Meelick

So I found myself in the midlands yesterday and decided to have a quick look at the river Shannon. I did not have much time, just a couple of hours, but as I was within striking distance of the river I thought it was worth a look. I picked up some maggots in Tullamore and with a couple of rods in the car I drove over to Meelick where the huge barrier tames that mighty river. Built in 1840, the weir was designed to maintain a navigable water level between Lough Ree and Lough Derg and a mighty piece of engineering it is too. There is a walkway along the top of the barrier which links east Galway to Offaly but this was badly damaged and subsequently closed after storms in 2009 and then again in 2016. It took them a while, but in 2019 Waterways Ireland spent over €3 million refurbishing the 300 metre long walkway as well as repairs to the weir itself, and a very nice job of it they made too.

During the summer the river bustles with pleasure craft but now in mid-September there was a lot less aquatic traffic, so I found a quiet spot in the shadow of the barrier and set up on a small shingle beach. The river splits into a series of channels below the weir and the fishing around the islands there is a known hot spot for tench, roach and bream. The snag is you require a boat to get to the slack water around the islands and the best of the fishing. Of course I did not have access to a craft so instead I would just lob my feeders into the turbulent water from the shore and hope for the best.

I’ve written on here before how I still find the Shannon very intimidating to fish. Wide, deep and fast flowing in some places, I find it hard to read where the fish might be found. It seems to me the shoals could wander about anywhere without hindrance and have no need to stay in one spot. Roach and bream are the main target species but the river is also home to rudd, perch, pike, tench, eels and even some trout. At Meelick the river is slow and deep above the weir then fast and deep below it. Much literature is available concerning how to fish on the river and I have read most of it, meaning I lack any credible excuse for my lack of confidence.

I feel that I can’t really call myself a coarse fisher in Ireland if I don’t get to grips with the Shannon and my insignificant efforts to date not done the great river justice. Some anglers who fish the river haul out huge bags and I read of impressively large specimens being landed every year. It was time to address my phobias and Meelick was my chosen hill to die on. Here at this rough peg the fast water was rushing past me, created a small pool at my feet. It looked all right to my inexperienced eye and I was hoping that this could be a nice spot for some fish to shelter in.

For a start I made up some stiff groundbait and plopped 4 balls into two different swims, one slightly upstream from me and the other just a tad to the near side of the main flow where us trout fishers would call a ‘seam’ formed. Setting up the big feeder rod first I was soon casting into the lower of the two swims, the 40gm feeder holding the bottom well despite the heavy currents. The lighter, 12 foot feeder was next and I flicked a lighter feeder into the seam where it settled after a bit of rolling about. There are maggots on both rods as the compost heap at home was empty of worms and with only a short session on the cards I could not see the sense in buying expensive worms. The reel on the big rod is filled with ten pound nylon but I only have six pound on the other one, would this be strong enough I pondered?

What with all that has been happening this past couple of weeks it was nice be able to get away from the overwhelming news stories for a short while. Long ago I stopped listening to national broadcasters or reading newspapers but it has been impossible to shield myself from the propaganda of recent days. Now, transfixed by the flows of the river and willing my rods to register a bite, I am relaxing properly.

I had set up the heavy feeder with my usual twizzled boom rig but on the lighter rod I am trying a short plastic boom for a change. I had bought a packet of three for next to nothing some weeks ago and this is the first time I have tried them out. What is it with us anglers, we are always trying something new! If I am fly fishing there are endless variations on fly patterns to be investigated and coarse fishing offers a never ending profusion of tackle for experimentation. I try to keep things as simple as possible but it is hard to resist the urge to trial the latest gizmo. I use very similar booms when sea fishing and there seemed to be no reason why these little plastic tubes would not work just as well. I pre-rigged a couple of them with beads and swivels to try them out today.

Found in a bargain bin at Wildhunter in Athlone, I bought these for the princely sum of €1

Summer is well and truly over here in Ireland, the leaves are starting to fall and the summer birds have taken to the wing. Our weather, while still mild, has turned cooler and the winds whispers of coming rain. Time to light fires of an evening and pull woollen jumpers out of the press under the stairs. Autumn always held a deep attraction for me because it was such a wonderful time to be out in nature. Be it climbing in the Scottish mountains with the stags roaring across the glens, catching big back-end salmon on the east coast rivers or bending sturdy rods into huge green cod a mile or more off the cliffs, autumn was a time of plenty for me as a young man. Those splendors fade a little more as each year passes but the third season of each year still has a power over me, drawing me into contemplation and reflection.

My chosen peg proved to be, how shall I put this, ‘challenging’. The bottom appeared to be composed of rough boulders and was heavily weeded, every cast resulting in a pulling contest as I tried to free my gear from the obstacles. Added to that was the rafts of floating debris, mainly moss but other bits and pieces of reeds and stuff too. On the third or fourth cast I wound in an unholy heap of detritus and only once I was cleaning it did I discover a small roach on the hook! The poor wee thing looked like it had been in the wars with missing scales and ragged fins but it swam off strongly when I released it.

The ‘upstream’ feeder was snagging the bottom on every cast and I lost two sets of gear before deciding to abandon that swim and concentrate on the back eddy in front of me. Both rods were plagued by weed and in the end I dropped to just the heavy feeder as it was just too much hassle trying to fish with two rods. This turned out to be a smart move as with much closer attention to one rod tip I could see small bites much better. Things improved still further when I began to hold the rod and touch leger. Now a small degree of success came my way and a few roach came to hand with many more missed. The next couple of hours saw me land roach after roach but none of them any great size.

I toyed with the idea of trying the float but all the floating mats of weed put me off. Instead, I plugged away with the feeder and whiled away the afternoon under broken clouds and hazy sunshine. The highlight of the day was when a Kingfisher flew up my bank and nearly collided with me as it rounded the tree on my right. The bolt of azure banked in an instant and flew across the river to perch on a branch. Small things like that make the day for me! Rattling bites produced a scattering of small roach but all too soon it was time to go again and the ritual of taking down the rods was followed by a walk through the trees full of berries and songbirds.

While it was nice to catch a few fish but the difficulties of fishing that heavily weeded swim took a lot of the pleasure out of the day. It’s hard to get much enjoyment out of hauling in a couple of pounds of weed every cast! I am glad I fished Meelick but I doubt if I will be rushing back there any time soon. There are lots of maggots left over from today so I will try to get out again this week. The jury is out on those little feeder booms. The Shannon claimed one for herself after it stuck on a rock so my experiment will continue with the two remaining ones.

Another week of fine, settled weather is forecast so the trout and salmon season looks like it will peter out without much further action. I did next to no salmon fishing this season, I had no interest in bothering the few fish which entered our rivers and loughs in such pitifully low numbers. Unless there is a radical change in the weather my game angling is pretty much over for this year but I can sneak out with the coarse gear occasionally over the winter months and I might even try fly fishing for pike. I have considered that branch of the sport before but never quite got around to trying it out. Dragging huge spoons behind a boat is our normal method of pike fishing but perhaps a cunningly cast fly would be more fun.

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