Al Marsden and his son Jordan, are two of the hardest working people in Irish angling. Every free moment is spent by the sea as they indulge their love of fishing. Al is flying out to Thailand this morning on another fishing trip as we speak! I first came across them on the sea angling Ireland forum and have always enjoyed their fishing reports. They have made many friends through the forum and are always willing to help other anglers. So here is Al now to fill us in….
Me: What were your early fishing experiences?
Al: when I was younger I was lucky enough to spend all my school holidays over in my granny’s in Scotland. she lived in a rural area of shotts and most of my days over there were spent out hunting with my uncle or fishing our local lake ” the voe ” for pike and perch. a lot of my best childhood memories are from those times, spending the day away at the lakeside with a big bottle of iron bru and a few sandwiches made by my gran. I would have been gone from first light and not returned home until it started to get dark. great memories indeed.as I got into my early teens both me and my brother would have got the train from Belfast down to carrickfergus during the summer months to fish the harbour for mackerel, coalfish, dogfish and Pollack. but as I got into my late teens I drifted away from fishing with work getting in the way and all the other usual distractions you encounter at that age.it wasn’t until around 8 years ago that I got back into my fishing in a big way. with my son Jordan approaching his 7th birthday he discovered some of my old fishing rods and all the usual questions followed. soon enough we had our first fishing trip planned for while we were away at our usual summer holiday spot in bettystown in co meath. we jumped into the car and headed for port oriel, clogherhead. after some tuition from me Jordan had got the hang of a simple overhead cast on the little spinning outfit pretty quickly and soon bagged his first fish. a mackerel. from where so many of us started out. and that was it, Jordan was smitten with the bug and so was I. he no longer wanted to spend hours in the amusements at fantasia in bettystown, but instead at the end of the pier in clogherhead with a rod in his hand. this soon became a bit of an obsession with us and in no time at all we were spending every waking moment of spare time we had by the sea with a rod in our hands. now as with most inquisitive 7 year olds our trips out were full of questions about the fish we were catching and the marine environment. so as not to look like a clueless dad I started collecting every book on sea angling and the marine environment I could lay my hands on, and there began the start of a steep learning curve on my behalf. it’s just as well that i’m a bit of a bookworm as I was getting through a book a week. but I could confidently answer most of the questions that Jordan was throwing my way to his satisfaction. this set the tone for the next few years where we almost exclusively fished donaghadee harbour in county down at least twice a week. it was during this time that we sharpened our skills in use of baits, rig making and watercraft.
Me: When did it become more serious and you started travelling further afield for the fish?
Al: We were fishing donaghadee one evening when we got talking to another angler who informed us about this great fishing forum called Sea Angling Ireland. I had a look and was soon signed up and became a forum member and started to use the fishing forum for general information until I felt confident enough to post fishing reports of our own. I was blown away by how decent the lads in the forum were and just how freely they were willing to give us advice on new marks to try and tips and hints.in the beginning one site member in particular called Ronald surgenor was particularly kind to us. he was like a walking fish encyclopaedia and was happy to take us to a few decent marks around northern Ireland to put us into contact with new species of fish that we had never seen before. a real down to earth honest decent bloke. As we started to branch out into the boat angling side of things we invited him out with us as a way of saying thanks for all the help he had given us in the past and return the kindness that he had so willingly shown us. it was a great summer that we will never forget. As we started to get known within the angling circles a lot of the lads further afield were keeping track on our exploits from our fishing reports and kindly offered us out to fish some of their good spots around Ireland. we had lads in derry and Donegal inviting us up for ray sessions and the east coast lads offering us out to try for the seasonal smoothound runs and lads in county mayo offering to take us out turbot and sea trout hunting. I was truly overwhelmed by not only the kindness but generosity of these lads. some of them had even offered to put us up in their homes which completely blew me away. I know they had been reading our reports and we had chatted on line briefly, but to be welcomed into someone’s home was something else. I really had my eyes opened on just what a tight knit community we had here in Ireland as anglers. because of the forums on Sea Angling Ireland we have fished some amazing places that I wouldn’t have even known existed and we have made life long friendships that will never be broken.
Me: You have fished widely in Ireland, what have been your favorite places?
Al: This is a bit of a tough one as we spent an entire summer with a quest to fish every county in Ireland with a stretch of coastline and succeeded in doing so. so we have gotten around quite a bit. but the few spots that shine head and shoulders above the rest would have to be Belmullet in county mayo and the ring of Kerry. these are both areas of outstanding natural beauty and the fishing out there is something else. there are so many beaches and rock marks that fish their socks off if you hit it at the right time. the thing that always takes me back is that you could spend a week out at these places and have some truly phenomenal fishing yet never see another angler. you have these pristine marks all to yourself. something that is unheard of back up home in the north where marks can be hard to get on in the height of the summer.
Me: Where in Ireland would you like to fish that you yet try?
Al: The one spot that we have never got around to fishing yet would be the beara peninsula. paul harris has a great set up down there for anglers and from talking to angling friends who have spent time down there, it is definitely one that we have to do in the not so distant future. paul really puts himself out to accommodate visiting anglers and the marks that you have to choose from are countless. no matter what the weather is doing you can always find somewhere handy to fish from and the quality of fishing down there is something else.
Me: What have been your favorite catches that you two have caught and why?
Al: For myself it was the john dory I caught at waterfoot pier a few years ago. it was completely out of the blue and unexpected. I was fishing my usual set up of 2 rods that day. one in close and one hammered out at range to cover all bases. I had seen a few timid bites then nothing from the distant rod. then all of a sudden there was a very definite bite and in came the dory on the bottom hook of the 3 hook flapper. as I made a closer inspection to unhook the dory I realized that the timid bites I was detecting was actually a little 4 inch whiting who had eaten the rag worm on the bottom hook. then the dory had came along and gobbled him up hooking himself in the process.it just reaffirmed my belief that when it comes to sea fishing, you really just never know what’s out there.
