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Guess the guys on here don't like to brag, especially when your asking where they caught them! Every Bass is a good one no matter how big.
 
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For those starved of fishing at present this story may be of interest. It was originally published in the BASS mag, but only one of the images that went with it is readily to hand. For those who havent got the time to read it, or for those just interested in the money shot just scroll down to the bottom of the page....


Peaks and Troughs

With each glance up from this page the lights of the Wexford coast grow fainter. Five days of immersion in bass fishing have ended but I still long for more, so I scribble this account of events just past: more as a means of clinging on to Ireland, than to record events.

The vibrations of the ferry’s turbine engines rattle my part empty teacup, creating a concentric pattern of peaks and troughs in the dregs of my tea. Outside the waves on the Irish Sea are barely visible in the twilight, but the sea is slight, having no discernible effect on this ship. Aboard my little inflatable just 6 hours previously, similar waves rolled my companions and myself around as we fished, and looking down, for more than a brief period, proved nausea inducing.

Next to this notebook on the table lies the digital camera belonging to Julian Fox. I reach for it, boot it up and wait for the grainy images on the small LCD screen to appear - something I have already done many times since we stopped fishing today. Julian gives me a knowing look. Not once has he tired of me repeatedly reminiscing about today’s events, despite the fact it was so nearly him rather than myself that struck the fishing jackpot. I cannot help thinking had he caught the fish I landed today he would have been less inclined to incessantly recount the events – at least not aloud. Yet today was my lucky day in so many ways, for Julian caught his biggest bass for several years and, as far as I can tell, seems quite happy reliving the day.

The first image to light up the camera screen is one of my Zodiac inflatable. The boat rests on a sunlit shoreline, behind it a blue tranquil sea. To the uninitiated the shot must appear unremarkable. To a brace of bass fanatics, returning to Ireland after wishing our days away for this moment, the picture is like a huge pile of presents on Christmas morning, with our names on them.

*****
An account of the events of this year’s trip to the Emerald Isle is only half of a story, one that began 12 months before. Julian and myself travelled in 2004 with grand plans to employ our approach to English and Welsh fishing: a method Allan Hughes terms “shore fishing from a boat”. The plan though was wrecked by a succession of low fronts. The shallow reefs identified on our charts as showing promise, appeared only to promise certain death if approached in my inflatable.

Because of this weather trouble in 2004, for the month preceding this trip I was even more weather obsessed than normal for a prime bass fishing month. Desperate for good weather, I undertook daily searches of the multitude of online weather sites. My actions suggested a belief, that through finding a weather forecast that showed me what I wanted to see, the prediction would become reality. Despite this questionable logic, the plan worked. From now on (or at least until they fail to show me what I want to see) the USAF weather site will be this superstitious anglers weather site of choice.

We had picked out the far west of County Cork for our venture last year. The topography on the maritime charts suggested it must hold bass and it seemed other anglers we spoke to knew little of the area. The lack of knowledge of others we theorised being due in part, to the prime spots being accessible only to those with small boats. Given these factors, we felt ourselves to be pioneering anglers, who would use our skills and knowledge and end up exhausted from hauling in numerous large bass. It was probably inevitable and certainly right that our egos took a battering. After four days of failure our expectations of Irish bass fishing were more correctly aligned. Only then did the weather and our luck improve.

The change in fortune in 2004 resulted from a series of happenings that at the time seemed anything but fortunate. These events led to a meeting that pointed us towards the bass and left us wondering whether the Irish fairies of legend really do exist

Firstly, Julian’s (new) German car – one tested in the earths most extreme environments, so the handbook said - failed the test of horizontal Irish rain, breaking down in the wilds somewhere near Clonakilty. Vorsprung durch fec-it as they say in Courtmacsherry.

Fortunately the vehicle expired outside the only B & B we had seen in the area. It was late Sunday afternoon and the breakdown truck would not be with us until the morning. The only solution that evening was black, creamy and served in a pint glass. To make matters worse the only taxi driver in the area was unavailable. “Shurly you know he’ll be round the O’Neil place on a Sonday sor,” stated a surprised voice on the other end of the phone. So instead of being driven to the local town, we walked two miles through further rain to the nearest bar, laughing as we went.

