Each year I travel to the wonderful Aran Islands in Co. Galway for a week’s holiday, and this year we decided to stay on Inis Oirr (home of Father Ted), arriving for the first week in June. Aside from being one of the most beautiful and unspoilt parts of Ireland, the Aran Islands also offers wonderful fishing opportunities both from the shore or, if you are lucky enough to get out, also by boat.
The weather forecast prior to arrival on the island was pretty bleak with a lot of rain and strong winds promised. Plenty of rain and wind did materialise over the course of the week, but thankfully there was also some cracking sunny weather and periods in which the wind was either very light or even non-existent.
Over the course of the week I managed five fishing sessions, with each session lasting around an hour or two. My first session came after 24 hours of solid rain; once the rain cleared I hopped on my bike and took the 5 minute cycle to the first mark, on the north-west side of the island. I was met by strong north-westerly winds, but decided to try a few casts with some soft plastics. After just 10 fruitless minutes I thought I would be better off at a more sheltered mark and headed to a different spot on the opposite side of the island. Having a bike is absolutely brilliant to scoot around from one mark to another in a fairly short space of time, especially when the fishing time available is short..
The second mark is an old unused pier on the east of the island, with relatively deep water, and is a very solid spot for catching pollock. There was a very big swell rolling in and a high spring tide to boot, to the extent that every few minutes the swell would come over the top of the pier prompting me to backpedal pretty fast and hop around like an idiot trying to avoid the wash. I rigged up an Alewife Slug-go with 12.5g jig head, flung it out at distance and began the retrieve. When the lure was only 2 metres from the edge of the pier I had a good take and a pollock began crash diving down into the depths. After some give and take, and with the help of the big swell, a brilliant 5-6 lb. pollock was landed, not a bad start for the first cast of the holiday! If I had hooked this fish at a more rocky mark it would have been much more difficult to land, but with the help of the swell, high tide and accessibility of a pier it was nice to be able to land the fish easily. As luck would have it, this turned out to be my best fish of the week!
Pollock #1, approx. 5-6lb
I fished on at this mark for another 20 minutes and had another 2lb. pollock some time after. My dad came down to join me and we decided to move further south along the rocks. These rocks are also fantastic spots for pollock, mackerel, mullet and presumably wrasse (although I have not caught a wrasse I am sure the are present). I have seen large shoals of mullet here in the past, but I have no experience on fishing for them so I never really put in a concerted effort to catch one. It always does seem as though they won’t stay for long in any one spot, preferring to cruise up and down along a stretch of the coast.
The heavy swell was still rolling in, and it was almost the high tide mark when the next fish was landed, a 1-2lb. coalie. Coalie is such a similar fish to pollock, but to me they always feel a bit different on the retrieve, they seem more spirited and fight almost like a mackerel with that head shaking tug-tug-tug feeling.. Coalfish also seem to be far more feisty than pollock after being landed, tending to flip around a lot like a mackerel would. We fished on here for another few minutes, landing one more 1-2lb. pollock before packing it up.
Coalfish #1, approx. 2lb
The next fishing opportunity came a few days later, when I headed to the same pier mark for just an hour either side of the high water mark. The tide was a particularly big one again at around 5.1m on the day of full moon. Over the course of an hour four pollock up to about 2lb. were landed, on various soft plastics and a Toby lure. On this fishing session I watched 3 men in a currach (a traditional Galway rowing boat made of a wooden frame covered in canvas and tar) as they pulled in mackerel in 3’s and 4’s on handlines. It was nice to see the mackerel were around but as is often the case, they seemed to be just that bit out of my casting distance 😦 I was tempted to try to meet them as the came in at the pier to see if I could buy a couple of mackerel for dinner but never got around to it.
The following day, I got my first chance to fish into darkness, although this time it was on a dropping tide. I began again at the same pier mark, and was soon joined by another angler. We both saw lots of ‘boiling’ on the surface of the water, only 10m or so from the shore, as baitfish were being forced up to the surface by something below. I thought that there was likely to be mackerel in the area and retrieved a silver Toby lure through various areas of ‘boiling’ baitfish, but could not connect with anything. The pollock were obliging yet again however, with 3 or 4 pollock landed in the first 20 minutes, all from close range when the lure was less than 5m out from the edge of the pier.
Another pier pollock, approx. 2lb
I decided to move further down the coast to some of the rock marks where a swell was creating white-water as it crashed in against the shore. Standing well back from the edge I switched to a weedless rigged Savage Gear Slug and cast into the swell. Not long after I began to connect with the pollock again, all in the 1-3lb. range.
