32, Fishing in Ireland

32

Ideas churn around in my mind as stirred in some kind of witch’s cauldron. Most are flights of fancy which never get off the ground but sometimes, just occasionally, an idea grows roots and turns into actions. 32 is one of those few notions which is becoming a reality. I want to take a bit of time to describe to you this bold new idea and how exactly I plan to turn the thoughts into reality. I am painfully aware that my blog has long ago degenerated into a litany of blank days and moans about the lack of fish, so I want to head off in a new direction and take readers on a bit of a voyage of discovery.

So what is 32? It is not the answer to all life’s questions nor is it indeed anything to do with maths or arithmetic. Those of you who are familiar with Ireland will instantly recognise it as the number of counties on the island of Ireland. A small history lesson may help to make things a bit clearer for those not well versed in the machinations of Irish history. When the Irish Free State was formed the English government wanted to hang on to the 6 counties which make up modern day Northern Ireland (please note this is not Ulster as it comprises of 9 counties, 6 in the North and 3 in the South). That left 26 counties in what would become the Republic of Ireland. So 26 counties in the south, 6 counties in the north makes a total of 32 counties. Are you with me so far? The 6 counties in Northern Ireland are part of the United Kingdom and the other 26 all form the Republic of Ireland.

My great idea is to set out to catch a fish in each of the 32 counties on the island of Ireland and document the highs and lows in my blog. Why bother you may well ask? Firstly, the last few seasons have been a disappointment for me on the angling front with repeated blanks and poor catches from my local waters. At the same time I can recall some brilliant fishing in other parts of the country from the past. Spinning for Bass in Kerry as the sun rose in the East, catching feisty little Brown Trout from a tiny lochan on a hillside Donegal, Rainbows leaping as they felt the hook on a put-and-take in Tyrone – the list goes on and on. It all seems in such sharp contrast to the endless blank days on Conn this past 2 seasons. Since the end of the 2019 season I have mulled over these past successes and recent failures and come to the conclusion that I need to spread my piscatorial wings somewhat and try new venues. From there, it was but a short hop to the need to give these wanderings some structure. That was when the concept of the 32 counties hit me.

the light fading over the hills of Donegal

Refining this structure has taken me a bit of time. Exactly what was I trying to achieve? What were the self-imposed rules of this venture going to be? My initial thoughts were to aim to catch a trout (any species of trout) in each of the counties but upon further examination this seemed to be a bit restrictive. This blog deliberately covers all legal forms of angling as I enjoy a wide variety of fishing experiences. Limiting myself to trout only felt like a betrayal of why I started to blog in the first place.

Then I thought about stretching it out and including salmon as well as trout but that would have meant leaving out sea angling. That didn’t appeal to me either so in the end I have settled on a rather broad based structure, ‘to catch at least one of any species of fish from each of the 32 counties in Ireland in a 24 month period’. Thus it shall remain and I now need to do some detailed planning and figure out where and when I shall tackle this herculean task.

My next hurdle was to negotiate the tricky question of C&R. I habitually return most of the fish I catch, keeping a few for the pot. I decided that I would be pragmatic and judge each fish as they came to the net. Coarse fish will all go back and I don’t eat brown trout so they will be returned. Rainbows may be kept I suppose and sea fish such as Mackerel and Pollock will be probably retained too providing I am heading home immediately after the fishing. I abhor waste, especially wasting fish which could otherwise have been released.

What about my carbon footprint? All these miles trekking across the countryside in a diesel engine car cannot be good for the environment. I can’t say that I am a big fan of offsetting and instead am actively working to reduce my own personal carbon footprint by reducing power and fuel usage at home.

