A few miles out past the breath taking cliffs of Loop Head in County Clare on the west coast of Ireland holds some of the world’s largest sharks. Sharks that can regularly pass the magical 1000lb barrier and have been recorded at over 16 feet/4.9 meters long.
Angling for these giants has been pioneered by one man alone, Luke Aston from Carrigaholt Sea Angling aboard the Clare Dragoon, his stunning 37ft Lochin 366 that was built to withstand the heavy conditions that is often faced in the open Atlantic. Luke comes from a commercial fishing background and has an incredible knowledge of the Shannon estuary and the ground beyond, offering fish and stay packages in his very well set up family farm house B&B and fishing for everything from flatties through to tope in the estuary and offshore shark and reef trips where you can fish for the massive sixgill shark, porbeagle shark, blue shark, common skate and all your usual reef fish like conger, cod, pollock, ling, bull huss, wrasse, etc.
Our first trip chasing sixgills with Luke was in early June 2015, we had double figure huss and conger but no sixgills…you can’t expect monsters every day!
Our next go was in May 2016, we steamed out past Loop Head on a beautiful spring morning and anchored on the mark, the heavy rods were baited up and dropped to the deck hoping this was the time.
About mid day my left hand rod nodded a few times and line slowly but steadily reeled off the reel. I lifted the rod from the rod holder and the run stopped, a quick lift of the lead let me know the fish had dropped the bait. Immediately the bait was lowered back into position and after a couple of minutes the fish returned and picked up the bait again and slowly ticked line off the reel. This time the hook was firmly set, there was a fair weight on the end this time but I knew straight away that it wasn’t the beast we were after. After a sub ten minute fight a good sized common skate was at the side of the boat ready for lifting in. After a quick measure and photo it was returned to fight another day. Measuring in at 120lb on the charts it was huge for a male skate.
Unfortunately the sixgill eluded us again this time but we’d learnt more off Luke and would be better prepared for the next run.
Luke was fully booked throughout the summer, we spoke a few times and he kindly agreed to pencil me in for the end of the autumn once all his pre booked fish and stay customers were catered for, if we got a weather and swell window.
Around tea time on Saturday 9th of October I received the phone call, Sunday and Monday the boat had a cancellation and the weather was perfect. The van was quickly loaded and I made the 350 mile journey through the night. Arriving in Carrigaholt around 2am, I got a few hours kip in the back of the van.
Bright and early the following morning we heading out past Loop Head to drop anchor and try for these huge sharks once again. Not long after getting the two rods set out we had an amazing display of bluefin tuna feeding on surface all around the boat. Huge shoal of massive fish I’d estimate between 200lb and 500lb smashing through tightly balled up shoals of tiny 1” sprats known locally as needle eyes, less than 20 yards off the boat at times. Truly an amazing sight that can been seen nearly all around Ireland now from mid August through to December or so depending on the weather. Another mission of mine is to catch one of these on a popper, normally I carry my popping gear on every boat trip during tuna season but in the rush packing id left it out. This was the perfect opportunity wasted and a valuable lesson learnt!
We had a few knocks and plucks on the sixgill rods but only one conger to show for our efforts that day.
Luke very kindly offered me a bed for the night in his B&B, was great to have a a proper nights sleep and a tasty cooked breakfast in the morning from Mary, certainly beats another lonely cold night in the van!
The following morning we set off again, on the mark and baits lowered to the bottom. Less than an hour passed and the ratchet on the left hand that rod burst into song, not a fast run but steady and very welcome! I quickly put the harness on and lifted the rod from the rod holder and set the hook, there was a bit of weight on the end but didn’t feel too heavy. Initially I thought another conger, could feel it thumping away and got a good five to ten pumps on the rod quite easily without the harness hooked into reel lugs, then it got a fair bit heavier and I said skate as i hooked into the harness into the reel and upped the drag. Again it wasn’t massively heavy and i got it probably close to half way up the 60m depth without much hassle and then it got really heavy, peeling all that line back off with ease! By this stage im in low gear and at strike on the reel, under real heavy drag and still cant gain any line.
With the lever pushed to maximum i start to get it moving, it was a tough 30 minutes with slow and steady but very much unstoppable runs and a couple of tense moments were it must be shaking its head or rolling and you get yards of instant slack needing cranked up fast, it was boatside. Luke had a very hard job holding it on the leader, we got a few quick photos and a bit of video before releasing it unharmed. At over 4m long Luke said it was longer and fatter than the 1056lb fish he had weighed previously and its safe to say it definitely over 1100lb!
My first sixgill shark and my first grander!
Massive thank you to Luke and Mary from Carrigaholt Sea Angling.
Rod – Shimano TLD 50/80lb stand up rod
Reel – Avet EXW30
Line – 130lb Jerry Brown hollowcore to a 5m 200lb mono topshot
Leader – 5m, 400lb mono
Bite trace – 2m, 800lb 49 strand wire
Hook – 18/0 Mustad J
Bait – Salmon head lip hooked with 2 chopped up mackerel fed up the hook shank.