Fishing in Ireland

Autumn

I need a break away from learning my new job. I’m working from home for the moment but that will gradually change over time as covid restrictions change. It is pretty intense and made all the more difficult as I am trying to pick up a complex set of instructions, comprehend them in detail and then put that information into practice over a dilapidated broadband connection. It’s quite stressful and it’s not like me to get stressed at all. Team meetings are a nightmare as I drop out frequently or people can’t hear what I am saying. I could use some angling downtime but that is only a remote possibility so I am left instead to recall happier times at this season of the year.

In Scotland, October was the highlight of my season. Back in the ‘70’s and early ‘80’s the rivers were teeming with salmon and sea trout after the first of the autumn rains had swelled the flows. There would be a few dark fish nearly ready to spawn but a high proportion of the salmon were perfectly clean. Those far off days I worked shifts so there was always time off to spend time in and around the Dee, Don and Ythan. Some of the biggest fish of the whole season would put in appearance and the fishing could be hectic. Methods varied according to where and when I was fishing, fly on the Dee in September of course, possibly spinning in high water on the Don, switching to the fly as the levels dropped back and the water cleared. Big floods on the Ythan would see me worming until I could chance the fly. I’ll freely admit I was damn near useless with the worm. I could catch sea trout on the garden flee but the salmon just laughed at me. Looking back, I did not pay enough attention to depth or controlling the bait and my worms probably drifted harmlessly above the heads of the fish most of the time. If I could turn back time and use my coarse fishing knowledge I would make a better fist of worming for salmon.

Kinclaven Bridge over the Tay

Sometimes I would head south and try the Tay, Tummel or Teith. Great rivers back in the day. The ability to throw a long line was crucial but there were some huge fish to angle for. Ally’s Shrimp was the fly of choice back then, I wonder if it is still as effective? I kept meaning to fish the Tweed during the autumn but somehow never quite got around to it. I have been lucky to fish in all sorts of places but there are always those rivers or loughs which elude you and will remain on your piscatorial wish list.

I grew to adore fishing for Grayling on the Tay system during the autumn. Only the Earn has a stock of these wonderful fish north of the Tay. I tended to fish worm under a float for them and had some brilliant days amid falling leaves on some of the best salmon beats on the river. I don’t know what it is like now but I used to buy a permit from the post office in Stanley (I seem to recall it cost me the princely sum of 50p for a day permit) and spent the days catching fish around the pound mark. I miss the grayling fishing, they are such pretty fish which gave sport at times when other seasons were closed. It’s ironic that for all my autumn grayling fishing with trotted worms my biggest was caught on a wet fly during a hatch of olives on the Ericht one fine May afternoon. I very much doubt I will ever beat that two-and-three-quarter pounder.

It is through the autumn and winter months I normally begin to plan any trips for the following season and I will miss the joy of doing that this year. With no clear timeline on the house move and where we are going to end up there is no point in even attempting to think about fishing trips.

With the packing for the house move in full flow I am keeping my eyes open for a battered cardboard box which contained hundreds of old photographs. It went missing years ago during a previous house move and it has not turned up since. There were photos of me holding up huge salmon or grinning over descent bags of trout, scenes of famous beats, celebrations in the pub afterwards, me hiking or climbing in the Scottish hills and many more gems from a sporting past. It is sad that they were lost, at my age you appreciate old photographs much more than you do as a youngster. Who knows, they may turn up yet. There are three old boxes just visible under the cobwebs at the furthest end of the loft, perhaps one of those is the receptacle I am after?

October here in the west of Ireland is far less productive. The salmon season is long over and the trout are but a memory. Pike and perch are the targets but even they have been quiet this year so far. A drop in temperature is needed to stir the pike into feeding again. I may sneak a few hours trolling for them this weekend is the weather is kind and Helen wants some peace and quiet from my moaning. A heavy spinning rod and the immense box of pike lures were strategically left on top of a pile of packing boxes, ready at a moments notice should the opportunity arise. An escape, be it ever so brief, would be a very welcome break from spreadsheets, teams calls and moving house.

