32 – Episode 31, Limerick

Here’s the craic, Limerick (along with Louth) kept slipping down my list of counties to fish for the better part of two years. My research kept coming up short on options for both of these counties so I put them on the long finger for ages. Louth was completed some time ago though, so it was now well past time to get to grips with the Treaty county. The tributaries which flow across the flat lands into the Shannon from the south seemed to be obvious choices but the cream of the brown trout fishing was over for this season. The Maigue, Mulclair, Feale, Morning Star and the rest all were past their peak, gripped by low water and chocking with weeds. How about trying for some coarse fish on the main river itself?

This county is of course dominated by the city of the same name. 100,000 souls abide in the conurbation, some in luxurious manors, others in dismal, drug ridden estates. St. Johns Castle on the Shannon is many peoples picture of the city, a testament to a more violent past when the Normans arrived and overthrew the local chiefs. Beyond the city lie green fields full of cows as this is primarily dairy country. Not being a lover of either cities or cows there has been little to draw me to Limerick in the past but it would be nice to spend a day there for a change. Recently I have passed through it many times as I visited other counties but on this occasion I would be stopping and wafting a fishing rod about.

After a dip in my enthusiasm earlier this year there is a tangible excitement around each of these last two upcoming ’32’ jaunts. They have a very different feel to those I undertook last year when the list ahead of me felt endless and sometimes insurmountable. Like a runner coming off the final bend and seeing the line for the first time I have found that extra spurt of energy to complete the task I set myself two years ago. Only Limerick and Donegal remain unconquered and today I would pit my wits against the fish in the Shannon. My luck has held so far this year with fish landed on the first attempt on each trip but surely that could not continue. Failure would be hard to stomach. I had come damn close on my recent trip to Waterford and I was taking nothing for granted this time around.

Today was going to be a relatively short journey and one which was none too taxing from a driving perspective as there is motorway for a lot of the way to Limerick. The ‘new’ stretch of the M18 from Tuam to Gort makes a huge difference in travel time, bypassing the dreaded bottlenecks of Claregalway, Oranmore and Kilcolgan. I know I moan a lot about the state of Irish roads but the M18 is an excellent piece of infrastructure. My trips in this direction when I went to Cork and Kerry felt like an odyssey, but this time once I had turned off the motorway and passed Tulla I was only a short way from my destination. The old car is running a bit better after it was serviced the other week. Parts were horrendously expensive and, being a Renault, half of the car had to be dismantled to reach the fuel filter, which appeared to have been the same one in it when it left the factory in Douai all those years ago. A leaky air hose was also replaced at the same time and the little diesel engine now runs a lot smoother as a result.

So it would be the Shannon. I had shied away from this mighty waterway for most of the 32 project but I felt my best chance for a fish in the horrid sunshine would be in the deep, cool waters of the lower river instead of casting for trout on a lough. In the end I had plumped for a stretch at O’Brien’s Bridge to the north of the city. There was plenty of information about the north bank of the river at this point, the only problem with that being the north bank is in county Clare! I could see nothing regarding the south bank but working on the assumption the fish cared not a jot for county boundaries I expected the same species were likely to be swimming around on the Limerick side.

Roach, Bream and hybrids of the two were the expected species with maybe the odd small perch hanging around as well. Pike would be in there too and I figured if I could not do anything with maggot or worm I would be forced to spin for jacks.

Fog greeted me when I opened the curtains just after five in the morning so I went back to bed for a while. Creeping slowly along the road virtually blind did not appeal to me so I postponed my departure for a bit longer. The mist would burn off as the sun rose making the journey much more pleasant. And so I whittled away another couple of hours dozing and reading before raising myself, showering and packing the last few bits into the car. The heat was building as I set off, it would be a scorcher today.

The roads were busy but moving after I passed all the roadworks around Castlebar. The only interruption was some cows crossing the road at O’Callaghan’s Mills, sure milking time waits for no man. Across the river I found a quiet spot to park up close to the bridge. The first thing that struck me was the wide reed beds which seemed to go on as far as the eye could see.

Car parked, I lugged my heavy load of gear along a faint path in the oppressive heat. I had more weights and groundbait than normal as well as an extra rod and the whole lot felt like it weighed a ton. At least I didn’t require my thick waterproof coat for a change. Summer had arrived at last and the hot weather is due to last all week. I trudged across a couple of fields, the second one full of horses. A faint path led me to the boundary wall of an old cemetery and from there I could discern a thinner spot in the reeds beside some trees. The only issue would be getting across a barbed wire fence atop a bit of a drop. It took me a few minutes to crawl under the wires and push through tall nettles and brambles but I made it.