This little venture does throw up a whole series of challenges for me. The most obvious is going to be a lack of local knowledge for the vast majority of the venues I will be fishing. I know my own ‘patch’ around Mayo reasonably well but beyond that I am pretty much in the lap of the gods. Other variables include:

  • Time is going to be limited as I have recently started my own business and this is going to curtail my available free time.
  • As for the timescale I feel it is important to set a firm start and end date. The obvious choice is 1st January to 31st December 2020 but I won’t be able to commit to cramming all 32 into one calendar year. So, I am stretching the project over a two year time frame, starting on the first day of 2020 and aiming to complete by the last day of 2021.
  • Weather is always an issue in Ireland! A planned day on the shore can easily be blown off with high winds or a river trip washed out by a flood. To some degree this can be mitigated by having a back-up venue planned but realistically there will be days when it simply not safe to fish.
  • Access could be another issue for me as I may not always be able to fish exactly where I intended. When planning these forays I will carry out as much research as possible beforehand but there are bound to be a few hitches along the way. The internet is such a wonderful tool and I hope by doing thorough research I will avoid most of the pitfalls but I won’t always get it right and plans will need tweaking if access is denied to some spots.
  • My old VW lacks reliability shall we say. Breakdowns are a very real threat when the odometer already reads well over 300k miles. The car gets serviced regularly but who knows what bits will break or fall off on the road. For me it is part of the charm of the whole project, setting off in an old car with ancient gear to try and catch a few fish in far flung places. I am under no illusions that the car will give trouble and there will be breakdowns but I am not overly concerned about it.
  • Financial constraints. I need to be honest here, I’m not planning on spending a small fortune on this project. Cheap and cheerful is going to be my approach. Expensive beats on salmon rivers are out for a start. I will make do with day-ticket waters when chasing silver. In Ireland we are blessed with lots of inexpensive fishing so there should not be any need to overspend.
  • Family commitments need to be taken into consideration too of course. I am toying with the idea of dedicating some weekends away to the more distant counties and that will be a strain. Stretching the project out over two years will make the balance of family life and the fishing more manageable.
  • A lack of technical knowledge. I am OK when fly fishing, spinning or shore fishing from rocks but all forms of coarse fishing are black arts to me right now. Using feeders, the art of groundbaiting, float selection and shotting patterns, where and how to fish for the different species of coarse fish are all going to have to be learned and learned quickly. I don’t have the luxury of an extended apprenticeship in coarse angling. Beach fishing is something I have practiced only occasionally and distance casting is not my forte. I have a lot to learn!
  • Exhaustion, both mental and physical. There will be blanks and days when nothing seems to go as planned and I need to be able to get through the bad times and keep going. Plain old tiredness will come into it too as some parts of the country are 5 hours’ drive from Mayo. I am planning on combining some short fishing sessions with days I am working in far flung corners of the island which are bound to be exhausting.
  • On a similar note there is the question of health. I suffer from arthritis in my feet, ankles and knees which curtails much of my fishing. I also have vertigo and take medication to keep it under control. A flare up of either condition will be a big problem. The arthritis is there more or less constantly, giving me a lot of pain in my feet and ankles and reducing my mobility considerably. I have learned to live with it and put up with the pain. The Vertigo is a different beast and an attack in 2018 left my sense of balance severely compromised and the need for daily medication. There is always a niggling worry I will suffer another attack someday but my poor balance has curtailed much of my fishing. Until you lose your balance it is impossible to realise just how important it is to your everyday life. Tackling the 32 counties will have to be done without fishing some spectacular but difficult to access rock marks.
  • Recording it all on the blog. I know the scant few words you read here don’t look like much but time and effort is required to add content to any blog. I find that I need to write posts soon after the fact, certainly within the next 24 hours. I have never timed how long it takes me to write a post and publish it but I would guess an hour or more is about right. Finding an hour going spare after I have been fishing will be an interesting challenge.

the old car

Another aspect of recording it all is going to be my dodgy photographic skills. I have a reasonable camera but using it to full effect is something I am still wrestling with. I will try my best to conquer the intricacies of a DSLR but bear with me if some of my shots are not the best – we all have to learn! This learning new skills is going to be a challenge but at the same time part of the reason for undertaking the 32 counties in the first place. We all need to face up to new challenges and learning new skills, be they using a camera or learning to fish for Tench stretch us in ways we will benefit from. So photography is another area where my interest needs to be turned into knowledge. I’m looking forward to that too.

