October 17, 2014 Last Updated 3:23 pm

*Close Call in Cork

The 2014 Cork Small Boats Festival - A superb week in September - Come on board!


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Close Call in Cork

The Cork Small Boats Festival is a highlight on the Irish angling calendar. A mixed fleet of small boats gathers each year in Cork harbour to celebrate all things small boat and fish a four-day species hunt. So why Cork? “The harbour offers incredible fishing even if the weather is poor” says one. “In the tens years since we are coming we have had one day cancelled” says another. “The craic is mighty” is a popular reply too!

The majority of the fleet comes in from the UK. Many use Holyhead to Dublin and tow down the M7/M8 to Whitegate. With improvements to roads over recent years the tow is described as effortless.

This year was no different to previous. Competitors begin to arrive usually from Wednesday with the competition down for starting on Sunday. The days before the event are spent familiarising with favourite marks and exploring new marks that might yield a new species or may yield a species faster than before. Some spend the time taking the opportunity to catch some blue sharks!

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Match Day 1

The skippers and their teams gather on Saturday night for a check-in and last minute briefing. This year each skipper was presented with a beautiful Inland Fisheries Ireland measuring mat. Based on the latest weather forecasts the match will begin on Sunday. By the outlooks the event will be fished straight through to Wednesday. The usual nervous anticipation is evident and the slagging begins as crews look forward to the off.  Practice days are all well and good but there is nothing like competition morning.

Sunday dawned bright and mild. Boats were assembled from early and began to launch before eight o’clock. Many use the time to prepare bait and rig rods and generally have everything in ship shape before the kick off at nine o’clock. Others arrive ready, launch their boat and are ready for action just before the off. Either way at 0900hrs the fleet begin their four days of species hunting.

The day is largely uneventful in terms of weather and there are some fairly red heads at the weigh-in and the weigh-in showed the decent fishing conditions. Welsh team Bass Hunter posted a massive nineteen species ahead of a raft of boats down to fourteen making up the top ten boats. With decent conditions promised for the coming days “all to play for” was heard often outside The Long Point Bar in the evening sunshine.


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Match Day 2

There’s a phrase associated with the small boats festival that every angler likes to hear – “Skipper’s Discretion”. In times when the weather is bad there are restrictions put on the travel area of the fleet. Basically the rule is a simple one – If the smallest boat can’t go then neither can the biggest. This year we had four days of “skipper’s discretion” fishing – in other words boats could travel where ever they want.

Day two dawned calm but a little foggy. You could see the fog was burning off by eight o’clock and by nine it was fairly clear. Boats sped off in all directions. Some began their harbour work while other headed to sea to try an catch the more elusive fish that they may have missed the day before.

Aboard SKUA we headed for sea to tackle some of the fish that we needed to secure. Some of these we could have targeted in the harbour but we felt that we would get bigger fish outside. We spent the morning almost alone at sea, itself an unusual thing! We duly ticked off species after species but of course were let down by the elusive spotted ray. We were soon back in the harbour and we finished the day off with a very quick corkwing wrasse.

Back at base after the weigh-in you could see a different complexion on the leader board – The top ten boats were spread between twenty-one for Nauti-Lass and twenty-four for Screaming Reels.

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Match Day 3

I lay in bed on the morning of day three contemplating the action ahead. I thought I could hear rain. I peeped out from behind the curtains into the gloom and saw that it was pissing out of the heavens. When I was able to check the “Rainfall Radar” I was able to see that it was a misfortunate shower that would clear within the hour. By 0930 it was clear with sunny spells and unseasonably warm. The launch site was a busy hive with the usual chat and banter going on as crews launched.

On SKUA we had set ourselves a target of six species to add to our total and we set about our task with relish. As the day wears on it is clear that things are not going to plan for us. The Blonde ray is proving elusive. We fishing the day targeting flounder and even this species is slow to appear. It happens sometimes, a slow fish makes the work seem harder whereas a fast species gives the whole team a lift.

