An Irish Anglers World

Rock Hopping in the Rebel County

I’m going to stick my neck out and declare that West Cork is home to the best mixed species shore fishing in Ireland, today out stripping both Kerry’s standard bearers the Dingle and Iveragh peninsulas. Still barely scratched in terms of its rod and line sea fishing potential especially out on the Beara and Sheep’s Head, I’ve just came back from a five day jaunt in the area and only saw one other angler. In that time my companions and I landed eleven species of fish to include thick lipped mullet, golden grey mullet, codling, dab, pollack, wrasse, conger, bull huss, dogfish, mackerel, and launce. We had to contend as per usual with contrary weather which put us off certain marks so limiting our potential haul, and of course the interminable easterlies which have most definitely delayed the summer sea angling season, mackerel being noticeably absent.

A cracking wrasse landed by Dave Murphy while rock hopping in West Cork, Ireland.

Living in north Wexford the trip down for me takes five hours but it’s worth the effort. Having grown up and experienced superb mixed fishing in and around Greystones, Co. Wicklow, now sadly a distant memory due to gross mismanagement of our inshore fisheries resource, West Cork is a glorious throwback to better more productive days. For how long who can tell, but one has to remain positive the resource is in reasonably good nick so at least there is something to protect and develop further.

Rugged landscape, multi coloured villages, fuchsia lined lanes, isolated windswept headlands, plenty of space, quality food, and great pubs are hallmarks of this wonderful region. For those who have never ventured be prepared the fishing although productive is not easily got, a lot of work and driving has to be put in before results start to follow. I’ve being going down for six or seven years now and it’s only within the last three years that its secrets have begun to unfold. Mistakes have been made, and still are, however knowledge gained from each trip down informs the next, and layer upon layer quality fishing has been revealed and enjoyed.

Enjoying the craic, a liquid lunch in deepest West Cork, Ireland.

On May 26th last Gary Robinson, Dave Murphy and I rendezvoused with Roger Ball and Dave Hoskins, both over from the UK, at a favourite watering hole where we tucked into steaming bowls of chowder accompanied by delicious cake like brown bread washed down with creamy pints of Murphy’s, sure you’d have to. Greetings and news shared we laid plans based on the five day weather forecast and headed off towards our self catering cottage base. Located two hundred meters as the crow flies from a variety of shore fishing options, it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that one could catch fish from the kitchen window. To date within a stones throw of the house my friends and I have caught grey mullet, codling, coalfish, pollack, wrasse, dab, flounder, dogfish, mackerel, launce, and scad.

Sunday May 27th promised to be a pet day, you always get one so make the most of it. The plan was to head out onto a nearby headland and fish a productive mark we discovered some three years ago. Involving a short drive and a mile long hike over rough moorland populated by sheep we prepared accordingly. On any trip to west Cork the kitchen sink is packed with nothing left to chance, most kit is doubled up and fresh bait, in this instance ragworm and lugworm, is transported in a cool box along with frozen squid. Key ancillary items to bring are a medium size rucksack and a pair of quality hiking boots. Most marks are a good hike away and on arrival require some dexterous rock hopping, you need to be fit and have a head for heights.

Jelly wormed pollack from a West Cork rock mark.

Pollack, wrasse, and grey mullet being our initial target species all relevant tackle was packed to include a 13’ beach caster, 10’ pike spinning rod, coarse float fishing rod, Slosh 30 reel, 6000, 4000, and 2500 size spinning reels, hokais (for mackerel), various jelly worms and shads, spinners, amnesia line, a range of hooks, swivels, arlesey bomb weights, drilled bullet weights, beads, barrel leads (60 gram and 30 gram), spark plugs for weights, long nosed pliers, scissors, split shot, various cigar and coarse fishing floats, fluorocarbon, landing net, water, and grub. To all that was added our bait, wet weather gear, a cap or hat, sun cream, and midge repellent. Having locked up the vehicles and fortified by a breakfast of bacon butties and strong coffee we shouldered our back packs, picked up our rods and bait bucket, navigated the style, and headed out along a steeply undulating sheep path towards our destination.

