32, coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

32 – Episode 15, Dublin

Part 1, June 2021

‘And that auld triangle went jingle-jangle
All along the banks of the Royal Canal’

Dublin. The Irish sea to the east, the mountains of Wicklow to the south and the rich farmlands of the pale to west and north. The depressingly inevitable scatter of commuter belt towns encircling it. Capital of the republic and home to more than a quarter of the entire population, here was an angling challenge for me! I know parts of the city quite well having worked there for a brief period but most of it is outwith my ken. The sprawling housing estates and business parks are a mystery to me and will always remain so. Dubliners (‘Dubs’ to the rest of the population) are a mixed lot, some of the nicest people I have ever met hail from the fair city but it has a nasty side too but then again I expect you can say the same for every large conurbation. Tourists flock to Dublin and are well catered for by all manner of paddywhackery but the attractions and blandishments of the city centre were not for me. I had fish on my mind.

It was not too easy finding a spot to try and catch a fish in Dublin. The county boundaries basically just encompass the city itself with very little rural ground. I thought long and hard about sea fishing from the piers at the harbour of Dun Laorghaire, the transient home of the ferries to England, as I have read they get lots of mackerel there in the summer. The thing is, mackerel are either there in numbers or they are not, so there was a high risk of driving all the way to south county Dublin only to find there were no fish present. I needed somewhere a little less risky. That was when I started to think about the canals. Both the Royal and the Grand canals flow through the city and they both have reasonable stocks of coarse fish. Just knowing perch, bream and roach were definitely present gave me a bit of confidence. The internet is full of video footage of guys catching pike in the very heart of the city with traffic a few feet away and commuters watching as they haul out an essox. I am too private for that level of publicity so I settled on a stretch of the royal canal far from the madding crowd and right on the county border.

Better stretches of the royal canal are to be found further west but the whole point was to catch a fish in Dublin county so I nailed my colours to the mast and made my plans for this section of the Royal Canal to the east of Leixlip. The stretch between Collins and Cope bridges has seen some decent fishing over the last few years so I figured it was worth a try. Normally I bring everything possible with me when coarse fishing but this time it would be different. I needed to be able to roam the canal to find feeding fish and that meant travelling light. I’d bring the old 13 foot float rod and a reel full of 4 pound line then the rest of my tackle and bait would have to fit in the pockets of my waistcoat or the small rucksack on my back. The plan was to float fish but with some feeders and weights in the bag I could swap to bottom fishing if necessary. In the car I would have a spinning rod in case I failed to catch any bream or roach. I figured that small spinners might tempt a jack pike if all else failed. I must confess all this sounded decidedly sketchy and fairly major doubts cruised the backwaters of my mind. Lacking a better plan I decided to go with this one.

The Royal Canal stretches from the centre of Dublin to the Camlin River at Cloondara, just before it meets the Shannon near Tarmonbarry in county Longford. There is also a connecting stretch which runs all the way to Longford town but this has not been repaired (yet). Begun in the dying years of the 18th century, it took many decades to complete and like so many other canals was soon overtaken by the new-fangled railways. It fell into disuse and was only resurrected again in 2010. Now it is used for recreation instead of commerce and there are plans for the tow path to form part of the ambitious cycleway which links Moscow to Galway. I was not planning anything remotely as taxing!

Although I had read that the canal basically fished all year round I wanted to go there early in the season before the weeds became too overgrown. Once the water starts to warm up in late April and May the canals here in Ireland rapidly fill with all manner of vegetation. Good for the fish as this provides habitat for their food but a right royal pain in the derriere for us anglers. Lockdown and then family commitments knocked those plans on the head and instead it would be the tail end of June before I made the trip east. My weed rake was most definitely going to be required regardless of the time of year so it was checked and carefully packed in the small rucksack/stool I was taking along.

Work has taken me to the fair city many, many times so the journey there would hold few surprises. Setting off very early on a Sunday morning was deliberate for a couple of reasons. During the week traffic at peak times can be horrendous and I wanted to avoid the worst of the jams so planned to be there before it peaked. Parking near where I wanted to fish was going to be very limited so I wanted to find a safe spot before anyone else. A supplementary reason was the afore mentioned tench in the canal and early mornings are traditionally the prime time for those fish.

More like jungle warfare then fishing!

I felt uncommonly excited about the upcoming trip to Dublin. This new found enthusiasm for a day on the water has been pent up due to the covid. Looking back, for a number of years I have been very jaded and at times even not enjoyed my fishing. I suspect I had fallen victim to a self-inflicted malaise. We all fish for different reasons, some want to win competitions, others to test their skill. For some it is the social interaction with fellow anglers and others it is catching the biggest/most fish. I most enjoy the mental conundrums faced when starting out a day, solving the problems which end in a bite/rise/take. Where are the fish, what are they eating, how can I attract them? These and a thousand other challenges are what I love about fishing and it was a dereliction of my mental approach to the questions which sucked the enjoyment out of my angling. It had all become very similar and to a degree predictable for me. The small amount of fishing I was able to do during 2020 changed all of that mainly due to the coarse fishing I began to learn about. Turning up at a new venue, using gear I was unfamiliar with and trying to catch species I’d not captured previously proved to be invigorating and mentally challenging. This also had an unexpected side benefit in that I appreciated my game fishing so much more, possibly because my fishing consciousness had been reawakened. Now the idea of a day on the canal trying to catch a roach or skimmer has me genuinely excited.

So off down the long road I went. Leaving the motorway just as it enters the city I found my way to a spot near the canal and parked up. I had been ruthless when packing the rucksack the night before and only the bare essentials had made the final cut. For bait I had some worms and maggots and there was some sweetcorn hiding in the bottom of the rucksack too. My plan was simple, if necessary I would clear a swim with the rake and then fish single maggot below a small waggler. Loose feed a few maggots to try and attract and then hold some fish. If that didn’t work then move along and try another swim. Repeat this until I found some fish. Other than a gentle bend there were no obvious features on this part of the canal to attract fish, they could be anywhere.

Stringing up the old float rod with the Daiwa reel and 4 pound line I took in my surroundings. The railway track on the other side of the canal follows it closely for many miles. The rumble of traffic on the motorways could still be heard too. While not exactly urban fishing it was still much more noisy than I am used to. No harm, the whole point of the ’32’ project was to sample as many different angling experiences as possible while catching fish in each county. Canal fishing in an urban environment was every bit as valid as fly fishing for trout in the wilds of Connemara.

I found a likely looking swim and gave it a rake to clear some of the weeds and stir up the bottom a bit. Plumbing the depth I found only 3 feet of water in the middle. A small crystal waggler was my first choice. Setting the float so the hook would be on the bottom I tied on a two pound hook length with a size 20 attached. Bait would be a single red maggot and I tossed in a few others as loose feed. I was fishing at last! The reason for fishing so light was the clarity of the water, it really was gin clear. I figured my usual 3/4 maggots on a size 12 was going to be too much.

Sunday morning joggers and dog walkers were out in numbers and among them that most heinous of the great unwashed – the passer-by who thinks they know all about fishing. What starts off as a casual ‘caught anything yet?’ quickly degenerates into a full blown instructional lecture, based on this person’s encyclopedic angling knowledge gleaned from that one time they went fishing on holiday.

