Shamrock Shorelines

Test your luck with big bass off the rocks of southeast Ireland

Henry Gilbey February 14, 2012

My arms shake with unrefined adrenaline as I make that first cast into the tumbling, foaming water in front of me. I’ve been a fisherman all my life, and still conditions like this manage to reduce me to a quivering pulp of initial uselessness. I’m hoping that a few calming casts will bring me back to normal. A rapidly flooding tide seductively creeps around the rock upon which I’m perched, somewhat precariously I might add. However, as sketchy as it is, within easy casting distance I spy a number of rocky gullies where I know a bass or two should be hunting unfortunate prey. It’s just a matter of how long I can withstand the conditions before my waders become useless and I have to swim back to shore.

shamrock-shorelines01

1 of 7

Photo: Henry Gilbey

But what would an angler be if he didn’t push the limits and try luck? I can feel the presence of bass tingling down my spine as I work my offering along the unforgiving shoreline. Suddenly, my lure stops dead from the powerful hit of a hungry fish, and like all species that hunt around shallow, rocky bays, it knows just where to run.

Nothing about bass fishing needs to be complicated…travel with casting and spinning outfits spooled with 20 lb. braided line.

By now you’re probably wondering what variety of bass gets me so excited. It’s the sea bass, which we simply call bass. Without a doubt it’s a cult fish, bathed in a rich glow of history, addiction and affection, fished for by many, yet greatly misunderstood by others.

Some of the best and most consistent bass fishing takes place in Ireland, a quite magical country with complete yearly weather systems in one day, great Guinness and plenty of approachable, friendly people. Every time I return from a trip I am so full of renewed admiration and love for the country that I then proceed to spend at least a week trying to persuade my wife to move. While awesome bass fishing is a given, world-class golf courses rich with history make this destination even more desirable.

Bass often come into very shallow water to feed around the rocks and beaches off the relatively dry southeast portion of Ireland known as County Wexford. With good numbers of crabs, prawns and juvenile fish in the wash, this is bass fishing at its finest. West-facing shorelines of Counties Cork, Kerry and Clare also offer great bass fishing, but these areas are more popular. I prefer to fish the more remote coastline of the southeast, as it offers more bass and less competition.

“In my years fishing County Wexford, I’ve rarely seen another fisherman,” says Graham Hill, my bassing mate and an ex-Yorkshire man who felt the calling of the bass and did indeed move his family there. “More people are realizing what’s around here, but still most of the time I’m happily fishing on my own.”

Graham and I recently packed our lures and headed for a remote sand spit that juts out into the mouth of a Wexford estuary. We also carted along light bait rods, small conventional reels and a bucket of fresh peeling shore crab. While I love casting lures for hours on end, the history of modern bass fishing lies in wading out into the tumbling surf and touch-ledgering (bottom fishing) for marauding bass. Every time I stand out there in the cold Atlantic I begin to lose myself in the waves tugging at my legs and the gulls screeching overhead, most likely at the sheer cheek of us to even think of being there.

My bait moves around to the edge of a big sandbank out in front of me and the line is held gently between my thumb and forefinger. A sudden slackening of the line is without a doubt a bass picking up the bait and swimming toward me. I hold off on setting the hook and instead wait for the fish to turn away. As the line comes tight and carves through the creamy surf I hear Graham shouting as he strikes into a fish—two bass fishing friends enveloped in their own little capsule of Irish heaven.

The hooks suddenly pull free from the unseen bass, but instead of making another cast, I head out into the waves to help Graham land what looks like a stunning bass. I grabbed the fish’s bottom lip as hard as I could and hoisted the magnificent fish from the water.

Best Times & Tackle

Nothing about bass fishing needs to be complicated, so I enjoy the simplistic approach and travel with casting and spinning outfits spooled with 20 lb. braided line. Poppers and shallow divers attract lots of bass, but since you’re fishing on foot you’ll be limited to the amount of tackle you can bring along. I carry tackle in a fanny pack as I tromp the rocks and surf with breathable chest waders and felt-soled wading boots.

The depths of a storm-tossed winter can produce some really large bass, but I prefer to fish mid-summer through late fall. Big spring tides tend to offer better opportunities, as greater water movement allows more bait species to access inshore grounds, and of course the bass follow this ample supply of forage.

While Ireland is known worldwide for its stunning brown trout, salmon and sea trout fishing, bass fishing exists almost as a kind of secretive sub-culture. The fantastic shore fishing found in Ireland is so underdeveloped that I’m amazed to see so few other people doing it. Come to the Emerald Isle and wet a line, and don’t fail to give coastal bass fishing a try. You, too, will forever after feel the urge to return again and again.

Notes of Interest

  • Name: The Republic of Ireland covers the majority of the island, with its capital Dublin. The remaining portion is Northern Ireland, created as an administrative division of the United Kingdom, with Belfast the capital.
  • Population: Approximately 6 million, with 1.7 million in Dublin
  • Government: Republic and parliamentary democracy
  • Religion: About 87% Roman Catholic
  • Area: 32,591 square miles
  • Climate: Generally mild with frequent rainfall
  • Official Languages: English and Irish (Gaelic)
  • Currency: Euro (€1 = $1.34)

Getting There

Dublin Airport (DUB) offers the most central access to the Wexford coastline, but connections from some U.S. airports also fly into Shannon, good for going to the Clare and Kerry coastlines. Plenty of smaller regional airports like Cork and Kerry are serviced from U.K. airports. Driving is always laid-back in Ireland, so don’t be in any kind of a rush and it will be fine. As in most of Europe, they drive on the left side of the road with steering wheels on the right side of the car. Roads are well posted, and people will be friendly if you need to ask directions. All major roads in Ireland tend to pass through towns rather than bypass them, so relax, enjoy the sights and pass the time snapping great countryside pictures and dreaming of the bass fishing to come.

Contact Data

Newcomers will want to learn the ropes from good all around guides and sources. Along the outstanding Copper Coast area in southern Ireland I would recommend contacting the guys at Absolute Fishing (absolutefishing.ie) for plenty of local advice and tips. In Kerry, I suggest contacting Kevin Brain (kbfishingireland.com) or John Quinlan (thatchcottageireland.co.uk) for fly fishing enthusiasts. John is one of the most respected bass fishing guides in Ireland. The best guide around the Wexford/southeast area is Jim Hendrick (probassfisher.com).

Join the Discussion