CHAPTER 5 – GOOD DAYS, BAD DAYS

Seven Days In Ireland

Our trip to Ireland was planned just after Christmas, when we all met at Dave (Gadget) Rutledge’s house. Those there were Paul Nettleton, who organised the trip, Ian Williams, Frank Whittingham, Mike Hughes, me, Dave’s mate, and, of course, Dave himself. He had laid on food, beer, the whole works. The table was covered with ‘nibbles’ and there were two large pizzas for us all to get stuck into. It looked so good that Delia Smith might have prepared it. Unfortunately I was driving, so drinking for me was out of the question, which meant that there was more for the rest of them. Dave was dressed in a mini skirt and high heels, so he really looked the part of the ‘party hostess’. (Only joking Dave, we know it was just a regular frock). That night we planned our trip to Ireland.

Two weeks before departure, Mike, Paul, Frank, and I spent an evening looking at maps of the area where we were staying in southern Ireland, and sharing all the information we had gleaned from other anglers. Whilst this discussion was going on we got a text message from Ian Williams, who was out fishing at the time, to say he had landed his sixth bass of the evening. Dave Rutledge, also, was absent from our meeting; at this stage we even didn’t know if he was in the country or not. However, the rest of us carried on studying the maps and information and made our final decisions about time to meet, where we would meet, and extra bits & bobs we would need to take – such as a lug worm pump, spades, forks and so on.

On the night of departure Mike and I went to Paul’s house for midnight, and then moved on to Ian’s, in Llandudno, where we loaded up Paul’s pickup truck with all the gear. It was decided that Paul and Frank would go in the pickup, and Mike and I would travel with Ian in his car. In the end we had a ‘missing person’ from our party; Dave had been called out to a job on an oil rig. He hoped to finish it quickly and then make his way to join the rest of us over there. Marc Bevan and Jason Beynon, two south Wales members, were sailing from Swansea and had arranged to meet us at our Irish destination.

At Holyhead we queued in the line of cars to board the ferry. Our Irish Ferries Captain informed us that our ship was called The Ulysses and that it was the largest car ferry in the world. We parked inside and made our way up to see what The Ulysses had to offer. We somehow felt ‘spiritually guided’ to the main bar, and I personally, was only drinking cokes, because I’m a good boy. There was entertainment in the guise of a Scouse lad who was on his way to Dublin looking for work. He was asking people whether they would like him to sing, which he did anyway. He did opera! He really had a good voice and everyone enjoyed it at first, but after about an hour it started getting on people’s nerves. Before long people, including Ian, were telling him to shut up and sit down. I went for a walk to get away from this ‘Scouse-eo Pavarotti’. There were two cinemas onboard, showing the latest films, but fearing I might be sick, (I have been sick on every previous ferry crossing I have been on), I decided against any movie entertainment. Getting back to the lads, Frank was just entering his bright green sleeping bag. It was like watching him transform into a giant caterpillar as he made himself comfortable on the soft seating. Paul and I made our way to the canteen and ordered a ‘full Irish breakfast’. I still couldn’t believe it, I didn’t feel sick. An hour later we made our way back to the lads. Mike was just sitting there, Ian had just woken up, and the bright green caterpillar was transforming itself back into Frank.

On arrival in Ireland, we topped up on diesel to take advantage of the cheaper fuel in Dublin, and made our way to the southern Irish coast. The further we got, the worse the roads became. Halfway there we had another ‘full Irish breakfast’. We arrived at our destination around l.30pm. Our accommodation was a large bungalow with three bedrooms, two toilets, a bathroom and a shower. There was also a washing machine, a dishwasher, a microwave in a large kitchen, and the whole thing was centrally heated throughout; perfect for a bunch of anglers.

Marc Bevan arrived from Swansea but he was alone. At the last moment Jason could not make it due to work commitments. Marc had a bungalow all to himself.

That afternoon Frank and I collected 20 Euros from each of the lads and then went to the nearest town to do a shop. We returned with bread, bacon, eggs, sausages, butter, chicken, beef, minced beef, tea, and coffee, plus one or two other bits and pieces. Oh yeah, I nearly forgot, Paul, who shouted after us, “Don’t forget my Rice Krispies”. He’s a big lad, so we didn’t forget. We also remembered to bring back a few bottles of Stella to keep the rest of them happy.

