Fishing in Ireland

Choosing an outboard

Years ago getting around on the big western loughs was a straight forward business, you hired one of the local boatmen who would row you around all day for a pittance. Tough, weather beaten lads with arms like Popeye and who knew their lough intimately. Many a tale is told of the old fellas but they have all slipped into the mists of time. Sure, you can still hire a boatman (I do a bit myself) but the age of men in worn flat caps and battered tweed jackets who pulled on oars alone are gone. The internal combustion engine took their place. Seagulls to start with, those 2.5hp engines broke the mold and I remember them in use clearly. A good one was a joy but there were some dodgy ones around and they could be a curse to start. I suspect there are still a few in use even now but I have not seen one for years. More powerful outboards arrived on the market and picking an outboard engine became a whole lot more complicated. I want to give you my thoughts on buying an outboard for the loughs. Having gone through this exercise within the last couple of years it may have some resonance with those of you looking to purchase an engine this winter. Here I am talking about outboards suitable for use on a standard 17 to 19 foot lake boat, other craft will have very different requirements.

For me at least, the starting point has to be exactly what do you want from your engine? Are you going to be using it on a daily basis? Will you be travelling long distances? Do you intend taking your boat off the lake and storing it securely every day? Give this a lot of thought before making any decision as buying the wrong outboard is an expensive mistake. Put it this way, if you are probably only going to used your boat a handful of times each year there seems little point in buying a very big engine, a nice little 5 or 6 hp will do just fine. Then again, if you are going to be on the water frequently and are planning long journeys a bigger capacity engine will be more suitable.

Virtually everyone here used to own a two stroke engine. They are relatively light, powerful and dependable but unfortunately also inefficient and dirty. Two stroke outboard engines are no longer available to purchase new here in Ireland but die hard anglers still buy them abroad and import them. There is a healthy market for second hand two strokes and they command high prices.

The two strokes have largely been replaced with four stoke engines which are very fuel efficient and sturdy. The only fault I can see with four strokes is their weight, they are very heavy indeed by necessity of their design. Being honest, I can pick up a 15hp two stroke engine but can’t lift a four stroke of the same power. I’m getting on a bit so younger, fitter lads can no doubt handle a big four stroke but many fishers leave the bigger engines on their boat all the time and this brings us to a very important issues, security.

Time was everyone simply pulled up on to the shore at the end of the day, unloaded the fish and rods but left the engine and even the petrol tank on the boat. That was a different Ireland, one where nobody would dream of stealing another mans engine. Nowadays we suffer gangs and individuals who target boats to rob engines. Security devices which lock the engine to the boat are simply bypassed by the robbers cutting the stern off the boat to get the engine. So if you own a heavy engine you either have to heave and sweat pulling the engine off the boat at the end of each trip or leave it on the boat but haul the boat out and store it safely in a locked shed or somewhere similar.

To give a bit of detail regarding weights and power outputs, there is generally a big jump in weight between 6hp and 8hp four stroke engines. This is because the smaller engine is a single cylinder design but the slightly larger one is a twin. Very roughly, this translates to about 60 pounds weight for a 5 or 6hp and around 85 – 90 pounds for a 8hp. That is quite a jump for only an additional 2hp. Want to go bigger? A 15hp four stroke typically tips the scales at a whopping 100 to 120 pounds.

The basic calculations most anglers used to make in the days of just two stroke engines was how much power can I get for my money? Now it has changed to how heavy is the engine going to be? Most anglers used to buy an 8 or 15 hp two stroke engine and these are still very common on all the Irish loughs. Like me, many have now dropped to a smaller four stoke engine when buying a new one, simply because of the weight issue. I would urge any prospective buyer to physically visit their dealer and try lifting the engines so they get a good idea of what is going to be involved when on the side of the lake. Of course you can invest in a trolley for moving your engine. Note that some venues are rough and rolling a heavy engine on a trolley can be a nightmare so think this through before spending more cash on a trolley.

I will leave the question of which brand up to the individual. In truth, most outboards are now manufactured in either Japan or China. Yamaha, Suzuki, Tohatsu, Honda and Mercury all have their fans. Johnson/Evinrude stopped production in 2020 I think.

Running costs will vary greatly between 2 stroke and 4 stroke engines, the latter being much more fuel efficient and also do not need the two stroke oil of the former. You will need a fuel tank if you do not already own one and please note that different engine manufacturers use different fuel line connectors. Spare parts are not a huge problem in my experience and if not on hand can be ordered pretty easily online. The cost of spares is not a major concern with the items you usually need such as new impellors or even props being easily affordable.

