Specimen Hunters Year 2016
Specimen Hunters Year 2016
As we reach the cusp of the end of another year, I like to reflect on how I performed as a dedicated specimen hunter in Ireland.
As always on this occasion, I will try and squeeze a year’s worth of angling into a single blog.
It was, as always, an interesting year, travelling the four corners of this beautiful country in search of fish species and meeting the colourful angling characters that Ireland has in abundance.
My angling year began locally, targeting the coastal piers and break-waters in search of a mini-species on the hit list. The Three Bearded Rockling may seem “small change” in the angling world, but this mini-predator is a stunning, almost fire-tiger wee demon living amongst the rocks and kelp, hunting down Scorpion Fish, Gobies and other hapless small fish species.
Three Bearded Rockling, awesome mini-predator!
It also fights well on light gear, and is a tough challenge to find one over the specimen weight of 1lb 12oz. As with many species, if you do the homework, the challenge can be met first cast, but it may also require a prolonged campaign to hit the target. This year, it was the latter unfortunately. I had been trying since December without luck, continually topping up the scent trail each week when weather permitted.
As we moved into the new year of 2016, River Pike beckoned and time was running out, but finally, persistence prevailed with a personal best Rockling hitting the scales an ounce under 2lbs. What many non-specimen hunters forget are the countless nights of blanks, time and effort leading up to a result, but to be honest, when you finally achieve the challenge, you forget the hassle, it all becomes instantly worth it!
Cool conditions, snow in the foreground, but worth the chill for a river twenty
Weather conditions broke down by this stage and sea angling for me was now on hold. Pike were calling out, and the fresh-water campaign began. February paid dividends, with a trio of scraper twenties including one on the fly, followed by a hard-hitting twenty six on the wee Abu Jerk Bait rod. The bitter pill was losing a lunker mid to high thirty at the side of the boat but you can’t win them all! By this stage of the year, my right arm began giving problems. A trip to the physio confirmed severe tendonitis and put me out of casting action for two months!
A twenty on the fly is always a pleasurable experience
A small jerk-bait fooled this 26lb'er at dusk
A chance of a run out to sea gave an opportunity to blow the cobwebs off the Red Bay Fast Fisher. A few fish were caught, but the outboard sounded dodgy, and required some expert help. It was a niggling carburettor problem that consequently took three months to sort out. Off-shore specimen hunting would be put on hold for now, the trials and tribulations of owning a boat! Consequently, I managed to miss the only Spurdog action all year at this time. They were few and far between on the North Coast in 2016 after so many years of abundance; I fear the majority may have been commercially intercepted.
Glenn Drennan with a juvenile Common Skate, one of many off a new mark
As we moved into April, and arm still playing up, I took to the float tube (legs still working ok) and paddled around small ponds trolling dead baits and drop-shotting for the majestic Perch. Specimen weight for these sits at just over 2lbs 10oz, and again, a tough challenge in Ireland. Certainly they are about, but you have to put the time in to find them. Although my efforts were rewarded with some fantastic Perch, I lost my Canon camera through a faulty “dry bag” that developed a leak, £500 down the drain, an expensive specimen session!
Surely the most awesome looking of all our Irish freshwater species!
The onset of May would be dedicated to several species. Locally, the search for Roach-Rudd Hybrids which would initially take some weed clearing and pre-baiting. The relatively mild winter has led to weed over-growth on many freshwater venues this year. Andrew Wolsey joined me as we spent a full day clearing a patch using float tubes and purpose built rakes, and then followed with several gallons of particle baits over a period of evenings. Results were unusually poor after several visits. On our last try, a local dog walker stopped for a chat and enlightened us. “You should try what those foreign lads were doing” he says. “They had a generator on an inflatable boat and electrocuted the water; they had several boxes of large silver fish”. We packed up in disgust, record-producing water now in tatters.
Of course, I can’t pass through this prolific month without an adventure to St. Mullins in search of that stunning sea fish that runs the handful of Irish spawning rivers, the Twaite Shad. Normally, hook and land 20-30 fish and you will find a specimen among them. Last year I managed three specimens out of five fish landed! However, this year couldn’t have been more different! We worked out the numbers taken between four dedicated Shad anglers, namely myself, Noel Darcy, Francis McNeilly and Sid Kennedy. It totalled over 900 fish landed, no specimens! At least it was great to see numbers of fish again, hopefully great prospects for the future.
The other species for May and a new one for me would be Stingray and possibly Undulate Ray. This would require a campaign down in Kerry, and for this, Andy and I chanced taking my smaller 19ft lough boat, hoping the weather would be in our favour for some inshore sea angling. As this was a new species and a new venue for the two of us, some research was in order. Sid Kennedy and Ross Macklin provided great background info, as did local anglers Jerry O’Connor and Anthony Foley, many thanks for the shortcuts.
