This last month seems to have gone by quicker than usual. Here in Ireland the alleged summer is still on the missing list and you would be forgiven for thinking you were the victim of some cruel joke when it’s still essential to pack rain gear for any session. However, across the Irish Sea there seems to be some football being played and the wealth of football watching opportunities has me rushing to finish before football frenzy overtakes Hookpoint HQ.

Originally, I had hoped to write an article on my triumph at the All Ireland open last weekend. 

Naturally that went to pot as a howling east wind wiped out my tactics and had me limp into 10th place out of 95. Irish international and big hitter Paul Whelan scooped first spot on the day in the men’s and I was delighted that my cousin Liz McMahon took top spot in the ladies section. Top junior was Cathal O Reilly who put in a strong performance beating a good share of the senior anglers along the way. With one of the plans down the drain a brilliant day’s fishing for Spurs and Tope on the boat with my father seemed like a decent story to tell. Then I read Amy’s piece and saw the incredible pictures so that got canned too.

The shannon has some considerable tide pull at certain stages of the tide.
Streamline baits are best, to get as much distance as possible.

That’s the reason I found myself thinking outside the box and in a fully loaded truck before dawn. A change of scene was necessary and for that reason I headed North to the Shannon River. The longest river in Ireland is also home to some exceptional fishing in its lower reaches. Congers, Tope and Thornbacks all have their place in the estuary and a determined specimen hunter could really fill their boots in the stretch between Foynes in County Limerick and Ballybunion in Kerry. 

I arrived just in time to see the sun rise over the Shannon and then the rain roll in. Even though I was exhausted from the nightshift I was also very determined and the conditions looked perfect. I’d be fishing up to high water and a couple of hours into the ebb hopefully in the company of new club mates Fiachra Cronin and Jay Ryan. 

it was encouraging to hear the pier had been fishing well
Simple baits and simple rigs.

This isn’t a notoriously snaggy area but it can suffer badly with line snags from lost gear. That coupled with the possibility of a run from a Tope meant I would be using my Yuki Sublime and Century bb with beefed up 18lb and 80lb leader. My personal best Thornback comes in at a paltry 8lb so I had that firmly in my sights as I hit a tired pendulum closer than I’d like to admit.

First bait up was a Bluey and Mackerel wrap on a Pulley rig followed quickly with a Launce and Mackerel wrap on an up & over rig. This would cover a few angles and settle a debate on pulley vs up & over rigs.

They are exceptional fish to capture, with a prehistoric look to them at times
The Shannon is notorious for incredibly spiked thornbacks.

Worryingly enough my first 3 casts were stripped bare, only baiting thread remained of my neat and tidy baiting. Crabs were feeding hard and this would give no fish a chance to get to the baits. Determined to bag a Ray I ploughed on interchanging and wrapping baits until a small disturbance in the force got my attention.

My rod that had been nicely bent over in the tide had eased up straight. I lifted into it and felt a small rush of happiness as a very small ray of around 2lb broke the surface. It wasn’t big but it was a start and it had taken the Bluey and Mackerel cocktail.

Chris with a new PB thornback ray
A quick measure to check for speciment qualifiers.

Having had a red letter day the previous day Fiachra, or Figgs as he’s better known arrived bright and early with Jay and were just in time to hear my reel scream off. A nice fight and some deep diving by the side of the pier ensued. As I walked the ray around to the steps a couple of swimmers decided to exit the water a lot quicker than normal. The sight of the ferocious thorns on the Shannon Rays changed their opinion on swimming here.

Quick as you like we had it landed, measured, weighed and released. No sooner had I re-baited when the second rod headed down tide at a rate of knots. I suspected the bunches of weed coming through had grabbed me but the tell tale head knocks convinced me otherwise and a Thornie of 10lb resulted. 

One of many thornback rays of this stamp
Another great thornback ray

Jay was next up with a thumping bite but the fish spat the hook early in the fight. No time to dwell on it though as Figgs was into another ray to add to his tally from yesterday. The rays were using the savage tide rip to their advantage and making life hard for us but a little team work goes a long way and a Ray of 7lb was on the pier in no time. As the tide started to slow confidence was sky high.

The plan of using the day to figure out which rig worked best went out the window completely as the rays didn’t seem to care at all once there was a nice juicy bait attached. What we did notice was the rays tendency to spit up hardback crabs and shrimp. Would it be worth gathering some from the muddy shoreline before the next session? I think so. 

A quick drop down the steps is required to land these fish from this mark, so is easier with a mate
Stunning colours on this Thornback

Jay got in on the action and landed two small rays while figs and myself tipped away  with a couple of slightly better ones. Once again the bites started to slow and the crabs took over and thoughts of the drive home started to creep in. Local man Kieran arrived and took my spot as I packed up the truck. I’d of loved nothing more than to fish on for another few hours but in truth I was exhausted and had plenty to write home about for once.

I had added a good 2lb to my pb Thornback, gotten some great pics and had plenty of laughs with the lads all morning. By the time I stopped for a ten minute rest and a coffee my phone had five messages from Figgs. He had gone and beaten his pb too with an 11lb fish.

Each Thornback is uniquely marked, so you can identify a fih from its pattern.

So what started out as a work assignment turned into a great mornings fishing and considering the lads are relatively new to fishing it was a massive success. The top baits on the day seemed to be the ones you could cast furthest with fish coming on Launce, Mackerel and Bluey.

The only bait that didn’t produce for me in fact was squid. We had over a dozen rays in the session from 2lb to 11lb and its fair to say that Figgs had accounted for more than half of them putting his experience from the day before to good use. I don’t think I’ll leave it long before heading back. 

One final thornback on the specimen measure!
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