32 – Episode 18, County Carlow

Storm Barra had rattled the windows and felled trees across the south and west earlier in the week and the cold, windy weather lingered on long after the eye of the storm had passed. Being cooped up indoors for days on end was taking its toll so I decided to fish this Sunday and even more exciting, I would tackle another of the 32 counties. An uncomfortable day beckoned but what else can you expect in December? Being honest, winter fishing is something I find less and less enjoyable as each year slips past. I used to love it, the cold and wet didn’t knock a stir out of me at all when I was a young man but these days I hate the chilly weather. Just being cold is enough to ruin being outdoors for me so a selection of thermals, fleeces, waterproofs and hats are necessities when I do venture out. Met Eireann were promising rain with strong winds all day which is always a pretty safe bet here in Ireland.

Carlow does not immediately spring to mind when thinking about Irish angling. Gentle farmland and busy towns, just about commutable distance from Dublin; that is how it always struck me. Situated in the south east of Ireland, Carlow is one of the smaller counties, sandwiched between Laois, Kilkenny, Kildare, Wexford and Wicklow. Carlow Town is a thriving community with lots of shops, pubs and restaurants to be enjoyed.

By now you will have all gathered that I am no fan of the OPW (office of public works) but the information on their website on river heights is excellent and I was able to see the Barrow was running at half a metre on the gauge and slowly dropping near where I planned to fish. Water temperature had dropped quickly at the end of last month but had steadied recently at just over 5 degrees. If that was good or bad for roach and dace fishing I had no idea.

The river Barrow is one of the country’s great waterways despite many man-made diversions. It flows very roughly north to south and empties into the salt at Waterford along with her sisters the Suir and the Nore. Much of the river has been canalised and numerous weirs make it hard for salmon to penetrate far upstream. OK a few salar still force their way into the system but aside from the locals who haunt the bank it is not seriously fished for the salmon. Instead, over the years it has become a popular venue for coarse fishers. Angling clubs along its length cater for a large and active fishing community who use pole and rod to extract roach, dace and pike in good numbers. The river also holds a head of brown trout and there are perch in the river too.

Once upon a time I worked in south county Kildare, just a few miles from Carlow Town. Indeed, I often stayed in Carlow and got to know the town reasonably well at the time. Evenings would sometimes see me go for a walk after work and I used to stand on the bridges, watching the river flowing beneath, wide, deep and coloured. I never did see any anglers though. In my research I found out that the section of river in the town is actually a good spot for both roach and dace so it is strange that I never came across an angler trying their luck on the town water. The same stretch apparently also holds bream along with occasional pike and perch.

For the purposes of this trip I eschewed the Carlow Town water itself for a stretch further downstream at Clashganny. To quote directly from the Fishing Ireland website: ‘The stretch at Clashganny offers coarse anglers the opportunity to try different coarse fishing techniques in picturesque surroundings. Float, feeder and pole techniques all offer possibilities on this superb stretch of river’. That sounds good doesn’t it? Here I would target the roach and dace which allegedly stalked the weed beds on the bottom. From the images on the internet it looked like a nice place with the river, a stretch of canal and a lock all possible pegs. The humble maggot and worm would be my baits of choice and it would be a day when the float was going to be my preferred method of presentation. Having only ever caught roach in flowing water by accident on the fly this was going to be an interesting day out for me.

You will all know by now that on these long distance trips I plan for a back-up venue in case my first choice is unfishable or I simply fail to catch anything there. In this case I figured I would head upstream a bit to Bagnalstown or Leighlinbridge, also on the Barrow. Similar water and fishing for similar species but it would be a change of scene in the event I was still blank in the afternoon. As for tactics I would bring along a swimfeeder rod in case the float did not work so feeders in a range of weights were dug out and tossed into the box. I use smaller feeders regularly but the bigger lads rarely enjoy a dip in the water. On the swiftly flowing Barrow their gravitas might be required.

