We join Irish angler Ashley Haden as he outlines some of the excellent shore and boat fishing opportunities offered in the east coast county of Wicklow.
Adjacent to Dublin city, Co. Wicklow circa 2012 still has much going for it as a sea angling destination. I say 'still' because unfortunately the inshore waters which lap the Garden County have also not escaped the 21st century ravages of commercial overfishing and bad fisheries management. On the plus side however there are a number of commercially un-targeted species, thankfully quite sporting, which swim within casting range of the shore, frequent offshore banks, or are at home within estuary confines, ready and willing to take a carefully presented bait, lure, or fly.
The coastline of Wicklow stretches from the town of Bray in the north of the county to a point just south of the town of Arklow. Coastal features comprise steep to shingle banks and shallow sandy beaches, interspersed with an odd headland, with Bray, Wicklow and Mizen being the main ones. Species to expect are bass, smooth hound, tope, bull huss, spurdog, ray, dogfish, mullet, mackerel, pollack, wrasse, flounder, dab, and sea trout.
Offshore grounds are shallow, averaging five fathoms (30 feet), and are swept by strong lateral tides. High and low tide Wicklow are forty minutes ahead of Dublin port. The seabed is mainly clean and was home to large mussel banks, which are now sadly diminished due to dredging. The Moulditch ridge off Greystones is the only area of truly rough ground. Small boat anglers should take into account the strong tides and relatively shallow ground when planning a trip, as a wind against tide situation can create quite a lumpy sea.
Clubs or individuals wishing to avail themselves of a charter boat are catered for by LISIN 1, a 35’ offshore 105 skippered by Kit Dunne and based at Wicklow harbour. Licenced for 12 anglers LISIN 1 is a clean, well maintained boat owned and run by an Irish international boat angler familiar with the marks off Wicklow head.
There are tackle shops in Bray, Greystones, Wicklow, and Arklow who stock a ready supply of fresh lugworm, ragworm, and crab, with frozen mackerel, sandeel, squid, crab, and mussel also available. For those who wish to dig their own bait, lugworm are plentiful on Merrion and Sandymount strands in south Dublin, about forty five minutes north of Wicklow town.
This is the traditional sea angling venue in county Wicklow, both from boat and shore. Small boats can be launched from the local slipway to fish the grounds off Bray Head and the Moulditch ridge to the south. Smooth hound, tope, bull huss, dogfish, gurnard, dab, and mackerel are the main species to expect. Mussel, lugworm, crab, and fresh mackerel are the baits favoured by local boat anglers, and anchoring is far more productive than drifting. Off the beaches south of the town bass and mackerel are the main quarry, along with dogfish, small pollack, small coalfish, and small flatfish. Small whiting appear in the autumn and winter. Crab, lugworm, and rag tipped with mackerel are useful bait suggestions for the shore angler.
For those prepared to be adventurous tope swim close to shore on occasions, particularly in the autumn and early winter, with specimens to well over 40.lbs landed. Try the north end of Ballygannon close to the first river. Sea trout are also a possibility, especially early in the year (February – April) to anglers fishing a lure.
These are access points for an eleven mile stretch of continuous shingle bank between Greystones and Wicklow town. Over fishing and mussel dredging offshore has affected the quality of angling on offer, but these venues still can produce sport with bass, mackerel, small flatfish, small coalfish, small whiting, dogfish, smoothound, and latterly shore caught tope (October – November) the species to expect. Use crab and rag tipped with mackerel in the summer, while lugworm and mussel baits work best during the colder months. Another useful tip is that these venues fish best on a falling tide.
Surf casting off the Murrough produces similar fishing to that described above, with rockling, small coalfish, flatfish, and whiting available off the harbour walls. Mullet to specimen weight and flounder are targeted by specialist anglers who fish the Vartry Estuary.
A shallow sandy surf beach more associated with holiday makers, but in the autumn it comes into its own as a bass venue. A blow from the south or south east attracts in the bass and specimens up to ten pounds have been recorded, with the average size being three - four pounds. The southern corner in particular is worth trying, with evening and night tides best.