Bursting into the warmth, dripping rainwater, we wandered up to the bar. The owner poured us the first (of a succession of) consolation pints and asked, “What brings yous lads to these parts.” On hearing it was the bass, the glint already present in the eyes of the little man, grew stronger. “Now yous talking lads.” Before we had a chance to tell him our tale of woe, he announced, “Had a 13.10, jost one moil fram here.” With a single sentence our undivided attention was his – something he was clearly aware of.

Beckoning us closer, he leaned over the counter, then nodded towards a loner in a dark corner of the bar. “See Connor over there. Bart home a farteen an’ harf poownd beauty last year.” Before we could regain control of our gaping jaws and utter any of the numerous questions battling to come out, he delivered his killer lines. “And moy old mate Padrik – The fella who was goin’ out when yous lads came in - two years ago ee ‘ad the grandest av them all.” He hesitated, waiting until we could bear the pause no more (which wasn’t long). “How big?” we pleaded. Leaning over the bar until his face was close to ours, he looked straight in to two pairs of eyes filled with wild excitement. “Fivteen fokin pound, eleven fokin ounces. ‘Is own scales couldn’t cope with such a beast. Had ter weigh ‘er in the village shap.”

At this point it occurred to me that his story could be a rouse intended to keep gullible visiting anglers, anchored in his bar all night – if it was it worked. The information we squeezed from him over the evening however, seemed naively honest: emotional and incidental detail was present in abundance, but not the vagueness about geography you come to expect from UK bass anglers (as illustrated in this account). The longer we talked, the more I believed. By the end of the night, any lingering doubts to the authenticity of his fishy tales were dissolved by the Guinness.

In brief, the outcome of this meeting was during our final 24 hours of our stay, the weather settled enough to permit shore fishing (if not boat fishing) and we followed the information gifted to us. Not only were the directions accurate, but to our amazement, the fishing proved excellent and I managed to catch a near 8 pound bass, plus 9 others (he had stated doubles were rare). It was all as the little person had described. Leprechauns are supposed to lead you to pots of gold. For us silver was just fine.

*****

Given this success, and the tales of monsters told by our friend, it was no surprise one year on and the boat in the photo is resting close to where the 2004 fishing ended. As stated before this picture symbolises a long wait ended. Just as importantly it is evidence of our prayers for settled weather answered.

Not long after the image was taken, the zodiac was loaded and Julian and I were fishing. It was not long before we were texting Allan Hughes to tell of early success. Sending him reports of catches brought childish satisfaction. The smooth talking salesman had somehow persuaded the two of us to transport his fishing gear across to Ireland, then divert miles to the east to collect him from Cork Airport. Then (according to Al) I was to guide him in my boat to where the fish lay, before dropping him back at the airport after four days. He was still at work and was flying out that evening. Five phone calls before we had even cast a line indicated his mind had already departed and was obviously struggling to stay focused for the engagement that had kept him in England. Telling him whilst in his meeting of a nine-pound bass, just landed (my biggest for three years) would be tantamount to torture, and might cause him to lose it altogether. With this in mind we opted to do what all decent angling companions would do, and texted him the instant the fish swam off.

This particular bass however does not feature amongst the photographs on Julian’s camera, having managed to swim out of an inadequately small trout landing net, as I rested it between weighing and pictures. It didn’t seem to matter. Ahead lay days of fishing, during which time I felt confident I would equal (or better!) my performance during this first hour.

Paging on through the next pictures on Julian’s camera, more of the story of the fishing is revealed. Further fish on the first two days are pictured in calm weather, as well as one somewhat disturbing image of Al revealing an unnatural (and probably illegal) love of bass.

The photos on days three and four show a big change in the weather and our fortunes. There is just a single image of a fish (caught by Al), plus various images of three wet tired fishermen. Rough seas forced us to leave the boat on shore. Instead we hiked miles over fields and cliffs in searching for sheltered, cleaner water. We failed to find anything approaching fishable water but had great fun during this quest. The final shot taken during these two days is, to me, the definitive image. Taken at the end of the day, it shows three wet anglers and one yellow rubber duck. After 10 hours of giving it our all in an exercise of hope over expectation, we look bedraggled and fatigued, yet we are still laughing.

