Always think of safety when you are going fishing on the big loughs. Every year people lose their life on these dangerous waters, often due to not taking the proper precautions.
- Check the weather forecast before heading out and make your plans accordingly.
- Wear a lifejacket at all times when on or near the water. Bring a small torch, it is handy for signalling if you get in trouble.
- If you are unfamiliar with the lake I strongly recommend hiring a local ghillie to take you out. Lough Mask and parts of Lough Corrib are particularly dangerous places with ragged limestone reefs rising to within inches of the surface in many places. It is easy to hit an unseen reef and either hole or tip over the boat with dire consequences. If you are unfamiliar with the lough don’t venture out in bad weather. Some bays offer good shelter so these can be tried on very windy days.
- Tell people where you are going before you set off and let them know when you plan to return.
- Take extra care getting in and out of the boat, Docks can be slippery. In many places boats are simply hauled up on to a shelving bank so watch out for holes or rocks to trip over.
- Keep your engine well maintained, a breakdown in a big wave can have serious consequences. Make sure you have enough fuel in the tank before setting off. Tightly secure the engine to the boat and always have a pair of oars with you. A small tool kit with screwdriver, spanners, spark plug spanner and a spare spark plug and a shear pin is handy to bring with you. Some boats have tholl pins built in but others do not, so carry a spare pair of pins with you.
- Always have a bucket with you to bail the boat. You will probably need this to empty the boat at the start of the day but it will be a lifesaver if you hit a sharp rock and puncture the hull. If you do hole the boat make for the nearest land right away even if that is just an island. Get ashore and jam something in the hole to reduce the volume of water coming in. If the damage is severe then get help and don’t risk a long drive over open water with water pouring in.
- Make sure you mobile phone is charged before you set off in case you need it but be aware that coverage out on the water is very poor and you may not get a signal.
- If you do need help the recognised signal is to raise one oar vertically and hold it there. Anyone seeing this will come to your assistance if they can. I carry a length of rope with me when out in the boat so that in emergency I can be towed or tow another boat in trouble.
- If you break down and some kind soul offers to tow your boat back to shore sit in the front of your boat when under tow (otherwise the boat will be next to impossible to tow).
- If you do run aground do not get out of the boat. There is every chance it could float off leaving you stranded in the middle of thousands of acres of deep water! Stay onboard, move all weight to the other end of the boat and rock/push the boat off. If you are stuck fast then raise an oar and attract some help to pull you off.
I am not trying to put anyone off of visiting the great western loughs but please plan your trips carefully, keep an eye on conditions at all times and be prepared to deal with any emergencies.
When I started fishing in Ireland all these years ago it was normal for everyone to haul their boat ashore after a day on the lough and just leave it there with the outboard engine still on the stern. Boats were secured to a block of concrete or some similar device to stop it floating away if the lake rose but nobody would think of any more security than that. We live in changed days now though and security is a real concern all across Ireland.
Boats are sometime stolen but it is usually the engines that the thieves are after. I understand there is a ready market for them in Europe and gangs now target angler’s boats for easy pickings. For a while there were various devices on the market for bolting your engine to the boat so it could not be removed but the thieve got around that by simply taking a saw to the back of the boat and cutting the arse of the boat off. So, regardless of how tired you are at the end of the days fishing always remove the outboard engine and take it with you. Remember to take the fuel tank too. Pull the boat up on to solid ground and chain it to something solid. I run the chain though the oars too so they do not go missing. A couple of tyres placed under the boat will stop her rocking in the waves and working herself loose. Please be considerate of other boat when picking somewhere to park up. If someone else has gone to the trouble of heaving a big concrete block into position for their own use and parked their boat there for the season do not nick their spot! I have seen this happen so often and it is infuriating to say the least when it happens to you. I have seen boats squeezed into impossibly tight spaces between two other boats, causing damage to then all. A bit of consideration goes a long way!
There are an increasing number security cameras being installed at docks and marinas across the country to help reduce boat and engine theft/damage but ‘wild’ berths where boats are simple hauled up on a convenient piece of the shoreline are unguarded. I am afraid that every year we hear of angler’s cars being broken into and valuables taken. Don’t leave anything in sight in your car when you go fishing and take any valuables with you. Always report any suspicious behaviour such as strangers checking out boats or cars cruising the lanes and boreens. The locals have a good idea who is an innocent fisherman and who is up to no good.
Again, I hope this post doesn’t scare off some anglers who are thinking of visiting the West of Ireland. It is generally a safe and friendly part of the world and the fishers here will go out of their way to help any visiting angler. Please follow these simple points and stay safe.