Rob McClean is one of Ireland’s premier small boat anglers and held the long standing gilthead bream Irish record until last year. Having represented Ireland in the Junior world shore championships and competed at the highest levels, Rob loves now to compete in small boat angling competitions, and perhaps the biggest of them all is the Cork small boats festival which Rob organizes with his good friend and expert angler Jim Clohessy and Gavin Moran.
So over to Rob now…
What were your earliest memories of fishing?
RMcC: Its amazing, you forget huge parts of your childhood as you get older but I can remember all my fishing trips growing up as clearly as if they were last week. I guess that makes me an optimistic person as I have obviously blocked out everything else, did I go to school?, I can’t remember, I was probably dreaming about buying a new reel! One of my earliest and best memories of fishing was fishing in Courtown harbour. Like a lot of Dubs back then, Courtown was a kids dream. It had everything you could wish for, Amusements, every sport you could imagine and lots of friends to hang out with, but I was definitely the odd one out as I was only interested in fishing in and around the harbour. I caught my first fish, a Silver Eel, at 6 years of age, the harbour use to be alive with them. I was pretty much hooked after that and spent all of my summers fishing in the harbour and when I was a bit older off the pier, catching everything from Scorpion Fish to Smoothies to Blennies!
Did you do much shore fishing before you bought your first boat?
RMcC: At 35 years of age I can still say I have spent a lot more time shore angling than boat angling. I only started boat fishing properly when I was about 22. Shore fishing is where all good boat anglers learn their trade and I would still class myself as a shore angler rather than a boat angler, though close friends may shoot me for saying that now! I was with Raheny & District for 10 odd years, IMASA and EFSA and represented my country a few times at various events. I still recall fishing in the Junior Internationals in Croatia when I was 16 and how much I learnt from that experience and how good some of the senior members in the IFSA looked after us back then, in terms of coaching, advice and generally giving up their spare time to develop young anglers in Ireland. Fishing matches all over the country, the UK, Scotland and further afield every odd year was something I really enjoyed and being a very competitive person it was great to compete at that level for so long with some of the best anglers in the country. I learnt so much shore fishing and still do and was very lucky to be good friends with Chris Denvir who I learnt a huge amount from over the years of match fishing. I decided to drift away from shore match fishing as my career and young family started to take off and I could not devote the time you need to compete at that level. I also began to become frustrated with the amount of effort that you need to put in for such little return at times, in terms of fish landed and the quality of fish landed. Getting a taste of huge Coalies, massive Turbot and monster Tope back in the early 00’s was enough to sway my main focus to small boat angling…..
How often do you get afloat and can you tell us about your local fishing?
RMcC: It’s all weather permitting in small boat angling. What you will get away with in a 35 foot charter boat you will not risk in a 17 foot dinghy. I try to cram every year and focus on fishing hard from May through to till the end of November. December to April do fish but what I like targeting and my appetite to go back to trying to rub heat into my hands after putting another frozen Sandeel onto a hook is a lot less than it use to be years ago when I would just endure it. That and the fact the Rugby season is in full flight during this period means I focus on the other 8 months. If I can get out every weekend during these months I will. I won’t throw out the usual “if I am allowed” as I will honestly say that I am lucky that my better half never gives me grief on when I can or can’t go. She knows I will likely be fishing two weekends a month as the weather will dictate the rest and I will balance the books on those off weekends. Mid week boat sessions are great but hard to do with work. The impromptu sessions always seem to produce great results, don’t know why, but that’s always the way for me!
You are one of the organizers of the Cork small boats fishing festivals, can you tell us how that began?
RMcC: Good question and good story! I met Jim Clohessy in 2003 in Brandon in Kerry whilst boat fishing. He, as he does, persuaded a buddy of mine and me to fish the Cork Small Boats Festival in our boat later that year. We did and I was hooked from the get go. It was intense, manic, highly competitive and unbelievable banter and craic. Non stop. The following year Jim invited me to fish with him, on-board SKUA, in the knowledge that my shore fishing background would guarantee team SKUA a Flounder, a fish they consistently struggled to nail each year prior to me joining. So it was on. I was on board the local top dog boat and all I had to do over the 4 days was to catch a Flounder. A Flounder, simple, catch them in my sleep. Catch this one fish for team SKUA and I am in here for life, I flippantly thought to myself. Day 3, big day, no Flounder yet but confident of getting one given we were “on the mark”. 1 hour gone – zip, 2 hours gone – zip, 3 hours – bang – Jim catches the Flounder – “oh shit I’m a gonner, good while it lasted and all that” After listening to around 45 weeks of abuse from him, comments like – “shore angler me hole” and worse that would not be suitable for a public forum he gave me the call to say “well suppose you better try catch one this year”. Year 2 – Jim caught the Flounder, again L and that’s pretty much been the trend for close on 10 years now! Jim and I and more recently Gavin Moran run the event and it’s a belter of a week. Jim to be fair does most to the hard graft throughout the year and we row in nearer to the event.
