Awake in the early morning I twitch the curtains open a fraction to check the weather. Bright and calm, well that’s no use! I turn over and close my eyes again. The alarm jolts me out of slumber and I pull on some clothes before opening the curtains. Lo and behold! The sky is a patchwork of fluffy grey clouds, it is going to be a fishing day after all. Sandwiches are made and coffee brewed, double check I have everything I need then set off on the road. I am Leitim bound again.
There is no wind in town today, meaning it will be poor conditions on the lough so instead I will go hunting tench and bream in a small lough. The maggots in the ‘fridge have morphed into casters so I bring them along to add to ground bait but I need to pick up some fresh maggots and maybe a few worms. I have been losing tench on a regular basis lately so I filled my reels with heavier line and made up some new heavy rigs. Feeling much better prepared there is a feeling of confidence in me (never a good sign). The road is quiet as I plough ever east by north through Mayo and Roscommon till I finally cross the Shannon into Leitrim at Carrick.
There is nobody fishing when I arrive there so I set up and have two rods on feeders. A wind is blowing from left to right, ruffling the surface a bit. The stink of slurry spreading fills the air and I can hear the farmer at work with tractor and muck spreader nearby. The clouds have thickened but it does not look like we will have rain today. I have a waterproof coat on, just in case.
In an attempt to attract some fish into the swim I feed heavily, balls catapulted in on a regular basis for 4 hours or so. During that time I have a couple of very half-hearted little bites which come to nothing. Bees buzz around me and gorgeous damselflies in azure and deep ruby red flit among the reeds. I dip my net in a few time to see if the weeds are harbouring any wildlife and find huge waterboatmen, snails and various other grubs in abundance. Although quite small this lough is extremely rich.
I mull over what is (not) happening and decide to persevere with the feeder on one rod but change the other on to the float. An antenna, heavily shotted, a six pound hook link to a size 12 baited with a bunch of maggots was soon rigged. I was really hedging my bets by doing this. There are roach on this lough and I thought maybe the small bites were coming from them. The bunch of maggots would attract bream or tench too. I loose fed some maggots and started fishing the float.
Sure enough, the bites started to come, slowly at first but increasing in frequency over the next hour. The roach were mainly small but a couple of them were decent fish. A solitary perch showed up, the first one I have every caught from this lake.The hook was snagging on weeds frequently as I was fishing over depth so when the tip of the float slowly sank out of view I thought nothing of it and lifted the rod to free the hook. The old rod heaved over into a serious curve and the reel sang, that was no 6 ounce roach! The fight went on for a while, the tench darting for the lily pads and reeds and me applying side strain to stop it in its tracks. I tested the six pound hook length to its limit but everything held and I slipped the net under my prize. A fine fish of between three and four pounds I guessed. A couple of quick photos and the fish was safely released.
Re-baited the rig was sent back out again and after only a few more casts the float did the same slow sinking trick and I lifted into a second tench which could have been the big brother of the first one. The fight was similarly dogged and the feeling of relief when the fish hit the meshes was real. This one had a scar on his right flank but otherwise was in great condition. I find tench such beautiful creatures, the olive colour, that paddle of a tail, those teeny-tiny red eyes all make for an iconic freshwater fish.
I fished on, catching some more roach but in the end it went a bit quiet so I packed up and headed off homewards. It was a 90 minute drive in increasingly heavy traffic but I made it home safely. Sorting through my tackle I made a quite alarming discovery. I use differently coloured pins in my rig wallets to identify different strengths of line. Yellow ones are 6 pound breaking strain and I had tied on a hook length to the float rig which had been held in place by a yellow pin. Alas, I had somehow used the wrong coloured pin when tying the hook lengths and on examination the one I was using this afternoon was in fact four pound breaking strain! I had been piling on the pressure full sure I was connected to the fish with 6 pound. My job for tomorrow is to go through the rig wallets with a fine tooth comb and make sure everything is in order.
At least I have ended that run of losing tench. With no rain forecast for the coming week I may have another tench session soon.
‘And that auld triangle went jingle-jangle All along the banks of the Royal Canal’
Dublin. The Irish sea to the east, the mountains of Wicklow to the south and the rich farmlands of the pale to west and north. The depressingly inevitable scatter of commuter belt towns encircling it. Capital of the republic and home to more than a quarter of the entire population, here was an angling challenge for me! I know parts of the city quite well having worked there for a brief period but most of it is outwith my ken. The sprawling housing estates and business parks are a mystery to me and will always remain so. Dubliners (‘Dubs’ to the rest of the population) are a mixed lot, some of the nicest people I have ever met hail from the fair city but it has a nasty side too but then again I expect you can say the same for every large conurbation. Tourists flock to Dublin and are well catered for by all manner of paddywhackery but the attractions and blandishments of the city centre were not for me. I had fish on my mind.
It was not too easy finding a spot to try and catch a fish in Dublin. The county boundaries basically just encompass the city itself with very little rural ground. I thought long and hard about sea fishing from the piers at the harbour of Dun Laorghaire, the transient home of the ferries to England, as I have read they get lots of mackerel there in the summer. The thing is, mackerel are either there in numbers or they are not, so there was a high risk of driving all the way to south county Dublin only to find there were no fish present. I needed somewhere a little less risky. That was when I started to think about the canals. Both the Royal and the Grand canals flow through the city and they both have reasonable stocks of coarse fish. Just knowing perch, bream and roach were definitely present gave me a bit of confidence. The internet is full of video footage of guys catching pike in the very heart of the city with traffic a few feet away and commuters watching as they haul out an essox. I am too private for that level of publicity so I settled on a stretch of the royal canal far from the madding crowd and right on the county border.
Better stretches of the royal canal are to be found further west but the whole point was to catch a fish in Dublin county so I nailed my colours to the mast and made my plans for this section of the Royal Canal to the east of Leixlip. The stretch between Collins and Cope bridges has seen some decent fishing over the last few years so I figured it was worth a try. Normally I bring everything possible with me when coarse fishing but this time it would be different. I needed to be able to roam the canal to find feeding fish and that meant travelling light. I’d bring the old 13 foot float rod and a reel full of 4 pound line then the rest of my tackle and bait would have to fit in the pockets of my waistcoat or the small rucksack on my back. The plan was to float fish but with some feeders and weights in the bag I could swap to bottom fishing if necessary. In the car I would have a spinning rod in case I failed to catch any bream or roach. I figured that small spinners might tempt a jack pike if all else failed. I must confess all this sounded decidedly sketchy and fairly major doubts cruised the backwaters of my mind. Lacking a better plan I decided to go with this one.
The Royal Canal stretches from the centre of Dublin to the Camlin River at Cloondara, just before it meets the Shannon near Tarmonbarry in county Longford. There is also a connecting stretch which runs all the way to Longford town but this has not been repaired (yet). Begun in the dying years of the 18th century, it took many decades to complete and like so many other canals was soon overtaken by the new-fangled railways. It fell into disuse and was only resurrected again in 2010. Now it is used for recreation instead of commerce and there are plans for the tow path to form part of the ambitious cycleway which links Moscow to Galway. I was not planning anything remotely as taxing!
Although I had read that the canal basically fished all year round I wanted to go there early in the season before the weeds became too overgrown. Once the water starts to warm up in late April and May the canals here in Ireland rapidly fill with all manner of vegetation. Good for the fish as this provides habitat for their food but a right royal pain in the derriere for us anglers. Lockdown and then family commitments knocked those plans on the head and instead it would be the tail end of June before I made the trip east. My weed rake was most definitely going to be required regardless of the time of year so it was checked and carefully packed in the small rucksack/stool I was taking along.