In the evening Frank, Ian, and I decided to plug an area only four hundred yards from our bungalow. The sea was calm and we blanked. Frank contacted a fish but lost it after a short time. At least it gave us confidence to try the same mark in the morning. On our return Frank got to work on his homemade chicken curry, not out of a tin or a jar, he had brought everything with him, and what a curry it was! We all said it was one of the best we had ever tasted.

The following morning it was back to where Frank had lost his fish. For the first two hours of the flood but we had nothing. Ian moved round to the left, and Frank was making his way towards me. As I moved across the rocks I saw a large brown rat run into a small cave about two feet high. When I looked in the rat was looking back at me, tucked up tight against the roof. At that moment Frank came into view, “What’s up Steve” he said. “Do you know what a bullfinch looks like?” I replied, “Yes” says Frank. “Well, an injured one has just hopped in this small cave” said I. Frank was there like a shot, down on all fours, looking for the poor little bird. As Frank was sticking his head into the cave, he was saying, “I can’t see it Steve”. I was right behind Frank peering into the cave; I could still see the rat. As Frank put his head in deeper I said, “Look up”. Frank spotted the long tailed brown bullfinch and shouted, “It’s a rat, let’s kill it”. But I managed to talk him out of it, I don’t know why, but I did.

After Frank’s close encounter we made our way to a large outcrop of rock that had a very big old gill net wrapped around it. By now the sea was a bit rougher with small waves breaking on the rocks. After a few casts I had a take and I was now playing my first Irish bass. It didn’t take long to land. It was a beautiful looking fish of about 4lb; not a long fish, but very well-built, I posed for a photograph and back it went. It was our only fish of the three hour morning session.

Back at the bungalow I made us all a full breakfast. I shouted to Paul, “Do you want tea”, he replied, “Yes, with three sugars, but don’t stir it, I don’t like it sweet”. That’s typical of Paul. By the afternoon he had gone out boat fishing, a trip organized long before we got there. Frank, Marc, Ian and I headed off to a surf beach. There was a good surf running, and over to the right it was rocky. Ian made his way into the surf to baitfish, whilst the rest of us headed for the rocks, lure rods in hand. The water was dirty, and with large waves rolling in, it was extremely difficult to cast our lures, so we had to baitfish. Seeing Ian land a small bass put an extra step in my stride as I headed for the surf. I cast out into the foaming sea and, within twenty minutes, had a bass of about 2lb 8oz. Which was landed, photographed and released. We all carried on in the surf, except Marc who had left his bait gear back at the bungalow; another hour and nothing. We headed back to base slightly disappointed – we had hoped for more than just two fish.

Back at the bungalow we studied the weather forecast. It gave wind blowing to twenty mph for the next three days, so that didn’t put us in the best of moods either. Our bait situation wasn’t good. We had a hundred and fifty black lug, which between six of us it was not going to last very long. We pored over maps of the area, trying to find some shelter out of the wind. Have you ever noticed how the names of many small Irish towns and villages begin with Bally . . . It is very similar to back home in Wales were a lot of places begin with ‘Llan’ which means Parish (I think). While studying these maps someone said, “Why don’t we try Ballynorman” then Mike said, “Why don’t we try Ballywhite”, and then finally, “Let’s try Ballymanilown”. We decided on a mark a half-hour drive away which looked like it might be fishable.

The following morning Ian, Frank and I set off to lure fish the mark. Marc (no, we’ve had enough jokes for now) would follow on later. We parked up by an old church and made our way through a gap in the bushes that looked like it had been made by other anglers. The ground was mainly wrack with a few boulders here and there. The wrack was in the shallow water then it gave way to a deep gully. The three of us spread ourselves out casting our lures. As I was working my lure I could see silver streaks coming out of the water. It looked like Garfish. We started leap frogging each other to work the area more efficiently. Then suddenly Frank was into a fish. It put up a good fight and Frank, who doesn‘t use a landing net, played the fish out. Once on its side, Frank bent down, grabbed the fish and put it in what is now known as the ‘Whittingham Hug’. It weighed exactly 7lb. A couple of photographs were taken then the fish was released. We looked at each other and said, “Let’s get some more”. For half an hour we worked our lures, side-by-side, and then Frank was into another fish, and again battled to exhaust the fish in preparation for the ‘Whittingham Hug’. This looked like a better fish, and when weighed it hit 8lb 8oz. A good bass. We were just about to photograph it when we spotted a lone figure making its way along the shoreline towards us, Frank said, “Don’t take a photo, let’s get it back in the water before he gets to us”. So the fish was released. The figure turned out to be Marc. We told him about Frank’s two fish. “That’ll do for me” said he, immediately started working his lure over the top of the wrack. The fish fell to Ian, who landed a 6lb 8oz bass, followed by another of 8lb 8oz, and then one of just 4lb. I had a bass take my lure only three feet out, but somehow it managed to avoid the trebles and was gone. At the end of the session, both Marc and I had blanked, but the fish Ian and Frank had landed told us that this mark had good potential.

