32, coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

32 – Episode 13, Meath

The Royal county

My research into finding somewhere to catch a fish in Meath threw up lots of options but none of them really ‘sang’ to me. No gasps of excitement when reading about possibilities, no heart-fluttering watery discoveries. Meath is a large county situated in the east of Ireland stretching all the way from Westmeath in the heart of the midlands to close to Dublin city. The Irish Sea marks the extreme eastern edge of the county around the town of Drogheda. Mainly flat agricultural land, it also hosts many commuter towns. The marketing guys sell Meath to tourists as the heart of ‘Ireland’s ancient east’ which is fair enough I suppose. Kells and Newgrange are both in Meath for example. The rivers Boyne and Dee were spectacular salmon fisheries in days gone by but they have both faded to a shadow of their fomer selves and it would not be the silvery salmon I would be after this time. 

Coarse fishing is cropping up a lot in my ramblings across the country, more often than had expected to be honest. This is the result of naivety on my part and also a reflection on the poor game fishing we see these days here in Ireland. Years ago the loughs and rivers of Ireland were full of trout and salmon but that simply isn’t the case anymore. Abstraction, pollution, dredging, overfishing, invasive species and the rest of modern day ‘progress’ have reduced our game fish populations greatly across vast swathes of old Ireland. In their place we see huge shoals of roach, dace in some southern rivers and even chub in the river Inny. Anyway, it soon became apparent that my foray to Meath would in all probability entail a spot of float or leger fishing. And what harm? I have grown to love dabbling in the black arts of maggot drowning. I lack any degree of sophistication or expertise in the genre but I learning process is proving enjoyable and fulfilling.

The Mentrim loughs up near to Ardee sounded very good but it is a long auld trip from here to Ardee and I was hoping to find a spot nearer to home. I looked at the path of the royal canal as it cut across the county and found a place called Boyne Dock just inside the Meath border not too far from the town of Kinnegad. I settled on there and planned accordingly. I hold my hands up and confess there was a large element of laziness on my part here, Kinnegad is just off the motorway and is easy to get too without a long, complex journey down winding country roads. Would this lack of effort on my my part come back to haunt me?

I am attracted to spots on the canals where the shape of the waterway changes, either narrowing or widening, or where locks interrupt the long miles of straight, featureless towpath. I surmise that places like this must be attractive to the fish so I hunt out basins, bends, locks and harbours. That is how I came to select Boyne Dock. Here, a small basin had been excavated, a widening where I hoped the fish might congregate.  On the map it does not look like much but any slight change in shape inspires my confidence. I have read nothing about the dock and it seems to have either slipped under the radar of anglers or, heaven forbid, is utterly useless. I was about to find out.

I was planning for roach but hoping for bream and praying for tench. The usual coarse gear came with me including the never used pike rod. It is always along for the ride but somehow never sees action. Maybe today that would change, if there are no signs of roach or bream the spinning gear will be given an airing. A light rod for drop shotting also made the cut so the option of targeting perch was also available to me. Yes, I know, this is far too much gear to bring with me but I have a dread of missing out on an opportunity when doing this 32 project. The thought of driving home fishless just because I didn’t bring this or that bit of tackle plagues me.

The usual process of loading up the car and setting off on the road to the east has been well rehearsed at this stage. Not for the first time I was off down the Dublin road. I stopped off in Longford to pick up some bait from Denniston’s shop. To be honest the timing of this trip was based around the opening time of the bait shop. At 9.30 am Denniston’s fling their doors open to the world and I could avail of their finest grubs. My complete and unshakable faith in maggots shows no signs of abating so I bought some red ones and white ones. I thought I had brought along a few worms for good measure too. These were dug from the compost heap the previous evening, a mixture of small reds and brandlings. None of them were any great size but they would be good enough to tempt a perch I reckoned as I popped them into a small white container. It was only when I stopped in Longford that I realised the hard won worms were not in the car – I had left them at home! I bought a few more at the shop.

A shop that sells guitars and maggots – heaven!

Back behind the wheel and the miles slipped by as I mulled over the prospects for the day. If the dock did not fish I would be forced to try walking along the towpath, searching for a shoal of roach or a stray perch. There are worse ways of spending a day I guess. My decision not to make the longer trip to Ardee prayed upon my mind though, doubts swirling about in my head as I cruised along at a steady, if unexciting, 55mph. An uneventful journey saw me turn off at Kinnegad and only a few miles further on I turned into a car park near to the dock. A number of cars were already parked there but as it turned out none of them belonged to fishermen.