How did this years festival go?
RMcC: For us personally as a team – just ok. We didn’t get what we class as our “A fish” and that let us down horribly but that’s how it goes. Every year something that you don’t expect will sneak up and frustrate the hell out of you. Last year it was the bloody Flounder, this year a Blonde Ray, Grey Mullet and a Blenny! I know! This year we felt we got no “rub of the green”, no quick fish or even lucky fish. Those things are what you need to then buy you more time to focus on getting your species count up. Of the 28 species we landed, we worked bloody hard for each and every one. Too hard at times. In terms of the event more broadly it was another success. Whilst our numbers were marginally down due to a combination of unexpected events the craic, comradery and fishing was spectacular. 5 boats on 30 species of fish is somewhat unheard of and another new record for this special event. The other notable thing about the event is this was probably the 4th year in a row that we had amazing weather and sea conditions. Anglers were spoilt for options. A sun tan and 30 species of fish at the back end of September is pretty special to be fair. That’s the beauty too of this event. No matter what the weather the harbour will always be accessible and safe for small boats, unless its force 10! We always get out fishing. Its great. The best part about the event for Jim and I at this stage is seeing new boats, the enjoyment, the amount learnt and lifetime friendships that the build during this manic week is special to watch each year. No one goes home empty handed and no one goes home without having learnt a wealth of information on small boat angling.
Up until recently, you were the Irish record holder for gilthead bream. can you tell us about the session that you caught that fish and how did it feel?
RMcC: Ah yeah – you had to bring that one up! I was with Chris Denvir back in 2007. I had been fishing for these on a regular basis in Cork Harbour and was reasonably successful, thanks to Jims mark, homework on them and advice, another perk of having fished the small boats festival. It was a cracking September day. The plan was to do some practice with Chris for the small boats festival that I would fish later on in the month with Jim and also have some crack and get a bend in the rod before heading back to Dublin. What a day it turned out to be. We had several Gilt heads in the basking sun in Cork Harbour, some even over specimen weight. Chris got a specimen. We were absolutely made up. It was around 3pm and we were getting ready to start packing up and heading for the slipway for around 4pm. “Bang!”. I knew it was big. Boat anglers in particular always know when its big. The pause when it briefly stops and you gain a turn of the handle and a lean into the rod and you feel that unnatural weight for the species you are targeting. 20 mins of fun on 8lb main line saw an absolute monster come to the side of the boat. It took 4 runs each time it came to the side of the boat. The jelly legs and dry mouth were in full flight, but feeling physically sick at the thought of loosing it, well that was a new for me. 5th attempt, Chris nets him. 3.27kg or 7.2lbs. The rest is history, but to get 7 years out of it before it was beaten last year was a bonus as I honestly thought it would be broken sooner than that. It will be broken again, that much I can guarantee, hopefully its by me!
What have been your favourite sessions over the years and your happiest fishing memories?
RMcC: I would have to say the small boats festival. Its really a special week. I have so many good memories of it, not just winning it a few times but more so the friends you make, the craic and the genuine comradery. Sadly we have lost some good friends too, like Alan Jones, but again it all adds weight to this one week a year when you are in heaven as an angler. Fishing with good friends is always my happiest. I rarely go fishing alone. I think sharing the experience, good, bad or indifferent, with friends is all part and parcel of angling. I am really looking forward to fishing it in 2015, as we have big plans for the event in 2015.
What would be your dream Irish catch?
RMcC: I love flatfish, any type. I nearly got a specimen Plaice recently and would love to get a record Flattie. A big Bass would be great but I am not as obsessed with them as maybe a I should be. I just get such a kick at see a big fat flattie, fighting you under the boat or slapping up the bank of an estuary or beach.
Where else in the world would you like to fish?
RMcC: Cuba – I love the number of options and variety and I think it would be a unique experience. Going to Africa with Jim a few years back was akin to that and the whole rural and non modern angling approach feel to it was a great experience. I enjoyed it more than I thought.
What are your plans for the coming year?
RMcC: For the remainder of 2014 I intend doing some Flounder fishing, maybe a Blue shark trip and some Cork Harbour work! For 2015 I am hoping to spend most of my time down around the South coast. I would say Jim, myself and Gavin will be doing a lot around Cork for Blennies
Well Rob, Thanks for giving us some of your time it has been a pleasure.
RMcC: Anytime lads