That afternoon Mike and Paul made their way to this new mark. Mike landed a bass of around 6lb and Paul lost one about the same. In the evening Marc, Ian and Frank fished the mark again, whilst I went to a surf beach. It was still light as I arrived and I was alone, the only sound being the roaring surf. I fished using a 3oz weight and lug on a 6/0 hook. I’m not usually a bait fisher, so standing in the middle of a deserted beach with a pounding surf coming at me seemed a bit strange, but also exciting. An hour went by, it was just starting to turn dark and the stars starting to show themselves in the sky, and then I had a sudden knock. I struck and the fish was on. It seemed to be going well, taking line and then me getting it back. Once in the shallows I had problems, not so much with the fish but with the undertow dragging the fish back with it. I then timed the next roller and quickly made my way back, ‘beaching’ the fish. It was a bass, but at first it looked like a salmon, so bright in colour and very light silvery grey, nothing like the bass I catch in rocky areas. It was about 6lb. With it unhooked and put back into the surf, I felt rather pleased with myself. Back at the bungalow I told the lads how chuffed I felt. They had all blanked.

On Monday morning, Frank and I returned to what, by this time, we are calling the ‘new mark’. On arrival we found Marc already there, casting away. “Anything?” I shouted over. “Nothing, but it’s Still early” he replied. Once again, fishing a flood tide as the water moved over the buoyant wrack, I started working my lure. On the second cast I had a solid hit. I played the bass for about five minutes before it yielded to the net. Marc made his way over, and we weighed it at 8lb 10oz, once again photographed and returned. An hour later Frank came over and was chatting as I continued casting and retrieving. We both saw a large bass cruise right up behind the lure and then turn away. Continuing to cast, it attacked the lure again but still no luck. I then suggested he cast to the left and I to the right. Five casts later Frank had a hit, this time a bass of 7lb. We then looked over to Marc. “Frank” I said, “We have both had a good bass from this spot, let’s let Marc have a go”. I then moved to where Marc had been fishing and Frank moved a hundred yards further along the shore. As I started casting, I said to myself, “I hope I don’t catch in Marc’s spot”. Yes, you’ve guessed it, ten minutes later I had a take from a bass which when landed was 6lb 8oz. I saw Marc looking at me but he didn’t say a word. The three of us all fished on for another hour. Frank and I went back to the bungalow, but Marc stayed on, determined to catch his first Irish bass. That afternoon Frank and I decided to look for some new ground to fish for bass, and to look for mullet just in case we fancied a change.

In the afternoon we met up with Mike, Ian and Paul who had just returned from the ‘new mark’. Ian reported a bass of 8lb 8oz. Was Marc still there, we asked? They said he was, but still, he hadn’t landed a bass. He must have been feeling very depressed. It was then that one of the lads said, “Shall we remove all the sharp objects from his bungalow, and hide all his shoelaces, just to be on the safe side?”

On Tuesday morning, Paul, Mike Frank and I all went to the ‘new mark’. When we arrived, Paul said he was going to get some breakfast from a café, because he can’t fish on an empty stomach. I was in two minds and said, “If you can bring me back a bacon and egg sandwich, it would be appreciated”. Paul jumped in his pickup and went in search of food. We made our way through the bushes and onto the shoreline. Looking along the coast, we could see Marc casting away. Yesterday’s marathon blank hadn’t deterred him. I began to tackle up when I heard Marc shouting, “Steve, Steve I’ve got one, it’s a good one, quick come over”. I ran over the wrack and rocks in my chest waders, slipping and sliding, sweat dripping off my nose, and the heat coming out of the top of the waders with each step. By the time I got there Marc had the fish in the net and up on the shore. He wasn’t exaggerating, it was a monster! I got my scales. Marc said, “Come on Steve what does it weigh?” “10lb 6oz”, I said. What Marc said is not repeatable. It was a very fat bass with a big girth. I took photographs of Marc with his double figure fish. He had the biggest smile on his face I have ever seen. The fish was then released, and I went back to my fishing.