I fished hard, raking out swims, baiting them up, fixing the float in an icy glaze for hours. I tried different spots, went down to one pound hook length, used chopped worm then tried worm and maggot. Floats were changed for ever lighter ones, shotting patterns adjusted to change the rate of fall and I loose fed maggots into swims all day. All of this failed to produce even a nibble. The hot sun beat down on me as the insects buzzed around in the heat. Nothing at all stirred though until a tiny perch fell for a single red maggot. Only slightly longer than my thumb, this fish was barely out of the cradle. I am sure it is the smallest perch I have every caught in my long angling career. That was it, that was the total for a whole day fishing the Royal Canal in Dublin. At 5pm I packed up and headed for the car and the long road back to Mayo. I was gutted.

I drove home crest fallen, not even I could count the tiny perch as being an acceptable fish. I would have to try again at a later date. I knew when I started this odyssey I was bound to blank sometimes but failing so spectacularly in Dublin was hard to swallow. The long road west seemed to take an age to negotiate and all the while I was asking myself what I could have done differently. I saw no signs of a good fish all day, bar a few minnows in the margins the place looked dead. No tiny bubbles rising to indicate fish grubbing about on the bottom or dark shapes drifting slowly through the weeds. I had fished fine all day and I really didn’t think I was scaring fish off. I need to learn lessons on days like this but I don’t know where to start with this one. The fact I saw no other anglers is perhaps an indication that the fishing was poor.

It was very much a case of back to the drawing board for me. I spent a significant amount of time searching for another venue. I didn’t fancy returning to the Royal canal after the abject failure in June so I had to find somewhere else, but where?

Part two, the end of July 2021

‘In Dublin’s fair city, where the girls are so pretty……………….’

The wounds of my last foray to the capital have healed so it is time to return to the capital. In the end I decided to try the other canal in the city, the Grand Canal. It too has stocks of pike, perch and roach, is of a similar depth and construction as the Royal but links Dublin harbour with the Shannon in Offaly via a more southerly route. My idea was to fish it with jigs, looking for perch and jacks around the lock gates where there should be less weeds. I’d bring some maggots with me too so I had options if the jigs failed to produce. This would be ‘urban’ fishing, a backpack with some small bits and a rod, not much else. The section of the canal I was targeting passes through a landscape of industrial and commercial sites with some housing mixed in. Busy roads and even a motorway crossed the waterway and the towpath is heavily used by everyone from friendly dog walkers to drug addicts and criminals. It would be far removed from my usual gentle days of solitude in a small boat on a western lough!

I don’t own any specific jigging or drop shotting rods or reels so I would just make do with an old spinning rod and a small fixed spool filled with light fluorocarbon line. I was not anticipating hooking anything large so I did not bother with a net. The whole idea was that I could quickly move between different spots until I found a few fish. The majority of the canal would be shallow and weedy but I hoped to find deeper, clearer water at the locks which were strung out along my chosen stretch.

I eschewed another early start, to beat the rush hour traffic on a weekday I would need to be on the road at 3am so instead I opted for a more leisurely mid-morning start and departed Castlebar at 9 o’clock on a slightly misty summers day. The M50 was not too busy when I got there and I turned off at the Red Cow then found a parking spot near to the canal. Would this be another disaster or could I wangle out a few decent fish today? I admit to being nervous about leaving the car parked in such a dodgy area but I figured nobody would want to steal such an old wreck and made sure not to leave anything of any value inside. From my research I figured I could reach a total of six locks if I pushed it and my hope was they would be less weedy than the open stretches of canal.

My chosen rod for the day was a light 7 foot ABU spinning rod of great vintage. I had bought it in Aberdeen in the 1970’s but to be honest it had hardly been used since then. The brown fibreglass is still in great condition. Rated for 2 – 10 grams it should be OK for what I demanded of it. I matched it with my elderly Daiwa Harrier fixed spool reel, a cheap and cheerful set up which should see me through the day. In my small rucksack I had stowed some soft baits, a few small spinners and plugs, a plastic box of hooks/weights/swivels/floats and a couple of small bait boxes containing the live bait. No net, weed rake or other essentials. I set off for the closest lock, feeling full of trepidation. With one failure already under my belt I was under pressure to do much better this time. Beyond watching some very entertaining videos on dropshotting I know nothing about this method, adding considerably to the challenge. The guys on YouTube made all look so easy, just jiggle the wee lure up and down and perch or pike magically appear on the hook. I treated the videos with a healthy dose of Scottish skepticism.

The first spot I tried

I started off with a basic drop shot set up of a 3.5 gram weight and one of those swivel/hook thingys which I stuck a small plastic grub on (you can tell already that I am out of my depth here). The maggots in my bucket were the back up but I needed to feel I was ‘doing something’ this time rather than waiting for a float to dip. I manfully strode up to the nearest lock, a steely glint in my eye. ‘Make my day suckers’ I muttered in my best Clint Eastwood voice as I dropped the grub into the dirty water by the lock gate. I jiggled it up and just like I had seen in the videos. Nothing. I must have the wrong colour – I changed to a yellowish one and tried again. Nope, no good. I moved the weight a bit closer to the lure so it would fish closer to the bottom. Nothing. I tried casting and then bumping the weight along the bottom. That didn’t work either. I tried both sides of the lock gates but with a similar lack of success.

‘Yer’s not goin’ ta catch any bleedin’ fish there mister’. The broad Dublin accent from a child’s mouth is always a shock to me and here were a pair of ankle-biters behind me. ‘Ders fishes up der’ said the other one pointing to nowhere in particular. ‘We seen a fella fishin’ der before’. I thanked them for their advice and walked off up the path. An hour had gone and I was still to see a fish let alone hook one. The next lock was further away than I thought but I sauntered up there under the grey clouds, trying to figure out what to try next. I settled on sticking with the drop shot for now.

The next set of locks were much more promising. A deep, clear pool below the gates was fishable but try as hard as I might I could see no fish swimming in it. The flow from over the top of the gates created a fast flow immediately below and it screamed ‘perch’ to me. I checked the terminal tackle was in order and lowered it into the water. With the clarity of the water I could watch the jig as it descended into the depths and didn’t a pair of good sized perch rush out of nowhere and try to grab the plastic grub. They missed it and I wound in to try to repeat the exercise. A solitary perch came to investigate this time but he too declined to bite. To cut a long story short I drop-shotted this spot for the next 20 minutes and most drops I had a follow but not one fish actually swallowed the lure. Time for a re-think.

It looks horrible but I could actually see right to the bottom of 10 feet of water here

I only had the spinning rod with me but it would have to do. I rigged a small crystal waggler float, plumbed up and added a 2.5 pound tail with a size 16 hook. A pair of red maggots where sent wriggling into the water. After only the second or third drop (it was not even a cast) the float bobbed and I struck into a roach which promptly fell off the hook as I was swinging it in. Damn! I couldn’t count that one. A few minutes later the float disappeared and I lifted into a modestly proportioned perch which made it safely to my sweaty paw.

First perch

I fished on and landed one more perch and a roach. The fast current and back eddy was making bite detection tricky. The float slowly sank and I lifted to free the hook from the weeds only to see a huge perch surface with my hook in his mouth. He gave a slow roll and was gone. He hadn’t been far of a couple of pounds in weight that lad! I could see what was happening here, the currents were strong and very variable so I was losing contact with the hook as it was washed in different directions deep below (there was about 10-12 feet of water). I took off the crystal float and in its place went a hefty pellet waggler, rated for 3 grams. I then put my bulk shot just above the hook and changed up to a size 12 holding a bunch of maggots. Some loose feed then I dropped in the new set up. It took a while but eventually the float dipped and I lifted into a nice perch. It wasn’t the big lad I had lost but it was still an OK fish. I caught another roach, no great size but very pretty. For some reason I decided to take another look at the pool below the run I was fishing. Laying the rod down I watched intently for a while, my eyes slowly adjusting to the water. Sure enough, I could make out a dark shape on the bottom, then another and many more. There were perch in there and what was probably roach too. I slung the big blue float out and the maggots settled on the bottom. Minutes passed but then the float trembled and I struck into a nice perch.