Work has taken me to the fair city many, many times so the journey there would hold few surprises. Setting off very early on a Sunday morning was deliberate for a couple of reasons. During the week traffic at peak times can be horrendous and I wanted to avoid the worst of the jams so planned to be there before it peaked. Parking near where I wanted to fish was going to be very limited so I wanted to find a safe spot before anyone else. A supplementary reason was the afore mentioned tench in the canal and early mornings are traditionally the prime time for those fish.
I felt uncommonly excited about the upcoming trip to Dublin. This new found enthusiasm for a day on the water has been pent up due to the covid. Looking back, for a number of years I have been very jaded and at times even not enjoyed my fishing. I suspect I had fallen victim to a self-inflicted malaise. We all fish for different reasons, some want to win competitions, others to test their skill. For some it is the social interaction with fellow anglers and others it is catching the biggest/most fish. I most enjoy the mental conundrums faced when starting out a day, solving the problems which end in a bite/rise/take. Where are the fish, what are they eating, how can I attract them? These and a thousand other challenges are what I love about fishing and it was a dereliction of my mental approach to the questions which sucked the enjoyment out of my angling. It had all become very similar and to a degree predictable for me. The small amount of fishing I was able to do during 2020 changed all of that mainly due to the coarse fishing I began to learn about. Turning up at a new venue, using gear I was unfamiliar with and trying to catch species I’d not captured previously proved to be invigorating and mentally challenging. This also had an unexpected side benefit in that I appreciated my game fishing so much more, possibly because my fishing consciousness had been reawakened. Now the idea of a day on the canal trying to catch a roach or skimmer has me genuinely excited.
So off down the long road I went. Leaving the motorway just as it enters the city I found my way to a spot near the canal and parked up. I had been ruthless when packing the rucksack the night before and only the bare essentials had made the final cut. For bait I had some worms and maggots and there was some sweetcorn hiding in the bottom of the rucksack too. My plan was simple, if necessary I would clear a swim with the rake and then fish single maggot below a small waggler. Loose feed a few maggots to try and attract and then hold some fish. If that didn’t work then move along and try another swim. Repeat this until I found some fish. Other than a gentle bend there were no obvious features on this part of the canal to attract fish, they could be anywhere.
Stringing up the old float rod with the Daiwa reel and 4 pound line I took in my surroundings. The railway track on the other side of the canal follows it closely for many miles. The rumble of traffic on the motorways could still be heard too. While not exactly urban fishing it was still much more noisy than I am used to. No harm, the whole point of the ’32’ project was to sample as many different angling experiences as possible while catching fish in each county. Canal fishing in an urban environment was every bit as valid as fly fishing for trout in the wilds of Connemara.
I found a likely looking swim and gave it a rake to clear some of the weeds and stir up the bottom a bit. Plumbing the depth I found only 3 feet of water in the middle. A small crystal waggler was my first choice. Setting the float so the hook would be on the bottom I tied on a two pound hook length with a size 20 attached. Bait would be a single red maggot and I tossed in a few others as loose feed. I was fishing at last! The reason for fishing so light was the clarity of the water, it really was gin clear. I figured my usual 3/4 maggots on a size 12 was going to be too much.
Sunday morning joggers and dog walkers were out in numbers and among them that most heinous of the great unwashed – the passer-by who thinks they know all about fishing. What starts off as a casual ‘caught anything yet?’ quickly degenerates into a full blown instructional lecture, based on this person’s encyclopedic angling knowledge gleaned from that one time they went fishing on holiday.
I fished hard, raking out swims, baiting them up, fixing the float in an icy glaze for hours. I tried different spots, went down to one pound hook length, used chopped worm then tried worm and maggot. Floats were changed for ever lighter ones, shotting patterns adjusted to change the rate of fall and I loose fed maggots into swims all day. All of this failed to produce even a nibble. The hot sun beat down on me as the insects buzzed around in the heat. Nothing at all stirred though until a tiny perch fell for a single red maggot. Only slightly longer than my thumb, this fish was barely out of the cradle. I am sure it is the smallest perch I have every caught in my long angling career. That was it, that was the total for a whole day fishing the Royal Canal in Dublin. At 5pm I packed up and headed for the car and the long road back to Mayo. I was gutted.
I drove home crest fallen, not even I could count the tiny perch as being an acceptable fish. I would have to try again at a later date. I knew when I started this odyssey I was bound to blank sometimes but failing so spectacularly in Dublin was hard to swallow. The long road west seemed to take an age to negotiate and all the while I was asking myself what I could have done differently. I saw no signs of a good fish all day, bar a few minnows in the margins the place looked dead. No tiny bubbles rising to indicate fish grubbing about on the bottom or dark shapes drifting slowly through the weeds. I had fished fine all day and I really didn’t think I was scaring fish off. I need to learn lessons on days like this but I don’t know where to start with this one. The fact I saw no other anglers is perhaps an indication that the fishing was poor.
It was very much a case of back to the drawing board for me. I spent a significant amount of time searching for another venue. I didn’t fancy returning to the Royal canal after the abject failure in June so I had to find somewhere else, but where?
Part two, the end of July 2021
‘In Dublin’s fair city, where the girls are so pretty……………….’
The wounds of my last foray to the capital have healed so it is time to return to the capital. In the end I decided to try the other canal in the city, the Grand Canal. It too has stocks of pike, perch and roach, is of a similar depth and construction as the Royal but links Dublin harbour with the Shannon in Offaly via a more southerly route. My idea was to fish it with jigs, looking for perch and jacks around the lock gates where there should be less weeds. I’d bring some maggots with me too so I had options if the jigs failed to produce. This would be ‘urban’ fishing, a backpack with some small bits and a rod, not much else. The section of the canal I was targeting passes through a landscape of industrial and commercial sites with some housing mixed in. Busy roads and even a motorway crossed the waterway and the towpath is heavily used by everyone from friendly dog walkers to drug addicts and criminals. It would be far removed from my usual gentle days of solitude in a small boat on a western lough!
I don’t own any specific jigging or drop shotting rods or reels so I would just make do with an old spinning rod and a small fixed spool filled with light fluorocarbon line. I was not anticipating hooking anything large so I did not bother with a net. The whole idea was that I could quickly move between different spots until I found a few fish. The majority of the canal would be shallow and weedy but I hoped to find deeper, clearer water at the locks which were strung out along my chosen stretch.
I eschewed another early start, to beat the rush hour traffic on a weekday I would need to be on the road at 3am so instead I opted for a more leisurely mid-morning start and departed Castlebar at 9 o’clock on a slightly misty summers day. The M50 was not too busy when I got there and I turned off at the Red Cow then found a parking spot near to the canal. Would this be another disaster or could I wangle out a few decent fish today? I admit to being nervous about leaving the car parked in such a dodgy area but I figured nobody would want to steal such an old wreck and made sure not to leave anything of any value inside. From my research I figured I could reach a total of six locks if I pushed it and my hope was they would be less weedy than the open stretches of canal.
My chosen rod for the day was a light 7 foot ABU spinning rod of great vintage. I had bought it in Aberdeen in the 1970’s but to be honest it had hardly been used since then. The brown fibreglass is still in great condition. Rated for 2 – 10 grams it should be OK for what I demanded of it. I matched it with my elderly Daiwa Harrier fixed spool reel, a cheap and cheerful set up which should see me through the day. In my small rucksack I had stowed some soft baits, a few small spinners and plugs, a plastic box of hooks/weights/swivels/floats and a couple of small bait boxes containing the live bait. No net, weed rake or other essentials. I set off for the closest lock, feeling full of trepidation. With one failure already under my belt I was under pressure to do much better this time. Beyond watching some very entertaining videos on dropshotting I know nothing about this method, adding considerably to the challenge. The guys on YouTube made all look so easy, just jiggle the wee lure up and down and perch or pike magically appear on the hook. I treated the videos with a healthy dose of Scottish skepticism.