Soon, Marc was shouting again, and once more I had to run the gauntlet over the wrack and rocks. Out of breath I stood there as Marc carried another fish in the net. I could only see the back of the fish and it looked to be about 8lb. Then as he laid the fish flat I could see it was better than that. Again the scales were out, 10lb 8oz this time. To say Marc couldn’t believe it would be an understatement; two doubles in half an hour. I started singing to Marc, “What a difference a day makes!” He was on Cloud Nine. “This is the best fishing I’ve ever had” he said. We took some photographs and then watched the fish swim away. Once again, I made my way back to my gear, hoping Marc wouldn’t shout me over again, at least till I had got my breath back. I began casting towards the deep gully, bringing my lure from the deeper water to the shallows. After half an hour my rod suddenly doubled over as a bass hit hard. It felt a very good fish because line was ripping from my reel as it powered away to the right. I always think it’s a sign of a good fish when your line just keeps on going and the fish doesn’t show itself. This bass was doing just that. I had a chance to get my own back on Marc, so I shouted him over. It took some time to turn the fish but I did so eventually, and guided it into the net. Marc was by now over, and said, “That’s another double Steve”. My scales only go up to 11lb and this fish looked slightly bigger than the ones Marc had landed. When weighed, the scales went to the full 11lb, what a fish! We took the usual photographs and then returned it. Soon I had another take. When this bass was landed it went 9lb. Some fantastic fish were turning up. Marc then landed a bass of 5lb, and Frank had one of 6lb. Paul was in the distance talking to Mike, and then he headed my way, with my ‘butty’, I hoped. He had been gone for a while so I knew it would be cold, but I didn’t care, I was starving. When I reached Paul, who had met me half way, he started laughing, “Where’s my butty Paul?” I said. “Mike has just eaten it” he replied. I was really looking forward to that butty, so I decided to make my way over to Mike. He said that he had enjoyed some very good sport, landing six pollack, one mackerel and two bass of 7lb and 4lb. He also said, “That butty was the best I’ve ever tasted!” After this fantastic morning session we all retired to the bungalow for some much needed breakfast.

Early in the afternoon Frank, Marc, Mike, Paul and myself all decided to go to the pub for a celebratory couple of pints and a pub meal, during which we all talked excitedly about the fish we had landed and the incredible sizes of them, especially Marc landing two doubles in one session. We then realised that, in our excitement we had forgotten to take any scales for the B.A.S.S. fish recorder. After our meal we decided that another shopping trip was needed because six blokes can eat a lot of food. We got another chicken, so that Frank could put his magic hands to another top class curry.

Arriving back at the bungalow we all talked about getting back to the ‘new mark’ for an evening fish, and it wasn’t long before we were once again going through the gap in the bushes. It was then that Marc passed me his scales. “These go heavier than eleven pounds – just in case” he said. We all started working our lures over the top of the wrack. Marc had a fish of 5lb 8oz. I made my way to where I had landed the 11lb bass that morning. On my return to the mark, a few lobster pots had been positioned directly in the area where the fish had been taken. I therefore moved twenty five feet to one side to allow me to get an adequate cast and avoid the pots. I soon had a very solid take. My problem was to stop the fish heading towards the pots, because that’s exactly what it seemed intent upon doing. The drag was tightened up, but it was pulling hard. It was a stalemate. The bass was not taking line, but I couldn’t move it, the fish was just stationary, not moving at all. It stayed like that for about a minute and a half. I thought it was snagged on the pots. Suddenly, using as much pressure on rod and line as I could, I turned the fish and then started recovering line. After a few more forceful runs I had the fish to my net, which, once again, had to be positioned perfectly, so the fish just dropped in. When I had made my way to the shore, Marc was standing there. He looked at the fish and said, “That’s another monster, Steve”. The bass went lllb 8oz. What a beauty! I started to do an Irish jig, and Marc was bursting with laughter as I performed my masterpiece; Michael Flatley would have been proud, even though I’m a Welshman. After my performance I remembered to take some scales off the side of this fish, and we soon released it to swim away, a very rewarding sight. That was it for me that evening, I had landed my second double figure bass of the day and I was content. I packed my tackle and sat chatting to Marc for an hour as he plugged on, landing a near 7lb bass in the process. After that I made my way over to Frank who was still plugging away in the fading light. He described how a cracking 9lb bass latched on to his lure then fell to the “Whittingham Hug”. As the light finally gave way to darkness, we returned to our temporary home to sample another one of Frank’s fantastic meals.

