As I widen my circle of potential fishing sites within range of my digs, the Royal canal around the midlands town of Mullingar has come under the microscope. In days gone by this part of the canal was famous for big bags of tench as well as some very good roach but the word on the street is the angling as only a shadow of what it used to be these days. As all I want is the occasional short evening session, the need for numerous big fish is of little consequence, so I toddled off to try the ditch one more time on a wet and windy Tuesday evening in late March. wp-1680117370415 My experiences of the Royal to date are that there is a good head of small roach, rudd and perch there. I have landed the odd bream too but never a tench, despite reading that there used to be plenty of tinca in there. It is too early to think about tench fishing anyway and time would be very short with perhaps an hour or two available to me after work for a few casts. A small harbour nestling up close to an old bridge is the only distinguishing feature on the canal at Ballinea. It doesn’t look like much but I have faith in any small deviations from the straight, narrow line of the navigation. A car park beside a childrens playground made a handy spot to leave the car. It is literally only a few steps from the car to the bank so I can’t even claim any form of exercise during this short trial session. Bait, in the form of a pint of mixed red and white maggots, had been bought the previous evening from the tackle shop in Tullamore. To have access to maggots so close by is a rare and deeply appreciated facility for me. I got some hemp too while I was in the shop. I have an inordinate faith in hemp as part of my ground bait when targeting roach. The last couple of coarse fishing trips I have just loose fed maggots in lieu of proper ground bait but results have been poor so I brought the bucket and made up some balls with crumb and krill based carp mix laced with the all important hemp plus a smidgin of maggots. There are no carp that I know of in this part of the canal but working on the fairly solid assumption that nobody has told the roach they are not carp I felt this mix would add value to the evening. My much loved ten foot ABU margin rod got an outing, two swan shot on a link leger being enough weight for the venerable wand. A size 14 hook loaded with maggots felt like a reasonable option so I started with that while a size 16 and single maggot was soon suspended under a waggler on the float rod. Nothing too wild or exciting with either set up I’ll grant you but it was a starting point for me. A strong and gusty southerly wind blew into my face and I was tempted to cross the old stone bridge and fish with the wind behind me. The sky was constantly changing so I decided to tough it out from the North bank and hope the conditions improved. The air, despite the breeze, was warm for the time of year but the water was still bitterly cold. So I settled into the fishing, my cares and woes at work subsiding with each successive cast. One task we started this week is the removal of Covid signs across the site, a welcome move and one hard to imagine two years ago. I also assumed some more extra duties (as if I didn’t have enough for doing), so these short sessions on the bank are hugely important to me as a way of handling the pressures of work. Ground bait in, I chucked the margin rod at my feet but still managed to miss a good bite as I was busy setting up the float rod. Maggots gone, I re-baited then finished off the float rod, plumbed the shallow water and had just made the first cast with the waggler when the leger rod registered another strong bite. This time I was quick enough and I lifted into something strong and not particularly happy. A fair old tussle ensued but out came a lovely rudd of a little less than a pound by my dodgy reckoning. It really was a stunning fish. I missed another bite on the leger but after that it all went eerily quiet. I sat in the rain and watched as the water dripped off the rods but nothing fishy made any moves on my perfectly presented maggots. wp-1680117370364 An hour or so passed with not so much as a nibble so I figured I’d try something slightly different. With rudd around I thought coming up in the water might be a plan, so I adjusted the waggler to keep the bait six inches off the bottom. I swear to you the very first cast after making the adjustment my float vanished and I lifted into a wonderful rudd which actually took a little line off the reel in its bid for freedom. Well over a pound and as silvery as a roach, this was another stunner of a fish. wp-1680117370636 I lost a normal sized roach then it went quiet again. Another  40 minutes slipped away but by now the rain had stopped and it was a pleasant evening by the canal. Various small changes were made but none of them made a blind bit of difference. I have a suspicion that maybe pike were moving into the swim and scaring off the smaller fish but that is just a guess. Finally, the float trembled, then sank so I struck into yet another large rudd, this one being the pick of a very good bunch. wp-1680117370692 The rain could be seen heading my way again and with an empty belly to feed and work early the next morning I decided to call a halt to proceedings for the night. I hadn’t caught very many but by God the ones I did catch were fabulous fish. My photos do not do justice to the colours of the rudd, they were perfect in every way. I know I should be fly fishing for salmon and trout on the windswept western loughs and my heart yearns for a day in a boat casting in front of the wind but for now I am happy to fish for lovely rudd in the canal.
The next day………………………………. I had well over half-a-pint of maggots left in my bait box at the end of the last session so I decided if the weather was in any way suitable I would return to Ballinea the next evening. Well, the rain was persisting down as I left work but undaunted, I retraced my steps back to just outside Mullingar and set up in the same position using the same methods. The leger hardly had time to settle on the bottom when it gave an almighty jerk and I lifted into another huge rudd. The fight out of these fish is incredible – I have never known coarse fish to fight like these do.
It poured with rain as I fished and I was wet through in no time at all. I kept fishing though and was rewarded with a couple of ten ounce roach and a slightly smaller rudd. The same pattern as the previous evening prevailed, three or four bites in quick succession then it all went dead for at least half-an-hour. Were the fish simply constantly on the move? Who can tell. Around 6pm the rain eased off and the sun came out to dry me off a little. I messed around with depth on the float and finally hooked but lost a nice roach and on the very next cast turned up a lovely rudd.
With my trip to Scotland only a few hours away now I packed in early and drove home through huge puddles. All the gear had to come out of the car and then my clothes etc for the weekend put back in. I ate and showered then sat to ponder the past two evenings. It could easily just be a fluke there were some very large rudd in that particular spot and those fish may swim off to somewhere new at any time. It is such a handy venue for me I am going to revisit it again before the summer weeds take a hold. Even then, a good rake would quickly clear a swim and I am nearly convinced there are tench hanging around that wee harbour. I am so used to whipping in 6 inch roach that one pound plus rudd nearly take my breath away. Utterly gorgeous fish, I love their spirited fight and willingness to take a well presented bait. I need to investigate bread flake once the water warms a little in the canal.

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