The duck pictured was discovered on the high water mark. I had heard of a freight container carrying 29,000 plastic ducks with “the first years” written on them, washed from a ship in 1992 in the Pacific. The ducks broke free and are being used in oceanographic research as their progress around the globe is mapped. Thinking the plastic flotsam may be one this flock I retrieved it. Unfortunately this one had Carrigalne Court written on it, indicating more local origins. Despite this I kept it in my pocket. It seemed symbolic of the duck we had scored that day. When I showed the bath toy to my friends, it was decided we adopt it as out mascot.

Finally I come to the images taken today – those I most want to see. From the off there was a different mood from the previous days. The sea was just calm enough to launch and the colour of the water seemed clearer (as best as you can tell in pre-dawn light by shining a torch into it). We had just half a days fishing but now there was a realistic chance of catching – a combination guaranteed to raise the angling intensity.

Allan suggested we rub the ducks bottom for luck before we set off. It seemed further evidence about his unconventional love of all animals. But angling can lead the most rational of beings to superstitioun. Not wanting lessen my chances I enthusiastically joined in. At first the ritual duck abuse did little to alter the pattern of the past few days, but eventually proved highly effective.

The photo shows the day bright, with the sun well above the horizon, reflecting the delay prior to our improved fortune. The area where it was taken was not one fished much over the past four days. We spent the first hour and a half, charging between our favoured marks over a mile or so of coast. We found the sea here still rough and coloured. Only then moving to the untried area where the fish is pictured. That is one of the many beauties of small boat fishing: it doesn’t take long to effectively investigate areas it would take you the best part of a day to cover on foot (if you can access them at all). This new area, being southeast facing, was less affected by the residual waves created by the south-westerlies encountered over the last couple of days.

In the picture, the early morning light catches the scales of the five and a half pound fish and the beaming expression on Julian’s face. The fish took less than a meter from the shore of a stony beach, in an inaccessible rocky cove.

Next on the screen are images of successively bigger fish. First a 7.8 pounder taken off the surface by Allan - his biggest to date in for what by his high past standards has been a poor fishing year. Then follows a 9.1 pound bass for Julian - his biggest for several years. Both anglers seem pleased, yet given the pattern of increasing fish size and decreasing time available before we had to depart, it didn’t seem the time to savour the success.

I have both read and been told by fishing friends, of rare moments of certainty that a significant fish was about to be caught. On two occasions I too have had first hand experience of these feelings: just prior to the captures of my biggest barbel and biggest roach. I have rationalised such occurrences are due to a recognition (conscious or otherwise) of clues in the environment present at times of previous success. Given the location, the pattern of bass of increasing size and seasons best fish for the other two, it was not surprising I sensed something significant in the offing. Given the increasing angling intensity and the reduced level of banter, it seemed clear the others shared this feeling. The feeling I had however was not of possibility: it was of unshakable certainty. What I did not know however was which of us would be the one to catch something extraordinary …not that the last two fish to come aboard were ordinary.

Over the past days I had fished with unfaltering belief in all my actions - probably as pure luck had lead me catching the most, (self doubt only thrives in times of relative failure.) Now my confidence wavered. Reduced through seeing Allan catching on a chug bug, a lure I consider inferior to my regular surface lures, then through Julian catching both his fish, below the surface, on a sand eel imitating jerk bait. All I had caught was a large, but foul hooked mullet, that impersonated a big bass for a few minutes. For the first time this week I wondered if, given the conditions and the results of my shipmates, if I should change from the plug in which I normally have unwavering faith?

With my confidence sunk, I fell into the trap of following others rather than my instincts. When Al caught his fish I tied on a chug bug like his. But soon I had to have an Aile DB Diet having seen Julian net the nine-pounder.

Ten casts with the subsurface lure did nothing to increase my confidence. I was committing the sin of failing to appreciate the finer points of angling, viewing success in terms of catching, rather than including catching…a subtle, yet vital distinction.

I took deep breaths, told myself not to be a fool and reconnected my trusted surface lure. In a moment of clarity I realised why I was desperate for something remarkable to occur. It was more then the desire we all have each time we cast a line: it was a yearning that had its origins in Ireland a year ago.

