13th September 2021. Not a breath of wind this morning. Dry brown leaves drop vertically to the ground in the still air. My planned fly fishing outing is a washout, sitting becalmed in a boat is not my idea of fun. Instead I don wellies, grab the fork and head down the garden to the muck heap where it is but a few minutes work to gather some worms. I’ll try Ballymote for bream.
I fished Bellanascarrig lough not so long ago and had a nice day catching roach, hybrids and bream so I figured another trip to that water would be a good test to see if that was just a fluke. Anyway, it would be a good way of using up the handful of maggots I had in the fridge.
The school run has reached epic proportions in Castlebar and it is gridlock until 9 am so I set off before the madness started. Why kids can’t just walk to school these days is beyond me. Do they completely lose the power of perambulation at rush hours? I head out on the old road to avoid the traffic and am soon humming along the tarmac to county Sligo. Past the limp green and red flags and those desolate looking signs urging on the Mayo football team who were playing in the final in Dublin at the weekend. They lost to a very good Tyrone team so the county is in mourning once again. Always next year lads, next year….
At the side of the lough I toy with the idea of using one of the other stands but the one I fished from last time is clear of weed so I set up there. A worm on the feeder rod is quickly accepted by a nice bream and I am off the mark before I have even set up the float rod. I miss another two bites on the feeder then connect with a perch. A roach and then a hybrid accept the maggots on the float rod. And so it goes on, most of the action on the float but the feeder chips in a few fish. It is a real mix of different species. Mainly skimmers and roach but with the odd hybrid and bream too. The fishing is hectic with bites coming fast and furious. The range of bites reflects the assortment of different species. Some are mere tremors, some spirited dives, a few are lovely sideways drifts and there are also exquisite lift bites when the float resembles Excalibur rising slowly from the lake.
A hard take on the feeder sees it jump and fall on the stand so I pick it up, strike and feel a heavy fish on the end of the line. This is a very good bream so I take my time and get the net ready. From where it was hooked, about fifty yards out, I have worked the fish about half way in when the most violent pull snaps the line and the fish is gone. What the hell happened there? While I did not catch sight of the fish it was certainly a heavy bream, I hazard a guess at about five pounds or so. I have not known a bream to turn and put such pressure on a rod before. Close inspection of the broken tippet reveals it did not part under pressure, nor did the knot slip (thank God) but was cleanly cut about three inches from the hook. A new, heavier, tippet is soon attached and I am back fishing in no time but my mind is on what has just happened and I try to figure out where I went wrong.
More furious float action follows with fish after fish coming to hand. A voice behind me enquires how I am doing and I spend the next ten minutes chatting with one of the local IFI guys who is a mine of angling information. It is always a pleasure to converse with someone who is passionate about angling. The IFI often comes under criticism but when you talk to these lads you get some idea of how difficult their job is and the great knowledge they possess. With a wave Kevin is gone and I realise that I am hungry so I eat my sandwiches and drink the flask of hot coffee. With my concentration levels back up to DEFCON1 the procession of skimmers continues.
The shoal seem to move around, one minute they are only one rod length out and then they are thirty yards away. If I go even one cast without a bite I cast to a slightly different spot to keep in touch with the fish. I’m fishing over depth on the float and that means I pick up some weed occasionally but in general any movement on the float is a fish. There are a lot of imature bream around and only a few hybrids. Winding in a skimmer as normal the water behind him breaks in a huge swirl. The rod jolts then the skimmer is on its side at the waters edge in front of me. Pike!
I unhooked the skimmer and find he has been wounded close to the anal fin and is bleeding. I returned him anyway as I have seen fish with much worse injuries survive. I didn’t see the pike, he just made the swirl so he must have been deep.
I spent the day fishing the same swim. At times the sport was hectic then it suddenly died off and all was quiet for perhaps fifteen minutes before they kicked off again. On three more occasions pike attacked fish I was reeling in. I saw two of those fish clearly and they were different pike. One, of about twelve pounds, made a spectacular leap in the air, turning a full somersault before crashing back onto the lough not 10 feet from where I was sitting. That one missed the skimmer altogether. The other was a smaller lad, about five pounds or so. He shot out of the water as he chased the hybrid I had been winding in, a wonderful leap like a fresh grilse. He too missed the skimmer he was after. The other pike grabbed the fish I was playing, a tug followed by a big splash and the poor skimmer was no more.
The more I think about it the more convinced I am that the large bream that I lost earlier in the day was eaten by a huge pike. How big that pike was I will never know but I had a good sized bream on and it had to be a large pike to attempt to eat it. The suddenness of the pull and the neatly cut line suggest to me a monster pike was responsible.
I have been coarse fishing on a number of different lakes for the past two years. During that time I have not seen a single pike attack on the fish I was winding in. Indeed, I can only recall one pike attack on a trout I was playing on lough Mask many years ago. Why then did I witness all these attacks in one session? Was this a learned response by the pike? Do they simply hang out around the fishing stands in the hope of a free meal? Or do they hear ground bait balls hitting the water, sounding some sort of dinner gong for the pike? To witness one attack is unusual but to see 5 in one day must be some kind of a record. Strange times indeed. Obviously the lough has a good stock of pike and the next time I go to fish there I will bring a spinning rod with me.
I’m afraid there will be a sharp reduction in my angling effort. I have accepted a new full time job so my happy summer of fishing has come to an end.
The last day of September saw me return to Bellinascarrig again for another short session. The weather had turned colder and a fresh south wind was blowing up the lake when I was there. The first hour or so was a shambles for me, I couldn’t do anything right. I lost a feeder in some weeds, got the depth completely wrong on the float rod, lost a huge bream at the net and tangled my lines countless times. Finally, I got my act together and started to fish properly, catching skimmers in quick succession. A couple of roach, a tiny perch and one middling sized bream also came to hand but it was basically a skimmer bashing session. Now here is the interesting bit – on two occasions I saw pike chasing my catch as I wound it in. One was little more than a green swirl right behind the skimmer but the other jack launched itself out of the water in an effort to catch the fish.