Fishing in Ireland, Uncategorized

Landing gear

No, not the wheels on a plane. A quick look at some of the implements I used over the years for transferring my hard earned prizes from water to hand. This is a part of angling which has changed radically over the past few decades as our attitudes to the quarry have altered.

The Aberdeenshire Dee

It is the late 1970’s and I have been introduced to the many delights of sea angling from small boats in the North Sea. I bought a cheap boat rod and a Mitchell 624 reel (remember them?). Days fishing out of Stonehaven (‘Stoney’ to us) were wondrously productive which big hauls of prime cod, the odd Coalfish and some flats. I saw a couple of 20 pounders boated but my biggest was sixteen and a half pounds. Catches were measured by the box full back then. Happy days! With so much action the skipper was often busy and you had to wait for him to come over to you and gaff the fish into the boat. I decided to cut out the middle man and fashioned a gaff of sorts myself. I still have it and a miracle of modern engineering it is!

I bought the 3 inch gaff head from Somers tackle shop in town and got my mate Allister, a mechanical engineer by trade, to weld a 3/8’BSF nut on the end of a steel shaft. To give me something to grip on to I wound a rough handle out of bright yellow ‘machine rope’, a heavy duty nylon rope used on papermaking machines. The gaff head simply screwed on to the nut on the end but in practice it often worked loose so I covered it with electrical tape. Over time, the whole lot rusted together and it would now take a small atomic explosion to separate the thing.

This thing of beauty has not been used for well over 30 years but I hang on to it as a reminder of those far off days; rods bent, banter flying across the deck and marled green cod rapidly filling the fish boxes. We caught so many one day that I was left on the pier in Stoney to fillet them because we could not fit them into the car. My late father had to come and collect me and he found his son surrounded by piles of cod fillets and boxes of fish guts.

I have a vague recollection of my first landing net, a small and weak affair which broke somewhere along the line. I saved hard, not easy when all the money I was making was from a weekend milk round and whatever flies I could sell. Eventually, I had amassed enough to buy a Sharpes extending net. It was a beauty, big enough to cope with sea trout which were then my main target. Pride swelled my teenage chest as I set off for Newburgh to fish the tidal waters for the first time with the new net. The day was a disaster, no fish, a rat ate my lunch out of my bag where I had hidden it beside the bridge and then the biggest tragedy – I lost the new net! It was hanging from a metal ring on my bag but somehow it became detached and was gone in the rising tide. I caught the bus home in total dejection. My father once more came to the rescue. The following morning he and I drove back to the bridge and we set off scouring the mud flats and mussel beds. Unbelievably I found the net lying there near the low water mark. I don’t know who was happier, me or my dad! I still have, and use, that net. Indeed, it was this net I used to land an eight pound salmon on Lough Conn this past season.

In Scotland I grew from a spotty teenager into an avid, and at times, successful salmon angler. Some fish were caught on the fly but many more fell to the charms of devons and Rapalas. At that time I carried a different weapon with me, a tailer. These days of catch and release mean such a crude tool would never be tolerated but back then it was not uncommon to see a tailer hooped across the back of a salmon fisher. It the right hands they are very effective but over the years I have witnessed so many missed attempts and even salmon knocked off the hook by poor handling of a tailer. The theory was straight forward, slip the cocked tailer over the salmon’s tail from above and give it a smooth, quick upwards stroke. The pressure of the fish against the sprung steel causes the loop to slide down, trapping the fish at the ‘wrist’ of the tail and it can be easily removed from the water. A swipe from the side of the fish often ended in disaster as the fishs tail moves from side to side and the tailer often times failed to find purchase and slid off. I landed many salmon to well over twenty pounds like this, including my best ever fish of 24 pounds. I recall one October day many years ago on the Upper Parkhill beat of the Aberdeenshire Don. A spate had thinned down and a good run of back end salmon were running the river. It was a Saturday and it seemed like the world and his brother were out fishing that day. I managed to land a wee 8 pounder early on and was wandering down the bank looking for a spot for a few more casts. A group of anglers were gathered around one chap on the Coquers pool. His rod was well bent into a good fish so I joined the throng to see what was going on. It turned out the big fish could not be persuaded to move and nobody knew how to get the beast out. I watched intently for a while then suggested the fish could be tailed. The angler liked this idea and suggested I was just the man for the job! Now the Coquers pool is very deep right up to the bank but there was a small rock just below the surface and within reach so I hopped on to it while someone else held on to me. It felt like ages waiting but eventually the fish turned right in front of me and stuck his tail out of the water. I swung the tailer and the loop tightened perfectly. With help from others both I and the fish were lifted up on to the bank. It was a fresh 19 pounder. The tailer now hangs on the wall of the fishing den. It will never be used again but it does bring back memories for me.

The tailer was replaced by a Gye net at some point, purchased from Richard Walkers old shop in Aberdeen’s King Street. Again, this piece of equipment has lasted the test of time well and is still in use when I go salmon fishing. Most salmon anglers own one of these nets and they are a joy to use. The Gye will handle pretty big fish as long as they are fully played out. A strong, feisty fish which is not tired is not a good proposition for any netting operation.

My new found pursuit of coarse fish meant I needed a net for that branch of the sport too, so on my last visit to the Edinburgh Angling Centre I bought a cheap Sigma net and a 3 metre extending handle. This has been perfectly adequate for the small roach and perch I have landed up till now but I fear it is going to be too small for anything bigger. A pike that I inadvertently hooked in Roscommon only just fitted in after some manoeuvring and I am fearful that a descent Tench or, heaven forbid, a good carp would be too big for this modest net. I have therefore invested in bigger models for the future.