  • There is little serious angling between the end of October and the beginning of March in Ireland. Yes, I know about the early salmon rivers which open on the 1st January but to have a respectable chance of catching something I regard March as the starting point of my fishing year. That concentrates the opportunities to fish into only 8 months. That rather neatly translates into one county every two weeks. To me that is a heck of a lot of angling to fit in! I am avidly reading up on the forms of fishing and species of fish which are new to me and it seems there is some coarse fishing during the winter months which may just give me a few extra days fishing but I have a lot more research to do before committing to long drives on bad roads to try and extract an odd Roach or Perch. The jury is out on that one for now……..
  • As I write this we are still unclear what the actual effect on crossing the border between the Republic and UK is going to be like. With 6 counties to fish in Northern Ireland it looks like I will be gaining some first-hand experience.
  • Licences, permits etc. Permission will be required and angling licences purchased too. So there will be some expenses in addition to all the travel.
  • Tackle should not be an issue for the game and sea angling as I have a huge range of rods and reels in good condition. Apart for small bits and bobs of end gear I don’t anticipate buying any new tackle for those arms of the sport. Coarse fishing is a different story and I am shocked at the volume and expense of coarse angling equipment which the top anglers use on a regular basis. I am not going to go the whole hog on kitting myself out with poles, those fancy tackle boxes and the other paraphernalia. I own a 12 foot float rod, a couple of leger rods and an as yet unused feeder rod with some old reels to match. These will have to do for now. A selection of end gear and some new lines will need to be bought though as well as bait and ground bait. I’ll go into details of my gear later on as it is largely unconventional.

The range of different fish is equally extensive and I am excited to think about the new species I could encounter. I have never caught Bream, Tench, Rudd or Hybrids but they will definitely be target species for me when I fish in some counties. I have never caught a Roach of more than 6 inches long nor a perch of greater than a pound and a half, maybe I’ll break one or both of those PB’s. Hopefully there will be a few oddities along the way too, such as Shad which is a fish I will specifically target down in Carlow.

If you draw an imaginary line diagonally through Ireland from Belfast to Cork the lands to the North and west contain most of the game angling while to the South and East of the line is mainly coarse angling water. In saltwater there is a huge mix of different coastlines around this island. One of the great attractions of this venture is the sheer variety of locations out there for me to sample. Sleepy urban canals, fast flowing hillside torrents, heady clifftops and miles of salty, golden beaches all await me. I’ve always enjoyed the challenges of fishing new places and the mix of previously untried locations, methods of angling new to me and the backdrop of the Irish countryside seem like a heady brew to this tired and jaded angler.

Reaching the furthest corner of the Emerald Isle can be a bit of a trek from my base in Mayo. Antrim and Derry are 4 – 5 hours from home and the same goes for Wexford/Waterford area in the South-east. That is a ten hour round trip without even wetting a line. Although traffic can be heavy in the cities, rural driving is largely a pleasurable experience once you have grown used to the Irish style of driving. Anyone using indicators is seen as an oddity, letting someone out in front of you at an opening is a sign of madness, reducing speed in poor conditions such as snow is unheard of – the list is lengthy. My pet hate is supermarket car parks which everyone seems to regard as their own private race track. Despite living in Ireland for all these year I still find it hard to accept the truly awful driving of my fellow road users but railing against the majority is a waste of time and emotional effort. I need to learn to just put up with it and hope I avoid contact with the worst of the drivers out there.

The car. So what does my transport consist of? For many years now I have been running round in a 2001 VW Golf estate car, so many years in fact that it now boasts over 300k miles (not kilometres mind you) on the clock. While there have been occasional temptations to upgrade to a new car the old gal keeps on chugging along so I stick with her. These days there are a few dents and scrapes in the bodywork which somehow adds to the warm fuzzy feeling I have towards this old automobile. Driving down narrow boreens inevitably adds further scars to the paintwork every season but it really does not matter at all with an old car like this. I guess it has been reasonably reliable over the years. The diesel engine still returns nearly 50 miles to the gallon on the open road and all the controls and switches (with the notable exception of the air conditioning) are still working. In short, for this type of project it should fit the bill nicely. Repairs, when required are effected by a good mate who is a wizard when it comes to good old fashioned automobile repairs. He would rather fix something rather than chuck it out and buy a new replacement. Without him the old VW would have long ago been consigned to a scrapyard.