The question of new or secondhand is of course a big one. There is a healthy secondhand market here in Ireland for outboard engines and a quick look at the online sites will throw up a selection of engines in varying states of repair. Caution is required here, while some of these engines are in excellent condition there are some real dogs too and you really need to know about outboards before plunging into the secondhand market. When you are drifting into towards the rocky shore on Mask in a lively wind the last thing you need is for an engine not to start when you tug the cord! If you are experienced with small engines then by all means go look for a bargain in the pre-owed market but my advice is generally buy new if you can.

Servicing your engine needs to be part of your thought process too. Outboard engines need to be serviced regularly but there is a limited number of dealers around the country so do your research before buying. I know that my own Honda needs to be serviced at one of only two dealerships on the island and while that does not bother me greatly it could be a deciding factor for some people.

What would I recommend? If you can find a good one, a secondhand 8hp Yamaha 2 stroke or similar is a great buy. These are becoming very scare and are expensive even for older engines. If you are young and strong then a new or used 8hp four stroke may be a good choice while for more seasoned anglers a drop to a 5 or 6 hp four stroke might be a better option. If you have the luxury of a safe shed to store your boat then a 15hp four stroke makes a lovely power unit which will give you access to anywhere you want.

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Fishing in Ireland, sea angling

Out of Cleggan

Autumn is usually a good time of the year for sea fishing off the Irish coast so when I was offered a place on a small boat fishing out of Cleggan I jumped at the chance. It has been a couple of years since I did any saltwater fishing and this would be a nice change from all the coarse angling I have been doing this year. Looking out my gear it soon became clear it was in need of some TLC before fishing so I spent some time sorting it all out the previous day. Mackerel which had been in the freezer for far too long was defrosted along with a few sandeels so I had some bait to get started. The usual plan when fishing around the coast here is to target mackerel for use as bait at the start of the day but I heard these are in chronically short supply this season so I brought my own along.

It’s a bit of a trek down to the small village of Cleggan across the border in county Galway. I decided to bypass Westport and instead cut over by Aughagower. This is a narrow road and progress was slowed by oncoming traffic, including a surprising number of heavy tipper lorries which were presumably heading for the construction sites of the new N5 road. Along the gorgeous road to Leenaun, past Kylemore with the amazing abbey across the lake and through a busy Letterfrack until I reached Cleggan harbour with time to spare. Wellies and waterproofs donned, I met up with the other guys and we loaded all our gear on to John Brittain’s boat ‘Bluewater’. I knew some but not all of the lads so it was nice to meet some new faces. Casting off, we headed out into the choppy waters of the Atlantic the salty wind in our faces.

I set up a string of tinsel feathers on my old white rod, the one I use for mackerel fishing. With time to spare I then rigged my other rod with a flying collar about eight feet long. The other lads all preferred to use baited feathers so it would be interesting to see which rig would fish best. Some times the flying collar is deadly but on other occasions a simple string of feathers will out-fish it.

John knows the rough waters off Connemara like the back of his hand and the Bluewater is a fine boat. He offers a range of angling experiences including shark and tuna trips but today we wanted to fish the reefs and banks on the drift. We anglers like to think any fish caught are due to our own knowledge but the truth is the skipper is the star of the show. Finding the mark, setting up on the drift and calculating how the drift alters as wind and tide change are all hard won skills. Today there was a stiff wind coming out of the south west so John set a course for the reefs in the lee of the islands.

Inisbofin is served by a small ferry based in Cleggan and it is a popular tourist centre with a lively traditional music scene. Its neighbour, Inishark, was abandoned in the 1960’s and is now home to seabirds only. We would spend the day trying our luck close to the rocky headlands of these two islands. The first couple of drifts proved to be barren save for a couple of wrasse at the other end of the boat. The skipper moved again, this time a little closer to ‘bofin. Here the ground was very rough and I lost three sets of gear in quick succession. Fishing over reefs is always going to claim some end tackle and today was going to be a hard one for me as over the the few hours we were fishing I lost numerous leads and feathers. I picked up my first fish though, a brightly coloured Cuckoo Wrasse. We moved again, this time to a reef between Inishbofin and Inishark. The rods started to bend and some small pollock and a few wrasse came into the boat. Repeating this drift a few times we slowly began to fill the fish boxes and a tiny cod plus a couple of ling also came into the boat. I was catching a few but you could not say the fishing was hectic. It didn’t really matter as we were all enjoying just being out in the fresh air. I managed a couple of better pollock of around five pounds before we stopped for lunch. John pulled in closer to shore where the sea was calm and the rest of the lads cooked up sausages and burgers on a small gas stove while the skipper brewed a big pot of tea. Being a veggie I contented myself with my salad sandwiches.

