Sea Angling in Ireland
|Ireland might have been made
for sea angling. Relatively shallow water, fast tides and sandbanks in the
Irish Sea give way to deeper water with gentler tides and jagged pinnacle
rock on the Atlantic coast, warmed by the last embers of the Gulf Stream.
In between there is every kind of fishing ground from surf beaches
to rocky headlands, shallow bays to deep fiord-like inlets, sheltered harbours
and deep water wrecks all with their particular attractions for fish
and the anglers who seek them.
A few Irish species are essentially summer visitors from warmer seas. The majority, however, are present right through the year and given favourable weather (not always available) can be caught in winter as well as summer. In fact, the winter months can be more productive than the early spring, when water temperatures are at their lowest and some species are preoccupied with spawning.
Blue shark are one of the summer visitors. They appear first off the south coast in May or June, then spread right up the west, staying well into October and possibly longer if conditions are right. They are relatively easy to catch and extremely abundant at times, making them a mainstay of Irish shark fishing with catches into double figures commonplace. Porbeagles have a more northerly distribution. The north and west coasts are the most likely place to find them, although in some years they also appear in the south. The six-gilled shark is extremely localised in Ireland, seldom straying beyond the southwest. This lumbering giant is perhaps less well known as an angling species but reaches a size that dwarfs the other two. Two other species, the mako and the thresher, have also been recorded by anglers on the south coast recently.
The tope proves that size is not everything when it comes to shark fishing. These superb fighters are found around most of Ireland, though they are rare on parts of the south coast.
Though by no means as widespread as it once was, the 'common' skate is an iconic angling species and still quite plentiful in certain areas. The introduction of tag and release many years ago has helped to improve matters. Skate are now found from the north of the country, all the way along the west and southwest coasts almost as far as Cork. Some Irish sea angling centres are particularly associated with these spectacular fish which can easily top 200 lbs.
The effects of overfishing have been mitigated for many parts of Ireland by the rockiness of the underwater terrain which effectively rules out some of the more destructive forms of commercial fishing. However, overfishing has taken its toll in Ireland as it has elsewhere. Species like turbot, for which Ireland was (and possibly still is) one of the most productive angling venues, have been drastically reduced. On certain parts of the coast turbot are still a realistic target for anglers, especially if they are prepared to ignore the attractions of more readily available species.
Adoption of conservation measures like tag and release has been an encouraging feature of the past forty years of Irish angling. The tagging programme pioneered in Ireland by the Inland Fisheries Trust prompts anglers to return shark, tope, skate and other species safely to the sea and, by doing so, extend scientific knowledge of the fish and their migrations. Nearly all angling competitions employ a points system so unwanted fish can be released alive. The vast majority of individual anglers follow suit.
For many people bass are the supreme angling species and they are another fish that has benefited from conservation measures. Bass are found all round the coast but are most plentiful in the southern half of the country. In the east they are caught from both boat and shore. In the west, where they tend to be concentrated in the shallower water of bays and estuaries, bass are primarily a target for the shore fisherman.
A legacy of two world wars is an abundance of wrecks in Irish waters, especially off north and south coasts. The wreck fishing era really began with some spectacular catches on the wreck of the Lusitania off Cork in the 1950s. Then for many years the focus switched to the English Channel. Now, however, several ports in Ireland are established wreck fishing centres. Pollack, coalfish, cod, conger and ling are the fish most commonly associated with wrecking, but wrecks will often produce an outsize specimen of other species too.
Pollack are another of the mainstays of sea angling in Ireland. Though not quite as big as some specimens from the Channel or French coasts, Irish pollack reach a good size, are extremely widespread and provide superb sport. A fairly easy fish to catch, they have been at the heart of many a good day's angling. The coalfish might seem at first like the poor relation, seldom reaching a comparable size in inshore waters. However, on deep water wrecks it is a different story; here the coalfish puts the pollack in the shade, both for size and fighting qualities. They are one of the supreme sporting fish of Irish waters.
Cod are common all round the Irish coast. For the shore fisherman they are mainly a winter species, but from the boat they are just as much a summer fish. While there are plenty of cod on some offshore wrecks, most cod are caught on or near rough ground. Numbers fluctuate considerably from place to place and year to year, but in general cod are probably more numerous in the eastern half of the country, while the western half perhaps has the higher proportion of large specimens.
Conger eel are numerous in Ireland wherever there are reefs or wrecks.
A comparatively recent arrival on the Irish angling scene are tuna. There are two species involved the albacore (longfin tuna) and the bluefin. Large shoals of albacore run north up the southwest coast every year in late summer, generally well offshore. The much larger bluefin tuna appear inshore off the northwest coast in autumn and in increasing numbers on the south and southwest coasts too. In both cases the fishing is slightly hit and miss, so dedication is essential.
Of course, there are many other species that one might mention; some Irish angling boats can claim a tally of as many as fifty different kind of fish from their home patch. In fact, it is this incredible diversity, as much as the abundance of any one species, that gives Irish sea angling its enduring fascination.