New species, Stingray are amazing scrappers, great fun
With light winds forecast and high expectations, we ventured out and tried various “fishy” looking marks. By our second session we had both our target species, Stingers and Undulates with Painted Ray and Thornbacks for good measure. What a wonderful venue, and a much needed shot in the arm after the Roach-Rudd farce. I missed out on the Undulate measured specimen by 3mm, such a shame, but Andy made up for it with a fabulous Stingray of 41lbs, what a fight, with powerful runs uptide and aerial acrobatics, I never realised a Stingray would fight as such. We managed to tag and record a large number of rays for the on-going data collection that weekend.
Target attained. Specimen Stingray of 41lbs
Back home, and now into June, I opted for a crack at the Tench, my favourite of all Irish Coarse fish. With weed rake packed and a large amount of feed pre-mixed, I headed for my local Tench water for the start of the pre-baiting campaign, to find a “no trespass” sign and barbed wire. Further investigation informed me that our European friends had been at it again, killing and butchering two sheep on the land. The landowner already upset with litter and previous evidence of fish killing understandably has had enough and now the water is out of action. This episode broke my angling heart and one of the lower points in the year for me.
As a pick me up, I decided on one more shot at the “stingers”. Mackerel were now abundant in the area, and with fresh bait I was confident of finding decent ray angling. I landed many rays, both stingers and Undulates, including several fish I had tagged several weeks previous. This shows how important it is to protect these inshore waters with resident species. I failed to find a specimen ray, but delighted when a bonus Smooth Hound picked up a bait, smashing the specimen barrier and a personal best at over 13lbs.
A bonus double figure Smooth Hound was the icing on the cake!
By July, temperatures had picked up sufficiently in the North to consider Mullet. I decided to dedicate most of July in the pursuit of the Thick lips, which rewarded me with many fine fish, several over the specimen barrier. I even managed to get tackle agent David Wilson in on the act, landing his first ever torpedo, an experience he will never forget.
Finally managed to get friend and tackle agent David Wilson out fishing! His first ever Mullet
A fat five pounder falls to the Greys Prodigy Rod
August, and I find myself working down in Cork. Yes, actual physical work! Took a selection of tackle with me, it would be rude not to! During the evenings I pre-baited some areas on The Lough, the famous Irish Carp water with the hope of a night session sometime. Eventually I had my chance and “bivvied” up adjacent to the baited marks and bagged four specimens, result. Thanks to Sid for his home-made boilies and Ross for the pellets and sexy flavoured dip!
At fourteen pounds, not huge, but great fun over a night session.
I also squeezed in a couple of days exploring the West Cork bays and estuaries in search of Mullet and Gilt-head Bream. The Mullet were elusive but managed a few small fish. Bonus was a rod-bending line-ripping take, eventually slipping the net under a monster “gilty”. At seven pounds, possibly the second largest recorded, behind the current Irish Record.
Absolutely delighted with another PB, this Gilty tipped the scales at 7lbs
I had little angling activity through September, apart from a memorable trip to Kerry, again with Andy in search of Painted Ray and Bass. We managed to find our target species, no specimens but some lovely shore fishing among stunning scenery.
A 7lb Bass before safe release. Full blog..http://www.angling-ireland.com/kerry_trip
I eventually managed to get the sea boat out as we reached October and tried a new off-shore mark. Narrowly missing a specimen Black-mouth Dogfish by half an ounce, we landed Tope, Huss, Conger and seven juvenile Common Skate with two larger fish lost. It was a great day and I couldn’t wait to get back out over the mark.
Juvenile Skate are great to see. Meet you again in around ten years!
Several weeks later, favourable winds allowed a return trip for myself and Andy and what a red letter day it turned out to be! Ending the day with five specimen Black mouth Dogfish, a Tope just under specimen, a dogfish borderline specimen, a Huss at 15lbs, lots of Conger to 25lbs and a Common Skate of 166lbs approx. Skate have been added once again to the specimen list but based on measurement. Lovely to tick another category!
A nice specimen category to tick, this one averaged 166lbs
The ever endearing Black mouth Dogfish, an Irish specimen at over 1 kilo.
One last trip before the end of the year was an invite for my good mates Sid and Ross. This would be a Black mouth Dogfish expedition, but it was tough going. The light winds promised turned nasty and made life difficult. Ross managed to find a specimen under these conditions and was delighted, I had 250lb snood bitten through! Sid, I promise, you’re next mate.
Ross Macklin ends the year on a high, a new specimen species, look at that grin!
As I write this, that’s all I have to offer for 2016. I omitted much of the blanks, fruitless searching and researching, but that’s part and parcel of specimen hunting. There have been some heart aches, in particular, destruction in species, numbers and habitats, and it’s been a tough year, but that’s life. Keep fishing, and keep fighting the good fight for protection of our sport and our species within. Happy New Year, God bless and Tight Lines for 2017.