This is an area south of Brittas Bay. There are two beaches here separated by the Ennereilly River which is noted for its run of sea trout. Ennereilly strand north is a long shingle beach with relatively deep water off shore. Smoothound, dogfish, and the occasional ray are targeted during the summer months, with flounder, small whiting, and dab making an appearance in winter. Ennereilly strand south is a sandy, shallow beach which fishes best in a southerly breeze. It is a good bass venue from April through to October with lugworm being the best bait. Aim for evening and night tides with the hour either side of low and high water being the feeding times. Other species to expect are smoothound, flounder, and dogfish, with dabs and occasional codling in winter.
Worm and fish baits will take smoothound, dogfish, dabs, flounder, and small whiting. Baits fished close in will catch bass in the three pound bracket, with an odd bigger fish always on the cards.
Situated south of Arklow this is the last of the Wicklow shore venues. A shallow sandy beach accessed from a car park, keep to the left for deeper water. Expect bass, flounder, smooth hound and dogfish, with the low rock platforms to the right delivering bass to both bait and lures.
Lure fishing using spinners, plugs, surface poppers, soft plastic/lead head jigs, and flies is becoming increasingly popular. For consistent success specialised stiff, tip action rods, and reels loaded with non stretch braid are essential to make the lure work properly. Depending on the venue bass, mackerel and pollack are the target species, along with an occasional sea trout. Seek out headlands, rocky areas, harbour walls, and tide races for some cracking sport. Water clarity needs to be good, and early morning or late evening, in calm settled weather fishes best.
If surf casting two kits will suffice, a heavy beachcaster for use over rough ground or in turbulent seas and a light match fishing or bass pole, both married to a suitable multiplier and fixed spool reel. Use 17lb breaking strain main line fronted by a 60lb shock leader. For mullet fishing a coarse float fishing rod matched to a 2500 size fixed spool reel loaded with 6lb breaking strain mono is ideal, and for general spinning you can’t go wrong with a 10’ pike rod designed to cast up to 80 grams coupled with a 4000 size fixed spool loaded with 12lb mono. If boat fishing a 20lb class set up for down tide and an up tide kit will cover nearly all eventualities.
Terminal tackle should include for general sea fishing a range of hooks from size 1 fine wires up to 8/0, most general shore and boat situations will be covered by a Kamasan B940 in 1/0 or 2/0. Use a 7/0 or 8/0 for tope fishing and a size 10 for estuary mullet. Carry a selection of 4 – 6 ounce weights both plain and gripper, split shot and half ounce drilled bullets, arlesey bombs up to two ounces, and 30 – 60 gram barrel leads. To the above add feathers, sabikis, shads, spinners, jelly worms, lures, swivels, wire tope traces, various grades of nylon and amnesia line, beads, trace making crimps, selection of floats, scissors, knives, pliers, super glue, head lamp, rod stand, a landing net, and you are more or less ready for anything.
As a tourist destination access to Co. Wicklow couldn’t be quicker or easier with the main car ferry ports of Dublin and Dunlaoghaire 45 minutes to the north and Rosslare one hour south. Of course there is Dublin airport, regular trains run along the coast between Dublin and Wexford linking on to Belfast, and there is a good commuter bus service.
Quality hotels, bed and breakfasts, guest houses, country homes, and caravan / camping parks are dotted all over the county many of which are angler friendly. For the traveling sea angler booking accommodation the towns of Arklow, Wicklow, or Greystones would probably be the best bet.
Extra curricular activities besides the obvious pubs which are many and varied could include visiting Glendalough, Avondale House, or the Vale of Avoca, a drive up into the Wicklow Mountains, golf, kayaking, mountain biking, or hill walking. Top class restaurants and eateries abound with Greystones arguably having the greatest concentration.
If the above account has whetted your appetite to visit and cast a line off a likely mark along the Wicklow coastline, then why not drop me an email at anirishanglersworld @ gmail.com for more information.