My biggest net is a humungous circular drop net for use when fishing off of piers and the such like. An unwieldy brute of a thing it is next to impossible to handle on your own when fighting a fish with the rod in one hand and the swinging net in the other. But it is grand if you can use it with both hands.

I have a couple of small, knotless scoop nets for my river trouting and they are nice to use. I see some lovely scoop nets in use over in America and would love to own one of them in the future. I tend not to buy expensive gear but I could be persuaded to part with a wad of cash for a pretty bamboo handled scoop.

Even though I own this vast array of gizmos for landing fish I still normally use my hand if at all feasible. A tired salmon can be tailed out with relative ease if you have the confidence born of experience. I return virtually all of the trout I catch so if one slips off the hook while I am trying to land it by hand I don’t really care. Most of the coarse fish I catch are very small so I just swing them to hand without recourse to the meshes.

So there you go, some retired old tools of the trade and some still very much in use. I dread to think how many fish did not make it as far as the my nets or other devices over my long angling career, certainly hundreds and I suspect into the thousands. The ones which dropped off for no reason, the odd few who made it into the meshes only for me to muck things up somehow, the ones who gave one last twist and then sank back into oblivion. Sometimes we remember them more than the ones we land!

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sea angling, shore fishing

Lateral thinking

There is a box or rather a few boxes and some bags, of bits for old reels. This treasure trove lies in the corner of the fishing room and every now and again I take a notion to investigate the contents and see if I can fix up some of the contents. Today was one of those days.

I have hundreds of bits for old Winfield multiplier reels in the boxes. In amongst the jumble I found what was basically a whole ‘Surf caster’. Back in the ’70’s these were about all I could afford so between the reels I bought then and various bits and pieces I have found over the intervening years there are a lot of parts of reels. I fiddled about with it for a while, swapping out parts or just making sure they were the right bits to start with.

In the end I had a reel which was complete but still didn’t work. The spool didn’t want to turn and if it did it made a horrible noise. The gears were OK, I had checked them out and they were fine. In the end I figured out that the clicker on the side plate was broken and this was jamming the spool. A frantic search of the boxes failed to reveal a spare side plate. What to do?

A Bassfisher

Then it struck me, in a polythene bag somewhere in the boxes I had bits for Bass fisher reels. I was pretty sure both reels shared the same end plates, the only difference being the sticker on the outside. Sure enough, when I found the Bass fisher parts and compared the end plates they were indeed identical. It was the work of minutes to swap the end plates and bingo! The reel worked perfectly.

A small victory perhaps but I now have a nice old reel which will live in the boot of the car for use in emergencies. We are just at the beginning of 6 weeks of lockdown here in Ireland so any positivity is welcome and a bit of lateral thinking allowed me to bring a sad old reel back to life. I confessed to feeling a little bit chuffed this evening!

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sea angling, shore fishing

484 repairs

It took me long enough but I finally got around to tidying up that old Atlantic 484 beachcaster which has been lying around in the fishing den. This rod was never going to be returned to pristine condition, it simply had too much abuse over the years from previous owners. No, I bought it knowing the best I could do was make a usable rod but one which was always going to look second rate. I don’t mind that, all my gear gets well used and none of it is in showroom condition. I buy tackle to use, not to look at.

I remember when these rods first appeared and the stir they caused in the shore angling fraternity. Until then, beachcasting rods had a through action but the big Atlantics changed all that overnight. These very stiff rods had a flexible tip and were designed to cast long distances. In the right hands they could chuck leads a prodigious distance and they became the ‘go to’ rod for the best shore anglers and everyone wanted one. Thing was, they were very expensive and were well out of the range of normal Joe Soaps like me. I recall one of the lads I knew, Ally Shewan, bought one and I was so envious! He was the best caster I knew before he got that 484 but he could blast a bait for incredible distances with his new Swedish rod. Time moved on and the competition learned from ABU’s designs and overtook them with some amazing, powerful rods. Anglers on the East coast of England developed new casting techniques, new, thinner yet stronger lines became available and the whole shore fishing game moved to a higher level. I never dedicated myself to learning to distance cast, where I fished a 100 yard lob usually put you in amongst the fish. I guess I am just lazy that way.

My own venerable pair on Conoflex’s, rated for 4 and 6 ounce respectively, have served me well since the early eighties and are still going strong. This 484 will be my back up to those old warriors.

surface corrosion, nothing too serious

It was not pretty, I grant you. As bought, the rod sported a range of different cheap rod rings, each whipped on by multiple turns of different coloured threads. Great blobs of what seemed to be boat varnish covered some of these whippings. In some places the original gold/brown flecked thread could be found, badly frayed or broken. All the metalwork was corroded due to not being washed down after use in salt water. In short, the rod was a mess. Most of the issues could be fixed though and I would end up with a good spare beachcaster.

A visit to Frank’s shop in town provided me with a set of rings and a spool of pale gold silk. Finding the lovely old gold/brown flecked silk was going to be impossible so I plumped for the pale gold as it would go well with the dark brown blank. I was also going to add some gold highlighting here and there to try and make it a little bit prettier. I had planned to pair the rod with a multiplier so it was going to be ringed accordingly. Twenty odd Euro changed hands and I had all I needed to fix the rings. Frank’s shop was busy and he told me he was fortunate because he would be allowed to remain open for business as a large part of his clientele were farmers (he sells wellies and waterproofs to them).

