The steep blank learning cliff

A few weeks ago, the stars aligned and my imminent release from quarantine coincided with some time-off from work. After all the months of reading up about sea fishing, tidal mechanics, wind directions, scouting out potential fishing spots, watching a plethora of YouTube content and trying to learn the intricacies of lure fishing, it was time to put all this theoretical knowledge into practice.

My prior angling experience was based in course fishing and centred largely around lakes and canals. My only previous sea fishing experiences have been mixed.. there was the time as a kid that I went on a boat trip from Brighton, fishing for Mackerel, pulling up full strings on feathers and then nearly getting myself quite ill after taking them home and trying to cook them… skipping the all important step of gutting them. Then there was the single time I ventured out to a tidal sandbar in Abu Dhabi with my uncle, using a simple running ledger rig with half a frozen baitfish for bait. I’m still trying the remember the name of the fish that I very proudly caught! I’ll update you if I ever remember!

Fishing the sandbar in Abu Dhabi

I knew that fishing the wild Kerry coast was going to be a steep learning curve. Having never sea fished solo without guidance or local knowledge, or never having used lures or braid for that matter. Even though I knew I was up against it, I certainly underestimated the challenge I have undertaken.

After spending the months of lockdown scouring Google Earth for potential fishing spots, I had ‘identified’ 24 locations along the Dingle Peninsula. This was all guess work based on what I had learnt through various mediums and was no match for actual real-world local knowledge. While Google Earth helped me find spots that looked geographically promising for Bass and other species, there is a life time’s work ahead of me to understand the tides, the particular winds, the weather and how these combine to create underwater worlds along these shores that change from day to day.

Day one

Such a beautiful location, even if I am not catching fish I am certainly catching views.

I decided to start out by trying a small venue, one which had written reports of both Bass and Mackerel being caught there. I got to the spot just as first light was arriving and I planned to fish the final hour of the flood and continue fishing into the ebbing tide. The water had very little motion and was mirror like… this gave me a chance to try out casting lures without much interference from the wild Atlantic winds. Whilst ultimately unsuccessful catching anything other than quite a few wind knots in my braided line, and clumps of seaweed that had been churned up by storms Ellen and Francis, it did give me a chance to get comfortable with the fundamentals of lure fishing… and untangling large clumps of braid.

Day two

For my second day out, I thought I would go back to the same venue for a go at the incoming tide during the evening. This time choosing to mix it up a bit and fish on a different mark, an old boat ramp that was surrounded by dramatic rock formations that continued under the waterline, and hopefully provided more depth than what was available at the spot I fished the previous day.

With a lot more surf in the water and an on-shore wind, the venue became a completely different proposition. Pushing my casting ability with braid, well known for being tricky in testing conditions, I took comfort, not from the even bigger clumps of loose weed that I was trawling out, but the fact that I didn’t need to spend a sizeable portion of the trip untangling knots. This gave me more time to become comfortable with the various lures that I had come armed with. I focused on improving my walk the dog technique, that I had read so much about. Standing there with the howling wind in my face, the ocean waves crashing against the shore, and the ominous rattle of loose boulders being sucked out to sea, I began to manage to get the lure to do what I had intended, not consistently but certainly heading in the right direction. This was all a very far cry from what I was used to… sitting on a sunny lake bank, enjoying a beer whilst keeping an eye on the carp rod for nibbles.

The venue was almost unrecognisable the second time around.

Day three

While I had grown in confidence with my ability to actually lure fish, there was still the growing sense of despair at having not actually caught a fish yet. I made the decision to try a different venue, some cliffs and a bay surrounding a local lighthouse. Using access to the mixed environments of the shallow rocky bay and the deeper waters off the cliffs to target some different species. Having heard this spot held Mackerel, Pollack and potentially Wrasse, I figured it would give me a boost to stop the blanks.

Taking a closer look at the underwater features of this new spot during low tide.

I started out just watching as the tide flowed in to the bay. Trying to understand where best to target… I didn’t feel confident approaching this entirely new venue. I just had a few casts to shore up what I had learnt so far and pay close attention to my terminal tackle, when a passer-by got talking to me and recounted his own tales of fishing off the cliff. He talked me through how I could walk down the cliff and get access to some decent casting platforms and more importantly some decent water.

