20th March was set as the date for the 3rd leg of the popular long running Leinster league series.  The original venue had been scheduled for Ballinoulart in Wexford but, stiff easterlies combined with large tides rendered those venues unsafe and North Beach, Wicklow was wisely put forward as a back-up venue.  We had fished this beach for the first leg of the league back in January and there had been plenty of counting fish, so it was a popular enough choice and certainly one I was comfortable travelling to having had a sighter on it back in January.

I had fished the Connacht Open Gold Medal the day before in Killala, Mayo and stayed in Mayo that night so it was an early start for the trip from one side of the country to the other.  Traffic was light and save a stop for the customary breakfast roll and coffee, there was little to hold a man up on a quiet Sunday morning.  Thankfully, the howling easterly we had to deal with the night before on the West coast was all but gone on arrival in Wicklow.  A quick check in and a short drive later and it was time to hoist the box onto the back and head for my peg.  I had been fortunate to draw in the lower numbers, peg 16, which anecdotally are deemed to fish better, they certainly did when we were here in January.  A sloppy slapping wave at the edge with some nice colour in the water certainly looked fishy and there was a level of anticipation as gear was prepared ready for the off.

One of the best decisions that was taken in the running of this league was that to restrict it to a specific range of baits.  Some hate that idea and I do understand completely that the effort taken to gather and source a wide range of perfect baits is certainly a skill worth having.  

That said, when time is short or availability poor, the fact that you don’t need a bucket of fresh crab or maddies to expect to compete makes the decision whether to go an easy one.  Rag and crab are banned, so effectively you are looking at primarily lug and fish baits which most anglers and shops would have access to.  For my part I had brought some fresh blacks pumped two days before and frozen to soften them up a bit, 4 frozen mackerel and a pack of sandeel.  20 fresh lug from the previous days comp were still alive and kicking and it was a variety as good as anyone else had for sure!

I haven’t had much opportunity to fish the east coast over the past 10-12 years and it’s a bit of a learning experience currently.  The run out on the same venue in January and the lessons learned from that day would hopefully stand me in good stead to at least be competitive, not taking half the comp to click like the last visit.  Coming through like a train in the last hour having figured things out is all well and good but not much use when you have given the lads around you a 4-hour start!  Pop-ups at around 90-100 yards had worked well last time for the small whiting and dabs that had made up the bulk of the scoring and it was with this in mind I geared up ready.  Flapper traces with 8mm luminous floating beads to size 8s with neat little black and mack baits were where I was going to start.  I had a couple of clip downs baited up ready, again with the pop-up beads in case I needed a few more yards but given you are casting from a height and given the coloured water, I didn’t expect distance to be too much of a factor.  Some test casts prior to lines in told me a 4oz double pyramid should hold well enough with a small degree of movement and that’s how things started.

The competitors line the beach

Well, sometimes, the best laid schemes can go out the window fairly quickly and so it came to be.  Pegged beside one of Ireland’s finest lady anglers, Pat Shortt with Des Farrelly the next peg down I was keeping a close eye on what was happening to my left.  We weren’t 5 minutes into the comp before Des was pulling in a high scoring dogfish and Pat a minute or two later had opened her account with the expected whiting.  My first cast yielded a treble shot of 3 undersize whiting.  We are allowed to count a total of 10 points for each of your first 5 undersize fish and after that they’re worth nought so whilst it was a welcome 30 points to start, I was anxious to tweak things to keep them off and hopefully let the bigger ones have a go!  My back up traces were all baited similarly so it was no surprise on the second cast there was another mini whiting and one scoring 18cm plus fish swinging off them.  During the second cast soak I had changed tactics slightly to hedge the bets on the dogfish whilst keeping in touch with the whiting.  Stepping up a hook size or two to size 4s and presenting soft skinless mackerel sausage baits should hopefully pull in a doggie or two if around whilst giving the whiting of any notable size ample opportunity to take the baits also.  

You won’t get too long out of mackerel presented in this fashion before it gets washed out, but 8-10 minutes is ample time to pull in the fish with the high initial scent factor it gives.  Suitably tweaked, out went the next cast a few yards further with a 5 oz gripper in place this time.

It’s great when a plan comes together and over the next hour and a half or so, dropping the casts into the same spot each time a half dozen doggies along with decent numbers of mostly counting whiting hit the card with fish appearing on every cast.  Casts were being fished at around 9–10-minute intervals, it was just enough time to get your catch unhooked, measured, trace sorted and back in again without running round like a lunatic.  Having a tidy workstation and everything at hand helps massively when it’s busy like this and the hour spent pre comp preparing bait and organising the area paid dividends.  Too often, when it’s hectic, you see lads tripping over stuff, knocking things over, messing up casts, trampling through traces etc.  Keep it calm and keep your area organised and you will keep your casts turning over metronomically with a minimum of fuss.  You could have set your watch by Pat Shortt on peg 15, she had plenty of fish, with the casts plopping in every 10 minutes or so and not once did I see her rushing.

A competitive junior section

The dogfish dried up after a couple of hours, but the whiting kept on coming.  It was hard to know where things stood from a scoring perspective, there were rumours of larger numbers of doggies from one of the lower pegs but it’s hard to separate fact from fiction when fish are coming in around you in numbers.  I knew that the card I was building was going to be well up there especially having managed to connect with a half dozen 50-point doggies.  Fishing slightly larger baits at 20-30 yards further out than surrounding pegs had kept most of my fish over the 18cm mark when others around struggled to get through the marauding hordes of 15-17cm fish.  Straight mackerel was working better than anything else and I was wishing I had brought another pack as later in the comp I was using all sorts of scraps!

The fishing died off a little with the easing of the dropping tide but still singles and the odd double were hitting the shingle with enough regularity to keep things interesting.  It had been a long day since leaving Mayo at 7am and I can’t say I was sorry when 6pm rolled around and the call for lines in was made!   One more counting whiting hit the card to tip me over the 1000-point mark which was a nice number to end up on.  It had been hard graft at times but there was a spring in the step walking back to the car.  I knew in my heart that a win was unlikely, but I was pleased with how the day had gone and with the tactics on the day working well, I wasn’t walking off the beach with any regrets.  To say it was tiring was an understatement but with the card handed in I went home happy enough with the day’s proceedings with a stop for a well earned burger on the way home.  15,000 steps, on shingle, in chest waders buys you a lot of credit from the calorie fairy!

A little swell

As rumour filtered into results, albeit unofficial, the jungle drums had been fairly accurate.  Noodles(Paul Tyndall) had indeed got stuck into a bag of doggies from peg 7 along with the ubiquitous whiting to take Zone A with 38 fish and 1164 points and with it the win on the day.  Alby Allen, a man never too far away from the top at these things had taken Zone B with 45 fish for 1104 points.  My card of 37 fish for 1011 points was enough for second place in Zone A with Anthony Scanlon on 35 fish for 879 points in 3rd.  In Zone B, David Coleman had 46 fish for 1040 points for second with Killian Farrelly in 3rd with 867.  The Junior section was won by Max Roche with 25 fish for 642 points.

Credit where it’s due to South Shore SAC, they are masters at running events like this.  The organisation was slick, check in was swift and safe and the beach was very well pegged, they run a tight operation up there.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable day, great to be able to come back to a venue and apply the lessons from previous visits and have it work out.  Looking forward to the next foray already!

Delivering the baits to the feeding zone
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