Back at home I started work on the rod by removing the old whippings from the butt section. I counted three different threads, all of them in terrible condition. The horrible cheap butt ring was removed and discarded and then it was time to carefully scrape the old varnish from the blank where the whippings had been. A scalpel, wielded slowly and oh so carefully, was my tool of choice for this task. Once the butt section was done I moved on to the tip. Removing each ring and cleaning up the mess underneath took about 20 minutes for each one but it was time well spent. Then I could start whipping each new ring into place. A small piece of electrical tape stuck one leg to the blank and the alignment checked before starting the silk for the other leg. The waste end was cut off once the binding had a few turns. Before the whipping was finished I introduced a loop of brown thread which would be used to pull the waste end back under the turns. Check the alignment again! Now removed the tape and bind the other leg to the blank in exactly the same way. Repeat for all seven rings. Then the tip ring had to be glued in place with some hot melt. I added some other whippings at the handle and the ferrules too. The whole lot then needed coats of varnish to finish them off.

Before…
After

The metal parts on the rod were in poor condition and needed to be cleaned up. These rods had unusual metal locking ferrules and metal reel seats. To remove the surface corrosion I mixed some salt and white vinegar then applied his to the metal, using an old toothbrush to rub it in. Next, I made up a paste of bicarbonate of soda and applied this to the metal. Finally, I washed the metal parts down with fresh water and dried them off thoroughly, buffing them to an acceptable finish. A drop of WD40 on the threads finished it off. Look, the metal is never going to be perfect but it is strong and the surface corrosion has all gone.

The reel seat was seized solid and had to be carefully worked loose and cleaned up
It will never be perfect but the reel seat is now free from corrosion and working properly

So was it worth all the effort? I have to say yes, it was. I ended up with a very serviceable rod which I hope to use for many years to come. Good examples of this rod are still on the market and typically command around €100 for a decent one. The 484 is very powerful and can cast a wide range of weights so it can be put to many uses. Since I don’t do any beach fishing it will see action off piers and easy to reach rock marks. It’s good to know the old rod will be catching fish for me instead of ending up in a skip.

I suspect it says something about me that I get more pleasure from rescuing an old piece of fishing gear rather than buying something new. Not sure if that is a good or bad thing though! I don’t want to sound too weird but there is a feeling of ‘connection’ with inanimate objects which have been brought back to use. In this world of throw away objects I like to buck the trend. My old ABU rods and reels from the 1970’s and 80’s were superbly engineered and made to last. How many of the rods and reels produced today will still be fully functional in 40 or 50 years time?

The newly completed rod will have to wait for its first outing. In all likelihood it will be next summer before I give it a try but that’s OK. Once we get out of lockdown and return to some sort of ‘normality’ I hope to do some shore fishing as part of my attempt to catch a fish in each of the 32 counties. The old 484 will surely accompany me on those trips.

The kind of mark where the refurbished rod will be used, this is Broadhaven Bay in Mayo

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fly tying, shore fishing

Level 5

It comes as no great shock but it is never the less desperately disappointing that Ireland has returned to level 5 restrictions to battle the covid-19 pandemic. The harsh lessons of earlier this year were largely ignored by a sizable minority of the population and we are now all paying the price for their stupidity. In lieu of a holiday this year Helen and I had one night in Galway back in August and we were amazed and disgusted at the throngs of young ones gathered near the Spanish Arches. Hundreds of them with no social distancing at all, making a mockery of the hard work and suffering of the front line workers who had given so much to try and stem the disease. We are paying a high price now for their ignorance.

my long suffering partner, Helen

So what does this mean for Irish anglers? Basically we are screwed. No travel outside 5km from home means that unless you are lucky enough to live on the banks of a lake or by the sea you can’t go fishing. My planned autumn piking has been cancelled and a trip to Donegal to fish from the beach for flatties has also been called off. All that remains is to tie flies and carry out any repairs and maintenance on the gear. We have to hope that the situation improves sufficiently to allow us back to the water’s edge next spring. A blind person could see this coming and that was why I fished so hard during the months of August and September. I don’t feel guilty about that and enjoyed my trips coarse fishing, even if I did not catch any monsters.

So what jobs have I to do? For a start I have a load of small (size 16 to 20) spade end hooks for coarse fishing which need to be snelled and tied up as hook lengths. This is something I have been putting off for ages as I hate the nasty little job of snelling on such small hooks. I am OK with size 10s and the likes but the little fellas drive me around the bend. The only way I can do them is to put the hook in my fly tying vice so that I have both hands free to do the wrapping and pulling tight. Once tied, I’ll wind the hook lengths on to those foam rig winders ready for use. I want these for fishing single maggot for roach and rudd. I have grown to use a small bunch of maggots on a size 12 or 14 normally but I want to have the option of going finer to be at hand and not be fiddling with thin line and tiny hooks on the bank.

I have to clean and lubricate all my reels, something I do religiously every close season. Due to missing the months of April and May due to lockdown this past year a good few reels did not even make it as far as the water so there are only a small number which need attention. The fly reels in particular were barely used so a quick shine up and a few drops of oil will be all that is required in many cases.

If I can track down a set of good eyes and reels of whipping thread I will re-ring an old ABU beachcaster which has been sitting in the fishing room for a while now. It is a 484 and the poor old thing has been horribly mistreated by previous owners. She lost about three inches from the tip somewhere along the line but this doesn’t worry me too much. When you purchase a classic rod for a tenner you don’t expect too much! I want to get this particular rod refurbished because it can handle a wide range of casting weights, from 2 right up to 9 ounces. With (as yet vague) plans to fish the Limerick side of the Shannon estuary next summer the ability to switch from light to very heavy weights is useful given the tidal flows down there. The blank is good and with a bit of TLC I can make a very serviceable rod. I’ll pop down to Frank’s shop for a set of 7 rings plus a tip and some orange thread…………….

Think I can make a better job it than this!

