Lovely little monsters

Outdoor Living

SMALL BUT SAVAGE The lesser weever caught by John Shelley on Achill.

Country Sights and Sounds
John Shelley

Fed up with being confined to barracks (it’s been too cold or too rough for comfortable fishing for ages) I made up my mind – I would go anyway. But where? The rivers are off limits until March and the trout lakes for nearly as long.
A nice plaice would look good on a plate, or a couple of dabs, perhaps. The sea it would be, then, and what finer place could there be than the charmingly named Trá Bhearna na gCapall, the Strand of the Gap of the Horses? Also known as Golden Strand, it lies at Dugort, on Achill’s sheltered northern shore.
I’d quite forgotten how far it is. By the time I’d stopped to dig a pound of sand worms for bait I found I’d missed the ebb tide. Most people like to fish over high water, but the shallow beaches found along the west coast often do better when the tide is fully out.
I stopped to pick up a sandwich and fell into conversation with the shop assistant. “The Golden Strand?” she had asked. “I don’t think I ever saw a fish caught there. The Silver Strand now, that’s where you want to be, especially if it’s flatfish that you’re looking for.”
“Would you be a fisherwoman?” I wanted to know.
“I might be, on occasion,” she replied, noncommittally, before looking out at the weather. “And if I happened to be fishing today it would be to the Silver Strand I’d go and no other.”
I knew better, or thought I did, so drove to the Golden Strand, which looked perfect, being sheltered from the worst of the wind. The bay was filled with short, white-topped waves and not a little quantity of wrack, which had been torn free from the rocks further out. The floating weed would be a nuisance, but where there’s weed there’s fish. I would soon prove my adviser wrong.
Two hours later, with barrowful of bladderwrack thrown into a heap behind me and not a single fish to show for my efforts, I packed away my rods and made the short drive to the Silver Strand, wondering if what I had been told was true.
What a difference a mile makes! There was no weed for a start. And there, not 50 yards from the shore, were a couple of cormorants and a red-throated diver, fish-eating birds hunting just beyond the surf line.
My first cast gave me a small turbot that I benevolently gave its freedom on the understanding that we would meet again a year from now, when the extra inches in its girth would ensure a different end. A flounder came next. This was also set free, though only after careful consideration. A flatfish has to be nearly a pound in weight to make a proper fillet. Anything with a circumference greater than my outstretched hand is imperiled. This one didn’t quite make the grade.
Dogfish and pollack queued up to take my baited hook. A solitary mackerel got in between them and found itself on the bait board. Fresh mackerel must be one of the best sea baits going. A sea trout took the first slice, another turbot the second, and a Bull huss the third. The huss was a bruiser of a fish, four feet long and more than ten pounds, dark and ugly, with a cavernous mouth lined with sharp teeth. I let it go.
Then shoals of small pollack turned up to strip my baited hooks in moments. Once they arrive inshore fishing is a waste of time. Besides, it was colder than I expected and the wind was getting up. When I wound in for the last time I found a lesser weaver attached to my hook. I’ve eaten these little fishes before, and found them very good. The poor thing looked so thoroughly downhearted at being hauled ashore I just had to let him go.
Before I did, I took a closer look at the little black battle flag of a dorsal fin with its poisonous spines, the bane of tourist bathers. Ordinarily, the lesser weaver lies up to its eyeballs in the sand, with this potent weapon flat along its back. On feeling vibrations caused by the approach of innocent feet the fin goes up, and another day trip comes to a premature end. What a lovely little monster though.
Now, today is rather wintry… but where shall I go?