An Irish Anglers World

Tope Alley, off Greystones, Co. Wicklow, Ireland.

Ireland’s overfished inshore waters still have a card or two to play when it comes to providing quality sport fishing, bass of course, smooth hound, mullet, and pollack immediately come to mind. To that list one can add tope, a species that to date has not been commercially targeted, grows to a large average size, is available to both shore and boat anglers, and most importantly makes repeated powerful runs when hooked. A sleek greyhound of the sea, equipped with a mean set of gnashers, tope are widespread around the coast with Rathmullen, Carlingford, Wicklow, Courtown, Kilmore Quay, and the Shannon Estuary just a few prolific centres that come to mind.

A brace of Greystones tope for the Mitchell brothers Dermot and Gerry.

Greystones, is another such venue and a recent trip out after tope reminded me how important the species is to this once famous angling centre, steeped as it is in the annals of rod and line fishing in Ireland, and always in my mind associated with clubs such as the Greystones Ridge, Knights of the Silver Hook, Inchicore, and Dublin City. The once prolific grounds of the Moulditch, Kilcoole bank, and Breaches shoal attracted and were home to an immense variety of fish species not twenty years ago, today they lie denuded and broken but tope thankfully still visit arriving in July and staying nowadays well into October/November.

If you want to catch a specimen tope, i.e. a fish over the magic forty pound marker, then Greystones is most certainly one of the top places to try. Having analysed Irish Specimen Fish Committee records going back to 1975, discounting two years 1979 and 1981 for which I could not access information, 39 tope have been landed to forty pounds plus from the venue. A 54.10 lbs fish tempted by a mackerel flapper and landed by Robert McClean on the 02/08/2010 being the biggest recorded. July is the earliest month that specimen tope have been caught off Greystones, with October the latest.

Launching the Jean Anne off the new slip at Greystones, Co. Wicklow, Ireland.

July 1st last saw Gary Robinson and I launch Jean Anne from the new slip at Greystones Harbour. At 08.30am it had been an early start, high water though was scheduled for 12.15pm on a medium/strong 3.8 meter tide. The plan was to catch mackerel and anchor up for the last of the flood and the start of the ebb in the deep channel at the back of the Moulditch, hopefully connecting with an early season lunker or two. As with all great plans they never go accordingly, a scarcity of mackerel being the prime reason.

Motor two humps off Bray Head and commence trolling your feathers is the traditional way to locate mackerel off Greystones. Having found the shoal cut your engine and bag up. On this occasion after an hour Gary and I were getting desperate with only one mackerel in the bucket. A move in towards the cable rock though produced a result with a couple of full houses along with ones, twos, and threes. Not big mackerel, predominantly joeys, but enough bait for the day with a few left over for tea. Motoring a mile or so south we anchored up north east of the Moulditch buoy, fishing into an ever increasing southerly run with about ten fathoms below the hull.

Catching mackerel for bait off Bray Head, Co. Wicklow, Ireland.

“Old Yeller”, an old (yes very old) twenty pound class solid glass Milbro boat rod, a piece of kit which I am constantly slagged about was matched up with an equally ancient Penn No.49 narrow spool reel. Each about thirty years old but looked after and in good nick, they do the business. Loaded with thirty pound braid connected by an Albright knot to an eighty pound rubbing leader, a running ledger was set up incorporating a further four foot of eighty pound nylon attached to a two foot home made wire trace at the business end of which was an 8/0 Cox and Rawle hook. Utilising the modern plastic equivalent of a Clements boom to keep things tidy in the strong current, the rig was lowered to the bottom using the least amount of lead necessary. On that day at anchor Gary and I got away with a pound which is average, but on bigger tides at the height of the run to maintain contact with the bottom drifting might be the only option.

Bait as stated was fresh mackerel cut into a flapper. Work a sharp filleting knife from the tail towards the head along one side leaving the fillet connected to the head. On completion reverse and do likewise to the other side. Cut the backbone out and remove, try to leave the guts attached. Push the point of your hook through the roof of the baits mouth. Work the hook through and out the head pulling a section of the wire trace after it. Next insert the hook through one of the fillets exposing the barb to the outside and tidy up by pulling the wire trace away from the hook towards you. The bait is now ready for fishing.

Dogfish can be a real pest while tope fishing, munching through mackerel flappers with abandon.