The canal here is raised above the surrounding countryside. Indeed, when approaching the dock the R160 road passes right under the canal as well as the railway. Kildare was but two fields away to the south. So it was here, amid the verdant fields on the very edge of the royal county that I would try my luck. It is quite ironic that I have taken to canal fishing at this stage of my life. Many years ago I lived in Kirkintilloch, just north of Glasgow. Formally an industrial centre for heavy engineering, the town had slid into depression and decay over the years but one major part of infrastructure remained, the Forth Clyde canal. Every day I walked my faithful collie for miles along the towpath and it never once crossed my mind to try fishing there. At the time I simply had no interest in coarse fishing so passed up some great opportunities. I now understand the canal there is full of roach, perch and pike. Ah well……

It was wet while I was driving from the west but the forecast was for a dry afternoon. By the time I had reached my destination there was some blue sky showing amid the fluffly white clouds. I unloaded all the tackle and set up two rods, one for the float and the other with a simple link leger. My thinking was to target roach with float fished maggot and aim for perch by legering a worm on the bottom. The old 13 foot ABU float rod, Daiwa Harrier reel and 4 pound line and a small float was soon set up and I used the 10 foot margin rod with a wee red Firebird reel that I found in the bottom of a cupboard filled with 6 pound main line for the running leger.

The basin was small but it gave the appearance it could be home to a few fish. Weeds looked like they might be a problem though and my decision to delay this trip until late June looked like a mistake. Before commencing fishing I raked out a swim and baited it. Small balls of brown crumb with a little hemp mixed in and flavoured with vanilla provided the ground bait, my aim being to attract fish into my chosen swim and then try to keep them in front of me with a trickle of loose feed. Opting for a size 14 with a couple of maggots on it I fished over depth on the float rod. A worm on a size 12 was my chosen end gear for the leger. One of the big issues when fishing Irish canals is the clarity of the shallow water. This leads the fish to be very easily spooked both by unwary movements on the bank or by overly thick line. For that reason I was using 2.6 pound breaking strain hook lengths. I realise this was taking a chance because if I hooked a decent sized fish it could easily break me off in the weeds. The internet had informed me that there were good tench and even carp in this canal but I was pretty sure the best I could hope for was a 6 ounce roach or a minuscule perch.

The towpath was a hive of activity with a constant stream of dog walkers, hikers and cyclists making the best of the nice weather. I cast in the light leger first then set up the float rod. The canal is shallow, only two-and-a-half feet deep in the middle so a small waggler was all that was required. Settling into a rhythm, I fished steadily for an hour or more, occasional balls of groundbait interspersed with some loose fed maggots decorating the swim. Some small rudd could be seen messing about near the surface a few yards away but otherwise all was quiet. The water was gin clear and weeds grew right to the surface outwith the small area I had raked. This was proving to be a tough gig.

At last the float gave a slight tremor then dived but I missed the bite. By now I had dropped to a size 20 hook hoping to match the single maggots that I was feeding in. I fished on, glued to the float and wishing it would register a bite. I ate a sandwich, drank some coffee and scowled at the stationary float. I had to try something different. Taking the float off I changed it for a lighter one and re-shotted the line. I also swapped the tiny size 20, a huge looking size 16 taking its place. Two red maggots adorned the new hook and off into the cool water they sailed. Almost immediately there was a tap at the float but it came to nothing. I loose fed a handful of maggots and re-cast. This time there was a positive take and a small perch came to hand. A few casts later a slightly larger perch repeated the exercise. OK, so I was not breaking any records here but at least I had not blanked.

the first perch
the second one

It went quiet again for a while but a cast to the very edge of the raked area produced a solid bite and I lifted as the float slid off to my left. This was a better fish which required netting. A lovely hybrid fought well and was quickly snapped and then released.

The small rudd had been knocking at the maggots all afternoon and one was unfortunate enough to get himself hooked and landed. They are such pretty little fish! It all went dead after that and try as I might I could not get any more offers. In the end I packed up and headed off home.

So what to make of all that? In the bright conditions in very clear water I suspect I actually did OK landing one good fish. Early morning or late evening would definitely have given me a better chance but beggars can’t be choosers. My normally reliable method of a legered worm in the margins failed to register a single offer even though there were some perch knocking about. Raking the swim took me ages and I think I need a bigger rake. Weed growth is luxuriant in the canals at this time of year and effective raking is a must if you want to contact fish.

