Tuam, brought to the world’s attention many years ago thanks to the Saw Doctors, lies to the south of where I live, a little way down the famed N17. The grass is indeed very green and hemmed in by old stone walls but it was not the pastures of north county Galway I was going to admire today. Between Tuam and Kilmain there lies a small lough called Aclaureen which used to have a good reputation for coarse fish. I thought I’d take a look since it is relatively close to me, so some gear was packed and off down the road I meandered under a fitful February sky which promised rain.
Unless you know where to look it would be very easy to miss the rough parking place at the side of the narrow road. It is almost like the IFI don’t want you to find this lough. It is hard enough for us ‘locals’ so god only knows how visitors find some of these fishing spots. A nice big sign would be a great addition here and save any confusion as to where is the right place to park. Nobody wants to upset the farmers by leaving their car in the wrong place.
An couple of rusty signs on a swing gate led across one field, then another, through one more gate and around some forestry. I tramped along, squelching along by the edge of the muddy field, buffeted by the wind and finally reached the edge of my goal. Smaller than I had imagined, the lake still looked ‘fishy’. Some nice big stands have been built around the perimeter of the roughly ‘U’ shaped water which were very welcome. Selecting the one closest to the path I commenced the well-rehearsed procedure of mixing groundbait and setting up began.
A feeder rod with the old grey Okuma fixed spool and a 20gm open end feeder was going to be my main weapon. I start with a gentle lob thirty yards to my left, clipping up and firing half-a dozen casts with just the feeder to put some groundbait into the swim before introducing a baited the hook. Eight inches of four pound nylon tippet to a size 14 barbless hook, tied on using a loop to loop and three maggots lightly hooked. I’m thinking those quick change swivels that I see other anglers use might be the way to go for me, especially for these chilly winter sessions when manual dexterity is sadly lacking.
Float rod next and I fish fine with 4 pound running line to a 2 pound tippet and a small waggler shotted to fish over depth. I attached the float using an adapter as I was not 100% sure of my choice and so this way any change to a different design of float was the work of a few seconds. Maggots (of course) were threaded on to the little hook and I fished just a couple of rod lengths out, plopping in two balls of groundbait near the orange tip. I’m cautious of over feeding at this time of the year so I only make up a small batch of groundbait consisting of just brown crumb and hemp laced with a few dead maggots.
Settling back, I take in my surroundings. This lake is off the beaten track and has a somewhat lost quality about it. Reeds, which have died back at this time of the year, look like they extend far out into the lake during the summer. There is talk of tench in here but of course it is far too early to fish for them now in February. It certainly looks like a lake that would support them though. This winter fishing has a quality all of its own, much calmer than the sometimes frenetic summer sessions. Cold sharpens my senses I think, you can almost feel the spirit of the earth slumbering on calm days or cowering like some furry creature hiding under the ground when it is stormy. Every bite is an unexpected joy, each fish, hard won and shining like a freshly minted sixpence, is a treasure beyond value. I accept the limitations and indeed revel in them. Planning and dedication are my watchwords during the dead months, minimum of gear and minimalist tactics. Sticking it out despite the weather, thinking beyond my stiff, unfeeling fingers and concentrating on the rod tip for the slightest movement. That glorious sensation of warmth as the cup of hot coffee slides down to revive me. Fieldfares and Redwings searching the wet grass, Bramblings or Long tailed tits in the bushes if I am lucky. The stark beauty of the countryside, in such contrast to summer’s plenty, fills the senses. It is good to be out in the fresh air again.
The previous weeks saw have seen storms charge across the country, rattling windows and blowing rubbish bins over like an errant child. This winter has been an odd one so far, no snow until last Tuesday and long periods of very dry and quite mild weather. Last couple of weeks have been much more normal with rain and wind every day, topping up the rivers and lakes which had been on their bare bones at Christmas. The strong wind which is blowing again today is making for a chilling session. The trees behind me went some way to deflecting the wind but it rose and fell, changed direction a hundred times and was generally a nuisance. Once or twice it died away all together, only to rise again with even more force within minutes.
The bottom of the lake in front of me seemed to be very rough with holes in between shallower spots. I loose fed some maggots and fished diligently for an hour, A second hour came and went but still the float and feeder remained unmolested. I switched to a bigger float so I could cast out further where I found some deep water and fed over that spot. Still nothing. After three hours there without so much as a nibble I figured I had to make a move. Packing everything up I retraced my soggy steps and chucked everything into the car. Where to try now?
To cut a long story short I drove up to the Castlereagh lakes and set up there on the biggest one. By now the wind was howling and from the stand I was set up on it was right in my face. Groundbait balls splashed into the water only a rod length out, I would try close in here as battling the wind to cast any further felt like a waste of effort. The feeder went in first and just as I was setting up the float rod I had a good, solid bite on the feeder – which I missed! OK, at least there was some action so I re-baited the feeder hook and filled up the maggot feeder. Lobbing it out again I picked up the float rod only for the exact same bite/strike/miss palaver to play out on the feeder. I cast out the feeder again then got going with the float rod.
The wind, which had been troublesome so far, now ramped up a few notches and let me have both barrels. I would estimate it was blowing at force 8 or 9, whipping up waves on the surface of this little lake. My float, which I could only cast a few yards out into the teeth of the gale, bounced around alarmingly in the swell making any meaningful bite detection impossible. I loose fed a trickle of maggots into the swim as I fished, grimly hanging on to the float rod while the feeder was wedged down to stop it being blown away. The only positive was the clouds were high and there was no rain.
I tried to concentrate as hard as I could but the wind was making it very difficult to fish. I thought I saw the waggler give an odd shimmy and lifted to find a bit of weight on the end of the line. Sure enough a small roach came to hand, my first fish of the day. It was a very welcome success on what was proving to be a trying day for me. A few casts later and another, small roach, repeated the float shimmy trick. I didn’t photograph that one but I should have, it would turn out to be the best fish of the session. My hands were frozen by now and my feet felt like lumps of ice encased in my wellies.
By angling my cast just slightly I was able to make casts with the float but still only about five yards was my best effort. I know I could have slung the feeder out further but bites would have been terribly hard to register so i stuck to close in. As it would turn out there would be no further nibbles on the feeder anyway. The float though produced three more roach, all of them tiny. Two of them pulled the float under while the other one was hanging on when I wound in, oblivious until them of any fishy intervention.
By now I was getting very cold, the wind which have been in my face all afternoon was turning cooler as the day progressed. With little in the way of action I decided reluctantly to call it a day and pack up. I had hoped to fish on until the evening, making the best of a rare outing but I was numb with the cold. Just standing up in the wind was a struggle for me but I was soon splashing across the sodden fields back to the car. Driving home I listened to the end of the Mayo vs Armagh GAA game on the radio, Mayo edging the encounter with a late surge.
Today’s fishing was badly needed, the war in Ukraine has sapped all of us of positivity. Sitting by a lake, messing with floats and feeders trying tempt a few small fish to bite took my mind off the horrors of the invasion for a short while at least. Putin’s finger hovers over the nuclear button, threatening all of us with annihilation. We are living through dark days indeed.
Lough Aclaureen was a big disappointment. Lots of empty tins of cheap lager, a broken chair and lots of discarded food wrapping lying around suggests it is popular with people who treat fishing in a different way to us true anglers. There is every chance the lake has been heavily poached, the roach and bream destined for sale. This is all too common here in Ireland. Despite the blank there today I think I will try it again later in the year.
Spring is close at hand now and with it the trout and salmon fishing which mean so much to me. The fly boxes are in better shape and I am looking forward to my first forays with the fly rod. Let’s hope we all have a good season before us.