Lovely Leitrim

I needed a break from the long distance ‘32’ fishing trips. Between them and the recent trip to Scotland I had been clocking up some serious miles lately and I wanted something a little less strenuous for a change. A few grilse are being caught in my local rivers but not in huge numbers despite heavy angling pressure. The thought of shouldering my way through throngs of fly fishers on the off chance of bumping into a grilse did not really appeal, so instead I headed off for the neighbouring county of Leitrim for a bit of coarse fishing.

Leitrim really does live up to the hype of the marketing guys. Very rural and off the beaten track, it sports innumerable lakes, rivers, ponds and canals, all teeming with roach and bream. Coarse anglers come here from across Europe to sample the delights of Carrick, Ballinamore and Carrigallen every year (well, they did until Covid-19). I fervently hope these anglers will return soon, the local economy really needs as much help as it can get these days.

I decided to fish a small lake called Lough McHugh, close to Mohill and not that awfully far from Carrick-on-Shannon. I have never fished it before but the blurb on the IFI website suggested there were stocks of the ubiquitous roach and bream, maybe some rudd and possibly a few tench too. The staples of perch and pike were also present of course. Some gear was jumbled into the back of the car yesterday evening, my recently acquired tackle box hopefully containing all the bits and bobs I was likely to need. In the fridge there was half a pint of maggots left over from my last outing. I will admit I have seen livelier lads but I figured they would suffice. All I had to do was remember to take them with me (I had forgotten my worms the last time I ventured out)! I ground up some old rich tea biscuits to add to my ground bait by way of an experiment. Maybe the touch of sweetness might attract a few fish into my swim.

Biscuits after a whizz in the blender, nothing to lose trying this out

The weather has been warm and settled lately and that was the forecast for Thursday. If anything it sounded like it would be too nice a day but heigh-ho, what harm lazing in the sunshine beside an Irish lake? Seemingly there were a couple of fishing stands on the east side of the lough and it was here I would pitch up for the day. An early night beckoned so I would be fresh for the morning.

I dropped Helen at work and then drove over to Carrick-on-Shannon. The roads were not too busy as the schools are on holidays here at the moment, making for a pleasant enough trip. Weather wise it was a dull, still sort of a day but with the promise of the sun breaking through as the day progressed. I knew where I was going as I have been fishing around that area before, just never on this particular lough. An old sign at the road end proclaimed I had arrived.

The track down to the edge of the lough was barred due to a locked gate so I had to haul all my gear on my back for the last few hundred yards. With my dodgy knees that made for a painful start to the day but I got to the stand OK and set up. Lobbing in some groundbait I set up with a cage swimfeeder and a worm on a size 12 before stringing the float rod with a waggler shotted over depth and a size 14 baited with maggots. Settling down, I took in my surroundings.

HcHugh is a beautiful lake with a couple of small islands near the eastern shore. Thick beds of reeds and lilies reach out from the bank making it difficult to fish from most places but there is a fine stand near the car park. A pair of swans with five cygnets cruised the lough, unperturbed by my presence. All was serene and wonderfully peaceful.

In fact, it was almost too peaceful as the fish did not want to play at all. I continued to throw in occasional balls of groundbait laced with maggots. I changed to small hooks and loose fed some maggots. I changed the cage feeder, opting instead for a maggot feeder. Eventually the float dipped and I lifted into a nice 8 ounce roach. Any thoughts I might have harboured that this was the start of something were cruelly disabused as it all went dead again.

Taking stock of the situation I decided to cut my losses and try another venue. The day was still young and by the time I had packed up and made my way back to the car it was only 1pm. For a while now I have been wanting to try the Ballinamore canal so this was the perfect opportunity. I made shapes for Leitrim village, a little way past Carrick-on-Shannon. Here the canal meets the river amid a plethora of pleasure boats. In a normal year it is far too busy for serious angling but these are not normal times and I hoped it would be fairly quiet.

My plan was to fish downstream of Killarcan lock on a nice grassy bank but a ‘private, no entry’ sign on the gate put an end to that idea. Instead, I crossed the canal and set up on a floating pontoon well below the lock gates. Plumbing up I found about 5 feet of water in the middle, more than enough to fish in. The sun came out as I tackled up. This time I tried the light leger rod and popped a worm into the corner at the end of the pontoon while I set up the float rod. Immediately I had a bite which I missed by a country mile. A fresh worm was sent out and sure enough a firm rattle indicated another prospective customer. This time I set the hook and out came a small perch.

Finally, the float rod was ready and I fired some balls of groundbait into the swim. I started with a bunch of maggots on a size 14 hook. Nothing happened for a while but I was enjoying just being out in the fresh air on such a lovely day. At last the float gave a waggle, then a lift before diving and I struck into a nice roach. Four more followed in quick succession before it went quiet again. The leger was totally ignored during this time. I loose fed some maggots to try and keep the fish in front of me but they seemed to wander off for a while before returning. By then I had dropped to a size 16 and reduced the bait to a pair of maggots. This worked a treat and fish after fish dragged the light float under. I had a busy afternoon!

A large boat appeared around 5pm and I gave them a hand to tie up. We chatted for a while and by the time I returned to my rods I felt I had caught enough and wanted to head home. In total 17 roach had fallen for the maggot and that lonesome perch was the only lad to eat my carefully presented worm. A couple of the roach would have weighed around 12 ounces but most were a lot smaller.

All in all I had a great day, catching a few fish amid gorgeous scenery. There were no monsters I know, but a day when the small fellas are biting can still be very satisfying. A couple of odd things happened while fishing Lough McHugh. A lesser black back gull swooped out of the sky and lifted off with a baby pike in its beak. I can only surmise the fish was already dead and the gull spotted it floating on the surface. Then something small swam out from the bank near me. At first I thought it was a frog but the swimming action was all wrong so I watched as the tiny creature circled my float then made its way back to the shore. Incredibly it was a mouse. I got a good look at it and it was not a bank vole or a young rat, it was definitely a mouse.

It looks like there will be no fishing for me for the next while as other commitments are crowding in on me. At least I made it out today. Every day fishing is a blessing. The only downside is I stepped on my landing net handle and broke it. I will pick up a new one sometime soon.


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