Now it is over I have taken the time to review and tabulate the results of my 32 counties project. As with all statistics the truth is mangled and twisted but here is how it all ended according to my spreadsheets.
I would like to be able to state that each trip was carefully considered and slotted into the grand plan with military precision. That would be a lie of Boris Johnson proportions though and the reality is I selected the running order on an ad hoc basis. While it sort of worked out in the end I had stupidly left most of the distant counties until last, making for a tiring end to the project. It took over two years for the task to be completed, a timeframe I would have scarcely believed when I started out. Eventually though I did manage to catch a fish from each county all be it Dublin took me two attempts.
Most of my trips took place during the periods May to September over 2020 to 2022. This pretty closely shadows the best angling times here.
I could (should) have caught many more fish. Many times I packed up while the fish were still biting because the long journey home was still ahead of me. The newly stocked trout in Fermanagh and the voracious shoals of skimmers in Monaghan are particularly good examples. Despite this profligacy I still landed 290 fish in total (an average of 9.06 per county), a number I am very happy with and much more than I had anticipated.
In terms of the catch, Brown Trout were my most common fish landed with Skimmers a close second. Perch and Roach of course turned up in good numbers. I surprised my self how often I fished for Rainbow Trout, given there is not an over abundance of fisheries with them. In all I landed 13 species of freshwater fish:
68 x Brown Trout, all caught on the fly
58 x Roach, mainly on the float but a few fell to the feeder
53 x Skimmer, almost all on the feeder and most of them on one day in Monaghan
40 x Rudd, a surprisingly large number I thought
36 x Perch, float fished maggot landed most of these but the worm tempted some too
21 x Rainbow trout, all on the fly
6 x Hybrids, the odd one here and there
2 x Carp, both from the commercial fishery in Wexford
2 x Bream, no slabs though
1 x Salmon, God bless Carrowmore Lake!
1 x Sea trout, also from Carrowmore
1 x Pike, a fluke
1 x Dace, who said these were easy to catch?
There were no monsters among the total catch and indeed, some days saw me land only tiddlers. A single small Dace was all I could muster in Carlow and those tiny Rudd hardly put a bend in my rod in Clare but that, as they say, is fishing. The best fish was a ten pound Salmon, not the biggest fish ever but in these days of diminishing runs any salmon is good one. From the outset I wanted to document the realities of angling here in Ireland and that was bound to include blanks and poor days. I could have done things differently and had much greater success. For example, I could have pre-baited a lough and had a much better chance of a bag of large bream but I wanted to reflect the reality of just turning up on a bank and trying to catch something.
How much did all this charging around Ireland cost me then? I kept a note of all expenditure and in the end it came to a grand total of €1,086, give or take a few bob. Exactly three-quarters of that went of fuel. Between both cars I covered a total of 10,644 kilometers meaning the trips averaged out at roughly 333km each.
Other odd facts include:
Number of rods broken – 1, number of sandwiches consumed – 63, number of times I forgot my net – 2, number of cars towed off to the scrapyard – 1.
OK, so that is the numbers, what did the project feel like? How has it affected this old angler? At the very beginning I was a total novice when it came to coarse fishing and I very reluctantly took up that branch of the sport solely to fulfill the needs of the 32 project. My life long held preconceptions about coarse fishing were very negative, to the point of being dismissive of the whole genre. This ignorance on my part meant I was ill prepared for the steep learning curve I embarked on back in 2020. My ridiculously amateur efforts to start with were rewarded with a lack of success they so richly deserved and I found myself struggling badly for many weeks. Yet the frequent disappointments on the bank spurred me on to learn and become semi-proficient with float and leger. Frustration slowly and painfully morphed into understanding and enjoyment as each failure increased my knowledge a little more. For the purposes of the project I landed a total of 199 coarse fish, a number that experts would consider to be an average catch for a couple of sessions I suppose. But that equates to nearly 70% of all the fish I caught, showing how important coarse angling is in this country.
The coarse fishing has taken me to peaceful places and taught me so much about this type of angling. I fear that I will never be a particularly good coarse angler, and certainly would not consider entering a competition but give me a reed fringed lough with some roach or bream (and ideally a few tench) and I’ll be very happy. Quite a turnaround for someone who thought coarse fishing was crap until now. Not only did I learn how to fish for coarse species but I found I actually thoroughly enjoyed this branch of the sport. In doing so I also learned more about my own shortcomings and began to question many more of my more dogmatic beliefs. I guess I was not as ‘well rounded’ as I had imagined but then none of us are perfect.
While no expert, I am reasonably proficient with the fly rod and thought at the start of the ’32’ I had not much more to do than just roll out my ‘usual’ tactics and all would be well. Trout across the country had other ideas and they made me work very hard on some days. That was a good thing, it has woken me from an angling somnolence and invigorated me once again to learn more about fly fishing. As a fly tyer the project brought me back some patterns I had almost forgotten about and I am plotting a huge change to the stocks of flies in my various boxes over the coming winter. I had become lazy and lacked the desire to push myself at the vice but my head is now bursting with ideas that I have to translate into new dressings.
The enigma which is Northern Ireland has frustrated, terrified and delighted those who have been there for centuries and I am no different. This project has ignited a desire to fish the six counties more often and I want to sample more of the province in future. I had grown apathetic towards the travel across the border but in truth I can be in Enniskillen in just a couple of hours so no excuses can be accepted for not going there more often.
Final days are always bitter-sweet but Donegal was on another level for me. I love the county and discovered that I miss it very much. Driving back from my day on Loughanure along oft traveled roads brought a lump to my throat as memories flooded back of people and places from my past. I am very happy in Mayo but if you told me I had to move to one other county it would unequivocally be Donegal. So I will be making plans to fish up there more often.
To say that I enjoyed every minute of every day would be a falsehood. Some days I got soaked to the skin which is never pleasant. Other days I was bedeviled with lack of bait or some other frustration that had me cursing to the wind. For all those problems though there were so many more magical times in beautiful places.
Enough waffle, to summarise the whole experience – I saw places I had never been, caught fish on methods that were totally new to me and learned a lot about myself. Physically tiring at times, I found the whole experience intellectually and spiritually uplifting and it proved to be an experience I will never forget. Those hours of research on the laptop, fretting over where to buy a pint of maggots and long, lonely miles on every conceivable type of highway are now in the past but I will long remember the highs and lows of my time fishing every one of Ireland’s unique counties. I hope you enjoyed coming along with me.