Then there is the fly tying. I have a host of ideas for new patterns and many gaps in the fly boxes to fill so I will be kept busy at the vice for a number of weeks. I am thinking about stripping a large number of old salmon flys and reusing the hooks. these are mainly old doubles which I would have tied back in Scotland for use on the Dee and Don. I tied extremely simple patterns back then, a floss or tinsel body and some hair for a wing. That was it! They caught me loads of fish and would probably continue to do so but I fancy making some nice looking patterns just for the sake of tying them. I have tons of materials just lying around to be used up and so it makes sense to repurpose these old flies.

a very messy fly tying station

So there you have it, lockdown is a massive blow to the country and many people will be horribly affected. I will hunker down and catch up on the odd jobs which I have been putting off and get ready for what I hope will be a better year to come. Mind yourselves out there!

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trolling

5000D

The last thing I need is another ABU multiplier, right? Thing is I have been hankering for an old Ambassadeur 5000D for a long time now. Something about the ‘direct drive’ which intrigues me and so like an itch I had to scratch I kept an eye open for one. Well, not one but two came up for sale recently as a job lot and I made a successful, low-ish bid.

So what is the direct drive all about? Firstly I have to say it does not sound to me like the 5000D is a true direct drive reel as it has a drag. A true direct drive does not have a drag, you take in or let out line simply by turning the handle one way or the other. The drag on 5000D is adjusted not by a normal star wheel but by a knurled nut. It allows the spool to slip as required but the reel has no anti-reverse mechanism on it. The handle winds forwards and backwards so the fish can take line or line can be wound in. From what I have read the 5000D was designed like this to meet the demands of the USA market where bass fishermen wanted to be able to control big fish which made sudden dives for cover. Fiddling with a star drag was ineffective and direct drive was seen as the answer so ABU obliged with the ‘D’ variant. My experience of large pike is that they too make powerful dives when you get them close to the boat and I plan on getting at least one of these reels working for that job.

The 5000D is pretty rare and not a lot of them find their way on to the market. These two date from 1974 and are in the usual dark green colour. I believe a very small number were produced in pale gold but I have never come across any of those. Both of my reels are in well used condition and will take some work to get back into full working order. Spare parts will obviously be a problem as only a few of the usual 5000 parts fit this model. Initial scouting online suggests I may have to get some parts from America.

As you can see, one of them is missing a handle oil cap for a start. Both reels look to be well used so the chances are the drags will need to be replaced. Cosmetically, it would be nice to fit new side plates but these are like hen’s teeth so that may never happen. The notion of stripping the reels completely and getting the end plates stove enamelled is floating round in my mind but that would be a big step to take. I am just happy to have a pair of these old gems and will get great enjoyment out of fiddling about with them and finally do some fishing with them. My Ambassadeur addiction goes from strength to strength……………

Update: 29th October 2020- I found some Carbotex drag washers for the 5000D’s on ebay in USA. Ordered a couple of sets. Finding a handle nut is proving hard though! May look at replacing the handles completely.

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Fishing in Ireland, sea angling, shore fishing

Achill for the day

A tale of two harbours

Purteen Harbour

First things first, you need to get the pronunciation correct. ‘Purteen’ is said ‘Purcheen’.

Purteen lies on the south coast of Achill Island, a small fishing harbour, home to a few small boats that ply the near waters on the fringe of the Atlantic. It is usually busy with tourists during the summer but of course this year there were none so life was very quiet out there in 2020. Achill is very beautiful in a desolate sort of way. It has known many hard times and life there has never been easy. Scraping a meagre living from the hill or sea was the lot of the islanders for countless generations but these days it is the natural beauty of the place which draws visitors and their money. I guess that I very lucky in that even in lockdown I can remain within my county and still visit such a magical place.

A spell of calm weather tempted me to try my luck, even though it is very late in the season. I hoped there might be a few stray Mackerel hanging around or maybe a few small flat fish. It has been many years since I last cast a line from the harbour but I remember two salient points, the horribly rough ground off the end of the pier which swallows tackle and the huge shoals of mullet that came in with the rising tide. Regardless, it was a chance to get some fresh, salty air and admire the views. I looked out a couple of rods and packed a bag.

Bait, the never-ending problems of procuring the damn stuff. I had some Mackerel in the freezer as well as some very old and fragile sardines so they came with me on the journey west. I would have preferred worms as bait for the flatties but digging them around here is the devil’s own work. Slivers of fish it would have to be.

The harbour itself has a skinny outer wall which is difficult to fish from because it is so narrow. In anything but a flat calm it is too dangerous to walk out on. There are three inner piers, short, stubby affairs which dry out at low water. This is very much a high water mark so I planned on getting there to fish up the rising tide and down the first hour or two of the ebb. The rocks to the west of the harbour can be fished too but again, the bottom is incredibly rough and tackle losses will be high.

I was a bit early in leaving but thought the slow drive would ensure I arrived about the right state of tide. No, I was to early and the water was still very low in the harbour so I took my time and had some coffee before tackling up. There was a stiff wind blowing so I parked the car in such a way that I could get some shelter from it and this worked out really well for me. Frequent showers throughout the morning caused me no undue stress as I simply ducked under the open tailgate of the motor. I baited up and cast out but each throw had the same result, stuck in thick weed. I kept at it as the tide rose but all I landed was one minute Pollock.

A small boat left soon after I arrived and I greeted the fisherman with a wave. He returned after a couple of hours and after tying up he hailed me over and gave me some fresh mackerel and a pair of coalies. We chatted for a while about the state of the fishing and life in general then I let him get on with his work of sorting out the catch which consisted mainly of Huss from what I could see. More casting, more weeds, no bites.

