Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing, wetfly

Late season on Conn

September on the western lakes can be an enigma, days when the trout seem to be suicidal are tempered with ones when they fail to respond in what appear to be perfect conditions. Years ago we could look forward to the last late hatches of olives in some bays and of course a fall of daddies or hoppers if there was a wind. The collapse of insect populations means it is unlikely we get those opportunities now. Undeterred, a day on Conn beckoned plans were laid and tackle dusted down once more time.

The summer was very quiet on Conn this year. Not much action meant local anglers stayed away while visitor numbers were curtailed due to Covid. Two periods of hot, bright weather drove water levels down and made for next to impossible angling conditions. So here we are in September with only a scant few days left of the trout season. Light winds were forecast for the day ahead, sapping my confidence before even setting off in the morning.

I would not be fishing today, instead I would ghillie for two good anglers. John and Bob have fished Conn for years and today I was on the oars as they tried for a late season trout or two. We met up at Gillaroo Bay which was busier than usual as there was a competition on and anglers were all preparing to go out. The fellas arrived and it was great to see them both again so there was a bit of catching up to be done as we loaded the boat.

The wind was coming out of the south, a good direction for Conn but it meant my initial plan to fish the Colman Shallows had to be changed. With only a light breeze the shallows, which lie in the lee of the land, would be too calm so instead I headed up to Massbrooke and we set up on the drift 80 yards out in a nice wave but driving rain. Wet flies were the order of the day and the lads began short lining in good style. I worked the oar, sometimes just to keep the line but also to manoeuvre around shallows and rocks. The forecast of light winds was incorrect, the actually wind rose and fell throughout the day and was quite strong in the afternoon.

The first couple of drifts were fishless but we saw a few trout rocketing out of the water. This behaviour is not well understood and various theories have been put forward about it. Shaking parasites, daphnia feeding, aggressive behaviour as spawning approaches – these and many other causes are all possibilities. Today though I figured the trout might still be chasing fry in the shallows so I tied on some tinsel bodied patterns for the lads. Soon John’s rod bent into a normal sized Conn brownie. It had taken the Pearly Invicta dressed on a size 12 hook. We fished on and John repeated the trick with a lovely butter-yellow trout, also on the Invicta. Bob decided to  try and pull a trout up to a dry fly so he changed over. All this time the rain came and went but it had been a very wet morning and we were pretty damp already. The wind, which had been light to start with, had picked up and we now had a good wave of a couple of feet. I floated the idea of heading back down to the Colman Shallows and so we set off in a flurry of spray, crashing through the waves as we ploughed south and set up on a nice drift at the shallows.

The shallows are a popular drift and being so easily accessible from Gillaroo bay they receive a lot of attention. Today we drifted from the big island all the way to the western pins off the little island. This is perfect trout country with rocks and shallow water under the keel all the way. The fish were uncooperative though and by now it was well after 1pm so we called it time for lunch.

The twigs I rustled up for the kettle were damp (understatement – they were soaking wet) and it took a while to get the old Kelly fired up but we got there eventually and enjoyed the simple pleasure of a hot drink and a bite to eat while stretching our legs on the shore. Some visiting anglers find the Irish obsession with stopping for lunch a waste of good fishing time but in fact it is an integral part of lough fishing. Chatting over a cuppa amid the scenery of the Irish countryside is one of life’s great joys and it gives you a chance to unwind after the high levels of concentration when fishing. On days when the fishing is good, lunch can be prepared and consumed fairly quickly but on slow days the break is a much more leisurely affair. Thankfully, today the rain had eased off and we ate in comparative dryness. The wind fell away again as we ate so once again we took off for Massbrooke once lunch was over. Bob’s 8hp Tohatsu make short work of the trip. I’m not familiar with these engines but it ran faultlessly and they seem to be a strong motor. With a good wave up the lake I convinced Bob to change back to a team of wets.

The rain began to fall heavily just as we set up on the first drift after lunch. I dislike fishing in heavy rain simply because in all my years of angling I have never experienced good fishing in a downpour. In fairness to both anglers they stuck manfully to the cause, casting rhythmically, steady retrieves, clean lift-offs and no tangles despite the encroaching cold and wetness in their arms. John struck into his third trout of the day, a slightly smaller lad this time who once again had taken the pearly tail fly.

We had only drifted a few yards more when not one but two salmon showed in front of the boat. We had seen a few salmon pitching in the distance before but these fish were quite close so I rowed quickly over so the lads could cover them. The fish refused to come up again and we drifted harmlessly over the lies. I tied on a largish Green Peter to Johns cast and Bob did the same with his leader in case we came upon some more salar. It was not to be though and the last fish in the boat today was a small brownie for Bob which took that old reliable, a small Bibio on the dropper.

We called it a day around 5pm, steaming back though choppy waters and arriving back in the bay wet to the skin. Any day afloat on an Irish lough is a good day and it was a pleasure to be out with two good anglers who appreciate the beauty and ever changing moods of lough Conn. The catch was somewhat disappointing in what were essentially good fishing conditions. Once again, it was noticeable there was no fly life on the lough at all. We did not see a single caddis, mayfly or midge on the water or in the air. This has been the case all summer and it is deeply concerning that insect populations appear to be collapsing.

September is flying past us and the end of the season is almost here. Hard to believe the 2021 trout and salmon season ends in a few days, it feels like we have only just got going.

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coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

Surf n’ Turf

Surf n’ Turf – That is a meal where your plate is filled with both beef and fish isn’t it? Read on dear readers, read on…..

I expectantly had a day to myself so I took off for a few hours on a tench lake in Roscommon. Lowfield lies close to the Shannon and reputedly holds good sized tench along with a few roach and bream. Rising early, I had a few small chores to do before heading off down the familiar trail east with the back of the car full of gear. The roads got narrower the closer I got to the tiny grassy parking place where I left the car.

There is only one stand on Lowfield with space on it for a couple of anglers, the rest of the shoreline consisting of thick reeds. This is a shallow, weedy lough and I was unsure what to expect. I have grown to associate deep water with big tench but that could just be coincidence.

I had never been on this part of Roscommon before and once I crossed the river at the pretty little village of Drumsna it was a matter of guesswork finding the lough. Wrong turns made the last few miles a torture but at last I found the tiny parking space. As soon as I got out of the car I could see this was going to be a challenging day. The ‘path’ to the lough was completely overgrown and indeed was not visible at all. Shouldering all my gear, I headed off into the undergrowth like Livingstone in search of the Nile. Stumbling through the dense green undergrowth was hard work and I was soon lathered in sweat. Ahead of me was just more of the same, tall grass, reeds and stunted bushes. A cut to my right and the woods to my left meant I was heading in the right direction but the vegetation became even more dense as I progressed further on. A machete would have been pretty useful in this lot. At last, I saw a glimpse of water in front of me through the thick reeds and the ground underfoot became soft and uneven. Of the fabled fishing stand there was no sign though. The cut was far too deep to cross and the trees on the other side barred me from turning over in that direction. A small stand of old trees was slightly to my left but further out but even getting that far felt impossible. In my prime I would have battled on but by now I was tired and despondent. I turned and with difficulty retraced my steps through the wilderness. Regaining the car I found lots of spiders had infiltrated my gear as I was pushing through the undergrowth, big brown ones, smaller brightly colour ones with spindly legs and those fast little lads that scurry about in the grass. I cleared as many as I could out and loaded up the car before departing.

I will go back to Lowfield next spring when the path should be more clear and the plants have died back. This is a lough which needs a bit of development. A few signs on the roads to it are badly required, there are a lot of small roads in the area and none of them have a signpost. The car park is a simple grass area and in wet conditions would be hard to exit. A firm path through the undergrowth is obviously required. The word is that the lough is full of what we call ‘cabbage’ here, thick bright green underwater plants which make the fishing very difficult. Perhaps there could be some weed cutting undertaken?