Off again, we started drifting close to the stags of bofin, roughly hewn rocks which rise from the sea off the west of the island. Here we had the best fishing of the day with a constant stream of pollock to six pounds, mackerel, wrasse and coalies. I had a lovely female ballan wrasse of about four pounds, my best one for many years. The coalies were vociferous as usual and since they were around three pounds each and we were hooking them two or three at a time they put a good bend in the rods. All too soon it was time to pack up and head back to shore, the gory ritual and gutting and filleting being carried out on the bucking deck as we drove east around the headland and back to the harbour. We had filled two boxes with quality fish, enough to ensure we all went home with a supply of fillets for the freezer. It is a small harbour and the ferry was tied up against the quay so all our gear and fish had to be manhandled into the ferry and down the gangplank on the other side. Another day over.

Loading our slimy, smelly and sodden gear into our respective vehicles, we said our goodbyes and turned for home. The drive was one to appreciate as the sun set on the hills of Connemara. Coming into Letterfrack three roe deer ran across the road in front of me, two hinds followed by the buck. Beautiful creatures, it was lovely to see them. It was only when driving I felt the tiredness come upon me, a day afloat is hard work for me now. My dodgy knees and ankles had been at me during the day but now and I sat in the car the arthritis really hit and the pain ratcheted up with each passing mile. Fellow sufferers will know that you just grit your teeth and get through it. The lights of Castlebar shone in the dark as I reached home. The fish were stowed in my fridge overnight, I’d sort them out in the morning, cutting them up into individual portions and popping them into bags for the freezer. The rest of the gear was pulled out of the car and into the shower where a good dousing takes only a few minutes but is vital to reduce rusting.

And so concluded my only sea fishing trip for 2021. The most worrying part of the day was the lack of mackerel. At this time of year there should be shoals of fat, hard fighting mackerel off the west coast. The intensive commercial fishing has decimated the stocks and we caught barely a handful today. Until mackerel are given some protection this slaughter will continue until they are gone completely.

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32, Fishing in Ireland

On hold

Life has been very good to me over the years. Looking out across the deeply tarnished vista of this modern world where there is so much pain and suffering I can see how fortunate I have been. I personally have led a charmed existence to date with only minor bumps along life’s highway. As the sunlit uplands of youth receded behind me and I wandered the trail into the darkening cloven valley of late middle age I found peace and comfort in my life here in the west. Helen, family, the various pets, friends, work colleagues and passing acquaintances all contributed to a full and comfortable life. Fishing has been a constant thread, taking me to wonderful places amid the glories of the Irish countryside. My angling efforts have waxed and waned over the past two decades and much as I would like to fish even more than I currently do it looks like the ash spoked wheels of life are turning in the opposite direction, for a little while at least.

Lough Conn under October clouds

A lot is going on outside of my angling, so much in fact that the end of the game fishing season has coincided with a period of frenetic activity which means there will be little or no fishing of any sort for me for a while. Many of my angling plans have had to be altered, postponed or abandoned, including the 32 project. It happens to us all, the best laid plans of mice and men etc. Unless you live in a self-contained bubble there are always going to be other demands on time and resources which mean angling has to take a back seat for a while. As 2021 grows old I am entering one of those periods when other priorities have come to the fore.

I have not given up on ‘32’, far from it. A hell of a lot of research has gone into developing detailed plans on how to complete my pet project. A spreadsheet resides on my desktop labelled ’32’, its pages filled with lists of possible venues, distances to be traveled, species thought to be swimming there, addresses of tackle shops and a myriad of other details to assist me in my decision making. Hours of research and planning have gone into this document and the contents remain valid for future use. It has just been put on hold for now, that’s all. Of course this is a disappointment after all the effort which I have already invested in the project. With 17 counties already under my belt ticking off the remainder felt eminently doable. Looking back, perhaps I should have put more effort into the project over the summer of 2021 but hindsight is an exact science and I believe while it is important to learn from the past it does not do to dwell on ones previous errors. Anyway, there were reasons why I did not go zooming off to Cork, Waterford or the others at the drop of a hat this year. Even I had some restrictions on me.

