IFD: Tom Collins is the skipper of “Loch An Iasc”, based out of Reen pier just 2km from Union Hall in West Cork. This is one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland and with some of the best fishing on it’s doorstep, Tom is currently the only Irish charter skipper to have had a mako shark aboard his boat. The fishing possibilities in this part of Ireland are endless so over to Tom now for his interview.
To book a trip with Tom log onto http://www.seaanglingcharters.ie
How did you originally start fishing?
Hi Paddy, I was fortunate enough to have parents who enjoyed shore fishing and from as far back as I can remember I was taken on big adventures digging lug worm in Dublin bay and fishing the Wicklow piers and beaches during the summer months. Fishing was a huge part of my childhood and some of my happiest memories of being a kid involved summer days by the sea.
How did your love of boat angling begin?
When I was 10, I got to join the junior section of Bray Head Sea Angling club where I learned to catch some new species to me from the confines of 16’ boats. These were exciting times and I was lucky to be taught and guided by some excellent anglers and mentors. That summer, during a family holiday to Valentia Island, my father took me on a charter boat fishing off the Skelligs. That was my first experience of “deep sea fishing “and as a 10 year old boy catching huge Pollack and cod I was well and truly hooked on boat fishing.
You now run a charter business yourself from Union Hall, what made you take the plunge and why West Cork?
I studied Aquatic Science in Tralee back in 95-97 and a good friend of mine from Dingle, John O’Connor, who taught me at the college, bought a yacht in Southampton and invited me to crew for him on the boat’s journey home. After departing Penzance, Union Hall was our first port of call en route to Dingle. I was taken aback by the kindness of the people there and after a brief stay I had offers of work on the commercial boats. On Qualifying in college I headed back to Union Hall, took up the offer of work, and I’ve been here since gaining an intimate knowledge of the offshore fishing grounds.
A few years ago a good friend of mine (whom I had previously fished with) purchased a brand new catapult 396 for charter fishing. His knowledge of fish and the grounds were second to none but his angling experience was limited so I joined the boat as a second skipper to help build up the business and offer advice on everything rod related. Unfortunately in 2013 due to personal circumstances he had to shut his charter business. At this stage I had a good feel for the business element of charter work and had built up a stable customer base. While it wasn’t the best time financially for me to invest in a charter business, there was an opening I couldn’t walk away from.
Can you tell us about the fishing in the area?
The big advantage that I have working out of Union Hall is the geographic location combined with the oceanographic make-up which gives us a huge amount of species to target and to be honest Paddy I’m guilty of neglecting the smaller ones in favour of some of the larger ones. I’ve had the privilege of having some world class anglers fish with me and if I may quote the legend that is Mike Thrussell talking about his experiences with us he says………..”Tom Collins is uniquely placed to take advantage of the incredible fishing grounds found off Union Hall. This area, in my opinion, is one of the very best, not just in Ireland, but in the whole of northern Europe, offering a virtually unrivalled number of saltwater species, but also a very real chance of catching the fish of a lifetime. This area is one of my all-time favourite fishing venues, and I’m looking forward to fishing with Tom many more times in the future”.
Can you tell us about the Blue Shark fishing?
I made a conscious decision about 10 years ago to experiment with the shark fishing in the area and to deviate from the general advice found in the many books and online articles. The results 10 years on are pretty cool, for example, the general advice is that you won’t catch Blues in water temperature below 15 degrees Celsius yet we have caught them when the water was as low as 12 degrees. Our Blue shark season starts in May and extends into November, however there have been blue shark caught here along with Bluefin Tuna by commercial boats in December so maybe this coming season I’ll do an exploratory trip in December!
July and September see the larger packs feeding in the area and our best day last year was 32, 30 of which were caught before lunch time. Pre 2014, 95% of blue shark that we caught were female fish, but surprisingly last year 25% were males. All shark that we catch are released following best practise regardless of size or species and I’m very happy to hear the Irish Specimen Fish Committee are accepting specimen claims this year for Blue shark measured and photographed on specific measuring mats.
You are the only skipper in Ireland to have encountered Mako, can you tell us about that day.