Retracing my journey I crossed the Shannon and turned back on to the N4. There is a lough you can see from the road called Annaghduff and I have never fished it. Turning off, I found a parking spot and loaded up with all my gear again. Through a gate into a field of rough pasture, I plodded off through the rushes in the general direction of the lough. First impressions were this field has been left fallow but I came across the occasional fresh cow pat, making me very wary indeed. Lots of cow pats obviously means lots of cows, occasional cow pats means only one cow and we all know what sex of cow is left in a field on his own. The field rose slightly in front of me, blocking the view of the lake. I made for the far edge where a line of trees grew. Breasting the rise, I scanned the country in front of me – BULL! Sure enough, sitting in the long grass a hundred yards straight in front of me sat a huge black animal. I will confess at that range it was not possible to medically confirm the sex of the vast creature but I’d be fairly sure it was a he and not a she. Spinning through 180 degrees I made an undignified exit, looking over my shoulder to see if he was coming after me. A seatbox (full), buckets, bag of ground bait (also full) and quiver of rods tends to slow ones progress somewhat, especially when plunging through knee high rushes in wellies and waterproofs. I was sweating again. A glance behind showed a pair of black ears and, horror of horrors, a pair of horns, poking over the rise in the ground, he was following alright. By now I was closing in on the gate and with one final mighty effort I made the six bar and was through it to safety. Looking over it I could not see the bull, he must have turned back after all. Bent over, I caught my breath and took a picture of the gate which saved me then plodded off back to the car. That had been a bit too close for comfort.

On the right side of the gate my heart was still thumping when I took this!

Plan B had not been a success so I now decided to head off for Lough Rinn. Once back on the N4 and heading south it became clear that even that new plan was not going to be straight forward either. The road to Mohill which I wanted to take was closed for repairs meaning a long detour for me. About 20 minutes elapsed as I circumnavigated the detour before finally pulling into the amenity area on the west side of the lough. I knew there is a fine double stand behind the camping area so I set off for it only to find the stand fully occupied by a couple of other anglers. Toying with the idea of yet another move I instead decided to fish off of one of the large water sport piers. Being honest, I am not sure I was actually allowed to fish off them but as nobody else was around I took the chance and set up on the easterly floating pontoon. Spacious and stable, it proved to be a comfortable billet for the remainder of the day.

How’s that for a fishing stand! I strongly suspect I was not supposed to be here.

Reaching into my top pocket I pulled out my reading glasses, only to find them broken. The left lens was missing, no doubt I had done this when lugging the tackle around. A search in the bottom of my box revealed a long forgotten spare pair so all was not lost.

I fired a feeder 60 yards out towards the lanes and busied myself with the float rod. A solid bite halted that process and I wound in a descent bream of a couple of pounds. Plumbing up, I found only about three feet of water in front of me so I fished slightly over depth three rod lengths out. The feeder began to nod again and this time a roach came in, soon followed by some skimmers. The float rod was doing nothing so I broke it down and set up my little margin rod with a small open end feeder and cast it off to my right where it too began to take fish. Most of the fish were skimmers with the odd roach and hybrid to boot. A few pretty wee rudd were a welcome addition too.

Skimmers of various sizes came to hand and I had another good bream too, this one must have weighed about three pounds and I took some snaps of him before slipping him back. I then checked my phone and guess what? The photos of the bream had not come out! Bugger, I thought I had some good shots in the can but no, all I had was a slime covered phone but no pictures. The next skimmer I landed was held up for a photo but he struggled a bit in my hand as I posed the shot. I felt something on my arm but paid it no heed as I extracted the hook took the photo and released the fish. Casting out again I felt my left forearm was wet and investigation showed the fish had somehow managed to poop down the inside of my sleeve. Yes, I was covered in skimmer excrement and boy did it stink! I cleaned my self up as much as possible but the stench hung around all day until I could shower when I got home.

It is difficult to say how many fish I caught, a guess of about thirty sounds about right but it could have been more or less than that. This was my first time fishing Lough Rinn and to be honest it is a bit shallow for my liking. I prefer deeper water but on days like today beggars can’t be choosers. Being a larger lough it is open and while I had a nice peaceful day there it would be a different story in a wind. Maybe the fishing off the stand would have been into deeper water, it certainly looked ‘fishier’ than the pontoons.

I managed to snap off another swimfeeder when the line jammed around my reel as I was casting. I am very profligate with my end tackle when coarse fishing, losing or breaking feeders and floats almost every time I go out. My stock of feeders is now perilously low and I’ll need to buy some more soon. Floats are less of a problem as I own an inordinate quantity of them in all shapes and sizes. I like to keep a reserve of ground bait ingredients but this too has become sadly depleted owing to my frequent fishing trips lately. This summer has seen me catch an awful lot of fish but the price has been paid in lost or worn out tackle. This autumn I’ll make good the deficit though and restock as required.

Today had been a difficult one with a lot of setbacks. Access to the waters edge is often an issue here in Ireland and I just accept that sometimes it is not going to be possible to fish exactly where I want on any given day. When I got home I looked at a map and think there is another route into Lough Annaduff. I really wish the IFI would erect some more signs for us anglers. It would make life a whole lot easier for us and for very little expense.

You can feel the change in the seasons now, the air is different and the colours of the land are dimming. A few swallows were still hawing flies over Lough Rinn this afternoon but they will be gone shortly. The slight chill was not unpleasant today but in a few weeks time the cold will be here in force as we head towards winter. I have a summer of coarse fishing to look back on and those memories will keep me going through to the next season if I am spared that long. I hope to do some game fishing over the next few days. We will see what the weather brings.

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coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland, Pike

Strange times

13th September 2021. Not a breath of wind this morning. Dry brown leaves drop vertically to the ground in the still air. My planned fly fishing outing is a washout, sitting becalmed in a boat is not my idea of fun. Instead I don wellies, grab the fork and head down the garden to the muck heap where it is but a few minutes work to gather some worms. I’ll try Ballymote for bream.

I fished Bellanscarrig lough not so long ago and had a nice day catching roach, hybrids and bream so I figured another trip to that water would be a good test to see if that was just a fluke. Anyway, it would be a good way of using up the handful of maggots I had in the fridge.

The school run has reached epic proportions in Castlebar and it is gridlock until 9 am so I set off before the madness started. Why kids can’t just walk to school these days is beyond me. Do they completely lose the power of perambulation at rush hours? I head out on the old road to avoid the traffic and am soon humming along the tarmac to county Sligo. Past the limp green and red flags and those desolate looking signs urging on the Mayo football team who were playing in the final in Dublin at the weekend. They lost to a very good Tyrone team so the county is in mourning once again. Always next year lads, next year….

The lough is at the end of this lane

At the side of the lough I toy with the idea of using one of the other stands but the one I fished from last time is clear of weed so I set up there. A worm on the feeder rod is quickly accepted by a nice bream and I am off the mark before I have even set up the float rod. I miss another two bites on the feeder then connect with a perch. A roach and then a hybrid accept the maggots on the float rod. And so it goes on, most of the action on the float but the feeder chips in a few fish. It is a real mix of different species. Mainly skimmers and roach but with the odd hybrid and bream too. The fishing is hectic with bites coming fast and furious. The range of bites reflects the assortment of different species. Some are mere tremors, some spirited dives, a few are lovely sideways drifts and there are also exquisite lift bites when the float resembles Excalibur rising slowly from the lake.

A hard take on the feeder sees it jump and fall on the stand so I pick it up, strike and feel a heavy fish on the end of the line. This is a very good bream so I take my time and get the net ready. From where it was hooked, about fifty yards out, I have worked the fish about half way in when the most violent pull snaps the line and the fish is gone. What the hell happened there? While I did not catch sight of the fish it was certainly a heavy bream, I hazard a guess at about five pounds or so. I have not known a bream to turn and put such pressure on a rod before. Close inspection of the broken tippet reveals it did not part under pressure, nor did the knot slip (thank God) but was cleanly cut about three inches from the hook. A new, heavier, tippet is soon attached and I am back fishing in no time but my mind is on what has just happened and I try to figure out where I went wrong.

A small bream

More furious float action follows with fish after fish coming to hand. A voice behind me enquires how I am doing and I spend the next ten minutes chatting with one of the local IFI guys who is a mine of angling information. It is always a pleasure to converse with someone who is passionate about angling. The IFI often comes under criticism but when you talk to these lads you get some idea of how difficult their job is and the great knowledge they possess. With a wave Kevin is gone and I realise that I am hungry so I eat my sandwiches and drink the flask of hot coffee. With my concentration levels back up to DEFCON1 the procession of skimmers continues.

The shoal seem to move around, one minute they are only one rod length out and then they are thirty yards away. If I go even one cast without a bite I cast to a slightly different spot to keep in touch with the fish. I’m fishing over depth on the float and that means I pick up some weed occasionally but in general any movement on the float is a fish. There are a lot of imature bream around and only a few hybrids. Winding in a skimmer as normal the water behind him breaks in a huge swirl. The rod jolts then the skimmer is on its side at the waters edge in front of me. Pike!