The road goes ever on…………

Two main reasons have led to this change of direction. I have taken up a new, full time job which will demand a lot of my time. My previous incarnation as an Interim Manager meant long spells of unemployment between assignments, periods when I could do a lot of fishing. Now I have traded in that peripatetic lifestyle and will be labouring in a 9-5 job like most other people, something I have not done since I lived in London nearly twenty years ago. This seismic shift in employment will obviously drastically reduce the amount of free time available to me and will take some getting used to. The new job is some 35km from home and that daily commute just adds to the reduction in free time. On the plus side, said commute will be through glorious countryside along relatively quiet roads. When in London I used to set off at 6.15 am every work day and considered myself very lucky to reach work at 8 am having covered 17 miles. I’ll never complain about a commute again after that!

All packed up for now.

At the same time there is a house move afoot and all the hassle that a change of abode entails, both financially and in time commitment. We are hoping to stay in Castlebar but that may not be possible and we might have to move away to somewhere else in Mayo. It all depends on what housing is available at the time. I may manage to squeeze in a couple of hours fishing here and there but long, all day trips to the far flung corners of the island of Ireland simply aren’t feasible when under so much pressure at home. All of my fly tying gear has already been packed up, ready for the house move. As we are downsizing the luxury of having a whole room to myself for fishing equipment and making flies is no longer realistic. Instead, I am planning on moving all my gear into a large shed once we find a new home. Even that will take time and money as I will need heat and light, power outlets and ventilation in the shed. Something tells me that Helen is unlikely to view the fishing shed as top priority when there is a whole house to be decorated. For those of you who enjoy my posts on fly patterns I have a few ‘in the bag’ already and I’ll add them to the blog over the coming months.

The housing market here in Ireland is volatile with rapidly rising prices and a shortage of property for sale for long periods only for the bubble to burst and house prices crash. At present they are rising. The hope is the next house will require only a little work done on it but if a reasonable ‘fixer-upper’ comes along I might be tempted. Long ago, when I lived in Scotland, I bought old houses and did them up, doing much of the work myself. The difference is that I was in my twenties back then and remodeling a house was a breeze. As an old codger I now approach hard physical work with a much more jaundiced eye. I find nowadays that I still know what to do but every job takes me so much longer to complete. While not dismissing the option of buying a dilapidated property it would need to be priced low enough that I could afford to hire tradesmen to do the heavy jobs. I am not going to knacker my casting arm laying blocks or pouring concrete!

Packing has already begun. Just the simple task of boxing up all my fly tying tools and materials turned into an all-day event. Unmarked packets of fur and feather abounded so simply chucking everything in boxes felt like I was just storing up trouble for myself in the future. Hours sorting out the various materials ensued, labelling them all and grouping them together in some sort of order. Over the years I have experimented with different hook designs and as a result now have 4 large boxes full to overflowing with assorted hooks. Even still, more packets and boxes of hooks appeared as I delved into the mass of gear. Of course during this tidy up I discovered lots of other stuff I had simply forgotten I owned. Capes and feathers of all types, reels upon reels of silks and threads and packets of various synthetics from years ago. Some will be used but other items, like boxes of huge Waddington shanks, are no longer required. The upshot of all this is I have a lot of excess materials which I intend selling off when finally ensconced in the new abode. It is impossible for me to use even a fraction of the materials I own in my remaining few years on this planet so I’ll move some of it on and free up some space.

My tackle was already in pretty good order (nudge nudge wink wink). I store most of my gear neatly in large plastic boxes, each more or less dedicated to specific methods. For example, there are separate containers for salmon fly tackle, trout fly gear, coarse stuff, etc. Odds and ends have to be rounded up from the back of the car and other nooks and crannies, along with a library of angling books which have somehow crept on to book shelves all over the house. I am taking this time to throw out old fishing clothing which I never wear but have been clinging on to for years. Shirts with worn collars, jackets that don’t zip up any more and pairs of leaky waders which I meant to repair but never got around to. They are being consigned to the recycling bin as the burning desire to minimise takes hold in earnest. All this ditching of old gear was quite cathartic and I’d encourage you all to do the same thing. Hanging on to stuff you will never use again is not healthy. As part of this clear out I also reached the decision I will sell my heavy salmon outfit. This rod and reels have enormous sentimental value but I have to be realistic, I’ll never use them again. My days of deep wading the Tweed and Tay, spey casting heavy sinking lines are long behind me now and so the Hardy sixteen footer, the 3 3/4 inch Perfect and the Angel 9/10 reel are all going on the market. I don’t expect much interest in the rod but the reels should sell pretty quickly.

