Back at the ditch

Irish canals are not on the whole held in high regard by anglers. Often referred to as ‘that ditch’, the Royal canal is the only option for me these days so I take a slightly more pragmatic view of it. The canal traverses the Irish midlands in long straight lines interspersed with odd turns, presumably to fit in with the local geography. As the ribbon of water departs Mullingar it runs straight and true for a few miles, then there is a sharp bend followed by a harbour ending with a set of lock gates. This is Coolnahey and I strongly suspected there could be some fish in the little stone edged mooring. I finished work as early as possible on Tuesday and drove up there to investigate, knowing full well that the sun would be setting not long after I had arrived at the venerable waterway.

Previous recent visits to the same canal only 8km further along at Ballynacarrigy had produced rudd and roach, so I had high hopes the same species would be present here. The road to the harbour was narrow even by Irish standards but I made it to the neat little car park and tackled up in the surprisingly mild October air. There was some light when I arrived so I set up the float rod as well as the ten foot leger rod. This time around I was in possession of a tub of maggots so confidence was high from the off. A size 12 on the leger loaded with maggots was presented hard on the bottom in the vague hope of a bream while a size 14 on the other rod was presented just off the bottom where rudd or roach might be.

The forecast had predicted rain round 7pm, a level of accuracy I chose to ignore as totally unfeasible. A breeze from the west blew down the canal and it had piled leaves and twigs in an untidy raft against the lock gates to my left. There was groundbait in the car but with only a short session in mind I left it there and simply loose fed a trickle of maggots around me. Nothing much happened for a while bar a brief chat with a walker and a couple of cyclists whizzing past on the towpath. Leaves spiraled down from the trees behind me, adding to the clutter on the surface of the water. There was no signs of life though, no furry critters coming out for the night or birds in the bushes. The light started to fade and the wind picked up a tad.

Casts in different directions seemed to be worth a try as dropping my float over the spot where the maggots were tumbling down through the water had yielded precisely nothing so far. I lobbed the float off to my left, then close to the boat moored to my right but to no avail. Maybe a bit further out? Three rod lengths towards the far bank the red tip finally sank and I lifted into a small roach. The very next cast brought a lovely full-finned rudd and moment later another, smaller rudd. Then it went quiet again.

Twenty minutes elapsed before virtually the same process was repeated, three quick fish followed by an eerie silence. One of those three was a perch for a change. My theory is the shoal was constantly on the move, not settling in any one place. I was picking them up when they swam by me but they kept going on their wanderings. By now the wind was getting quite gusty and you could smell rain in the air. One more small roach came to hand after I’d completely missed two lovely bites but by then I figured it was time to call it a day.

The light was fading fast now and the idea of tackling that oh-so narrow track in the dark lacked any appeal for me. And so I took down the leger rod first, a rod which has produced not so much as a solitary bite in two outings on the canal. I am suspecting the bottom is squidgy mud and my bait just sinks into it. I will try to pop up my hook the next time I fish the Royal. My optimistic net is collapsed next and finally my trusty float rod is reduced to three pieces before I turn my back on Culnahey and head for the parked car. The first rain drop lands on my head just as I load the last of my gear into the car and by the time the engine is running there is a downpour clattering off the windscreen. For once I had timed my exit to a tee! The LED clock on the dashboard showed it was exactly 7pm!

Hardly an evening of scintillating sport I’ll grant you but I am glad I made the effort to try a new place. You just never know and Culnahey might have been heaving with hungry fish. Instead I managed 7 in total but the gorgeous rudd was by far the highlight of my evening. I drove through the night filled with rain, back to my digs and a bit of hot food and a welcome hot shower before an early night. A few weeks ago I had never heard of the company I’m working for, the village where I now spend half my life or even the little harbour at Culnahey. Life has so many twists, doesn’t it!

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