June 12, 2017 Last Updated 9:34 am

* Shannon Estuary Tope….

All the way back to 2007 for this one…. A run to the Shannon Estuary for tope! Skua is on tow to the vast expanse of the Shannon Estuary. The quarry? Tope no less. Sure you’d have to. -


TF title picture

no tope were harmed in the making..._Medium


Shannon Estuary Tope…

All the way back to 2007 for this one…. A run to the Shannon Estuary for tope!


Skua is on tow to the vast expanse of the Shannon Estuary. The quarry? Tope no less. Sure you’d have to. –


the quarry_Medium

A chance meeting with Carrigaholt, Co. Clare based skipper Luke Aston lead to this trip to the Shannon Estuary. We met up with Luke at the Specimen Fish awards in Dublin early in the year. Over the course of a few drinks we discovered that we had much in common and soon we were laying the plans for a trip, we had only one thing in mind: Tope. At the time the summer seemed light-years away but nonetheless the plans we hatched were not forgotten and we waited for our chance to head for a trip. We have never fished the Shannon estuary before so we left the planning to the experienced skipper.  Over the coming months we were in contact with Luke who kept us informed as to the state of the fishing in the estuary and true to his earlier predictions the tope have started to run in earnest by mid summer. We were watching the weather like expectant fathers waiting for a delivery. Reports from the Clare Dragoon were good, the tope were starting to show but the weather could ruin our chances, not for the first time in this turbulent summer. Finally it looked like we would get our window so we swung our plans into action and began to plan our trip.


Carrigaholt is a picturesque fishing village in the southwest corner of County Clare, on the south of the Loop peninsula to be exact. Looking at the map it makes no sense to tow from our base in Cork right around the estuary it seems a much better plan to launch in North Kerry. The ideal spot to launch becomes apparent based on where we will be fishing. We confirm with our partner skipper and the decision is taken that we will launch from Tarbert in Kerry. The slipway is only ten miles from Carrigaholt. The slipway is used by the Tarbert to Kilmer ferry so it is important that everything would go well at the launch site. It certainly wouldn’t do to delay the ferry!


We say it time and time again that there is no substitution for good planning and preparation before towing your pride and joy any distance. In the days before the trip Sean makes sure that the brakes and wheel bearings are all adjusted, it is just one less thing that can go wrong on the road. We have not had the brake drums off the trailer since our initial stripping and greasing of the brakes when they were new and Sean is delighted with the result of our earlier work.  The brake mechanisms on both hubs are in perfect condition and adjusting the brakes is a doddle. We check the lights and double check the ratchets and tie downs the night before and so after loading up the gear we are ready for an early departure in the morning.


And we're off!

And we’re off!

I am awake before my alarm at five thirty in the morning. The weather is dull but windless as we pull out from Glanmire and head up the road towards Limerick. Other than a stop for petrol, and a check on hub temperature, the trip is uneventful, even boring, that is until we branch west and head out along the shoreline of the Shannon Estuary. The place is huge!  Maps nor charts do not do the place justice; the expanse of water is colossal, it looks more like open sea than river estuary. I would not fancy doing the groundwork of trial and error fishing on different marks here; it would take a week! We are thankful that we will be fishing in Luke Aston’s company for the day. Luke had a strong pedigree in commercial fishing before he took the leap and began his charter business, so his knowledge of his waters is second to none.


Our trip has coincided nicely with a tope trip organised by the angling fanatics of the Sea Angling Ireland website. These gang of passionate anglers have the Clare Dragoon chartered for the same day. The concept of the Sea Angling Ireland angling club is a good one, Clare Dragoon’s crew for the day have assembled from all corners of the country. Most took advantage of Luke’s other tourism driven business, a well-appointed bed and breakfast based close to Carrigaholt. We would have liked to tow up the night before but faced with a gathering of like-minded anglers in a friendly village with undoubted dodgy closing times we felt it would be safer to travel in the morning!


The facilities in Tarbert are super. The slip is perfect, wide, and not too steep and given the amount of traffic it is totally clean. It can be used at any stage of tide.  Nobody seems to have a problem with our launching on the ferry’s slip but we are careful not to delay while getting SKUA in the water. We prepare at the top of the slip and as soon as the ferry departs we quickly get the boat in the water and we leave the slip within minutes. There is ample parking close to the slip and the locals are indeed a friendly bunch.


The conditions are ideal as we punch in the waypoint for our destination. The expanse of water around us is quiet confusing but the GPS does not lie! Visibility is actually quiet poor as there is scarcely a ripple in the water and it is quiet hazy. It is hard to distinguish the sky from the sea. With conditions like this we do not cut corners but stick to the proven channels marked on the sounder. We pass famous areas such as “The Bridge” near Moneypoint and soon the sea opens up in front of us, well, twenty miles ahead of us but in front nonetheless!

clare dragoon carrigaholt behind_Medium

Carrigaholt is nestled in a quiet part of the estuary. It strikes us that it is the perfect location to make the most of both the inshore waters and the vast Atlantic beyond the Loop, it is no wonder that Luke’s business is thriving. The view of the castle from the water is pretty, spoiled only by the ice plant on the pier wall; but this is a commercial port after all. Luke, a stickler time on behalf of his customers, has already been on the phone to check out our whereabouts but at thirty knots in the calm conditions we arrive within minutes. We make our introductions, I have known most of these guys for years though we’ve never spoken, such is the lot of a virtual angler! We already discussed the plan for the day but we head first for a nearby headland and begin to source fresh bait, for tope in this neck of the woods nothing beats fresh mackerel bait. Bait is patchy, the blame is squarely laid on the volume of fresh water entering the system from the Shannon, but we soon have enough to get on with. Besides, Luke is anxious to get on the mark at the most productive part of the tide. Luckily the run to the Beal Bar takes only minutes in the mirror-like conditions.