On Wednesday morning we awoke to driving rain and very strong winds. Marc called at 6.45am and we drove to a different part of the ‘new mark’ some half a mile from the original spot. Frank, Ian and Paul fished ‘new mark’ itself. The wind and driving rain made it very uncomfortable for lure fishing, and very slippery underfoot. In the first hour Marc, as he worked his way slowly along the coastline towards me, had two attacks from bass but missed them both. As I turned to look at Marc, a bass took my lure with a savage attack, taking a lot of line. Several runs later the fish was exhausted and on its side in the net. It went 8lb 14oz. The usual photographs were taken before release. It swam away as soon as it was in the water. Making our way towards the lads, casting and retrieving as we went, the rain just got heavier and heavier, so, when we finally reached them we were all soaked. Frank was bringing his lure over the top of the wrack and had an explosive take. The fish hit really hard and then ran out to sea, line pouring from the reel. Playing the fish for a while, Frank realised it was a very good one, so when attempting to land it he had to be very sure to get a good ‘Whittingham Hug’ on it. It weighed 10lb 4oz. Paul saw Frank weigh the bass and ran over intending to take a photograph, but before Paul could reach him Frank released the fish, and never batted an eye lid about it being another double! Ian landed a bass of 5lb and Paul one of 3lb. Paul didn’t fish as much as the rest of us, and when asked why, he said, “I will tell you at the end of the holiday”. All soaked to the skin, we returned to the bungalow to dry off and to have a full breakfast.

In the afternoon Marc and I returned, hoping to land some more good-sized bass. We slogged it out for three hours and never saw a fish. How things can change. Back at the bungalow it was now early evening, and Frank was the only one keen enough to go fishing. His plan of attack was to plug the ‘new mark’ until dark, and then bait fish into the darkness. Mike and Paul decided on the pub. Ian, Marc and I sat at home with a few drinks sharing a few stories and jokes. As the evening wore on we were looking at the clock, wondering how Frank was getting on. It was now 11.30pm and Frank was still not back, so he must have landed something. Tiredness had caught up with us all and we weren’t going to wait for Frank any longer, so sleep time it was.

The next morning at 6.30am Frank was in the kitchen drinking coffee (to anyone who knows Frank well, yes I said coffee). He had returned in the early hours after landing five bass, one on a plug and four on bait. The fish weighed 7lb, 6lb 4oz, two others of about the same size, and a smaller one of about 3lb. Another good session. After our talk in the kitchen, Frank, Marc and I went off fishing. Again ‘new mark’ was our destination. Four hours of casting produced only one fish for Frank, of about 5lb. Mike and Ian decided to fish a different mark, Mike landing two bass on lure, one of 8lb 12oz, the other 8lb 10oz. What a fantastic brace. He said both fish put up a really good fight.

It was now Thursday evening and this was our last night of fishing in Ireland. We were all going home in the morning. Only Marc, Frank and myself fished the evening tide. Frank felt sure that there were bigger bass out there than the 11lb 8oz fish I had landed. Two hours of fishing and between the three of us we caught nothing. Then Marc shouted in his strong South Wales accent, “I’ve got one”. Line was really ripping off his reel. This fish was putting up some fight and made a series of runs. As it came close to the net, looking at the fish, in the fading light, Marc thought that it was probably about 8lb. When it was finally in the net, we could it was no eight-pounder. Frank weighed it and the scales went down to 13lb. What a fish, what a beauty! Marc couldn’t believe it. Like the others, it was returned, and swam off as soon as it made contact with the water. What an end to a marvellous week in Ireland, the last fish of the holiday going 13lb, just fantastic.

Our week in Ireland had been one I will never forget, and I think that goes for all the lads. We had some really good fish, but we put in a lot of hard work. You only get out what you put in. Over the years I’ve had some excellent bass fishing with lures, but this is a trip I will always cherish. It wasn’t the number of fish that was the most impressive factor, it was the size of them. A double figure fish is the dream of many bass anglers. We landed six! That’s what made it special for me.

Author: Steve Butler

Historical note: This article first appeared in BASS magazine no.105 Spring 2003.

© Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society 2008

1 Comment
  1. That trip was really something else Steve. It will never get old and is even more mind blowing on my second read

Leave a Reply