Despite last year’s weather problems, the trip was as good a time as I can recall when fishing. The gales however, became no more than a minor inconvenience, after a call home to my father triggered an emotional storm. The seemingly run of the mill tests, I had called to enquire about, revealed cancer. Clinical knowledge of the form of cancer, told me he would be lucky to see in the New Year – he barely made it past bonfire night. The rest of that trip had an unreal feel about it, as simultaneously I experienced both the best and worst of times. Until then I believed the peaks and troughs in life were distinct. Given these events, this year’s return visit felt as if it had more significance than angling alone (although I could not say exactly what). Just by engrossing myself in fishing over the past few days, rather than actively soul searching I had found answers. I now felt more settled than I had for a year, yet the inexplicable need for something of meaning to happen remained.

A synchronised duo of expletives behind me snapped me out of my self-indulgent analysis. Turing my head around I caught sight of a huge boil spreading out from its epicentre in the sea, barely a meter from the boat. Both friends were pointing to this spot (as if it wasn’t obvious). One spluttered, “it was broad as a frigging carp.” The other simply gawped at the turbulent water. It took a while to get sense out of them but apparently a bass, the biggest either had ever seen, had pursued Julian’s lure for at least 5 meters, before deciding against a late breakfast. The amount of water displaced by the tail alone was enough to convince me reports of its dimensions were credible.

The distance between Julian catching or not catching the fish of his dreams had been less than two inches according to Al. Julian however didn’t dwell on whether the event represented victory or failure. He just ordered us all to quickly cast our lures, pointing to the vicinity from where the monster seemed to have come.

It is always our norm to attempt to put each other onto visible fish. This etiquette although not increasing your own chances of catching the sighted fish, increases the chances of catching overall during the course of our fishing – often leading to two, or even three anglers simultaneously hooking fish when shoals are spotted. More important than this however, it nullifies the negative effects of competition and promotes a sense of teamwork. Although I cannot recall this idea ever being verbalised, (such management spiel would deservedly lead to mockery), I am sure we have independently concluded competition in a small boat does none of us any favours.

After Julian had cast in amongst the rocks where the bass had come from, I flicked my plug much nearer to the boat towards the area it seemed to have headed to. My heart raced with expectation but contrary to expectation after two casts nothing had happened. As our high level of excitement began to tail off, Allan and Julian started explaining how they had been observed every detail of the fish, when an unfeasibly large bass matching their description, materialised below my lure and the plug fell down a hole.

When fish splash at poppers, it is my practice always to continue working the lure until I feel the line tighten. In my experience, striking frequently just pulls the hooks away from the fish. Split second decisions in moments of high emotion can retrospectively be rationalised in great depth. The bottom line was I was unsure where the plug was and there was a din next to my right ear – a noise I later realised was my better informed companions, who having seen the monster sink away with the lure in its mouth were pleading for me to strike. Against my instincts I followed their command, terrified of the strike ending with a straight rod and a lifetime of what ifs. The braid cut across the water before stopping 20 yards from the boat at the point where the dark outline of a great fish, wallowed just below the surface. For a brief moment I felt elation. The moment was short though when I realised the fish I was connected to exceeded my hopes and crossed into the land of dreams. This thought crammed my head, impairing my ability to effectively think or move.

Even my mind appeared to be playing tricks with my sense of perspective. Surely for a bass to appear that large it needed to be half as far away.

I recall the fight as being unremarkable for its spiritedness but unforgettable for the crippling fear that I might lose what was not yet mine (if that makes any sense). It seems my panic was so great as to overwrite any other recollection, as Allan’s take on the fight was somewhat different and more detailed, as revealed by an email he recently sent me to help jog my memory:

“As I recall, the fish fought gamely. It bore deep and it was strong, in fact it was so strong that it towed the boat very close to a large semi submerged rock, and twice we (Julian and I) had to row us a few yards back out to open water to avoid collision. There was general panic on the boat, Julian was keen to start the motor to ensure we would not be smashed onto the rock. You bent into the fish very strongly to keep it up high in the water. The fish swam from portside, around the bow and back inshore along the starboard length of the boat, eventually coming back around port side and up to the surface. Julian had grabbed the net, but at the last moment I found myself closest to you and the fish, so I took the net off Julian and readied myself to land it for you. Julian almost burst into tears, and I only just heard his faint words “I really wanted to net that fish for Matt…” So I put the net back in his hands and clambered over his legs so he could reach the fish. He leaned right out and netted it for you, and I pulled him in.”