It was the 14th of August 2013 and was a typical calm and warm mid-August day. The charter comprised of 2 adults and 7 young kids, all related, and the target species was Blue Shark. The fishing was slow despite conditions being in our favour. Just as we were nearing the end of our rubby dubby, one of the reels screamed for a second or two. I picked up the rod to set the hook but missed, so as I was rapidly retrieving the bait to check if it was still there the Mako hit the bait 20 yards from the boat at a rate of knots and took off on a blistering run. At this stage we didn’t know we had a Mako on, even though some of us had seen the shark hit the bait. I handed the rod to young Ben Healy from Cork who was just turning 14 years of age. The epic fight lasted 45 mins on 50lb gear and even though the Mako never jumped, it fought the fight very high in the water column. At first proper glance of the fish when young Ben eventually got it near the boat we knew it was a fish of a lifetime. The shark was very angry to be on-board and made several attempts to dismember my legs so we swiftly measured, tagged, and took photos of the Mako’s distinguishing features and then released it back to the deep blue lukewarm water.
For a few days I was sure that we had tagged and released the first Mako to be caught on rod and line in Irish waters until I was educated by Gary Hannon (SFPA) who called to my house to discuss the shark as he has a very special interest in Mako. After a very interesting chat with Gary it turned out that our Mako was in fact the third authenticated rod and line caught Mako from Irish with the other two previous landed in Kinsale in 1965 and 1969. There was also an unauthenticated report of an 85lb Mako landed in Kinsale in 1990 by a Dutch angler.
On the 19th of June 2014 this very same Mako, sporting it’s yellow tag, was recaptured 80km NW of Lisbon Portugal after spending 309 days at liberty and while we will never know exactly where it travelled to post being released off the coast of Union Hall, the distance between capture and recapture was 1,460km.
West Cork is one of the prime areas for Stone Basse in Ireland; can you tell us of your experience of these?
The first experience I had of Stone Basse was while shark fishing with my brother in law. Half way through our drift we noticed two silvery shadows darting out from the safety of the boat’s hull, picking off pieces from the ruby dubby trail, and running back for cover. We spent a couple of hours trying to, and eventually catching those two fish. We selected the smallest hooks we had on board and set up garfish rigs baited with tiny slivers of mackerel skin to resemble what they were taking from the ruby dubby trail.
Years later after catching many of these fish our tactics couldn’t be more different. We now fish either half a large mackerel or one whole small mackerel mounted on an 8/0 hook. If you put one of these baits close to a Stone Basse you will get an instant take! During the summer months I always have a rod ready to go and never pass even the smallest of floating debris as more often than not there are silver shadows hiding beneath.
What have been your own personal favourite fishing experiences over the years?
I find it very hard to pick just one Paddy. As a child each days fishing was an adventure but in recent years as a charter skipper the most memorable experiences that stand out are…
- Ben Healy’s Mako shark
- Taking my kids shark fishing
- Mike Thrussell’s Stone Basse last year was a great experience for me mainly because he has fished these waters for 24+ years and had never even seen one. Over 2 days fishing with us he saw 7 and had a specimen himself which almost brought a tear to his eye.
- A couple of years ago I took a charter of young Eastern Europeans out for a mixed day of fishing and whale watching. They had never seen the sea before let alone fished or experienced the dolphins and Fin whales as they did that day. That was a magical day for me to share in that experience.
Where else in the world would you like to fish?
The first place that comes to mind is Madeira. As a child I read a lot about the angling adventures to be had there and there is a certain appeal to fishing around a mature volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
What are your angling hopes for 2015?
I like to set targets at the start of each season and hopefully this year will be another good one. I will be working hard to keep our title of the country’s top Blue shark boat and I’ll also be trying to find another Mako. I strongly believe that the Stone Basse record could be broken in the area this summer and with the amount of bookings we have for skate fishing I would be hoping to land a six gill shark. Weather permitting we will also be doing a couple of private trips for albacore tuna with the hope of getting a specimen.
Well Tom thanks for talking to us and hope you have a great 2015