Cloughmore harbour

The day was not going according to plan at all so I decided to change venues. Packing up I drove back the way I had come and then turned off on to the narrow road to Cloughmore. It was nearing high water by the time I was set up and the bait was in the water. I could see lots of sandeels shoaling in the water at the foot of the pier so I set up a spinning rod with a set of tiny feathers and proceeded to catch about a dozen. These will be frozen for bait.

I hooked a much bigger fish on the feathers but it shot straight under the pilings of the pier and stuck me fast there. I snapped the main line trying to free the hooks. My guess it was a mullet which I had accidently foul hooked because I have had them pull the same trick of shooting under the pier at this mark before. A shoal of small Pollock arrived and made life interesting for a short while but they soon moved on again.

The beachcaster was getting constant nibbles but I am sure they were just crabs, a persistent nuisance at this mark. Eventually I had a good solid bite and lifted into a small fish which turned out to be a lovely small female Corkwing Wrasse. She was only lightly hooked so I slipped her back into the water with the minimum of fuss after a quick snap. Heavy showers came and went with warm sunshine between them but the fishing was slow to say the least. In the end I packed up and headed home.

The fishing around Achill used to be some of the best in Europe but today it is a shadow of what it was. I first fished here nearly 40 years ago and the marks were alive with fish back then. Descent sized Pollock were a nuisance and any bait left on the bottom for more than a few minutes would be snaffled by a dogfish. Big wrasse, huss and coalies were easy to catch. The beaches were home to rafts of flounder and dabs. Making the effort to reach deep water rock marks could result in huge fish. Now there is very little left for the angler. I read some of the advertising blurb from IFI and the tourism people about the wonderful fishing on the island but to be blunt they are telling lies. Achill is beautiful and sad but there are hardly any fish left for the angler.

Some of you may be wondering what I would do with the coalies? I make fish cakes with them, the strong flavour they have fits well with the potato. Don’t be put off by the grey-ish flesh, it turns pure white when cooked. Remove the flesh from the bones and skin. Place in a saucepan and cook in milk with salt, pepper and bay leaves. Remove the bay leaves, drain and mix with an equal quantity of mashed potato. Divide into balls and flatten them into thick patties. Coat in egg them breadcrumbs and shallow fry until golden.

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coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland, Pike, trolling

Lough Levally

Close to mighty Lough Conn there sits another, much smaller body of water. Pretty well unknown except to the locals, lough Levally is home to a stock of pike. I’ve known about this lough since I moved to the area 23 years ago but have never fished it. Pike have never excited me as a quarry so why would I fish for them when the delights of trouting on Conn was but a short distance away? There are some trout in it but they are few and far between. I also strongly suspected that a few salmon run into the lough, swimming up the small river that flows into Conn at Addergoole cemetery. There certainly is not a big stock of salmonoids in Levally. No, Levally is a pike fishery and it is now pike fishing season. With level 3 lockdown firmly in place Ben and I decided that piking was better than sitting at home twiddling our thumbs so we made arrangements to try Levally this Saturday.

The lough is roughly a mile long and half a mile wide, big enough to keep us gainfully occupied for the day. I don’t know how deep it is but given the local geography I doubt if it is more than 30 feet deep. I stand to be corrected on this though so if any of you have fished Levally and used a sounder I’d like to know if there are deeps there. Regarding the size of the fish in the lough, that has long been the source of much speculation in the area. I reckon most pike waters harbour the occasional larger than normal fish but there were tales of monstrous Pike in Levally. Dragging smallish lures behind a boat is definitely not the best way of hooking the biggest pike though and we were not anticipating anything we could not handle. I brought along some big soft baits to try and tempt a leviathan just in case.

Not being expert pike anglers we just planned a sedate day trolling lures. I like silver spoons for pike at this time of the year and although I chop and change lures frequently throughout the day it is usually a silver spoon which produces the best fishing for me.  I brought along my trusty old ABU Atlantic 443S rod with a 6000C on it filled with 30lb braid. ‘Old Yellar’ is ideal for this job and has just the right combination of suppleness and backbone for heavy trolling. As an alternative I took an old 11 footer with me too. On a slow day it gives you something else to fiddle about with (on a busy day it can be a curse).

I know there are pike experts who take their fishing very seriously and are equipped to cover every inch of water effectively. We are less scientific and sort of motor slowly along over spots we think look likely. Some days we catch loads but on others our haphazard methods reap little in the way of fishy rewards. C’est la vie.

Ben’s 17 foot boat was already on the trailer when we met in the yard at 10am. We packed our gear in to his jeep and motored off down the Pontoon Road under grey skies that foretold of rain to come. At the side of the lough it was but a few minutes work to launch the boat, lock up the trailer and head out into the unknown. I started off with my favourite spoon, a silver Solvkroken Storauren. These Norwegian lures have a great action in the water and at 45grams swim that bit deeper than some of the other spoons I use. The copper coloured version can be good some days too. It says on the packaging the spoon is good for pike (obviously) and trout. Trout! The damn thing is bigger than some of the trout I catch!

We had barely motored 200 yards when my rod bucked and the reel screamed, very good pike tore line off the reel somewhere behind the boat. I only had him on for a few seconds before there was a sickening slackening of the line and I forlornly wound in my line, the shop bought trace had snapped at the swivel and the fish was gone with my silver spoon. I have no idea how big that pike was but he certainly pulled like a big one.