Let me explain a little bit about the gear I propose to use for doing the 32 counties. After a lifetime of angling I have amassed a huge amount of tackle but none of it is your ‘top end’ expensive rods and reels. I take particular pleasure in using old tackle and in particular I am a huge fan of vintage ABU kit. Growing up in the sixties and seventies I lived through the age when ABU were producing the finest tackle available and I still believe some of their reels are the finest ever produced. When I started working in the mid-seventies I immediately began to purchase ABU rods and reels and that habit, though it has waned at times, has persisted with me right up to the present day. In common with most others of a like mind I believe that the quality of ABU products diminished greatly when production was switched to the Far East so I buy up only the gear which was made in Sweden. A lot of this is still available on the second-hand market at reasonable prices and the quality of the engineering is such that these old reels (and to a certain extent the rods) is still better than modern equivalents.

I won’t bore you with a long list of my rods and reels, suffice to say I have a pretty extensive collection running to well over 30 rods and about 50 reels. I only buy tackle I intend to use so none of this lot is in pristine showroom condition, rather they are well maintained everyday rods and reels for use on the water. I love the silky smooth feel of the Ambassadeur multipliers and Cardinal fixed spool reels. Using them really adds another dimension to a day’s fishing for me. A good glass fibre rod, although heavy, is a joy to use and I can’t help thinking it is the best material for some types of rod. So if you see an old bloke on a riverbank in Ireland chucking out lures or bait on some ancient ABU gear there is a good chance it is yours truly.

I especially enjoy using the heavier ABU rods such as the Atlantic 423 spinning rod and the Legerlite 234. These are beautiful rods with bags of power when required. They inspire confidence and the trade off in weight is a small price to pay in my book. I also have some of the short baitcasting rods and they are great fun to use for smaller species. That is not to say I only possess ABU kit, I have a range of rods and reels made by other manufacturers such as Daiwa and Shakespeare. All my flies are tied by myself and the challenge here is to cut down the sheer number of flies I bring with me. Talking of flies I will add any unusual patterns or variations of standard ties in the main blog so that the 32 pages don’t become overly complicated. There will be enough going on in them without adding things like fly patterns.

I also swear by some of the old Swedish ABU baits such as the Toby, Tylo and Krill. Again, I have used these all of my angling life and firmly believe they out fish newer baits stamped out on a press in China or Korea. Owning hundreds and hundreds of baits means I am forever switching them when on the river or lake but that just adds to my day out too. I am perfectly willing to accept that I could sell off 95% of my gear and not suffer any reduction in my catches but that is not the point. I get enjoyment from using different rods and reels or trying a different baits. Each to his or her own I say.

ABU Tylo

Having declared my love for all things ABU I must admit that I do like Rapala plugs as well (bit of a Nordic thing going on here!). The original floaters and countdown sinkers are excellent baits and I have started to trial the newer scatter raps now as well. The action in the water is excellent and I have great faith in their fish catching ability. I have some small ones which are yet untried but I suspect they might be good for Perch and jack Pike, time will tell.

Anyway, as I rove around Ireland you will see me use a host of various baits and lures, some of which may even catch the odd fish or two. I’ll try to keep note of the ones I use but I’m pretty sure I’ll miss some of them. Who knows, perhaps some new and otherwise untried baits may be successful for me in some far flung corners of the island. For instance, I hear that the best lure for Shad in the river Barrow is the Tasmanian Devil, a lure I have never even tried before now.

Talking of tackle, I am thinking about pulling together a small ‘kit’ of basic gear which I could keep in the car at all times in case I get an opportunity for an hours fishing as I travel the country. My new work will in all probability take me different parts of Ireland so having a couple of rods with me makes a lot of sense. Initial thoughts are this would consist of 4 rod/reel combinations and a bag of bits to cover very basic float, light spinning, heavy spinning and light fly fishing. Scenarios I can foresee would include an hour on a canal where the float rod could be used for Roach or Bream but I’d have the backup of the small spinning rod to try for a Perch if I did not have any bait. Or the heavy spinning rod could be used off a pier for Mackerel or to chuck a plug into a Pike lake. My Orvis fly rod throws a no.5 line and this is adequate for small river fishing as well as top of the water smaller lake fishing for browns and rainbows. If I am planning on a full day fishing I will be properly organised and take all appropriate gear with me but for those odd occasions when an opportunity presents itself for an hour on some stretch of water this ‘kit’ could be a godsend.

