As it is the winter and at this time of the year the daylight hours are short, the weather is cold and windy and boat sea fishing opportunities become slim, especially to get outside the harbour, when that calm day does come along (hopefully on a weekend) you have to make a break for it!

I am very lucky that my dad and a few of his friends have their own boats that are based in different parts of the country. Just before the last article, my dad and I got an invite from Martin Kennedy, the owner of Shamrock Tackle, to try a winter trip for tope.

It is a long journey, about 368km round trip that works out about 5hr 20min drive for only 6 hours of fishing. You can guess that this didn’t put me off. I love my fishing and it had to be a yes. We had a 5am start to be there before 8am which would allow enough time to get the boat refuelled and gear on board. We’d then have a 1 hour steam towards Wicklow to Martin’s tope mark. 

Martin Kennedy, owner of Shamrock Tackle, has a cracking barracuda boat

With the boat doing a steady 25knots, we were at the mark in just under an hour. We got the boat anchored and it was time to get our Shamrock Tackle tope traces baited up with mackerel and down to the bottom. It didn’t take long before the first fish was hooked and as luck would have it, the honour fell to me. The fish took off with some power, using the tide to its advantage.

With my legs back and arms working hard I was able to get the tope to the surface and when I saw it I knew straight away that it was well over specimen size! After some quick photos and measurements we had the fish recorded and returned to the water. With the specimen ticked off for myself so soon, there would be no pressure on me for the rest of the day and anything further would be a real bonus. 

Tope are super fighting fish so remember to keep putting buckets of water over them and get them back into the water ASAP

We got the baits back down and it didn’t take long before my rod bent over once more whilst the line was disappearing rapidly off of my reel. This time, the tope wasn’t giving up easily. 

Eventually, with a heart thumping epic battle nearly over, I could see the tope a few feet under the boat and it looked like another big girl. This session was turning into a dream. Two drops, two specimen tope. That drive was certainly worth it now!

Another specimen tope making the long journey worthwhile

With another specimen tope recorded and put back we were talking about the stamp of tope and whether there could be a monster swimming around down there. No doubt a very special fish may have been about…

…but after another four specimens we had to cut the trip short over some unexpected weather changes, leaving the sea state turning rather nasty for a small boat. Sadly, no monsters that we were talking about were to be had this day, but the great thing about fishing is that there is always another day.

Martin Kennedy with his first specimen tope on his own tope traces that are well made with the best wire money can buy

As we were putting the gear back into the jeep, Martin invited us back saying if a weather window appears we should have another go.

With other commitments and a relentless run of bad weather, it was over five weeks before Martin contacted us saying that he was going out again for a few hours if we would like to join him. Once more, the biggest consideration was the travelling time but, off the back of the success we’d enjoyed in such a short window on the prior trip we decided to go for it.

Unlike the first trip, we weren’t leaving the dock until 11.30am so we could take our time getting there. As we arrived, Martin had the boat started and gave us a hand with the gear and just like before we were on the mark and fishing within a hour. 

With the rods out, a surprising thing happened as both my dad’s and my rod took off at the same time! As my dad is stronger, he was able to get his fish to the boat first and when we saw her we all realised it was a pig of a tope, an absolute brute of a big girl!

A very good tope!

With the camera down and my fish also at the side of the boat ready to be brought onboard to be unhooked, Martin started the boat and turned on the pump to fill the transport tank with water. As it’s less than 5 minutes to land and we had done this a few times before we knew the tope would be safe. 

It’s important to have the right equipment to transport fish for weighing and if there is any doubt about the safety of the tope it should not be undertaken. My tope weighed in  just over 40lb so I couldn’t wait to see how big the other one was, which was notably larger!

Another specimen that fought like a demon

With a load of expletives coming out of my dad’s mouth , translating to the fact he forgot to bring the 100lb weight scales, we put the fish into the sling and the 60lb scales bottomed out at 63lb…

…while the fish was still touching the ground! What an incredible fish to bear witness to and supported our thoughts from the earlier trip that such a fish was there to be had.

1.73 metres long... what a fish!
My dad’s tope measured in at 1.73m long and was estimated to be over 70lb

When we put back the tope, we could barely hold them as they powered off. Quickly, Martin had the boat back on the mark as we knew we only had a short time left as the wind was picking up all the time. 

It didn’t take long before Martin had one at the side of the boat where he quickly released it. He re-baited and dropped down but, before he could sit down he was in again and like before unhooked a lovely tope at the side off the boat. He then said lines up in 5 minutes.

With time up my Dad started to reel in and as I was just picking up my rod I felt a thump and I was in again. I put as much pressure on the rod as I could to get her to the boat as quickly as possible. When I had the fish in my hands and photographs taken we pulled anchor and headed in. It had to be the best short fishing session I ever had. I would like to thank Martin Kennedy for this super 2022 session and a brilliant start to the season. Let’s hope it proves to be a sign of things to come. 

Last specimen of the day. Hopefully the rest of the year will be as good as this trip