As the light began to fade I decided to target the mackerel again, and switched back to a 1oz. silver Toby lure. The rod being used was my usual Teklon Concept 802ml, an excellent rod for short range casting and use of soft plastics, but it is not designed for casting big distances, which is what seemed to be required to get out to the mackerel. The baitfish were ever present, having been seen boiling on the surface for almost 2 hours at this point.
Just 2 casts or so later I had the unmistakable take of a mackerel with its frenetic style of tugging and head shaking, and saw it come to the surface some distance out as I retrieved (a pollock would never do this, instead diving deeper during the retrieve). I was chuffed to finally catch my first mackerel of the year, and landed it on the sloping rock on which I stood. Minor disaster then as the fish wriggled off the barbless hook and rolled back down the rock and swum away safely 😦
I fished on and landed a 2nd mackerel just a few minutes later, again I retrieved him and he came off the lure just as being lifted out of the water… Still the confidence was up now, as it was clear the mackerel had finally come within my casting range. I fished on for 45 minutes and successfully landed 5 mackerel and another 2 pollock. With 4 hungry mouths back at the ranch it was great to catch them, and have dinner sorted for the following day.
Over the course of this two and a half hour session, 10 pollock and 5 mackerel were landed.
The following day unexpectedly turned out to be sweltering hot, with hardly a puff of wind. Temperatures must have reached about 20 degrees on certain parts of the island (yes that it sweltering for Ireland!), and with such high humidity and lack of wind the conditions seemed like they would be excellent for another crack at the mackerel that evening.
After a delicious dinner of mackerel and spuds, I cycled to the same rock mark with my dad which I had been at on the previous night. En route, we met two young anglers who were fishing from the pier with 13 foot distance casting rods and feathers who had already landed around 16 mackerel. It was now around an hour after high tide, the tides still being very large from full moon 2 days previous.
On this occasion strangely there was no sign of any baitfish being forced up to the surface close to the shore, but the calm warm evening did seem ideal for catching mackerel. It wasn’t long before we both started catching the pollock again, with some nice fish of around 3 lb. turning up. My dad was using silver plastic feathers with the intention of catching mackerel, but had an almighty hit on the rod as three pollock took the feathers at the same time. On landing, they were all decent sized fish too at around 2-3lb each!
Cormorants having a chat..
In the distance we continued to see the other two anglers back at the pier taking in full houses of mackerel, but after an hour of fishing we still had not landed a single one, it was just pollock after pollock. Of course that should not be a complaint, pollock are a great fish to catch, especially the larger fish which put up a great fight. I figured we just couldn’t get out to the mackerel as they were staying that bit further out than our maximum castng distance, whilst the other anglers on the pier easily had another 60 yards or so in the distance of their cast.
The rock formation here has a series of shelves, similar to a staircase, where each ‘stair’ is about 5m deep. This can make retrieving a good fish difficult when some of these ‘steps’ are submerged, as the pollock will tend to crash dive and take refuge at the bottom of a step, leaving you with a line running at 90 degrees over the barnacle encrusted rocks, some distance from where you stand. This did happen on one occasion, prompting a 30 minutes of cat and mouse until finally the fish shook the barbless hook from his mouth and the lure was retrieved.
In the deepening twilight and cast the same silver Toby lure out as far as the Concept 802ml could manage. As the lure began to sink I had a hit, this time it was again unmistakably a mackerel. Half way hrough the retrieve I felt slack as the fish managed to release himself. Cursing I cast out again, and had another take from a mackerel, who thankfully was landed this time. A few minutes later a second mackerel was landed, and after that just one more very small pollock.
The conditions had seemed as though more mackerel would be caught, but their distance from shore was the deciding factor. The old reliable pollock showed up in spades again with 7 pollock and 2 mackerel caught by the end of the session.
The forecast for the following day was for strong gale force winds and persistent rain to last for 2 days, so I expected this to be the last fishing session I would manage on the holiday. The weather did indeed turn out as forecasted, although on the day we left the wind dropped and I got a final chance to fish in the morning for an hour and a half either side of high tide. The fishing on this final day was very slow, but a couple of fish did show with two pollock to 4lb landed and 1 mackerel, and another 3 or so pollock were lost.
A Morning Arrival
Last pollock of the holiday, approx. 4lb
On another note, I still wonder about the potential for bass fishing from the Aran islands. On this visit, we spoke to a local who told us his brother did have success catching bass in the past on the island. There are without doubt some excellent looking spots around the island, which look like they could hold bass, but I still feel that if they visit the island it must be a rarity, and that it might require a lot of dedication and time to find a bass on the islands. Still though, it is something I intend to make a more concerted effort on in future visits..
Could there be bass here?
Or could bass be here?