2nd January was the only calm day forecast for the forseeable future, so I decided to try to get my mullet season kicked off at Rosscarbery. Conditions were hardly ideal though - it was bitterly cold and last evening's sleet had frozen solid to my windscreen. I chiselled it off and set off with the car's outside temperature gauge telling me it was -3degC!
At Ross, the grass was covered by a thick frost. Understandably there wasn't much mullet activity evident but after watching a while I did see a few whelms in the tail of the flow from the lagoon. I set up my two leger rods close to the bridge arch, fishing one crust bait as far out as I could towards those fish and the other closer in the deeper channel.
The morning passed with only a few trembles on my tips, then just after lunch I had a little drop back bite on the distance rod. I struck and thought I'd missed the fish, but it must have been swimming in and I caught it up as I started to wind in. After a fair scrap I landed my first mullet of 2023, a long but lean thicklip of 3:10. The sunshine had just about melted the frost off the grass by this stage, but the air still felt icy cold.
An hour later I had a much more positive bite on the rod fishing closer in. The mullet made a few short runs but mostly put up a very solid resistance hugging the bottom in the channel.
While I was playing it I noticed my other rod tip nodding - another mullet had hooked itself and was ticking line off the reel drag which, in hindsight, I wish I'd tightened up a notch or two. I tried to ignore what was going on there while I concentrated on landing the first fish, which seemed to take an age. Eventually I got a very decent mullet into the net, and left it in the margins as I dashed back to the other rod.
Unfortunately by this stage I'd say about eighty metres of line had disappeared off the spool and the mullet had found a snag among the old oyster pens across the far side of pool. I couldn't feel the fish or see any swirls on the surface out there, so my guess was the fish had gone. I spent ten minutes pulling from various angles but eventually broke off. It was a disappointment for sure but at least the mullet in the net was a good one - 5lb 8oz in pristine winter condition apart from a split in its dorsal fin.
The next day the weather took a turn for the warmer but with that came a wet-and-windy spell that persisted through most of January. Sylvi and I came down with covid, hot on the heels of the cold virus I'd had over Christmas ... it was the 19th by the time both the weather and I were both recovered enough to get out fishing again.
I met my friend Stephen up in Kerry for a first attempt this year at the spurdogs. We arrived to find the track to my favourite mark closed by forestry work, and opted for a different track down to a different mark that I'd only fished once before.
The mark turned out to be on the snaggy side - we lost three or four sets of gear each - and on this day at least it was almost devoid of fish. We fished most of the flood tide to no effect and the tide was dropping away before we had a meaningful bite. I had a small conger, Stephen had a dogfish, that's all. Apart from Stephen's company I'd say the best part of the day was being treated to a wonderful Atlantic sunset.
On the 21st I was back on the mullet trail, at Rosscarbery again.
It wasn't the greatest weather, with a surprisingly chilly south-west breeze and prolonged spells of heavy drizzle. I settled for fishing from the back of the car along the wall where at least I'd have some shelter from the tailgate.
There were a few mullet showing in front there but the first couple of hours passed without activity on the tips apart from when a mullet swam through one of my lines a good ten or twelve yards in front of the bait, leaving a big
whelm as it spooked. At least the mullet present seemed fairly active so I was reasonably hopeful.
Early in the afternoon I had my only proper bite of the session, a fish that came in quite easily then decided to fight it out close in. After some to-and-fro it was in the net, a fish of 4:04. This one had some damage around its tail, possibly resulting from a close encounter with an otter.
The swim died a death after that and I was chilled through, so I soon called time on the session.
On the 23rd I was back up to Kerry to fish with Stephen again, with lots of new spurdog rigs tied.
The forestry work was still ongoing but this time we walked past the new mark to get my preferred spot which is much less snaggy and a little deeper.
In contrast to the session last week, this one turned over almost a bite every cast, but unfortunately nearly all the activity was from dogfish. I think I landed six and had several drop off near the edge, Stephen's seemed to be hanging on better and he landed more.
Mid-session Stephen had a stronger pull-down bite which he wondered whether was a ray settling over the bait ... and when he came to wind in there was indeed a nice thornback of over 9lbs on his line. It was the only decent fish we managed between us. The doggy-fest continued unabated till we packed up apart from a first (but small) whiting for Stephen. I was surprised that across the two trips we didn't see a huss, given they were coming out one or two every trip this time last year.
The spurdogs will always be hit and miss, perhaps even more so now that the EU has lifted the moratorium on commercial fishing for them. There's a new Total Allowed Catch (TAC) of nearly 11000 tonnes from western fisheries areas of which the Irish share is a bit over 1800 tonnes. Apparently the stock has increased but I think the problem here is there's no meaningful baseline data from, say, the 1960s when they were a very plentiful fish. If a stock is reduced to something like 10% and increases by 50% from there, it's still only 15% of what the stock should be.
On the 24th I headed down onto the Mizen Peninsula. I arrived at the low water pool to find mullet ... everywhere. There must have been many hundreds of fish present, topping in all parts of the pool. Imagine threading your line through eighteen small rings of a 15' Preston float rod with this lot going on ...
Despite a serious case of mullet shakes, I managed to get tackled up okay. Out went the float, and a handful of bread mash, and I sat poised for instant action. It didn't happen though, and remarkably it took nearly forty minutes of light feeding before I had a definite bite. Yet once they were turned on to the bread it was incessant action and I finished up with thirteen mullet from two swims, and lost a couple more. Most of the fish were solid 3lbers - great sport - with just a couple smaller and a couple bigger at 4:01 and 4:13.
By contrast when I returned on the 26th there was a light but biting cold north-east breeze blowing down the valley, rippling the water surface. Nothing at all was showing so today I set up to fish just off bottom and hoped for the best.
The large shoal of 3lb-class fish did seem to have moved on but I had a few bites, from a couple of 2lb fish then a better one of 4lb 2oz. Later on the bites, sparce as they were, dried up completely so I packed up and took the dog for a walk along the beach. As we drove back along the causeway in the last hour of daylight, it had calmed right off and some nice fish were topping right by the bridge. I broke the tackle out again, missed a string of bites in the failing light and finally had one out of
The 28th was a nicer day altogether - mild, calm and misty - and good numbers of mullet were showing again when I arrived. There's a truism in fishing that you can only catch what's there in front of you, and today I had a string of 2lb-class fish, eight in all. I'd never knock catching fish of this size, especially on light float tackle when they put up an unfailingly good scrap, but I was really hoping for one of the couple of bigger fish I'd see topping occasionally out of range at the back of the shoal of smaller fish. Eventually I got one 3lb 10oz which may or may not have been one of the fish I'd seen ... I really thought they looked bigger.