With all my fly tying gear packed away the release of just sitting down making a few flies is also beyond me at present. Ideas for patterns are swirling about in my head and under normal circumstances some of these would have reached the vice by now. Instead, I will start to write the new patterns down so I don’t forget them and hopefully I will be able to get back tying sometime next year. There is a Fiery Brown Muddler I think would work and some variations on spiders that need to be tried. On top of that, my old fly box is exhibiting a few alarming gaps in the serried ranks of lough flies. The row of Octopus patterns is all but empty and Cock Robin, Deer Hair Sedges and virtually all my mayfly emergers are thin on the ground. I have also promised some mates I will make up flies for them. I was probably a bit rash on reflection with that commitment! October and November are my main months for tying usually, I like to fill my boxes early on in the close season so there isn’t a mad panic immediately before the start.

OK, that’s enough moaning from me, time to get back to work on the spare bedroom. A wild day is forecast for tomorrow so I will be busy inside again, filling the packing boxes and chucking out items we no longer have space for. I wish those of you lucky enough to be able to fish tight lines. I’m ever so slightly envious!

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Fishing in Ireland

Choosing an outboard

Years ago getting around on the big western loughs was a straight forward business, you hired one of the local boatmen who would row you around all day for a pittance. Tough, weather beaten lads with arms like Popeye and who knew their lough intimately. Many a tale is told of the old fellas but they have all slipped into the mists of time. Sure, you can still hire a boatman (I do a bit myself) but the age of men in worn flat caps and battered tweed jackets who pulled on oars alone are gone. The internal combustion engine took their place. Seagulls to start with, those 2.5hp engines broke the mold and I remember them in use clearly. A good one was a joy but there were some dodgy ones around and they could be a curse to start. I suspect there are still a few in use even now but I have not seen one for years. More powerful outboards arrived on the market and picking an outboard engine became a whole lot more complicated. I want to give you my thoughts on buying an outboard for the loughs. Having gone through this exercise within the last couple of years it may have some resonance with those of you looking to purchase an engine this winter. Here I am talking about outboards suitable for use on a standard 17 to 19 foot lake boat, other craft will have very different requirements.

For me at least, the starting point has to be exactly what do you want from your engine? Are you going to be using it on a daily basis? Will you be travelling long distances? Do you intend taking your boat off the lake and storing it securely every day? Give this a lot of thought before making any decision as buying the wrong outboard is an expensive mistake. Put it this way, if you are probably only going to used your boat a handful of times each year there seems little point in buying a very big engine, a nice little 5 or 6 hp will do just fine. Then again, if you are going to be on the water frequently and are planning long journeys a bigger capacity engine will be more suitable.

Virtually everyone here used to own a two stroke engine. They are relatively light, powerful and dependable but unfortunately also inefficient and dirty. Two stroke outboard engines are no longer available to purchase new here in Ireland but die hard anglers still buy them abroad and import them. There is a healthy market for second hand two strokes and they command high prices.

The two strokes have largely been replaced with four stoke engines which are very fuel efficient and sturdy. The only fault I can see with four strokes is their weight, they are very heavy indeed by necessity of their design. Being honest, I can pick up a 15hp two stroke engine but can’t lift a four stroke of the same power. I’m getting on a bit so younger, fitter lads can no doubt handle a big four stroke but many fishers leave the bigger engines on their boat all the time and this brings us to a very important issues, security.

Time was everyone simply pulled up on to the shore at the end of the day, unloaded the fish and rods but left the engine and even the petrol tank on the boat. That was a different Ireland, one where nobody would dream of stealing another mans engine. Nowadays we suffer gangs and individuals who target boats to rob engines. Security devices which lock the engine to the boat are simply bypassed by the robbers cutting the stern off the boat to get the engine. So if you own a heavy engine you either have to heave and sweat pulling the engine off the boat at the end of each trip or leave it on the boat but haul the boat out and store it safely in a locked shed or somewhere similar.

To give a bit of detail regarding weights and power outputs, there is generally a big jump in weight between 6hp and 8hp four stroke engines. This is because the smaller engine is a single cylinder design but the slightly larger one is a twin. Very roughly, this translates to about 60 pounds weight for a 5 or 6hp and around 85 – 90 pounds for a 8hp. That is quite a jump for only an additional 2hp. Want to go bigger? A 15hp four stroke typically tips the scales at a whopping 100 to 120 pounds.

