Preparations for the Irish Bass Festival begin for us in the middle of winter. Choosing dates around the appropriate tides need to be talked out before finally nailing down the weekend, usually aiming for the new moon tides in July. The Irish bass festival 2016 was pencilled in for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd of July. 110 anglers signed up before the cut-off date allowing us time to get the sponsors, prizes, measures, ID cards, info leaflets, prize giving venue all sorted for the big weekend. In the final few days before the festival thoughts turn to the weather and if we will get good fishing conditions. We have had a real mixed bag since the first festival in 2012 however we lucked out this year getting a nice westerly wind coming on the back of a high pressure system meaning the water clarity was spot on, and there were plenty of reports of fish coming off the majority of the local marks in the run up.
Near perfect conditions and building tides meant most of the competitors were confident they had a real good chance of seeing some nice fish over the weekend, and maybe even the biggest, if their luck was in….
Visiting anglers begin to arrive in the area in the lead up to the festival and there is a great buzz around the shop in anticipation for the weekend itself. Anglers discuss tactics, where they think the big fish will come from, on hard lure or soft lure, during day or night, who is the favourite, who is a dark horse, who can manage the best three combined, all this chat in the days leading up to the festival really adds to the build-up….
The festival starts on the Friday morning. The shop opens at 4:30am and registration begins at 5:00am. Competitors register up and are allowed to leave as soon as the clock hits 6:00am. The first hour of the festival are the busiest of the entire weekend with majority of anglers registering first thing, collecting their measures and ID cards before rushing away to their favourite venues to catch the morning tide. The rest of the competitors trickle through over the rest of the morning/afternoon, some guys not wanting to “burn themselves out”, and some guys who just had a Guinness or two the night before still claiming their late start is “tactical”.
Almost straight away reports of the first fish or two begin to filter through to us in the shop. The shop is open all over the weekend ensuring anglers have a good supply of coffee and somebody to discuss the fishing with. Again tactics are discussed and guys begin to think about pulling all-nighters fuelled by red bull (potential sponsor next year!!!). With any hope of decent sleep gone out the window, anglers are in full eat / fish mode.
Early Saturday we begin to hear of some good catches of fish coming from the previous day and through the night. But as usual some anglers will keep their cards (but not their phone in one case) close to their chest, not revealing what they have caught. Come Saturday evening well over 100 anglers are out doing their best to catch that big fish or a combination of three.
Sunday morning in the shop is always interesting with some anglers hanging on by a thread having fished hard since Friday morning. All anglers registering fish have to be on the premises with their photos by 14:00 on Sunday. All pictures are verified and digitally measured using specifically designed software, and so the tally begins.
The prize format is simple, the angler who catches the biggest fish is crowned winner of the Irish Bass Festival and gets to take home the coveted bass trophy, there is also prizes for second and third biggest fish. A hotly contested section among the serious bass guys is the best three combined. And there is also a visiting angler section and a juvenile section. The winning anglers for the 2016 festival were as follows…
Juvenile winner – Niall Hogan (57cm)
3rd Place – Gazzy Croke(70cm)
2nd Place – Chris Power (70.2cm)
Best 3 combined – Gazzy Croke (70cm, 69cm, 65cm = 204cm)
1st Place & Visiting angler winner – Michael Larkin (74cm)
And now for the science bit…
Catches this year were excellent and reports coming into us where of some good catches from the rocks and estuaries. The majority of the fish caught were in the 50-65cm bracket (9-15 years old). This ties in well with the reported good recruitment years from 2002-2008. Recruitment is the number of juvenile fish which survive after spawning and successfully make it to their nursery grounds in estuaries. Recruitment can be highly variable and is influenced (negatively and positively) by environmental conditions like wind, currents and water temperature. A decline in recruitment over a number of years can have a negative effect on rod catches 5 or 6 years down the line. Thankfully reports in the last couple of years are of good recruitment of these juvenile fish to nursery areas after some disappointing years, boding well for the future. The majority of fish caught over the festival were in the region 9-15 years old, it is very important to practice catch and release for these long lived species and this is why we run a fully catch and release format for the festival. All the catch data reported to us on the Sunday of the festival was passed on to IFI (National Bass Program). See below length distribution of fish caught over the festival.