After the weigh-in the overall score sheet is showing an incredibly close match. In fact this is becoming a feature of the match in recent years.  An example of the closeness is team Quattro. Going into the final day they are lying on twenty-five species and are in twelfth place. Team Quattro are previous winners and giving them five or six species to chase on the last day is not an insurmountable task. In fact any of the top twelve boats has a realistic chance, given a great days fishing, of winning the event. One thing is for sure it is going to be close at the top.

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Match Day 4

Even when a team is not close to the top of the leader board there is a deal of anticipation for the last day of fishing. Day four dawned a superb day- calm and sunny. We set about our plan for the day and began to catch out target species. It was not until mid-day that we struggled to catch a blonde ray that the difficulties of the fourth-day fishing becomes apparent. We could see that we were not the only boat struggling. Most boats were in the harbour and as we fished the competition we could see many competitors cruising around trying to make that elusive capture that might make the difference. As it happened it was one of those elusive species that made the difference to Escapade. They managed to add one species for the day bringing them to a total of thirty one species. Beastmaster made great strides to increase by four in the day to finish on thirty species. Screaming Reels failed to add to their tally on the day but wisely took the option to increase their weight.

Ecapade (Maurice Cott, Stephen O’Neil) take the honours as Small Boats Champions with thirty-One Species. Five boats tied for second place and had to be separated by weight. Screaming Reels had the top heft of the chasing pack. Liverpool based Highlander were third – Another very consistent finish for the pairing of Mickey Duff and John Greenfield. Cobh-based team Sandra Anne were delighted with a fourth place finish and will spend the year wondering what could have been! The crew of Beastmaster will be happy with their thirty species and will surely try to batter that next year! The last of the thirtysomethings was Goldielocks – This is a superb result for a boat only on its second trip to Cork although a glance at the team list shows a wealth of Cork Small Boats experience with this crew!

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The Aftermath

Due to being finished on Wednesday we held our presentation in Trabolgan Holiday Centre on Wednesday night. It was a grand evening and the chat went on well into the night! The presentation of prizes was by Myles Kelly of IFI.

In wrapping up the event for another year Jim Clohessy thanked those that had donated prizes and or supported the event: Inland Fisheries Ireland, Trabolgan Holiday Centre, Bellavista Hotel Cobh, Long Point Bar, Dennett, Rovex, Tronixpro, Daiwa, Pure Fishing (Penn), Mark Murphy Motors and others!

Jim highlighted the fact that the festival is one that suffers less from bad weather than others, a fact that can be forgotten in a year that the weather is good. Since 2003 we have lost one day to inclement weather.

The calibre of anglers is superb. The fact that any boat from the top twelve boats had a decent chance of competing right up to the last day. While a local boat won the event it can be seen that UK-based boats are well capable of competing at the highest level. In fact UK boats show themselves to be the more consistent campaigners.

All told there were forty seven species caught  to size limits over the festival week. Yes you read correctly, forty seven different species of fish! Among these were a few specimen fish including a fine dab and a massive grey gurnard.

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The Future

Already the management team have begun planning next year’s event.  Rob McClean hints at news on the sponsorship front – “We will be speaking with possible sponsors early in the new year and are confident of a major announcement. A title sponsor would be very welcome. While prize money is never the motivator it is still nice to have an impressive fund”.

The Small Boats Festival is going to be held between the 11th and 18th of September 2015. This is the “early” year that we have every few years. This happens in order to have adequate water for launching and retrieving without being too late in the month. Already boats are reserving their favourite houses in Trabolgan. The holiday centre was quiet this year due to it partially closed.  Management tell me that it is back to usual next year – handy if you want to bring the missus!

One of the new boats to the event fishing with twenty-one species, a brilliant result. A few years ago such a finish would guarantee you a place in the top ten! “We’ll be back next year to improve on that!” – That’s the spirit that keeps the festival going!

If you want further info about the Festival:

Check out the Festival Facebook page at:  www.facebook.com/groups/corksmallboats/


The 2015 Cork Small Boats Festival is in planning. New competitors are always welcome. Our dates for next year are September 11 -18.

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