Some kids, under the supervision of 3 adults stopped at the lock above me. I paid then no heed as I was considering another change of tackle to fish lighter in the gin-clear pool. There was the usual noise you associate with a gang of kids then a resounding splash as one of them jumped in to the water above the lock. The others soon followed and they were having great fun. I was concentrating very hard on my float when out of the blue a wet-suited child hurled herself directly into the swim, not 2 yards from my float! Letting out a howl of delight as she surfaced, a broad grin on her face. She next extolled the virtues of the water and encouraged her pals to join her. But now every self-respecting fish was in the next parish so I wound in. One of the accompanying adults came over to me and said the kids would not be there long and they would be out of the water in a hour or so. I thought about it for a while but decided to head back to the car. On the way I dropped the float into the dark water under a bridge and in three casts pulled out a small roach and two small perch.

Back at the car I took down the rod and slung all the gear in the back. Some random lad tried to cadge a cigarette from me and wouldn’t take no for an answer. I slammed the car door shut and locked them before speeding off, leaving him shouting something unprintable towards me.

So, what to make of all that? I had landed 6 perch and 3 roach so I was reasonably happy with that. Only that I had found the fish below the lock I fear I would have returned to Mayo with another blank. It was very irritating that the kids showed up just as I had found a shoal of fish but that is life and we just need to move on when stuff like that happens. The little spinning rod was a poor tool for fishing the float but the alternative of dragging more than one rod with me today was just not an option for me. Drop-shotting still needs further investigation. It certainly got a response from the perch but they would not actually take the plastic. I will do some more research and maybe even invest in some of those dinky little ‘creature’ baits.

Dublin has been very firmly crossed off my ‘to do’ list. Two trips across the full width of Ireland it had taken but I had done what I had set out to achieve. It looked to me as if the stretch I was fishing used to be good. There were concrete pegs all along the towpath but they were all badly overgrown and had not been used for years. I’ll be honest, I won’t be in a rush to fish there again but it was an experience and I learned a bit more about fishing.

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32, coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

32 – episode 14, Laois

Good god, what was I going to do about Laois? As far back as the end of last year I had been looking for a suitable venue there. No major loughs, no coastline, little in the way of rivers either. No canals for me to gently float some maggot down. No hill loughs or rushing streams. Maybe there was a small tench lake or a stream with a few roach? Or perhaps a farm pond with a host of small rudd in it? I kept pumping ‘Laois, fishing’ and similar search terms into Google but I was not finding much in the way of quality angling. So Laois was very firmly put ‘on the long finger’. I planned other angling escapades but forgot about the O’Moore county for now.

Fast forward to today, July 2021. This had been going on for too long and I had to make some real effort to find a spot to fish down there. In the intervening period I had made occasional desultory efforts to research Laois but they had come to nought. Now I sat down and spent some time refining the search and studying maps. Coffee was drunk, the cats did their best to distract me but I stuck to my task for once. I had been sure it would be some coarse fishing that I’d find and so it proved.

Before we get into the fishing let’s take a look at Laois. Firstly, for those of you not from Ireland the name must present some problems. Spelt ‘Laois’ it is pronounced ‘Leash’ There are some complications to that but we will skip over the finer points of Gaelic pronunciation and just settle for ‘Leash’. Formally know as ‘poor and proud’, it is now a prosperous county, it lies to the west and south of Dublin and shares a border with most of the midland counties. Home to a lot of beef and dairy farms, there are a scattering of towns and villages and the main road from Dublin to Cork and Limerick bisects the county. I have traveled across it many times but until today I’ve never stopped the car, switched off the engine and pulled on the handbrake.

A typical summer’s morning, warm air filled with the scent of blossoms in the garden as I slurp coffee to waken me up. The sparrows and starlings are making an unholy racket in the trees, not helped by the cats who are on the prowl. I am looking forward to the day ahead, the change of scene and prospect of fishing somewhere new is always appealing to me. The recent hot, bright weather is continuing and for this reason I will be targeting Rudd today with the outside chance of a tench.

Laois is easy to get too from Mayo, there is a good road that goes all the way there. The easiest way there for me was to go to Athlone then to Abbyeliex via Tullamore and Portlaoise. I left it late to set off, planning a leisurely drive there, a peaceful days fishing and maybe stay on until the evening if the fishing was slow through the day to try and tempt a tench as darkness fell. All in all this would mean a very long day for me.

I had a few maggots left over from my last outing and I took some frozen dead casters out of the freezer to add to my ground bait. Stopping off along the way I picked up a loaf of bread in a Centra shop and some fresh maggots at Mountrath Tackle Shop (nice little shop with lots in it and great advice from Fran). So where was I heading?

I had decided to try a small lake called Gill’s Pond in the small village of Ballinakill. According to my research it held rudd, roach, bream and a few tench plus some bonus carp. Surely even I could catch something there? I called one of the club members when I arrived and Connor kindly gave me some good information about the lake and what to try. Setting up on peg 1, I commenced operations at around 2pm under a cloudless blue sky and 27 degree temperature. OK, so conditions were rubbish but I was hoping the fish might come on the take as the sun dropped below the horizon. I had carefully read the rules which are posted on the door of the hut. Unfortunately, you are only allowed to use one rod so my idea of setting up the leger rod for bottom species while I float fished for rudd went out the window immediately. Reduced to only the one rod I opted for my old Shakespeare which is a bit of an all-rounder. I was no sooner standing at the peg when a family of swans appeared and spent the next 20 minutes in the swim. Eventually they headed off again but this visitation was repeated numerous times over the course of the session, each time requiring me to stop fishing and the swim to be dirty with weeds the birds had pulled up.

I started off with a helicopter rig fished as close as I could to the lily pads on my right but other than a couple of half-hearted taps the maggots were ignored. It was blistering hot and I decided to try for rudd. The swans were always close by and I reckoned that trying bread would simply attract the birds back into the swim. I rigged up a light float to fish on the drop and baited the size 18 hook with a single maggot. The very first cast saw the float dip and I wound in a small rudd. A few casts later a roach accepted the maggot. I missed lots of bites but I was catching pretty steadily. I would get maybe 20 minutes of fishing before the dreaded swans came back into the swim and I had to halt for a while. I loose fed maggots and kept a steady stream of balls of groundbait going into the very edge of the lily pads in the hope of getting some tench to start feeding.

rudd
roach

A skimmer put in an appearance and then it was back to the rudd again. By 6pm I decided to go back to the feeder so setting up a new rig I threaded a piece of artificial corn on to a hair rig to pop up the bait from the bottom slightly. Tappy little bites bothered me for a while (rudd) but I did manage a good bream on this set up plus some other small stuff. In the end I decided the noise of the swimfeeder hitting the water was too invasive so I went back to the float, this time a waggler shotted over depth and a size 10 hook baited with a bunch of maggots. Another skimmer, some roach and a solitary perch fell for this tactic. I lift bite saw me strike into a small tench but this lad managed to throw the hook. What is it about me and tench just now? I can’t seem to land one for love nor money.

a nice bream
rudd even took the bigger bait intended for tench

Fishing ends at 9pm on Gills lake so I packed up just as the place seemed to be coming alive. Lots of bubbles in the margins suggested the tench were finally coming on the feed but I had to leave. I was getting tired by then anyway and I had a three hour drive home ahead of me. The final tally was 15 rudd (mostly small but there was one good one), 4 roach, two skimmers, one decent bream and one small perch. 23 fish on a day when nobody in their right senses would be out with a fishing rod was an acceptable return I think.

