Isle of Man Road Trip.

The weekend just gone I spent in the Isle of Man. I had booked onto a shark tagging training course with the Manx Wildlife Trust. Tagging sharks is something I’ve been interested in for a long time but opportunities to actually learn the skill had been hard to come by so I was looking forward to this.

Once I had booked into the hotel, my first port of call was the nearest tackle shop just around the corner. Initial reports weren’t promising, only one run from a tope had been reported from the shore so far, and the boat skipper felt that we were still a little early for sharks, both tope and spurdogs. The guys in the shop were very helpful though, giving a bit of all round advice to get started on fishing around the island. I taking a pack of sandeels I resisted having a few casts on the first evening, instead choosing to rest and get my gear ready for the days ahead.
With the theory part of the course out of the way Friday evening, the boat was leaving Saturday afternoon from Port St Mary in the South of the island. I decided to get there early and fish off the breakwater that you can park on. It screamed wrasse and mini species with a good depth of clear water, lots of kelp and rocks for them to hide in. If I had ragworm I would have been very confident, but without it I had to get inventive with the LRF gear and make the best of what I had with me. It took a few casts with a pink grub before out of the shadows I saw a nice ballan wrasse come into the mid water to investigate its plastic potential prey. 
Suddenly now that my eye was in I could make out the shape of wrasse moving all around near the base of the breakwater. I had a few more follows from wrasse and a pollack but try as I might I couldn’t get a take. I think it was the clear water making the fish very wary. It was a trade-off between fishing light to tempt the fish, but not too light that I couldn’t get them up the wall. The frustration carried on for a couple of hours when back on the pink grub now a small wrasse, possibly a rock cook, shot out of the kelp and latched on. The little 7 gram rod was bent over well but unfortunately as it reached the surface the fish made good its escape, possibly by evading the hook as it attacked the lure. Out came a whole heap of rigs as I tried everything to tempt a couple of fish before getting on the boat but I just couldn’t tempt a fish. The closest I got was the Isome ragworm getting a few nibbles on the dropshot, however the fish still didn’t take the hook. I think once they realised it was plastic and not edible they left it alone.
After a quick walk to town to get some food it was time to head out on the boat. A half hour steam out off the southern tip of the island and the first drops were made. Gear couldn’t have been simpler, running ledger, 150lb mono hooklength finishing with a 8/0 bronze hook, the plan being to drift over some sandbanks touching the fresh mackerel flappers on the bottom. We expected it to take a bit of time for the sharks to pick up the scent trail and sure enough the first hour was very slow, a dogfish for myself and a couple of spurdogs had come up. We re-positioned for the second drift and dropped down again. The skipper expected action to pick up with the increased tide run and sure enough it did. A couple more spurs had come in around the boat and before long it was my turn. I could feel the weight of the fish and the head shaking but was surprised by the relative lack of fight. It made a few short runs but the most difficult part of the fight was bringing it up through around 150 feet of water. Finally it was on the surface, it was quickly measured and tagged, I had a quick photo before she was released. On this trip I managed another smaller one later in the day but it came off as it was lifted on board. Overall it was a successful day for the tagging, 18 spurdogs were tagged on the boat in the 4 hours, plus a couple more that were too small and everyone who came out caught at least 1. not bad considering it was supposedly too early.
It was an early start the next days boat trip, and we stopped inshore to get a few more fresh mackerel for bait. It was a slow start again waiting for the tide to pick up. Several drifts and moves around and we were eventually into spurdogs again in the last 1/2 hour of the trip, with the guys doing the tagging kept busy with one fish after another. Another 10 spurdogs and a couple of small tope were caught as well so another successful tagging day which hopefully brings some useful data for the tagging program. 
I had already dedicated Sunday afternoon to targeting tope from the beaches on the north of the island. The 32 mile journey from the Southern tip to the most northerly point took well over an hour not including a stop for food and a massive accidental detour through the valley outside Douglas. I arrived at the Point of Ayre with around 2 hours till high tide. A quick chat with the first person I came to on the beach indicated there was a match just about to start. He told me I was best walking a few hundred metres own the beach for the best chance of a tope, and that 2 had been caught the previous day. Wishing him the best for the competition I made my way down to the area he suggested, pitching up 30 or so metres last the last set of anglers.
Terminal gear was fairly simple, pulley rigs with 6 inches of wire biting trace and 8/0 circle hooks. Not sure what would work best I went for 1/2 mackerel on one rod, and a whole one on the other. I settled down to repair more rigs from last time when there was a pull on the half mackerel. I left it to develop but not much line came off the reel against the ratchet. I reeled down feeling resistance but no fight, and as I suspected a dogfish was soon flapping about at my feet. Just as I was dealing with it, the other ratchet started to go…. And go… And go! Convinced it was a tope I sprinted down the beach to return the doggie before picking up the other rod and setting the hook. 
The fight was on! With the fish easily peeling line from the reel against the drag this co
uld only be a tope. While I couldn’t quite believe I had hooked one on my first cast, I tried not to get too excited, taking my time to bring it in and let it run when it wanted to. I was expecting lots of fast runs, however the fish spent more time going side to side across the beach, rather than out to sea. Gradually I had the upper hand, it’s runs became shorter and with the leader knot on the reel I was able to bring it into the shallows and make a grab for it. After spending so many hours last year trying for tope I was over the moon to finally get my first one from the shore. 
I managed to attract the attention of the people fishing nearest me to do the honours and photograph the moment. Once done I got her back in the water as soon as possible where she swam off as strong as she came in. 
I could have packed up there and then as that was job done, however with the weather so nice and plenty of bait I decided to continue. In the following casts I hooked and lost one tope, before landing two more, the biggest being 25-30lb size. The third one was very feisty still so I decided instead of faffing about with the camera I’d get it straight back in the water. Over high tide the action slowed right down and I had just one more doggie before calling it a day. On my walk back up chatting with a few other anglers it seemed that the tope had come in for a feast, with around 12 fishers landing at least 2 tope each. Back at the hotel I considered taking the lures out for a few casts but I was so happy with the session I had just had that I sacked all plans off and just admired the pictures of the magnificent fish I had caught, and reflected on a brilliant weekend with fantastic people in an amazing location. Just got to get one on home soil now!

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