For the past two years I’ve been lucky enough to get myself on one of the co-guided fishing trips run by John Quinlan and Henry Gilbey based at Thatched Cottage Fishing Lodge out in Kerry, Ireland. I’ve written up the ‘catch report’ details for both of those trips elsewhere on my blog but what I really wanted to do was give a more all encompassing review of my experiences of the trips and some related thoughts to ponder. For both excursions I have been in the good company of pals Andy and Paul -fishing with lures and on the hunt mainly for bass but with some pollack fishing thrown into the mix as well. Our trips have been in October both years. This article is written very much with this type of fishing and time of year in mind.
Before I go any further I do want to make it 100% clear that I have not been asked by anyone at all to write this review, it’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a very long time and the views expressed are entirely my own. If it feels like I’m singing the praises of the experience too loudly… I make absolutely no apology for that as I’m going to state right from the off, that in my opinion, this is one hell of a trip to get yourself on!
On both occasions Andy and myself have travelled from the UK via the road/ferry option and then scooped Paul up from Cork airport. We’ve tried both the Stena ferry from Fishguard to Rosslare and Irish Ferries from Pembroke to Rosslare. Similar crossing times but in my opinion the Irish Ferries service out of Pembroke is a far, far superior and comfortable option considering there is very little difference in price. Paul flew in from Bristol to Cork with Aer Lingus so around an hour’s flight time I’d guess. From disembarkation at Rosslare you’re probably looking at a 4.5-5 hour drive down to Thatched Cottage, from Cork airport you’re looking at a 2-2.5 hours stint on the road.
It’s far from an unpleasant drive down whichever route you take so don’t be put off by the journey times because the scenery just gets better and better as you head further west!
Thatched Cottage itself is merely a couple of minutes away from Ballinskelligs Bay in an absolutely perfect location.
From the moment you pull onto the driveway of Thatched Cottage to the minute you reluctantly have to leave the hospitality you receive from Henry, John and Lynn is top notch. They’ve always been there to greet us with a smile and you honestly feel immediately at home in their company. Rooms are all clean and comfortable, the wood burner is on, and there’s plenty of space for all your kit in the ‘fishing parlour/shed’! If you’re a fan of homemade and wholesome food then your stay at Thatched Cottage will not disappoint… whether it be the hearty Irish breakfast, the pack up lunch that always hits the spot or the delicious evening meal you really could not ask for more…. John even dons the apron after a days’ guiding as the support act to Lynn’s headliner on the food front!
In a nutshell, you couldn’t wish for a lovelier place and people to spend a few days with enjoying yourself fishing.
The double act of John and Henry is perfect…. there are serious moments where they’re trying to get you amongst the fish with all the guidance you’d expect…. where to cast, reading the water, what lure, what technique, etc. but they do it with a mischievous amount of fun as well – the banter between them is infectious and an important part of the trip in my eyes – fishing with a smile on your face and a big dose of laughter… it doesn’t get much better does it?
To be more specific on the serious stuff though, John will spend a lot of time thinking, watching and mulling things over which critically means he is uncannily accurate at knowing when things aren’t right and when to move on – it feels like he’s already three or four steps ahead in his thinking of where the fish might be holding up. Obviously he wants you to catch fish and he works really hard to make that happen. He is extremely switched on and knowledgeable about what is going on in the environment around him… in particular all things fishy! John obviously lives and breathes this spectacular part of Kerry day in day out but don’t think for one minute that Henry doesn’t know his onions either. His intuition on marks is astute and you often see and hear him bouncing ideas off of John to get the most out of a session whether that be his knowledge on specific lures to use, techniques to employ or specific spots to try out. With Henry, to top all this off, you’ve got the added bonus of his incredible photography of you and your group fishing in the most stunning, jaw-dropping of Irish backdrops.
They are a proper team in the way they work, they compliment each other superbly…. they have a good thing going here!
