With a skin as tough as glasspaper and teeth that can slice through nylon line, the tope is a tough fighting fish that needs strong tackle but a gentle touch to be landed unharmed The tope is a strong, slimbodied member of the shark family and is found all around our coasts. More numerous in some areas than in others, the Wash, the Thames Estuary, the Solent, Cardigan Bay, the Wexford Coast and Tralee Bay are noted tope fishing venues. The species is found in depths ranging from a few feet along the shore to depths in excess of 50 fathoms, but on the whole it is a fish found in moderate depths and is most plen-tiful in depths of 5-20 fathoms. The fact that it frequents shallow water facilitates the use of light tackle and permits the tope to show its superb fighting qualities.
While the tope is found over all types of bottoms it has a preference for clean ground and although it inhabits all levels of water it feeds mainly on demersal, bottom-living, species, particularly those found over clean ground. It is almost en-tirely a fish eater and the most popular baits used for catching tope are mackerel, herring, squid, whiting, pouting and small flatfish.
Tope are large fish running up to 80lb or more, but a more usual size is between 20 and 35lb. For that reason, sizeable baits such as a long lask of mackerel or indeed the whole mackerel can be used.
Tope are taken regularly from the shore in places. Steep-to beaches with a fair depth of water close-in offer the best opportunity, but in calm conditions the tope may be met on very shallow beaches. They run a long way up only those estuaries and tidal channels that are completely saline as they have no great tolerance to freshwater. The time and place to fish is directly in the channel at low water and on the early flood tide. Tope will be found quartering little coves and bays along a rocky coast, usually at the same stage of the tide, but only persistent fishing of a particular spot will yield this information.
Shore fishing for tope
For shore fishing a beachcasting rod capable of casting 6oz is suitable. Lighter rods will handle the fish but may be overloaded by the combined weight of bait and sinker if a heavy fish bait is used. Nylon monofilament of 18-20lb b.s. Is adequate provided there is enough of it on the reel—300 yards is not too much as shore-caught tope can run a very long way when hooked. Multiplier reels are most commonly used but in some cramped rock fishing situations a large fixed-spool reel has definite advantages.
How to hook tope
Tope pick up a bait and run a short distance before pausing to turn and swallow it. A ledger rig, therefore, is the most suitable terminal tackle as it allows the fish to seize the bait and move off with it without feeling drag or pressure. The fish should not be struck until it commences its second run, unless a very small bait is being used.
One method is to use an all-wire trace of 40lb b.s. Its overall length is 4ft as anything longer causes serious problems in casting. It is joined to a shock leader of 30lb test and then to the main line. The sinker is attached to a free running swivel on the shock leader, which permits the fish to take line freely. A similar trace is also used except that the short wire hook-link is followed by heavy monofilament of at least 40lb test. Tope have sharp teeth so a short-wire link to the hook is essen-tial. Their skin is as rough as glass paper when rubbed against the grain, and as they have a tendency to roll up on the trace, light nylon will part like thread. All-wire is therefore safer, but heavy nylon is preferred since it is more flexible and fishes better. It should, however, be changed after each fish as it becomes unreliable due to abrasion and chafing. Hook sizes will depend on the size of the bait used, but are normally 60 to 90. They should be razor sharp.
When casting a long trace, an old spiked sinker is used on which all but one spike is removed. The bait is impaled on the single spike, effectively halving the length of the trace and permitting easier casting. When the bait hits the water it parts company with the sinker. A few feet of line should be wound back on the reel when the sinker is on the bottom to ensure that the trace has straightened out along the sea-bed.
Traces for boat fishing are very similar, except that heavier nylon monofilament can be used for the short-wire link—50lb to 70lb test will suit admirably. When fishing from an anchored boat in strong tides or currents a long trace may be preferred and its length can be adjusted by putting a stop (a rubber band or match .stick secured by two half hitches) on the line below the free running ledger. When fishing on the drift—that is, from a drifting boat—a shorter trace is desirable. The ledger runs on the monofila-ment portion of the trace, making a partial ledger and when fishing over rough ground the sinker should be attached by a length of light line or ‘rotten bottom’. If the trace fouls, the bottom link to the sinker should break and only the lead will be lost.
To get the best out of tope one must not fish heavy. This is unnecessary as the tope likes to run hard and fast, particularly in shallow water and can be played on light gear. A test line of 25lb to 30lb is adequate and can be matched with rods comparable to those complying to the IGF A specifications for the 20lb and 30lb tackle classes. Multipliertype reels with a capacity of 300 yards of line are best and they should have an efficient brake or slipping clutch.
While the angler normally fishes on or near the bottom for tope, when drift fishing in depths of up to 10 fathoms or over rocky reefs he can driftline or float fish for them. These methods can at times be most effective. When floatfishing, the depth at which the bait is fishing can be adjusted to keep it clear of the reefs and avoid catching in the bottom. When driftlining in relatively shallow water the aim should be to fish in mid-water. When fishing from an anchored boat or on the drift in shallow water, fish your bait well away from the boat.