So Meath is crossed off the list. After the shenanigans up in Fermanagh during my last outing this was a return to reality with a bump. I am beginning to suspect I need to be more flexible with my times on these longer trips so I can fish early or late rather than during the middle of the day. It’s all a learning curve for me!

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coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

The Grim Reaper

On the subject of new coarse fishing equipment, I have been considering the issues of access to loughs and how to tackle weed infested margins.

Weeds, reeds and other vegetation are a constant problem for me when searching out likely swims on my coarse fishing trips. I think in general this is more of a problems for anglers here in Ireland than it usually is in England where commercial fisheries are well tended. Here, wild loughs are pretty much left to themselves and access can be very difficult, sometimes to the point where I have looked at many loughs and decided it was just too difficult to clear a swim for me to waste time on them. Even on loughs where I do find somewhere to fish there are often lots of reeds and other growth which hamper me and their removal would make life much easier. I suspect here in the west the lakes are left to their own devices because there are so few coarse anglers. I know some waters which are teeming with roach but never see a rod and line.

I had already bought a weed rake for clearing underwater foliage but heavy growth of bankside reeds reaching many yards out into the lake had previously defeated me. Attempts at cutting down the offending reeds with a pen knife understandably came to nought. I was seriously under-gunned. So I bought myself a wee gadget (we all love a good gadget, don’t we?) for trimming aquatic reeds. It regales in the wonderful name of ‘the grim reaper’ and on the face of it this could be a huge step forward for me. It is basically a slash hook but one fitted with a screw thread to attach to a bank stick or a landing net handle. It’s a vicious looking brute of a thing but clearing vegetation is going to require a no-nonsense approach.

It came with a protective cover which was a good thing as it is very sharp. I am sure that regular use will dull the edge but brand new it is uncommonly sharp. In operation it appears to be straightforward to use. The beauty of the cutting head is that it has a 3/8 BSF thread welded on to it so that it screws into my landing net handle, something I will be carrying with me anyway. Once screwed safely into place I simply hook the blade around the reeds and pull towards me, chopping them down and creating space for me to cast through. I can imagine that in use the hook will work loose easily so a length of electrical tape might need to be wound over the joint but I always have a roll of tape in my bag anyway to bind it on tightly.

A standard BSF thread which will fit any landing net handle of bank stick

It has yet to be used in anger but I am hopeful this tool will make my angling life that little bit easier and let me catch a few more fish. Who knows, it might help me to access parts of loughs which have never been fished before! There are plenty of this kind of water, small lakes and ponds over here which are quite literally never fished. There could be anything swimming around in them but it is just too much trouble to clear a swim so anglers pass them by. I’m already plotting on clearing a swim on a small, reed choked lake here in Mayo this summer which was rumoured to have been stocked with tench many long years ago by an elderly priest who loved his coarse fishing. I heard this story years ago but only lately I was talking to a fisheries officer and he told me they once netted the lake in question to check on stocks of trout. Low and behold, lots of tench came up in the nets! There were no big ones in the haul but even small tench are very tempting targets for me and to have some virtually on my doorstep is quite exciting.

So the ‘Grim Reaper’ now resides in my coarse fishing seatbox, ready for action. It joins an ever expanding collection of gear in there. Lately, I have added some additional floats (like I need any more), a larger landing net (optimistic in the extreme) and rig wallets so I can carry more made up hook lengths with me. So far I have resisted the temptation of trying hair rigs, pellets or in-line feeders. Maybe they will feature further down the line but for now finding good places to fish, gaining access to the water and learning to use basic gear are my main aims. All in all, I am now better prepared than I was this time last year and as a result am feeling just a tad more confident.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Bruiser Bumble (well sort of)

One of Kingsmill Moore’s lesser known patterns, this is a capital fly for all game fish on a dark, scoury day. It is a fly I place a lot of faith in and it has repaid me with many fine fish over the years. Like the rest of the bumble series it is pretty easy to tie, the only slightly challenging part is winding both body hackles together but you soon get the hang of that with a little practice. I must confess that this is another classic pattern which I can’t help but play around with.

Blue skies over Carrowmore, not ideal for the Bruiser

Start by placing a hook in the vice. Sizes range from 14 up to 6 heavy wet fly hook, depending on the fish you are after. It pays to have a few of these tied in different sizes. If limited to just one size I guess a ten would be the most popular here in Ireland. Start the black tying silk near the bend of the hook and run it up the shank, leaving a few millimeters space just behind the eye. Now catch in a long fibred black hen hackle. Next, a black and a royal blue cock hackles are tied in together. Take a few turns to lock everything in place then tie in the tail materials. This is made from two pieces of floss, black on top and blue underneath. I like to use globrite blue but you may want to use a different shade. Run the tying silk down the shank catching in a length of fine oval silver tinsel as you do.