I unhooked the skimmer and find he has been wounded close to the anal fin and is bleeding. I returned him anyway as I have seen fish with much worse injuries survive. I didn’t see the pike, he just made the swirl so he must have been deep.

I spent the day fishing the same swim. At times the sport was hectic then it suddenly died off and all was quiet for perhaps fifteen minutes before they kicked off again. On three more occasions pike attacked fish I was reeling in. I saw two of those fish clearly and they were different pike. One, of about twelve pounds, made a spectacular leap in the air, turning a full somersault before crashing back onto the lough not 10 feet from where I was sitting. That one missed the skimmer altogether. The other was a smaller lad, about five pounds or so. He shot out of the water as he chased the hybrid I had been winding in, a wonderful leap like a fresh grilse. He too missed the skimmer he was after. The other pike grabbed the fish I was playing, a tug followed by a big splash and the poor skimmer was no more.

The more I think about it the more convinced I am that the large bream that I lost earlier in the day was eaten by a huge pike. How big that pike was I will never know but I had a good sized bream on and it had to be a large pike to attempt to eat it. The suddenness of the pull and the neatly cut line suggest to me a monster pike was responsible.

I have been coarse fishing on a number of different lakes for the past two years. During that time I have not seen a single pike attack on the fish I was winding in. Indeed, I can only recall one pike attack on a trout I was playing on lough Mask many years ago. Why then did I witness all these attacks in one session? Was this a learned response by the pike? Do they simply hang out around the fishing stands in the hope of a free meal? Or do they hear  ground bait balls hitting the water, sounding some sort of dinner gong for the pike? To witness one attack is unusual but to see 5 in one day must be some kind of a record. Strange times indeed. Obviously the lough has a good stock of pike and the next time I go to fish there I will bring a spinning rod with me.

I’m afraid there will be a sharp reduction in my angling effort. I have accepted a new full time job so my happy summer of fishing has come to an end.

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coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

Scratching the itch one last time

The rains came yesterday, heavy drenching showers under steely grey skies and lit by numerous flashes. They had been promised of course so there was no great surprise when the deluge started. What to do today? Chase salmon on the Moy maybe? September salmon fishing is always a chancy business here in the West of Ireland. No, I would head over to Leitrim again. The year is beginning to get old now, you can feel the autumn in your bones. The leaves are turning yellow or red and the swallows are gathering on the telephone wires before they head off to Africa. One last day at the tench beckoned me and I packed the gear for a few casts on Lough Corgar, just on the other side of the town of Ballinamore.

Ballinamore lies amid the rolling green hills of east Leitrim. A fabulous centre for coarse angler’s, it is ringed by loughs and rivers, each teaming with roach, bream and tench. The whole of this part of Ireland is a fisher’s paradise just waiting to be explored. Each year sees an influx of UK and continental anglers who have learned that the journey here is worth the effort and expense. Lots of fish, glorious scenery and of course the famous Irish welcome await those who make the trek to Leitrim.

Like virtually all the loughs around here, Corgar is surrounded by dense reed beds. I read on a website that there were some stands on the shores which is always a huge plus for a rickety old angler like me. According to the blurb there is a small car park too, somewhere safe to tackle up and leave the motor for the day. So often I have to park up on the verge of a road, worried about collision or the car sinking into the soft earth at the edge of the road. 

My maggots in the fridge had pupated so I wanted some fresh ones and would pop into Carrick Angling on my way to the lough. The casters of course would not be wasted as I like to add them to my ground bait. I have tried them as hook bait but without success.

The thunder and lightning of yesterday has dissipated but it will be another wet day with heavy rain forecast. It would be easy to put the fishing off for another time but I sense the year slipping away from me so I will put up with the  precipitation and hope the fish reward my stoic efforts in the mist and drizzle. I prefer to fish in dry conditions but there is something grounding about sitting by the water in the rain.

Foggy conditions across Mayo gave way to heavy rain as I crossed Roscommon. By the time I reached my destination this has eased off to occasional showers. Turning down the boreen I found the car park I was happy about was full of heavy machinery and vans. A brief chat with the workmen revealed another parking spot a few yards along the road so I dropped the VW off there. It rained heavily as I tackled up and trudged back down the road then into a field via a stile. A small bridge over a drain, another stile, yet another bridge and there behind a screen of tall reeds was the lough. The final few yards were through soft, squelchy bog but I made it to the old wooden stand dry shod. Now things got a bit interesting……………

Ireland has been subjected to bouts of heavy rain on and off for a fortnight now and water levels are high. In fact the water in lough Corgar as so high the fishing stand is almost submerged. The end nearest to the shore was about two inches above the surface of the water but further out this reduced and both stands at the end were level with the water. Worse, when I edged my way out to the end I could feel the whole structure sway and wobble in a most alarming fashion. I beat a hasty retreat to the middle of the walkway to consider my options. In the end I decided it was too dangerous to perch myself on the very end so I set up about fifteen feet back. This was far from ideal but having suffered a dunking earlier this year I had no desire to repeat the process. Better safe than sorry!

With very little space to manoeuvre I went about setting up the feeder rod with six pound line, a twizzled boom, maggot feeder and a four pound link to a size 10 hook. A pair of worms, held in place with a couple of maggots would be my bait and I cast the whole thing 50 yards out into the still, grey water. Next, the float rod which I rigged with a medium waggler, a six foot drop to a four pound tippet and a size 12 hook dressed with maggots. I was aiming for better sized fish today, hence the larger than normal hooks. I baited the swim three rod lengths out with a mix of casters, corn, black crumb, a handful of hemp and some liquidised biscuits. I was very conscious that any sideways movement on my part would probably see me slip off the walkway into the water, making for a nervous session. Another shower rattled through then all became very still.

The third cast with the float saw my first fish of the day come to hand. A lovely rudd of close to a pound no less! What a stunning fish this was. Next a good roach and then a nice hybrid of more than a pound. An even larger rudd fell for the maggots soon after. I had read there were rudd in Corgar but these were superb fish, much bigger than the run-of-the-mill rudd I normally encounter on Irish loughs.

Foreign voices off to my left grew louder then some splashing heralded the arrival of a pair of anglers in float tubes. Rods swished in the still air and the two lads set off around the lough, hunting for pike. Maybe they had some luck when out of my sight but while in my line of vision they saw no action.

With no bites at distance I changed tactics and dropped the swimfeeder hard into the edge of the reeds to my left. It still remained stubbornly quiet though. It was very different on the float rod though. The roach settled in and the fishing became hectic for a while. Some of the roach were the usual 6 ounce fish but there were some good fish sprinkled in among them, the best nudging a pound in weight. Loose feeding maggots and the odd ball of ground bait kept the fish in front of me and the fishing was excellent all morning.

I was reeling in another roach when the bait runner on the swimfeeder let out a high pitched screech and the line fairly melted off the spool. I literally threw the float rod down (almost losing it in the water) and grabbed the Shakespeare. This could only be one thing and sure enough a spirited scrap ensued before I subdued and netted a fine tench. I’d say it went about four pounds and this one fish had made the journey to Ballinamore worthwhile for me. You guys are fed up with me waxing lyrical about tench but they really are amazing creatures. Back in the water, he shot off as soon as I lowered him in, hopefully none the worse for our encounter. The tippet showed signs of fraying so I took the time to cut it off and tie on a new one. The fish on the float rod had wriggled off by now of course.

A couple of nice size skimmers fell for the charms of the maggots but these would be the only bream I would see all day. Then it was back to roach again, interspersed with the occasional rudd. Most of the fish fell to the float but some came to the feeder too. The rain had been reduced to a fine mist for most of the session but as the day wore on some heavier bursts made for uncomfortable fishing. By 3pm the swim was slowing up and I decided to call it a day. Dismantling and packing up all the gear on the narrow walkway was a challenge but I was soon heading back to the car. The bog was now even more saturated and a couple of times I got stuck and had to extricate my wellie clad feet from the mire.

Lough Corgar had provided me with a wonderful few hours and I feel I can heartily recommend it to you. The roach were larger than most other loughs I have fished and of course the good tench and rudd were the icing on the cake. If Corgar is not fishing there is another lough, Bolganard, is just across the road. This lake is famous for the one time record bream which was caught there. I think I am right in saying it weighed over twelve pounds.