The basic calculations most anglers used to make in the days of just two stroke engines was how much power can I get for my money? Now it has changed to how heavy is the engine going to be? Most anglers used to buy an 8 or 15 hp two stroke engine and these are still very common on all the Irish loughs. Like me, many have now dropped to a smaller four stoke engine when buying a new one, simply because of the weight issue. I would urge any prospective buyer to physically visit their dealer and try lifting the engines so they get a good idea of what is going to be involved when on the side of the lake. Of course you can invest in a trolley for moving your engine. Note that some venues are rough and rolling a heavy engine on a trolley can be a nightmare so think this through before spending more cash on a trolley.

I will leave the question of which brand up to the individual. In truth, most outboards are now manufactured in either Japan or China. Yamaha, Suzuki, Tohatsu, Honda and Mercury all have their fans. Johnson/Evinrude stopped production in 2020 I think.

Running costs will vary greatly between 2 stroke and 4 stroke engines, the latter being much more fuel efficient and also do not need the two stroke oil of the former. You will need a fuel tank if you do not already own one and please note that different engine manufacturers use different fuel line connectors. Spare parts are not a huge problem in my experience and if not on hand can be ordered pretty easily online. The cost of spares is not a major concern with the items you usually need such as new impellors or even props being easily affordable.

The question of new or secondhand is of course a big one. There is a healthy secondhand market here in Ireland for outboard engines and a quick look at the online sites will throw up a selection of engines in varying states of repair. Caution is required here, while some of these engines are in excellent condition there are some real dogs too and you really need to know about outboards before plunging into the secondhand market. When you are drifting into towards the rocky shore on Mask in a lively wind the last thing you need is for an engine not to start when you tug the cord! If you are experienced with small engines then by all means go look for a bargain in the pre-owed market but my advice is generally buy new if you can.

Servicing your engine needs to be part of your thought process too. Outboard engines need to be serviced regularly but there is a limited number of dealers around the country so do your research before buying. I know that my own Honda needs to be serviced at one of only two dealerships on the island and while that does not bother me greatly it could be a deciding factor for some people.

What would I recommend? If you can find a good one, a secondhand 8hp Yamaha 2 stroke or similar is a great buy. These are becoming very scare and are expensive even for older engines. If you are young and strong then a new or used 8hp four stroke may be a good choice while for more seasoned anglers a drop to a 5 or 6 hp four stroke might be a better option. If you have the luxury of a safe shed to store your boat then a 15hp four stroke makes a lovely power unit which will give you access to anywhere you want.

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Fishing in Ireland, sea angling

Out of Cleggan

Autumn is usually a good time of the year for sea fishing off the Irish coast so when I was offered a place on a small boat fishing out of Cleggan I jumped at the chance. It has been a couple of years since I did any saltwater fishing and this would be a nice change from all the coarse angling I have been doing this year. Looking out my gear it soon became clear it was in need of some TLC before fishing so I spent some time sorting it all out the previous day. Mackerel which had been in the freezer for far too long was defrosted along with a few sandeels so I had some bait to get started. The usual plan when fishing around the coast here is to target mackerel for use as bait at the start of the day but I heard these are in chronically short supply this season so I brought my own along.

It’s a bit of a trek down to the small village of Cleggan across the border in county Galway. I decided to bypass Westport and instead cut over by Aughagower. This is a narrow road and progress was slowed by oncoming traffic, including a surprising number of heavy tipper lorries which were presumably heading for the construction sites of the new N5 road. Along the gorgeous road to Leenaun, past Kylemore with the amazing abbey across the lake and through a busy Letterfrack until I reached Cleggan harbour with time to spare. Wellies and waterproofs donned, I met up with the other guys and we loaded all our gear on to John Brittain’s boat ‘Bluewater’. I knew some but not all of the lads so it was nice to meet some new faces. Casting off, we headed out into the choppy waters of the Atlantic the salty wind in our faces.