At 12.20am I pulled into the driveway at home. A quick brew then off the bed, contemplating the day. Gill’s pond is well run and a very pretty place to fish. It has a big head of coarse fish in it and it is a pity it is so far away from me as I would definitely fish there again if it was closer. Given the terrible conditions of extreme heat and brilliant sunshine I was more than happy with my catch for the day and my choice of a pond stuffed with rudd had been fully vindicated. The swans had been a royal pain in the posterior all day but it was their home so I just had to suck it up. When all is said and done that is one more county successfully fished in my quest to do all 32.

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32, coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

32 – Episode 13, Meath

The Royal county

My research into finding somewhere to catch a fish in Meath threw up lots of options but none of them really ‘sang’ to me. No gasps of excitement when reading about possibilities, no heart-fluttering watery discoveries. Meath is a large county situated in the east of Ireland stretching all the way from Westmeath in the heart of the midlands to close to Dublin city. The Irish Sea marks the extreme eastern edge of the county around the town of Drogheda. Mainly flat agricultural land, it also hosts many commuter towns. The marketing guys sell Meath to tourists as the heart of ‘Ireland’s ancient east’ which is fair enough I suppose. Kells and Newgrange are both in Meath for example. The rivers Boyne and Dee were spectacular salmon fisheries in days gone by but they have both faded to a shadow of their fomer selves and it would not be the silvery salmon I would be after this time. 

Coarse fishing is cropping up a lot in my ramblings across the country, more often than had expected to be honest. This is the result of naivety on my part and also a reflection on the poor game fishing we see these days here in Ireland. Years ago the loughs and rivers of Ireland were full of trout and salmon but that simply isn’t the case anymore. Abstraction, pollution, dredging, overfishing, invasive species and the rest of modern day ‘progress’ have reduced our game fish populations greatly across vast swathes of old Ireland. In their place we see huge shoals of roach, dace in some southern rivers and even chub in the river Inny. Anyway, it soon became apparent that my foray to Meath would in all probability entail a spot of float or leger fishing. And what harm? I have grown to love dabbling in the black arts of maggot drowning. I lack any degree of sophistication or expertise in the genre but I learning process is proving enjoyable and fulfilling.

The Mentrim loughs up near to Ardee sounded very good but it is a long auld trip from here to Ardee and I was hoping to find a spot nearer to home. I looked at the path of the royal canal as it cut across the county and found a place called Boyne Dock just inside the Meath border not too far from the town of Kinnegad. I settled on there and planned accordingly. I hold my hands up and confess there was a large element of laziness on my part here, Kinnegad is just off the motorway and is easy to get too without a long, complex journey down winding country roads. Would this lack of effort on my my part come back to haunt me?

I am attracted to spots on the canals where the shape of the waterway changes, either narrowing or widening, or where locks interrupt the long miles of straight, featureless towpath. I surmise that places like this must be attractive to the fish so I hunt out basins, bends, locks and harbours. That is how I came to select Boyne Dock. Here, a small basin had been excavated, a widening where I hoped the fish might congregate.  On the map it does not look like much but any slight change in shape inspires my confidence. I have read nothing about the dock and it seems to have either slipped under the radar of anglers or, heaven forbid, is utterly useless. I was about to find out.

I was planning for roach but hoping for bream and praying for tench. The usual coarse gear came with me including the never used pike rod. It is always along for the ride but somehow never sees action. Maybe today that would change, if there are no signs of roach or bream the spinning gear will be given an airing. A light rod for drop shotting also made the cut so the option of targeting perch was also available to me. Yes, I know, this is far too much gear to bring with me but I have a dread of missing out on an opportunity when doing this 32 project. The thought of driving home fishless just because I didn’t bring this or that bit of tackle plagues me.

The usual process of loading up the car and setting off on the road to the east has been well rehearsed at this stage. Not for the first time I was off down the Dublin road. I stopped off in Longford to pick up some bait from Denniston’s shop. To be honest the timing of this trip was based around the opening time of the bait shop. At 9.30 am Denniston’s fling their doors open to the world and I could avail of their finest grubs. My complete and unshakable faith in maggots shows no signs of abating so I bought some red ones and white ones. I thought I had brought along a few worms for good measure too. These were dug from the compost heap the previous evening, a mixture of small reds and brandlings. None of them were any great size but they would be good enough to tempt a perch I reckoned as I popped them into a small white container. It was only when I stopped in Longford that I realised the hard won worms were not in the car – I had left them at home! I bought a few more at the shop.

A shop that sells guitars and maggots – heaven!

Back behind the wheel and the miles slipped by as I mulled over the prospects for the day. If the dock did not fish I would be forced to try walking along the towpath, searching for a shoal of roach or a stray perch. There are worse ways of spending a day I guess. My decision not to make the longer trip to Ardee prayed upon my mind though, doubts swirling about in my head as I cruised along at a steady, if unexciting, 55mph. An uneventful journey saw me turn off at Kinnegad and only a few miles further on I turned into a car park near to the dock. A number of cars were already parked there but as it turned out none of them belonged to fishermen.

The canal here is raised above the surrounding countryside. Indeed, when approaching the dock the R160 road passes right under the canal as well as the railway. Kildare was but two fields away to the south. So it was here, amid the verdant fields on the very edge of the royal county that I would try my luck. It is quite ironic that I have taken to canal fishing at this stage of my life. Many years ago I lived in Kirkintilloch, just north of Glasgow. Formally an industrial centre for heavy engineering, the town had slid into depression and decay over the years but one major part of infrastructure remained, the Forth Clyde canal. Every day I walked my faithful collie for miles along the towpath and it never once crossed my mind to try fishing there. At the time I simply had no interest in coarse fishing so passed up some great opportunities. I now understand the canal there is full of roach, perch and pike. Ah well……

It was wet while I was driving from the west but the forecast was for a dry afternoon. By the time I had reached my destination there was some blue sky showing amid the fluffly white clouds. I unloaded all the tackle and set up two rods, one for the float and the other with a simple link leger. My thinking was to target roach with float fished maggot and aim for perch by legering a worm on the bottom. The old 13 foot ABU float rod, Daiwa Harrier reel and 4 pound line and a small float was soon set up and I used the 10 foot margin rod with a wee red Firebird reel that I found in the bottom of a cupboard filled with 6 pound main line for the running leger.

The basin was small but it gave the appearance it could be home to a few fish. Weeds looked like they might be a problem though and my decision to delay this trip until late June looked like a mistake. Before commencing fishing I raked out a swim and baited it. Small balls of brown crumb with a little hemp mixed in and flavoured with vanilla provided the ground bait, my aim being to attract fish into my chosen swim and then try to keep them in front of me with a trickle of loose feed. Opting for a size 14 with a couple of maggots on it I fished over depth on the float rod. A worm on a size 12 was my chosen end gear for the leger. One of the big issues when fishing Irish canals is the clarity of the shallow water. This leads the fish to be very easily spooked both by unwary movements on the bank or by overly thick line. For that reason I was using 2.6 pound breaking strain hook lengths. I realise this was taking a chance because if I hooked a decent sized fish it could easily break me off in the weeds. The internet had informed me that there were good tench and even carp in this canal but I was pretty sure the best I could hope for was a 6 ounce roach or a minuscule perch.