My final tally for the day came to 43 roach, 9 rudd, some hybrids, a pair of skimmers and the one tench. All day the bites were positive and very few were missed or fish lost. Depth in front of the stand was about six feet, making it easy to fish with the waggler. They were taking confidently for once and I really enjoyed the fishing today. Interestingly, no perch showed up today which is unusual on loughs like this. Ballinamore is a bit of a trek for me but with excellent fishing like that who would mind the extra few miles?

It is mid-September now and the weather has been wet but unseasonably warm so far this month. That will change soon and the tench fishing will be over for another year with the upcoming drop in temperatures. I am already laying plans for fishing lough Corgar next year!

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coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

Lough Na Blaithi

Thursday. I should be out on Conn or Mask at this time of the year but I wanted another crack at the coarse fish so I headed over to Roscommon and a largish lough called Na Blaithi in Irish or Nablahy in its anglicized form. I had read it was a well developed mixed fishery and so I plodded off in an easterly direction and found myself on the minor roads to it after passing through Elphin and Creeve. Yesterdays forecast foretold of gloomy grey skies but of course Mayo was roofed with cobalt blue instead. As I crossed into Roscommon though the clouds slowly thickened and it turned into nice day for fishing.

Na Blaithi is part of a complex of lakes, rivers and drains which lie to the north of Strokestown. All of these waters hold good stocks of most coarse fish species and are rightly popular with anglers. Some excellent development work has been carried out over the years to improve access and Na Blaithi in particular now sports a number of fishing stands. I have wondered if there is scope for the IFI to take a bold step and look at providing boats on some of the loughs. This would open up a lot of fishing as some loughs are currently unfished because there is no access. For example, Clooncraff Lough, which is connected to both Cloonahee and Na Blaithi, has no road access to it and thus is never fished despite being stuffed with roach and bream. Imagine hiring a small boat and setting off for the far corners of a big lough full of bream and roach or travelling up a small river to get to a reed fringed lake that has not been fished for years. I suspect a lot of anglers would be only to happy to give this sort of angling experience a try.

Parking the car at the end of the road I unloaded all the gear and went through a fine 5 bar gate into a rough field. I could see the lough through a stand of trees so headed off in that direction, head high rushes and nettles making the going a bit tough. Once at the trees there was another stretch of rough pasture to cross to a line of huge reeds. By now there was no sign of the water. I got to the reeds but try as I might I could not find a stand so I moved along to my right, crossing a stream via a wooden bridge of great age. Finally I found a stand, cloaked in tall reeds and close to an elderly rowan tree. This would do nicely. Once on that stand I could see another one to my right but elected to stay where I was.

My usual combination of one float and one feeder rod was employed. This was so I could target bream and tench on the feeder while I aimed for roach on the float. I went for six pound line on the reels as this is a bigger water and there is always the chance of bumping into a larger than normal fish. Bream especially can grow pretty large in Irish loughs. Tying up a new twizzled boom and clipping on a maggot feeder, I cast to my left and let the feeder sink. It seemed to take an age to hit the bottom. Next, I set up the float rod but plumbing the water two rod lengths out from the stand showed about fifteen feet of water. I toyed with the idea of changing to a sliding float but I only had a couple of big ones with me so I stuck to the waggler. For the rest of the day I got in all sorts of fankles and tangles as I wrestled with a set up which was too long for the rod. I should have cut my losses and re-rigged with a slider but I guess I was just too lazy. Balls of ground bait and then a steady stream of loose fed maggots hit the water. I settled down to see what would transpire.

I was soon into fish, the problem being they were tiny roach, no more 5 inches long. They loved my maggots and despite using a size 14 hook they made the float bob at virtually every cast. The feeder stayed resolutely quiet. A wind was blowing right in my face to start with but it gradually back off to a more easterly quarter which was more pleasant for me. More minute roach, more tangles. This was hard going!

Finally the feeder rod twitched and I wound in a small bream which was nice for a change. The roach went quiet for a while, I suspect the shoal had moved on because when the bites started again it was a much better stamp of roach which came to hand. These fish were not monsters now but I guess they were around 8 ounces. It was around this time that my faithful old Daiwa Harrier reel snapped the bail spring. I can have no complaints, this is an old reel which has served me well over the years. I guess I can try and hunt down a spare bail spring but it hardly seems worth it. I have plenty of other reels to use for now so I think the Harrier will simply be retired. I fished on with the wounded reel, flipping the bail over by hand at every cast.

End of the road for this old reel

A perch was next on the list, not a bad one of just under a pound. He fell to the feeder and three others of his kin did the same but these were smaller lads than the first one. The roach tailed off for about 20 minutes then came back on the feed again. A couple of lovely roach/bream hybrids put up a good fight and they were the best fish of the day on the float rod. All day the bites had been nervous little trembles to the float, no lifts or sudden dives. Maybe the depth of water had something to do with this. By 4pm it was quiet again so I packed it in and headed off across the fields again. The final tally was 29 roach, two hybrids, four perch and a solitary bream.

Of bream the size of man hole covers or tench to double figures there was no sign today but that is not to say they are not swimming around in Na Blaithi. I fished very poorly today and should have switched to a slider early on instead of trying to fish the waggler with such a long drop. Lesson learned though and the next time I will know better. Will I return to Na Blaithi again? Yes, I would be keen to try it again next year. It has potential. A lough like this probably has good pike in it and if you could launch a boat on it I bet the trolling would be excellent.

We are promised wind and rain by Saturday here in the west and that will mean game fishing. One last hurrah before the season ends. For me that will mean Mask or Conn. I’ll return to the float rod later in the autumn and try my luck with the roach in the cold water.

PS. I fished Lough Mask on Sunday in poor conditions and, unsurprisingly, blanked.

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coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

Huntin’ hybrids

So, there is this lake near Ballymote which purportedly contains bream/rudd hybrids. I have been hankering to catch some of these relatively rare fish since I took up coarse fishing and today I headed off to county Sligo to try my luck for them on Bellanascarrow. The lough also contains pure strains of both species but it was the mongrel ones I really wanted to hook. Reading up on these fish it seems their numbers fluctuate greatly and there can be plenty sometimes and then they all but disappear. They can grow quite big with the Irish record well in excess of seven pounds.

Having never fished specifically for them before I would to have to learn as I was going along. My normal approach of fishing two rods, one rigged for feeder and the other on the float would be my plan of attack using maggots and worms for bait. I suppose my thinking was the hybrids would behave more like bream than rudd, but that was not based on any facts so I could be wildly wrong. Perhaps they cruised high in the water just like rudd but I was hoping they grubbed about on the bottom more like bream. Noted as good fighters, they sounded like a great target species so I set of for Ballymote in high spirits.

The IFI site says there are true bream in the lough and they should be catchable. I have never really cracked fishing for bream, I catch them alright but never in the great numbers other anglers seem too. The big ones have eluded me so far as well, my best still being a measly 3 pounds or so. Maybe today I would do better with them and hopefully winkle out a hybrid or two. Anticipation and learning about a new venue are aspects of angling which really appeal to me. I know anglers who fish only one pool on a river and nowhere else. They catch huge numbers of fish because they know this pool so well but I simply would not bother to go fishing if limited to such a narrow choice of places to fish.

It is not too far from Castlebar to Ballymote, up to Tubbercurry then across the bog and marginal farmlands of the Mayo/Sligo border country to the small town with the big ruined keep. The lough itself is less than a mile from the town and after parking the car (handy wee car park and stile, thank you IFI), I was soon on the bank. It took me a while but I have now refined my coarse tackle and everything has its place in my old seat box. Over the course of this year I’ve cut down on a lot of things I thought I needed to take with me in an effort to try and reduce the weight of the box and so far this has not led to any problems. I know my old buckets are crude and maybe at some point in the future I will invest in some proper bait buckets but for now I am coping just fine with the gear I have.

The maggots from last week were very sluggish first thing this morning when I took them out of the fridge but they are wriggling nicely now they have warmed up. I dug some worms yesterday, only small lads but they will do. Buying worms is expensive here, you pay between four-fifty and seven Euro for a tub, so I am grateful for any I can grub up from the compost heap. While I find that maggots out fish worms on most occasions there are days when the humble worm if preferred by bream and tench. I like to have both with me. At some point I must try pellets. I know they are hugely popular on commercial fisheries in the UK but I wonder if they would be so effective on the ‘natural’ loughs here in Ireland. I guess I will just have to try them and see how I get on.