I pulled on my self-inflating life vest and made my way to the cliff. By this point the wind had substantially picked up and as a consequence the wild Atlantic had developed a significant swell, turning extremely dark, in fact almost black and overwhelmingly ominous. Acutely aware that I was fishing alone, I chose to play it safe and fish a huge crevasse in the cliff that I thought potentially offered shelter to both me and the fish I was targeting. Slowly becoming more cognisant of trying to use the wind to my advantage when casting, I tried my luck searching around in the chasm for something that wanted to play. Just as I started to see some movement in the kelp in the depths below, the waves and swell started to become extremely unpredictable, with one wave crashing against rocks sheltering me and testing just how waterproof my waders truly were. At this point, I snapped out of the almost trance-like focus I had on catching a fish and decided that my new life in Kerry was not worth risking. Having read in the local paper of two separate stories of people being dragged out to sea in the past week, one of which had involved an angler who had been washed off the rocks and sadly wasn’t able to make it back to shore, I decided it was much safer to head home. As much as we love fishing, being safe is of the utmost importance… a rogue swell that has travelled many miles across the Atlantic and built tremendous momentum can change someone’s life in a split second. I chose to live and fish another day.

The deeper waters off the cliff definitely contain fish, I will be returning at some point.

Day four

With my fishing confidence slightly battered at the lack of fish, I made another trip to the local tackle shop to discuss spots and tactics with the wonderful Martin at The Angling Hub, Tralee. If you are ever fishing down in this part of Ireland I highly recommend a visit. He pointed me at a couple of spots in close proximity that were fishing well and provided options.

With the alarm ringing out at 3:30am, I made the quiet drive to the new location.

I started out at the first of the two spots, right next to where I could park up. I figured it was worth a shot as I was already there and the tide was making it’s unstoppable march in. Under the cover of darkness I began to cast out and search this new ground. It felt promising… until the sun started to peek over the horizon, struggling to cast it’s beams through, what I could now see were, extremely murky waters. It was going to be a struggle to get a fish to respond the lure if they couldn’t see it. I tried anyway, using my brightest and loudest lures to try and catch the attention of something, to no avail… so I decided to save my energies for another day. Whilst I was still blanking, this new spot felt promising.

Look at the murk in the water!

Day five

As a window of opportunity once again appeared, I decided to head to this new spot again. On my first trip I had only tried the first mark and had decided against making the long walk around to the other.

After I had arrived, I got myself set up and began the walk towards the second mark that I was yet to try, Google Earth yet again failed to show me the full picture and with the incoming spring tide the route around was a mix of wading through the shallower waters (but still way over waist deep) and essentially bouldering over the deeper parts. This took a while, as I subsequently found out was over a kilometre in distance from where I started. Only to be met with an extremely deep stretch with no more rocks to clamber over at the last bend to the exact mark. Not being able to move forward, I had a few casts from a nice little platform that I had ended up on. I knew I was well wide of where the fish would be, but figured I would try anyway and see if I couldn’t practice my top water lures some more. The satisfaction of seeing my Patchinko flick from one direction to the next was fantastic.

Even though I was lacking the all important fish, I really felt I was starting to understand the decisions you have to make as a lure angler. Which type of lure, colour and action to name but a few.

It’s hard to stay too disappointed at the lack of fish, when you are treated to views like this.

Still going…

If you have read this far, I thank you!

My solo journey into sea, lure and bass fishing has been a trying one… I would be lying if I told you that I wasn’t battling disappointment at various stages during the first few trips out but I would like to think as I have solidified some of the fundamentals, the feeling of being closer to that ever elusive first fish has become less a disappointment and more a part of the journey. I have always believed that human beings learn far more from failure than a single success could ever teach, as nice as that success might feel… so the journey continues.

8 thoughts on “The steep blank learning cliff

  1. Aww man, I was so disappointed for you at the end. I was sure you were gonna get a fish on the fifth day. Bummer.
    Dude, this is some quality writing, well done.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was back in Dingle on the weekend and am thinking after this hefty wind today, the long beach at ballyferriter will be a deadlock for a bass on fresh lugworm, even during the daytime.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Like you I am from across the water. Although I have been here 14 years! I only got into lure fishing for bass properly this year. I’ve had more blanks than success. Local knowledge goes along way and the size and state of the tide plays such important part(did I mention weather and wind direction!😁😁😁). I have found a few Mark’s that can be productive around Tralee bay and I actually caught my first surface lure bass at the beginning of the summer, a great feeling. Since then I have managed a few more, the best being 4 fish in a two hour session. Your blog is a good read and I can relate to a lot of your experiences. Pardon the pun but all we can do as lure anglers is keep plugging away as it truly is a addictive pastime.

    Liked by 1 person

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