The 6th of December 2020 is a long time ago now. Trump was president… Bitcoin was booming…. Britain was still a part of the EU and fishing competitions were allowed in Ireland. Then a sudden return to level 5 restrictions wiped out a number of early competitions, most notable the EFSA Winter beach competition held annually on the East Coast of Ireland. Then one by one the competitions pencilled in for later in the year began to fall by the wayside. The Home Nations to be held on the famous Chesil, the Yuki masters in Barcelona and the Daiwa ‘Irish pairs’ in Dingle, Ireland. The future looked bleak and some match anglers dropped the gear altogether, others turned to specimen hunting the bigger fish and whisper it quietly but some even turned to… coarse fishing.

Personally the last few competitions of 2020 did not go to plan for me. I’ve come up with a combination of excuses over the past five months as to why I didn’t do as well as I maybe should have. Chief amongst these was lack of preparation and relying on traces I had made for other venues doing a job. The real disappointment though came when I narrowly lost out on the clubs ‘Master Angler’ trophy to top local man Aidan O’Sullivan (no relation) in the last match. Aidan had a great mid season racking up wins and finished very strongly too. 

Excellent to see a match in full flow once more

Now however, we are finally back. The return to angling give a me a shot at redemption. A chance to improve upon the mistakes and laziness that undoubtedly cost me last year. Our first match of the year has finally come around and it’s a local beach that I know well. It’s one of them beaches that really benefits from practice but on the flip side its one that can throw up a wide range of species. These go from the top water hunting garfish to the down and dirty Bull Huss so there is a lot of practice needed and worse a lot of rigs. I have done extremely well here in previous years but always did the best when I had all bases covered.

My plan was a pretty simple on. Go and pre-fish the venue twice in the week before. It’s only twenty or so minutes from home so that’s not a big deal and part 2 of the plan was to monitor the Facebook pages and groups for any clues as to what might be happening in the bay. A quick look in the box meant a total rethink. Chaos. The box had been thrown in the shed in a sulk and had all the signs of it. The only positive was that now I had no excuse to fall back into the bad habits because all the old rigs were well rusted. 

A matchman's dream

So with that I set about making some rigs for the practice. I would be concentrating on Bull Huss/dogfish flounder/bass and some rigs for the occasionally plentiful Corkwing Wrasse/small Pollack. Not forgetting the Garfish and now you see what I mean about really needing to be prepared for this venue. Baits would be comparatively easy to get. A few lugworm, maddies, some Sandeel, some Mackerel and some enthusiasm.

Next up would be to match up the tides of my intended practice times with the competition. There is no point practicing over high water if the competition will be over low water. As the species on the feed may well be different at the different times of the tide. Match fishing is enjoyable…. Isn’t it?

With the box brought back to a less embarrassing standard, rigs tied and gear packed it was finally time for some actual fishing. 

A beautiful setting for a practice ahead of the match

I arrived to the beach and was quite happy to find it almost deserted. I planned a simple practice. I would use one big rod to fish the reef and weeds at distance and one for flounders 20 to 30m out. The winner would decide my tactics for the match. Immediately the mackerel baits took the lead and a plump doggie was landed. You may all hate doggies but they are every matchman’s friend and saviour at times. At 50pts each in our scoring they are very valuable specially if you can get them consistently. The lighter rod went and a 28cm flounder was the result but from here it all changed. Every cast resulted in a dog on the big mackerel baits and zero dogs to sandeel. That’s very unusual around here and so I doubled down on the big baits even pulling out a two hook flapper with 4/0s on and loading it with big baits.

Immediately the rod doubled over and thinking to myself ‘there is two hooks’ I left the bite to develop and hopefully a second dog to arrive. Slightly lifting the rod to stay out of the weeds close in I felt a tremendous pull. Holding the rod now the heart beat quickened, another heavy pull and I lifted into a far better fish. After some convincing I got it clear of the kelp. The repeated head shakes and overall weight had me thinking I might of tempted a conger out. How wrong I was when the looming dark back of a fine Bull Huss broke the water. It would of made for a fine video the way it thrashed its way in. A quick weigh showed it at 10lb and around 100cm. I thought to myself ‘God wouldn’t that be nice in the match’. 

