Perspectives by Malcolm Gilbert

It’s after eleven and I’ve decided to go to bed. I’m just on the verge of dropping off and the cordless phone on the dressing table brings me back to full consciousness.Hello, I answer apprehensively.

Is that Malcolm Gilbert? asks the caller. Yes, I respond.

The caller continues, A few mates and me are going over to Ireland fishing. Where do you go and is it any good over there?

image:photo of M G fishing off the rocks

How often have I been asked these questions and how do I answer without sinking into hours of detailed discussion which although I occasionally enjoy, often time simply doesn’t allow.

Get a couple of Ordnance Survey maps for the Kerry coast and yes, the fishing can be brilliant is my usual reply.

A month or so later, I bump into the caller and he’s keen to tell and I’m keen to hear his results. Generally, he found the fishing good, the scenery stunning and the next trip is already being planned. However, occasionally the angler moans that he didn’t catch much despite some good conditions and that he would have done better on his home grounds. Other callers report good numbers of large bass with their first double figure bass after many years shore angling in England and Wales.

Clearly their perspectives vary enormously but are largely dependent on:

  • Expectations
  • Typical standards on their home ground
  • Their success or failure in Ireland
Expectations

Anglers’ expectations are likely to be higher at venues involving some degree of travel. This is because if one’s expectations weren’t up to much then the travelling wouldn’t be undertaken in the first place. Plus, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Ireland is invariably subject to high expectations. It is often a once a year visit and for fifty weeks anglers plan their pilgrimage, talking over the various marks and methods, quickly building up to a high pitch of anticipation and excitement. Why not indeed, it’s all part of it! Then because expectations are unrealistically high, the fishing seems disappointing. Then there are the extremes which add to the confusion. I have arrived at Kerry and on day one met a group of anglers who have been fishing hard for ten days with very few bass to a little over three pounds. Fishing just shouting distance away I proceed to haul in half a dozen fish to eight pounds within a couple of hours! Their perspective is different to mine. Then one morning, in February 1995 I arrived at my office to find a message on my answer phone from a friend who reported seriously incredible fishing with many large bass, the biggest of which was almost twelve pounds from a Kerry strand. I wasn’t able to decide if it was a wind up and spent the entire day pacing up and down like a demented fool. That evening, the same friend phoned me at home and not only did he confirm the answer phone message but added that they had just got in from the same strand and had enjoyed more large bass to almost thirteen pounds! I promptly loaded my car and drove to Fishguard catching the 3 am ferry, then non-stop across Ireland to sample some of the action. TOO LATE: For five days I fished alongside my friends without a single bass. I won’t tell you what my particular perspective was on that occasion.

Fishing On One’s Home Ground

The fickleness of sea anglers has often amused me. Richard is an angling friend who fishes the marks around West Cornwall. He is rational, experienced, and generally regarded as well above average in the success stakes. By late August this year he had caught only a few bass for hundreds of hours effort and only a couple over four pounds. Bloody hopeless was the phrase he most often spat at me each time we met, and if pushed would respond It’s getting worse year on year. I’m thinking of taking up carping, like so many other notable past Cornish bass fishermen. During the second week of September however he just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and experienced a super session with seven bass from three pounds to almost nine. Within a week he had another session with five fish to six pounds. Miraculously, Richard now claims it’s the best year for years! This isn’t so much criticism of Richard’s judgement, just an observation of anglers perspective that I’ve seen hundreds of times in the past and will see repeated many times in the future.

image:photo of Malcolm with a bass

The ability to stand back from the extremes of failure and success and to scientifically assess the quality of the fishing over a long period is very rare. Even some very long term anglers who experienced Cornish bassing in the 60s and 70s achieve remarkable memory loss, and deny that the quality of bass angling has reached the appalling standards that it has when they have a couple of decent fish. Perhaps it is just as well in order to avoid the depths of depression which would materialise if the true situation was fully recognised. The only real way to assess the quality of the fishery is to strictly keep records over many years of effort and results. The technical term for this is C.P.U.E. (catch per unit effort) but how many of us who struggle to find the time to relax and enjoy our fishing, organising tackle and bait are prepared to find even more time in our hectic lives to keep accurate records? Large bass over six pounds from the shore in Cornwall are very rare. A few are caught each year BUT there are thousands of anglers regularly fishing all around the coast, so the catch per unit of effort is minuscule. School bass of under three pounds and mostly under two pounds are the norm with four pounders being the subject of serious conversation. Bearing in mind that on home ground anglers can select when and where they go depending on tides and weather plus the benefit of the ìgrapevineî to keep up with where the action is, it is a sad fact that most shore anglers fail to catch a bass over five pounds in a season and most have not caught one over eight pounds ever! (and these are anglers living within a few miles of the coast).

Fishing The Away Grounds

The number one potential problem when fishing in Ireland is CONDITIONS. Most trips are booked in advance so unlike fishing in conditions of one’s choice at home, the brief few days in Ireland may necessitate fishing in Easterlies, flat seas, icy cold winds etc. Or if you’re really fortunate, soft South-West breezes with a good even swell. Generally a mixture of conditions will need to be fished during the holiday so already the odds are against you. Most will also lack the intimate knowledge that they enjoy on their home ground and will not have any feedback from their mates to keep them in touch with where the fish have recently been caught. However, you will have escaped from the clutter of life such as collecting children from after school activities, fixing the leaky tap, cutting the lawn etc. You can focus entirely on the fishing. The golden rule is to remember that you will only have any possibility of catching bass WHILST YOUR BAITED HOOK IS IN THE WATER. You will not catch bass whilst in the pub or Vince’s caravan! Actually that’s not entirely true. I once hooked and landed a five pound bass whilst consuming a pint of Smethwicks in the bar at the Ross Inn at Rossbeigh, (but that’s another story). If catching fish is the most important aspect of the trip, then the fishing can escalate into an endurance test between fishing, sleeping and eating. Perseverance and a willingness to drive to different marks to search for fish can eventually pay off but it can be very exhausting. Some of the most enjoyable and relaxing trips are when the fish obligingly and predictably turn up no earlier than noon and remain until five in the afternoon. This allows plenty of late lie ins, a spot of productive bassing, followed by long evenings in the pub reliving each moment.

This article first appeared in BASS Magazine No: 86 – Summer 1998.