Gethyn Owen, skipper of My Way, working out of Holyhead Marina in North Wales, has the knack of finding some big smoothound. In fact, exceptionally big smoothies, including fish to Welsh record size. The numbers of 20lb plus fish he’s caught over the past few years are, as far as I’m aware, unrivalled in UK waters.
Although I’ve caught smoothies all around the UK, and in Ireland, it’s not a fish I normally get much chance to fish for. My PB was stuck on 14lbs. However, with three days booked with Gethyn in June, I knew I was in with a chance of punching that much higher.
I’d fished with Geth the previous year for the smoothound, and in contrast to elsewhere, found them exceptionally shy biters. Normally smoothound knock a couple of times on the rod tip, then hammer the tip over and you set the hook against the weight of the fish. So far, my experience of the Holyhead fish, is the reverse. The smuts show on the rod tip as a few small plucks. Sometimes they leave the bait, go away, then come back again up to a minute later. Sometimes you get a series of individual plucks and nothing else. If you strike early, you feel the fish, but they drop the hook during the fight or the bait comes back untouched. Strike too late, and you’ll hit thin air and retrieve an empty hook.
The standard rig to target smoothound is a simple running ledger. Having had the winter to think about it, I couldn’t see a way to improve this, but I did feel that the standard 36-inches of 40lb Fluorocarbon or mono as a hook length was part of the problem. Normally the longish hook length would give the fish the freedom to fully take in the bait prior to really feeling the drag of the rig, line and rod tip. In my case I think the hook length was too long and minimising the bites as movement on the rod tip. I decided to reduce my hook lengths to just 18-inches.
The next thing was that I’d been using 40lb Fluorocarbon as a hook link. I felt that this, being stiffish and hard surfaced, it might be being felt by the smoothound as they mouthed the bait. I dropped my hook lengths to just 30lb Fluorocarbon, which would be less easy for the fish to feel, plus give the bait more natural movement. First day on the boat with Geth, it turned out, in conversation, that he’d been thinking along similar lines and was also experimenting with shorter and lighter hook lengths.
I chose an 11-foot Shakespeare Tipster rod. This has a soft tip that I knew would show up bites well, but also minimize pressure felt by the fish as it took the bait, but with real power in the mid section and butt to really pile the power on a big fish when it hangs deep. I matched the rod with a PENN Spinfisher 5500 fixed spool reel for its smooth drag ability, and loaded with 30lb braid. I also added a short Fluorocarbon leader to combat any potential braid abrasion should it come in contact with the seabed.
The weather was very close and thundery, and the tides dropping back from spring tides, so the fish were already pretty edgy and tentative when biting due to the atmospherics. The first day of three, I caught 10 fish to just shy of 13lbs, but Mike Jr got a cracking 20lber. That’s two 20lbers he’s had in two years! I went with Geth three days later for two days. The first day, with the tides dropping fast, I had seven smoothies to about 9lbs. As the tides were dropping, the fish were definitely less in number. That said, I missed as many bites as I hit.
On the last day my aim was to fish as hard as I could keeping a good bait in the water all the time. If I missed a bite, no point waiting to see if the fish came back, it was a case of replace the bait with fresh and aim to fish effectively 100% of the time. I knew I had a chance of a very big fish, but needed to work the percentages in my favour as much as possible.
Bites were less frequent, but I caught four small fish to about 8lbs and there were a couple of double figure fish caught by the other lads. As the tide turned and started to ebb, Gethyn moved the boat’s position. Once at re-set anchor I had a bite immediately and missed it, one of those iffy “will it’ won’t it” offers. I re baited and recast.
I waited for at least 20-minutes and was just thinking about re baiting, when I saw a faint knock on the rod tip. A few seconds later another one. I lifted the rod and pulled a few feet of free line off to give the fish the freedom to pull away with the bait. I watched the line pull tight and signal on the rod tip, lifting in to the fish as the line came tight.
Immediately I knew this fish was big. It hung up off the seabed for a few seconds, turned and took some line. It stayed deep then, hanging in the current, but decided to swim uptide. I just kept pressure on. It swung up towards the starboard side of the boat, turned and took line. Now it swam uptide again, but on the port side. It hung, and I could feel its full weight. I eased my reel drag off slightly to allow for any potential light hook hold. The fish was still heading uptide and was now level with the middle of the boat. I applied as much pressure as I could and the fish turned and went downtide a little before emerging at the side of the boat. I couldn’t see the fish, but Geth, ready, net in hand, said, “Oooohh, it’s a biggie!” I just held the fish as steady as I could and waited for Geth to net the fish. When he swung it aboard I was surprised to see just how big it was.
Geth weighed the fish in a purpose made sling and it registered its lowest reading at 23lb 3ozs. I’d wanted a 20lb plus hound for quite a few years, and to get a 23lb fish on what proved to be my next to last drop of the trip was pretty special.
It’s my expectation, that with time, there’s going to be a 30lb smoothound for Gethyn from these waters off Holyhead. Just wait and see!