John Waldron gets stuck in

John Waldron gets stuck in

We position ourselves down-tide from the Dragoon and once Skua swings round into the tide we launch our baits into the water. We  are both fishing 12-20lb class rods both matched with Avet SX reels loaded with 30lb braid. Some prefer to fish mono for sharks and tope but we have never had difficulty with braid especially if you incorporate a good length of mono rubbing strip into your terminal tackle. My trace is a standard tope trace of light wire about six feet long with a Mustad bronzed O’Shaughnessy hook crimped to the business end. This length is attached to the mainline via a strong boom. In the current an eight-ounce lead is enough to hold his mackerel flapper bait hard on the bottom. My other trace is slightly different as I opt for a short length of wire in the “bite” area. This short length is attached via a swivel to a rubbing length of 100lb mono of about five feet. Again this trace is run through a heavy boom. On my 8/0 I have mounted a half mackerel, always a good bloody bait that will lure any predator. We settle in for the wait and are amazed to hear hollering and whooping coming from the Dragoon, the SAI boys are into their first tope of the day, we are not ten minutes into the session! We are about to haul anchor to go investigate and take some pictures when the ratchet begins to scream. Tope on!

cool or what_Medium

Within seconds the usual tope debate begins, strike the fish or let it run before striking the hook home. We have tried both methods and have come to the conclusion that it is best to hit the fish as it takes, before or while that first run begins. Sean lifts the rod from the holder and bends the rod tip into the fish. The hooked tope blisters off downtide he cannot do anything to stop the fish. I watch the direction his fish is taking. If the fish moves over to my side of the boat I will retrieve my line so as not to interfere with the sport and give him the best chance of landing the fish. The tope runs both up and down tide and the battle is great to watch. The little Avet reel is well capable of mastering both the fish and the tide run combined. We bring the by now tired tope to the side of the boat. I am able to tail the fish and lift it cleanly and gently into the boat. Sean is grinning from ear to ear, he has landed his first Shannon tope.

John and Dave - Double act!

John and Dave – Double act!

I do not have long to wait to get into the action. No sooner than we have the fish back into the water my reel begins to emit that tell tale “tick-tick”. Again as soon as the fish bites I strike. After a good battle I land a good thirty-five pound tope, a personal best for me.


At this stage we up anchor and head uptide to the Dragoon, we could see that the SAI lads were in almost constant action. The scene on board was frenetic to say the least. At one stage there were two tope on deck and another on the way in. While we weigh only the bigger fish, Luke diligently measures and weighs every tope. Before releasing the fish he tags each one with a numbered tag. Luke takes part in the “Marine Sportfish Tagging Programme”. This programme was started and is maintained by the Central Fisheries Board (CFB). It is a respected programme that has been gathering information on tope and shark for years. The calibre of information that is gleaned from the data returned by anglers or commercial fishermen paints an interesting picture of the migration patterns of our most popular sharks. Thanks to the work carried out by charter skippers and anglers the Irish database is one of the largest in the world.

jim with tope_Medium

We headed back to our mark and reanchored. Our plough anchor coupled with about twelve feet of heavy galvanised chain is working a dream in the strong tidal flow. Soon though, the tide begins to really flow strongly and we have no choice but to move to a mark with less run. Uptiding would not even hold a lead on the bottom. The break is almost welcome and we move to a sand bank closer to the mouth of the estuary. As soon as we are anchored we set out our tope baits, when the action proves slow we also chuck out smaller, lighter gear in order to see if there is any other fish cruising around. Alas there does not seem to be anything else willing to take our mackerel baits. By now the tide run had eased as we approached low water, we decide to head back for our original mark for another try. We leave the Dragoon for the moment and no sooner do we anchor up that we have another two tope in quick succession. Inexplicably the action tails off and we are back to a period of inactivity. We tend to be busy anglers, fishing two rods when we can. If there was any downer to the day it was the lack of other species. I’m sure if we were fishing the area regularly we would have plenty to occupy us in between peak tope times and in fairness tope were the target for the day. We certainly could not ask for better sport.


Luke Aston busily Tagging Tope!

Luke Aston busily Tagging Tope!

All to soon it was time to head back to Tarbert. We bade farewell to the others and prepared for the trip back. The day had flown by. The weather had been beautiful all day. By now a breeze had come up and it made the return conditions a lot more testing. We commented on the fact that the estuary was quick to turn angry and we could imagine small boats getting into difficulties quite easily, best to be with somebody experienced if you plan to fish here, better still charter a boat for the first trip. After the adrenalin rush that was our tope trip the tow home is uneventful. It is two happy if not a little burnt anglers that arrive home. The Shannon Estuary, a lot done, more to do!


SKUA chilling!

SKUA chilling!

Pete Davis - Nice Shannon Tope!

Pete Davis – Nice Shannon Tope!



We are very grateful to Luke Aston, skipper of the Clare Dragoon for his help and company. Luke runs a slick charter, an impressive boat and he a nice guy to boot.

He is spoilt for choice in the areas he can fish and the species he can target. Luke can be contacted on: 087 6367544 or find him on line at his website: www.fishandstay.com  

The members of the www.sea-angling-ireland.org angling club regularly organise charters in all parts of the country. Get on line and check out the forums, great information and great craic.

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