Warning! Those of a sensitive nature are advised to skip this post.
I found this place by searching maps of the backcountry of Leitrim. Narrow roads twist through lush green fields and every now and then a small lake can be found, tucked out of sight from the road. This was one of those lakes, an unruly piece of water bounded by wide belts of rushes. It was down a boreen which led to nowhere in particular close to the Leitrim/Longford border. I seriously doubted it had been fished in years.
Rain lashed against the windscreen as I pushed through Roscommon and cut off to Carrick-on-Shannon. By the time I stopped there to pick up some maggots the rain had stopped and the sun was threatening to peep through the veil of grey clouds. Off again, this time south on the N4 before turning off into the maze of back roads. I had done my homework though and found the spot with ease. Parking up, I looked for the water but none was anywhere to be seen. It was only after I had crossed two fields that I came to the lough, exactly as I had hoped it would be, resplendent with an old fishing stand.
Many years ago this small lake must have had some development work done on it and a fine wooden walkway led to a double fishing stand well out in the water. Reeds and lily pads almost surrounded the stand but there was a little open water immediately in front of it. Busying myself with all the details of setting up I barely noticed the condition of the stand but the wood looked to be free of rot and was stable, well sort of anyway. It wobbled a bit when I moved around but nothing too alarming.
Ground baiting with a mix of crumb, oats and corn with a few maggots was soon completed and I fired in four balls in quick succession. My aim with the catapult is getting a bit better now! A steady wind blew directly into my face and my hopes of fishing the float were dashed so I set up both rods with feeders and commenced operations. I kept feeding the swim to my right as it looked as fishy as hell, those lily pads must be home to some good fish. An hour passed before the leger rod gave a rattle and a small roach came to hand. I was not expecting roach here but it was a welcome start. Only a few casts later a more solid take resulted in a smallish bream. Another soon followed. This was turning into a good day!
More balls of groundbait flew through the air to land exactly where I wanted them. Two more roach obliged then a couple more bream. A small but very pretty rudd ate my bunch of maggots too. I was having fun but that wind was making me cold so I popped back to the car for more clothes. I threw on a fleece and my oilskin coat then returned to the swim and continued fishing. A very solid bite on was met with a solid strike from me and I was into something much more substantial. I knew right away this was a tench and a good one at that. He bored deep, ran for the reeds twice only for me to turn him at the last second. For five minutes it was anyones game but my pressure was beginning to tell and he came up and rolled on the surface. I am sure I let out a gasp – he was all of six pounds and maybe more! More boring and darting off but he was tired now and I reached for the net. I lifted and tightened the drag a smidgin, with that he turned and ran off on a searing run. SNAP! In an instant he was gone, the six pound breaking strain nylon had parted like cotton thread under the power of his last dash. It was my fault, I should not have tightened the drag. What a fish to lose!
I wound in the line and set up a new feeder. I had time to fish on for a while and who knows, maybe there was another good tench in there?
What follows happened in a few seconds in real time but, as in so many dramatic occasions it felt like ages.
I cast out the leger rod, tightened up to the feeder, put the rod down and sat back on my seatbox. I instantly found myself moving backwards and the seatbox began to tip. With nothing to grab on to, both my arms were extended and flailing in thin air. The angle increased and I was past the point of no return.
‘OK, I am going to fall on my back, mind I don’t bump my head’ I thought
‘I will land on the walkway’ Wrong! In fact as the seatbox fell I was sort of catapulted backwards, my right shoulder striking the edge of the walkway with such force it threw me around and I entered the water head first facing away from the stand.
‘I’m going in, don’t panic’. I have fallen into water many times over the years so I knew what was coming. A strong swimmer with no fear of water and the bonus of offshore safety training I was expecting the rush of cold. I held my breath.
Something is wrong, where is the bottom? Fully immersed, I was heading down quickly. Eyes open, the world was a yellowy green colour and weeds were all around me.
Hang on, I could drown here! That very clear thought came to mind. There was no panic, just a realisation I was in danger. Instead of just getting wet I was in deep water and facing the wrong way. I flipped myself around in the water and kicked out with my legs, full sure I would push myself back towards the surface but of the bottom there was no trace. I started swimming, the weeds hindering me a little.
‘Eyes open, hold your breath, strong strokes’. Your clothes trap air when you fall in and this helps to give you buoyancy but my wellies felt very heavy indeed. More strokes. This seemed to be taking ages!
I broke the surface and at the second attempt grabbed the walkway.
‘Catch your breath first. Assess the best way of getting out’. Don’t exhaust yourself. Still no panic, just running through what I have been trained to do. It was a long way through thick reeds to the bank so I decided to haul myself out on to the walkway. It was actually easier than I thought it would be and soon I was standing on the timbers, water running out of me. Time to take stock. Apart from hitting my shoulder of the walkway I had no other injuries. It was a warm day so I was not in immediate danger from hypothermia. I was thinking clearly and so moved to the end of the stand to figure out what to do.
As you can imagine, I was soaked to the skin. A quick check showed that all I could see was missing was my glasses and my hat. The glasses have gone for good but the hat surfaced in the reeds and was recovered in my landing net.
So there I was, stood there like the creature from the black lagoon. There really was only one course of action so I carefully reeled in and packed up. Shouldering the offending seatbox, I squelched my way back across the fields to the waiting car. Scrounging around inside I found a black fleece, a pair of waterproof over trousers and my hiking boots. I was in the middle of nowhere so I stripped off completely and dressed in this odd assortment of (dry) clothes. The gear and all the wet clothes were unceremoniously hurled in the rear of the car. Luckily, my mobile had been in my tackle box when I received my ducking.
With my driving glasses now firmly on the bottom of the lough I needed another pair for the drive home. Ferreting around in various nooks and crannies in the car I found an old pair of well dodgy glasses that Helen had. Remarkably I could see perfectly with them, the only drawback being I looked like a bedraggled Dame Edna Everage wearing them.
The drive home was uneventful and I had time to think about what had just happened. The seatbox has never been the steadiest due to the carrying arrangement I had fitted and there has been the odd wobble over the years. The problem today was the old stand was not level, it slanted backwards and I suspect what had happened was it shifted slightly as I sat down, increasing that angle and causing the box to start to tip. My shocking lack of balance meant I was unable to correct the backward motion so I went hurtling base over apex. My right shoulder started to ache as I drove (it is bloody sore as I write this) and I must have hit the walkway very hard. I believe that high divers refer to my entry as a ‘reverse somersault with twist’. It only attracts a very low score in competitions but then again I think I should be awarded extra points as few, if any, professional divers have carried out this particular dive clad in a three-quarter-length oilskin coat and wellington boots.
It has been a long time since I last fell in. It used to be a regular occurrence when I was young because I loved wading deep and getting into places other anglers could not. Many times I slipped or misjudged the depth and got a soaking for my troubles but I was young and didn’t care a jot about a bit of water. These days I am usually more careful.
The soaking was one thing, losing that big tench was a real tragedy. I thought it was beaten but he found some strength and tore off on an unstoppable run. Apart from the (now obvious) issues with the stand this lough has great potential and I will head back there again soon. The next time I will bring a better chair and a change of clothes!
Update: It’s the next morning and my shoulder is very painful and stiff to move but otherwise I am no worse the wear. I am already plotting a return visit to the forgotten lough! I am re-spooling my reels with 10 pound line and making up some heavy rigs.