I started off with a basic drop shot set up of a 3.5 gram weight and one of those swivel/hook thingys which I stuck a small plastic grub on (you can tell already that I am out of my depth here). The maggots in my bucket were the back up but I needed to feel I was ‘doing something’ this time rather than waiting for a float to dip. I manfully strode up to the nearest lock, a steely glint in my eye. ‘Make my day suckers’ I muttered in my best Clint Eastwood voice as I dropped the grub into the dirty water by the lock gate. I jiggled it up and just like I had seen in the videos. Nothing. I must have the wrong colour – I changed to a yellowish one and tried again. Nope, no good. I moved the weight a bit closer to the lure so it would fish closer to the bottom. Nothing. I tried casting and then bumping the weight along the bottom. That didn’t work either. I tried both sides of the lock gates but with a similar lack of success.
‘Yer’s not goin’ ta catch any bleedin’ fish there mister’. The broad Dublin accent from a child’s mouth is always a shock to me and here were a pair of ankle-biters behind me. ‘Ders fishes up der’ said the other one pointing to nowhere in particular. ‘We seen a fella fishin’ der before’. I thanked them for their advice and walked off up the path. An hour had gone and I was still to see a fish let alone hook one. The next lock was further away than I thought but I sauntered up there under the grey clouds, trying to figure out what to try next. I settled on sticking with the drop shot for now.
The next set of locks were much more promising. A deep, clear pool below the gates was fishable but try as hard as I might I could see no fish swimming in it. The flow from over the top of the gates created a fast flow immediately below and it screamed ‘perch’ to me. I checked the terminal tackle was in order and lowered it into the water. With the clarity of the water I could watch the jig as it descended into the depths and didn’t a pair of good sized perch rush out of nowhere and try to grab the plastic grub. They missed it and I wound in to try to repeat the exercise. A solitary perch came to investigate this time but he too declined to bite. To cut a long story short I drop-shotted this spot for the next 20 minutes and most drops I had a follow but not one fish actually swallowed the lure. Time for a re-think.
I only had the spinning rod with me but it would have to do. I rigged a small crystal waggler float, plumbed up and added a 2.5 pound tail with a size 16 hook. A pair of red maggots where sent wriggling into the water. After only the second or third drop (it was not even a cast) the float bobbed and I struck into a roach which promptly fell off the hook as I was swinging it in. Damn! I couldn’t count that one. A few minutes later the float disappeared and I lifted into a modestly proportioned perch which made it safely to my sweaty paw.
I fished on and landed one more perch and a roach. The fast current and back eddy was making bite detection tricky. The float slowly sank and I lifted to free the hook from the weeds only to see a huge perch surface with my hook in his mouth. He gave a slow roll and was gone. He hadn’t been far of a couple of pounds in weight that lad! I could see what was happening here, the currents were strong and very variable so I was losing contact with the hook as it was washed in different directions deep below (there was about 10-12 feet of water). I took off the crystal float and in its place went a hefty pellet waggler, rated for 3 grams. I then put my bulk shot just above the hook and changed up to a size 12 holding a bunch of maggots. Some loose feed then I dropped in the new set up. It took a while but eventually the float dipped and I lifted into a nice perch. It wasn’t the big lad I had lost but it was still an OK fish. I caught another roach, no great size but very pretty. For some reason I decided to take another look at the pool below the run I was fishing. Laying the rod down I watched intently for a while, my eyes slowly adjusting to the water. Sure enough, I could make out a dark shape on the bottom, then another and many more. There were perch in there and what was probably roach too. I slung the big blue float out and the maggots settled on the bottom. Minutes passed but then the float trembled and I struck into a nice perch.
Some kids, under the supervision of 3 adults stopped at the lock above me. I paid then no heed as I was considering another change of tackle to fish lighter in the gin-clear pool. There was the usual noise you associate with a gang of kids then a resounding splash as one of them jumped in to the water above the lock. The others soon followed and they were having great fun. I was concentrating very hard on my float when out of the blue a wet-suited child hurled herself directly into the swim, not 2 yards from my float! Letting out a howl of delight as she surfaced, a broad grin on her face. She next extolled the virtues of the water and encouraged her pals to join her. But now every self-respecting fish was in the next parish so I wound in. One of the accompanying adults came over to me and said the kids would not be there long and they would be out of the water in a hour or so. I thought about it for a while but decided to head back to the car. On the way I dropped the float into the dark water under a bridge and in three casts pulled out a small roach and two small perch.
Back at the car I took down the rod and slung all the gear in the back. Some random lad tried to cadge a cigarette from me and wouldn’t take no for an answer. I slammed the car door shut and locked them before speeding off, leaving him shouting something unprintable towards me.
So, what to make of all that? I had landed 6 perch and 3 roach so I was reasonably happy with that. Only that I had found the fish below the lock I fear I would have returned to Mayo with another blank. It was very irritating that the kids showed up just as I had found a shoal of fish but that is life and we just need to move on when stuff like that happens. The little spinning rod was a poor tool for fishing the float but the alternative of dragging more than one rod with me today was just not an option for me. Drop-shotting still needs further investigation. It certainly got a response from the perch but they would not actually take the plastic. I will do some more research and maybe even invest in some of those dinky little ‘creature’ baits.
Dublin has been very firmly crossed off my ‘to do’ list. Two trips across the full width of Ireland it had taken but I had done what I had set out to achieve. It looked to me as if the stretch I was fishing used to be good. There were concrete pegs all along the towpath but they were all badly overgrown and had not been used for years. I’ll be honest, I won’t be in a rush to fish there again but it was an experience and I learned a bit more about fishing.
The hot sun continues to beat down on Ireland so all game angling is on hold for now. With a bit of time on my hands today I decided to head for Acre’s Lake near Drumshanbo in county Leitrim to fish the deep water there in the hope of catching a few bream. Acre’s used to have a couple of fishing stands but the water around them was shallow and the lake gets very weedy in the summer. A large floating pontoon was built for the boats who cruise the Shannon and even a boardwalk has been constructed. Fishing is allowed from both of these structures but today I was going to try my luck from the pontoon.
As usual, I stopped of in Carrick-on-Shannon to pick up some bait from Carrick Angling Centre. The lads are always helpful and it is a great place for good tackle and advice. If you are in the area pop in and see them.
It is only a few kilometers from Carrick to Drumshanbo where I turned off the road. The pontoon has a number of berths with a long ‘T’ section on the end for temporary tie ups. It’s high summer and the Shannon is busy so there was bound to be a high volume of traffic today.
There is a car park at the pontoon which was packed with cars when I arrived and I was lucky to find a space. It was but a short walk out to the end with all my gear. I decided to set up on the third ‘finger’ of the ‘T’, roughly in line with a drop off to about 16 feet of water. Every berth was full of cruisers of all shapes and sizes. I began by ground baiting, balls were hurled into the depths and I would keep this up for the whole session in an attempt to lure a few bream into the swim and hold them there. I am not a good bream angler. I live far from the venues I fish so pre-baiting is not an option for me. I have a lot to learn about ground baiting and in particular keeping a shoal in the swim. I catch bream in ones and twos then they seem to drift off again. I suspect this is because I don’t feed enough but to be honest I am not sure. With that depth of water under the pontoon I was hoping the bream would still be relatively comfortable despite the all pervading heat. I could have tried a sliding float but instead I opted for the easier option of using swimfeeders.
Acre’s holds other species too. Roach, tench, rudd, perch and pike also live there meaning I could potentially turn up pretty much anything. Given the awful weather for angling I would be happy to settle for just about any fish that happen along. I had read that the bream can get up to 4 or 5 pounds in weight and the tench can be impressively large too so I opted for 4 pound hook links to begin with. Although there was barely sufficient space I managed to fish with two rods, a swim feeder on each one.
