Earlier this year a tentative plan was hatched by myself and a fellow fishing fanatic (Cuan) to dedicate a few days in August to the sport we love most. We considered the Waterville area of Kerry, the Copper coast of Waterford and the Aran Islands in Galway. Bass would be the targets in Kerry and Waterford, but with the bass fishing being so hit and miss in this difficult Summer, it was decided the destination would be the Aran Islands and Inis Meáin was the chosen island.
Having fished the island many times before, I knew it held excellent pollock, mackerel and wrasse fishing and should also produce other species. It has been said there are up to 14 species available from the boat, just a couple of hundred yards from the shores of the islands, but this number would be far lower to the shore angler. Certainly dogfish, flatties (flounder, dab), garfish, the odd bass and conger should be accessible to the shore angler. Like its sister islands Inis Oirr and Inis Mór, the island is rich in wild flowers, stone walls and beautiful walking opportunities through its myriad of narrow maze-like roads.
I decided to travel light and brought along just 2 spinning rods, a shortish 8 foot Teklon Concept for battling the pollock, and a 10 foot Shakespeare Salt spin for the bit more distance to try find the mackerel and help when fishing marks where there is a considerable drop of 10 foot or more to the water. Lure-wise I focussed 90% on soft plastics (plus a few metals and a set of feathers or two), bringing along a ridiculous amount of different types and their accompanying lead heads. My fishing accomplice, Cuan, brought along his fly rod, spinning rod and a beachcaster.
On arriving, with calm but damp conditions, we trudged to a comfortable rock mark which is an excellent spot for pollock, and presumably wrasse (although I never caught a wrasse on the island before). We were fishing an ebb tide, just 2 hours before the low water mark so the state of the tide was far from ideal. After about half an hour the first of the pollock began to take the metal lures, and the flies which Cuan was fishing. In the following hour or so about 10-15 pollock up to 3lb were landed and released, with the fly rod easily out-fishing the soft plastics.
We returned to the mark later that evening, to fish the last 3 hours of the coming tide. Again, the pollock showed in numbers before quieting down an hour before high tide, and again the fly rod was picking up more fish.. Fishing in the each spot tended to ‘dry up’ after a few fish were landed so we continued to move south along the coast trying different rocks. After moving to a particularly kelpy area whilst fishing a Savage Gear sandeel I had a hit of a good fish about 10m out. I tried to bully the fish up before it could embed itself in the kelp, and after some give and take saw a lovely red/orange head appear at the surface a few metres out – a wrasse 🙂 This was to be my first ever wrasse on a soft plastic, having only caught them previously on floated limpet bait. The fish weighed in at around 2.5lb and was duly released, he took a few moments to recover before swimming off into the depths..
The following day made for very groggy fishing after a very late seisiún in the pub the previous night. The weather was beginning to become very warm and humid, although still overcast and damp – perfect for pollock.. We fished for a short session at the same mark again on the ebb tide before heading for lunch. The pollock were not playing much ball this time in the gin clear water, they were staying further out and mostly just plucking at the lures / flies rather than taking aggressively. We did manage a couple, and I couldn’t believe it when a second wrasse was landed, this time on a very slowly fished weedless alewife Slug-go. The alewife Slug-go is fast becoming my all time favourite soft plastic, with a single pack landing two PB pollock (8 lb.), a PB wrasse (3 lb.) and a couple of nice bass to boot. They seem also to be more durable than a lot of the SP’s and can often take quite a few fish before showing signs of wear..
An excellent cliff mark on the far side of the island was the destination after lunch. This side of the island takes the brunt of the rolling atlantic swells, and is very often not fishable as a result. There was a reasonably big swell coming in, but with the settled weather it was still possible to try a few spots close to the bottom of the cliffs. We hoped to get a few mackerel for dinner, and they duly turned up, albeit in a small number when 3 were caught on the beachcaster at distance. A seal and dolphin appeared shortly after and scared any remaining mackerel away from the area 😦 At one point when I was using the feathers, I had an almighty whack when close in and line started stripping off the reel at an alarming rate.. after some bullying I spotted 2 large pollock on the feathers below, one in the 3-4lb range and the other likely to have been around 2lb. Without a landing net, it was going to be very difficult to get the fish onto shore as we had a 4 foot drop to contend with, and tried to use the swell to wash them onto a small ledge below. Then it went horribly wrong as too much tension was put on the line, and the swell dragged them back off the ledge and leader snapped, what a sickening feeling… Cuan did see at least one of the fish escape as the leader broke, and with some luck the other fish would manage to shake the feathers – it always feels terrible when something like this happens 😦
When the fishing began to slow up 2 hours before high tide, it was time to have the dinner, the camping stove pots and pans were produced. Nothing tastes quite so good as new potatoes boiled in sea water and accompanied by mackerel less than an hour out of the sea… nyom.
The following day turned into one of the warmest summer days we have seen this year, with blue skies and temperatures reaching 24 or 25 on the island. With the very bright conditions and gin clear water, the fishing slowed down. We did travel again to the far side of the island and fished a different area with deep water, were some more mackerel and pollock showed. This time some bait rods were being used also, and with the deepness of the mark, it was hoped that a few more species would show. This was not to be however, although one more wrasse was caught, this time on bait – a floated limpet.
That night we tried fishing from the pier, first feathers for mackerel (a few more showed), and later with bait for whatever might show up. A thick sea fog had come in over the island in the evening and was not shifting, and the fishing was still very slow, with just 2 dogfish being landed over a few hours. Some large brown crabs also appeared on the baits, but unfortunately let go just as they were being lifted from the water (they would have made an excellent lunch!).
On our final day, some more feathering from the pier produced an old 2lb. Nike and a couple of mackerel. The weather was even brighter and warmer than the previous day, and on the ebb tide the fish were extremely cagey with just a couple of pollock landed on the soft plastics. During these overly bright sessions the soft plastics seemed to be working better than the fly.. We moved south along the rocks and fished a number more points, finding a couple more pollock. With the weather being so settled, there was no chop at all on the water and just a very gentle swell coming in. Arriving at the south-west corner of the island a small cove was found, a mark which looks to be an excellent potential spot for bass, with many submerged boulders and mixture of sandy bottom and kelpy ground. Two or three knocks on the weedless soft plastic was all that I felt here though and I’ll never know whether it was pollock or a bass.
As expected the vast majority of the fish on the trip were of the pollocky kind – not a complaint as they are great fighters although it would have been nice to see a fish in the 5lb+ range appear. I also finally overcame my wrasse on soft plastic jinx and will have more confidence fishing for them with this technique in future. To anyone who has not yet visited these islands (even if you have no interest in fishing) I strongly recommend a trip to unwind and take in the area’s natural beauty. Until next time..