At the bend, bud the tying silk with black fur. I use seal but you may have your own favourite. Form the body by winding the dubbed silk back up to where the hackles are tied in, taking a turn around them to make them sit up. Now grab both cock hackle tips with pliers and wind them in open turns down to the bend where you tie them in securely with the silver tinsel. About 5 turns of tinsel will bring you back to the end of the body where the oval tinsel is tied in using your tying silk and the waste hackle tips and tinsel can be removed.

Wind the black hen hackle now, giving it many turns. Tie in and remove the waste before forming a neat head and whip finishing before applying the varnish. Check the length of the tail and trim it as necessary.

Now while this is a great pattern I like to change the body colour sometimes and use dark blue fur instead of black. The piece of black floss on top of the tail is a bit unnecessary I think so I often don’t bother with it. I have even been known to add a strand or two of flash to the tail.

I have caught fish on the Bruiser fished in every position on the cast. Sea trout in particular seem to love it but brownies fall for its charms too. Despite being written about in the book this is a pattern which I rarely see on other anglers lines which is a pity because it is so effective. The colour of royal blue is important so look out for a deep blue shade.

I sometimes add a few legs made out of knotted pheasant tail fibres dyed black. The jury is out on whether the fish appreciate the extra effort that entails!

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

Scotland

I have been quiet on here for a wee while as I was preparing for and then travelling to Scotland last week. It was wonderful to be able to see my family again after so long and we had a great catch up of what has been happening in both countries. Sadly, we had deaths on both sides of the sea and the sense of loss is still very real but we are all looking forward to happier times.

While at my mother’s house she produced a small photo of me from many years ago. It had been roughly trimmed to fit a tiny oval shaped frame but it was a picture of me holding my biggest ever salmon, a brute of 24 pounds. The head of the fish had been unceremoniously cut off so the photo would fit the frame which was a great pity.

Those of you who follow this blog will understandably be dubious that chap in this photo is me, but yes, I used to have hair. I would much rather have had a pic of the whole fish than of my ugly mug! It was September 1996 this was taken and little did I think then that only a little over a year later I would leave Scotland for good and relocate to the west of Ireland.

I can vividly recall the battle with this leviathan. I hooked him on a 11cm Rapala in a pool on the lower Don in Aberdeen. A powerful upstream run left me in no doubt this was a big fish and the following 20 minutes were spent countering his head-shaking and runs. At no time did he show, staying deep all the time instead. One last run took him 30 yards below me and I could not follow due to trees on my bank. With no other option I piled on the pressure, sure the hooks would give way as I doubled the rod into him. Slowly, very slowly, I gained some line and I prepared the net. Inches were retrieved and still the fish did not show. I could have used some help but there was nobody else fishing that morning. Level with me now, I peered into the coloured water to catch my first glimpse of him but he kept me waiting right to the end. I sank the net into the water, tightened down the drag and heaved with all my might to pull the fish towards me. At last it showed just under the surface and I slackened off the drag again. I had thought I was battling a fish in the teens of pounds but it was clear I was into a much more impressive specimen. He made a short, stabbing run but it was clear that I had him beaten and this time I led him into the net without any fuss.

These days, that fish would have been photographed and swiftly returned, but back then there was no thought of C&R. Dispatched, I lost all interest in carrying on so I headed for the car park with my prize. I was living in Fife back then but stayed in a flat in Aberdeen while at work in the mill there. Before returning to the flat I popped in to my parents to show them the fish. That is when the above photograph was taken. The fish was cut up and distributed to friends and neighbours.

All too soon the trip to Scotland was over and it was time to head back across the Irish Sea. The old VW burst a cooling pipe on the way home, necessitating a stop every 30 miles to top the old girl up with some H2O but I made it home none the worse for wear. Who knows when I will get back over there, but at least I saw my family for the first time in a year-and-a-half.

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32, Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing

32 – Episode 12, Fermanagh

Once in a lifetime

Fermanagh is synonymous with coarse fishing, period. The Erne system and a wealth of other lakes set like jewels on a cloth of green are a coarse fisher’s paradise. Anglers come from all over to fish the pole or swimfeeder, heaving out impressive bags of roach and bream. Competitions around Enniskillen often feature weights in excess of 100 pounds. Fantastic piking is to be had in the county too. Obviously when tackling Fermanagh I would be coarse fishing, right? Au contraire! I had another plan in mind altogether.