The towpath was a hive of activity with a constant stream of dog walkers, hikers and cyclists making the best of the nice weather. I cast in the light leger first then set up the float rod. The canal is shallow, only two-and-a-half feet deep in the middle so a small waggler was all that was required. Settling into a rhythm, I fished steadily for an hour or more, occasional balls of groundbait interspersed with some loose fed maggots decorating the swim. Some small rudd could be seen messing about near the surface a few yards away but otherwise all was quiet. The water was gin clear and weeds grew right to the surface outwith the small area I had raked. This was proving to be a tough gig.

At last the float gave a slight tremor then dived but I missed the bite. By now I had dropped to a size 20 hook hoping to match the single maggots that I was feeding in. I fished on, glued to the float and wishing it would register a bite. I ate a sandwich, drank some coffee and scowled at the stationary float. I had to try something different. Taking the float off I changed it for a lighter one and re-shotted the line. I also swapped the tiny size 20, a huge looking size 16 taking its place. Two red maggots adorned the new hook and off into the cool water they sailed. Almost immediately there was a tap at the float but it came to nothing. I loose fed a handful of maggots and re-cast. This time there was a positive take and a small perch came to hand. A few casts later a slightly larger perch repeated the exercise. OK, so I was not breaking any records here but at least I had not blanked.

the first perch
the second one

It went quiet again for a while but a cast to the very edge of the raked area produced a solid bite and I lifted as the float slid off to my left. This was a better fish which required netting. A lovely hybrid fought well and was quickly snapped and then released.

The small rudd had been knocking at the maggots all afternoon and one was unfortunate enough to get himself hooked and landed. They are such pretty little fish! It all went dead after that and try as I might I could not get any more offers. In the end I packed up and headed off home.

So what to make of all that? In the bright conditions in very clear water I suspect I actually did OK landing one good fish. Early morning or late evening would definitely have given me a better chance but beggars can’t be choosers. My normally reliable method of a legered worm in the margins failed to register a single offer even though there were some perch knocking about. Raking the swim took me ages and I think I need a bigger rake. Weed growth is luxuriant in the canals at this time of year and effective raking is a must if you want to contact fish.

So Meath is crossed off the list. After the shenanigans up in Fermanagh during my last outing this was a return to reality with a bump. I am beginning to suspect I need to be more flexible with my times on these longer trips so I can fish early or late rather than during the middle of the day. It’s all a learning curve for me!

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32, Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing

32 – Episode 12, Fermanagh

Once in a lifetime

Fermanagh is synonymous with coarse fishing, period. The Erne system and a wealth of other lakes set like jewels on a cloth of green are a coarse fisher’s paradise. Anglers come from all over to fish the pole or swimfeeder, heaving out impressive bags of roach and bream. Competitions around Enniskillen often feature weights in excess of 100 pounds. Fantastic piking is to be had in the county too. Obviously when tackling Fermanagh I would be coarse fishing, right? Au contraire! I had another plan in mind altogether.

Fermanagh, one of the northern counties, is landlocked. It shares a lengthy border with the Republic as well as co. Tyrone. Right at the extreme western edge of the county there lies a small lough called Keenaghan, so far to the west in fact that a small part of the lough is actually in Donegal. In this lough live a healthy population of brown trout and it was these little beauties I wanted to catch. In choosing Keenaghan I was making a strategic decision. You could make a very valid argument that Lough Erne is a more productive fishery and certainly holds larger trout. My issue with Lough Erne is I have absolutely no knowledge of the system and simply locating fish could be a nightmare for me. The same really applies to the coarse fishing. There are well known stretches all over the county but having never fished there trying to track down a shoal of bream or entice some roach from broad, deep waters felt like too big a challenge for me. I wanted somewhere more ’intimate’, somewhere that I could stand a reasonable chance of locating a few feeding fish. Plus I am so much more comfortable with a fly rod in my hand, despite my slowly improving coarse fishing skills. I felt confident on small loughs full of trout, it seems like half the battle has already been fought.

This lough is shaped like a letter ‘Y’ lying on its side. It is small by Irish standards but is still best fished from a boat. Rules allow only electric engines and since I don’t have one I decided to fish from the bank. The idea of trailering my boat all the way there then rowing for the day then manhandling the boat back on to the trailer on my own did not appeal, so I would tough it out from the periphery instead. I had no real idea of how good access was around the lough but I read that there a few stone fishing stands placed where necessary. I liked the sound of these! So waders would be required in case I needed to get past reeds or to reach deeper water. The other day my four year old neoprene chest waders gave up the ghost in spectacular fashion when they ripped at the seams while I was in deep. A new, cheap pair were acquired and these would do fine for this trip. Given my near total absence of a sense of balance these days my trusty wading staff was definitely going to be required.

A contact on social media told me he fished this lough and recommended it to me. He also said it got good hatches including some mayfly. I looked up the NIdirect website to get an idea of the stocking policy and they apparently put 5,000 brown trout into Keenaghan during 2020, the first 1,000 going in in January. More went in during March, May and June. Stocking was suspended during April due to Covid-19 restrictions. I was hoping they followed broadly the same pattern this season and when I looked it up on the NIdirect website I saw 3000 trout had gone in this year so far. Surely there would be a few of them still in there?

Dropping Helen off at work first, I hit the road amid rush hour traffic. Usually I plan trips to avoid the worst of the cars and trucks on our roads but today I had to put up with an excess of my fellow road users. I had grown used to the feelings of trepidation on these ’32’ trips but this time I was really looking forward to fishing a new lough. Many anglers here in Ireland despise stocked fisheries but I see them as an integral part of the angling scene. They make a pleasant change from the big loughs, a chance to try out new ideas and methods.

I had brought along my 5 weight Orvis with a floating line, hoping any action would be in the upper layers of the water. Recent warm weather should have encouraged the trout to look up for hatching insects at this time of the year. In case I was completely wrong a back up of the 7 weight with a range of reels holding various sinking lines nestled in the back of the car. As I would be wading and moving around I filled a couple of fly boxes with some likely patterns and stuffed them in a waistcoat. This lot, and more, were stowed in the back of the car as I motored along, the glorious countryside slipping by, a dull and windy day but warm. Ireland can be cold and grey in winter, but here in June it sparkles with new life.

This trip involved a direct route for me. Up the N17 to Sligo then along the N15 to that newish bypass at Ballyshannon (birthplace of one of my musical heroes, Rory Gallagher) before peeling off on to the tail end of the N3 to Beleek where I crossed into the UK. A mile beyond the town a left turn brought me down a narrow, tree lined track to a car park at the water’s edge. In total, it is about 135km from my home in Mayo. Given the length of some of my fishing journeys this felt like my back yard. One other reason for selecting Fermanagh this time was I am going to be heading over to Scotland next week and didn’t fancy another long drive. There is a car park right beside the edge of the water where I pulled up and shut off the engine. Stretching as I extricated myself from the front seat, I began to I tackle up and appraised my surroundings. the lough looked to a bit smaller than I had imagined but it looked ‘fishy’ enough.

The wind would be blowing in my face from the car park bank so I set up the 7 weight with a floating line and three flies. A car pulled up, soon followed by another. The drivers obviously knew each other but beyond a friendly ‘how are ye?’ in my direction it was hard to see why they were there. No fishing tackle appeared to be present. I toddled off to the first of the stone jetties and started to cast into the wind. Soon a white truck came bumping along the narrow track to the car park. What was a lorry like this doing here? A fish plucked at my flies but didn’t take properly. Damn! I turned to get a better look at the white truck and it was then that it dawned on me – it was a fisheries truck and it was here to stock the lough!

