Portavogie, a harbour central to County Down has a large fleet of commercial ships? We also have fleets operating out of Greencastle to the north, and Kilkeel to the south and a couple of large vessels moored in Bangor. These are all reducing our stocks.
What secrets lie waiting in the depths, a view over the Skerries Islands.
Consequently, I am resigned to travelling long distances every week in search of fair angling, and results are always directly related to effort. I am envious of good friends such as Ross Macklin and Sid Kennedy down in Cork. It seems as though Sid steps out of his front door with a rod in hand, and hooks into a specimen something or other before reaching his front gate! In reality, I realise that Sid, similar to many like-minded anglers invests a great deal of time, skill and effort in an area of huge opportunity, and it shows.
Derick finding mixed species while targeting Mackerel on an un-chartered sand-bank
However despite this, two species that have managed to elude Sid over the years are Cuckoo Wrasse and Spurdog, and these fall into my remit. Not County Down, but ninety miles away in the deep, fast flowing waters of the North Channel, an area I now have to call my local water! This is the third year that I have invited Sidney to sample the delights of the north coast. The previous trips were fitted around work schedules and were always in danger of being a case of hit or miss. Specimens were caught, but unfortunately not to Sid’s rods.
Sid with a decent Red Gurnard
A particular week late this year offered a perfect window of opportunity, tides were excellent, wind speed had dropped away, and in fairness to Sid and his son Derick, a quick call and they dropped everything, packed the car and headed north. We met at the harbour, with my old pal Dessy joining us for day one of the two day adventure.
Mackerel were about, thank goodness. I ran into a shoal over a large sand bank that isn’t even noted on the admiralty charts. It was immediately marked for future investigation. It looked the ideal habitat for Turbot and Rays next spring-summer. Apart from Mackerel, we took various smaller species such as Gurnards, Codling, Poor Cod, Coalfish, Whiting and even Weaver fish. This mark definitely warrants further exploration! Weaver’s are a good indication that Blonde Rays are about.
Sid Kennedy with a specimen sized Spurdog
As Sid’s home territory of Cork Harbour is noted as one of the best Blonde Ray marks in Ireland, there was no point in putting the lads over those! They were on a mission for Spurs and Cuckoos, without distraction. Venturing further off-shore, I anchored in an area that has produced well for me this year. As the anchor caught the sea bed and the Fast Fisher swung her bow into the current, I quietly asked the man upstairs if he would cut the lads some slack and give them a day to remember.
He must have heard me, as within minutes, we had our first Spurdog over the gunnels, a female fish of ten pounds plus, and things were looking well for a busy session. The trouble with that scenario is the fact that I tag shark species for Inland Fisheries Ireland, and a busy session usually means I don’t get a chance to fish myself. Today was no exception, and became almost impossible when Spurs broke the surface in doubles and sometimes treble shots. I tagged, weighed, measured and released fifty fish and probably returned a similar amount un-tagged, as this was preferable to having the deck covered in small, spiny sharks, a scene detrimental to both fish and humans!
Derick follows suit with another specimen Spurdog
Sid soon broke the magical twelve-pound specimen barrier, and then again with a fourteen-pound fish. He was like a kid in a sweetie shop as he lifted his third specimen into the boat. The curse of the Spurs had been broken, and all eyes were now on Des and Derick to find a few of the larger ladies. Cheers went up as Derick landed a twelve-pound plus, followed by another and then a fourteen. Dessy only had the one specimen out of the thirteen boated, but the largest of the day at seventeen pounds, it stole the limelight.
Dessy over-takes us all with this cracking seventeen pound female Spur
As the tide eased, and for my third trip in a row, a rod bent to the weight of a Common Skate. Derick had the honour of playing this one, as we kitted him out with a harness and butt pad and talked him through his first ton-plus fish. In Skate terms, it wasn’t a “lunker” but at 112lbs it was a great achievement and rounded the day off nicely.
Derick putting pressure on hs first ever "ton-up" fish
The battle almost over as the Skate breaks the surface
And the trophy shot before safe release
Back at the harbour, Dessy said his good-byes and headed home, he had a bowls match the following day. Sid and Derick bought the take-away while I tidied the boat. The great thing about over-night stays is the chance to chat about how the trip went, and work out the agenda for the following day. Sid hinted at a Tope trip on the north-west coast, but the forecast of westerly winds due to increase put paid to that idea. I suggested that we stick with the original plan to hunt some Cuckoo Wrasse. I knew a sheltered mark and to be honest, looked forward to the prospects of an easy day in shallow water with light tackle. After handling so many Spurs, my old war wound of a bad back was killing me!