As you approach the lough down a lane there is a water treatment plant and once at the waters edge you are confronted with a long, ugly concrete pier which has something to do with said treatment plant. I guess this is the water supply to the good folks of Ballymote. There are a few stands along the shore of the lough, giving me the dilemma of picking the right one. I usually look for a stand which has some sort of fish holding potential within casting range such as lily pads, reeds, etc. To be honest, there doesn’t seem to be much to pick between all the stands so I wander along to the second one on the left and set up there, crossing a small stream by a little bridge. Happy with my choice I settle down and begin operations. Ground bait first, four balls to start with. I set up with six pound mono on both reels. Not knowing what size of fish are in here I don’t risk going too light, not yet anyway. I can always drop down to lighter line if required. The feeder is dropped 20 yards out with a worm on a size ten hook then I plumb up in the usual fashion and set the waggler float a few inches over depth before impaling three red maggots on the size 16 hook. I start to loose feed a few maggots too in an attempt to populate the swim.

Sure enough, the float shoots down and a small hybrid comes to hand on just the third cast. It is only a little lad but it is an encouraging start. Next a small roach comes in. Roach! There was no word of them when I was researching this place. Next up is a skimmer and then another hybrid, this time a good one of around a pound. The wind is blowing from left to right and I am sheltered from it by the high bank of reeds so it is nice and comfortable as I ply my trade of cast and a wind in a fish. It is pretty much a fish a chuck now and some lovely hybrids are putting up a hell of a scrap when they feel the hook. A bonus bream or two show up and then some small perch. The roach seem to be gathering off to my left and a cast near the lily pads on that side almost always produces a silvery eight incher. Bites are almost all the same, a sharp and sudden disappearance of the float. No messing.

The feeder remains untouched all this time. Changing from worm to maggot is tried but that makes no difference. I bait up the edge of the lilies to my right and plonk the feeder in there but that doesn’t work either. In the end the green plastic feeder I am using falls apart and so I pack up that rod for the day. Back to the drawing board again for my feeder fishing!

The sun tries unsuccessfully to break through but I barely notice as I am kept busy with bites each and every cast. The lovely hybrids have been replaced by a vast shoal of skimmers now and they are biting just as readily but my hooking ratio drops dramatically. I try using worm on the float rod but it doesn’t catch as many as the maggot and I soon swap back again. By one o’clock the bites begin to slow down and by two it has gone quiet. With things to do at home I decide to call it a day and quickly pack up the gear and retrace my steps to the car park. Past the unsightly water plant, through a couple of metal gates and along the lane. It feels like no time since I was heading in the opposite direction but I packing in a lot of action since then.

A lovely little rudd

Back at home I am reflecting on the mornings events. I didn’t keep count of the fish I caught but I suppose it must have been in the order of about seventy in total. The bulk of them were skimmers but I had about 20 good sized hybrids, a few roach, a couple of bream, a sprinkling of perch and a few small rudd. I think of rudd as the Kylie Minogue of Irish angling: tiny and perfectly beautiful. What was very noticeable was the way all of the fish put up a fight. Even the bream gave a bit of a fight, something I have not seen before. Look, it was not like I was playing a marlin or anything like that but the fish in this particular lough do seem to fight more than in other places.

It just shows the importance of being in the right place at the right time. From ten until one the fishing could only be described as hectic. Fish after fish took the bait and only a few fell off. Yet if I had turned up to start fishing at 2pm when the lough seemed to be dead with no signs of fish at all I might have formed a totally different opinion of the venue. This kind of reinforces my theory that lunchtime until about 3pm is a time to be avoided if possible. I have now seen this lull in sport happening too often when coarse fishing for it to be a coincidence.

While I had an excellent session a competent pole fisher would have absolutely cleaned up! The fish were about 10 metres out so a lad with a pole could have simply whipped them in one after the other at a much faster rate than I could with a waggler. I am still not tempted to try the pole though. I enjoy my float fishing too much and assembling/disassembling lengths of tubing all day really does not a appeal to me.

As you can imagine, I thoroughly enjoyed the session this morning and will be back to fish Bellanascarrow lough in the future. The feisty hybrids are a lovely fish and the mix of other species in there means there is always something to keep you interested. Add to that it is relatively close to me and it makes a near perfect venue in my opinion. For those of you who might be visiting Ireland, Ballymote is in county Sligo and it has hotel and B&B accommodation. Apart from a couple of loughs there is some good bream fishing on the Owenmore river close by.

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coarse fishing

Quick session

I had some maggots left over from the other day and when I turned over the compost heap in the garden there were lots of worms squirming around in the muck so I decided to have a couple of hours fishing Ardrea lough just outside Ballymote in County Sligo. A small lough with a couple of stands and apparently some roach in it sounded like a nice way to use up the bait and end the week.

On arrival at the lough I looked for a stile to get over the new barbed wire fence but none could be found. I finally hopped over the fence near where I had parked the car but there was a six foot drop the other side which made for a tricky entry into the field. I made it OK but was left wondering how I would get back again! The field was sodden and marshy but a fine wooden stand with a metal rail was waiting for me and I was soon tackling up amid the relentless rain. A swimfeeder full of maggots and a bunch of them on a size 10 hook sailed out 30 yards and nestled on the bottom while I set up the float rod. Tying on a size 16 hook to 3 pound, I fished hard on the bottom of about 6 feet of water. The small hook was laced with a couple of maggots. A wind was blowing strongly from right to left, dragging the float even though I had it shotted down so it was barely showing.

Balls of groundbait were lobbed in and I settled down, water running off my oilskins. It took about twenty minutes for the first bite to come but after that it was pretty steady for the rest of the session. Apart from one good rattle (which I missed), the swimfeeder remained stubbornly quiet but the float rod was busy. First, a couple of hybrids took the maggots, not big fish but game little fighters. Next the perch showed up and finally a shoal of roach took up residence in front of me. The wind was a pain and it made accurate casting very hard but I persevered and caught fish on a regular basis. About 1pm the float dipped and I lifted into a bream which was gratefully received. It turned out to be the only one though (so much for bream travelling in big shoals).

A commotion over to my right made me look round and there was a male sparrowhawk being mobbed by swallows. I have never seen swallows mobbing before and the poor hawk could do nothing about the assault. He dodged a few strikes and lazily flapped his way across the lake and into some trees in the distance where he found sanctuary. We are at the end of August and the swallows will be leaving us soon on their hazardous trip to Africa. It’s always sad to see them go, the year grows older once they are gone.

The rain got heavier if anything and I was just contemplating packing up when the swimfeeder burst into life and something ran off, taking line from the reel. I struck but somehow contrived to miss the fish altogether. A fresh worm was impaled on the hook and I cast again to the same spot. While messing about with another small fish on the float rod a similar hard bite shook the swimfeeder rod and baitrunner reel let out some line. I struck once again and this time there was resistance. Something put a curve in the rod and I could feel it pulsating in the deeps water. What was this then? It fought hard so it was not a bream but it didn’t feel like a tench either. I was thinking to myself ‘this reminds me of’……… when I saw it under the surface. An eel! Quite a good one too. The usual palaver ensued with slime everywhere and me cursing as the fish escaped my grip while being unhooked. Eventually the job was done and the eel swam off slowly. While I consider eel to be the finest eating fish I won’t kill them as they are so rare.

By now I was wet and covered in slime from the bream and the eel. It was time to call it a day and head home so I dismantled everything as the heavens did their best impression of an Indian monsoon. Crossing the field I now had to negotiate the vertical slope topped with the barbed wire fence. Catching the wire in my left hand I swung myself up and caught the wooden post in my right then hauled myself up. I made it but elderly or infirm anglers would really struggle at this obstacle. It is a pity as the lough is a nice little venue for a pleasant few hours fishing. It would not take much investment to install a good metal stile.

So all in all it was a damp but productive few hours in county Sligo. The final tally was 15 roach (none better than 8 ounces), 8 perch, including a couple of 10 ounces fish, 2 hybrids, one bream and, of course, one eel. I make that 27 fish in about 3 hours in miserable conditions and a new water for me, enough to keep me happy anyway. There is another lake close by called Ballinascarrow which is pretty good apparently. I am planning on giving that a try in the autumn.

I’ll leave you with a few photos.

Where I hopped over the fence, you can’t see the drop on the other side from here though. You can just make out the stand I fished from.
Small perch. The two bigger ones I landed were caught during pouring rain, so no photos taken.
Bream
No words required!
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32, coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland, wetfly

32 – Episode 17, Antrim

Antrim occupies that far north eastern corner of the island of Ireland, an ancient kingdom with strong traditional links to my home country of Scotland. Indeed, I think I am right in saying there are but 12 scant miles of salt water at the closest point between the two countries. I recall being on holiday on the Scottish island of Islay many years ago, looking out from Port Ellen on a beautiful summer’s day and being amazed how clearly I could see Antrim on the horizon. A countryside of rugged coasts, hill farms and small towns, it has become famous as a result of it being some of the locations used in GoT. It was not dragons I would be searching for but a few much smaller and hopefully more obliging scaly creatures.

