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Irish sea angling guide

Blue shark fishing at Baltimore
Blues are the commonest shark in Irish waters
Ireland's sea angling is as varied as the underwater terrain. Fast tides and sandbanks in the Irish Sea give way to deeper water, gentler tides and jagged pinnacle rock on the Atlantic coast, warmed by the remnants of the Gulf Stream. In between there is every kind of mark – from surf beaches to rocky headlands, shallow bays to deep fiord-like inlets, sheltered harbours and deep water wrecks – all with their particular attractions for fish and fishermen. The majority of Irish species are present right through the year and given favourable weather can be caught in winter as well as summer. Some, though, are summer visitors from warmer seas.

Blue shark are one of the visitors. They appear first off the south coast in May or June, then spread northwards, staying well into October and possibly longer if conditions are right. They are relatively easy to catch and extremely abundant at times, making them a mainstay of Irish shark fishing with catches into double figures quite commonplace. Though generally less plentiful than blues, porbeagle occur on most coasts with the largest specimens usually encountered in the north. The six-gilled shark is more localised, seldom straying beyond the southwest. This lumbering giant is less well known as an angling species but reaches a size that dwarfs the other two. Two other sharks, the mako and the thresher, have also been caught by anglers on the south coast recently.

The tope proves that size is not everything when it comes to shark fishing. These superb fighters are found around most of Ireland, though less so on the Cork coast. Essentially a shallow water species with a liking for sandy bottoms and fast tides, in the west tope are mainly concentrated in bays and estuaries. In the shallower water of the Irish Sea and south east coast they range more widely, and it is here that the largest tope are generally recorded.

Around much of the Irish coast rough ground offers some protection from the more destructive forms of commercial fishing. However, overfishing has taken its toll in Ireland as it has elsewhere. One victim has been the common skate. Once widespread all round Ireland, they are now confined to the north, west and southwest coasts. However, within this range there are places where these giant skate remain surprisingly plentiful and are caught regularly by anglers. Turbot, a species for which Ireland holds the rod-caught record, are still caught around most of Ireland, though there has been a decline in numbers everywhere.

12 lb (5.5 kg) bass. Bass stocks have benefited from conservation measures

While politicians are sometimes slow to address the problem of overfishing, anglers have taken their own steps to promote conservation. Catch and release is now common practice in Ireland. Nearly all charter boats are signed up to the Inland Fisheries Trust tagging programme which contributes to the study of species like shark and skate. Most angling competitions employ a points system that permits unwanted fish to be returned safely to the sea. And some specimen fish claims are now based on length rather than weight so fish do not have to be killed and brought ashore for weighing.

For many people bass are the supreme angling species and they are a fish that has benefited from conservation measures. Bass are found all round the Irish coast. In the east they are both a boat and a shore species, while in the west, where they tend to be concentrated in the shallower water of bays and estuaries, they are primarily a target for the shore fisherman. Cod are another highly prized and widespread fish around Ireland. For the shore fisherman they are predominantly a winter catch, but for the boat angler they are just as much a summer fish. The pollack is a near relative of the cod and the two are often caught together using similar methods. An abundant and fairly straightforward fish to catch that reaches a good size, pollack are the foundation of many a good day's angling. The coalfish might seem at first like the poor relation, seldom reaching a comparable weight in inshore waters. However, in deep water it is a different story. Here the coalfish puts the pollack in the shade, both for size and fighting qualities.

Bluefin tuna fishing at Baltimore
Bluefin tuna are now being caught on the south as well as the west coast

Wherever there are reefs or wrecks conger eels are likely to be found. Fish up to 40 lbs (18 kg) are common on both types of mark, although for some reason the really big congers of 100 lbs (45 kg) or more do not seem to exist in Irish waters. However, the typical eels that abound on many Irish inshore and offshore marks are a popular quarry for sea anglers.

Two species of tuna frequent Irish waters, but it is only recently that they have begun to attract the attention of anglers. Albacore or longfin tuna run north off the southwest coast every year in late summer, generally keeping well out to sea where they are caught by anglers enterprising enough to make the trip. The much larger bluefin tuna, on the other land, are often encountered quite close to land, but catching them requires some serious investment in tackle. Angling for bluefin was pioneered in the west and northwest of Ireland but has now spread all down the west and south coasts, from Donegal to Wexford.

Of course, there are many other species that one might mention; some Irish angling boats can claim a tally of as many as fifty different kinds of fish from their home patch. In fact, it is this incredible variety, as much as the abundance of any one species, that gives Irish sea angling its special character.

Albacore | Blue shark | Common skate | Wreck fishing | Sea angling guide