It has not all been about chucking stuff out though. While clearing one spare room I came upon a couple of cheap old guitars which had been long forgotten about. The acoustic has a damaged nut and the electric refused to work at all. Before binning both I took a look at them and worked out that with a bit of work they could be salvaged. Damage to the nut on the acoustic was limited to the high string so I changed it to a 5 string and tuned to open G. It’s a little awkward now but playable. The electric had some broken connections and was soon fixed after some work with the soldering iron. I will order a bridge conversion gizmo for it to raise the action and use it to play slide. I am half toying with the idea of reducing it to three strings like Seasick Steve’s Transwonder. Of course repairing old guitars when I was supposed to be packing did not go down well with ‘er indoors!

So what are my plans on re-booting the 32 project? It is hard to be exact when the whole world feels like it is spinning out of control. If pushed, I think I would say it will be the end of summer 2022 before I can seriously start to tackle any more counties. OK, a small window of opportunity may open up unexpectedly before then but in terms of a concerted effort we are probably looking at the second half of next year. That feels an awfully long way away right now but as life flies past us so quickly I guess even the second half of 2022 will come around fast enough. Helen has already suggested a short break for us both once the move has been completed, maybe down to Cork for a weekend. A sneaky fishing rod could easily be surreptitiously stowed in the car on that holiday.

Any spare moments over the upcoming weeks and months will be spent carrying out small little angling related jobs. For example, I have a lot of floats to repair (what is the collective name for floats? A flitter? A fantasy? A frivolity? Answers on a postcard….). The contents of all my coarse fishing rig wallets which were so abused this summer need a total overhaul too. A change from mono to fluorocarbon is on the cards for a start. I lost some big fish due to line breakages so I want to go up in breaking strength but not lose out on diameter. I’ll keep using mono on my heavier rigs as I think it is harder wearing but the lighter tippets will be changed up in strength. For example, my current 2.5 pound mono rigs could be upgraded to 4 pound fluorocarbon.

It’s a cool morning outside, a light mist shrouds the trees in the garden. You can feel the change in the seasons. I would dearly love to be out fishing today, making the best of my last few hours of freedom before work rudely interrupts. Instead I am filling sturdy cardboard boxes with years of accumulated crockery, tools and assorted other chaff. Who knows how long the house move will take? There are a couple of rooms to be decorated before this house goes on the market for a start. It once took me 18 months to sell a house in Scotland and the thought of a prolonged period of financial uncertainty is unsettling. Hopefully it will be quicker than that and some level of normality can return fairly rapidly. Until then I will probably be a bit quiet on this blog but, like MaCarthur, I shall return!

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike

Here comes the rain again

The Eurithmics, fronted by fellow Aberdonian Annie Lennox, released hit after hit back in the ’80’s. ‘Here comes the rain again’ popped into my head as the sky darkened and huge, cold drops fell on us with ever increasing intensity as we putted along the shoreline. The downpour was so intense I had to bail water out of the boat. Huddled against the storm, I turned so the weather was at our backs as I squinted throught the semi-darkness to get my bearings. We must be mad fishing in this!

The past two Sundays have seen me out on lough Conn. I was not fishing but Frank was keen to reconnoiter the lough for pike so we braved the autumn weather. Last Sunday we tried the bottom end of the lough by dint of borrowing a boat based in Brown’s Bay (thanks Bob). Yesterday we used my boat, fishing all the way from Pike Bay to Gortnore. With the end of the trout and salmon season we had the whole lake to ourselves. Some might unkindly suggest that nobody else was foolish enough to be out on these days!

The same method was employed on both days, Frank set up two long trolling rods, one on each side, and trailed various lures 30 yards behind the slowly motoring boat. Both days were similar with variable winds, heavy showers and some bright spells. The noticeable recent drop in temperatures has had a dramatic effect on weeds and they are dying back rapidly. This was one reason for trying the lough, we thought it might just be possible to fish some places which have been out of bounds all summer due to the luxuriant weed growth. Conn is getting weedier with every passing year and whole bays are now unfishable after the mayfly.