I fished on as the two lads in the cars greeted the truck driver and they planned the stocking. With regimental order the truck was positioned, a pipe fitted to the tanks and suddenly hundreds of trout were being sucked into the lough not 30 yards from me. Some banter from the lads then the truck was off again but by now the water in front of me was heaving with the new arrivals. My line tightened and I struck into a trout but it came off almost immediately. Before I had time to retrieve the slack and re-cast another fish had grabbed the tail fly and was safely landed. Quickly released, I cast out and this time two trout were hooked! Both fell off but a few chucks later I had another brownie. And so it went on, cast, fish, release, cast, fish, release, etc. Double hook ups were common, trebles happened three or four times. Casting to fish which showed almost always resulted in a hook up but fishing blind pulled them too. I photographed some but my mobile was getting all slimy so I stopped after a dozen or so.

Fish were all around me so I kept casting and catching. I thought about stopping when I had landed 20, but that came and went and I was still catching. The fish were typical stockies, about 14 ounces in weight and generally in good condition apart from some chewed tail fins and stunted pectorals. I swapped flies just to see if that would make any difference but to be honest I could have thrown in bare hooks and probably caught just as many! A black goldhead was probably the most effect fly but a peach muddler caught a few as well.

After an hour and a half of this madness I called it a day. I had landed 36 trout, lost twice that number and must have risen close to 100 or so. All fish were safely returned to fight another day. I plodded back to the car to think about what had just happened. The trout were still taking freely but I had had enough for one day.

Never before in my long angling life has this happened to me and I doubt it will ever happen again. Was it fun? Yes, for a while it was exciting but that soon wore off. There was no skill attached to catching the fish, no metal gymnastics we anglers normally associate with our fishing. It was too easy. Sure, like you I have spent so many days flogging the water for no return and would have given my first born child for an hour of non-stop action. When it actually happened the joy was short-lived and the mechanical actions of heaving in fish after fish soon pall. I am glad I stopped when I did, to keep on hauling out trout after trout would have been a pointless exercise. As it was, I had three dozen good trout in 90 minutes, a feat I will surely never repeat. It made for a memorable day right enough! Once in a lifetime you might say.

For the sake of the ’32’ project I can categorically cross Fermanagh off the list. The day turned out to be very different to what I had expected and I guess I did not really learn much about Lough Keneghan. It is a nice place with good facilities, including a disabled access platform. I’d like to fish it again on a more ‘normal’ day.

The drive home was uneventful and I was glad I had returned all the fish, the thought of gutting and filleting really did not appeal to me this evening! I got some more work done in the garden on my return and the tackle in the back of the car can wait there until the morning. I will never have another day like today and it was an incredible experience which I know many of you will be envious of. I was extremely lucky to be in the right place at the right time for once. It will keep me going through the many blanks which no doubt await me.

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32, coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

32 – Episode 11, Armagh

‘Oh my mama told me there’ll be days like this’ (Van Morrison)

Not the most noted of Irish counties for angling but I still found a venue to try. This would be another coarse fishing trip for me and one that would be slightly different to my usual canal shenanigans.

Armagh is one of the northern counties, sandwiched in between Tyrone, Down and Antrim as well as Monaghan and Louth in the Republic. The vast expanse of Lough Neagh forms the northern boundary. I have only ever zoomed across this county on the motorway, often in the dark, so know little or nothing about it. When I worked in Belfast this was a weekly occurrence and trips over to Scotland to visit family and friends took me along the same route. Armagh was just another few miles of green lands beyond the tarmac to me. I did start to read up on Armagh prior to this trip but gave up after a few pages, it was just a litany of murder, religious war and plantation. I found it all too depressing when I was supposed to be planning a fishing trip so I abandoned the blood-soaked pages and instead read up on the finer points of stillwater float fishing, an altogether more relaxing pastime.

I had opted to try the lake at Loughgall. Set in a country park, it looked to be a nice spot surrounded by trees and with good access via a pathway all the way around it. Stocked with roach and carp, there were some tench, pike and perch also present according to the blurb on the ‘net. There seemed to be an abundance of stands to fish from too and it all sounded like the ingredients for a relaxing day were there. The only cloud on the horizon was a report that the fishing was now terrible after a zebra mussel infestation had caused the water to clear. This kind of mixed messages are a constant problem for me when planning trips and it adds to the uncertainty and worry. Fishing is never an exact science and blanks are part and parcel of the game but when you are travelling long distances to fish you want to give yourself the best of chances. The saving grace for me was the presence of perch, these little warriors are usually obliging and I was banking on tempting at least one of them. I had no intention of bothering the carp. In the north you are only allowed to use one rod (unless you buy another rod licence and permit) so there was no way I would be hunkering down with the heavy gear and boilies or any of that malarkey. No, I planned on keeping it simple and trying for the smaller stuff either on the float or maybe with a leger.

I figured I needed a ‘plan B’ so I looked at the river Bann which flows through the county. The upper Bann around Portadown has a good reputation for bream and roach so I decided it would be my back up water in the event of a blank at Loughgall. Some stretches of the river have been developed for angling and other pursuits so I looked it up on the internet and there were some glowing reports of good bags of bream and roach. As far as ‘plan B’s’ go this one was most definitely on shaky ground. I am useless at catching bream, have no experience of coarse fishing on rivers and the river looked to be devoid of any features to focus on. I was anticipating a difficult day………………….

Getting there seemed to be easy, just follow the usual road to the north via Sligo and Enniskillen. A fair chunk of my life has been spent travelling that road and I have seen it slowly improve over the years. The fine piece of duel carriageway between Dungannon and Ballygawley replaced a boring and badly worn road a few years ago and the twisting, winding, narrow stretch that links Enniskillen to Sligo is gradually being upgraded to remove the worst of the bends. Lord only knows how often I have chugged along this ribbon of tarmacadam, at least I was going fishing this time. Just add to the day I was bringing my outboard engine up to be services at Sands Marine on the shores of Lough Neagh. This involved a slight detour but it was worth doing while I was in the area.

One of the very few good things about growing old is the cheap angling permits in Northern Ireland. If you are a young pup aged 18 – 60 this costs you a whopping £77 for a season permit but oldies like me aged over 60 only pay £17.50 for the season. You need a rod licence on top of this but that only sets us ‘mature’ anglers back a fiver. I had bought mine on line and now I double checked that the printed copies were in my jacket pocket.

I timed my journey to coincide with the tackle shops in Enniskillen opening so I could procure some bait. Digging in the compost heap produced some worms to bring with me but I really wanted my preferred maggots. My deep and abiding love of maggots is founded on the fact they work. OK, it gets a bit self-fulfilling when I use maggots all the time but they are an astonishingly consistent bait. A new venue with some mixed reviews, limited time to fish and rustiness due to lack of any coarse angling for six months made it feel like I needed every possible aid on my side. The old familiar jumble of tackle was in the back of the car of course so I would be able to switch methods if I felt the need.

Gentle, melodic tones awoke me at 5am. I consider the invention of the ring tones on mobile phones to be one of life’s greatest dichotomies, an assault on the ears in most cases but the calming tones of my alarm make the transition from sleep to groggy wakefulness quite pleasant. Coffee, strong and dark, drunk as I make up some sandwiches for the day, one last check I have most things packed then I am off on the road once again. The open road, not much traffic for the first leg as far as Sligo, just the rhythm of the tyres on tar. Roadworks slowed me down a bit but I drew up outside the tackle shop in Enniskillen just as they were opening up. One pint of their finest red maggots were soon wriggling in my bait box and I hit the road again amid rush hour traffic. Just after 10 I dropped off the engine and doubled back through Portadown and on to Loughgall. The last part of the journey was through orchards which give the county its nick name.