I set up a string of tinsel feathers on my old white rod, the one I use for mackerel fishing. With time to spare I then rigged my other rod with a flying collar about eight feet long. The other lads all preferred to use baited feathers so it would be interesting to see which rig would fish best. Some times the flying collar is deadly but on other occasions a simple string of feathers will out-fish it.

John knows the rough waters off Connemara like the back of his hand and the Bluewater is a fine boat. He offers a range of angling experiences including shark and tuna trips but today we wanted to fish the reefs and banks on the drift. We anglers like to think any fish caught are due to our own knowledge but the truth is the skipper is the star of the show. Finding the mark, setting up on the drift and calculating how the drift alters as wind and tide change are all hard won skills. Today there was a stiff wind coming out of the south west so John set a course for the reefs in the lee of the islands.

Inisbofin is served by a small ferry based in Cleggan and it is a popular tourist centre with a lively traditional music scene. Its neighbour, Inishark, was abandoned in the 1960’s and is now home to seabirds only. We would spend the day trying our luck close to the rocky headlands of these two islands. The first couple of drifts proved to be barren save for a couple of wrasse at the other end of the boat. The skipper moved again, this time a little closer to ‘bofin. Here the ground was very rough and I lost three sets of gear in quick succession. Fishing over reefs is always going to claim some end tackle and today was going to be a hard one for me as over the the few hours we were fishing I lost numerous leads and feathers. I picked up my first fish though, a brightly coloured Cuckoo Wrasse. We moved again, this time to a reef between Inishbofin and Inishark. The rods started to bend and some small pollock and a few wrasse came into the boat. Repeating this drift a few times we slowly began to fill the fish boxes and a tiny cod plus a couple of ling also came into the boat. I was catching a few but you could not say the fishing was hectic. It didn’t really matter as we were all enjoying just being out in the fresh air. I managed a couple of better pollock of around five pounds before we stopped for lunch. John pulled in closer to shore where the sea was calm and the rest of the lads cooked up sausages and burgers on a small gas stove while the skipper brewed a big pot of tea. Being a veggie I contented myself with my salad sandwiches.

Off again, we started drifting close to the stags of bofin, roughly hewn rocks which rise from the sea off the west of the island. Here we had the best fishing of the day with a constant stream of pollock to six pounds, mackerel, wrasse and coalies. I had a lovely female ballan wrasse of about four pounds, my best one for many years. The coalies were vociferous as usual and since they were around three pounds each and we were hooking them two or three at a time they put a good bend in the rods. All too soon it was time to pack up and head back to shore, the gory ritual and gutting and filleting being carried out on the bucking deck as we drove east around the headland and back to the harbour. We had filled two boxes with quality fish, enough to ensure we all went home with a supply of fillets for the freezer. It is a small harbour and the ferry was tied up against the quay so all our gear and fish had to be manhandled into the ferry and down the gangplank on the other side. Another day over.

Loading our slimy, smelly and sodden gear into our respective vehicles, we said our goodbyes and turned for home. The drive was one to appreciate as the sun set on the hills of Connemara. Coming into Letterfrack three roe deer ran across the road in front of me, two hinds followed by the buck. Beautiful creatures, it was lovely to see them. It was only when driving I felt the tiredness come upon me, a day afloat is hard work for me now. My dodgy knees and ankles had been at me during the day but now as I sat in the car the arthritis really hit and the pain ratcheted up with each passing mile. Fellow sufferers will know that you just grit your teeth and get through it. The lights of Castlebar shone in the dark as I reached home. All he fish were stowed in my fridge overnight, I’d sort them out in the morning, cutting them up into individual portions and popping them into bags for the freezer. The rest of the gear was pulled out of the car and into the shower where a good dousing takes only a few minutes but is vital to reduce rusting.

And so concluded my only sea fishing trip for 2021. The most worrying part of the day was the lack of mackerel. At this time of year there should be shoals of fat, hard fighting mackerel off the west coast. The intensive commercial fishing has decimated the stocks and we caught barely a handful today. Until mackerel are given some protection this slaughter will continue until they are gone completely.