Almost from the first cast I was getting tappy little bites. I missed all of them from the first half hour, the hook coming back still with the maggots on it. I took this to mean it was tiddlers trying to eat the bait but unable to get a size 10 hook in their mouths. I toyed with dropping hook size but decide to persevere with the rigs as they were. Eventually I struck into a small fish and out came a skimmer of a few ounces. The bites continued unabated for a couple of hours with me missing most of them and winding in skimmers when I did connect.
It all went quiet around noon. The heat was crippling and only for a faint cooling breeze I would have packed up. I decided to swap the cage feeder for a maggot feeder on the leger rod to see if this would help but to be honest I saw little difference. Tiny rudd were everywhere but I didn’t see any good ones so was not tempted to try a free-lined maggot. It would be nearly two o’clock before a shoal of roach moved into the swim and I landed three of them and lost a few more besides.
The baby bream returned just before I packed up and I landed a few more of them, the best one might have reached a pound in weight. By 4pm I was well cooked and had had enough so I tidied up and departed. Counting up as I drove home, I had landed 12 skimmers and 3 roach. Most anglers would consider this a very poor return but given the appalling conditions I was not too displeased. Time constrains meant I could only fish during the hottest part of the day and my expectations were low to start with. The bigger fish will have sought deeper, cooler water and only the little fellas were hanging around. I am sure a change in hook size would have resulted me converting a higher proportion of the bites into fish in the hand but it was just too damn hot to be bothered fiddling around. I was happy just to take in the scenery and reel in the occasional tiddler today.
So what do I make of Acre’s Lake? It has potential but fishing it at this time of the year is difficult as the lake is so busy with boat traffic. I might try it again in the autumn when there are much less tourists on the go. The pontoon is certainly very handy for putting you right over deep water without the need for a long cast.
Good god, what was I going to do about Laois? As far back as the end of last year I had been looking for a suitable venue there. No major loughs, no coastline, little in the way of rivers either. No canals for me to gently float some maggot down. No hill loughs or rushing streams. Maybe there was a small tench lake or a stream with a few roach? Or perhaps a farm pond with a host of small rudd in it? I kept pumping ‘Laois, fishing’ and similar search terms into Google but I was not finding much in the way of quality angling. So Laois was very firmly put ‘on the long finger’. I planned other angling escapades but forgot about the O’Moore county for now.
Fast forward to today, July 2021. This had been going on for too long and I had to make some real effort to find a spot to fish down there. In the intervening period I had made occasional desultory efforts to research Laois but they had come to nought. Now I sat down and spent some time refining the search and studying maps. Coffee was drunk, the cats did their best to distract me but I stuck to my task for once. I had been sure it would be some coarse fishing that I’d find and so it proved.
Before we get into the fishing let’s take a look at Laois. Firstly, for those of you not from Ireland the name must present some problems. Spelt ‘Laois’ it is pronounced ‘Leash’ There are some complications to that but we will skip over the finer points of Gaelic pronunciation and just settle for ‘Leash’. Formally know as ‘poor and proud’, it is now a prosperous county, it lies to the west and south of Dublin and shares a border with most of the midland counties. Home to a lot of beef and dairy farms, there are a scattering of towns and villages and the main road from Dublin to Cork and Limerick bisects the county. I have traveled across it many times but until today I’ve never stopped the car, switched off the engine and pulled on the handbrake.
A typical summer’s morning, warm air filled with the scent of blossoms in the garden as I slurp coffee to waken me up. The sparrows and starlings are making an unholy racket in the trees, not helped by the cats who are on the prowl. I am looking forward to the day ahead, the change of scene and prospect of fishing somewhere new is always appealing to me. The recent hot, bright weather is continuing and for this reason I will be targeting Rudd today with the outside chance of a tench.
Laois is easy to get too from Mayo, there is a good road that goes all the way there. The easiest way there for me was to go to Athlone then to Abbyeliex via Tullamore and Portlaoise. I left it late to set off, planning a leisurely drive there, a peaceful days fishing and maybe stay on until the evening if the fishing was slow through the day to try and tempt a tench as darkness fell. All in all this would mean a very long day for me.
I had a few maggots left over from my last outing and I took some frozen dead casters out of the freezer to add to my ground bait. Stopping off along the way I picked up a loaf of bread in a Centra shop and some fresh maggots at Mountrath Tackle Shop (nice little shop with lots in it and great advice from Fran). So where was I heading?
I had decided to try a small lake called Gill’s Pond in the small village of Ballinakill. According to my research it held rudd, roach, bream and a few tench plus some bonus carp. Surely even I could catch something there? I called one of the club members when I arrived and Connor kindly gave me some good information about the lake and what to try. Setting up on peg 1, I commenced operations at around 2pm under a cloudless blue sky and 27 degree temperature. OK, so conditions were rubbish but I was hoping the fish might come on the take as the sun dropped below the horizon. I had carefully read the rules which are posted on the door of the hut. Unfortunately, you are only allowed to use one rod so my idea of setting up the leger rod for bottom species while I float fished for rudd went out the window immediately. Reduced to only the one rod I opted for my old Shakespeare which is a bit of an all-rounder. I was no sooner standing at the peg when a family of swans appeared and spent the next 20 minutes in the swim. Eventually they headed off again but this visitation was repeated numerous times over the course of the session, each time requiring me to stop fishing and the swim to be dirty with weeds the birds had pulled up.
I started off with a helicopter rig fished as close as I could to the lily pads on my right but other than a couple of half-hearted taps the maggots were ignored. It was blistering hot and I decided to try for rudd. The swans were always close by and I reckoned that trying bread would simply attract the birds back into the swim. I rigged up a light float to fish on the drop and baited the size 18 hook with a single maggot. The very first cast saw the float dip and I wound in a small rudd. A few casts later a roach accepted the maggot. I missed lots of bites but I was catching pretty steadily. I would get maybe 20 minutes of fishing before the dreaded swans came back into the swim and I had to halt for a while. I loose fed maggots and kept a steady stream of balls of groundbait going into the very edge of the lily pads in the hope of getting some tench to start feeding.
A skimmer put in an appearance and then it was back to the rudd again. By 6pm I decided to go back to the feeder so setting up a new rig I threaded a piece of artificial corn on to a hair rig to pop up the bait from the bottom slightly. Tappy little bites bothered me for a while (rudd) but I did manage a good bream on this set up plus some other small stuff. In the end I decided the noise of the swimfeeder hitting the water was too invasive so I went back to the float, this time a waggler shotted over depth and a size 10 hook baited with a bunch of maggots. Another skimmer, some roach and a solitary perch fell for this tactic. I lift bite saw me strike into a small tench but this lad managed to throw the hook. What is it about me and tench just now? I can’t seem to land one for love nor money.
Fishing ends at 9pm on Gills lake so I packed up just as the place seemed to be coming alive. Lots of bubbles in the margins suggested the tench were finally coming on the feed but I had to leave. I was getting tired by then anyway and I had a three hour drive home ahead of me. The final tally was 15 rudd (mostly small but there was one good one), 4 roach, two skimmers, one decent bream and one small perch. 23 fish on a day when nobody in their right senses would be out with a fishing rod was an acceptable return I think.
At 12.20am I pulled into the driveway at home. A quick brew then off the bed, contemplating the day. Gill’s pond is well run and a very pretty place to fish. It has a big head of coarse fish in it and it is a pity it is so far away from me as I would definitely fish there again if it was closer. Given the terrible conditions of extreme heat and brilliant sunshine I was more than happy with my catch for the day and my choice of a pond stuffed with rudd had been fully vindicated. The swans had been a royal pain in the posterior all day but it was their home so I just had to suck it up. When all is said and done that is one more county successfully fished in my quest to do all 32.