It’s just an idea at the moment but it seems to make sense. There should be space in the car for this limited amount of gear. With this lot I could fish for trout, pike, perch, roach, rudd, mackerel, Pollock and wrasse. Everything bar the rods would fit in a large box and I could take a bag along and just fill it with the bits I needed for that session and off down the bank I’d go.

Tackle shops are going to be a necessary evil for me during my travels. Why an evil you may ask? Well you see I am a sucker for the salesman patter and will inevitably end up buying stuff I don’t really need. Tackle shops will provide me with permits, bait and ground bait and hopefully some advice as well. But I am resigned to adding to my huge collection of tackle just for the sake of it. At this stage I am guessing the coarse fishing areas will be my biggest challenges and so the local tackle shops in those counties will be visited and consulted. Irish tackle dealers are the same as those the world over, only too keen to help out anglers with advice as well as selling them gear. I am looking forward to meeting some of these characters in far flung corners of the island.

Some days are going to be dedicated to fishing with early starts and long journeys but others will likely be short sessions snatched after work. This will be challenging angling with little time to get to know a piece of water and so sticking to basic methods will be the name of the game. The humble worm will likely feature as bait. Readily available and good to tempt most freshwater species it could well be my mainstay. Then again, a tin of sweetcorn tucked away in the tackle bag is a good standby for some species. Pre-baiting is a luxury I cannot afford which is a pity as it certainly seems to be key to good catches of some species such as Bream. But, if my goal is catch one fish from each county, one single solitary fish is all I need to achieve my target. Big bags are not going to be a feature of this venture.

What happens if, despite all my planning, I fail to catch a fish at my selected venue? I’m in no doubt that this is going to happen and probably happen quite often. A blank will entail me visiting that county again and again until I catch a fish. Blanks in Antrim or Wexford are going to be expensive and time consuming failures! I suppose the best approach is to give myself the maximum chances to catch fish at each venue, meaning I need to do a lot of research into each place beforehand. I also need backup plans for when things are going wrong. For example, finding a river in flood may rule out the chances of catching anything there but if I have a ‘plan B’ in the shape of a second or even third choice of venue it could negate the loss of the first venue. I can’t just turn on my heel and drive all the way back home just because one river is out of ply. I will need to think about varying locations and target species in light of any blanks, there is no point in going back to the same spot and hoping for a better result! There is a huge element of ‘suck it and see’ with the whole of this adventure and making adjustment and changes as I go along is part of the fabric.

I want to try to vary species and methods as much as possible without tying myself to impossible dreams. My disturbing lack of knowledge about all forms of coarse fishing means I will be taking some calculated risks but taking along a small spinning rod to cast worms or small spinners for perch should go some way to providing a back-up in many places. But I don’t want this to end up as me simply fishing for the lowest common denominator. It will make for dull reading indeed if all I do is worm for perch and bottom fish for dogfish (probably the easiest two species to catch in Ireland). Hence the different types of venues and methods of fishing.

I will need to provide photographic evidence of all catches too. Just writing a post saying that I caught a fish is not good enough, I need to show clear evidence that I caught the fish and, importantly, that I caught it where I said I did. To this end I will take liberal amounts of photos and add them to the posts. Pictures of the whole trip and not catch will be taken so you get a ‘feel’ for the whole trip as this is just as important to me as the actual landing the fish. Who knows, I may even play around with video!