Fermanagh, one of the northern counties, is landlocked. It shares a lengthy border with the Republic as well as co. Tyrone. Right at the extreme western edge of the county there lies a small lough called Keenaghan, so far to the west in fact that a small part of the lough is actually in Donegal. In this lough live a healthy population of brown trout and it was these little beauties I wanted to catch. In choosing Keenaghan I was making a strategic decision. You could make a very valid argument that Lough Erne is a more productive fishery and certainly holds larger trout. My issue with Lough Erne is I have absolutely no knowledge of the system and simply locating fish could be a nightmare for me. The same really applies to the coarse fishing. There are well known stretches all over the county but having never fished there trying to track down a shoal of bream or entice some roach from broad, deep waters felt like too big a challenge for me. I wanted somewhere more ’intimate’, somewhere that I could stand a reasonable chance of locating a few feeding fish. Plus I am so much more comfortable with a fly rod in my hand, despite my slowly improving coarse fishing skills. I felt confident on small loughs full of trout, it seems like half the battle has already been fought.

This lough is shaped like a letter ‘Y’ lying on its side. It is small by Irish standards but is still best fished from a boat. Rules allow only electric engines and since I don’t have one I decided to fish from the bank. The idea of trailering my boat all the way there then rowing for the day then manhandling the boat back on to the trailer on my own did not appeal, so I would tough it out from the periphery instead. I had no real idea of how good access was around the lough but I read that there a few stone fishing stands placed where necessary. I liked the sound of these! So waders would be required in case I needed to get past reeds or to reach deeper water. The other day my four year old neoprene chest waders gave up the ghost in spectacular fashion when they ripped at the seams while I was in deep. A new, cheap pair were acquired and these would do fine for this trip. Given my near total absence of a sense of balance these days my trusty wading staff was definitely going to be required.

A contact on social media told me he fished this lough and recommended it to me. He also said it got good hatches including some mayfly. I looked up the NIdirect website to get an idea of the stocking policy and they apparently put 5,000 brown trout into Keenaghan during 2020, the first 1,000 going in in January. More went in during March, May and June. Stocking was suspended during April due to Covid-19 restrictions. I was hoping they followed broadly the same pattern this season and when I looked it up on the NIdirect website I saw 3000 trout had gone in this year so far. Surely there would be a few of them still in there?

Dropping Helen off at work first, I hit the road amid rush hour traffic. Usually I plan trips to avoid the worst of the cars and trucks on our roads but today I had to put up with an excess of my fellow road users. I had grown used to the feelings of trepidation on these ’32’ trips but this time I was really looking forward to fishing a new lough. Many anglers here in Ireland despise stocked fisheries but I see them as an integral part of the angling scene. They make a pleasant change from the big loughs, a chance to try out new ideas and methods.

I had brought along my 5 weight Orvis with a floating line, hoping any action would be in the upper layers of the water. Recent warm weather should have encouraged the trout to look up for hatching insects at this time of the year. In case I was completely wrong a back up of the 7 weight with a range of reels holding various sinking lines nestled in the back of the car. As I would be wading and moving around I filled a couple of fly boxes with some likely patterns and stuffed them in a waistcoat. This lot, and more, were stowed in the back of the car as I motored along, the glorious countryside slipping by, a dull and windy day but warm. Ireland can be cold and grey in winter, but here in June it sparkles with new life.

This trip involved a direct route for me. Up the N17 to Sligo then along the N15 to that newish bypass at Ballyshannon (birthplace of one of my musical heroes, Rory Gallagher) before peeling off on to the tail end of the N3 to Beleek where I crossed into the UK. A mile beyond the town a left turn brought me down a narrow, tree lined track to a car park at the water’s edge. In total, it is about 135km from my home in Mayo. Given the length of some of my fishing journeys this felt like my back yard. One other reason for selecting Fermanagh this time was I am going to be heading over to Scotland next week and didn’t fancy another long drive. There is a car park right beside the edge of the water where I pulled up and shut off the engine. Stretching as I extricated myself from the front seat, I began to I tackle up and appraised my surroundings. the lough looked to a bit smaller than I had imagined but it looked ‘fishy’ enough.