Having dropped our lines it was not long before the fresh mackerel flappers received attention. LSD’s started savaging our baits the only positive distraction being a small huss, which as only huss can do grabbed hold of the bait without getting hooked, holding on for dear life as it was hauled up through sixty feet of moving water, such tenacity. Gary and I persevered as the tide grew stronger and the day got hotter. Weather wise it could not have been better, high pressure had settled in giving light variable winds under a clear blue sky. The tope however were conspicuous by their absence and did not show, at least not that day anyway.

The famous red Moulditch buoy off Greystones, Co. Wicklow, Ireland.

Reeling back time a little to October 18th 2009 and things were just a little different. A steady force four blew from the south west, the sky was grey and bait could not have been easier to find. Two humps off Bray Head and again close to the cable rock, on this occasion I was a guest of Dermot and Gerry Mitchell, our feathers and sadikis connected not only with mackerel but plump fat herring stuffed with roe. The sea was so thick with fish that scales and oil slicked the surface. The herring were about ten foot down with the mackerel swimming underneath, a special moment harking back to better more productive times before greed and overfishing made its mark.

Having secured our bait Dermot motored his craft anchoring in a similar area to where Gary and I fished in the account above. On this occasion the south run was piling along making fishing at anchor impossible, so we made the decision to drift. With wind against tide our drift was slow and our ledgered mackerel flappers (the herring being for human consumption) bounced along the clean bottom 10 fathoms below.

A fifty pound plus tope caught and released off Greystones, Co. Wicklow, Ireland.

On the outside edge of the Kilcoole bank I got a run. Giving the fish 10 seconds I drove the iron home as it was slowing down, in this instance there was no acceleration of power just a reasonable weight and a few kicks. “Is it big Ash”, “No” says I reeling the tope towards the boat, that was to change when the fish saw the hull. All of a sudden it took off pulling yards of line on what was the first of many short runs over a fight which lasted about five minutes. Eventually I think Dermot did the honours grabbing the tope by the wrist and dorsal fin before heaving it over the side. What a fish, grey and sleek, deep and broad backed, having seen and weighed specimen tope, this beast was fifty pound plus. With no scales that is where it will sit, judge yourself by the photograph. All agreed it was a lunker as we carefully returned the tope to the water.

By now with the south run easing we motored back up and anchored north east of the Moulditch. Our baits were no sooner in the water when Gerry got a run which came to nothing. Within five minutes my reel was spinning as a tope picked up the bait and headed towards Wicklow. Ten seconds and no slowing down I hit it, Old Yeller doubled over and the fish kept going. By now the tide run was not too strong and I leaned on the fish hoping to turn it, big mistake, a popping sensation then nothing. On reeling in my Albright knot had given up, I had been too hasty and applied too much pressure. As I was setting up again Gerry entered the fray with another run, this time there was no error and a text book fight resulted in a thirty pound plus fish which like its predecessor was returned after a few photos to fight another day.

A sixty pound plus tope for Gerry Mitchell from tope alley off Greystones, Co. Wicklow, Ireland.

Tope Alley runs along the back of the Moulditch reef and on down south skirting to the east of the Kilcoole bank and the Breaches shoal. Averaging ten fathoms (sixty feet) in depth, the bottom is clean, most likely mud, sand and gravel. Back in the day cod ran this channel from September. Today dogfish, huss, smooth hound, and tope make up the numbers. Not an easy place to fish being washed by strong tides, the set of the various banks mentioned and the overall shallow waters synonymous with the inshore grounds creating short mean seas on occasions. Keep a weather eye and ideally do not venture out unless accompanied by somebody who knows the local form.

Greystones has changed since I first fished the venue as a boy, the once abundant runs of cod and plaice in particular a thing of the past. The half finished harbour, a legacy of Celtic Tiger folly, is featureless and lacks atmosphere but given time has the potential to emulate its predecessor. A few boats still make the journey towards the Moulditch with a different quarry in mind as against the once prolific cod. Between now and late October for those adventurous enough to motor out and fish the deep channel east of the famous red buoy, more often then not your reels will sing and your rods will bend to one of Ireland’s great sport fish, a sleek greyhound with attitude, the tope.

For further reading click on: Screaming Reels.

Click on: Heatwaves and Tope.

Ashley Hayden © July 2011