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32, Fishing in Ireland

On hold

Life has been very good to me over the years. Looking out across the deeply tarnished vista of this modern world where there is so much pain and suffering I can see how fortunate I have been. I personally have led a charmed existence to date with only minor bumps along life’s highway. As the sunlit uplands of youth receded behind me and I wandered the trail into the darkening cloven valley of late middle age I found peace and comfort in my life here in the west. Helen, family, the various pets, friends, work colleagues and passing acquaintances all contributed to a full and comfortable life. Fishing has been a constant thread, taking me to wonderful places amid the glories of the Irish countryside. My angling efforts have waxed and waned over the past two decades and much as I would like to fish even more than I currently do it looks like the ash spoked wheels of life are turning in the opposite direction, for a little while at least.

Lough Conn under October clouds

A lot is going on outside of my angling, so much in fact that the end of the game fishing season has coincided with a period of frenetic activity which means there will be little or no fishing of any sort for me for a while. Many of my angling plans have had to be altered, postponed or abandoned, including the 32 project. It happens to us all, the best laid plans of mice and men etc. Unless you live in a self-contained bubble there are always going to be other demands on time and resources which mean angling has to take a back seat for a while. As 2021 grows old I am entering one of those periods when other priorities have come to the fore.

I have not given up on ‘32’, far from it. A hell of a lot of research has gone into developing detailed plans on how to complete my pet project. A spreadsheet resides on my desktop labelled ’32’, its pages filled with lists of possible venues, distances to be traveled, species thought to be swimming there, addresses of tackle shops and a myriad of other details to assist me in my decision making. Hours of research and planning have gone into this document and the contents remain valid for future use. It has just been put on hold for now, that’s all. Of course this is a disappointment after all the effort which I have already invested in the project. With 17 counties already under my belt ticking off the remainder felt eminently doable. Looking back, perhaps I should have put more effort into the project over the summer of 2021 but hindsight is an exact science and I believe while it is important to learn from the past it does not do to dwell on ones previous errors. Anyway, there were reasons why I did not go zooming off to Cork, Waterford or the others at the drop of a hat this year. Even I had some restrictions on me.

The road goes ever on…………

Two main reasons have led to this change of direction. I have taken up a new, full time job which will demand a lot of my time. My previous incarnation as an Interim Manager meant long spells of unemployment between assignments, periods when I could do a lot of fishing. Now I have traded in that peripatetic lifestyle and will be labouring in a 9-5 job like most other people, something I have not done since I lived in London nearly twenty years ago. This seismic shift in employment will obviously drastically reduce the amount of free time available to me and will take some getting used to. The new job is some 35km from home and that daily commute just adds to the reduction in free time. On the plus side, said commute will be through glorious countryside along relatively quiet roads. When in London I used to set off at 6.15 am every work day and considered myself very lucky to reach work at 8 am having covered 17 miles. I’ll never complain about a commute again after that!

All packed up for now.

At the same time there is a house move afoot and all the hassle that a change of abode entails, both financially and in time commitment. We are hoping to stay in Castlebar but that may not be possible and we might have to move away to somewhere else in Mayo. It all depends on what housing is available at the time. I may manage to squeeze in a couple of hours fishing here and there but long, all day trips to the far flung corners of the island of Ireland simply aren’t feasible when under so much pressure at home. All of my fly tying gear has already been packed up, ready for the house move. As we are downsizing the luxury of having a whole room to myself for fishing equipment and making flies is no longer realistic. Instead, I am planning on moving all my gear into a large shed once we find a new home. Even that will take time and money as I will need heat and light, power outlets and ventilation in the shed. Something tells me that Helen is unlikely to view the fishing shed as top priority when there is a whole house to be decorated. For those of you who enjoy my posts on fly patterns I have a few ‘in the bag’ already and I’ll add them to the blog over the coming months.