By hot weather I mean hot by Irish standards. Anything above 20 degrees is classed as ‘hot’ here in Ireland which is pretty laughable in many parts of the world. We usually get a few days of hot, dry weather at some point during the summer and we are basking in the mid-twenties right now. So what effect does that have on our fishing?
The answer is pretty terrible I am afraid. Trout simply hide in the shade all day, venturing out in the relative cool of the evening to feed. Dedicated trout men will fish the last vestiges of light and into the total darkness. A fall of spinners will bring the fish on and sport can be fast and furious for a short spell. Later on a sedge can fool one or two trout. Sea trout in the rivers can be caught of course during the hours of darkness but that branch of the sport is not very popular here in the west coast.
Salmon anglers will flog away during high temperatures but to be honest I think they should leave the fish alone. Salmon become very stressed in warm water and catching them adds to this and can easily kill them no matter how carefully they are handled. If you are salmon fishing and catch one do not lift the fish out of the water, unhook it in the net and release it as quickly as possible. Grilse will continue to run even in very low water conditions and the fishing can be quite good but very hot weather does tend to put them off.
That beautiful little fish, the rudd, loves hot, calm conditions and they are plentiful here in the midland lakes and slow rivers. Float fishing for them is a lovely way to while away a sunny afternoon. Bread or sweetcorn are the favourite baits but I still like to use a single maggot. Rudd in some lakes grow to a good size but catching the bigger lads is tricky. Other coarse fish can be caught if you fish ‘early and late’ but as soon as the sun is up the fish tend to go off. Night fishing for tench can be good mind you.
For me, hot weather means a spot of sea fishing. With any luck there may be a few mackerel around to give some sport. General bottom fishing will turn up rays and dogfish while deep water rocky marks should produce pollock to either bait or lures. The fishing might not be brilliant but you may catch something. Sea angling into the darkness or during the night will increase your chances of success greatly at any time but during a heatwave this is even more true.
I like the Ballinamore canal. It is stuffed with fish for one thing and due to the wrecked tourist season it is pretty quiet meaning I can fish with relatively little disturbance from passing boats. Today I tried a new spot for me at lock 13 about half way between Leitrim Village and Keshcarrigan. Thursdays are a good day for me to head off to the canal as I can drop Helen at her work and mosey on up to the canal via Carrick-on-Shannon where I can buy some bait.
I routinely refer to this canal as the ‘Ballinamore’ but it has various names. Probably the right one is ‘the Ballinamore, Ballyconnel canal. Part of it could rightly be referred to as the Woodford river as this river was straightened and canalised to form part of the waterway. In common with most Irish canals, this one was an economic disaster, fell into ruin and has been repaired and is now used for pleasure craft. It links the Erne catchment in the north to the Shannon. What interests us anglers is the good stocks of roach, bream, hybrids, perch and pike. Some rudd and tench are also present
So why Lock 13? It is reasonably close for me and it looks like a spot where the roach will shoal up. As I explore the different parts of the canal I am slowly building up a picture of where to fish and where to avoid so this was going to be another one of those sessions where I was planning on doing more learning than fishing. My usual canal set up of the light leger rod for fishing in the margins and a float rod for the main channel were in the back of the car.
A car park beside the locks was a huge benefit for me and I parked up and unloaded all the gear. It’s mid-summer now and the air is warm. We have had some rain recently so the salmon and sea trout are running but I want to avoid the crowds and just do some gentle canal fishing instead. I find the lock and park up. Only a few people around and a boat is passing through the lock as I tackle up. Immediately below the lock there is a flat concrete structure where I can fish from with ease. The canal is very dirty due to recent rain.
A few balls of groundbait plop into the swim and I start to fish. Another boat uses the lock and operations are suspended while the brown water rushes past, churning up twigs and rubbish from the bottom. My ground bait has been washed away so I feed the swim again and re-start. This would be the nature of the session as there is an unexpectedly high volume of boat traffic today.
The leger rod gives a nod and I wind in a tiny perch. Next the float disappears slowly and another small perch wriggles on the end. I have to wrestle a small branch out on the float rod after my hook catches on it in the murky water. I loose feed a few maggots and am soon rewarded with the first of a string of roach. None of them are any great size but I do love catching these pretty fish.
The hours pass and a pattern can be observed. Every time the lock gates are opened and the swim is disturbed it takes about 20 minutes for the fish to come back on the feed. I move further downstream to see if this is any better but apart from one good roach which falls off at the net I hook nothing there. I pack up and head home in time for a nice dinner.
I guess this is a fairly typical angling day on the canal, a few smallish fish on light tackle amid calming surroundings. On a day like today with no wind to speak of the loughs would be dreadfully hard work where as a short session on the canal is very relaxing. What is interesting is my growing confidence as I ever-so-slowly amass snippets of knowledge with every trip here. It is easy to dismiss a few tiddlers as a waste of time but I see it very differently. Angling means different things to different people. The pressure of the competitions attracts some, trying to catch their PB is the goal for others. I happen to fall into the category of those anglers who use angling as an escape from everyday life and just enjoy being out by the water messing about and hopefully catching a few fish but not becoming overly stressed if I blank. Lock 13 provided me with a lovely few hours of solitary relaxation.
Leitrim is fast becoming my ‘go to’ place for coarse fishing. The range of venues is breath-taking and the opportunities seem to be almost endless. In these difficult times I don’t like to plan too far in advance so instead I watch the weather and decide if each day is a game fishing day or one for coarse fishing. I am well aware of how blessed I am to live here and have so much angling on my doorstep.
Next week is forecast to be one of light winds and overcast skies – looks like I will be heading for Leitrim again!
Warning! Those of a sensitive nature are advised to skip this post.
I found this place by searching maps of the backcountry of Leitrim. Narrow roads twist through lush green fields and every now and then a small lake can be found, tucked out of sight from the road. This was one of those lakes, an unruly piece of water bounded by wide belts of rushes. It was down a boreen which led to nowhere in particular close to the Leitrim/Longford border. I seriously doubted it had been fished in years.
Rain lashed against the windscreen as I pushed through Roscommon and cut off to Carrick-on-Shannon. By the time I stopped there to pick up some maggots the rain had stopped and the sun was threatening to peep through the veil of grey clouds. Off again, this time south on the N4 before turning off into the maze of back roads. I had done my homework though and found the spot with ease. Parking up, I looked for the water but none was anywhere to be seen. It was only after I had crossed two fields that I came to the lough, exactly as I had hoped it would be, resplendent with an old fishing stand.
Many years ago this small lake must have had some development work done on it and a fine wooden walkway led to a double fishing stand well out in the water. Reeds and lily pads almost surrounded the stand but there was a little open water immediately in front of it. Busying myself with all the details of setting up I barely noticed the condition of the stand but the wood looked to be free of rot and was stable, well sort of anyway. It wobbled a bit when I moved around but nothing too alarming.
Ground baiting with a mix of crumb, oats and corn with a few maggots was soon completed and I fired in four balls in quick succession. My aim with the catapult is getting a bit better now! A steady wind blew directly into my face and my hopes of fishing the float were dashed so I set up both rods with feeders and commenced operations. I kept feeding the swim to my right as it looked as fishy as hell, those lily pads must be home to some good fish. An hour passed before the leger rod gave a rattle and a small roach came to hand. I was not expecting roach here but it was a welcome start. Only a few casts later a more solid take resulted in a smallish bream. Another soon followed. This was turning into a good day!