My licence checked, I parked up and had to decide what to take with me to the waters edge. I had read the lake was very deep so I was planning on using a swim feeder and based my choice of rod around that. It felt odd not taking my light leger rod or the float rod this time. With a ‘clunk’ the car doors locked and I was off down the path to the lake, bathed in warm summer sunshine. Walking around the lake, I plumped for a stand which looked out on a small weedy bay. No. 78 would be my spot for a few hours.

Setting up a small maggot swimfeeder, I lobbed it out into the greenish water and settled down to see what would happen. I fed the swim often to try and attract some fish and also dropped a few maggots close in. I missed using two rods (you are only allowed to use one in Northern Ireland) and really felt handicapped without the options two rods gives me. The first hour passed pleasantly enough, the warm day making it thoroughly enjoyable just to be out in the fresh air, but there were no fishy responses to the feeder. I reeled in a switched to a sliding float but this was completely ignored too. Back to the feeder and this time I fished it at very short range, loose feeding heavily with maggots. Still nothing so I ate a sandwich and thought about what was going on. Three other anglers were in sight and I had not seen any of them bend a rod into a fish so I was not alone in the ignominy of blanking. A pair of swans swam nonchalantly past me with their 6 cygnets in tow. As I watched them I became aware of some small fish in the weeds on the bottom at my feet. It was impossible to tell what they were or indeed exactly how big they might be but I guessed they were silvers of some description. Here was a possible target for me.

The feeder set up was removed and I set up a small float with bulk shot on either side of it and no other shotting. My idea was to see if the small lads would take a maggot on the drop so I tied on a size 20 hook on two pound hook length and baited it with a single red maggot. Small handfuls of maggots were then trickled into the swim just under the tip of the rod. When dropped in (it was so close I didn’t need to cast), I could watch the wriggling red maggot slowly drop down through the water column, slowly spiraling down until it disappeared in the weeds. I kept this up for maybe 20 minutes until the float gave a tremble and when I struck out came a small perch. Success had come in the spiny shape of a 6 incher but they all count and I had landed a fish in county Armagh. A few minutes later an even smaller perch came to hand by the same method.

I shall refrain from regaling you dear readers with rest of the afternoons catch, whipping out small fish is difficult to relate as a page-turner! Suffice to say I ended up with 4 perch, 2 roach, one skimmer and one unidentified ‘something’ which looked like a tiny silver bream (but different to a skimmer). Eight tiddlers after driving all the way from Mayo but in truth I was pretty happy.

I knew when I started this odyssey that there would be days like this, days when the big fish were not biting or I was just not fishing properly. Or conditions were against me or Lady Luck was sitting drinking gin in a bar instead of watching over me. Days when I would struggle and need to find ways of catching something (anything) to save the blank. Today I had to resort to fishing for small stuff but at least I had figured out a way of tempting them and trickling the loose maggots into the swim worked a treat at holding the little lads at my feet.

By 4pm I had had enough and packed away the gear. The air felt heavy, as if thunder was not far off, as I loaded up the car and heading back to the motorway. Picking up the now serviced engine, I turned for home, the road now clogged with commuter traffic. By Dungannon the heavens opened and I crossed back into the Republic at Blacklion in a downpour. It was a long day but an enjoyable one. Armagh had always bothered me and I suspected if I was going to blank anywhere it would be here. Instead, I landed eight small fish, lost about the same number and missed dozens of bites in that busy final hour. If you had offered me that at the start of the day I would have gladly taken it!

Small roach
I’m not sure what this is, looks like a tiny bream to me but I stand to be corrected

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32, coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

32 – Episode 8, Westmeath

There is a tiny window of opportunity to sneak out for a day’s fishing between lockdowns. The government have lowered travel restrictions for Christmas so I am taking this chance to attempt to catch a fish in another one of the 32 counties. I won’t be meeting anyone so I pose no threat of spreading the contagion.

It’s the night before and I am sipping a whisky in front of a fire. The thoughts flow through my mind about what I am going to do come the morning. It will involve coarse fishing and this alone is enough to peak my interest. My increased enjoyment in all forms of angling has been driven by my new found love of all things roach and perch. That alone would be fine, just fine. The thing is my mind is now buzzing with all kinds of ideas about other forms of angling. It is like someone has strapped me up to a couple of jump leads and tuned the key in the ignition. I am energised and have found a clarity of thought which I have not seen for many a long year. Learning new techniques and methods, experiencing new waters and catching different fish have stretched me and this in turn has opened me up to new ideas for my game and sea angling. Suddenly I am back to being this wide-eyed and open minded being of my youth, wanting to find out the things I didn’t know and to bring my own slant to the fishing. Esoteric? Possibly. But it is how I feel these days and I don’t believe that is a bad thing. So the whisky may be opening up my mind but there is an underlying and ultimately fundamental change going on in me. I am really enjoying my fishing now, much more than I did even last year. And now I am going to county Westmeath in the morning.

The obvious venue to fish in this midlands county is Lough Sheelin. Sheelin is home to a stock of large brown trout and is a mecca for dedicated fly anglers. The thing is, for my purposes tackling a difficult water like Sheelin was a chancy option with a high probability of failure. Sure, if I boated a good trout it would be great but I have blanked on Sheelin too often to take it lightly. The other great trout loughs of Ennell and Owel are very demanding waters too, so instead of waiting for the trout loughs to open again next spring I decided to fish the Royal Canal now and try to tempt some coarse species. Closer to Dublin there are some very productive stretches of the canal but in Westmeath info was a bit patchy regarding hotspots. There is good access just off the M4 motorway near Mullingar which was tempting but in the end I settled on a stretch at Ballynacargy. At this point I have to confess I had pencilled this trip in for late spring next year and not the week before Christmas. Only the temporary easing of lockdown has tempted me out.

The Royal Canal apparently holds bream, roach, hybrids, perch, tench and pike. Not sure if there any rudd if there too. I read that local anglers were deeply concerned about plummeting stocks of fish due to poaching but it sounded like there were still some fish there to be caught. I packed a float rod, a leger rod and a spinning rod in the car, hoping that would cover any possible eventualities. The rough plan in my head was to travel light and keep moving with just the float rod, hoping to run into some bream or roach. If that did not work then I’d switch to the feeder and if that failed to produce the goods I’d try the spinning rod for pike and perch.

As usual, I had a back-up plan in case Ballynacargy was a failure. Along the road to the east lies the town of Mullingar and the canal passes through there too. It has fished very well in the past so I planned to head over there if Ballynacargy was blank. To be honest, I was expecting a tough trip this time. I am still very much a beginner at canal fishing and I would be guessing where the fish might be at either location. Added to that the time of year and I was certainly going to be stretched this time around.

Yesterday I poked around in my relatively new compost heap to see if there were any worms to be had. I was none too hopeful as it still looked woody on top but as I got near to the bottom of the pile I found some lovely worms. I gathered about 30 of them and left the rest in peace (for now). All the worms were the same size, around 3 – 4 inches long meaning I would get two baits out of each by simply cutting them in half. Enough to last me for the duration of this session I figured. There is always a tin of sweetcorn in the bag in case of emergencies.