The housing market here in Ireland is volatile with rapidly rising prices and a shortage of property for sale for long periods only for the bubble to burst and house prices crash. At present they are rising. The hope is the next house will require only a little work done on it but if a reasonable ‘fixer-upper’ comes along I might be tempted. Long ago, when I lived in Scotland, I bought old houses and did them up, doing much of the work myself. The difference is that I was in my twenties back then and remodeling a house was a breeze. As an old codger I now approach hard physical work with a much more jaundiced eye. I find nowadays that I still know what to do but every job takes me so much longer to complete. While not dismissing the option of buying a dilapidated property it would need to be priced low enough that I could afford to hire tradesmen to do the heavy jobs. I am not going to knacker my casting arm laying blocks or pouring concrete!

Packing has already begun. Just the simple task of boxing up all my fly tying tools and materials turned into an all-day event. Unmarked packets of fur and feather abounded so simply chucking everything in boxes felt like I was just storing up trouble for myself in the future. Hours sorting out the various materials ensued, labelling them all and grouping them together in some sort of order. Over the years I have experimented with different hook designs and as a result now have 4 large boxes full to overflowing with assorted hooks. Even still, more packets and boxes of hooks appeared as I delved into the mass of gear. Of course during this tidy up I discovered lots of other stuff I had simply forgotten I owned. Capes and feathers of all types, reels upon reels of silks and threads and packets of various synthetics from years ago. Some will be used but other items, like boxes of huge Waddington shanks, are no longer required. The upshot of all this is I have a lot of excess materials which I intend selling off when finally ensconced in the new abode. It is impossible for me to use even a fraction of the materials I own in my remaining few years on this planet so I’ll move some of it on and free up some space.

My tackle was already in pretty good order (nudge nudge wink wink). I store most of my gear neatly in large plastic boxes, each more or less dedicated to specific methods. For example, there are separate containers for salmon fly tackle, trout fly gear, coarse stuff, etc. Odds and ends have to be rounded up from the back of the car and other nooks and crannies, along with a library of angling books which have somehow crept on to book shelves all over the house. I am taking this time to throw out old fishing clothing which I never wear but have been clinging on to for years. Shirts with worn collars, jackets that don’t zip up any more and pairs of leaky waders which I meant to repair but never got around to. They are being consigned to the recycling bin as the burning desire to minimise takes hold in earnest. All this ditching of old gear was quite cathartic and I’d encourage you all to do the same thing. Hanging on to stuff you will never use again is not healthy. As part of this clear out I also reached the decision I will sell my heavy salmon outfit. This rod and reels have enormous sentimental value but I have to be realistic, I’ll never use them again. My days of deep wading the Tweed and Tay, spey casting heavy sinking lines are long behind me now and so the Hardy sixteen footer, the 3 3/4 inch Perfect and the Angel 9/10 reel are all going on the market. I don’t expect much interest in the rod but the reels should sell pretty quickly.

It has not all been about chucking stuff out though. While clearing one spare room I came upon a couple of cheap old guitars which had been long forgotten about. The acoustic has a damaged nut and the electric refused to work at all. Before binning both I took a look at them and worked out that with a bit of work they could be salvaged. Damage to the nut on the acoustic was limited to the high string so I changed it to a 5 string and tuned to open G. It’s a little awkward now but playable. The electric had some broken connections and was soon fixed after some work with the soldering iron. I will order a bridge conversion gizmo for it to raise the action and use it to play slide. I am half toying with the idea of reducing it to three strings like Seasick Steve’s Transwonder. Of course repairing old guitars when I was supposed to be packing did not go down well with ‘er indoors!

So what are my plans on re-booting the 32 project? It is hard to be exact when the whole world feels like it is spinning out of control. If pushed, I think I would say it will be the end of summer 2022 before I can seriously start to tackle any more counties. OK, a small window of opportunity may open up unexpectedly before then but in terms of a concerted effort we are probably looking at the second half of next year. That feels an awfully long way away right now but as life flies past us so quickly I guess even the second half of 2022 will come around fast enough. Helen has already suggested a short break for us both once the move has been completed, maybe down to Cork for a weekend. A sneaky fishing rod could easily be surreptitiously stowed in the car on that holiday.