As always, a humongous quantity of gear came along for the ride. Not being used to fishing in flowing water for roach I was unsure which rod to bring with me, so I brought them all! As I mentioned, my heavy leger rod looked like my best option if I turned to the feeder in the main flow of the river but would my 12 or 13 foot float rods be best suited to trotting a float? I’m used to canals and fishing at close range, what if I had to fish at distance? The Barrow is a big river as it flows through Carlow and if the roach were holding further out I might struggle to present the bait properly. It is also pretty straight with not much in the way of pools or other features where I could easily identify holding areas. The canalisation of the river has removed most features but there are locks both upstream and downstream of Clashganny so these may just be the prime spots to hunt the roach. I needed more clarity of thought. Was I biting off more than I could chew?

Driving to Carlow entails a long and winding journey via Tulsk and Roscommon Town then down to Athlone. Drive east along a stretch of the M6 motorway as far as Tullamore then to Portlaoise. My plan was to stop off in Carlow and picked up some bait from the tackle shop in town. The final stretch is on the R448 down to Leighlinbridge, then the R702. A cool 290 km from home or a 580 km round trip in total. I set off early.

So I pulled up in Carlow Town, already stiff in the joints from 3 hours at the wheel. Barrow Fishing Tackle Shop is on Maryborough street, looking right on to the river. It was immediately obvious that I was in bother, the shop was closed. Twenty minutes past nine on my watch and the website said the shop would be open at nine. A heavy padlock on the door suggested that was not going to happen. A ‘self service’ bait dispenser next to the door had a sign proclaiming ‘bait 24/7’ but it was out of order. It would be good to say I was mildly put out by this turn of events but in point of fact I was livid. Why would a retail business advertise its opening hours on a website and Facebook page then completely disregard those hours? Now I was stuck with no alternative and would have to make do with the worms and dead maggots I had brought along with me. The dead maggots had been in the freezer for months and were in poor condition, I had planned on just using them up in the groundbait. There was nothing else for it, I drove off again heading for Clashganny, my plans in tatters.

It felt like a very long and tiresome road as I motored ever southwards, down the motorway as far as Leighlinbridge then winding through the khaki-coloured fields of rural Carlow. A very convenient car park close to the waters edge made life a bit easier for me and I was soon taking in my new surroundings. This is a very lovely corner of Ireland, mature trees bounding the brown waters of the river, clipped grass around the neat lock gates, small birds flitting among the undergrowth. I’m sure it is even prettier in the green of summer. Here the river flowed over a weir off to my right with another one a bit further downstream. To allow small craft to navigate past the obstacles there is a short stretch of canal with locks. The river is high all right, the aftermath of storm Barra earlier in the week but the canal is very shallow here. The strong southerly wind which was forecast for today is absent and the air is pleasantly warm for the time of year.

I had seen an ariel photograph of this stretch but found it hard to get a sense of scale and form so it was only now, when standing on the bank that I could sense what the river ‘felt’ like. I will try to explain that statement for you. Angling for me is not simply the mechanics of casting/baiting/catching. Sure, technical knowledge, masterly of techniques and so on are vital for success but I have a much deeper feeling for the places I fish. I guess you could say it is a spiritual connection of sorts. For me, the privilege of immersing myself in the natural world for a few short hours means I can be in a different head space. I am not a neurologist but I suspect I engage different parts of my brain when out in the natural world. So the ‘feeling’ of a waterway is a major part of how I fish on any given day. The Barrow noisily tumbled over the weirs above and below me, creating a wall of sound as a backdrop to the session.

The obvious starting point for me was the swim below the lock where an old boat was tied up. I set up with two rods, the feeder and the float rod. This looked very ‘perchy’ to me so I tried a worm held in place with a couple of dead maggots on the feeder rod. Since the sad demise of my old Daiwa Harrier reel I have been using a cheap black one which I bought in Sligo a while back. It even has a baitrunner facility, not that I need that when using it for float fishing but it fits well on the small feeder rod and the baitrunner facility means if anything big does take me it won’t pull the whole lot into the water. Balls of groundbait plopped into the water and a short cast sent a worm to the bottom. For the feeder the waiting began……………..