More balls of groundbait flew through the air to land exactly where I wanted them. Two more roach obliged then a couple more bream. A small but very pretty rudd ate my bunch of maggots too. I was having fun but that wind was making me cold so I popped back to the car for more clothes. I threw on a fleece and my oilskin coat then returned to the swim and continued fishing. A very solid bite on was met with a solid strike from me and I was into something much more substantial. I knew right away this was a tench and a good one at that. He bored deep, ran for the reeds twice only for me to turn him at the last second. For five minutes it was anyones game but my pressure was beginning to tell and he came up and rolled on the surface. I am sure I let out a gasp – he was all of six pounds and maybe more! More boring and darting off but he was tired now and I reached for the net. I lifted and tightened the drag a smidgin, with that he turned and ran off on a searing run. SNAP! In an instant he was gone, the six pound breaking strain nylon had parted like cotton thread under the power of his last dash. It was my fault, I should not have tightened the drag. What a fish to lose!
I wound in the line and set up a new feeder. I had time to fish on for a while and who knows, maybe there was another good tench in there?
What follows happened in a few seconds in real time but, as in so many dramatic occasions it felt like ages.
I cast out the leger rod, tightened up to the feeder, put the rod down and sat back on my seatbox. I instantly found myself moving backwards and the seatbox began to tip. With nothing to grab on to, both my arms were extended and flailing in thin air. The angle increased and I was past the point of no return.
‘OK, I am going to fall on my back, mind I don’t bump my head’ I thought
‘I will land on the walkway’ Wrong! In fact as the seatbox fell I was sort of catapulted backwards, my right shoulder striking the edge of the walkway with such force it threw me around and I entered the water head first facing away from the stand.
‘I’m going in, don’t panic’. I have fallen into water many times over the years so I knew what was coming. A strong swimmer with no fear of water and the bonus of offshore safety training I was expecting the rush of cold. I held my breath.
Something is wrong, where is the bottom? Fully immersed, I was heading down quickly. Eyes open, the world was a yellowy green colour and weeds were all around me.
Hang on, I could drown here! That very clear thought came to mind. There was no panic, just a realisation I was in danger. Instead of just getting wet I was in deep water and facing the wrong way. I flipped myself around in the water and kicked out with my legs, full sure I would push myself back towards the surface but of the bottom there was no trace. I started swimming, the weeds hindering me a little.
‘Eyes open, hold your breath, strong strokes’. Your clothes trap air when you fall in and this helps to give you buoyancy but my wellies felt very heavy indeed. More strokes. This seemed to be taking ages!
I broke the surface and at the second attempt grabbed the walkway.
‘Catch your breath first. Assess the best way of getting out’. Don’t exhaust yourself. Still no panic, just running through what I have been trained to do. It was a long way through thick reeds to the bank so I decided to haul myself out on to the walkway. It was actually easier than I thought it would be and soon I was standing on the timbers, water running out of me. Time to take stock. Apart from hitting my shoulder of the walkway I had no other injuries. It was a warm day so I was not in immediate danger from hypothermia. I was thinking clearly and so moved to the end of the stand to figure out what to do.
As you can imagine, I was soaked to the skin. A quick check showed that all I could see was missing was my glasses and my hat. The glasses have gone for good but the hat surfaced in the reeds and was recovered in my landing net.
So there I was, stood there like the creature from the black lagoon. There really was only one course of action so I carefully reeled in and packed up. Shouldering the offending seatbox, I squelched my way back across the fields to the waiting car. Scrounging around inside I found a black fleece, a pair of waterproof over trousers and my hiking boots. I was in the middle of nowhere so I stripped off completely and dressed in this odd assortment of (dry) clothes. The gear and all the wet clothes were unceremoniously hurled in the rear of the car. Luckily, my mobile had been in my tackle box when I received my ducking.
With my driving glasses now firmly on the bottom of the lough I needed another pair for the drive home. Ferreting around in various nooks and crannies in the car I found an old pair of well dodgy glasses that Helen had. Remarkably I could see perfectly with them, the only drawback being I looked like a bedraggled Dame Edna Everage wearing them.
The drive home was uneventful and I had time to think about what had just happened. The seatbox has never been the steadiest due to the carrying arrangement I had fitted and there has been the odd wobble over the years. The problem today was the old stand was not level, it slanted backwards and I suspect what had happened was it shifted slightly as I sat down, increasing that angle and causing the box to start to tip. My shocking lack of balance meant I was unable to correct the backward motion so I went hurtling base over apex. My right shoulder started to ache as I drove (it is bloody sore as I write this) and I must have hit the walkway very hard. I believe that high divers refer to my entry as a ‘reverse somersault with twist’. It only attracts a very low score in competitions but then again I think I should be awarded extra points as few, if any, professional divers have carried out this particular dive clad in a three-quarter-length oilskin coat and wellington boots.
It has been a long time since I last fell in. It used to be a regular occurrence when I was young because I loved wading deep and getting into places other anglers could not. Many times I slipped or misjudged the depth and got a soaking for my troubles but I was young and didn’t care a jot about a bit of water. These days I am usually more careful.
The soaking was one thing, losing that big tench was a real tragedy. I thought it was beaten but he found some strength and tore off on an unstoppable run. Apart from the (now obvious) issues with the stand this lough has great potential and I will head back there again soon. The next time I will bring a better chair and a change of clothes!
Update: It’s the next morning and my shoulder is very painful and stiff to move but otherwise I am no worse the wear. I am already plotting a return visit to the forgotten lough! I am re-spooling my reels with 10 pound line and making up some heavy rigs.
I needed a break from the long distance ‘32’ fishing trips. Between them and the recent trip to Scotland I had been clocking up some serious miles lately and I wanted something a little less strenuous for a change. A few grilse are being caught in my local rivers but not in huge numbers despite heavy angling pressure. The thought of shouldering my way through throngs of fly fishers on the off chance of bumping into a grilse did not really appeal, so instead I headed off for the neighbouring county of Leitrim for a bit of coarse fishing.
Leitrim really does live up to the hype of the marketing guys. Very rural and off the beaten track, it sports innumerable lakes, rivers, ponds and canals, all teeming with roach and bream. Coarse anglers come here from across Europe to sample the delights of Carrick, Ballinamore and Carrigallen every year (well, they did until Covid-19). I fervently hope these anglers will return soon, the local economy really needs as much help as it can get these days.
I decided to fish a small lake called Lough McHugh, close to Mohill and not that awfully far from Carrick-on-Shannon. I have never fished it before but the blurb on the IFI website suggested there were stocks of the ubiquitous roach and bream, maybe some rudd and possibly a few tench too. The staples of perch and pike were also present of course. Some gear was jumbled into the back of the car yesterday evening, my recently acquired tackle box hopefully containing all the bits and bobs I was likely to need. In the fridge there was half a pint of maggots left over from my last outing. I will admit I have seen livelier lads but I figured they would suffice. All I had to do was remember to take them with me (I had forgotten my worms the last time I ventured out)! I ground up some old rich tea biscuits to add to my ground bait by way of an experiment. Maybe the touch of sweetness might attract a few fish into my swim.
The weather has been warm and settled lately and that was the forecast for Thursday. If anything it sounded like it would be too nice a day but heigh-ho, what harm lazing in the sunshine beside an Irish lake? Seemingly there were a couple of fishing stands on the east side of the lough and it was here I would pitch up for the day. An early night beckoned so I would be fresh for the morning.
I dropped Helen at work and then drove over to Carrick-on-Shannon. The roads were not too busy as the schools are on holidays here at the moment, making for a pleasant enough trip. Weather wise it was a dull, still sort of a day but with the promise of the sun breaking through as the day progressed. I knew where I was going as I have been fishing around that area before, just never on this particular lough. An old sign at the road end proclaimed I had arrived.
The track down to the edge of the lough was barred due to a locked gate so I had to haul all my gear on my back for the last few hundred yards. With my dodgy knees that made for a painful start to the day but I got to the stand OK and set up. Lobbing in some groundbait I set up with a cage swimfeeder and a worm on a size 12 before stringing the float rod with a waggler shotted over depth and a size 14 baited with maggots. Settling down, I took in my surroundings.