As I hinted in the section above John and Henry work hard to put you on fish and I think pretty much every session at least one of us caught, but if you think the bass fishing is easy then think again. Ballinskelligs Bay and the surrounding coastline is a huge area and the fish could be literally anywhere… finding them is one thing, catching them is another. As an example, last year we had birds working baitfish within casting distance and you would have surmised there was a good chance there were predatory fish there ….. well, if they were then they were so pre-occupied with the sprats that not one of our lures was given the time of day. It felt the wrong thing to do but John and Henry had us moving on…. and guess what? We moved on, we caught!
Similarly, if you’re thinking you’ll have the best chance of pulling out a double figure bass of a lifetime in Kerry and that is your main objective for going there – you may wish to reconsider? You would probably be better served with fishing somewhere like The Copper Coast area of Ireland if that is your sole intent. It’s not to say they’re not there – I’m sure they are, but I would say compared to the example given of The Copper Coast there are probably a greater quantity of bass in the 3-6lb bracket in this part of Kerry… and believe me that will keep you nicely occupied. I certainly don’t think it’s to be sniffed at to be playing feisty fish in that size bracket over snagged ground in a good run of current do you?
That brings me nicely to my next point – the ground you get to fish over is truly mind blowing… shallow rocky reef, fast flowing tidal estuary, big sandy surf beaches, small rocky bays, and then there are the deep water rock marks for some serious pollack – pretty much everything you could wish to experience as a lure angler in UK and Irish waters. Catching bass in the tasty surf last year was a highlight – hooking into these bars of silver in fizzing, highly oxygenated water on light gear when they are completely revved up does not get any better than this trust me!
And remember… all this framed with the stunningly beautiful backdrop of the wild Kerry landscape and sky line.
As for the lures to use, all I can say is over the past couple of years the ones mentioned below I know have caught us bass, there may be a couple more I have missed off but if I was going tomorrow I would make sure I had these in my bag:
If you head off after the pollack then you can certainly add soft plastic shad type lures to that list with the colour range of pink, red and orange proving best for us. Without a doubt though it is worth investing in a few Fiiiish Crazy Sandeels – the pollack here love them!! This is proper pollack country with some nice specimens to be had… and on the light gear hold on tight as they go like the clappers!
Fret not though if you find yourself without the right lure or any other gear come to that, John or Henry will soon get you on track again.
One thing I haven’t mentioned is the timetable for a typical day and I know it varies throughout the year so I can only speak for the October trips we have been on. The schedule on both occasions has been something along the lines of the following:
5 a.m. Cup of coffee/tea then off fishing for sun rise
7 a.m. Back to Thatched Cottage for breakfast
9 a.m. Back out fishing for the day
1 p.m. Lunch in idyllic location then fishing again
7 p.m. Back to Thatched Cottage for dinner after sun set
These are full on days, plenty of fresh air, plenty of exercise and after every day you certainly know about it and enjoy the nights sleep that follows.
The fishing is just plain fantastic.
To sum up…
I wanted to give a honest and measured review of both of my trips over to Thatched Cottage and that would have included anything I thought could have been done differently or better… but the reality is I personally find it impossible to do so. The fishing, the wildness of Kerry, the hospitality, but above all the comradery and banter I and my fellow partners in crime have experienced is truly something to behold. John and Henry should rightly be extremely proud of what they are doing here.
I’ve fished The Copper Coast both times on the way down to Thatched Cottage and it’s one hell of a place to fish but there’s something about this part of Kerry that has truly got in my psyche over and above any of the marks on The Copper Coast. If someone gave me the choice to head off fishing to one or the other tomorrow it would be this part of Kerry every time… to the extent that at times I actually find myself daydreaming off there, stood on a particular rock, working a surface lure with all that amazing Kerry light show and wildness going on around me. You may think I’m slightly deranged saying that but I think those who have been will know exactly what I mean.
The shame for 2017 is the dates for us to get on the trip with Henry did not quite work out due to various commitments but after all I have enthused over above we couldn’t not go at some point could we?
Of course not – roll on August – Thatched Cottage Fishing Lodge…. we’re coming for you! We’ll treat you nicely John and Lynn…. and raise a glass to Henry!
Until next time…