On the way we side tracked to a particular location where mullet congregate to see if they were present. Marked absent we continued our hike towards a favourite rock platform which always delivers large wrasse and medium pollack both in good numbers. Warm, overcast, and sultry the sea flat while at the same time lightly heaving as only the Atlantic can do, a harbinger of a frontal system far out beyond the horizon, conditions were perfect. Timing our arrival two hours before high water we set up pollack and wrasse rigs, dividing our efforts 50/50 Roger and I chose wrasse, while the two Dave’s went after pollack. Gary meanwhile had opted to kayak fish and could be seen paddling about the bay over a mile distant.

Lifting out a good wrasse, West Cork, Ireland.

Opting for 13’ Daiwa surf pole and Slosh 30 combo filled with main line straight through, I fashioned a loop to make a short 6” snood directly off the main line three foot above the spark plug tied on as a weight. Tying on a 2/0 round bend hook and baiting with ragworm the rig was cast 20 meters out into the foaming gully, immediately on entering the water I engaged the reel and let the rig slowly sink while drifting back towards me. Keeping a tight line first knock in bang, bang, instantly striking while reeling at the same time over went the rod into its fighting curve as a lusty wrasse dived for the kelp. These fish are strong and don’t give up twisting, turning, and diving until lifted clear of the water. I could hear Roger acknowledging a fish on his rod, to hard back crab in this instance, another wrasse favourite, what a start.

Both fish were deep set about 2.5 – 3.lbs, mottled green/brown, with those heavy scales, shovel tail, big rubbery lips, and strong teeth for prising limpets off rocks and crushing crab. Re-baiting and casting again within 30 seconds both rods were hooped over, this time a much bigger fish crash dived for Davy Jones locker, holding on and gaining control I eventually landed a wrasse in the 4 – 5 pound bracket, and so it went on. As the tide fell bites continued, one just needed to cast further down the gully. Wrasse of all sizes and colours up to weight provided constant sport for close on four hours, making the hike well worth while, and that before the pollack.

UK tourist angler Dave Hoskins with a grand West Cork pollack.

Setting up jelly worm rigs using 60 gram barrel leads and red Mr. Twister worms both Dave’s cast out and let their rigs sink for an incredible 37 seconds before touching bottom.  Commencing to retrieve Dave Hoskins rod heeled over as a good pollack swam up took hold and bolted for the kelp, weighing about 3 – 4 pounds an average fish for this mark. Noticeably relative to previous years the pollack were not as plentiful or as big although sport was steady certainly up to high tide. On the plus side Roger netted a grand fish close to 6 pound although we have had bigger in previous years from the location.

Pollack and wrasse are cracking sport fish, both plentiful in the south west and in my opinion right up there with bass, we should promote them more. The initial crash dive from large specimens of both species is incredibly hard to stop and drags need to be set accordingly. Yes pollack don’t have the staying power of bass and due to the nature of wrasse habitats one has to use bullying tactics so negating their obvious pugilistic skills, both species nonetheless are worth while adversaries and handsome to boot when first lifted from the briny.

O'Neills Bar, Allihies, West Cork, Ireland.

Come four bells with the ebb well under way we called it quits and packed up for the long trudge back to the cars. Tired but exhilarated our first day had been a great success. On meeting Gary back at the ranch it took on an even brighter glow with his tales of double figure pollack taken in 90 feet of water on a 30 gram jig head. Keeping two pollack for the landlord one of which weighed 4.oz the areas sea angling potential became even clearer. That evening after dinner I caught dab to specimen weight and my aim is to catch a double figure ling from the shore.

West Cork has it all as a tourism angling destination scenery, pubs, restaurants, varied quality accommodation, and plenty of fish. Most sea fishing is located off the main tourist trails, which isn’t a bad thing, and as stated earlier is extremely weather dependant while involving a lot of research and graft to unlock its true potential. However for those adventurous enough to make the long journey, a sea fishing trip to the rebel county will repay your enterprise in spades. Tight lines…..

Ashley Hayden © June 2012

Further reading, click on: Pollack a Plenty.

Further reading, click on: Whole Lotta Wrasse.