It’s a 20 minute trip to the first mark so Mike takes the chance to put his tackle in order. He sets up an 10½ft (3.2m) modified beachcaster which he uses for uptiding with a large fixed-spool reel incorporating a long cast spool. He loads this with 25lb (11.3kg) line to which he adds a length of 150lb (68kg) bottom. ‘You need it because of the rough ground here,’ he says. His second rod is a 20-30lb class seven-footer (2.1m), and is coupled with a small multiplier -25lb (11.3kg) line with 150lb (68kg) bottom in this case, with size 3/0 Mustad hooks.
Mike winds in a thornback ray . It’s encouraging to see that the baited muppet has stirred up some interest on the bottom at Money Point. The small ray raises a chuckle but it’s not exactly the big bull huss Mike was hoping for. Bright attractors such as beads and luminous tubing enhance a bait’s visual appeal in the clear Atlantic water.
A bright green and black muppet dressed with mackerel strip or squid was Mike’s favoured line of enquiry. Mike feels the line for bites as he fishes off the back of the boat towards Money Point power station. Martin gives a bucket of mackerel the shillelagh treatment and creates a pungent porridge of rubby dubby. The stuff was used to lay a scent trail to attract fish along the bottom. The piles of the jetty are a conger jungle. Mike locates an eel in the deep water and persuades it to the side of the boat.
The going was tough out in the estuary. Mike had to put in a lot of effort for his modest haul of a ray and a conger. His were not the only fish taken during the day. Here Mike waits to tail a thornback for one of the team. The ray used its 60cm (2ft) wingspan to its advantage, making it an awkward customer in the current. Take care when unhooking a thornback. Even on a small ray the mouth can clamp down like a hefty portcullis. If the fish is quite deeply hooked you may need a pair of pliers or a specialized tool such as this to unhook it. Return any undersized or unwanted fish.
Over the third fishing mark near Scattery Island Mike gets a run on the small rod. Convinced it’s a tope he allows the fish time to take the bait properly before he strikes. Alas! The tope is not prepared to commit itself and parts company.
Mike brings out a selection of baits including frozen whole mackerel, a box of squid and a black bucket containing Mike’s own killer preparation – mackerel fillets marinaded in pilchard and other fish oils. The fillets are fragrant, tender and look good enough for breakfast.
The skipper brings Karen Ann over the first mark near the power station’s twin lanky chimneys. He drops the anchor in 30m (90ft) of water – on to a bottom of sand and gravel with intermittent rocks.
Mike kicks off with muppets baited with fresh mackerel strips. Fishing a running lead on a Zip Slider for both rods, he drops one bait over the side and casts the other one out about 15m (50ft) off the back of the boat. The wind has calmed down and is swinging round to a more southerly direction and the tide is on its way up. The boat rocks as Mike waits for his rods to respond -now and again bringing in his muppets to check the baits.
A nibble or two but nothing more substantial yet. The day before a school of dolphins swam into this area but so far today there’s little evidence of any aquatic wildlife around at all. Mike tries something different to stimulate a take – a whole squid. He casts it about 70m (77yd) out from the stern. The change of tactic doesn’t have any immediate success. For an hour or so Mike tries a tempting buffet of muppets, squid, mackerel strip and his juicy and oily mackerel fillets cut into 5cm (2in) strips. But no fish gives any sign of interest from below.
A return to the baited muppets results in a take on the white rod. Mike strikes and begins to reel in. There’s a fish on all right, but it doesn’t put much of a bend in the rod. Mike soon realizes he’s not battling with the hoped-for big bull huss. He swings in a small thornback ray- at least it’s a fish.
A bigger ray soon follows Mike’s capture on to the boat as the rest of the team tap into fish. A couple of strap congers, a doggie and a small whiting also oblige. But there are no more twitches from Mike’s two rods. ‘It’s coming up to slack water now lads -it’ll quieten down a bit,’ says Martin. Well, it’s not exactly been hectic. There’s been no evidence 01 bull huss at all.
