Thatched Cottage with John & Henry

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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!

Getting there

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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.

Hospitality

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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 Guiding

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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!

The Fishing

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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!

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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:

  • Dexter wedge (or similar metal)
  • Fiiiish Black Minnow
  • IMA Hound Glide
  • IMA Komomo II
  • IMA Komomo SF-125
  • IMA Salt Skimmer
  • Megabass Zonk
  • OSP Do-Live Sticks
  • Xorus Patchinko II
  • Xorus Patchinko P100

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!

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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…

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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!

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Until next time…

Cornwall Trip – days 1 & 2…

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In the pipeline for a while had been a fishing trip down to Cornwall with my pal Nobby to explore some of the Cornish coast and hopefully bag a few Cornish bass and maybe pollack. We had contemplated taking the kayaks but the amount of kit required coupled with a less than favourable weather forecast told us it would probably be a wise decision to leave them at home… and so it proved as you’ll see further down in this article.

Here’s the day-by-day account of our expedition…

Day 1

We set off from Southampton around 11 a.m. on Friday with good weather but not so good traffic… took us nearly 2 hours just to get to Dorchester where we stopped off for a coffee and a quick chin wag with Richard Cake of Dorset Fishing Rods. Soon enough though we were on the road again and in fairness once we hit Exeter the trip down to Pendeen where we had decided to camp was pretty good. We had chosen our camping venue carefully and arrived at The North Inn in Pendeen by around 4 o’clock in the afternoon giving us plenty of time to pitch our tents and to head out and explore some of the local coast we had already earmarked as possible fishing locations.

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We took a look around the Cape Cornwall area and decided to wet a line for an hour as the sun went down near Porth Nanven. We bumped into a local who was rather glum on the state of the local fishing saying there were no bass around and hardly any mackerel which was a bit of a worry. We didn’t catch either but the sunset was pretty good…

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We were back at The North Inn camping ground by 8 o’clock and in the pub for our tea and a sampler of the local ales which were all rather pleasant I might add!

Day 2

We woke up Saturday morning to grey skies and a freshening westerly wind as the forecasters had predicted… whilst also realising the one or two samplers we had drunk the night before had done a ‘Proper Job’ on us! Nevertheless, we set off to recce the tip of Cornwall from Sennen Cove round to Lamorna where we eventually decided to stop off and try for a pollack in the deep water marks there using soft plastics. We fished here for a couple of hours but the weather was really deterioating now with heavy rain to join the ever freshening wind. We blanked again but here’s Nobby giving it a good go though…

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After the fruitless morning we headed back to the car, had a quick brew at the local cafe and not for the first time on the trip got the OS map out to try and find a place to fish which gave us a little bit of protection from the elements. We came to the conclusion that the best bet might be on the north of the tip of Cornwall and headed to the Zennor area where we found Gurnard Point. It’s a pretty spectacular bit of coast line here…

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The rain had stopped, but the wind was still blowing hard and it was good to find some terrain tucked in behind the headland which looked promising so we headed down to it. We had company though as there were several seals there sheltering from the conditions as much as we were. Nevertheless, we found ourselves suitable marks and began fishing. I was still opting to fish soft plastics with a 5g Iwashi jig head attached to a white paddle tail and as luck would have it within a few minutes I had our first fish of the trip and a bass as well which was pleasing…

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It was the only fish at this spot and as the tide started to turn we decided to move round the bay to a prominent rocky outcrop where it looked like we might be able to fish into some decent water. After a 15 minute stroll round to the mark we were pleased we had moved – the water looked very ‘bassy’ and as it was low water we were able to take advantage of some decent rocks to fish some of the gullies and as the tide turned so the bass turned up. I had just changed my lure to a Megabass Xlayer as well – this time on 7g Iwashi jig head and first cast … bang! Fish on!

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Next cast… bang! Fish On!

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… and to complete the hat-trick third cast with the Xlayer I was in again! Three casts, three fish! Soon enough Nobby was in as well using his Megabass Zonk plug…

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This was pretty much the pattern for the next 30 – 45 minutes with both of us nailing bass to 3lb – me on the Xlayer and Nobby on the Zonk plug. We even managed a double hook up…

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By the time we called it a day and walked back up the cliff in the now pelting rain we had bagged 17 bass in total between us plus Nobby took a solitary mackerel…

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So much for the local we’d spoke to the previous evening saying there weren’t any bass or mackerel around! We’d just had a great little session and although the bass were nothing spectacular they all put up good fights in a strong current.

We drove back to the North Inn in fading light and, with the heavy rain, in fading visibility just praying the tents hadn’t washed away! They hadn’t and thankfully despite the day’s deluge the camp was in a pretty good state. A quick clean up and we were nicely settled in the ‘Inn’ for supper and a couple of pints before heading back to the tents… finally it had stopped raining…

Days 3, 4 and 5 to follow…

Until next time…

A better session….

Managed to get myself out on the water on Saturday morning for what proved to be a hectic little session. The venue was once again Lee-on-Solent launching from the Elmore slipway. I like to catch first light which mid-June means a very early start. The alarm was set for 3 a.m. and I was on the road, rigged and ready to fish by 4:15 a.m. just as the sun was coming up. Conditions were near on perfect…

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I fished in the same vicinity as my last trip off Browndown and to begin with the results were the same …… dogfish greedily taking any of the baits I was putting down there namely mackerel strips, squid and ragworm.

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So I switched bait to the limited crab I had and it brought an instant change in fortune with the more definitive bite of a smoothound – nothing huge, still a pup, but a hound nonetheless.

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Another followed shortly after much the same size. One thing about catching smoothound on the yak you really must make sure you have your kit tied down as even these smaller one’s go nuts when they’re on board and it would be easy to loose bait, tackle or worse overboard in the pandemonium of trying to get the hook out!

As I say, I only had limited crab so had to switch back to squid, ragworm and mackerel and inevitably the dogfish returned to readily take my offering. However, I then had the tell-tale bite of something different – fast knocks that were hard to connect with so I scaled down my hooks and that did the trick as I was in to some bream – none particularly big but they’re good sport nonetheless.

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These were my first bream of the year and very welcome they were too…… as was the next fish to land on my lap – a nice bass – only a couple of pound but a beautiful fish nonetheless taken a on a ragworm/squid cocktail. This one put up a great scrap before I was able to get it on board…

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Very satisfying but shortly after the tide changed and the bites dropped right off with weed becoming more of a problem. It was still lovely out there though……

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By 9:30 I decided to call it a day and pulled the rods in and began my paddle back but as I reached about half way point I noticed fish jumping on the surface…… mackerel! I didn’t have time to set the rod up with feathers but luckily I’d brought a hand line along loaded with a 6 hook hokkai rig for just such an eventuality. The minute I lobbed the line in I had one on, then another and another and another all just under the surface…… four in about 2 minutes before they moved on again.

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I paddled the rest of the way in very contented with my early morning session. Compared to the fishing a month ago when all I could muster was a couple of pups and a bucket of dogfish it was nice to add the bream, bass and mackerel to the bag – amazing what a difference a bit of warm weather can make.

Until next time……