The wind would be blowing in my face from the car park bank so I set up the 7 weight with a floating line and three flies. A car pulled up, soon followed by another. The drivers obviously knew each other but beyond a friendly ‘how are ye?’ in my direction it was hard to see why they were there. No fishing tackle appeared to be present. I toddled off to the first of the stone jetties and started to cast into the wind. Soon a white truck came bumping along the narrow track to the car park. What was a lorry like this doing here? A fish plucked at my flies but didn’t take properly. Damn! I turned to get a better look at the white truck and it was then that it dawned on me – it was a fisheries truck and it was here to stock the lough!

I fished on as the two lads in the cars greeted the truck driver and they planned the stocking. With regimental order the truck was positioned, a pipe fitted to the tanks and suddenly hundreds of trout were being sucked into the lough not 30 yards from me. Some banter from the lads then the truck was off again but by now the water in front of me was heaving with the new arrivals. My line tightened and I struck into a trout but it came off almost immediately. Before I had time to retrieve the slack and re-cast another fish had grabbed the tail fly and was safely landed. Quickly released, I cast out and this time two trout were hooked! Both fell off but a few chucks later I had another brownie. And so it went on, cast, fish, release, cast, fish, release, etc. Double hook ups were common, trebles happened three or four times. Casting to fish which showed almost always resulted in a hook up but fishing blind pulled them too. I photographed some but my mobile was getting all slimy so I stopped after a dozen or so.

Fish were all around me so I kept casting and catching. I thought about stopping when I had landed 20, but that came and went and I was still catching. The fish were typical stockies, about 14 ounces in weight and generally in good condition apart from some chewed tail fins and stunted pectorals. I swapped flies just to see if that would make any difference but to be honest I could have thrown in bare hooks and probably caught just as many! A black goldhead was probably the most effect fly but a peach muddler caught a few as well.

After an hour and a half of this madness I called it a day. I had landed 36 trout, lost twice that number and must have risen close to 100 or so. All fish were safely returned to fight another day. I plodded back to the car to think about what had just happened. The trout were still taking freely but I had had enough for one day.

Never before in my long angling life has this happened to me and I doubt it will ever happen again. Was it fun? Yes, for a while it was exciting but that soon wore off. There was no skill attached to catching the fish, no metal gymnastics we anglers normally associate with our fishing. It was too easy. Sure, like you I have spent so many days flogging the water for no return and would have given my first born child for an hour of non-stop action. When it actually happened the joy was short-lived and the mechanical actions of heaving in fish after fish soon pall. I am glad I stopped when I did, to keep on hauling out trout after trout would have been a pointless exercise. As it was, I had three dozen good trout in 90 minutes, a feat I will surely never repeat. It made for a memorable day right enough! Once in a lifetime you might say.

For the sake of the ’32’ project I can categorically cross Fermanagh off the list. The day turned out to be very different to what I had expected and I guess I did not really learn much about Lough Keneghan. It is a nice place with good facilities, including a disabled access platform. I’d like to fish it again on a more ‘normal’ day.

The drive home was uneventful and I was glad I had returned all the fish, the thought of gutting and filleting really did not appeal to me this evening! I got some more work done in the garden on my return and the tackle in the back of the car can wait there until the morning. I will never have another day like today and it was an incredible experience which I know many of you will be envious of. I was extremely lucky to be in the right place at the right time for once. It will keep me going through the many blanks which no doubt await me.

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dryfly, Fishing in Ireland

Floss wing mayfly

There is usually a spool of dapping floss lurking somewhere in my bag. I rarely dap but just in case I feel the need or someone else in the boat requires some, a reel of the light brown floss is on hand. As I was tidying up my gear today I unearthed the spool and took a good look at it. It occurred to me the floss might be a suitable material for a dry mayfly so I snipped a piece off and started tying.

Using a Kamasan B170 size 10 hook, I started the 8/0 chartreuse silk near the bend then ran it up to about 4mm from the eye. Here I secured the floss with figure-of-eight turns, creating two wings which I then trimmed to roughly the same length as the hook shank. Now I tied in a chocolate coloured genetic cock hackle. Next, I tied in a bunch of natural brown squirrel tail hair, cutting off the waste and binding it in as I ran the tying silk to the bend of the hook. Here I tied in a length of thick brown silk which would be used as a rib before dubbing the silk with natural seals fur. The body was formed by winding the dubbed silk up to near where the wing were tied in and I ribbed the body with the brown silk, then removed the waste. The hackle was given multiple turns both behind and in front of the wings before tying it off, removing the waste end and forming a neat head with the tying silk. Whip finish and varnish was all that was needed to complete the fly.