Let me say right from the off that we blanked last Sunday. Not so much as a nibble came our way despite long hours trying different spots. Spoons and plugs flickered enticingly in the water but the pike were seriously unimpressed. Massbrooke, Colman Shallows, Terry point, Bilberry Island, Glass Island, Chain Island, Fir Tree Point and a host of others were tried but to no avail. The morning was spent motoring around, sometimes dry but mostly drenched, in an abortive effort to locate the pike. We could see the dark grey clouds hurrying in from the west before they unloaded on us. No sooner had we dried off when the next belt of rain arrived. It was a tough auld day to be sure. On the plus side, the high winds which had been promised never materialised and apart from squally conditions during downpours the wind was not an issue.

Yesterday we loaded up the boat after baling copious amounts of water from her then headed out for the northern end of Conn. I suggested Castlehill for a start as I know there are some good pike in there. My logic was based on the reeds where my boat is berthed. These reeds had been 5 feet tall only three weeks ago, now there had died back and were barely poking above the surface of the water. Also recent rain had pushed the water level in the lake up by a couple of feet. A combination of both these factors would allow us to troll the centre section of Castlehill with out too many hang ups in the weeds. Frank had clipped on a weedless Toby on one rod and a new pink and silver Mepp on the other. The first shower descended on us just as we rounded the point and entered the bay.

It took me a couple of runs to figure out where was fishable and where to avoid but I found some relatively weed free water and trolled up and down in the rain. The rod with the Mepp bucked and was pulled hard over so I killed the engine and wound in the other rod as Frank bent into what was obviously a good fish. I know from experience how hard these Castlehill pike fight and this lad was no exception, he really tested Franks knots all the way to the net. I slipped him into the meshes and hoisted him inboard, a fine, thick-set fish of around 16 or 17 pounds. The hooks took some delicate work with the long handled pliers to remove but he was soon back in the water. Cleaning up, we discussed the fish and Frank told me it was his best ever pike. I wish I had known, I would have taken a photo of it for him. The rain which had eased off a little earlier returned with a vengeance but we were soon fishing again. After the failures the previous Sunday it was good just to get a fish in the boat!

One more circuit of Castlehill then we set off for pastures new, trolling all the way. I hugged the shoreline and we slowly made our way around the two pins off the middle of Mayo via Chain island and Gallaghers. Up along the Errew shore in what can only be described as a biblical deluge, we set a course for the islands in a wind which had turned to the north. Lunch beckoned so we pulled in to the shore and brewed up, the sodden twigs for the Kelly Kettle creating more smoke than flames. It was a relief just to be able to stretch our legs though, a full day spent trolling makes for stiff joints!

Refreshed, we loaded up and turned for Roe island, one of the top spots in the northern part of the lough for trout. Would there be any pike there? I carefully steered the boat so the baits would cover the shallows, adjusting engine speed to cope with turns and changes in our attitude to the wind. The baits remained unmolested so it was off to Cloonaghmore next, going as close to the shore as I dared given the inevitable banks of weed below the surface of this shallow part of the lake. Again, all this normally productive water was lifeless so with Gortnore only a hundred yards distant I swung us around and began retracing our steps. All the way back to Castlehill the baits were behind us in the water but not a single bite did we get.

By 4pm we were back in Castlehill. Frank had been trying different baits all day but now he was using two of the new Mepps, the pink one on one rod and a red one on the other. A perch grabbed the pink spoon, our only one for the day. I suspect the size 4 was just a bit too big for the small perch in the lough and a size 2 would possibly have caught some more. Within a few minutes the red Mepp lured a small jack which turned out to be the last fish of the day. A fish of around 4 pounds, it was thankfully lip hooked and soon returned unharmed.

So what did we learn from the last two Sundays? There are big stocks of pike in the lake but they can be very localised. The object of trolling the whole lake was to try and locate the pike at this time of year and based on our findings it looks pretty conclusive that Castlehill is where the green fellas are hanging out right now. Only a tiny fraction of the bay can be fished but in a few weeks time the weeds will have died and much more open water will be fishable. Frank likes to use small baits for pike and he catches a lot of them every year. I on the other hand prefer much bigger baits and I might leave my boat on the lough for a few weeks yet and try my big spoons in Castlehill before the end of the year. I think there are twenty and maybe even thirty pounders in there.

It is that time of year again and on Saturday the call went out for club members to help out with the boats on the Glenisland side of Beltra. A new slipway with rollers was built this summer and this was going to be our first time using the new facility. It worked a treat and in only 90 minutes the team had bailed all ten boats, dragged them out of the water and either turned them over in the field or stowed four of them in the boathouse. Many hands make light work and all that.

