To the south and east of Dublin stretches the wide flat plains of the Pale. I am no Irish history buff but the term ‘the pale’ seems to date from the middle ages and signified the area under English control. The borders of the pale fluctuated wildly over the years but Kildare was pretty much always under English rule. Rich farmlands made it attractive and the river Barrow provided a defensible line against the native Irish, those who lived ‘beyond the pale’.
Kildare is horse racing country, indeed the nickname for it is ‘the thoroughbred county’. Flat grass lands predominate, ideal for the gee-gees I understand. The English based their cavalry here and even today the county is dotted with studs and racecourses. I have no interest in racing but for a fisherman like me Kildare also boasts an awful lot of coarse angling with rivers and canals aplenty. It is very different to some of the more northerly counties such as Cavan or Leitrim with very few loughs. Monasterevin in particular has a great reputation on both the river and the canal. I have read that there can be good fishing on the Barrow between Monasterevin and Athy but access can be an issue. It’s a different story in and around the town of Athy itself where there is ample parking and easy access to the banks on both sides of the river. My problem was that you require a permit to fish at those towns and the tackle shops are closed on Sundays.
With Athy and Monasteravin out of the question I decided to try further east along the canal at Lowton. I have not read any reports of the fishing around there but I figured roach could be just about anywhere so the stretch at Lowton would be my target. My ‘plan B’ was to try another stretch of the canal at Prosperous if Lowton was a failure. That was not too far away along a mess of back roads so it seemed to be a viable option.
Waking at silly o’clock in the cold darkness, the usual fumbling around the house ensued as I gathered together tackle, food and clothing under the watchful gaze of the cat who seemed bemused by my antics. Nelson (so christened because he only has one eye) is a creature of habit so me being up at this hour required his full attention as there was the possibility of an early breakfast for him. He was of course right in his supposition and I fed him before leaving. I know the road to Kildare well having worked there a few years ago. Not a sinner was on the road as I left town then crossing from Mayo into Roscommon and the eastern sky lightened as I cruised through the townlands of Bellanagare. Longford was busier of course before a jaunt along the motorway to thence to Kinnegad. The little village on Allenwood is close to where I would be fishing and I turned off the main roads there on to the towpath.
I felt under less pressure than normal today, it was winter, the fishing would in all probability be hard and so a blank was entirely possible. I could return here in the summer if today was a washout. Okay so this was quite a long journey but I’d be trying for fish I had often caught using methods I am now very familiar with. I planned to simply relax and enjoy being outdoors.
I had brought along a vast quantity of gear (quell surprise), enough to cope with anything the canal could throw at me. Rods bristled out of the quiver, the seatbox groaned under the weight of all the reels and boxes inside. Many miles had been covered already just to get here so I wanted to make damn sure I gave it my best shot today. My primary target species would be roach as there are vast shoals of them in the canal. Perch should also be active at this time of the year and that is why I had brought along some worms. I felt the big challenge today was going to be finding the fish and then holding them in front of me.
Making my own breadcrumbs for groundbait is something I tried early on in my coarse fishing odyssey but results were pretty poor. The crumb I made was full of lumps and had a soggy texture that clumped together and was hard to mix. So I packed that up as a bad job and just used shop bought crumb. Last week though I took another stab at it and this time results appear to be much better. For a change I dried out some old white bread in the oven before putting it in the blender and this gave a much better consistency with very few lumps in the resulting crumb. When fishing I much prefer a dark crumb, I think the fish can spot something alien when white crumb is used in the natural waters around here. While I accept the finished product is far from perfect it will bulk up my groundbait and at the same time use up bits of old loaf which would otherwise go to waste. I have been looking at using ‘predator plus’ additive when targeting perch after reading about it in Sidesteam Bob’s blog but for now it would just be a dash of vanilla essence in the mix today.
Over the old humpback stone bridge I found a parking spot, shut off the motor and went for a reconnoiter along one of the canals. The Barrow line comes off the Grand Canal here so there are a lot of different spots to pick from. Finding a space between the moored house boats was not easy but there was a small gap on a jetty. Looking into the crystal clear water I could see a shoal of roach as they nonchalantly swam by. That was enough for me and I hastened back to the car to collect all the gear. Of course by the time I got back and had set up the rods the roach had long gone and I was left looking into a completely empty stretch of the canal. I figured if one shoal could swim by here then so could others so I mixed up some ground bait. For me at any rate that means some hemp in the groundbait and I mixed up a big bowl to start with. My crumb, hemp, ground pellets, oats, a few drops of vanilla and some dead maggots were all blended together and I fired 4 balls into the swim.
The light leger rod seemed to be a good choice given how fine I would be fishing today so I set the ten footer up with a simple link leger of two swan shot and a tippet of one pound breaking strain mono to a size 16 hook. A pair of maggots were sent out and I next set up the float rod. A reel of six pound mono was the lightest I had which I felt was far too heavy but with no other options it would have to do. A small waggler shotted at the float with some dust shot at the loop to a one pound tippet and a size 20 hook felt about right. I plumbed up as normal and found around 5 feet of water in front of me. For a few casts I fiddled about with the float trying to refine the depth to get the maggot riding an inch or so above the bottom. This was because the shoal of roach I had seen earlier were moving and not rooting around on the bottom. I wanted to drop a maggot to them at exactly the right level, hence all the fiddling.