The mayfly is nearly over for this year now but I will save this new pattern for next spring. Over the years I have given away almost all of my dry mayflies. A few Wulff’s and my favourite CDC Emergers are just about all that I have left so this coming winter I will make the effort to tie a box full of dries.

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32, coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

32 – Episode 11, Armagh

‘Oh my mama told me there’ll be days like this’ (Van Morrison)

Not the most noted of Irish counties for angling but I still found a venue to try. This would be another coarse fishing trip for me and one that would be slightly different to my usual canal shenanigans.

Armagh is one of the northern counties, sandwiched in between Tyrone, Down and Antrim as well as Monaghan and Louth in the Republic. The vast expanse of Lough Neagh forms the northern boundary. I have only ever zoomed across this county on the motorway, often in the dark, so know little or nothing about it. When I worked in Belfast this was a weekly occurrence and trips over to Scotland to visit family and friends took me along the same route. Armagh was just another few miles of green lands beyond the tarmac to me. I did start to read up on Armagh prior to this trip but gave up after a few pages, it was just a litany of murder, religious war and plantation. I found it all too depressing when I was supposed to be planning a fishing trip so I abandoned the blood-soaked pages and instead read up on the finer points of stillwater float fishing, an altogether more relaxing pastime.

I had opted to try the lake at Loughgall. Set in a country park, it looked to be a nice spot surrounded by trees and with good access via a pathway all the way around it. Stocked with roach and carp, there were some tench, pike and perch also present according to the blurb on the ‘net. There seemed to be an abundance of stands to fish from too and it all sounded like the ingredients for a relaxing day were there. The only cloud on the horizon was a report that the fishing was now terrible after a zebra mussel infestation had caused the water to clear. This kind of mixed messages are a constant problem for me when planning trips and it adds to the uncertainty and worry. Fishing is never an exact science and blanks are part and parcel of the game but when you are travelling long distances to fish you want to give yourself the best of chances. The saving grace for me was the presence of perch, these little warriors are usually obliging and I was banking on tempting at least one of them. I had no intention of bothering the carp. In the north you are only allowed to use one rod (unless you buy another rod licence and permit) so there was no way I would be hunkering down with the heavy gear and boilies or any of that malarkey. No, I planned on keeping it simple and trying for the smaller stuff either on the float or maybe with a leger.

I figured I needed a ‘plan B’ so I looked at the river Bann which flows through the county. The upper Bann around Portadown has a good reputation for bream and roach so I decided it would be my back up water in the event of a blank at Loughgall. Some stretches of the river have been developed for angling and other pursuits so I looked it up on the internet and there were some glowing reports of good bags of bream and roach. As far as ‘plan B’s’ go this one was most definitely on shaky ground. I am useless at catching bream, have no experience of coarse fishing on rivers and the river looked to be devoid of any features to focus on. I was anticipating a difficult day………………….

Getting there seemed to be easy, just follow the usual road to the north via Sligo and Enniskillen. A fair chunk of my life has been spent travelling that road and I have seen it slowly improve over the years. The fine piece of duel carriageway between Dungannon and Ballygawley replaced a boring and badly worn road a few years ago and the twisting, winding, narrow stretch that links Enniskillen to Sligo is gradually being upgraded to remove the worst of the bends. Lord only knows how often I have chugged along this ribbon of tarmacadam, at least I was going fishing this time. Just add to the day I was bringing my outboard engine up to be services at Sands Marine on the shores of Lough Neagh. This involved a slight detour but it was worth doing while I was in the area.

One of the very few good things about growing old is the cheap angling permits in Northern Ireland. If you are a young pup aged 18 – 60 this costs you a whopping £77 for a season permit but oldies like me aged over 60 only pay £17.50 for the season. You need a rod licence on top of this but that only sets us ‘mature’ anglers back a fiver. I had bought mine on line and now I double checked that the printed copies were in my jacket pocket.

I timed my journey to coincide with the tackle shops in Enniskillen opening so I could procure some bait. Digging in the compost heap produced some worms to bring with me but I really wanted my preferred maggots. My deep and abiding love of maggots is founded on the fact they work. OK, it gets a bit self-fulfilling when I use maggots all the time but they are an astonishingly consistent bait. A new venue with some mixed reviews, limited time to fish and rustiness due to lack of any coarse angling for six months made it feel like I needed every possible aid on my side. The old familiar jumble of tackle was in the back of the car of course so I would be able to switch methods if I felt the need.