I read somewhere recently that a ‘good’ days fishing happens to competent anglers on average every fourth trip. I know my own average of good days is well below that level, leading me to conclude that I am far from a competent angler! Then again, what actually constitutes a good day? Long ago I abandoned all hopes of catching lots of big fish on a regular basis. Too often I have blanked on good waters while those around me hauled out their share (and mine too). As long as there is some faint hope of catching something I am a happy angler. Once that hope dies I pack up and head for home or the pub. Flogging empty water is a thoroughly depressing business and one to be avoided at all costs in my book. Attempting to catch a fish in each county in this land will test my resolve and willingness to keep going even through tough situations. Any stretch of a trout river is going to be a joy to fish and I’m comfortable casting small flies for wild trout so these venues are going to be the jewels in the crown for me. What to do when Bream or Tench refuse my cunningly presented feeder will cause me much more difficulty. Density of loose feeding, castor versus maggots, boilies or minis? As a complete novice these and a hundred more coarse fishing conundrums await me. It will be a steep learning curve but one I am really looking forward too. I beg forgiveness in advance from those of you coarse experts who read this blog, all I can say is that we all had to start somewhere. My mentality is simply to catch one fish at each venue, not attempt to secure large bags. For me, one bream will constitute a good day’s bream fishing!

Planning with near military precision is going to be required and I have made a start. I have created an initial list of potential venues, listed by county. This is very much a ‘first stab’ in the dark and will require much refining over the coming months but it is a starting point. I intend being flexible and taking advantage of any opportunities which present themselves as the months pass. If I hear on the grapevine of good fishing in counties I have yet to tick off I’ll adjust my plans accordingly. A good run of grilse at the weir in Galway or heavy mayfly hatches on Sheelin could send me scuttling across the country to try my luck. Odd occasions like that will not be the norm and instead I will have to plan in some detail where, when and how to fish in each county. No point in turning up at the other end of the country to find my chosen spot has not fished for a month or that it produces good catches in August but I am stood there in my waders in December! In these days of the internet I should be able to glean sufficient information to make informed decisions but I have to accept sometimes I will simply get it wrong and be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Such is angling!

The Galway Weir

I am fairly familiar with some counties but others I have never even visited. I have never set foot in either Kilkenny or Wexford and only passed through Armagh, Down, Offaly, Laois and Tipperary. My knowledge of the fishing in many of the other counties has come from books or the net, not actual experience. The midland counties and the southeast are pretty much a mystery to me right now.  The challenges will be many and I am banking on good fortune along with tips and help from other anglers I encounter during my travels. Anglers the world over are a helpful bunch so I am hoping for some free information from my companions on the bank.

I know I have a tendency to fall back on tried and tested methods sometimes when the fishing gets tough (a size 12 Green Peter cast at wild brownies has saved the day many times, as has a silver spoon for Pike) but this may work against me on new venues. I must cultivate an open mind! I do like using two rods when shore fishing, sometimes even three. A ‘normal’ beachcaster hurled out a fair distance, a heavier rod fished very short with a large bait and often a spinning rod in my hand casting a lure or feathers looking to pick up Mackerel or Pollock. This certainly improves my chances not only in terms of numbers but it targets different species, always a good thing when you don’t know the mark well (or at all).

if in doubt, a small Green peter usually works!

So what do I hope to achieve by all this dashing across Ireland, waving rods at fish I have never caught before in places I have never even visited before? I guess I want to address my jaded approach to angling, to re-invigorate my fishing so that I get more enjoyment out of it. Isn’t a change as good as a rest? At the same time I hope to show you, the readers, some new and interesting places as I travel the highways and byways of this lovely country. Ireland has the capacity to confuse, irritate and disturb you at times but alongside that there is a beauty and charm which is hard to match. I hope you enjoy reading about my travels, the successes and inevitable failures, the people I meet and the stunning locations I fish.  Two years is a long time to ask you to stick with me but I will do my best to educate and entertain you all as I try my luck in all the odd corners of Eire.

Many of you either live in Ireland or have some knowledge of the fishing here so I am open to your suggestions and comments. Drop me a line if you have anything to say (positive or negative, it all helps).

I will preface my posts on the blog dedicated to the 32. This will keep them separate from my normal musings and make it easier to follow for the reader. As I said earlier, it is looking like I will be able to head off doing the 32 counties thing roughly once every fortnight leaving plenty of space for me to keep adding posts to my normal blog.

So, there you have it. I plan, over the next two years, to catch a fish in every county on the island of Ireland. I may succeed gloriously or fail miserably but I am looking forward to the challenge and invite you all to come on the journey with me. Starting date is the first day of January 2020.

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