The river is a bit complicated here thanks to the ESB, Ireland’s state electricity supplier. In the 1920’s they built a dam across the river here and installed turbines to produce hydro power. I fully appreciate that the new country badly needed this infrastructure as most parts of the state had no access to electricity back then. These days I firmly believe we should dismantle the dams and allow the Shannon to flow freely, but that is an argument for another day. From where I was on the south bank I was looking out at an island and further upstream Purteen Weir held back the flow. With no stands to fish from I would be fishing from the bank into pretty deep water. The flow was placid but if I moved upstream the pace would quicken. It looked to me like a swimfeeder sort of a place.

My spot consisted of maybe ten feet of fairly open area in front of me where the reeds only stretched 5 yards out into the water. I could see more underwater growth through the clear water beyond but after that it was deep and slow moving. Trees to my right and slightly behind me made casting a bit tricky but manageable. I set up the seatbox in the thick mud where animals had been coming down to drink. A quick check on my bait showed my worms were in fine fettle but the maggots that had been in the fridge for a week were now rapidly turning hard and there might not be enough to last the whole session. I could use the casters as loose feed.

The big feeder rod was made for this kind of fishing so it was the first one I set up with ten pound running line to a heavy feeder and a twizzled boom to a six pound bottom about a foot long. Ground bait consisting of brown crumb, oats, corn, hemp and Sensas 3000 made into balls. Some dead maggots also found their way into the mix as well as some of those casters . Normally I suspect I am a bit mean when mixing it but for once I made up a large batch of groundbait, figuring my big challenge might be attracting fish into my chosen swim. Four balls went in for a start and I made six casts with the feeder to lay some groundbait out from that too. Here fishy, fishy, fishy……….

Next I set up the other feeder rod, this time a much lighter rig with six pound line on the reel and a four pound bottom. This one was much shorter at only six inches or so. My plan was to try different rigs and see what, if anything, worked. Maggots which I impaled on a size 12 hook were soon on the bottom of the Shannon. Hot and dirty already what with lugging all the gear to the swim then mixing the groundbait, I felt I had earned a drink of water and a bite to eat under the intense sunshine.

I won’t bore you with the details of the next two hours, suffice to say there was no action. I fed the swim and a new one over to my left. I changed hook bait frequently, dropped down in hook size on the light rod and tried a worm kebab on a hair rig on the heavy rod. All of this was to no avail and not a single nibble came my way. I was by now hot and bothered, running out of ideas and cursing my decision to try this part of the river.

Away over to my right I thought I could see some fish rising. Just some tiny Rudd I mused, but I kept watching and figured they were coming slightly closer to where I was set up. There was a float rod in the quiver, should I try to catch a Rudd? Almost imperceptibly the rises edged ever closer. Right, that’s it! I will make up the float gear.

Taking down the light leger rod I soon had the reel transferred on to the old thirteen footer and I set a loaded crystal waggler at five feet. A number 4 shot at the loop to loop connection was all I needed to allow the single maggot on a size 18 hook float gently down. By now there were some rises in front of me so I cast out. Nothing the first cast but on the second one my float dipped and I lifted into a fish. It was a roach!

The next roach was a tad bigger than the first one and the third was larger again but none of them were massive.

Sure enough, a tiny Rudd turned up next then I was back to roach. Three more had come to hand when the float gave a wobble and I lifted into something a bit better. Winding in I didn’t pay any real attention to the fish, just thinking it might be a pounder this time. As I applied a little pressure to lift the fish up as it got near the weeds it turned and shot off with stunning power, snapping the four pound line like it was sewing thread. I dearly wish I could say I saw the fish but I didn’t, so guessing exactly what it was is pointless.

Tying on a new tippet I moved up to a size 16 hook and went on to double maggot for bait. This very quickly got me a small perch and about 20 minutes later my last roach. Then it went completely dead. I stuck it out for a while longer to see if the roach would come back but it was stifling hot and felt like the river had gone to sleep. I decided to call it a day some four hours after starting to feed the swim.

Retracing my steps to the car was slow in the oppressive heat. If the green fields had been sand I could have been mistaken for John Mills in ‘ice cold in Alex’. Covid has left me with a deep exhaustion which is hard to shake but I finally crossed the last stile. Between the muddy bank, groundbait and sweat I was a right sight (and smell I dare say) but given the difficult conditions I was happy enough with my day’s work. County number thirty one had been completed.

As I drove home I was thinking about what the future holds and how unlikely it was that others will emulate this project by driving all over the country to go fishing. The expense is one thing but the use of cars is going to have to decline in light of our over consumption of fossil fuels. Maybe electric or hydrogen powered cars are the way forward but nothing is certain. I judge myself extremely lucky to have been able to attempt this project before the era of personal transport changes forever. Maybe the next fella who does it will be on a push bike!


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