Next on the agenda was a cuppa and a sandwich so I ate while fishing, watching the float like a hawk. The day was still cold at around 4 degrees but apart from that it was a lovely morning to be out in the fresh air. Another roach shoal slowly swam past me. The water was so clear I could make out every tiny spot on them as they contemptuously ignored the ground bait on the bottom or my cunningly displayed hook baits. I loose fed a trickle of maggots but the little silvery fish wanted nothing to do with them as the maggots drifted down through the shoal. In just a couple of minutes they mooched off to my left and the swim was deserted again.
A few houseboats were tied up close to me and a gent appeared with his dog so we got chatting. When I heard his east Lancashire accent I asked Keith where he was from. This is always a tricky question for a Burnley supporter like me to ask. A fellow claret will be delighted to make the acquaintance of any Burnley supporter but a Blackburn fan might be well offended by the idea of talking to me. Keith was indeed from Blackburn but was not into the inter-team rivalry. We talked about football and fishing and he asked how I was getting on. Blank so far was the answer and Keith went below deck to have some tea after pointing out some likely spots. A third shoal of roach showed up now, an even bigger shoal than the previous two. Once again I cast baited hooks to the ranks of the roach but once again the humble maggots were ignored and this shoal too swam off in the direction of Dublin. It was interesting to note how all three shoals were heading in the same direction, none ever came back the other way. They were actively travelling, not nosing about on the bottom looking for food, just swimming in a steady, positive way, like they had somewhere important to be that morning.
Many, many casts later I reeled in and inspected the maggot. He looked a bit tired and so I changed him, mounting a nice fresh red maggot by the tail. Flicking the float out I let the faint current which flowed from my right to left take the float tenderly off. I kept the bale arm open and allowed the float to slowly drift away a bit further. There was a tremble on the float, no vertical movement you understand just a faint tremble but I saw it and struck. A fish! Not a big fish but a wee roach and I simply swung him to hand in one swift movement. A quick snap and the hook released from his top lip then off he swam again. It was a lesson to me as I had not seen that fish despite the clarity of the water. He must have been in the thick weeds which blanketed some areas of the silty bottom. I fished on with renewed vigor under an ever brightening sky. One more shoal swam by but they refused everything I threw at them so I decided to move.
I know this sounds like a stupid thing to do, if I can see fish in the swim surely I should stick it out there. My reasoning was that although the fish were sometimes right in front of me they were not stopping and seemed instead to be intent on travelling somewhere. I packed the gear and set off, back across the bridge and off along the main canal which was by now busy with assorted cyclists, boaters, dog walkers and chatty strollers. Finding a new spot I set up again in a swim which was deeper than my previous one. Firstly I cast the light leger as close as I dare to a boat tied up next to me, hoping there might be a perch living under there. Then I cast out the float and it immediately stuck on something solid on the bottom, snapping the slender tippet when I tried to drag it free. A new tippet, still with a size 20 hook attached was soon installed.
A few casts in the float plunged down and I struck into what turned out to be an odd catch for this time of the year – a rudd. I always associate rudd with scorching hot summer days, not bone-chilling January sessions. I popped the little lad back and a few minutes later I repeated the exercise with a slightly bigger rudd. That was it for the day as it turns outs. The rudd must have drifted off and of roach or bream there was no sign. I fished on for a while but with no signs of fish, the bright sunshire and perfectly clear water it felt there was little hope of further action. I could have stayed on for a bit longer but a good general knows when to leave the field of battle and my race was run for the day (that’s enough mixed metaphors for the day too!). The long drive home was uneventful and Helen was surprised to see me home so soon.
In total I spent three hours fishing and nearly seven hours behind the wheel today and Kildare is nowhere near to being the furthest of the 32 counties from home. The driving is proving to be more of a challenge than I had anticipated and of course the huge hike in fuel prices doesn’t help much. My reels and lines need to be sorted out because it was only when I arrived at the venue and decided I had to fish very fine that I remembered the two and four pound lines were on spools for the now dead Harrier reel. Over the course of last season three of my reels broke down and I have done nothing to repair or replace them. That laziness needs to be addressed by me or it will end up costing me fish.
To say the day had been a resounding success would be stretching it a bit but I am more than happy with those three small fish in difficult conditions at a venue I did not know. Three other anglers were also fishing and none of them had so much as a nibble while I was there. Cold, gin clear water and bright overhead conditions made for a challenging day alright. I feel I should have done better when those shoals of roach swam past me and on reflection I should have tried bread on a day like today. I’ll take this onboard and have at least a few slices of bread with me in future. That said, fishing very fine paid off and I landed three fish. The rudd were a complete surprise, I thought they went off and hid in deep water for the winter but it appears that is not always the case. County number nineteen is done and dusted.
Footnote: It is the next morning and I finally get around to emptying the gear from the back of the car. I open up my rucksack and am greeted with the unedifying edifice of numerous worms crawling around inside. Yes, the lid of the bait box had opened up and the worms had made good their escape in the dead of the night. A few minutes picked the little blighter out of every recess in the bag soon had them corralled and then transferred back to the compost heap. Job for today – wash out and clean the rucksack!