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Blue Shark On The Fly

Tom Collins gives me a hand to lift my first blue on the fly

I’m just back from a week in Ireland. It was a strange week, fishing wise. I was mostly shore fishing and the “bite” was just not on. I started up in Tralee Bay, and finished fishing the Beara Peninsula for the last three days. The fishing was tough everywhere! The constantly swinging wind, which just about covered all four corners of the compass, the at times near gale force winds, also periods of torrential rain and persistent drizzle were a major contributor, but July can so often be a hard month anyway.

I was hoping for an undulate ray in Tralee. I’m desperate to add one of these to my all-time species list, but yet again it was not to be. A couple of weeks previously the undulates had been throwing themselves on the beaches. A few days before I arrived, they switched off. I saw only one undulate caught, a fish about 8lbs by young Kerry angler Eoin Foley, this his first undulate. Great fish, Eoin!

Heading down to the Beara I was staying with Paul and Anne Harris at Dromagowlane House, a B&B mecca for anglers fishing this area. Fishing buddy for the week Mike Hennessy and I took in a few marks just so I could get a feel for the place. What struck me is the sheer diversity of the terrain. There are literally scores and scores of rock ledges, estuary creeks, inlets, harbours, piers and beaches to fish. There are still marks on the Beara that have never seen an angler’s footfall!

It was just after a ray session that produced a few thornbacks to 7lbs or so, that we headed back up the road towards Gelngarriff. There’s a pool here fed from the open sea by a pipe…and it was home to resident mullet. They were feeding at the very far end of the pool about 35-yards away, so I set up with a weighted carp controller float to 6lb Fluorocarbon and a size 10 hook. The bait was a good old Mother’s Pride bread.

I’d seen a mullet working a small gap between floating weed. Second cast I got the bread exactly where I wanted it. I watched the mullet cruising in on it’s preferred route, see the bread, veer towards it and suck it in. A slight pause and I struck feeling the real weight of the fish before it tore off across the pool. I won’t bore you with the fight details, but it was a good scrap and Paul netted a full bodied, prime looking thick lip of exactly 4.5lbs for me. It was an opportunist fish we just spotted when pausing at the roadside to see if we could see any mullet.

A cracking Beara 4.5lb mullet
A cracking Beara 4.5lb mullet

This trip turned put to be something pretty special in the end. I’d long wanted to catch a blue shark on genuine fly tackle and a fly I’d tied myself. It was one of those life things you aim to do and was a bucket list thing for me.

I was scheduled to be out with Tom Collins, a skipper based at Reen Pier near Union Hall on my last day, the Friday. However a phone call from Tom on the Monday confirmed what I’d already seen, that Friday’s weather forecast was for high winds. No chance of us getting out offshore. His suggestion was that we tried the evening of the Tuesday in daylight for a blue on the fly, then switch to conventional gear in the dark hours and return around first light as Tom had another charter that day. Tom was a keen as I was to get a blue on the deck caught on a fly.

We left Reen about 17.30 and pushed out 15-miles or so. Mackerel were in short supply, but we got a couple for conventional baits later on, though Tom had already got six barrels of dubby ready previously, so chum was not a problem.

The chum went in the water and I set about working the fly, but with no interest. We’d set up a hookless bait just as an indicator should a shark move in to the slick. It took less than 30-minutes for the reel to chatter as a shark took the free offering. They’d arrived!

It was almost dusk, when after greasing the fly with a little mackerel to add some scent to it, I felt a “bump” on the line, then nothing. I was working the fly in short jerks to get the maribou dressing to pulse in the water. I was trying to get the fly to look like a fluttering mackerel chunk, not necessarily a small fish. As I kept working the fly, suddenly the fly stopped, I felt pressure, held the line tight to pull the hook in, and the next second a shark was heading away from the boat flat out, dipped it’s head and dived straight down deep well over 100-feet. I was using a prototype Hardy 4-piece 12w fly rod, a 12w floating line and a size 11/12w fly reel with a disc brake. The fly line was off the reel and I was well in to the 30lb braid backing in double quick time.

Bending into the blue with a Hardy 12wt fly rod was great fun!
Bending into the blue with a Greys 12wt fly rod was great fun!

It took the best part of an hour before the shark was close enough to the boat to try and land it. Tom had made a huge landing net for just this sort of situation as the connection between the fly line and the short biting trace is inevitably pretty weak. I worked the shark close to the boat, Tom lined up the net and at the third attempt the fish was coaxed inside and lifted aboard. We lengthed and girthed the fish working out the weight to be 65lbs. At the outset of the adventure I’d have been happy with a blue of any size on the fly, but to get one over 50lbs would have been icing on the cake. The 65lber was more than I could have asked for, and at the first attempt too! I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Tom. He’s a great skipper with a true sense of adventure and the blue on the fly was a true team effort!

Tom Collins gives me a hand to lift my first blue on the fly
Tom Collins gives me a hand to lift my first blue on the fly

We fished on through to dawn, and added four more sharks to 90lbs on conventional 20lb gear. Great fun!

I’ve had quite a bit of interest regarding how I set up the fly tackle, so I think I’ll write up my thoughts and why I chose to set up as I did in a short feature in the features section of my website. I can go in to better detail like this, plus it will be a permanent reference for anyone else that fancies trying for a blue on genuine fly tackle. I’ll do this in the next couple of weeks as I’m working away the next two weeks and weekends, so keep checking for the content to be uploaded.

Next up for me is a tackle shop open day on Saturday 25th July at Sea View Angling’s new shop in Plymouth, then the following Friday, Saturday and Sunday I’m working at the Game Fair at Harewood House, near Leeds, Yorkshire. Drop in for a chat, if you’re passing and get the chance!