Before long the tide picks up speed and begins to rush out. The wind is picking up now and the sky turns grey. In tbe distance near the harbour, two men are at work in a currach, arranging their salmon nets. ‘It’s a lovely estuary this, but it gets rough at times,’ says Mike. Although it’s not particularly rough at the moment, the distant black clouds and heavy sky look ominous. It’s easy to imagine conditions turning horrible quite quickly.
He’s keen to catch now — it’s far too quiet for his liking. He sharpens his hooks and shortens his traces to about 60cm (2ft). On one of the muppet rigs he makes a loop in the line above the lead and to this he joins a swivel and a trace, turning it into a two hook rig. ‘I think any attractor helps to create interest,’ he says, stringing a few beads on the trace and then tying on a hook.
But it seems the Shannon bottom fish aren’t interested today, whatever method or bait Mike tries. After another barren half hour we up anchor and head towards a large yellow jetty structure. It’s a part of the Money Point power station hardware, designed for ships to dock and discharge their load.
As we come in to a sort of harbour between the jetty and the power station the weather turns quite nasty. Mike is sporting a flotation suit which he always thinks is a good idea – especially since he can’t swim. Martin brings the boat up close to the metal and concrete structure under which conger are known to lurk. He drops the anchor into about 30m (100ft) of water. A bag of rubby dubby tied to the anchor goes down too.
While Mike was trying to winkle out some reluctant fish off Money Point, the skipper was mixing up a foul Irish stew of mashed mackerel. By clamping the rancid bagful to the anchor, he makes sure all the gore gets right down to the bottom to release its oily slick. The slick is calculated to waft with the current in a submarine plume, drawing fish along its trail to within range of the hookbaits.
Mike now decides to fish a wishbone rig. with luminous tubing and plenty of attrac-tor beads. A large mackerel strip on one hook and a baited muppet on the other, he casts out towards conger territory. On the small rod he’s got a big mackerel head, with the option of changing to a flapper later.
Under the leaden sky Mike maintains a determined attack. The skipper decides it’s time to resort to divine intervention. Out comes the holy water. He sprinkles Mike with a few drops of the sacred liquid.
Wouldn’t you know it? Mike is soon into a fish. It puts up a bit of a scrap, too — obviously a conger from its reluctant manner. Mike bullies it away from the sanctuary of the piles and steadily pulls it to the side of the boat. It’s not a monster by any means -but a stubborn length of pure Irish muscle the size of Marlon Brando’s arm.
The congers keep a low profile. We leave them to the quiet life under the jetty and steam out towards the open sea.
Out in the mouth of the Shannon there are two big cargo ships. Karen Ann stops well short of them, tucking in just behind Scattery Island — at the lighthouse end. The Island once boasted an important monastic colony. A few churches and a round tower remain, along with a completely deserted village whose last inhabitant quit about 15 years ago.
Martin anchors up off the island, over a ledge in fairly shallow water. There’s not much of a tide here, but Mike knows the spot to be a good tope and bull huss area. There is even a chance of a monkfish. One local fisherman hauled in a 50lb (22kg) monkfish in his nets from this mark.
Mike arms his wishbone rig with a mackerel-baited green and black muppet on one hook and a long fillet of mackerel on the other. He secures the fillet with elastic just above the hook. ‘It stops it coming down the hook and allows it to flap naturally,’ he explains. He casts, fairly heftily this time, away from the island. For a while greedy hermits raid the baits then Steve the skipper’s mate catches a dogfish.
The rain eases as Mike gets a rushingrun on his small rod. ‘Tope?’ The reel whizzes then stops, judders and spins. Again a pause, followed by a run – and then Mike strikes. The holy water seems to have evaporated into Irish mist as Mike connects with only a thin watery resistance — the tope has cleared off. ‘And I let him have it three times!’ he says. That’s one tope with Mike’s name on it for a future Shannon session.