HcHugh is a beautiful lake with a couple of small islands near the eastern shore. Thick beds of reeds and lilies reach out from the bank making it difficult to fish from most places but there is a fine stand near the car park. A pair of swans with five cygnets cruised the lough, unperturbed by my presence. All was serene and wonderfully peaceful.
In fact, it was almost too peaceful as the fish did not want to play at all. I continued to throw in occasional balls of groundbait laced with maggots. I changed to small hooks and loose fed some maggots. I changed the cage feeder, opting instead for a maggot feeder. Eventually the float dipped and I lifted into a nice 8 ounce roach. Any thoughts I might have harboured that this was the start of something were cruelly disabused as it all went dead again.
Taking stock of the situation I decided to cut my losses and try another venue. The day was still young and by the time I had packed up and made my way back to the car it was only 1pm. For a while now I have been wanting to try the Ballinamore canal so this was the perfect opportunity. I made shapes for Leitrim village, a little way past Carrick-on-Shannon. Here the canal meets the river amid a plethora of pleasure boats. In a normal year it is far too busy for serious angling but these are not normal times and I hoped it would be fairly quiet.
My plan was to fish downstream of Killarcan lock on a nice grassy bank but a ‘private, no entry’ sign on the gate put an end to that idea. Instead, I crossed the canal and set up on a floating pontoon well below the lock gates. Plumbing up I found about 5 feet of water in the middle, more than enough to fish in. The sun came out as I tackled up. This time I tried the light leger rod and popped a worm into the corner at the end of the pontoon while I set up the float rod. Immediately I had a bite which I missed by a country mile. A fresh worm was sent out and sure enough a firm rattle indicated another prospective customer. This time I set the hook and out came a small perch.
Finally, the float rod was ready and I fired some balls of groundbait into the swim. I started with a bunch of maggots on a size 14 hook. Nothing happened for a while but I was enjoying just being out in the fresh air on such a lovely day. At last the float gave a waggle, then a lift before diving and I struck into a nice roach. Four more followed in quick succession before it went quiet again. The leger was totally ignored during this time. I loose fed some maggots to try and keep the fish in front of me but they seemed to wander off for a while before returning. By then I had dropped to a size 16 and reduced the bait to a pair of maggots. This worked a treat and fish after fish dragged the light float under. I had a busy afternoon!
A large boat appeared around 5pm and I gave them a hand to tie up. We chatted for a while and by the time I returned to my rods I felt I had caught enough and wanted to head home. In total 17 roach had fallen for the maggot and that lonesome perch was the only lad to eat my carefully presented worm. A couple of the roach would have weighed around 12 ounces but most were a lot smaller.
All in all I had a great day, catching a few fish amid gorgeous scenery. There were no monsters I know, but a day when the small fellas are biting can still be very satisfying. A couple of odd things happened while fishing Lough McHugh. A lesser black back gull swooped out of the sky and lifted off with a baby pike in its beak. I can only surmise the fish was already dead and the gull spotted it floating on the surface. Then something small swam out from the bank near me. At first I thought it was a frog but the swimming action was all wrong so I watched as the tiny creature circled my float then made its way back to the shore. Incredibly it was a mouse. I got a good look at it and it was not a bank vole or a young rat, it was definitely a mouse.
It looks like there will be no fishing for me for the next while as other commitments are crowding in on me. At least I made it out today. Every day fishing is a blessing. The only downside is I stepped on my landing net handle and broke it. I will pick up a new one sometime soon.
My research into finding somewhere to catch a fish in Meath threw up lots of options but none of them really ‘sang’ to me. No gasps of excitement when reading about possibilities, no heart-fluttering watery discoveries. Meath is a large county situated in the east of Ireland stretching all the way from Westmeath in the heart of the midlands to close to Dublin city. The Irish Sea marks the extreme eastern edge of the county around the town of Drogheda. Mainly flat agricultural land, it also hosts many commuter towns. The marketing guys sell Meath to tourists as the heart of ‘Ireland’s ancient east’ which is fair enough I suppose. Kells and Newgrange are both in Meath for example. The rivers Boyne and Dee were spectacular salmon fisheries in days gone by but they have both faded to a shadow of their fomer selves and it would not be the silvery salmon I would be after this time.
Coarse fishing is cropping up a lot in my ramblings across the country, more often than had expected to be honest. This is the result of naivety on my part and also a reflection on the poor game fishing we see these days here in Ireland. Years ago the loughs and rivers of Ireland were full of trout and salmon but that simply isn’t the case anymore. Abstraction, pollution, dredging, overfishing, invasive species and the rest of modern day ‘progress’ have reduced our game fish populations greatly across vast swathes of old Ireland. In their place we see huge shoals of roach, dace in some southern rivers and even chub in the river Inny. Anyway, it soon became apparent that my foray to Meath would in all probability entail a spot of float or leger fishing. And what harm? I have grown to love dabbling in the black arts of maggot drowning. I lack any degree of sophistication or expertise in the genre but I learning process is proving enjoyable and fulfilling.
The Mentrim loughs up near to Ardee sounded very good but it is a long auld trip from here to Ardee and I was hoping to find a spot nearer to home. I looked at the path of the royal canal as it cut across the county and found a place called Boyne Dock just inside the Meath border not too far from the town of Kinnegad. I settled on there and planned accordingly. I hold my hands up and confess there was a large element of laziness on my part here, Kinnegad is just off the motorway and is easy to get too without a long, complex journey down winding country roads. Would this lack of effort on my my part come back to haunt me?
I am attracted to spots on the canals where the shape of the waterway changes, either narrowing or widening, or where locks interrupt the long miles of straight, featureless towpath. I surmise that places like this must be attractive to the fish so I hunt out basins, bends, locks and harbours. That is how I came to select Boyne Dock. Here, a small basin had been excavated, a widening where I hoped the fish might congregate. On the map it does not look like much but any slight change in shape inspires my confidence. I have read nothing about the dock and it seems to have either slipped under the radar of anglers or, heaven forbid, is utterly useless. I was about to find out.
I was planning for roach but hoping for bream and praying for tench. The usual coarse gear came with me including the never used pike rod. It is always along for the ride but somehow never sees action. Maybe today that would change, if there are no signs of roach or bream the spinning gear will be given an airing. A light rod for drop shotting also made the cut so the option of targeting perch was also available to me. Yes, I know, this is far too much gear to bring with me but I have a dread of missing out on an opportunity when doing this 32 project. The thought of driving home fishless just because I didn’t bring this or that bit of tackle plagues me.
The usual process of loading up the car and setting off on the road to the east has been well rehearsed at this stage. Not for the first time I was off down the Dublin road. I stopped off in Longford to pick up some bait from Denniston’s shop. To be honest the timing of this trip was based around the opening time of the bait shop. At 9.30 am Denniston’s fling their doors open to the world and I could avail of their finest grubs. My complete and unshakable faith in maggots shows no signs of abating so I bought some red ones and white ones. I thought I had brought along a few worms for good measure too. These were dug from the compost heap the previous evening, a mixture of small reds and brandlings. None of them were any great size but they would be good enough to tempt a perch I reckoned as I popped them into a small white container. It was only when I stopped in Longford that I realised the hard won worms were not in the car – I had left them at home! I bought a few more at the shop.
Back behind the wheel and the miles slipped by as I mulled over the prospects for the day. If the dock did not fish I would be forced to try walking along the towpath, searching for a shoal of roach or a stray perch. There are worse ways of spending a day I guess. My decision not to make the longer trip to Ardee prayed upon my mind though, doubts swirling about in my head as I cruised along at a steady, if unexciting, 55mph. An uneventful journey saw me turn off at Kinnegad and only a few miles further on I turned into a car park near to the dock. A number of cars were already parked there but as it turned out none of them belonged to fishermen.