Any spare moments over the upcoming weeks and months will be spent carrying out small little angling related jobs. For example, I have a lot of floats to repair (what is the collective name for floats? A flitter? A fantasy? A frivolity? Answers on a postcard….). The contents of all my coarse fishing rig wallets which were so abused this summer need a total overhaul too. A change from mono to fluorocarbon is on the cards for a start. I lost some big fish due to line breakages so I want to go up in breaking strength but not lose out on diameter. I’ll keep using mono on my heavier rigs as I think it is harder wearing but the lighter tippets will be changed up in strength. For example, my current 2.5 pound mono rigs could be upgraded to 4 pound fluorocarbon.

It’s a cool morning outside, a light mist shrouds the trees in the garden. You can feel the change in the seasons. I would dearly love to be out fishing today, making the best of my last few hours of freedom before work rudely interrupts. Instead I am filling sturdy cardboard boxes with years of accumulated crockery, tools and assorted other chaff. Who knows how long the house move will take? There are a couple of rooms to be decorated before this house goes on the market for a start. It once took me 18 months to sell a house in Scotland and the thought of a prolonged period of financial uncertainty is unsettling. Hopefully it will be quicker than that and some level of normality can return fairly rapidly. Until then I will probably be a bit quiet on this blog but, like MaCarthur, I shall return!

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike

Here comes the rain again

The Eurithmics, fronted by fellow Aberdonian Annie Lennox, released hit after hit back in the ’80’s. ‘Here comes the rain again’ popped into my head as the sky darkened and huge, cold drops fell on us with ever increasing intensity as we putted along the shoreline. The downpour was so intense I had to bail water out of the boat. Huddled against the storm, I turned so the weather was at our backs as I squinted throught the semi-darkness to get my bearings. We must be mad fishing in this!

The past two Sundays have seen me out on lough Conn. I was not fishing but Frank was keen to reconnoiter the lough for pike so we braved the autumn weather. Last Sunday we tried the bottom end of the lough by dint of borrowing a boat based in Brown’s Bay (thanks Bob). Yesterday we used my boat, fishing all the way from Pike Bay to Gortnore. With the end of the trout and salmon season we had the whole lake to ourselves. Some might unkindly suggest that nobody else was foolish enough to be out on these days!

The same method was employed on both days, Frank set up two long trolling rods, one on each side, and trailed various lures 30 yards behind the slowly motoring boat. Both days were similar with variable winds, heavy showers and some bright spells. The noticeable recent drop in temperatures has had a dramatic effect on weeds and they are dying back rapidly. This was one reason for trying the lough, we thought it might just be possible to fish some places which have been out of bounds all summer due to the luxuriant weed growth. Conn is getting weedier with every passing year and whole bays are now unfishable after the mayfly.

Let me say right from the off that we blanked last Sunday. Not so much as a nibble came our way despite long hours trying different spots. Spoons and plugs flickered enticingly in the water but the pike were seriously unimpressed. Massbrooke, Colman Shallows, Terry point, Bilberry Island, Glass Island, Chain Island, Fir Tree Point and a host of others were tried but to no avail. The morning was spent motoring around, sometimes dry but mostly drenched, in an abortive effort to locate the pike. We could see the dark grey clouds hurrying in from the west before they unloaded on us. No sooner had we dried off when the next belt of rain arrived. It was a tough auld day to be sure. On the plus side, the high winds which had been promised never materialised and apart from squally conditions during downpours the wind was not an issue.

Yesterday we loaded up the boat after baling copious amounts of water from her then headed out for the northern end of Conn. I suggested Castlehill for a start as I know there are some good pike in there. My logic was based on the reeds where my boat is berthed. These reeds had been 5 feet tall only three weeks ago, now there had died back and were barely poking above the surface of the water. Also recent rain had pushed the water level in the lake up by a couple of feet. A combination of both these factors would allow us to troll the centre section of Castlehill with out too many hang ups in the weeds. Frank had clipped on a weedless Toby on one rod and a new pink and silver Mepp on the other. The first shower descended on us just as we rounded the point and entered the bay.

