Cancelled lectures for Friday morning coupled with a calm sea could only mean one thing – a dash to the east coast to see if any tope were in an obliging mood. They were!
For some time now there had been talk of trying to capture a tope from a kayak for a film crew. Admittedly, we had tried and failed on a couple of occasions earlier in the summer and I blamed the lack of fodder fish in the form of mackerel being present in sufficient numbers to draw some tope close to the shore. Having had to return to Galway for my studies, I had figured that the window of opportunity was pretty much being slammed shut on my fingers. So when I got word of a lecture-free day in college on Friday I was on the phone straight away to see if an outing could be arranged.
Things did not start off well. We had planned to hit the water at 08.00 but a dense blanket of fog stopped us in our tracks. We sat it out hoping that the sun would eventually burn the fog off. Our hopes were rewarded and we finally managed to launch close to midday.
The boat that was carrying the camera had launched from a harbour a couple of miles away and as they were waiting for me they fished a short drift, jigging for mackerel. They took eight in a couple of drops and I knew, with fresh bait seemingly abundant, that today was going to be the day.
I nearly ran the kayak down the beach and started paddling for a feature that can hold a lot of tope close to it – a shelf about two kilometres from the beach. Dropping from eight to ten metres, this underwater feature can usually harbour my intended target.
On the way to the mark I dropped feathers a couple of times and on reaching my destination I had secured a fresh supply of small mackerel that I could use as bait, my number one choice for a marauding tope. The anchor was dropped, the kayak found its niche in the moderately flowing tide and the fresh bait was lowered to the bottom and then allowed to run down the tide for a good fifty meters, taking it away from the kayak overhead.
Fishing for tope is a waiting game but fortunately I did not have long to wait. Shortly after dropping the first bait the ratchet on the multiplier reel started to sing, signalling the run of a tope with the bait. Standard stuff; let the fish run a short distance and then engage reel, lean back to set the hook and hang on tight.
I followed procedure but what happened next was far from standard. The fish kept running and running, tearing line off the reel at a rate that I have never seen a tope been able to do. I tightened up the drag on the reel and it still kept going. When it got to the stage that a 7000 size reel was in danger of being emptied, I stopped the spool with thumb pressure and tried to turn the leviathan. That done, I managed to get about ten yards back on the fish when I felt a couple of head shakes and the line went limp.
Gutted, I reeled in the slack line to find that the 80lb steel wire I had been using as a trace had been bitten through so cleanly it looked as though a set of wire snips were to blame. What could have done that? I have my suspicions……
As this spectacle unfolded, the lads filming on the boat were on their feet, anxious to get the shots they were after. Slack line was not one of them but I reassured them that there would be more fish to come and within minutes I had a dropped run. I retrieved my bait and sure enough it was scarred with teeth marks.
Third time lucky; I sent a bait back down again and very shortly there was another steaming run. Everything played out as planned this time and after a spirited battle and wrestling match beside the kayak, I had my prize sitting across my lap. I popped the hook out and held the tope up for a photograph before letting her slip back into the water where I supported her until she was ready to swim off.
I was elated. I had finally managed to help the lads get the footage they had been after. Everything had turned full circle. With congratulations exchanged, they told me that they were becoming pressed for time and would unfortunately have to leave me and head for home.
I wasn’t going anywhere – this was shaping up to be a good day. I decided to sit it out for a couple of hours more. I hit seven sharks for the day, managing to get three of them to the side of the kayak. A ‘red letter’ day and one that was overdue. I had spent lot of hours chasing tope during the months previously and had not fared very well at all. Today was different. I love it when a plan comes together!