The northern part of Belfast city is in Antrim. The city sprawls across the lowlands on either side of the river Lagan with co. Down to the south and co. Antrim to the north. The river widens into a large bay and towns line both sides. Behind Carrickfergus on the Antrim side there are water supply reservoirs, some of which have been stocked with trout. Perhaps one of these could be a suitable venue? That was certainly my initial plan but I started reading up on trout fishing in Antrim and was surprised by just how much of it there is. Antrim’s rivers and loughs cater for a large and enthusiastic group of anglers who live in and around the county. I mulled the various options over but really found it hard to make a firm decision. In the end I hedged my bets in a quite unique way.

Up in the hills of northern Antrim there sits a lough called Dungonnell. It has been formed by a dam and holds some wild brown trout. This would be one of my target venues for the morning, up in the solitude of the glens with just the sheep and calling curlews for company. Hill lough trout are usually small creatures but fishing in lonely spots has a certain attraction for me. Having said that, I read that trout up to 5 pounds have been caught in this lough.

Dungonnell dam

For me this was going to be one of the longest journeys in my 32 project. Being perfectly honest, I have been putting this one on ‘the long finger’ for most of this year, always finding an excuse not to tackle it. This was solely based on the distance I would have to drive there and back. It would entail a very long day with considerably more time spent driving than actually fishing. That in turn meant less time to find fish and figure out how to catch one or two. Tiredness was obviously going to be a factor on the day as well.

I took a slightly different route but you can see how long this trip was

Initially planned for Tuesday, I felt ill that morning so postponed the trip 24 hours. The idea of a very long day behind the wheel when not feeling your best did not appeal so I drank plenty of fluids, got some rest and gathered my strength for the ‘morrow. Wednesday arrived, cloaked in grey and cool for the time of year. Feeling much improved, the bits and bobs required for the day were assembled and loaded in the half light. An early start was required as the trip to Dungonnell would take well over 4 hours behind the wheel. Through the never ending roadworks in Sligo just after 7 am, Enniskillen at 8 and then on to Dungannon. From there it was on to the long and winding road via flag bedecked Cookstown and Magherafelt to Toome. As I crossed the river Bann and an idea struck me, how about a few minutes fishing the Toome canal? This would only be a slight diversion and it was a piece of water I had heard of but never fished. I knew it was a famous pike fishery but I recalled reading somewhere it had roach, perch and bream in there too. I took an exit at the next roundabout and found a cark park right beside the canal. Quickly setting up a light spinning rod, I strolled along the path to a set of locks and was fishing a small jig within minutes. The water was very scummy further down but pretty clear at the locks. Some kids on paddleboards were having fun further up but they soon dropped down to close where I was fishing. Sure enough, the paddleboards were just the start and the jumping in to the water plus general mayhem quickly ensued. Changing to a float set up made not a whit of difference. I decamped to the canal above the locks for some peace and got plenty of it – not a bite did the float register. Loose feeding maggots failed to improve the situation and I finally admitted defeat. Returning to the car I was alarmed to find I had wasted two whole hours for no return. Tactically, my decision to try Toome had been a disaster. What would the rest of the day hold?

There is a ‘B’ road which leads from Toome to Ballymena via some twists and turns. From there, the A43 led me to the hamlet of Cargan then on to lesser roads until finally the dam hove into view. A small car park at the dam provided a safe spot to leave the car. The weather had deteriorated as I headed north and a thick mist cloaked the hills as I pulled up. Hungry, I indulged in a sandwich washed down with some coffee as the world turned grey and damp outside. Just as I finished my lunch the mist cleared slightly, time to crack on! Waterproof jacket, waistcoat and boots were donned, then I set up the old rod and reel with a peach line. A small daddy on the top, a size 14 Claret Bumble in the middle and a green-tailed Kate on the end.

I like to fish close in on hill loughs. They often deepen quite quickly as so the trout can usually be found near the edges. A slow and quiet approach is necessary though so as not to spook them. Short casts, show it to them then whip it away. Starting near the dam, I worked my way along the western shoreline with the wind coming over my right shoulder. It was immediately obvious the peach line I had taken to be a floater was in fact a sinker. No matter, I would fish just as happily with the wet line. The bank was rough so a neat ‘one step per cast’ fishing was not really feasible and instead I hopped from one rock or tussock to another, casting as wind and stance allowed. This is a lovely way to fish for trout, you have to concentrate on so many different factors to get it right.

Soon there was a sharp tug and a swirl but that trout did not stick. I cursed, took another step and cast again. Not long after that another fish tweaked one of the flies but he too was too quick for me. The mist returned. Flicking the flies out beyond an underwater rock brought an immediate response but no firm hook hold. I worked my way along the bank for perhaps two hundred yards, rising a dozen or more trout and not one of them did I manage to hook. By now it was raining properly and so I returned to the car. Time to get the thinking cap on!

I had noticed that every rise to my flies had happened within the first couple of pulls of my retrieve, and after that the fish had shown no interest. The sinking line had to go, I was convinced the trout wanted a fly high in the water. A search in the reel case soon produced a yellow floater the right size and in a few minutes I had a new leader tied on too. Next the flies came under scrutiny. The rises I had been able to see all seemed to be at the middle or tail positions. Maybe the claret bumble was a bit too small? I put a size 12 version in the middle of the new leader. The green-tailed Kate made way for a Bibio on the tail. Perhaps the green tail was too gaudy? What about the bob fly though? Scanning the contents of the box my eyes fell on a row of my much loved deer hair caddis. Grey ones, green bodied ones, black ones with a wee silver tip – all were good patterns but somehow not quite what I wanted today. Then I spotted it, a fiery brown DH caddis on a size 14 hook – perfect! Experienced anglers reading this will know that feeling you get sometimes, a knowing this fly is going to work today. Carefully I tied the little caddis fly on to the top dropper. The rain had eased a little again so I ventured back to the waters edge.

Casting the old yellow line was a joy, it fairly sailed out across wind and wave. Working my way along the same stretch of rocky as before but the water felt lifeless and of trout there was no sign. I plugged away, timing my casts to coincide with lulls in the gusty wind. A splash and sharp tug broke the rhythm of the casts, this one was hooked. It fought with dash and verve for a small trout but he came to hand without any drama and I had my prize, an Antrim brownie. Of course the Fiery Brown DH caddis nestled in the corner of his mouth. Dark, as most hill lough fish are, he was soon back in his watery abode none the worse for his mistake. The fish was no sooner released when the heavens opened and I made a bolt for the car. Waiting for a while, in the end I decided to change venue again so I packed up, happy with my solitary success.

The successful fly. They don’t look much but the DH caddis is a real killer pattern

Now for a trek along the byroads of northern Ireland and a complete change of angling experiences again. I was headed for the short Movanagher canal near the village of Kilrea to do a bit of float fishing. Here the River Bann is blocked by a weir and to allow boats to navigate it a canal was dug along the right bank and fitted with a set of lock gates. The coarse fish greatly appreciated this section of quiet flowing water and promptly took up residence. Roach, pike, perch and bream allegedly inhabit the canal now and it is a popular venue for matches. I thought that some maggots might tempt one or two of them so I set off down narrow roads bereft of signposts. I had a vague idea of where I was going but to be honest there was a lot of guesswork involved as I crawled along narrow country roads hemmed in by hedges and lacking in signs. One junction completely flummoxed me but I found an alternative road. It took me an hour but I finally made it to my destination.

After parking up I surveyed the canal and decided on one of the old concrete pegs as my swim for the remainder of the afternoon. Not that there is much to pick between them all but this one, number 4 as it turns out, would do for me. This being Northern Ireland I was only allowed to use one rod when coarse fishing so I had brought along the 12 foot rod and a small amount of coarse gear. Plumbing up I found the water was about ten feet deep in the middle. Different venues have different rules about the use of groundbait here in the north but you are allowed to use it on this wee canal. I mixed some up and tossed in three balls to try and attract in some fish then cast out my crystal waggler float with a pair of red maggots on a size 14 hook. The maggots which were left over from my last coarse fishing outing the previous week and had come from the bait fridge at home were turning to casters so I added them to the ground bait. I waited. In fact, I waited for the better part of an hour before anything happened.