Gathering myself I tied on a new trace, this time one I had made myself. I clipped on another spoon and we set off again, aiming to circumnavigate the lake just to look for any likely spots. The end of the lake farthest from the car park was shallow and weedy but both of us hooked and lost pike in that area. As we passed an old wall that ran into the lake I had a firm take and after a good fight boated a nice pike of about 6 pounds. Further on a small Jack grabbed the same silver spoon and was quickly wound in. Then it was Ben’s turn and he boated a five pounder on an old Atom spoon in green and gold. By now it was time to break out the sandwiches and coffee which we hungrily consumed amid heavy showers. I tried a couple of other lures including a massive pink plastic squid. Another pike took a fancy to a rainbow trout softbait and once again this fish was in the 5-6 pound class. Ben picked up another similar sized fish around the same time. The action was steady if not hectic.

I could have chanced a smile!

Heavy rain returned, drenching us in the downpour. We motored on through a pewter coloured world. I had changed lures again and was now using a huge handmade chrome spoon which I had painted fl. lime on the reverse side. I lost one fish before boating another 2, each very lightly hooked in the front of the mouth.

On our last section before we packed up we both hook pike at exactly the same time. Both were around 6 pounds and they fought very well. My one managed to take a chunk out of my left thumb as I was unhooking it and I bled profusely for the next hour or so.

We headed back to the shore, damp and getting cold now. The day had been enjoyable and Levally had given us some sport with a total of eight pike to the boat. Once again the weather had been a mix of sunshine and heavy showers, maybe on a better day the lake would have given up more of its residents.

One week later……………

We decided to try another local lake the following Saturday. This time we fished Carrowmore lake (not to be confused with the famous salmon and seatrout fishery in Erris). This body of water lies near Manulla and has a reputation of being dour but holding a few good sized pike.

We dragged the 17 footer to the ramp and launched her with little fuss. This is a nice lake to troll and we circled the reed beds and tree lined shores for the next few hours. Ben lost one and I managed to boat a couple of pike, one lad of around 4 pounds and a much better one which we both reckoned was a twenty pounder. The photo does not do this magnificent fish justice!

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32, coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

32, episode 7, County Longford

Thursday, 1st October 2020

Longford posed some difficult questions for me. There is a lot of fishing in the county but from what I could see most of it was going to be very challenging. The Shannon forms the western border but I have been shying away from this river simply due to its size. The fish could be anywhere and me fishing one spot on the bank seems to be inviting disaster. So instead I found a lake in the north of the county which appeared to be a more likely spot to actually hook something. Lough Sallagh. This body of water straddles the Longford/Leitrim border so I would have to be careful not to stray across the county line as I have caught fish in Leitrim before. The IFI website said the lake contained bream, perch and roach, in other words the usual suspects. Parking was very, very limited as the road on the side of the lake was single track. It also said the lake was very shallow and very weedy so there could be some issues with that. In the event that Sallagh was unfishable or I could not find a parking spot I would pluck up my courage and drive down to Lanesborough and try the mighty Shannon. Was the famous hot water section there still fishing now that the ESB flusher is not working? Did the huge Tench of yesteryear still haunt the area? What about the vast shoals of specimen sized Bream – did they still move up the river from lough Ree? Or maybe there would be shoals of silvery roach cruising around in the deep waters. I had no idea but it seemed to be worth a shot if Sallagh was out of ply.

Once again, the most direct route for me coming from Mayo would be to drive to Longford then strike north but I required fresh bait and that would mean a visit to Carrick-on-Shannon. This would add some time to the drive but nothing too disastrous. My plan was to leave Castlebar around 8.30am which should, if the traffic gods were on my side, get me to the side of the lough around 11 o’clock.

I had spent some time since my last trip tidying out the tackle box and cleaning the coarse rods and reels so everything tackle wise was in reasonably good order. I really could do with buying a couple of boxes for all the smaller items of tackle though. Just now there are too many individual tins, each holding one or more bits. Hooks are in an old tobacco tine for example, swimfeeders in a disused washing powder box. In particular I would like to invest in a rig box so that I could have hook lengths made up and ready to go. I reckon that would save me a fair bit of time and hassle. I could also use up the spade end hooks which I seem to have accumulated and are too much trouble to tie when actually fishing. My hope was that the shallow water would lend itself to float fishing and I would be blessed with fine, calm weather so I could spent the day watching the tip of my float and hopefully see it slide beneath the surface a few times. It is hard to know which form of fishing for coarse species I like best, both float and leger have their attractions. I simply adore using my light leger rod and seeing the quiver tip rattle when there is a bite. Then again, focusing on that little speck of red or orange as it sits there in the surface is hypnotic too.

I checked the weather forecast before going to bed – ‘a mix of sunny spells and widespread showers. Some of the showers will be heavy with hail and possibly thundery too. Any mist, fog and frost will clear during the morning but the day will be rather cool with highs of just 10 or 11 Celsius in light southeast or variable breezes’. I threw an extra fleece into the bag.

Even though I wasn’t leaving until 8.30 I rose early on Thursday morning. It’s cool now and I put on the gas to warm the house up a little. Cats fed, I set about loading the tackle in the car. For some reason my thoughts wandered back to the days of my youth and how I would set off every Saturday armed with one fly rod and a small bag containing my only fly box and my sandwiches. Now I go fishing with half-a-dozen rods and enough gear to fill the back of the car yet I don’t catch any more fish than I did as a lad. Maybe that will be the next challenge for me once I have completed the 32 counties – fish all year with only one rod. That could be interesting!

I stowed the ABU 234 heavy leger rod in the car this time, just in case I found myself down in Lanesborough. It is capable of casting up to 40gms which would be useful on the Shannon. A lovely rod to fish with, I planned to pair it up with an old silver Daiwa Regal reel filled with 8 pound line. That should be man enough to handle the strong currents and heavy fish there. Ferreting around in the tackle room I had unearthed some 40gm feeders to bring along too. The big guns were out. I admit to feeling a lot of trepidation about this trip, Longford felt like a big challenge. Lough Sallagh would shallow and weedy with poor access and the alternative of the Shannon at Lanesborough looked to be huge and daunting.

