Most of the charter fleet off the north Wales coast benefit from a fairly consistent run of big tope. Holyhead is no exception, with the current Welsh record for a boat caught tope, 79lb, being caught and then released aboard My Way in August 2005 by Nottingham angler Anthony Meli. These big fish tend to move inshore late July through to October.
Above, Antony Meli and his Welsh Record C&R tope
It is though firmly believed though that there have been even bigger fish hooked over the years that have proved far too powerful for the anglers to keep hold over.
In Holyhead Deep however, plenty of tope rangin from 5lb to over 50lb flourish from late spring through to late Autumn
Above, Daves first tope, cracker from Holyhead Deep
Previously I’ve written on the tremendous spurdog fishing available to us in the deeper water west of Anglesey. A popular area for spurs through the spring and summer, Holyhead Deep is also a quality area for hooking into numbers of good tope and also big double figure bull huss, the latter all year long The Deep received its name owing to much of the area being over 200ft in depth with certain troughs and holes reaching 350ft. Fishing this area is not for the fainthearted, the average depths of our marks is 200ft and with a tide that can tear through, patience is the key to fishing here.
Above, Nice spurdog for Mark
Owing to the strength of the tide we tend to leave our Deep escapades to neap tides approaching slack water. When we first arrive and set anchor, anglers often require
leads of 2 to 3lb to hold bottom, these then can be gradually reduced to as low as 3oz over slack water and then stepped back up again as the tide gathers strength.
Above, a video from Dave Barham Fishing, light tackle spurdog fishing a few years back
On arrival in Holyhead Deep, the odd tangle is inevitable; fishing the bottom in such tides can be stressful for mates; however these problems can be avoided by watching for other lines as you lower your baits. One favourite way for me is for the angler that has retrieved his / her tackle to then move up the boat towards the bow and drop down behind the other anglers, ideally missing their lines as his / her bait descends the depths.
Above, early season and small pack tope
Small pack tope move to waters off Holyhead in early April/May. Fish around the 15lb mark are regularly caught from Holyhead Deep. By mid-July tope up to 40lb are moving into both the deep water and also to marks relatively close to shore. August, Sept and Oct see the return of pack tope offshore with their larger family members inshore with many 50lb+ fish available for capture. The 79lb shark mentioned earlier in this article was caught in only 60ft of water and only 2 miles from Holyhead breakwater. Odd fish are also caught right up until late November, but these tend to be a product of fishing for conger and spurdog and not necessarily targeted tope.
Tope is the most abundant large shark native to the British Isles, available in season from most ports; they are live bearing with a normal litter size of between 6 and 30pups, usually around the 20 mark. Some of the larger females are known to give birth to up to 50 pups. Female tope do not mature until they are around 11years of age, which makes then very susceptible to any form of commercial fishing and equally susceptible to ill handling from anglers as well. In recent years tope has become a protected species in our waters and should be handled with care at all times, releasing at the side of the boat the preferred method.
Above, Marks 48lb tope, they move inshore late summer to pup
Bull huss, or Greater Spotted Dogfish as it is also known, is the most common double figure shark available in our area. Caught regular from Holyhead Deep and also in the shallower waters all around Anglesey, they are also readily available all year round. The upper side of the bull huss tends to be a dark colour however can sometimes be sandy brown in appearance depending on the ground being fished. The huss is covered in many small and large black spots and is often confused by anglers with its small cousin the lesser spotted dogfish. The best way to tell the two apart is that the bull huss has two very distinctive nasal flaps above its mouth and can grow to weights in excess of 20lb. Following a trip aboard My Way.
Phil Williams wrote an article for Boat Fishing Monthly on the merits of actually fishing for bull huss. Whilst not everyone’s cup of tea, huss can offer anglers a realistic chance of catching double figure sharks on most trips. Furthermore, when fishing for them from places such as Holyhead Deep, the huss can put up one mean fight and often shake and dive in a fashion normally associated with pack tope or big spurdogs.
Above, from 200ft the bull huss can put up an epic battle
Both tope and huss feed on a variety of species, mackerel being the most traditional choice, locally whiting and codling are considered amongst the best baits. Holyhead is not the most prolific of ports for mackerel unless of course you choose to spend all day drifting with feathers! Huss though by example are ever present and tend to feed well on the small white fish that are also available in our waters. A major plus when using whiting or codling is that you also tend to get fewer bites from nuisance fish such as dogfish or whiting!
Above, Andy first tope, unbelievable Jeff 😉
When fishing in Holyhead Deep a basic running ledger is all you need to tackle both tope and huss, the rig will also catch a big spurdog that may be feeding on the bottom. The trace should be around 4 – 10ft in length depending on tide and made up of mono with a breaking strain of minimum 150lb, over kill for the bull huss but will cope sufficiently with the teeth of a tope or big spur that can easily bite through anything lighter and on the business end a hook of between 6/0 – 8/0 in size. Because of the very sharp teeth in the sharks mouth there are a few anglers that still advocate the use of wire as a full trace or short biting trace; I have found that use of a good quality heavy mono will always see the tope landed. But it really is what you are most comfortable using.
Fishing for double figure sharks is then a waiting game. Having baited up and lowered your offering to the sea, it is simply a case of slackening the drag, clicking on the ratchet and wait. Yes, just wait for that click, click, click, that exhilarating noise of when a big double figure shark first picks up your bait and if a tope darts off, or if a bull huss pulls line off your reel in short frantic bursts. It’s at this stage you feel all the adrenalin pumping round your body, and that nervous anticipation of lifting the rod and connecting with what could be a shark of 50lb or more.
Above, Mackerel baits ready for some big shark action
There are many differing views on whether you should strike into a tope whilst it is on its first run or its second, with every person or skipper you ask offering an opinion they would claim to be correct. Tope are pack fish, it is my opinion that on the first run, the tope has picked up your bait and darted outside of the pack quickly with his dinner. Failing to do this could result in another tope taking a fancy to the offering and your fish losing its snack all together. The tope may or may not have the hook in its mouth – if you strike now – the fish could be lost all together. I personally prefer to let the fish make its initial run, and then as it slows down, tighten down the drag slightly on the line, lifting the rod into the shark.