Without Dessy, we were down to a crew of three, and the Fast Fisher effortlessly cruised at 25 knots to my sheltered reef mark. This area is usually teaming with Mackerel and we soon had enough fresh bait for the day. In fact, the Mackerel shoals became a nuisance, obliterating our Cuckoo Wrasse baits as they descended to the reef below. Un-able to get through these dense shoals, my normal hot-spots had to be left for another day, with the only realistic option being to seek out new reefs away from the marauding Mackerel! No hardship really, as this area is covered in reefs and pinnacles, most of which are without doubt, virtually un-explored.
Another new specimen for Sidney, a stunning Cuckoo Wrasse over the magical specimen barrier!
The Mackerel were a blessing in disguise. Forced to search out new areas, we soon found plenty of Cuckoos. Without the hectic madness that comes with Spurdog fishing, I was able to join in and found Poor Cod, Pouting, Pollack, Ling, Coalfish, Scad, Ballan Wrasse and of course, our target species. All these species came to fresh Mackerel strip. I would love to try these areas again with fresh ragworm or crab, as I’m guessing there must be huge Ballan Wrasse inhabiting these weed-covered gullies and ledges.
As far as specimen hunting is concerned, 2011 has been Sid’s year, and his tally increased with his first specimen Cuckoo Wrasse, soon followed by another two! Derick and I tried desperately to match this, catching just as many in numbers, but with a fatal attraction to the smaller females it seemed. I managed three that nudged the 1.25lb specimen barrier, but failed to exceed it. We rounded the afternoon off watching several Basking Sharks feeding around the boat, always a humbling experience.
6lbs + Grey Mullet on the fly rod, the icing on the cake!
An early day was called for, as Sid and Derick were working the following day, and the six hour drive to Cork is not advisable with tired eyes! Back at the harbour, we said our good-byes, the two lads absolutely delighted to head home with nine specimens between them. As they were climbing into the car, Sid spied a large Mullet around the boat, and fought his instincts to get the rods out, reluctantly having to let this one pass. As soon as he was out of sight, I ran to the jeep to see if I had a suitable rod!
The only rod available was my 8 weight Shakespeare Trion fly rod, lying in the back of the jeep from a previous trip and fortunately, already set up with mullet-type flies attached. I quietly cast, allowing the flies to sink beyond the patrolling Mullet and drew them closer.
Bonus specimens are always welcome! This fat Mullet weighed 6lbs 12oz
The mullet sucked in the fly to examine it, I struck, and all hell broke loose, as I played the fish around my boat and tried desperately to steer it away from sunken mooring ropes and other under-water hazards. The battle finally ended in my favour with a fabulous 6lbs 12oz Grey Mullet, and personally, the high-light of the trip! It pays to carry something in the jeep for all eventualities, even in the form of a travel rod as you never know what to expect on an angling adventure.
For the deep water, the Penn Waveblaster Evo range of rods are un-beatable, light, comfortable, fast taper with bags of power. They handle large lead weights and double shots of Spurdog with ease, and offer back-up strength when those bonus Skate show up. Teamed with the Penn Fathom 40 loaded with 60lb braid makes a superbly balanced set-up.
A great, balanced tackle set-up, Penn Wave Blaster and Penn Fathom 4/0, five years on, still my main choice
Spurdog rigs need to be tough, tied with at least 150lb nylon. 6/0 hooks are ideal, but heavy duty versions a must, again to stand a chance of landing larger bonus fish. Do not be afraid to use large Mackerel baits, plenty of Spurs are taken on Skate baits.
All thats needed to tempt a specimen Cuckoo Wrasse, fresh Mackerel strip
For the Cuckoo Wrasse, I used to tie complicated competition rigs, spreader rigs with flicker spoons and day-glo beads etc. These work well, but after years of fishing, I found standard small-hook Mackerel or Herring rigs baited with fresh Mackerel strip are simple and just as effective. They won’t snag the reefs as readily, and losses are minimal especially with a weak link to the lead weight incorporated. There is rarely a need to go beyond 10oz of lead with this style of angling, and so, the lighter, “tippy” 8-12lb class Penn Wave blasters are superb in this instance.
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