That well-travelled road east along the N5 was not overly busy but thick banks of fog required a lot of concentration. At Frenchpark I cut off and drove north by east to the now familiar town of Carrick where I parked up beside the river. Carrick Angling Centre is conveniently located near the bridge. Unfortunately it was closed and I fear it may be for good. So I hit the road again, down the N4 then off through Mohill and on to Carrigallen where I got some worms before retracing my journey to the junction at the Cloone GAA pitch on that terrible bend. The minor roads to the lake were not signposted but I managed to guess correctly and peeled off first to the left and then down a boreen to the right. The trees were turning red and gold, making the last stages of the drive very pleasant. At last the lake hove into view on the right.

To say there was a shortage of parking spots would be a gross understatement. First appearances were of a potentially productive water but access is appalling, especially considering the road runs right alongside the lake. A couple of days work with a digger to clear parking places and a few shots of concrete to make some fishing stands would create a lovely facility for visiting and local anglers. Instead, I located only two possible fishing spots. Both were very shallow but one seemed to be a little deeper so I set up there.

By now the sun was out and it felt like a summer’s day. I waded out to see if there was any deeper water but even 30 yards from the shore I was only in 18 inches of water. The combination of shallows and bright light did not inspire confidence but I tackled up and fished for an hour without a bite. Time for some drastic action. I packed up and hit the road again, bound for Lanesborough.

For those who have never heard of it let me explain what the flusher at Lanesborough is all about. The surrounding flat bogland was for years stripped by huge machines and the peat which was extracted used to fuel a number of power stations. The one at Lanesborough sits right on the banks of the Shannon. Excess hot water was pumped directly into the river and this attracted the fish to the area immediately downstream of the flusher. For many years this was possibly the main spot in the whole country for visiting coarse anglers to congregate. Now the power station is closing down meaning no hot water is being pumped. The question for me was are there still some fish hanging around?

A fine carpark is situated right next to the fishing stands on the Shannon in the town. I opted to start just below the road bridge with a swimfeeder on the heavy rod and touch legering on the light rod. It had clouded over by the time I was set up and fishing and a breeze was beginning to build from the south so conditions were at least a improving for me. The river was very low and the anticipated heavy flow was just a sedate one instead. A thick bed of reeds splits the river here and I was fishing on the Longford side, the Roscommon side is the one used by the boat traffic (not that there was much of that). Small hooks and a single worm failed to get any response so I scaled up on the heavy rod and ended up with a size 10 and a bunch of worms. With no bites on the leger rod I decided to change over and set up a float on it (being too lazy to go back to the car for a float rod). I trotted the 17 foot deep water with the float for another hour or more before at last it pulled under and I landed a small perch. Soon after that the heavens opened and a heavy squall hit, making it very uncomfortable for a while. In the middle of the downpour I had another take and I lifted into a nice roach. With one last twist he shed the hook as I was about to swing him in. A murder of crows wheeled in the air above me, mocking my misfortune with loud cawing.

All the while I had been steadily moving downstream to cover as much water as I could. I’d cast in the swimfeeder and leave it where I could see it, then trot the float down and come back to the heavy rod every few minutes. I came back to the swimfeeder just in time to see the smallest of twitches which I struck firmly. Fish on and this one held down deep. The net was soon under him though and I gazed upon my first Hybrid! I was unfeasibly happy with this fish as I was not expecting to bump into a Hybrid here at all. A couple of quick snaps and the fish swam off strongly.

I fished on for a while longer but more heavy rain made the job unpleasant so I called it a day just after 4pm and made my way back to the car. Everything was sopping wet as I broke down the rods and loaded up all the gear. Time to reflect on what had been a difficult day.

Firstly, I had caught fish in county Longford. I have now caught fish from the mighty Shannon and I had landed my first Hybrid. Lough Sallagh was way too shallow in my opinion and I am sure I would have blanked had I stayed there. So the move to a different venue was a wise one. Lanesborough is but a shadow of what it used to be now the power station in no longer pumping millions of gallons of hot water into the river. The vast shoals of dustbin lid sized bream and enormous tench have found another billet. Still, it is a nice section to fish and it might be better earlier in the year, say around May or June. I really enjoyed fishing there, it was comfortable and a constant stream of (socially distancing) passers-by and dog walkers provided bits of chit-chat throughout the afternoon.

‘Bridies’, the tackle shop in Lanesborough has closed down and it looks like the tackle shop in Carrick-on-Shannon has also closed. The shop in Mohill shutdown some time ago. It must be incredibly hard to keep a small tackle shop open during these hard times. Finding bait is becoming increasingly difficult for me and it remains to be seen just how many tackle shops are still open next spring. The last time I spoke to Frank here in Castlebar he seemed to be doing OK, long may that continue.

The bait question is so serious I am now thinking about breeding my own maggots next year. It seems to be a simple enough process, if a bit smelly. Apparently the quality of home reared maggots is much superior to shop bought ones which could be another plus. Obviously Helen must never know about this particular project!

Realistically I should switch from coarse fishing to the pike from now on. The weather is getting colder and getting bait is proving to be really difficult. I will tidy up the coarse gear and put it away for the winter. My next outing may well be to chase the toothy green fellas!

PS. The car decided to play up a bit. There was a discernible loss of power for some reason when I was driving home. It has gone off to my mate’s for some repairs now and I have asked him to fix the knocking rear suspension while he is at it. Always something……………..

