The fishing world has so much to offer the UK angler without the need to travel great distances to far off locations. Sometimes, some of the best fishing you’re likely to encounter is right on your doorstep. My local ferry port of Holyhead is a great example of this, whilst it is recognised as the key gateway for passengers and freight between Britain and Ireland it also has a UK wide reputation for smoothhound fishing. During the months of May through most of June Holyhead becomes the defacto smoothhound capital of Wales.
My goto skipper in this sleepy ferry port is good friend and top international Welsh angler, Gethyn Owen. Gethyn has a deep, almost religious understanding of the quarry he targets, smoothhound are the fish that excites him the most, the fish that makes him wake at 4am and not hit the pillow until midnight. Geth owns and skippers his own charter boat, My Way, a vessel with a renowned reputation around Wales for not only catching numbers of smoothhound but finding the big ones too. Each year My Way racks up an impressive list of 20lb+ specimen hounds, landing the Welsh Record Smoothhound of 25lbs 6oz in 2007.
My first trip out with Geth this year was at the start of June, a date nestled inbetween one of the hottest periods of the year so far. On the day, deck temperatures reached over 40c! We’d chatted beforehand about the prospects for the trip and with the tides bang on and the weather playing ball it was all setup for a day of light tackle smoothhound fishing.
My usual setup for smoothhound fishing is either an HTO Shore Game or HTO Lure Game rod. To this I match a 4000 sized Shimano Baitrunner loaded with 20lb braid with a short length of 20 to 30lb fluorocarbon as a leader. I usually go for HTO rods with casting ratings up to 28g, these give me an ideal compromise between fun and having the backbone to tackle a potentially big hound! A baitrunner (freespool) type reel is ideal for this kind of fishing and can save the embarrassment of watching a rod slip over the gunnels with an incorrectly set drag. The baitrunner gives you the advantage of setting a freespool drag to allow the fish to take line on its initial run whilst maintaining the main drag at the correct setting for playing the fish. The business end compromises of a simple running ledger, with 2ft of 40lbs fluorocarbon for the hooklength coupled with a Tronixpro 4/0 Aberdeen Hook. You can go heavier and in the past I have, but this year it seems lighter fluorocarbon lines and shorter hooklengths have produced the best, as the smoothhound have been much more weary than usual. To the hook, you simply hook a crab through the back and secure with a small amount of bait elastic.
Fishing onboard with me would be an old mate of mine, Paul Craig. Paul is a carp angler back in his native Somerset but has always had a desire to do some boat fishing. What better way to introduce him to boat angling than with some light tackle hound hunting!
The day started slow with not much hound action in the morning, after lunch (bacon and sausage sarnies, Geth knows how to look after his troops well) we settled down to a consistent period of good fishing. Geth was first into the fish landing several hounds between 7 and 10lbs in quick succession. I’d chosen to fish with two rods, one would be cast away from the boat and another would be fishing directly under. The furthest away rod showed signs of life and it wasn’t long before I was on the board with a fresh, fiesty hound of around 7lbs.
By mid afternoon Paul’s rod had been seeing some tentative action, but with the fish in a strange mood, we were all finding hooking fish difficult, although we’d had several fish, we’d probably dropped as many and the slight, shy, weary bites would continue. Eventually, after much patience, Paul tempted a hound that had been dismantling his crab for a good few minutes and lifted into a nice hound, after a spirited fight the fish was in the net and Paul had his first boat caught sea fish in the bag!
As the temperature soared an ominous cloud gathered to the East, the tell tale sign that a short, sharp downpour was imminent. As the atmosphere became more and more oppressive I noticed a small knock on my HTO Lure Game, then another one. With the fish being so weary I didn’t immediately leap into action, just waited to see what would happen. A couple of minutes later and the rod tip jerked again, and then again and then suddenly the tip whipped over and the baitrunner began to sing. Not a rip roaring screamer, more a dogged, plod from a fish that probably didn’t even know it was hooked yet. I clicked the baitrunner off and gently lifted into the fish, this provoked a response and the plod of earlier turned into a sprint. The fish took some initial line and then just stopped, hung deep and prepared itself for a drawn out fight. I’ve only ever caught one 20+ hound before, almost a year to the day of this trip in fact. I hate calling out fish and weights and all the other obligatory, banter’esk questions that are asked as you’re playing a fish. I’d just rather get on and play it and as the typical questions came in, I ignored them and carried on. It was obvious by now that this was a bigger fish than what we’d had throughout the day, she stayed deep and made the HTO Lure Game work hard. With slow pumps of the rod I gently gained line and began to make progress on the fish. By this time Geth had figured out it was a decent size, he’d already wound in, got the net ready and was waiting for the fish to break surface. Eventually she did, took one look at the net, buried her head and charged for the bottom. Another round of short pumps followed and she eventually surfaced again. This time, visibly tired, her head popped up and Gethyn gently slid the net under her.
Lifting the fish onboard and gently placing her on the deck, Gethyn commented that he thought this could be a 20lber. As the fish was landed, the ominous clouds from the East positioned themselves above us and the heavens opened. Rain bounced off the sea and deck and I was absolutely drenched in less than a few seconds. I didn’t care, this was yet another big fish and my second twenty. I waited eagerly as Gethyn placed her into the weigh sling and began to take his weight averages. After what seemed like a lifetime, he called it at just over 20lbs! To say I was chuffed was an understatement, she obligingly kept still whilst we took some pictures and once her job was done, she was lifted gently over the gunnels and left to swim away. As soon as her nose felt the water, she was off, a strong, confident sway of the tail and she was headed for home.
It’s worth mentioning the HTO Lure Game at this point. I’ve been an avid fan of these rods since they came out and I don’t even used them for their intended purpose half the time! Whenever I’m planning a boat trip and there is a good chance we’ll be doing some light tackle fishing, the HTO Lure Game L (8ft, 5-28g) is the first rod I pack. It has a beautifully progressive action, a sensitive tip and plenty of power in the butt to play bigger fish. Not once during playing the 20lb hound did I fear that the fish would out gun me. For just shy of sixty quid, it’s difficult to think of a stick that provides this much fun on these types of fish at such an affordable price.
In a couple of week’s time I’ll be writing about another productive day on the hounds with Gethyn, a trip where I got to play with the Lure Game’s big brother, the HTO Shore Game!