An Irish Anglers World

Smooth Hound, Greyhounds of the Surf.

Smooth hound and bass are the key sport fish which frequent my local beaches, along with flounder and dogfish they represent what is left of the vast array of species which once swam the inshore waters off Co. Wicklow not two decades ago. Over fishing in the Irish Sea allied to unregulated whelking and mussel dredging has disrupted the ecosystem terribly, and although this is a happy tale the underlying background has to be put in perspective.

With bait left over from the weekend and not having fished the beaches north of Arklow for a month or more, the decision to head out was a no brainer. Light north east breezes, clear skies, and neap tides did not bode well for the evening session based on previous entries in my fishing diary, but hey if you do not have a baited hook in the water you’re not going to catch fish anyway, so off I went.

Evening smooth hound, Co. Wicklow, Ireland.

Reaching my chosen mark about 18.00pm an hour after high tide the sea looked inviting from the cliff top. A small single wave lapped on the beach, the sea slightly chopped by what has to be said was a cool breeze for the time of year. Smooth hound, the fish I was targeting, according to my notes tend to hit the north Wicklow beaches sometime in late June early July, staying into September before moving out again. The species seems to have exploded over recent years with their range moving further north, no doubt nature’s reaction to mans reckless intervention.

Back in the 1980’s smoothies became a cult fish in Irish sea angling circles, with the north County Wexford beaches becoming something of a Mecca in May and early June. Venues such as Tinnebearna and Morriscastle became famous, not only for smooth hound, but for the range of large ray, tope, spurdog, bull huss, and bass that embellished anglers catches. Great times sadly gone, the bass are still there along with tope when conditions are right, and of course smooth hound. This season there has been talk of ray, could this be a chink of light, time will tell.

 Evening smooth hound fishing on a county Wicklow strand, waiting for the rod to heel over.

I digress, making my way down a steep path worn through the bracken before crunching across the shingle, history stares up at me from the myriad oyster shells that litter the beach. The waters off Arklow back in the 18th century were famous for their oysters, now fished out, which graced restaurant tables in London and Paris, if not further afield. Could they be good for bait? Possibly, but this evening good old yellow tail lugworm (big and fleshy) and peeler crab will do nicely.

Setting up in a favourite corner my two Daiwa surf poles matched with 7HT’s are rigged up with two hook paternosters sporting 18 inch snoods. 2/0 kamazan 496B’s are at the business end and I bait these up each with lug and crab respectively. A sixty meter lob is all that the venue requires placing my baits on clean sand smack between a shallow reef and a large weed bed. Fish travel between the two seeking out tasty morsels, one bass I caught here recently was stuffed with mussel, so I know that the feeding offshore is good.

Smooth hound, a true sport fish.

Placing the rods in my tripod I sit back and wait. An hour goes by and not a dicky bird which is unusual for this venue. Normally flounder, dabs, or dogfish keep the rods knocking, but this evening nothing, the bait returning untouched. Then an unmistakable quiver on the rod tip, I’m already on my feet crouched, hands gripping the rod butt lightly. The top third of my beach caster heaves over, I lean in the opposite direction, no need to strike as the fish’s momentum will do the job.

A power surge transfers through the rod as the smooth hound exits stage left and my 7HT gives line under pressure. These fish are unbelievably powerful for there size and include quick silver changes in direction as part of their repertoire on being hooked. After a couple of minutes the still very active hound enters the wash proceeding to turn this way and that before finally beaching itself. Thrashing its tail backwards and forwards there he lies unbeaten in his own mind. Most smoothies off this beach are male, claspers being the tell tail sign, between 4 – 5 lbs a standard fish.

Smooth hound caught in daylight from a County Wicklow beach.

A few quick snaps and away, re-baiting both rods again with lug and crab I cast both rigs the same distance as before, about 60 meters. Within ten minutes the right hand pole quivers then heels over. Smoothies are so predictable they do this every time, it never fails though to get the blood going as it is so visually savage. God knows what a double figure one would do, as the biggest that I have connected with went nine pounds and that announced its presence by pulling my rod over the stand.

Connected now to an obviously larger hound, this one heads towards the shallow reef, applying pressure a quick U turn has the fish now in open water. Suddenly there is a loud crash caused by my tripod falling in a heap behind me. Turning around I notice my second rod slowly being dragged across the shingle towards the surf line. With number one rod pulsing this way and that, I lean over grab number two rod and wedge it under one of my collapsed tripods legs. Held firm with a tight line pulling the rod tip around I can now deal with hound number one. Bullying this fish he soon is beached.

A brace of smooth hound.

Dropping rod number one I now concentrate on number two which is still there and full of fight. Conscious of the smooth hound on the beach I horse into this one and quickly land it. Both are bigger easily 5/6 lbs, removing both hooks, and having the camera already set up, a couple of snaps and away. That was some craic and not unusual when hounds are about as they usually travel in packs. Smash and grab raiders would be a good title for them.

By now it was coming on dark, having recast both rigs and remained bite less I could have stayed, there is no doubt that another shoal would pass by, but I decided to call it a night. Three smooth hounds is a typical haul for this beach and in my book good fishing relative to the short session. As stated bass, flounder, dab, dogfish, and in the winter codling and whiting add to the mix. In recent weeks one or two small ray have also turned up, and given that twenty years ago it was not unusual to catch double figure ray off this strand things may be looking up.

For anyone interested in fishing Co. Wicklow, especially from across the water, the ferry ports of Dunlaoghaire and Rosslare are good access points, head for the N.11 and drive one hour south or north from each respectively. There is plenty of B/B, self catering, or hotel accommodation locally, with the best of the shore fishing starting in July and continuing into October.

A typical shore caught smooth hound from a Co. Wicklow strand.

The north Wicklow shingle beaches south of Greystones unfortunately have seen better days and are best avoided unless you are after tope, which have been landed to over fifty pounds in recent years, September through to November being the favoured months on low water neap tides. However south of Wicklow town things improve with quality bass and smooth hound fishing as described above in various locations, along with specimen mullet and large flounder in the broad lough north of Wicklow harbour.

Wicklow, affectionately nicknamed the Garden County, even today still has a lot to offer the sea angler, and though close to Dublin is little fished outside of the established marks. Very accessible and serviced by good quality tackle shops which stock a ready supply of fresh and frozen baits, why not give it a go, you could very easily have a magical night like I did. Tight lines…

Further reading, click on: Sea Fishing Opportunities in Co. Wicklow, Ireland.

Ashley Hayden © August 2011