Gentle, melodic tones awoke me at 5am. I consider the invention of the ring tones on mobile phones to be one of life’s greatest dichotomies, an assault on the ears in most cases but the calming tones of my alarm make the transition from sleep to groggy wakefulness quite pleasant. Coffee, strong and dark, drunk as I make up some sandwiches for the day, one last check I have most things packed then I am off on the road once again. The open road, not much traffic for the first leg as far as Sligo, just the rhythm of the tyres on tar. Roadworks slowed me down a bit but I drew up outside the tackle shop in Enniskillen just as they were opening up. One pint of their finest red maggots were soon wriggling in my bait box and I hit the road again amid rush hour traffic. Just after 10 I dropped off the engine and doubled back through Portadown and on to Loughgall. The last part of the journey was through orchards which give the county its nick name.

My licence checked, I parked up and had to decide what to take with me to the waters edge. I had read the lake was very deep so I was planning on using a swim feeder and based my choice of rod around that. It felt odd not taking my light leger rod or the float rod this time. With a ‘clunk’ the car doors locked and I was off down the path to the lake, bathed in warm summer sunshine. Walking around the lake, I plumped for a stand which looked out on a small weedy bay. No. 78 would be my spot for a few hours.

Setting up a small maggot swimfeeder, I lobbed it out into the greenish water and settled down to see what would happen. I fed the swim often to try and attract some fish and also dropped a few maggots close in. I missed using two rods (you are only allowed to use one in Northern Ireland) and really felt handicapped without the options two rods gives me. The first hour passed pleasantly enough, the warm day making it thoroughly enjoyable just to be out in the fresh air, but there were no fishy responses to the feeder. I reeled in a switched to a sliding float but this was completely ignored too. Back to the feeder and this time I fished it at very short range, loose feeding heavily with maggots. Still nothing so I ate a sandwich and thought about what was going on. Three other anglers were in sight and I had not seen any of them bend a rod into a fish so I was not alone in the ignominy of blanking. A pair of swans swam nonchalantly past me with their 6 cygnets in tow. As I watched them I became aware of some small fish in the weeds on the bottom at my feet. It was impossible to tell what they were or indeed exactly how big they might be but I guessed they were silvers of some description. Here was a possible target for me.

The feeder set up was removed and I set up a small float with bulk shot on either side of it and no other shotting. My idea was to see if the small lads would take a maggot on the drop so I tied on a size 20 hook on two pound hook length and baited it with a single red maggot. Small handfuls of maggots were then trickled into the swim just under the tip of the rod. When dropped in (it was so close I didn’t need to cast), I could watch the wriggling red maggot slowly drop down through the water column, slowly spiraling down until it disappeared in the weeds. I kept this up for maybe 20 minutes until the float gave a tremble and when I struck out came a small perch. Success had come in the spiny shape of a 6 incher but they all count and I had landed a fish in county Armagh. A few minutes later an even smaller perch came to hand by the same method.

I shall refrain from regaling you dear readers with rest of the afternoons catch, whipping out small fish is difficult to relate as a page-turner! Suffice to say I ended up with 4 perch, 2 roach, one skimmer and one unidentified ‘something’ which looked like a tiny silver bream (but different to a skimmer). Eight tiddlers after driving all the way from Mayo but in truth I was pretty happy.

I knew when I started this odyssey that there would be days like this, days when the big fish were not biting or I was just not fishing properly. Or conditions were against me or Lady Luck was sitting drinking gin in a bar instead of watching over me. Days when I would struggle and need to find ways of catching something (anything) to save the blank. Today I had to resort to fishing for small stuff but at least I had figured out a way of tempting them and trickling the loose maggots into the swim worked a treat at holding the little lads at my feet.

By 4pm I had had enough and packed away the gear. The air felt heavy, as if thunder was not far off, as I loaded up the car and heading back to the motorway. Picking up the now serviced engine, I turned for home, the road now clogged with commuter traffic. By Dungannon the heavens opened and I crossed back into the Republic at Blacklion in a downpour. It was a long day but an enjoyable one. Armagh had always bothered me and I suspected if I was going to blank anywhere it would be here. Instead, I landed eight small fish, lost about the same number and missed dozens of bites in that busy final hour. If you had offered me that at the start of the day I would have gladly taken it!

Small roach
I’m not sure what this is, looks like a tiny bream to me but I stand to be corrected

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