FISH YOUR SOCKS OFF!
A shark trip takes a bizarre twist as a new bait is given an airing…
Happy with my whole mackerel baits, plus a fillet of mackerel added to give some extra movement, I was amused to see our crewman filling an old sock with the remaining contents of the rubbydubby barrel, sticking a size 10/0 hook in it, and dropping it over the side.
Paddy O’Farrell, who has been a commercial fisherman all his life, is also a lifelong angler. Now, at 68, he brings all that knowledge with him, as an assistant to young skipper John Fleming, but, even so, the sock trick was new to me.
John is rapidly making a name for himself just as blue shark fishing is undergoing a renaissance throughout the British Isles. Though some way off his 30th birthday, the young Irish skipper, based in Rossaveal, County Galway, carries a lot of experience in his local waters, helped by his obsessive interest in all things angling.
His location also puts him firmly on hand to capitalise on the best the open Atlantic has to offer regarding blue and porbeagle sharks, but also the ground fishing that can be some of the most varied in Europe.
John runs the Brazen Hussy II, an Offshore 105 with a 430hp motor, that is fully equipped with up-to-date electronics, and I noticed she’s looked after impeccably. Fishing with me was Kevin Crowley, a fisheries inspector with Inland Fisheries Ireland.
As we pushed out past the Aran Islands, there was a good sea running. I like some sea running for sharks because it makes the baits lift and drop in the water column and adds the illusion of life.
In 2016, John’s blue shark season started on June 29 with an 84lb blue. In fact, they had a double hook-up at the time, but the second shark threw the hook during the fight. June, off Galway, is early for blues, and he’d usually expect them to show around midJuly, but then they can stay right through until November in mild years if the sea temperature stays fairly consistent.
His best one-day haul saw 26 blue sharks to the boat, and his biggest fish so far is a cracking fish of 109lb.
There’s a good chance of porbeagles around April, perhaps an occasional one in summer, but the peak season begins with September, and October is likely to be a prime month.
John has seen mako sharks, and Paddy told me there are threshers in late summer and autumn off the Arans.
Once on the mark, I set up two shark rods. One fished shallow with the bait at 30ft, the other deeper and further out at 60ft. To make sure the baits stayed deep, I added small 3oz sacrificial leads to the wire trace about 6ft above the baits with a twist or two of telephone wire.
The tide was ebbing and I had a feeling we might have to wait until low water and the new flood for the sharks to feel hungry.
On the journey out, Paddy had been secretive about his shark bait, but soon the sock trick was revealed. His theory was that his bait should represent the rubby-dubby and be oozing scent. STRONG DIVE We were approaching low water, and 20 minutes later I watched the middle balloon shudder, move a few feet across the surface, then disappear. I only let the shark run a few yards and set the hook.
The fish took off when near the surface for a few seconds, then dived. It lacked the weight, but fought hard and made several decent runs before it came to the gunnel. We lifted it aboard and guessed it was somewhere around 30lb. It was measured and tagged, and sent on its way.
The sea state was worsening now as the tide flooded and the wind picked up strength. It was fine to fish, though, and I decided to shallow off the furthest bait to fish 40ft down. Half-an-hour later the furthest balloon zig-zagged across the water and disappeared.
I set the hook and felt this fish had more weight. It took a strong dive and then lifted a little before going deep again. I
kept heavy pressure on and slowly forced it up in the water column. The shark showed on the surface, dived down about 30ft, before I got it to the boat. This was a better fish between 60 and 70lb.
Just the two sharks, and I could see John was disappointed, but that’s sharking, and the next day you could put 20 on the deck. Sea conditions were not the best, nor the quartering wind, but we had caught, and you have to always be happy with that.
The plan for the next day was to target the ground fishing offshore, but the wind was gale-force and I thought we’d be shore bound. John and Paddy, though, knew we’d get some fishing in inside the lee of the Aran Islands, and it was comfortable fishing in there.
We tried for pollack, first picking up plenty of smaller fish to 5lb on lures, but couldn’t find a bigger one, although John has had pollack to Irish specimen size above 12lb over the same ground.
We switched to fresh mackerel baits and went on the drift. The lads started bagging gurnards, all three in fact, tubs, reds and greys, while I added ballan wrasse, codling, dabs, whiting, inevitably dogfish, and some of the prettiest cuckoo wrasse you’ll ever see.
What’s important to know here is that we had pretty tough weather conditions, but the odds are that if you’re here for a week or a day and hit iffy weather, the likelihood is that you’ll still get out in the lee of the islands. That’s important to me when I book trips because I’d rather be fishing than sitting kicking my heels.
May is when the ground fishing really gets going, as you’d expect, with the mackerel arriving. There are ling well in to double figures inshore, with bigger fish offshore. There are some good codling, and bigger cod to 15lb in the autumn, also good coalfish, especially early and late in the year, and a heavy run of early and late spurdogs that can reach well past the Irish specimen weight of 12lb. Thornbacks to 14lb are found in good numbers here, while mixed in are the occasional blonde and spotted rays.
Paddy told me there are grounds here for brill and turbot, and I have a feeling that there could be a plaice or two if more people fished for them.
Being so close to Clew Bay, I asked about the possibility of common skate. As yet, they are still on John’s to-do list, but they are there and are likely to be present throughout the year, but especially from August through to November.
As for the sock…well nothing came of that on the first day, although Paddy seems confident it will, and I’m sure he’s right.
Fishing in the Atlantic can be some of the most varied in Europe
Kevin Crowley with a nice ballan wrasse
A good supply of fresh mackerel for bait
Words and photography by Mike Thrussell
Paddy O’Farrell with his sock full of rubby-dubby
This blue was estimated somewhere around 30lb
A cuckoo wrasse for the skipper
The Brazen Hussy II
This pollack took a lure