An Irish Anglers World

Winter Codling on the Beara Peninsula.

Sea angling and the resilience of the marine environment never ceases to surprise. Cod stocks have taken a hammering over the last fifty years resulting in a near total collapse of the north Atlantic fishery. Ireland’s inshore waters reflect this slaughter with the Irish sea, once a cod fishery of renown, now a shadow of its former self with an estimated 90% of the stock commercially removed. Enter the year 2010 and most certainly a series of lucky anomalies, definitely not a bye product of good fisheries management, has resulted in large shoals of two and three year old codling all along our south coast. From Wexford to West Cork boat anglers have been  catching codling in the one to four pound class since mid summer. Into October and these same fish are following the shoals of sand eel and sprat inshore and are now within range of beach, pier, estuary, and rock anglers. A recent visit to the Beara Peninsula in West Cork provided an evenings cod fishing reminiscent of that which was enjoyed twenty plus years ago, and came as a complete surprise to the anglers that experienced it.

Winter cod fishing is a tough sport, inclement weather, rough seas, strong tides, and remote locations punctuate the best fishing marks. Successful anglers need gear and tackle to match the conditions and it is fair to say that cod fishing has led the way in tackle design suitable for surf and rock fishing. Rods may have got longer, 11.5′ – 14′ poles in the space of 25 years but reels have remained a constant since Daiwa first produced the 7HT. That and either of ABU’s 6500 and 7000 series reels combined with a surf pole from the likes of Daiwa, Grauvell, Zziplex, or Conoflex serve to get the bait to the fish. When rock fishing longer more heavy duty rods in conjunction with a 7000 size reel help winch the terminal tackle, and hopefully a cod, in faster and higher so aiding to avoid snags on the retrieve.

Roger Ball with a fine catch of Beara Peninsula codling.

Terminal tackle for cod should be simple one or two hook paternosters being ideal. Hook snoods, about 30-45cms in length of Amnesia, can be clipped down if greater distance is desired. 2/0 round bend Kamazans or larger (up to 4/0 if big fish are expected) at the business end coupled with a five ounce grip complete the set up. Make sure to incorporate at least sixty pound breaking strain nylon in the foundation of the trace and the same as a shock leader on the reel. Bait in my opinion amounts to lugworm, lugworm, and if in doubt lugworm. Peeler crab can score higher in summer and in certain estuary marks such as Youghal and Waterford but for consistency look no further than the humble lug.

As for cod fishing locations on the Beara, my apologies I am going to be vague, however the fish are there as the images prove and a bit of homework in advance will pay dividends. To help why not book in at that fine B/B run by Anne and Paul Harris, Dromagowlane House, close to the village of Adrigole. Paul supplies bait, terminal tackle, and knows which marks are fishing. After that purchase an ordnance survey map of the area and seek out locations that provide access to clean ground close to headlands and strong tidal flows. Finding and experimenting at different venues coupled with asking the locals can elicit quite useful information as this writer will show further into this piece. The fish illustrated were caught during a flattie session where the bait was cast onto clean ground off rock platforms. The cod present were feeding on sandeel many of which were regurgitated after the fish were landed.

A typical Beara Peninsula codling circa October 2010.

Once a potential mark is established in most cases to reach clean ground a cast of fifty metres over rough or graunchy seabed will be necessary, hence the need for a fast retrieve set up. Given that a walk is usually involved travel light and only bring what is absolutely necessary in a rucksack. Spare reel, made up traces, leader line, hooks, swivels, small selection of plain and grip weights, clip links, scissors, filleting knife, head torch, super glue, a couple of spinners, and a set of feathers. I usually bring just one beach caster and always a spinning set up for bait catching purposes and to pass the time if things are slow. All the above along with some grub, wet weather gear, and a bait bucket should be sufficient to cover any eventualities while also being neat, tidy, and light to carry.

Set up in the above fashion and due to gale force weather conditions I found myself on a mark by chance. Weather determines were one fishes on the Beara Peninsula and this day was no exception. In the lee of a large mountain the relatively calm surface blanketed a medium swell, gusts generated intermittent white caps and a watery sun made an occasional appearance between the showers. Dressed for the occasion in full wet gear on approaching my chosen spot a local fisherman stated that, “I would be wasting my time, the fishing would be far better off the point”. Mentioning that I had heard there was clean ground in close and that I wasn’t targeting wrasse and pollack he changed tack. “I occasionally shoot a tangle net for flats about 50 yards off, you could be lucky”, and off he went. Armed with this positive information relating to my prefered species I enthusiastically tackled up.

A nice plump Beara Peninsula Dab.

Casting a two hook lug tipped with white rag paternoster a hundred metres into the rising tide, after letting the grips settle into the seabed I leaned the surf rod against a suitable rock, picked up the spinning kit and proceeded to work a 32 gram silver kilty lure. The rough ground close in was home to small pollack up to a pound and a half which along with an occasional coalfish provided good sport on the light gear. Catching about half a dozen within a half hour while checking bait on the surf rod every ten minutes I noticed a distinctive rattle on the beach rod, followed by a lean and a slack line. Exchanging kit I felt a kick down the line and proceeded to strike and reel in. A nice dab broke surface just as my fishing companions Roger, Dave, and Rob over from England on a fishing holiday appeared.  A vacation which was surpassing all expectations was just about to go into overdrive.

While they set up a second dab fell to my rod plus another pollack or two while spinning. By this stage Roger had cast out and was very quickly into action. Bent into a good fish Roger reeled and pumped hard to get the catch up over the inshore snags. Landing the fish on a broad flat rock I could see the white belly sheen and brown flanks of a large codling. Roger was thrilled and cameras clicked into action preserving the moment. We could not believe it although Paul Harris had mentioned that he and a party encountered codling in a nearby bay about four weeks previous. Instantly my rod banged over, the solid thump thump resistance signaled one thing and shortly after codling number two came ashore. Obviously no flash in the pan all rods were baited and fishing at this stage and then the action really started.

A brace of Beara Peninsula codling.

As the tide rose so the fish came on, codling in ones and two’s interspersed with dab, wrasse, and pollack. This was quality mixed fishing that most sea anglers across the United Kingdom and Ireland just do not encounter nowadays. What made it special besides the frequency of bites and range of species was the quality and average size of the fish being landed. All the round fish averaged close to two pounds while the best dab weighed 1.5lbs on the nose. The evening progressed and codling came ashore in direct proportion to our dwindling lugworm supply. Most were returned catch and release with a few kept for the pot. Then it was over, the fish were still there but the bait was gone. Dave had one last cast with whatever washed out lug was left on his trace. He got a bite and landed a fish, returned.

Packing up we considered what we had just experienced. Certainly, and I remember the good east coast cod runs off Greystones and Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow, this was up there comparing with any sessions from that time. We had lost count of how many fish were landed or the amount of double headers, certainly two dozen codling before the bait ran out, partnered by a number of wrasse, dabs, and pollack. The previous two hours had disappeared in a welter of non stop action. We felt privalged and elated to have experienced such fishing. In this day and age it does not happen to often. God bless and long live cod a species engrained in the souls of fishermen across the globe.

See also: Winter Codling, the Shore Anglers Favourite.