My swim

Trickling in a steady stream of loose fed maggots is a favorite tactic of mine and today was no different. 6 or 8 maggots chucked in every second cast feels about right to me and I feel sure this helped to pull a few perch into the swim. My surroundings were lovely and the old concrete fishing pegs provided comfortable lodgings. After the rough terrain and soggy conditions of Dungonnell it felt like pure luxury to have a seat and a firm, level footing. The contrasts between the two angling genres can be stark sometimes but both fly and float exert a huge appeal on me. What is it they say? ‘A change is as good as a rest’. I’ll drink to that. Finally, the crystal gave a wobble then dived and I was in. A smallish perch was quickly reeled in, unhooked and released. More followed in a steady procession. The first one was small but the were some 8 ounce ones too. Bites varied between subtle little dips of the float to instant disappearances or sideways pulls. A tally of seven was reached before the sky darkened in the east and the rain came back again. It was half-past-four in the afternoon. Of roach and bream there was no sign and pulling out small perch had lost something of its appeal. It was time to head home again so I packed up and began the long journey west. Traffic was much lighter but but there were still a few late summer tractors on the road and it was nearly nine pm before I turned into the driveway at home in Mayo.

Typical of the perch I caught

When I got home I mulled over the logistics of the day. I had been driving for a total of ten hours and had fished three venues for a total of five-and-a-half hours. I had driven a total of 675 kilometres, by far the longest journey of the 32 project to date. All for seven small perch and a solitary half pound brownie. BUT (and this is important), I had landed fish in county Antrim. Trying the canal at Toome had proved to be a mistake but that’s fishing and there no guarantees so I accept the blank and move on. Similarly, the trek across country to try and catch fish at Kilrea was a lot of effort for not much return in terms of fish caught but I saw a bit of the countryside and enjoyed fishing that venue. I recall reading somewhere that these canals fish better in high water conditions when the coarse species seek shelter from heavy flows in the main river. On another day I feel sure both canals would fish well. If Dungonnell lough was close to me I would have it haunted! It is a beautiful upland fishery and if the trout are all around the size of the one I landed it would be a great place for someone like me. Instead, it is literally at the other end of the country and as such I will probably never fish it again.

Seventeen down, fifteen to go. Realistically I am not going to complete all 32 counties by the end of this year. I could push it but trying to cram them all in over the next few weeks feels like too much. Many of the remaining ones will involve long distance trips much like Antrim and these are very time consuming. As of now I am thinking of tackling the last three northern counties next, Derry, Tyrone and Down. It was lovely to fish the fly again after a summer of coarse fishing so I think more fluff chucking could be on the cards. That could change as well of course but for now I will take a look at my options in those three counties.

I will buy some little stickers and mark the different lines on my reel spools. Although I have rationalised them into some sort of order I am still guessing when it comes to densities and profiles. That will be a nice little job for me one winter’s evening. Hard to believe we only have 6 weeks of the game angling season left. Where did 2021 go?

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coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

Fisherman’s blues

Some days everything goes according to plans but then there are other days………..

Researching possible coarse fishing venues near to me often threw up references to ‘Lakehill Pond’ but the exact location of this small lake could not be found. I knew it was between Ballyhaunis and Knock but no more detail than that could be gleaned from the internet. A couple of old photos of a very ‘tenchy’ looking pond turned up on a fishing website, just serving to add to my frustration. On and off for a year now I have been trying to find the place. Finally, I sussed it out and located it right next to a road outside of the village of Knock. It was very definitely worth a closer look. The weather is still very wet and windy here in Mayo, far from ideal conditions for tench fishing but the season is rapidly heading towards a close so I figured it was best to give the pond a try regardless. Anyway, I had some maggots and a couple of worms left over from my last session and it would be a sin to waste them.

Lakehill pond is right in the middle of the screenshot

After recent outings my tackle box was a right old mess with hastily removed end gear chucked in there along with all sorts of odds and ends. I took a bit of time to tidy up and tie a few new rigs the previous day so at least I was a little better organised. In particular, I wanted to try and break recent ducks using the feeder. I suspected the pond could be deep so feeders may offer the best chance of a fish. I really needed to up my game a few notches though.

Somewhat unusually, I wanted to make a late start to this session so I set off at 3 pm. Circumstances have forced me to fish during the middle part of the day lately and miss the prime times of ‘early and late’ but today I had the permission of ‘er indoors for an evening beside the water. The final few items were tucked into the car and then I was off on the road eastwards. Anticipation is always such a huge part of my fishing and I was looking forward to trying the pond for the the first time. From what I had read (and that was not much) there would only be tench in the pond so I could focus all my attention on them. I didn’t pick up any hint of large tench in my reading though so I suspected the fish would run to maybe three pounds. Even that size of a tench puts up a good fight so I’d be using six pound line today. Kiltimagh was busy as I took the Knock road out of the village, standing water in every dip of the tarmac. Untidy, rough fields and bog slipped past on either side of the narrow road until the spire of the Basilica hove into view and I threaded my way past the religious trinket shops and on to the old Ballyhaunis road, only 3 miles from my destination.

A small grassy parking space at the side of the road was greatly appreciated and I was soon through a gate held shut with baling wire and marching through the long damp grass looking for a fishing stand. The first stand I came to was in a shockingly dangerous condition so I passed that one and found what remained of the next stand. It was in bits and could not be used. What little wood remained was rotten. Scanning the rest of the pond it seemed there was another stand in the far corner but it too was badly damaged. I set up on the bank, more than a little dismayed at the state of the stands.

Lakehill pond and what remains of one of the stands

Tying on a new rig, I fired the swimfeeder out, the size 12 hook baited with a bunch of red maggots. Groundbait balls featuring some corn as particle bait were roughly formed then chucked in. A strong wind was blowing directly towards me so I settled down to fish with just the feeder. Barely had the bait settled on the bottom before I had my first bite, a tappy little affair which led to me connecting to the first fish of the session. A tiny, stunted roach came meekly to hand. Maybe a one off, I thought as I re-baited and cast out again. Another small bite and another minuscule roach. This scenario was repeated again and again. The pond seemed to be filled with tiny roach and nothing else.

Stunted, skinny and greedy, I was plagued by these roach

I stuck it out for a while but in the end I packed up. That was when the next disaster unfolded. My red maggots were in a square two pint box and the lid had come off as I was fishing, allowing pretty much all of the bait to wriggle out. They were all around me and when I lifted the seatbox up the ground was crimson with grubs. Nothing else for it, I had to pick up as many as I could and pop them back in the box from whence they came. Let me assure that herding maggots is not one of life’s great pleasures and I spent the next ten minutes grabbing baby bluebottles from the muck. A lot of them escaped and will no doubt provide sustenance to the local critters but I corralled enough to see me through the next part of my evening. I trudged off in the direction of the car, stepping in the smelliest cow pat I have ever encountered on my way. I had to wash my wellies before I could get in the car.

Eaton’s Lake is just over the hill from Lakehill pond so I decamped there around 6 pm. The already muddy path was partially flooded after recent rain making just getting to the stands a bit tricky. I made it though and set up the swimfeeder again. While I was setting up the float rod the feeder produced a couple of fish, a roach and a perch. Once I got going with the float rod I started to catch a fish each cast but they were just tiny perch. At last the loaded crystal waggler took a more determined dive and out came a small hybrid after a bit of a scrap. I had started with a size 14 hook under the float but I dropped to a 16, tipped with a pair of maggots. At least I was out of the wind here and time slipped past as I caught perch after perch, interspersed with the odd roach and hybrid.

Tiny perch
A typical Eaton’s lake hybrid

By about 8.40pm I had had enough, the midges were out in force now and the bites were drying up so I packed my gear and headed for the car. I stepped off the wooden fishing stand my right foot disappeared into a couple of feet of gooey mud. I tried to steady myself by taking a step with my left foot but it sank even deeper and I lost my balance, falling into the muck on my left side. I managed to extricate myself without any harm being done but I was filthy and a bit wet despite my waterproofs. It was not far to where the car was parked and I was just a bit dirty once I had removed my gear. It had been a fitting end to a poor day.

So, what great life lessons did I learn today? My optimism as I headed for Lakehill pond was dramatically deflated upon arrival. The pond is in awful condition and requires a huge amount of work to turn it into a decent fishery. I am going to write to the local IFI about it as I honestly believe the pond is dangerous and should either be closed to the public or remedial works urgently undertaken. That people have introduced roach to the pond verges on criminal and while there are probably tench still swimming around in there it is now nigh on impossible to catch them as the stunted roach grab the hook as soon as it hits the bottom.