Looks like a police line up but in fact this was the boat lift crew for last weekend
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Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing

Big fish from Mask

Just a very quick few lines to tell you about a couple of very big fish caught just before the end of the season on Lough Mask.

My good friend Toby Gibbons from Westport was out in the deeps the other day when a huge wild brownie grabbed his Octopus. I have yet to catch up with Toby to hear all about the fight but you can be sure it put up one heck of a battle. Toby is a fine angler though and the beast was finally netted. The fish of a lifetime it turned the scales to nine and a half pounds.

Not to be outdone, Sean Moogan boated another fine trout the same week. I don’t have a weight for this one but it looks to be around the eight pound mark or so.

I’d like to say this is normal but in truth both of these trout are exceptional fish. Fishing the deeps usually produces fish in the one to two pound range. How these monsters came to be out there in the middle of the lake is not known and maybe we are seeing the start of something new.

Hats off to two experienced and dedicated anglers who know the lough well and thoroughly deserve the accolades being showered upon them now. What a way to end the season!

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coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

Silvers

I had a few hours of free time so headed off to county Leitrim once more, this time to fish on the canal near Keshcarrigan. This wee village is almost surrounded by lakes and is a coarse fisher’s heaven. Just for a change though the canal appealed to me so the long road east by north was travelled one more time. The village lies about half way between Carrick-on-Shannon and Ballinamore meaning it would take me about 90 minutes to get there from Mayo.

So why the canal? You see I have been doing some tench fishing lately and that involved using pretty heavy gear. Today I wanted to go back to angling with light tackle and the canal would demand a much more delicate approach. There are bream in the canal but the chances are it would be roach and perch that would be interested in my bait. I was secretly hoping to catch a good sized roach as although I have landed lots of them so far this year none have been any great size. Where I would be fishing is close to Lough Scur and my thinking was the big roach in Scur might drift down into the canal sometimes.

I brought along a feeder rod as a backup but I planned to use my little margin rod and the old ABU float rod. Some fresh maggots and a few worms would be my bait, keeping it old school you see. Having made up some simple leger weights by fixing a couple of swan shot on a short length of line to give me a sliding leger I was keen to see if they worked. I also brought along a couple of bags of frozen ground bait which had been lurking in the freezer at home. These had been leftovers from previous trips and rather than chuck it away I took it home and froze it. Just another little skirmish in my battle against waste.

A grey, cloudy day greeted me when I pulled into the car park beside the canal. A bit of wind was going to give me a few issues but otherwise it was a great day to be out in the fresh air again. Over the past couple of weeks the air temperature has been steadily dropping and today it barely made it into double figures. I love the autumn, it is my favourite season. The changing colours, more pleasant feel to the air and escape from the hustle and bustle of summers crowds make this a time for reflection.

The car park was right beside the pegs and a row of stands were off to my left but right in front of me was a big disabled stand. With nobody else around I decided to use this one but be ready to move should someone else arrive to fish. Access here is excellent with good walkways to the various stands.

I set up the float rod with four pound line, a small waggler held in position with a couple of stops, shirt button shotting pattern and a 2.5 pound tippet to a size 16 barbless hook. Balls of ground bait, four to start with, went in and I loose fed on top of this with 6 – 8 maggots every cast. A small worm on a size 12 hook was my rig for the leger rod in the margin. There I sat, perched on my old black seat box, immersed in the quiet in the lee of a bush by the canal. Pondering life’s vagaries with a fishing rod in hand is one of my favourite pastimes and with so much going on at present it was a blessing to have time to myself in deepest Leitrim.

It was all quiet for the first 20 minutes or so. I fed the swim and got a feel for the venue. Three boats passed by in quick succession and I thought it was going to be a busy day for traffic but no, after that initial rush only a couple of other boats passed by during the rest of the session. Greetings and pleasantries were exchanged with the sailors who were making the best of the good weather. With 6 feet of water in front of me and clear ground behind, casting was a treat. At last the leger rod gave a tweak and out came a small skimmer. A couple more followed then a very small roach. I changed on to a tiny feeder and tried a bunch of maggots in an effort to tempt more roach. Although I tried the worm on both rods again later the fish much preferred the maggots. With the water looking very coloured I used a mix of red and white ones. This combination has become my ‘go to’ bait but it is a bit self fulfilling. Using it all the time means it catches fish!