A day too early, this would be a very welcome fish in a match

I headed for home and with a really solid game plan in place I excitedly explained it to my wife who for some reason didn’t seem to be as impressed. When the peg draw was published I was a little disappointed to see I was well away from where I had practiced but being closer to the reef I definitely had a great chance. With thirty eight entries it was going to be a serious competition. I was delighted to see so many of my angling mates back together having a laugh and catching up in the carpark before the whistle. There was also a nice air of competition in the atmosphere these anglers had all come to win. Except Jason Ryan who declared his confidence in coming last early on. 

1pm was finally upon us and baits went skyward. All manner of tactics from Gars  to Wrasse to Dogs  and Huss. Ten minutes passed and the first of the traces were retrieved. It didn’t look great, I had chosen to fish hard for the Dogs and Huss but lads using similar tactics all brought in either empty traces or the dreaded spider crabs and I was no different. First cast, one spider and some weed. As I was starting to think maybe I should have concentrated on the small fish my father Connie landed a nice little Huss of 71cm. A lovely scoring fish. Then my rod gave the tell-tale Doggie bite. I rushed back to leave it develop while baiting my spare trace and word filtered along of scattered dogs flounder and the Huss.

One of the flounder the beach is known to produce

When I finally lifted into my Doggie bite there was a serious weight coupled with head shaking. As I retrieved I didn’t have to guess for long what it was. A big dark and angry Huss broke the surface around 60m out and what looked like a poor doggie being dragged all over. With some coaxing I had a mini audience and my bounty of a fine Huss /Doggie double on the Yuki Sublime Casting. I’d of loved to weigh it but there just wasn’t time. Fortunately my niece Sorcha was visiting her grandparents for a holiday and was on hand to grab some lovely snaps. No more anglers cutting heads or fish out of the shot.

What a start. I was thrilled that the plan was paying off and I stuck at it for the next fruitless ninety minutes before deciding that a change was needed. It was very bright by now and the dogs had dried up on our side of the beach and by the time I had added a few Corkwing Wrasse to my scorecard it seemed like I was sailing. A quick call to my mate and reigning European open champion Troy Francis had me feeling confident for about seven minutes when a call back revealed he had a 99cm Huss on the beach. 

Repeating the trick in the match

Not usually nervous I was keenly aware that he was in the area I had practiced. I went back to the dogs and managed a small one but again word came up the beach that it was a three horse race with Troy finding the dogs at distance. I knew Connie had a Huss, two dogs and a few Corkwing so I knew I was up there. I added four further corkwing to finish on nine fish in total…. Troy finished on five but it’s all down to the maths. In previous years we would have gone to a local bar called the ‘Railway Tavern’. The owner Mike O’Neill passed away recently but was a tremendous supporter of the club so its doubly sad that with covid the bar remains closed and for the first time in an awful long time we didn’t visit for the results and a few refreshments.

So at home I anxiously waited for the scores to come through and the more I was adding and calculating the worse I was feeling about it. Finally though they did arrive and I ended up pipped at the post by my good friend Troy but with the consolation prize of the longest round fish pool to soften the blow. On a day when there was thirty eight entries and the club welcomed ten new members fishing was the real winner. Just being back amongst the anglers and on the beach was bliss. Top bait on the day for me was Mackerel on a three hook flapper with 4/0 hooks until the sun came out and I used 3 hook flappers with size 8 hooks and Ragworm for the wrasse. The diversity of fish is the beauty of Cappaclough and match fishing. Next up for me is the All Ireland open on the 26th of June. Its great to be back.

Small but beautiful, and they boosted my score whilst nothing else showed

The final results

3rd place Connie O’Sullivan 5 fish and 208 pts 

2nd Chris O’Sullivan 9 fish 287pts 

1st Troy Francis 5 fish 304pts 

Longest round fish Chris O’Sullivan 101cm Bull Huss 

Longest flat fish Ivan Fehir 33cm Flounder 

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