18th October

Despite the potential of poor weather, November beach casting can be very rewarding

Brendan Connolly

Angling in Ireland is a year-round sport. Every season has its highlights on lake, river, or sea. In autumn the trout and salmon season is closed, and with colder weather driving coarse fish into deeper water, it is time to take out the beach casting rod and head for the shoreline.

Rods fishing the surf. Photo Brendan Connolly

Rods fishing the surf. Photo Brendan Connolly

Irish beaches offer fishing all year; however autumn can be particularly good. Codling on the east coast; bass on the south coast and turbot along the north and west coasts whet the angler’s appetite with flounder being the old reliable. Other species caught by beach casting include ray, plaice, dabs, dogfish, and pollack closer to rocks.

 Angler’s delight

Bass is a favourite fish for Irish beach-casters. It’s strong fighting power and of course exquisite taste, makes it number one on the wish-list of most beach anglers.
The ban on commercial bass fishing, together with a size limit of 40 cm and a bag limit of two fish per 24-hours for rod-caught bass, are the regulations designed to stop over-fishing of previous years.

Typically a warmer water fish, bass are most common on Ireland’s southern coasts; however recent catches on the west coast as far north as Donegal are on the increase.  Maybe conservation measures, combined with climate change and a resulting rise in seawater temperatures, are enticing bass further north.

Northwest location
Reports of recent bass catches on the northwest coast lured this Donegal angler to go beach casting. Not having soft-shelled peeler crab, lugworms, or ragworm for bait, he visited a local supermarket and bought four whole mackerel. Using a sharp knife and a scissors he cut strips of approximately 1.5 cm x 6 cm which he then threaded onto the hook. 

Fishing takes anglers to some of the most beautiful locations that nature has to offer and Donegal is no exception. Typically these beaches are wide and long, bordered by dunes and sometimes cliffs.

On a November day at Tullan Strand, some hardy surfers bobed about waiting to catch a good wave. A seal further out was sticking his head above the swells, taking a long myopic stare at both angler and surfers. At certain spots along the shoreline, the sand is not quite flat, but currents have shaped small sandbanks and gullies. It is here that the angler sets up the tripods for the rods.

Fishing with the standard cast of a two ounce lead at the end and three hooks above at approximately 40 cm intervals, the angler baits each hook with a mackerel strip.
Casting out he makes sure not to cast too far. These beaches are wide and shallow with a broad surf zone, and the fish are quite close in shallow water, so long casting should be avoided. 

The angler sits on his fishing box and watches the rods. The rod tips bend and straighten slowly with the advancing and receding waves. But suddenly, one of the rod tips shows a fast series of twitches, stops, and then twitches again. Reeling in there’s a heavier feel to the rod, and to his delight the angler catches glimpses of the white belly of a flatfish coming towards him through the waves. Flatfish are not known for their impressive fighting prowess, but there’s something very satisfying about catching a fat flatfish in the white surf of a beach.

The rough patch behind the head and the relatively straight lateral line show that it is a flounder. Shortly afterwards, the tip of the other rod also shows the sharp rattle of a bite, and soon a second flounder is lying at the feet of the angler.

Had a bass taken the mackerel strip, the whole top of the rod would be bent over, as the determined yank of a bass is very different from the fast rattle of a flatfish; however, no bass took the bait on this occasion. With one more flatfish caught, the angler went home content with three fat flounders for the frying pan, but with the firm intention of returning in quest of the elusive bass.

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