The Spurdog saga by Kit Dunne

IFD: With the season fast approaching, now is the time to be thinking about getting your dates in with one of Ireland’s top charter skippers Kit Dunne of http://www.wicklowboatcharters.ie 

This installment Kit gives his views on the spurdog prospects for the coming season…

As we leave February and move into March 2018 my main focus as a charter boat skipper and a Specimen Hunter is the Spurdog, trying to nail down the correct combination of tide and weather to target these sporting fish. The weather hasn’t played ball recently with 5 days cancelled and the knowledge that the spurs have been here this time for the last few years. So ! if we cant fish, we write about it 😊

I first wrote an article on spurdog in 2011, and then in 2015, and boy have things changed between those articles and now. In 2011 I talked a lot of the good old days when we caught spurdog 3 at a time, when packs followed a hooked fish up to the boat and of course how things then declined due to commercial over-fishing. I wondered if they would ever come back in those numbers and if we could successfully target them as a viable specimen fish.

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A 2017 specimen Spurdog from Wicklow

In 2015 I had spent a few years trying hard to suss out these fish, trying to find them, then find them in numbers and of course trying to find the big ones was my goal. I did report of a noticeable increase in numbers along the East Coast and I am happy to say that is still the case. After 2 successful years recording Specimen Spurdog out of Wicklow I am happy to say that the recovery is ongoing, the numbers are still increasing slowly and the big females are annually producing young.

For the moment at least, we are heading in the right direction, although, my greatest concern now is the over fishing of small fish at the bottom of the food chain. These fish are being commercially fished inshore, netted and boxed up by the ton for small money to go to produce meal. This is an awful waste, were scraping the bottom of the barrel for a few bucks and damaging the young fish which grow to be feed for larger fish in a natural ecosystem.

Spurdog were inadequately protected for years and were in danger of collapse from over-fishing, thank God we’ve addressed this, but now it’s time to look at the small feed fish before this has an even greater impact on many Irish species.

WHEN & WHERE

In summer Months spurdog can be found readily on the West and North-West waters off Scotland, the Welsh coastline, and North and East coast of Ireland. They have been caught sporadically all around the Irish Coast, although the more prolific areas were in the North up to a few years ago, and in the East in more recent years. You will see from the Irish Specimen Fish 2017 book that Spurdog can be found pretty much all year round however the bigger fish numbers will be more localised.

Spurdogfish are a bottom fish, usually found on or near the sea bed, they are known to feed up off the bottom at times, chasing shoals of herring etc. They are common on sand or muddy sea-beds, in mainly deeper waters or channels of depths from 10Metres upwards.

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Spurdog from the Celtic Deeps, 100M deep waters.

FEEDING HABITS & BAITS

In their normal environment Spurdog will feed mainly on bottom-dwelling creatures such as crabs, flatfish, codling and dragonets; however, they will sometimes feed in packs chasing schools of smaller fish like herring, sprats and pilchards.

The most common baits used would be mackerel, squid and herring, you can also use crab, whiting or lamprey. In many areas you may find whiting, and a fresh whiting can be an excellent bait. Cocktails can work well however, no finesse needed, plenty of blood and guts, no frills, will take the spur, especially when in a feeding frenzy.

TOOLS

In recent years I have given in to the fact that spur fishing in deep water needs a heavy setup. You will be in very deep water with fast tide, obviously we try neap tides but the slack won’t last all day so be prepared for some heavy work. I suggest a minimum 30lb class rod, coupled with a multiplier reel such as a PENN 535 or similar loaded with 30-40lb braid. A 2-speed reel, eg Shimano TLD20A, and a butt-pad can both be very helpful for those really deep marks especially if you fish through the fast run of tide.

If you do fish too light this results in a long tough battle to boat a fish, resulting in a tired and sick fish with less chance of a safe return.

TRACES

Having seen some serious specimen spur up to 20lb in recent years I have gone heavier with traces. Spurdog are a ferocious pack fish and they will viciously tear at a bait. I suggest trace line should be around 150lb breaking strain mono or wire. Don’t look for the finest 150lb line, you want the big diameter to withstand the chaffing sharp teeth. Hook sizes of between 5/0 and 6/0 will easily cover small to big fish. There is always a chance of a Tope on the same grounds as spurdog so use a heavy hook to cater for the odd Tope, and also the occasional Thornback and Blonde Ray.

A simple running ledger rig of 1 or 2 hooks will allow you to try 2 bait types and to increase the scent in the area. I regularly use a 1-up 1-down rig or a 2-up rig when the fish are more plentiful. In relation to colours, beads and Muppets there’s only one thing that always stands out for me and that’s luminous for the deeper waters. Others will have their own favourites.

HANDLING / UN-HOOKING

As the Spurdog are not as tough as they may seem it’s important to take care of them and to return them as quickly as possible. With this in mind you should plan for your catch, make a safe area available in the boat and agree who will do what job on boating a fish. They are very lively and strong and will struggle in the boat, once a spurdog is in the boat you should restrict his movement in a safe manner, for your safety and that of the fish. In order for a quick and safe release you could consider using barbless hooks and a release at the side of the boat.

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Wicklow Spurdog have featured heavily at the Irish Specimen Awards in recent years.

SPURDOG – SOME FACTS

  • COMMON NAME ; Spurdog, Spiny dogfish, Blue dog.
  • SCIENTIFIC NAME ; Squalus acanthias
  • IDENTIFICATION ; Spurdog are a member of the shark family with sleek muscular body, pointed nose, and oval eyes. Upper body is dark grey to a light grey/brown on the sides, underbelly is white. They can have rows of light spots on the upper body and sides but these can be random and can fade as a fish matures. The most distinguishing features are the sharp spurs found at the front of the 2 dorsal fins.
 
  • SIZE ; Approximately 120cms long, exceptionally slow growing.
  • IRISH RECORD WEIGHT ; 11.06kg, 24.38lb.
  • IRISH SPECIMEN ; 5.443kg, 12lb. or 105cm Length based Specimen.
  • PUPS ; Gestation period up to 22 Months, born live, between 3 and 11 at a time and at a length of in or around 20 to 25cms.

 

SPURDOG – TOP TIPS FOR FISHING.

  • Try a 1-up 1-down rig and cover the spurdog feeding tight to the bottom and feeding up off the bottom.
  • Use 2 hooks and big bloody baits, blood works and the more bait down there the more of a feeding frenzy you create.
  • If at all possible release your spurdog at the side of the boat for your safety and the welfare of the fish.
  • When handling spurdog, hold in a horizontal position and be aware of the danger of the 2 spines, one in front of each dorsal fin.

Kit Dunne, “Wicklow Boat Charters”, 087-6832179

About paddykeogh20

We are three anglers who enjoy all aspects of fishing. Whether we are blanking or catching were happiest on the bank or shore. If you like your fishing join us by watching our many trips and as we interview some top anglers along the way.....
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