Back to the East Coast for Specimen Smooth Hound action!
I thought after my recent trip down to the south-east coast, my Smooth Hound adventures were done and dusted for the year. However, a surprise invite from my buddy Sid Kennedy saw me scuttling around the shed gathering up the gear, and more importantly, on the phone enquiring if fresh peeler crab were available. Without this particular bait; the ultimate delicacy for Smooth Hound, it would be an almost pointless mission.
Wicklow Harbour, on the south-east coast. A decent slipway and safe mooring for the small boat angler
With everything packed, I almost forgot one important item, my fish-tagging kit! It is normally tucked safely away on my own boat. I realise this isn't normal kit for most anglers, but I have regularly tagged shark and ray species for Inland Fisheries Ireland since being accepted as a reliable contributor back in 2004. I believe in this cause whole-heartedly, and it is a fact that IFI hold the second largest collection of tagged data known, only behind the USA, a commendable achievement for such a tiny country. What happens to this stored data? Check out the link below for further information.
Initial weather forecasts looked favourable and I eagerly drove the four-hour journey south to meet Sid and his son Derrick at Wicklow harbour by nightfall. We "bivvied up", grubbed up, and checked on the bait supply. To bring the crabs "on" to full peeling mode and in prime condition as bait it is important to separate the "poppers" (crabs that are ready to use) from the main supply and to steep the rest in clean salt water for a couple of hours. This keeps them fresh, and they take on water which aids the natural moulting process. With everything sorted, we settled in for an early start the following morning, and when I say early, by Sid's body clock, that's around 4am!
A "popper". The carapace has split, irresistable to Smooth Hound.
A bath in clean salt water will bring on the moulting process.
When targeting Smooth Hound or Ballan Wrasse, I prefer to keep the bait whole and natural looking
A tough call for a burnt out 55 year old, but with such a beautiful sunrise and calm waters that greeted us, no real hardship. At anchor, and using the co-ordinates from my previous successful trip, we soon found the ever-present Lesser Spotted Dogs. Thankfully not in the plague proportions that can sometimes blight a good day at sea! I opted for down-tide methods this time. I thoroughly enjoyed up-tiding on my last trip, especially with the high-quality Greys Toreon Up-tide rods I had the good fortune to play with. However, tidal currents were quite fierce on this occasion requiring two pounds of lead to hold bottom during the strongest pull, along with bunches of dislodged seaweed, and down-tide methods seemed preferable, or at least, easier!
What every boat angler dreams of, clear skies and calm seas.
Fantastic back-drop to relax and contemplate while waiting for the big girls to show
Penn Fathoms....faultless after years of abuse
With plenty of fresh bait regularly going down to the sea bed, the "Smoothies" eventually homed in on the scent trail. As with the dogs, not in large numbers, but a decent stamp in size, which boded well for winkling out a specimen among them. Any Smooth Hound large enough received a tag in the dorsal fin, a quick length measurement, approximate weight on the scales and back over the gunnels, hopefully no worse from the experience. By having a tag pre-prepared, the whole process takes little over a minute from un-hooking to release. The measure mats available from IFI are fabulous for accurate and fast length measurement.
Measured, weighed and tagged, and ready for careful release, a decent female hound
As I stated earlier, not many Smooth-Hound about over these large tides it seemed, but enough to keep us interested, and perseverance paid off with a personal best for yours truly, an immaculate female just under 14lbs. This turned out to be a long, exhausting, sixteen hour day as we put everything we had into finding a few more larger specimens but the bites tapered off quite quickly, even the smaller dogfish were notable by their absence. Time for the harbour, some grub and a re-think for the following day.
It's not every day a pb shows up, my best so far at just under 14lbs
An Irish specimen Smooth Hound must exceed 100cms or 8.82lbs
Although the sea state was perfectly safe the next morning, it had certainly deteriorated, with some east in the breeze and a low pressure front moving in. Our three day adventure would be cut short, so we had to dig deep and fish hard in the hope of finding a couple more specimens. We anchored on the same contour but a quarter of a mile south over fresh ground. It proved similar to the previous day but even less action, although dogged determination paid off yet again, with Derrick finding his first specimen Smooth Hound over the ten pound mark and Sid managing a length based specimen in the dying hours of the day. By this stage the weather was miserable, drizzle with a cool breeze and I really had had my fill.
Derrick finds a ten pounder to add to his growing list of Irish specimens
And Sid finds a similar fish to put a decent bend in the Abu Suveran
"If we packed up now for home, you could take Derrick and Amy Skate fishing tomorrow" I said, in a diplomatic attempt to persuade Sid to call time. Happily he agreed and we cut the trip short. There is an art in knowing when and where to fish, but that can also be said for knowing when to quit! We could have possibly sampled the excellent Tope fishing in the area but reckoned the tides were simply too strong. There will be other Tope opportunities later in the year!
Mother nature creates a sculpture. An insight into how the seabed looks, dogfish purse attached
I managed to tag nineteen reasonable sized Smooth Hounds and two Thornback Ray during my visit to the area, but what happens next? In reality, with the relatively large numbers of Smooth Hound around Ireland and the British Isles, and thankfully, lack of commercial interest just now, return captures are quite rare, but I received one piece of feedback from IFI regarding a hound I tagged in June 2010. She evaded capture for 2284 days, turning up off Portsmouth some 660kms away, having increased in length from 68cms to 94cms. I tend to see the fish I tag as my own, and am always heartened to see evidence that they have survived for so long against the perils that are ever present, and cover great distances around our coast. I live in hope that the data will be destined for use in future protection for the shark and ray species so desperately vital to our fragile ecosystems.