Eaton’s has yet to give up a good fish for me. There is clearly a big head of small fish in it but just yanking out 4 inch perch is not really a terribly exciting prospect for me. This evening I landed 9 small hybrids, 6 small roach and a scatter of minute perch. How many perch? I was not counting but I’d hazard a guess at maybe 30 or more. At the end of the day, Eaton’s is only 30 minutes drive from home so I may try it again in the future but I would rather spend more time behind the wheel and fish better waters in Leitrim and Roscommon.

A less than successful evening for me but look, that is how life is. There are plenty of people lying in hospital beds who would have given anything just to be out in the fresh air messing about beside a lake in Ireland. Maybe I will have better luck on my next outing with the rods.

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coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

A tale of two days

My new found love of coarse fishing has made a right old mess of my normally straight forward season. It is usually a case of no fishing in January or February then a gradual build up during the spring months as I fish for trout and salmon. Some sea trouting in the summer then another burst of activity with the fly rods through the months of August and September before a bit of piking and sea fishing during the autumn months. Now I have to shoe-horn in my sessions with float and feeder so the past two days were spent practicing these methods before the trout fishing explodes on me again. Here is how two similar days on two different waters panned out.

Thursday

The weather forecast was gloomy, expect heavy rain and possible thunder and lightening. Regardless, I set off for a small lake in Leitrim with tench on my mind. Light rain accompanied me along the road there but nothing too serious. I set up a swimfeeder on one rod and a waggler on the other and waited to see what would transpire. The rain got heavier and the world descended into shades of silver and grey as the downpour gathered strength. I sat it out, my oilskin coat keeping the worst of the water off me. Balls of groundbait sailed in perfect arcs through the rain to plop into the swims in more or less the right places. The float never budged and the feeder rod failed to register even a nibble. The rain was fairly hammering down by now. The maggots on both rigs were not doing the business today so I wound in the waggler and changed hooks. On went a size 10 and I broke a worm in half, adding both sections to the hook and tipping it off with a couple of maggots. This would hopefully prevent the worm pieces from wriggling free. The rain seemed to be easing off a little for now as I re-cast close to the lilypads.

The worm sections had been in the water for a while and I decided to reel in and check they were still wriggling. Lifting the rod to wind in I immediately felt a strong fish on the end. I swear there was no bite, no dip of the float prior to me lifting the rod. A nice tench fought well but was soon netted, about 2.5 pounds in weight so quite small for this lough. It swam off strongly once free from the barbless hook.

Busying myself re-baiting and casting both rods I hardly noticed the rain had returned. Big, fat drops were falling now and grew in intensity over the next few minutes. I hunkered down once again. Luckily the wind was blowing from behind me so I stayed relatively dry as the monsoon lashed down. Although I continued fishing it was impossible to see the float in these conditions. The minutes passed and at last the rain eased off a little. All my gear was thoroughly soaked by now though.

Gradually the downpour eased off completely and the lough was still and calm in front of me. The air was cooler and fresher after the rain and I could actually see what I was doing again. I fished on, concentrating hard on the details of casting and baiting. The second bite when it came was typical for this venue, the float ever-so-slowly dipped and finally slid below the surface and I struck into another solid fish. This one fought really hard, powerful, surging runs towards the reeds and then a dash to try and get under the stand. I got him in the end, a fine tench of about five pounds or so. I wish I had taken more time photographing this one as the snaps I have do not do this magnificent fish justice.

Apologies for the poor photo

Back came the rain again! I suppose I had about 20 minutes of dry weather then the deluge commenced once more. The sky turned a menacing dark blue/grey colour and the pale clouds scurried across the countryside. It cleared to the north and the same pattern of bites when the rain stopped was repeated, this time by another fine tench but he shot straight into the lilypads and no amount of pulling on my part could free him. The line eventually snapped and the fish was gone. I got a very brief look at him as he rolled in the lilies and I thought he was another five pounder. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

A twitchy little bite brought me a good sized skimmer and the very next cast I hooked but lost a second one. Then the small bream were gone as quickly as they had arrived. The sky seemed to be so low it was touching the ground and there was a heat and ‘tension’ in the air which I did not like. It felt to me like there could be lightening so I hastily packed everything up and slogged back through the sodden fields to the car. I had no sooner reached the motor when there was an ominous rumble of thunder close by. I didn’t see any flashes of lightening but I felt vindicated in my decision to call it a day. The drive home to Mayo was punctuated with heavy showers and minor floods on the roads.

So Thursday gave me two nice tench and a skimmer which I felt was not too bad in the conditions. What I find interesting is that the feeder did not get a single bite, all the action was on the float set up. More research is needed by me on swimfeeders as I suspect I should be catching more fish on the feeder.

Consulting the forecast it seemed that Friday was going to be a very similar type of day weather-wise. I dried out my gear as best I could and hatched a plan for the ‘morrow.

Friday

I could hear the rain hammering on the window as soon as I woke. I will admit I wavered a little, another day out in the rain seemed to be madness when tucked up in a warm bed but the lure of fishing is too strong for mere mortal anglers like me. Anyway, where as yesterday had been a fishery well known to me this time I was going to try a completely new water.

Unusually, this was a coarse trip in Mayo. According to the IFI website ‘Eatons Lake also holds good stocks of coarse fish’. A bit short on detail, I took this to mean rudd, roach and bream were likely candidates with possibly the outside chance of a tench. I had heard of this small lough a while ago but could not find it. Looking on various maps proved to be fruitless as Eaton’s was not shown on any of them. That it was situated between Ballyhaunis and Knock was beyond dispute but there are a few small loughs in that area and it was only when I used Google maps that I eventually found it. Peering intently at the screen I could make out a couple of fishing stands and even a small space on the road where I could park so today I’d pay this reed-fringed lough a visit.

This would be a short session, I had to be back home for mid-afternoon meaning I could only spend about 4 hours fishing. I had some left over maggots and even a couple of worms from Thursday so there would be enough bait for the half day. Only 30 minutes from home I pulled over on to a wide grass verge opposite the small lake. This was the place all right. It was the work of a few minutes to get gowned up and ready to go. The lake is just across a small field and through a stand of trees but the reeds and grass were above head height. It looked like the scene from a Vietnam war movie, I could imagine Charley was going to open up on me at any time! Along the wet track through the trees I went until I could make out the metal rail on a fishing stand. I was here!

I was soon fishing and took time to take in my surroundings. There were three stands, I was on the middle one simply because it was the first one I saw. The lake was a nice size and the water clear. Reeds and lily pads fringed the edges all the way around the lake, making a pretty sight. Plumbing the depth I found ten feet of water close in and three rod lengths out was too deep for normal float fishing. A feeder seemed to be the best option for the deep water and I rigged a light float from the margins.

The first hour passed with no signs of action but I kept feeding the swims with balls of groundbait and some loose fed maggots. Finally, the float gave a wee dip and I wound in a small roach, saving the blank for me. Next, a perch showed up, soon followed by a very small brother of the first one. The next hour was pretty steady with bites and fish landed but none of them were any size. All the fish fell to the float, there only being one half-hearted bite on the feeder which came to nothing. Then the rain started. It absolutely poured down for about 30 minutes, drenching me and all my gear. It eased off to a heavy mist eventually and the fish started to bite again. Some small roach, small perch and a nice small hybrid came to hand before it was time to call it a day. Counting up, 4 roach, 4 perch and two hybrids was the tally.

So what to make of Eaton’s Lake? I failed to catch anything of any size today but I suppose just catching 10 fish on a new water can’t be sniffed at. The lack of fish on the feeder is worrying me and I need to find out where I am going wrong. There was deep water three rod lengths out, too deep for the float (unless I rigged up a slider). It shouted ‘Bream’ to me and I had confidence that a worm on a feeder rig would work but it didn’t. On the plus side the lake is close to home by my standards, only half-an-hour’s drive is less than half my normal travel time to Carrick-on-Shannon for example. That alone makes it worth further exploration in my book. There is another lake close by which could also be worth a try but I need to find out how to access that one as it would entail crossing someone’s land.

So there you have it, two consecutive days on two different lakes with two different outcomes. As I write this post the heavens have opened and the street outside is under water. The local rivers will rise this weekend and the salmon will be running. The coarse rods will be tucked away for the next while…………………..

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