An Irish Anglers World

Musings of a Travelling Sea Angler, Return to Kilcoole

Kilcoole Strand, Co. Wicklow, a bank of shingle backed by salt marshes, is a beautiful wild location much loved by coastal walkers and bird watchers. Once upon a time it was a superb shore angling location, today due to commercial over fishing and environmental damage caused by inshore mussel dredging the venue flatters to deceive, however the beach draws this writer back like a magnet, social connections made whilst living in the nearby village for 16 years run deep……….

What is the definition of a travelling sea angler? The dictionary definition of the word “travel” is to go from one place to another, as on a trip or a journey. Expanded upon further Collins Thesaurus of the English Language, 2nd Edition, 2002 cites “travelling” as touring, wandering, roaming, roving and migratory, all words that one could attribute to a long journey.

Kilcoole strand, Co. Wicklow, Ireland.

Relative to sea angling I would have, certainly pre 1990, associated the word “travelling” with going off on a long weekend to fish in the likes of West Cork, Kerry or Donegal, an action involving a journey of some magnitude from my home location on Ireland’s eastern seaboard. The motivation behind such a trip would be to experience a different form of angling not available at home, to target a particular species again not available locally, or to seek out a specimen of a particular species not resident in my home waters.

These days if I want to experience half decent sea angling I have to travel to fish nearly all the time, even in my adopted home county of Wexford where a standard shore fishing session at a reasonably productive location involves for me a round trip of on average 120 miles. I use the word “travel” in this context because in my opinion a round trip of 50 odd miles implies local, whereas to me anything over 100 miles is a journey.

Singular mackerel, Kilcoole Strand, Co. Wicklow, Ireland.

In the very recent past a fishing trip of the latter magnitude would have occurred through choice and not design. Today due to inshore habitat destruction along Ireland’s east coast coupled with commercial over fishing if I wish to experience decent shore angling circa 2015, which if the truth be known is far removed from what I would actually class as decent shore fishing, I have to plan a road trip on practically every occasion I wish to go sea fishing.

My current average spend per sea angling journey to include petrol and grub, in the main I dig my own bait, amounts to €50.00 which works out at around €2,500.00 per annum, a reasonable amount to fork out on a relaxing hobby. If I was to include bait in the equation the above quoted figure would top out at €3,500.00. Sea angling is a recognised social outlet however, when one considers that the current average industrial wage is calculated at €36,000.00 then link that amount with increases in the cost of living allied to declining sea fish stocks, is it any wonder that sea angling participation rates are falling. How many people in this day and age can justify spending 10% of their income on a hobby. I for one today plan and budget my sea fishing trips accordingly to get the most bang for my buck, something I most certainly did not do in the past.

Bass, Kilcoole Strand, Co. Wicklow, Ireland, late 1980's.

Born in 1960 I was a teenager during the 1970’s, in those days I lived in the borough of Dunlaoghaire and my early shore fishing trips involved cycling to Killiney strand or Whiterock under the Vico Road where codling, coalfish, pollack, plaice and wrasse were the main species targeted. In the summer months my friends and I would occasionally hire a wooden clinker boat from Homan’s tea house on Killiney strand and row up to Sorrento Point where we would catch all the above plus dabs to specimen weight and any amount of mackerel.

Once the driving licence was procured, in my case at 18 years of age, a perceived longish trip would have been a drive down to Killoughter to fish specifically for summer night ray or to have a crack at the wreck situated between Killoughter and Five mile point. No disrespect to those born post 1980 but even living in south side Dublin there was a time when one did not need to travel far to find good shore fishing, it literally was on your doorstep. Of course back then one might plan a holiday weekend in Kerry for example to experience surf fishing off Atlantic storm beaches for bass, however that was by choice and not necessity.

A Kilcoole coalfish caught by Diego Leccardi night fishing.

Tying the knot in 1985 I moved to Kilcoole in Co. Wicklow because the house was affordable, good sea fishing playing no hand, act or part in the decision. That said, Kilcoole in those days was still a superb shore venue giving access to fantastic mixed fishing with cod and plaice topping the list. Five minutes from the beach why would anyone want to travel when depending on season the aforementioned species were supplemented with coalfish, pollack, dab, flounder, gurnard, bass, bull huss, ray and for the adventurous angler, tope.

In those days crab could be gathered in the breaches and also behind the old Veha factory in Wicklow town where lug and rag could also be dug. In short, sea fishing pre 1990 for myself and many others was a worthwhile and relatively inexpensive pastime to indulge in due to a plentiful range of locally resident sea fish accessible with a limited amount of driving even for anglers living in the greater Dublin area. To illustrate, a sea angler living in Finglas travelling to fish in Greystones would face a 60 mile round trip and experience quality mixed species sea angling as against the 120 mile round trip yours truly makes today for essentially three species bass, flounder and smooth hound.

Fly fishing, Kilcoole Strand, Co. Wicklow, Ireland.

What is wrong with the above species I hear you ask? Nothing, I am glad they are still about in reasonable numbers and size however it is the knowing what is gone allied to the social consequences which include “diminished choice” and “increased expense” that grates. Once upon a recent time I could pick up my rods at a whim and head down to a local shoreline confident of catching something, these days that impulse has morphed into an expedition.

Every Autumn I am drawn towards Kilcoole beach, a strand that I got to know and love over a 16 year period living in the village. These days I carry just a spinning rod and a few lures, snacks and a drink packed in a knapsack. Walking towards Ballygannon passing the big tree I cast my lure and chat to people I meet, old friends and acquaintances from Kilcoole, complete strangers out for a stroll and the odd angler.

Garfish caught off Kilcoole beach, Co. Wicklow, Ireland.

The bait fishing is gone, the mackerel are singular, the bass and sea trout can now and then still surprise along with out of the blue garfish, now that was a first, a sign of hope? The overriding emotion though is one of loss, when I look out across the water towards the Moulditch buoy, bright red on the horizon, I see emptiness. The waters off north Wicklow appear in three dimensions to me, because I know what was underneath, what has been taken and what remains.

Am I sad? Not any more. Am I angry? Yes, but in a controlled way now. Most importantly I’m just a realist who has moved on and as a sea angler I am still moving, still travelling, a 120 miles when I want to fish as against a reasonable twenty miles which I do occasionally, only then I just cast and chew the fat with friends and strangers, walking the strand while taking in the ozone……………….

Ashley Hayden © October 2015

See also: Angling Marks, Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow, Ireland.