For Jordan it would have to be a toss up between his first decent tope that he had on a boat trip from culdaff co Donegal last year weighing in at 32lb or his rays bream that he caught on a beach fishing trip out to belmullet in 2012. He has wanted to get into contact with a decent tope for a few years now, so he was made up to get one that day. we were over clean ground and there wasn’t too many of us on the boat that day so he was able to let the drag off a bit and have fun playing it for a while before landing it.
But the bream was a total one off. we were fishing a beach that we have been on lots of times in the past and if truth be told we were actually targeting turbot that day. so when the rays bream too the sand eel on Jordan’s 1 up 1 down rig it took off for the open sea at a heck of a rate of knots. the only thing I could compare the run to was like a smoothound run. we didn’t have any idea what he had on, so it was a complete shock to see it break through the surf. I honestly hadn’t a clue what it was at first. but another angler who was with us that day positively identified it.then we were even more shocked to discover that when we weighed it that it was only 3 ounces shy of the irish record!but that didn’t annoy Jordan too much as it got him the new record holder status in the sea angler magazines, shimano mission section. Seeing as these fish are such a rare catch I wouldn’t expect it to be beaten any time soon.
Me: Are yourself and Jordan competetive with each other?
Al: We do have a bit of a laugh competing against each other. but it’s never nothing too serious, just about the bragging rites on the way home from our trips in the car. but every now and again we would bring a little trophy out with us when we have a group of friends out fishing together. it just adds a bit of fun to the day out. for years I’ve always made the joke that i’m just there to drive Jordan around the country and photograph his fish. but every now and again i’ll get one over on him and give him a bit of stick about it. we wouldn’t want him to be getting a swollen head, so i’ll steal his thunder every now and again.
Me: You have fished in Norway, whats that experience like?
Al: It really is something else. between the scenery, the people and the fishing I could honestly live out there quite happily. we usually go during the month of july when the fjords are stuffed full of herring. at that time of year a lot of the larger cod have already spawned and moved off back out to sea. but our target species would be the larger coalfish and halibut. the 25lb to 35lb coalfish fight like something possessed. the larger cod are ok to catch, but as anyone who has been out there can tell you. after the initial hook up and dive, they just sort of give up and it’s like hauling a dead weight up. but the coalfish go mental with dive after dive right until you have them at the side of the boat. Another benefit of targeting the coalfish is that they tend to sit higher up in the water column where as the cod are tight to the bottom. so you can have great sport with them on a lighter set up with lighter 3oz to 8oz lures. in fact I know a few lads who only target them with spinning rod outfits or at the heaviest a 15lb class boat rod. like I said, you are targeting them in deep water, so you can let the drag off a bit and have fun playing them for 10 minutes or so until they have tired a bit before you bring them along side the boat for a successful release. But the 24 hour daylight at that time of year can mess with your internal body clock a bit. you never really know what time it is and one day kind of just overlaps into the next. when the fishing is good we just stay out and fish on until we are exhausted. but you find yourself doing strange things like having dinner at 4am and going to bed at lunch time. When we get home to Belfast you take the best part of a week to get back into the normal swing of things.
Me: What species would you most like to catch that you have yet to?
Al: we have a bit of a wish list that we are currently working our way through in these last few years. some of the species that are still to be ticked off are blackmouth dogfish, monkfish, sting ray, twaite shad, garfish and guilthead bream.we have been on a few trips so far targeting them. but between bad weather and poor fishing we still haven’t managed them yet. but there are boat and shore marks around the country where you stand a decent chance of getting into contact with them.
Me: I know you have tried several types of fishing, but if it wasn’t sea angling, what kind of fishing could you see yourself getting into?
Al: well apart from the sea fishing we do have a bit of a soft spot for pike fishing. just like sea angling, depending on what kind of mood you are in can dictate how active or chilled out your fishing can be. if it happens to be a lovely warm hazy summers day. you can fish dead baits on the bottom or under the float and just kick back and relax and wait for the float to be sank or get a screaming run from the bottom. or if you are feeling a bit more active you can target them with the spinning rod on plugs or be even more adventurous and break out the fly rod for a go at them. Sadly the pike fishing around the country seems to be in a bit of a decline over the last few decades. Poor old mr pikey seems to have had it all stacked against him in the last few decades. With commercial netting, gill netting, illegal taking of fish and a small section of game anglers still persecuting them i’m honestly surprised that they are still holding on at some venues as well as they are. but hopefully common sense will prevail and things haven’t gotten too bad that they can’t make a comeback to the way that it used to be. we live in hope.
Me: What are your plans for 2014?
Al: well the last few years have been a bit of a write off for us. we had to move back in with my parents for a year due to my fathers poor health and ultimately loosing his battle with cancer last august. so we were just getting out on the odd trip here and there when it was possible. but things are starting to level off now and I have promised Jordan that we will be making up for lost time in a big way this year. I have lots of boat trips already lined up for us in the coming months and we’ll be back to Norway in july again. then we have a shore fishing trip to Iceland planned for 2015 and a trip a lot further north in Norway to sandland bregge to target monster cod and halibut. so that should make up for lost time. and as I sit here writing this now i’m just 24 hours away from heading off to Thailand for a fortnight to target snakeheads, arapaima, pangasius, nile perch and monster wells catfish.so 2014 and 2015 should see us back to form and into our usual swing of things. I think it’s time for the fish to start to worry again lol