It took me a couple of runs to figure out where was fishable and where to avoid but I found some relatively weed free water and trolled up and down in the rain. The rod with the Mepp bucked and was pulled hard over so I killed the engine and wound in the other rod as Frank bent into what was obviously a good fish. I know from experience how hard these Castlehill pike fight and this lad was no exception, he really tested Franks knots all the way to the net. I slipped him into the meshes and hoisted him inboard, a fine, thick-set fish of around 16 or 17 pounds. The hooks took some delicate work with the long handled pliers to remove but he was soon back in the water. Cleaning up, we discussed the fish and Frank told me it was his best ever pike. I wish I had known, I would have taken a photo of it for him. The rain which had eased off a little earlier returned with a vengeance but we were soon fishing again. After the failures the previous Sunday it was good just to get a fish in the boat!

One more circuit of Castlehill then we set off for pastures new, trolling all the way. I hugged the shoreline and we slowly made our way around the two pins off the middle of Mayo via Chain island and Gallaghers. Up along the Errew shore in what can only be described as a biblical deluge, we set a course for the islands in a wind which had turned to the north. Lunch beckoned so we pulled in to the shore and brewed up, the sodden twigs for the Kelly Kettle creating more smoke than flames. It was a relief just to be able to stretch our legs though, a full day spent trolling makes for stiff joints!

Refreshed, we loaded up and turned for Roe island, one of the top spots in the northern part of the lough for trout. Would there be any pike there? I carefully steered the boat so the baits would cover the shallows, adjusting engine speed to cope with turns and changes in our attitude to the wind. The baits remained unmolested so it was off to Cloonaghmore next, going as close to the shore as I dared given the inevitable banks of weed below the surface of this shallow part of the lake. Again, all this normally productive water was lifeless so with Gortnore only a hundred yards distant I swung us around and began retracing our steps. All the way back to Castlehill the baits were behind us in the water but not a single bite did we get.

By 4pm we were back in Castlehill. Frank had been trying different baits all day but now he was using two of the new Mepps, the pink one on one rod and a red one on the other. A perch grabbed the pink spoon, our only one for the day. I suspect the size 4 was just a bit too big for the small perch in the lough and a size 2 would possibly have caught some more. Within a few minutes the red Mepp lured a small jack which turned out to be the last fish of the day. A fish of around 4 pounds, it was thankfully lip hooked and soon returned unharmed.

So what did we learn from the last two Sundays? There are big stocks of pike in the lake but they can be very localised. The object of trolling the whole lake was to try and locate the pike at this time of year and based on our findings it looks pretty conclusive that Castlehill is where the green fellas are hanging out right now. Only a tiny fraction of the bay can be fished but in a few weeks time the weeds will have died and much more open water will be fishable. Frank likes to use small baits for pike and he catches a lot of them every year. I on the other hand prefer much bigger baits and I might leave my boat on the lough for a few weeks yet and try my big spoons in Castlehill before the end of the year. I think there are twenty and maybe even thirty pounders in there.

It is that time of year again and on Saturday the call went out for club members to help out with the boats on the Glenisland side of Beltra. A new slipway with rollers was built this summer and this was going to be our first time using the new facility. It worked a treat and in only 90 minutes the team had bailed all ten boats, dragged them out of the water and either turned them over in the field or stowed four of them in the boathouse. Many hands make light work and all that.

Looks like a police line up but in fact this was the boat lift crew for last weekend
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Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing

Big fish from Mask

Just a very quick few lines to tell you about a couple of very big fish caught just before the end of the season on Lough Mask.

My good friend Toby Gibbons from Westport was out in the deeps the other day when a huge wild brownie grabbed his Octopus. I have yet to catch up with Toby to hear all about the fight but you can be sure it put up one heck of a battle. Toby is a fine angler though and the beast was finally netted. The fish of a lifetime it turned the scales to nine and a half pounds.

Not to be outdone, Sean Moogan boated another fine trout the same week. I don’t have a weight for this one but it looks to be around the eight pound mark or so.

I’d like to say this is normal but in truth both of these trout are exceptional fish. Fishing the deeps usually produces fish in the one to two pound range. How these monsters came to be out there in the middle of the lake is not known and maybe we are seeing the start of something new.

Hats off to two experienced and dedicated anglers who know the lough well and thoroughly deserve the accolades being showered upon them now. What a way to end the season!

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