The canal here is raised above the surrounding countryside. Indeed, when approaching the dock the R160 road passes right under the canal as well as the railway. Kildare was but two fields away to the south. So it was here, amid the verdant fields on the very edge of the royal county that I would try my luck. It is quite ironic that I have taken to canal fishing at this stage of my life. Many years ago I lived in Kirkintilloch, just north of Glasgow. Formally an industrial centre for heavy engineering, the town had slid into depression and decay over the years but one major part of infrastructure remained, the Forth Clyde canal. Every day I walked my faithful collie for miles along the towpath and it never once crossed my mind to try fishing there. At the time I simply had no interest in coarse fishing so passed up some great opportunities. I now understand the canal there is full of roach, perch and pike. Ah well……
It was wet while I was driving from the west but the forecast was for a dry afternoon. By the time I had reached my destination there was some blue sky showing amid the fluffly white clouds. I unloaded all the tackle and set up two rods, one for the float and the other with a simple link leger. My thinking was to target roach with float fished maggot and aim for perch by legering a worm on the bottom. The old 13 foot ABU float rod, Daiwa Harrier reel and 4 pound line and a small float was soon set up and I used the 10 foot margin rod with a wee red Firebird reel that I found in the bottom of a cupboard filled with 6 pound main line for the running leger.
The basin was small but it gave the appearance it could be home to a few fish. Weeds looked like they might be a problem though and my decision to delay this trip until late June looked like a mistake. Before commencing fishing I raked out a swim and baited it. Small balls of brown crumb with a little hemp mixed in and flavoured with vanilla provided the ground bait, my aim being to attract fish into my chosen swim and then try to keep them in front of me with a trickle of loose feed. Opting for a size 14 with a couple of maggots on it I fished over depth on the float rod. A worm on a size 12 was my chosen end gear for the leger. One of the big issues when fishing Irish canals is the clarity of the shallow water. This leads the fish to be very easily spooked both by unwary movements on the bank or by overly thick line. For that reason I was using 2.6 pound breaking strain hook lengths. I realise this was taking a chance because if I hooked a decent sized fish it could easily break me off in the weeds. The internet had informed me that there were good tench and even carp in this canal but I was pretty sure the best I could hope for was a 6 ounce roach or a minuscule perch.
The towpath was a hive of activity with a constant stream of dog walkers, hikers and cyclists making the best of the nice weather. I cast in the light leger first then set up the float rod. The canal is shallow, only two-and-a-half feet deep in the middle so a small waggler was all that was required. Settling into a rhythm, I fished steadily for an hour or more, occasional balls of groundbait interspersed with some loose fed maggots decorating the swim. Some small rudd could be seen messing about near the surface a few yards away but otherwise all was quiet. The water was gin clear and weeds grew right to the surface outwith the small area I had raked. This was proving to be a tough gig.
At last the float gave a slight tremor then dived but I missed the bite. By now I had dropped to a size 20 hook hoping to match the single maggots that I was feeding in. I fished on, glued to the float and wishing it would register a bite. I ate a sandwich, drank some coffee and scowled at the stationary float. I had to try something different. Taking the float off I changed it for a lighter one and re-shotted the line. I also swapped the tiny size 20, a huge looking size 16 taking its place. Two red maggots adorned the new hook and off into the cool water they sailed. Almost immediately there was a tap at the float but it came to nothing. I loose fed a handful of maggots and re-cast. This time there was a positive take and a small perch came to hand. A few casts later a slightly larger perch repeated the exercise. OK, so I was not breaking any records here but at least I had not blanked.
It went quiet again for a while but a cast to the very edge of the raked area produced a solid bite and I lifted as the float slid off to my left. This was a better fish which required netting. A lovely hybrid fought well and was quickly snapped and then released.
The small rudd had been knocking at the maggots all afternoon and one was unfortunate enough to get himself hooked and landed. They are such pretty little fish! It all went dead after that and try as I might I could not get any more offers. In the end I packed up and headed off home.
So what to make of all that? In the bright conditions in very clear water I suspect I actually did OK landing one good fish. Early morning or late evening would definitely have given me a better chance but beggars can’t be choosers. My normally reliable method of a legered worm in the margins failed to register a single offer even though there were some perch knocking about. Raking the swim took me ages and I think I need a bigger rake. Weed growth is luxuriant in the canals at this time of year and effective raking is a must if you want to contact fish.
So Meath is crossed off the list. After the shenanigans up in Fermanagh during my last outing this was a return to reality with a bump. I am beginning to suspect I need to be more flexible with my times on these longer trips so I can fish early or late rather than during the middle of the day. It’s all a learning curve for me!
On the subject of new coarse fishing equipment, I have been considering the issues of access to loughs and how to tackle weed infested margins.
Weeds, reeds and other vegetation are a constant problem for me when searching out likely swims on my coarse fishing trips. I think in general this is more of a problems for anglers here in Ireland than it usually is in England where commercial fisheries are well tended. Here, wild loughs are pretty much left to themselves and access can be very difficult, sometimes to the point where I have looked at many loughs and decided it was just too difficult to clear a swim for me to waste time on them. Even on loughs where I do find somewhere to fish there are often lots of reeds and other growth which hamper me and their removal would make life much easier. I suspect here in the west the lakes are left to their own devices because there are so few coarse anglers. I know some waters which are teeming with roach but never see a rod and line.
I had already bought a weed rake for clearing underwater foliage but heavy growth of bankside reeds reaching many yards out into the lake had previously defeated me. Attempts at cutting down the offending reeds with a pen knife understandably came to nought. I was seriously under-gunned. So I bought myself a wee gadget (we all love a good gadget, don’t we?) for trimming aquatic reeds. It regales in the wonderful name of ‘the grim reaper’ and on the face of it this could be a huge step forward for me. It is basically a slash hook but one fitted with a screw thread to attach to a bank stick or a landing net handle. It’s a vicious looking brute of a thing but clearing vegetation is going to require a no-nonsense approach.
It came with a protective cover which was a good thing as it is very sharp. I am sure that regular use will dull the edge but brand new it is uncommonly sharp. In operation it appears to be straightforward to use. The beauty of the cutting head is that it has a 3/8 BSF thread welded on to it so that it screws into my landing net handle, something I will be carrying with me anyway. Once screwed safely into place I simply hook the blade around the reeds and pull towards me, chopping them down and creating space for me to cast through. I can imagine that in use the hook will work loose easily so a length of electrical tape might need to be wound over the joint but I always have a roll of tape in my bag anyway to bind it on tightly.
It has yet to be used in anger but I am hopeful this tool will make my angling life that little bit easier and let me catch a few more fish. Who knows, it might help me to access parts of loughs which have never been fished before! There are plenty of this kind of water, small lakes and ponds over here which are quite literally never fished. There could be anything swimming around in them but it is just too much trouble to clear a swim so anglers pass them by. I’m already plotting on clearing a swim on a small, reed choked lake here in Mayo this summer which was rumoured to have been stocked with tench many long years ago by an elderly priest who loved his coarse fishing. I heard this story years ago but only lately I was talking to a fisheries officer and he told me they once netted the lake in question to check on stocks of trout. Low and behold, lots of tench came up in the nets! There were no big ones in the haul but even small tench are very tempting targets for me and to have some virtually on my doorstep is quite exciting.
So the ‘Grim Reaper’ now resides in my coarse fishing seatbox, ready for action. It joins an ever expanding collection of gear in there. Lately, I have added some additional floats (like I need any more), a larger landing net (optimistic in the extreme) and rig wallets so I can carry more made up hook lengths with me. So far I have resisted the temptation of trying hair rigs, pellets or in-line feeders. Maybe they will feature further down the line but for now finding good places to fish, gaining access to the water and learning to use basic gear are my main aims. All in all, I am now better prepared than I was this time last year and as a result am feeling just a tad more confident.