The feeder rod could look after itself while I set up the float rod. A couple of feet of mucky water flowed past me so I set up accordingly with an stick float and a size 14 hook. Shotting was simple, bulk shot above the tippet, and a couple of runners spaced up the line. Then I hurled in some some more balls of groundbait and loose fed a trickle of the dead maggots. Having never caught a dace before and lacking any real idea how to target them specifically meant limiting my choices to simply using a small hook below the bulk shot. In reality I was setting my stall out for roach today instead. I’ve yet to land one of better than a pound in weight and mostly they are only a few ounces but I still love fishing for the wee silvers.

The float trotted through the swim a few times without being troubled by the fish. The shallow water meant I could see the groundbait lying on the bottom and the float could be perfectly positioned to cover the exact spot. Soon however the feeder rod gave a small rattle. Dropping the float rod I lifted the feeder and there was a small silvery fish on the end. A dace no less, the first one I have ever landed. It had taken a worm which I found a bit surprising but I was damn glad to see it anyway. Some bubbles on the surface where I had chucked in the balls of groundbait looked like a good omen so I settled into concentrating hard on the float, trotting a worm or a pair of dead maggots through the swim time and time again. Nothing. Not so much as a nibble. I tried chopped worm, hoping the small pieces would be easy for the small dace to take but they failed to elicit any reaction. I tried a single dead maggot on a size 18 hook but that was no better. The problem with the maggots was not that they were dead, it was to do with their poor condition, they smelled horrible. A hour passed but no more bite were forthcoming so I decided to try above the lock.

A small Dace beside a very big feeder

The flow was minimal up there and try as I might no bites came my way. Eventually a group of guys with kayaks appeared and noisily launched right next to me. I took this as a hint and decided I needed a change, but where to go? In the end I packed the gear into the car and headed back the way I came and stopped at Muine Bheag where there are some stands on the channel of the Barrow. Three other guys were fishing the pole there and were catching a few roach and dace on (you have guessed it) maggot. I set up the rods and fished hard for the next couple of hours. Worm after worm trotted through the swim in front on me and never once did the float dip in anger. I knew in my heart I would be catching fish if only I had some maggots but it was not to be and when the rain came in the afternoon I called it a day and packed up.

Returning home I took a different road, driving up the M9 to Athy and reaching Tullamore via Portarlington. I had time to think about what had been a very poor day’s fishing. I accept it is possible I would have not caught anything even if I had some maggots but I doubt that. I have seen this before and for me maggots equals fish, it is as simple as that. If I had known the tackle shop in Carlow was going to be shut I would not have gone fishing there today. I like to be supportive of Irish tackle shops but I am left extremely frustrated and angry by the events of this morning. How hard would it have been to post a note on their FB page to say they were closed today?

So despite what was a terribly poor day I did actually catch one fish in co. Carlow, which under the T&C of the ’32’ project means I achieved my aims. It feels like a very hollow victory though; travelling the length of the country for one small dace was hardly the most exciting day on the bank. At least the promised high winds and rain kept away while I was fishing.

Christmas is but two weeks away and realistically I won’t have time to fish again before then. There are a few days off at the end of the month but it remains to be seen if I will venture out. Today was tiring and disappointing but they can’t all be golden days of bent rods and full nets. I know I have now caught one fish in county Carlow and that is all I wanted to do at the outset of this project. Just the one fish was supposed to be sufficient for me but in this case it simply is not. I am left with a hollow feeling after today, a need to right a wrong if you will. Looking back, I am sure that given decent bait I would have done much better so a possible additional visit to that fair county is under consideration for next year. I still have to fish the neighboring counties of Wexford, Kilkenny and Waterford and they are close enough for me to dart across to Carlow for a few hours angling. If I do you can bet I will bring a pint or two of maggots with me!

Update: The internet is a wonderful thing, isn’t it! I have found another tackle shop that is open on Sundays and sells maggots. https://www.vivado.ie are based in an industrial estate on O’Moore Street in the town of Tullamore and they open at 10am on Sundays. Wish I had known that earlier.

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