PPS. Prognosis on the car is a failed air mass flowmeter, €350 for a replacement. Looking around for a secondhand one now.

End of October update: Good news – found a much cheaper new air mass flow meter. Bad news, a CV joint has failed and an ABS sensor has packed in along with a rear wheel bearing and a track rod end. Oh the joys of running an old banger! All being repaired now.

7th October: We are locked down again, initially for a period of three weeks but who knows what will happen after that. With no travel outside your own county the ’32 project’ is now firmly on hold with 7 counties successfully fished to date. Here is a summary of where I am as of this week:

 County venuefish caughtmethod
1Antrim    
2Armagh    
3Carlow    
4Cavan5Garty Lough, Arvagh6 x Roach, 4 x Perch5 on touch leger, 7 on waggler
5Clare4Cloondorney Lough, Tulla small Rudd, 1 x skimmerfloat,  fished shallow
6Cork    
7Derry    
8Donegal    
9Down    
10Dublin    
11Fermanagh    
12Galway    
13Kerry    
14Kildare    
15Kilkenny    
16Laois    
17Leitrim3Drumgorman Lakesome Roach and 2 x Perchfeeder and ledger
18Limerick    
19Longford7Shannon, Lanesborough1 x perch, 1 x hybridtrotted float and feeder
20Louth    
21Mayo    
22Meath    
23Monghan    
24Offaly6grand canal at Shannon Harbour3 x roach, 3 x perchtrotted maggot and leger worm
25Roscommon2Cloonahee lake1 pikefeeder
26Sligo1Lough Talta dozen Brown troutfly
27Tipperary    
28Tyrone    
29Waterford    
30Westmeath    
31Wexford    
32Wicklow    
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trout fishing, wetfly

Last day for the trout

I was tied up on 30th of the month so my last opportunity to fish for trout was on 29th. I snuck off to the Robe for a couple of hours, more in hope than expectation. Yo-yo water levels this month have seen the rivers burst their banks only to shrink back to mere trickles. I would normally have fished the Robe on numerous occasions from March until now but the 2020 season was anything but normal. I had to round up some errant fly boxes before setting off in windy and cool conditions.

I arrived at the river to find a car parked in my usual spot, a very unusual happening indeed. Tackling up I could see an old leader still attached to the end of the fly line and it seemed to be in good condition so I left it there and tied on a couple of flies. The farmer had installed a fine new gate to the first field since I was last there, one that was nice and easy to get over.

The river really was desperately low with thick slime at the edges of the water. The wind was blowing directly upstream, hampering every cast as I wanted to swing the wets down-and-across. Commencing operations at the bridge pool I worked my way downstream, planting my flies firmly into the lies along the opposite bank. It didn’t take too long for a small fish to grab the dropper fly and I had landed the first of what would turn out to be 5 brownies.

I pushed on down the river, crossing fences and casting into odd corners where I had caught fish before. I know this stretch like the back of my hand and didn’t waste any time on the pools where I rarely do well. Below the old weir I spotted a fellow angler, intent on his sighter and he fished klink-and-dink in a fast run. As I neared him I could see it was an old acquaintance of mine, Tommy Carroll. Tommy is a fine angler and one of the few who live around here who fishes the Robe. I stopped and we chatted for a while, catching up on recent fishing. Tommy said he was catching more trout today on his sighter fly than on the nymph so he decided to change and put up a dry fly only. Leaving him to it I sauntered off down the river to my favourite pools.

Beginning at the neck I carefully searched the long pool first but without so much as a touch. I shortened the line and fished ever so carefully through the fast run on the corner pool but again without interest from the fish.

Laziness got the better of me and instead of walking to the tail of the pool and fishing back upstream I simply lengthen the line, punching it hard to cut against the strong wind. Concentrating hard I sought to drop the flies as close as possible to the far bank without catching them on the bushes and grass. I was so absorbed in this work the take when it came was something of a surprise. A solid thump was followed by a short run and then some head shaking. This was a much better fish! Back and forth she swam and I gave or retrieved line as required. Tired out, she slid smoothly into my waiting net and I had her, a lovely fish of about a pound-and-a-half. After the usual snaps I popped her back into the water and she swam off strongly.

The leader was in a fankle so I snipped it off and tied a new one. A few desultory casts later though I decided to pack up. I had caught a beautiful fish and that was a fitting end to my season. Back up the river I walked, taking in the sights and sounds of a late September day. As I neared the last field I saw an angler in the river. I could tell it was not Tommy so who was this guy? He was fishing very intently so I walked past him and only spoke when he stopped casting. He turned to me and I recognised Johnny, a man I had not set eyes on these past 5 years or more! Johnny Moroney and his brother Brendan were regular visitors to these parts for many years. Skilled anglers and lovely fellas, I used to fish with them both in days gone by. We chatted about the fishing, the covid and life in general. In the end I took my leave and plodded back to the waiting VW.

And so ended not just my day on the Robe but my trout fishing season. It was short but I have had worse times chasing wild trout. Conn fished better than it had for many years and while I did not fish terribly hard I enjoyed some good days. Fingers crossed there is a further improvement in the angling on Conn again next season. The Robe seemed to be average according to the information I could glean, with a few bigger trout caught this season. So much rests on how we tackle the pandemic but I hope to be back on the Robe next spring.

For now, the whole country has moved to level 3 meaning no unnecessary movement outside your county. I’m really glad that I made the effort to start my 32 county odyssey during August/September but that will be on hold for the foreseeable future. I have some Pike fishing loosely organised locally weather permitting over the coming weeks.

Stay safe!

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