By Georgina Downes

“Fishing is beautiful – at one with nature on the rivers, lakes and seas, leaving the stresses of modern life behind.” So says Martin McGowan of The Angling Hub, in Monavalley. I take his word for it because I’ve never been, but I can’t help picturing lots of waiting around pitting my wits against creatures who’ve been here WAY longer than I have so I don’t fancy my chances much. Martin laughs. “It’s actually a very relaxing hobby”. Okay. Convince me, Say I rock up to your lovely shop and I want to go fishing. What will you do for me? 

“As you’re a complete novice, I’d recommend a Combo pack for €50 – you’ll get a 12 foot beach-rod, a fixed spool reel, including line, and mackerel rigs (artificial bait). Plus, I’ll provide important local knowledge; the best beaches and information about tides, that sort of thing.”

Will I catch fish?

“Definitely, if it’s after May you could catch up to 100 mackerel.”

I’m in. Everyone I know – dinner is on me!

The majority of anglers don’t eat the fish they land. Nearly all comply with catch and release programs to ensure recreational angling, as a sport, doesn’t impact negatively on certain fish stock. Martin explains some of the rules. I’m having difficulty keeping up.

“It’s complicated all right,” he admits. “It changes from one species to another and from season to season. European laws change all the time, especially for bass, which can make it frustrating for fishermen.”

Due to low stocks in the past, the EU have needed to issue regulations and restrictions on bass-for-the-table fishing in Ireland. But the conservation measures are working and new catch-limits for 2020 allow the recreational angler to keep two bass per day from the beginning of March to the end of November. The salmon season starts on 17th January and closes at the end of September. You can fish for trout and mackerel all year round and recreational angling for cod has no regulation. However, you need a state licence to catch fresh-water salmon and sea trout. Most of the good rivers and lakes are privately owned so permission should be sought to fish these as well.

Enough about the regulations, I say. What about the fun?

“Sure. Joining a club is a great place to start. The Tralee Bay Sea-Angling Club in Fenit has special family rates. Actually, we have the largest female membership in Ireland.”

 

Why do you think that is?

“Kerry women just love to fish. We have lots of parents, including mums, obviously, and daughters.  It’s a real family affair. The club organises monthly competitions and other activities.  Inland Fisheries Ireland are in the process of attracting more young people to the sport. Hopefully, they’ll be running a project called the Mini Species Hunt this summer, which is usually great craic ―youngsters competing to catch blennies, tompot, ballen, wrasse and scad.”

Are these actual fish?

Martin laughs, again. He pulls some pictures up on his laptop. They’re definitely real. The tompot is what my grandmother would call ‘unfortunate looking’  but the scad is sleek.

Martin’s shop is a treasure trove for fishing enthusiasts. Anything you could possibly need, he has it. Tucked away in Unit 3, Monavalley Industrial Estate, it’s not exactly the sort of place you’d stumble upon by accident, but most of his customers are locals and tourists who come to him through the internet. The Angling Hub is the only shop in Tralee to sell nothing but fishing tackle. And it has a mind-boggling array of rigs and an impressive selection of flies.

“I have a local man, a fly-tier, who makes them for me. Keep it local, keep it real!”

Is that a pun, I wonder?

The flies are delicate, intricate structures made from the feathers of different birds and sometimes animal pelt. They replicate small fish, flies and insects and come in several colours, textures and sizes. Different fish are attracted to different colours.

The Angling Hub wasn’t always Martin’s job. He worked in the building trade until the crash, then decided to follow that old adage – find something you love doing and you’ll never work a day in your life.

“Dad was a keen angler. He took me along from about the age of 14. I’ve loved it ever since.”

Not content with just selling fishing products, Martin has designed one of his own. It’s called the Bait Binder and it’s a clever little device that dispenses elastic thread to wrap around bait so the fish can’t pull it away.

“I designed Bait Binder in my shed, patented it, and now it’s shipped all over the world. It’s selling well.”

Fantastic! Are your family involved in the business?

“Tonya, my wife, is a hairdresser and doesn’t like fishing much. I brought her once but she didn’t like handling worms.”

Who does?

“But she supports me 100%. My kids love it, and they love eating fish too; sushi, mussels and crab. My son Aaron was Master Angler at the age of 12 in the North Kerry Sea Anglers Club. That’s the great thing about fishing – it’s a lifelong sport – you can start young and fish right into your old age.”

Do you think fish are intelligent, I ask.

“Well, they know when they’ve been caught,” Martin says, smiling. “But a good fisherman will treat a fish with respect. When we catch and release, we don’t want to stress the fish out. We use a special device to release the hook without damaging the fishes’ mouth. It’s one of the first things we teach kids to do. But the fish can wise up so tactics are always changing.”

What’s the biggest fish you’ve ever caught, and no fisherman tales. Tell the truth.

“In Ireland? A tope. It’s a kind of shark. It was 1.6m  (4.5 feet). I caught one in a sea-kayak, half a mile off Cappaclough, West Camp. We often catch tope there. We paddle out past the lighthouse to a virtual mark there through GPS. You hear the reel scream. The fish takes off at speed for about 200 yards, and it’s pure muscle so it’s very strong. You play the fish for a while, letting it out, reeling it in a bit, then you get it to the side of the kayak and at that stage you just slide them onto your lap. Then you can have a good look, supporting the body all the time to make sure the fish is unharmed. Then unhook and release and watch it swim away.”

To me, that sounds like water skiing in a kayak using a shark as an engine! Martin, I’m hooked.

For more information visit theanglinghub.com or phone  00353 (0)87 315 2516