Is there anything better than that annual trip finally coming around? The week before is spent packing, prepping and generally scheming with the lads. Usually, my trip to Kerry involves hauling the Kayak but this year a few of us got together to purchase a small boat to really open up our fishing avenues and extend our reach.
As much as I love my kayak fishing and how brilliant it has been for sea fishing in particular for me, there are some areas that just don’t suit kayaks. One of those areas is County Kerry, in the South West of Ireland, where I have been making an annual week-long pilgrimage for five or six years.
For five years I brought the kayak down, hoping to get out and fish the reefs, but weather and sea conditions meant that I only got the kayak out twice in those 5 weeks. Added to that the sheer distances involved from launch spots to the target areas, and I realised that a mode of fishing with greater range and sea faring ability was required. The three of us that go together set about researching and came out the far side with a 15 foot Seahog Hunter, built in the mid 90s, and named her Liffey Dancer.
After the first year, with engine trouble causing havoc, we upgraded from a 25hp to a 40hp engine, which zips along really nicely on the plane. The boat is a perfect size for launching on the small, steep slipways, that are invariably in poor condition and choked with pot boats and punts. Any boat bigger than 15-16 foot would be very tricky to launch and retrieve in these severely rural locations.
The species on our hit list, when the weather allowed, were wide ranging: big Ling and Conger on the deeper reef marks, Blue Shark a few miles offshore, Spurdog, and Common Skate. Unfortunately, in a relatively small boat, the days when these target species can be fished for are limited, so the inshore reefs are the usual targets. A larger boat may open up more possibilities, but as I said earlier, a larger boat would be very tricky to launch on the slipways around this part of Ireland.
I also suspect that some of the reef marks around the area will hold Porbeagle shark, but that would need some serious time commitment to search the reefs for suitable holding areas. Fishing the many sandy areas will throw up a wide variety of species too, Rays, Gurnards, Flatfish, and the many small river estuaries reputedly hold good stocks of Sea Trout, so the possibilities for a small boat angler are endless.
Inevitably our sharking plans are scuppered on arrival as the forecast just isn’t in our favour so we need to go to plan B and see what the inshore reefs have to offer.
The first alarm goes off at 5am, I groggily get up and get dressed, and after a cup of coffee jump in the car for the ten-minute drive to the slipway. The boat is launched for the first time, and after a short steam, we drop Sabikis in the middle of the harbour for some bait. Within seconds we have got a shoal of lovely fat Mackerel under the boat. What a start to the first fishing trip in the new boat! Within minutes there are dolphins swimming around us, feeding on the same shoal that we’re targeting for bait, the sea is alive with all sorts of wildlife, Fulmar, Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Common Dolphin, all feeding on the abundant fish life in this part of Kerry.
There are numerous reports of Humpback, Fin and Minke whales all over the south west of Ireland, which just add to our excitement for the days fishing. We make our way through the light rain, the small boat clipping over the tops of the waves, until we reach our mark for the day, a reef that rises from 150 feet of water to within 30 feet of the surface.
First drift, first drop and we’re both into fish, and we each land a brace of fat Pollack, bellies full of Sprat and Sandeel. Down again, and it’s the same result, more hard fighting reef inhabitants that dive for the cover of the rocky pinnacles below. Drift after drift, drop after drop, we hit Pollack, Scad, Mackerel, Coalfish, not a drop goes without getting hit by something. This is inshore reef fishing at its absolute best, and doing so from your own boat makes it that bit more satisfying!
The beauty of this area is that there is so little recreational fishing done that the quality of fishing is really good on the inshore reefs. On all but the roughest days, you can find a sheltered area, and fish reefs that are inhabited by a wide range of species. Pollack are the staple of the reefs in this part of the world, with Coalfish, Cod, Ling, Conger and Wrasse completing the list of fish you can reasonably expect to catch. With more refined tackle and lighter tackle, you could expand that list considerably I’m sure, but I usually fish to catch something that will fight hard and/or give me a tasty meal.
The general stamp of Pollack is about 4-6lb, with fish of 7-9lbs not uncommon, and the double figure fish taken occasionally. I usually target them with an 8-12 lb class rod, armed with hokkais or baited muppet rigs. This year, strangely, I couldn’t buy a take from a Pollack on baited muppets, but the medium sized hokkais cleaned up. Perhaps this year the Sprat weren’t there in the same numbers as last year and so the Pollack were feeding on something else? Who knows, just proves you’re always learning on the water.
To the never-ending amusement of my fishing partners, I persist in bringing a soft plastics rod out fishing the reefs, but rarely have the chance to use it, due to the speed of drift that is almost always encountered out here. It’s not surprising, the North Atlantic is at the mouth of the bay you’re fishing. Even on the calmest day, there can be a huge swell rolling in from the middle of the ocean, the remnants of yet another storm, that can make shore fishing impossible and boat fishing uncomfortable. Add in 10 or 15 knots of wind and you have very unpleasant conditions fairly quickly!
One notable catch this year was a Cuckoo Wrasse of 41cm, weighing just 2 ounces short of the Irish record, caught on our boat, Liffey Dancer, by the grandson of the lady we rent a house from in the area. Again, this fish was caught 100 yards from shore in 50 feet of water, very close to home for a near record fish! Fishing was a little slower than anticipated but still, some very good inshore fishing was had, with Pollack to 10lb, Ling to 9lb, Coalfish to 4lb, and a handful of Sardines even made their way onto the BBQ of an evening, which was delicious. Perhaps climate change is already changing the species we can target, I know some Almaco Jacks were caught in Ireland this year, unheard of previously.
Ling are my favourite fish to eat, they’re as good if not better than Cod or Hake, and Hake isn’t something I’ve heard of being targeted by small boat anglers! The appetite for a big Ling hunt was whetted this year when, whilst bashing Pollack on one of the reefs, a fish was taken half way up by a bigger fish, and a Pollack of 6lbs came up with some big gashes and teeth marks across its flank. It would be a fair-sized Ling to have a go at a Pollock of 6lbs. Some serious time will be spent searching the reefs for a 20lb Ling next summer, and hopefully a good Conger will come along at the same time!
Just as in kayak fishing, safety is paramount when boat fishing. Engine trouble is the primary cause of accidents at sea, so having an engine in good order is essential. An auxiliary on the transom is a necessity, just in case: before we upgraded our engine, we were 70 metres from a humpback whale feeding when the engine cut out and would not start! The heart rate went up a bit while we got the auxiliary started and away from potentially being struck by a hungry whale!
Wearing a lifejacket is not just common sense, it’s the law, and it takes nothing away from a days fishing by wearing one. At least two means of communication should be carried, VHF radio, mobile phone, Personal Locator Beacon are the options to have on board. I repeat myself again from what I wrote in my kayak fishing article, but knowing your own limits, your equipment’s limits and staying within what you feel safe doing are the most important elements of safety on the water. You can’t put a price on safety, and no day’s fishing is worth risking your life for!
An added bonus of having a boat is the possibility of fishing a few pots for the table. In Ireland you can fish six pots without a licence, and there are strict limits on the size and number of Crab and Lobster you can take. So be sure to check the most up to date sizes and quotas in the area you intend to try. Hauling pots makes for a filthy boat, but the tasty meal at the end of it is worth the effort!