Squirting squid is no damp squib

 

In the last of the series on catching your dinner in Ireland ELIZABETH BIRDTHISTLEgoes deep sea fishing off the west coast

OUR FISHING trip was postponed 11 times due to huge Atlantic swells which ravaged the coast of Galway in September. John Brittain, our skipper, said that, in 20 years of angling in the west, he had never witnessed the strong surges that preceded our trip.

With fair weather forecast, we set off from Cleggan pier for a day’s deep sea fishing.

After a mild rain shower the sun emerged and its light glistened on the white horses lapping at the bow of our 42ft craft. Just off the jetty three dolphins swam beside the boat, jostling and jumping along the way, their theatrics a compensation for our delay, or perhaps they were elated that the seas were offering a halcyon interlude.

Deep sea fishing refers to offshore angling at any depth, and Brittain took us to spots where he knew there would be bountiful supplies. We first took shelter in the reefs off Inis Boffin and set up the rods and tackle. The boat, Bluewater, takes up to 12 anglers and the laughter and craic began as cod, pollack and mackerel were caught in abundance. An 8lb cod was hauled aboard with much tugging and banter – it was big enough to feed a family of five.

Deflated after an hour without as much as a nibble – while my fellow anglers were reeling in all kinds of odd-looking specimens – I changed the lure to a squid jig as we were close to a reef “teeming with squid”, according to Brittain. “If a squid takes the lure it’s not like a good old tug from a fish,” said Brittain. “It’s far more subtle.”

After a while there was a gentle strain on the line. I reeled in like a madwoman and a little later a speckled orange squid appeared just below the waterline. As it broke through the surface, water rising with its mantle gracefully flapping like a bird’s wing, it squirted jets of water and drenched me. While removing the jig from the squid’s tentacles its eyes changed colour from fluorescent greens and pinks to jet black. Its orange body morphed into a white opaque and its tentacles wrapped tightly around my hand.

After landing two more squid, we set off to fishing grounds off Inis Turk. Forty-two pollack and six cod later, we quickly made sandwiches and returned to our rods in jig time.

At this stage mackerel were fodder for our larger targets and, reeling in, I saw a large octopus attached to my mackerel. The fish had a predator at both ends: me with the rod, and the octopus attached to its body, swirling its tentacles in the air frantically trying to keep its catch. On seeing me, the octopus let go, and re-entered the water with a splash before diving into the deep.

THROUGHOUT THE day seabirds followed our route: we noted over 15 species fighting over the innards of the mackerel we discarded and some were cheeky enough to dive-bomb the catch that escaped our tackle at the last moment.

The plethora of rods and tackle onboard resembled an angling shop, including colossal tuna reels. Brittain explained that large blue fin tuna were once abundant in these waters – the largest caught weighed 800lbs.

A few miles beyond us were shark feeding grounds where anglers fight for hours with these giant predators. Brittain operates a tag and release programme – one of the largest in Europe – in conjunction with the Central Fisheries Board. The biggest shark caught here weighed 150lbs and, as with all sharks caught, Brittain must tread with caution to release the giant hook or else the shark returns to the deep with part of his hand. The tagged sharks have been caught as far away as the Grand Banks off Newfoundland and the Cape Verde islands.

Deep sea fishing is a highly enjoyable sport with great camaraderie onboard and in Brittain’s 20 years of guided trips anglers have never returned empty-handed. We landed 11 species of fish. Some made the evening’s repast while others were breakfast for Brittain’s house guests.

The highlight of my day was the squid – my first ever – and it fed my family. While researching squid caught off the west coast of Ireland, I was astonished to learn that a giant squid, measuring 30ft, was captured off Inis Boffin in 1875. It is kept at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington DC as one of the largest specimens ever caught in our waters. Its beak is preserved in a jar at the National Museum of Ireland – Natural History in Dublin.

The waters off the west coast of Ireland harbour these giant creatures albeit at profound depths. The thought of catching a giant squid – noted in the writings of Homer and Aristotle, and purported to be the legendary Kraken in Greek mythology – is daunting.

I was thrilled to catch a few of the smaller variety for dinner.

All about squid and octopus

SQUID AND Octopus are members of the Cephalopod family of which there are some 300 species.

Considered to be the most intelligent invertebrate, squid is an excellent example of cognitive evolution. Not only do they travel by a system of jet propulsion, their bodies contain pigment and light reflecting cells that allow them to change colour, making them almost invisible to predators.

In addition, they expel a jet of ink, like a smokescreen, that mimics their shape to obscure their presence.

This ink was used by the ancient Greeks for writing but today is harvested for cooking – especially for risotto nero (pictured left) and for colouring pasta.

Feeding mainly on crab and mollusc, which can be difficult due to tough shells and pincers, there is evidence of octopuses climbing aboard boats and hiding in containers holding dead and dying crabs.

Otto, a famous octopus at the Sea Star Aquarium in Coburg, Germany, wreaked havoc on molluscs by juggling them in the air and smashing rocks against the glass of his tank.

The most baffling of antics resulted in electricians sleeping on the floor of the aquarium determined to discover the cause of constant mysterious night blackouts.

The cunning creature “had discovered he was big enough to swing onto the edge of his tank and shoot out the spotlight above him with a carefully directed jet of water” according to a spokesman.

Fishing what to . . .

Bring

With the fickle Irish weather waterproof clothing is a must, as is sun cream, warm sweaters and wellingtons. A packed lunch is essential and groups, such as stag and hen parties, often bring a slab of beer to share.

Medicine

For those who suffer from seasickness, options vary from over-the-counter medications to ginger tablets. Luckily, the west coast offers shelter on the lee side of islands – where the swells are not so great – and the coast is nearly always visible for those who need to be able to see land.

Websites

fishinginireland.info(for a list of licensed and insured companies offering charter fishing); courtmacsherryangling.ie; activeirishangling.com

Profile John Brittain

LEAVING DUBLIN 20 years ago to realise his dream in the west of Ireland, John Brittain established Blue Water Fishing.

The charter fishing season runs from April to October with an average of just three cancellations a year due to adverse weather.

Brittain won’t allow smaller fish to be kept – they are returned to the water to propagate. Cartilaginous species, such as shark and ray, are tagged, recorded and released.

Kevin Crowley, an inspector with Inland Fisheries Ireland’s sea angling division, recommends charters such as Brittain’s. “The boats are licensed, the skipper is fully trained for all eventualities at sea, and charters offer a great introduction to deep sea angling with expert advice and tuition,” he says.

* Brittain charges €70 per person. This includes all rods, tackle and tuition. A private charter with a maximum of 12 people costs €600 for the day. BB at Brittain’s Sharamore House in Clifden is from €35. seafishingireland.net.