My amnesia ends from the moment the fish was netted. As the bass entered the mesh, I dropped my rod into the boat and lifted both arms aloft, leaving Allan to haul in both Julian and the fish without my assistance.

Moments of personal significance call for profound and intelligent responses. Sound bites great statesmen such as Churchill would have been proud of (as ever) escaped me. The best I could do was to repeatedly shriek “Yes, Yess Yesssss!” Allan pointed out it was more porn star than politician. I assured him I wasn’t faking it.

The first picture of the bass shows me extracting the fish from the mesh so I could unhook my prize. “It’s like a bloody horse,” exclaimed Julian from behind the camera, as I removed the single light hook hold of one treble hook.

Frantic to ensure it was weighed and had its portrait taken as quick as we could, thoughts of scale samples or resting it prior well composed photographs and accurate weighing on shore escaped us. I had bass fished most of my life hoping for this moment, and now it was here, all I wanted was for it to be over as soon as possible.

I had no idea how big it might weigh all I could tell was it was far bigger than any bass I had ever seen in the flesh. Julian’s scales settled a little way past the 13 pound mark. Rounding down is our norm, and was more than happy when Julian suggested we settle for 13.0 lbs - up to this point an 11 pound bass was where my hopes extended. Underestimating by an ounce or two seemed irrelevant: the significance of this creature was much more than the point to where the scales stopped.

In the course of a seasons fishing the three of us have a number of discussions about catching new personal best bass. Is it best to catch a huge beast that smashes your best, or is it better to experience a series of small incremental improvements? I have always argued the latter would bring the most pleasure and keep me interested in the prospect of going one better.

“So you wouldn’t be happy with a real monster of say 13 pounds or more.” Was the reply Julian threw back. “Delighted yes, but where do you go from there?” was my angle. Such thoughts are now no longer academic and I have now caught what is likely to be the biggest bass of my life. I feel no disappointment as this prospect so far as the elation I feel seems barely credible. Perhaps the life events surrounding these Ireland trips have added further significance, but the only fish I can compare is the first I ever caught…I can’t help wondering if such feelings, for what after all is just a fish I was lucky enough to catch, is either proper or wise.



Watching the pictures scroll by, the fish still appears big, yet not as big as I remember it appearing in the flesh - but that is always the way. There are several shots of the beast holding station head towards the camera prior to its release; its expressionless stare seems almost menacing. I scroll down one more time and there is only a blank screen. The story told by the pictures ends.

I really should stop scribbling in this notebook and replace the camera safely back in the bag. Julian is snoozing, laid out across a nearby row of seats. I too should sleep. It is already past midnight and I have work in the morning. Time to climb into my sleeping bag and start dreaming of next years trip to Ireland.

-------------
Peaks and Troughs (Final 1/5/06) © Matthew Spence 2006
 

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Great story! I could have drunk a pint of the black stuff reading that!
Biggest bass: 9lb 4oz on Conoflex glass spinning rod, Mitchell 2250RD, 8lb bayer Perlon and a Daiwa plug that cost £1.75. Caught plugging in the dark at a venue near Brighton over 20 years ago. Some techniques aren't as new as people would like you to think.....
 

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Pat..Those 2 fish could've sorted out the irish contribution to Team 15: Leeky Emerald Beans ..sigh!

Barry..concept works fine with hard plastics,aint tried softs yet..also this is my first proper rod(that cost more than 20 quids)..so i dont got anything to compare it with..aint too much of a tackle tart..so it will be my only rod till i bust it
 

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Pat..Those 2 fish could've sorted out the irish contribution to Team 15: Leeky Emerald Beans ..sigh!

Barry..concept works fine with hard plastics,aint tried softs yet..also this is my first proper rod(that cost more than 20 quids)..so i dont got anything to compare it with..aint too much of a tackle tart..so it will be my only rod till i bust it
jim hopefully we will getter bigger ones next year for the comp,
 
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