Typical of the skimmers I caught today

Finally the float began to come good and a string of small fish fell to my double maggot on under the light waggler. The skimmers varied from a few ounces to about a pound but the roach were all tiny. It was noticeable that each time the canal started to flow (presumably when a lock gate was opened somewhere) the bites increased. I damaged the small hook while extracting it from a fish so changed it for a slightly bigger 14. The fish didn’t seem to care and I kept on catching at a steady pace, mainly on the float but the better fish seemed to fall for the feeder.

Chunky little hybrid on the feeder

Some bream appeared, one of them nearly giving me a heart attack when the bait runner went off like a train. Not big fish, the best might have weighed a couple of pounds, they were still very much appreciated. Of course everything got covered in snot but that is just bream fishing for you. The shoal must have drifted off again and sport slowed markedly after 3pm. I struggled on for another hour, mainly because I saw a good tench roll in front of me. I tried hard but could not interest him with maggot or worm so I called it a day at 4pm and packed up.

The cheap Shakespeare reel I bought earlier this year started to grind horribly during the afternoon. I fished on with it but I fear it is on its last legs already. I only purchased it because it is a 2500 size baitrunner and all my other baitrunners are much bigger. Up until now it has been a good wee reel and I will open it up to see what has gone wrong. The past couple of outings I’ve used an ABU Garcia Orra and this is a nice smooth reel. I had bought it for salmon fishing but one tussle with a ten pounder convinced me the drag wasn’t up to the job. It languished at the bottom of a drawer for a while until I hit on the idea of spooling it with light line for coarse fishing.

I had wanted a day of sport on light tackle and that was exactly what I got in the end. No monsters but a steady trickle of silvers and a few bream and hybrids to boot. The only disappointment was the size of the roach, they were very, very small. I really enjoyed fishing there and will definitely return to those pegs again. Two of the fish I landed were badly scarred by pike so there must be a few of the green lads hanging about in the vicinity of the stands. I might bring a spinning rod with me the next time I come to Keshcarrigan.

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coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

Athlone

I was not fishing today but instead was in the town of Athlone. We had a night away booked here and while herself was off partaking of some retail therapy I went for a walk along the Shannon. I had noticed one of those brown signs as I drove into town and decided to investigate.

The river here is wide and strong flowing. Downstream of the town are the famous pegs such as the meadows where huge catches of bream have been taken by dedicated anglers who pre-bait heavily and use 4 ounce feeders to cast 70 yards or more into the deep water where the big bream shoals are to be found. I walked upstream instead, along a stretch called the golden mile.

Anyone contemplating some angling here in the height of summer will find it next to impossible with all the boat traffic. Athlone is a centre for pleasure craft and is very busy from the spring through to early autumn. With the boating season now all but over the volume of river traffic dwindles and there is room now for anglers to ply their trade.

Once off the main road I walked along a path through mature trees, the river to my right. A few hundred yards brought me to a pontoon style double fishing stand. Further on there were more identical stands, making four in total and each one suitable for wheelchair access.

I was very impressed with these stands, they are well constructed and easy to get to. Maybe next year I will get back here with rod and line and try them out. Lough Ree is but a mile upstream and I fully expect bream and roach to be likely targets off these stands.

Apart from the stands there are a couple of bank pegs which look very promising.

You can park in the industrial estate off the R446. The path behind the football pitches takes you on to the riverside very close to the lowest of the fishing stands.

If you do visit Athlone then drop in to ‘Fishing tackle and shoe repairs’ shop. Lots of baits for pike in there! I popped in but just got a few small items this time, a change from my usual excessive spending on sweet looking Rapalas! If you should develop a thirst when in town then Gertie Browne’s is a great pub with an excellent pint of Guinness.

Hard to see but the bottom left is a packet of sliding float adaptors.

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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 made 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 unexpectedly 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.

According to the IFI website 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 hawking 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 Bellanascarrig 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.

Update:

The last day of September saw me return to Bellinascarrig again for another short session. The weather had turned colder and a fresh south wind was blowing up the lake when I was there. The first hour or so was a shambles for me, I couldn’t do anything right. I lost a feeder in some weeds, got the depth completely wrong on the float rod, lost a huge bream at the net and tangled my lines countless times. Finally, I got my act together and started to fish properly, catching skimmers in quick succession. A couple of roach, a tiny perch and one middling sized bream also came to hand but it was basically a skimmer bashing session. Now here is the interesting bit – on two occasions I saw pike chasing my catch as I wound it in. One was little more than a green swirl right behind the skimmer but the other jack launched itself out of the water in an effort to catch the fish.

Caught about 30 of these guys

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