The new rucksack/stool would get its first airing. This exactly what I bought it for, roving along a towpath with the minimum of gear. My trepidation at fishing canals, while still very real, has abated somewhat on the back of success in Offaly last autumn. There is nothing like catching a few small fish to settle the nerves and the snippets of knowledge I am gradually picking up have given me a sort of platform to work from. Just having the basics to set up and know broadly what to do is comforting. I am no expert, nor will I become one anytime soon, but I am learning as I go and thoroughly enjoying every minute of it. I have planned as much as I can so I head off to bed.

Light. It is light. I waken slowly and am disorientated. Why didn’t my alarm go off? Probably because I forgot to set it! OK, so I am starting later than planned but that is alright, there is no great panic. While it is a fair distance to Westmeath it is not the longest of my trips. I’m hoping against hope the roads will be quiet for a Monday. It’s very wet and the temperature is hovering around freezing as I set off into the grey gloom.

The usual road east along the N5/N4 brought me to the long straight between Rathowen and Ballinaleck. Here I turned off on to the L1902 and followed this road, across the river Inny, down to the village of Ballynacargy which is right on the Grand Canal. This part of the country is rarely visited by tourists. It is prime agricultural land but it lacks the grandeur and romance of the west, the history of Ulster or the city life in Dublin. Here there are cattle chewing the cud, lazy rivers and canals winding amid low lying green fields. Large tracks of the land around here were devastated by Bord na Mona as they ripped the peat bogs apart to fuel power stations in the last century. This practice has largely stopped and there is a degree of remedial work being carried out on the damaged bogland. It will take generations for that effort to come to fruition but at least a start is being made. Hamlets and small villages dot the middle of Ireland, places where the pace of life has barely altered for a hundred years. Those within commuting distance of the city can tell a very different tale though as thousands of people flocked to live within striking distance of the well paid jobs in Dublin. Today I was beyond that belt of blighted towns, out in the silage scented air of Westmeath on the banks of the Royal Canal.

Truth be told there is not much too the neat little village of Ballynacargy. It consists of two streets, a fine church, one shop, a petrol station and a few pubs. I ducked down a lane beside the church and parked near a small stone bridge over channel which fed the canal. Mallards were noisily poking around in the shallow water, untroubled by the rain. Beyond, the wide basin looked pretty desolate in the watery vista. I am afraid I know little about canal construction but I am guessing basins like this one were built so boats can turn around. To think that these canals were dug by men with just a pick and shovel amazes me. An hour digging for worms exhausts me so how men could keep it up hour after hour, day after day seems to be superhuman. Working the barges which used the canals was dangerous, low paid work too and many men died transporting goods across the country. This article gives some insight into the conditions at the time:

The mist was drenching from the moment I stepped out of the car. This was going to be far removed from my day dreams of balmy summer days on the towpath. There is a lock at one end of the basin so I decide to start proceedings immediately below it. First I put the light leger rod together and cast half a worm out. Setting up the float rod next I plumbed the depth. I mucked up this process by putting on shot which were too heavy and it took me a while to cotton on to my mistake. Split shot sizes and weights utterly confuse me but I need to learn about them to avoid wasting time again. There is a steady flow here and the float trots nice and slowly down into the basin before I wind in and recast. A small rivulet feeds into the basin at my feet, the muddy water gradually discolouring the canal. Will this put the fish off? I nip back to the car for something or other and as I return I see a mink on my bank. He is too quick for me and he escapes before I can reach for my camera (a gun would have been better). Taking a look around me I see the pike anglers have been a bit careless with their casting. I feel very safe as there is nobody around here. The small village behind me is quietly going about its business but nobody comes near me at the canal.

I have been fishing for about half-an-hour when the leger rod gives a slight rattle. Letting it develop, I finally lift into a small fish which quickly comes to hand. A nice 6 ounce roach to start with and he is released after a snap. It doesn’t matter what else happens today, I have my fish from county Westmeath and I am delighted.

It goes quiet again so I start casting in different directions. I flick the float ‘upstream’ towards the locks and almost immediately it disappears. I miss that one but the very next cast produces another firm take and this time I set the hook. This is a much better fish and it fights really well all the way to the net. Out of the water I am unsure of exactly what I have just caught. Initially I figure it is a good roach but the colour is golden, like a rudd. I check the mouth (up for rudd, down for roach) but this just adds to the confusion, both mandibles are the same length. I invite you experts who read this blog to put me right but I think this fish is a roach/rudd hybrid? I am happy to hold up my hand and say I don’t know and I look forward to you guys enlightening me. I popped the fish back and it swam off strongly. I reckon it weighed around a pound.

Now the perch show up and I land a couple of small lads. Perch in Irish canals don’t seem to grow large, unlike some in English canals. I don’t care, it is always lovely to see these aggressive little fish in their brilliant colours.

It all goes quiet for a long time and I try searching along the bank but without success. Returning to where I started I pick up another three roach over the next hour, hardly scintillating fishing but hey, I am out in the fresh air so I don’t mind. All the time the mist gets heavier and heavier, soaking everything. In the end I decided that the return for getting so wet is not worth it and I pack up. Four roach, one roach/rudd hybrid and two perch for the session. I have had a lot worse days!

The last roach. Lovely fish isn’t it?

I toss the sopping wet gear in to the car and head off on the long road west. Back at home I returned the unused worms to the compost heap where they can do what worms do for the next few months. The wet tackle is given a rudimentary drying but I will sort it out properly in the morning. For now I want nothing more than a bite to eat and to unwind after the drive home. Oh, and there is the little matter of writing this post to be taken care of.

We can expect a severe lockdown to come into force almost immediately after Christmas Day and not the 6th of January as previously stated. My take on it is that this next lockdown will go on for many weeks so there will be no fishing for me in the near future. Added to the lockdown, I have taken another interim management role which will last for the first 3 months of 2021, meaning I will be kept busy making some money instead of angling.

Taking stock of where I am on the 32 journey I see that I have caught 49 fish in 8 counties to date, exactly a quarter of the total. I am well pleased with this, given the horrible year we have all had. Here is how it looks so far:

County venuefish caughtmethodkm travelled
Antrim     
Armagh     
Carlow     
Cavan5Garty Lough, Arvagh6 x Roach, 4 x Perch5 on touch leger, 5 on waggler262
Clare4Cloondorney Lough, Tulla3 x small Rudd, 1 x skimmerfloat,  fished shallow274
Cork     
Derry     
Donegal     
Down     
Dublin     
Fermanagh     
Galway     
Kerry     
Kildare     
Kilkenny     
Laois     
Leitrim3Drumgorman Lake5 Roach, 2 x Perchfeeder and ledger200
Limerick     
Longford7Shannon, Lanesborough1 x perch, 1 x hybridtrotted float and feeder280
Louth     
Mayo     
Meath     
Monghan     
Offaly6Grand Canal at Shannon Harbour3 x roach, 3 x perchtrotted maggot and legered worm216
Roscommon2Cloonahee lake1 pikefeeder184
Sligo1Lough Talta dozen Brown troutfly100
Tipperary     
Tyrone     
Waterford     
Westmeath8Royal Canal4 x roach, 2 x perch, 1 x roach/rudd hybridfloat fished worm286
Wexford     
Wicklow     
1802

A few fish landed on the solstice felt like a fitting end to 2020. From now on the days will very slowly lengthen, the darkness gradually retreating as it has for the millennium. Maybe the strange times we are living in heighten our appreciation of the simple things in life we all took for granted before the lexicon of new words ruled our every day – covid, pandemic, lockdown, furloughed and all the others. I know I am grateful for every outing with the rods now and cherish the sights and sounds of a day on the bank.

As 2020 ages and withers I want to say ‘thank you’ to all of you who have taken the time to read my rambling here on this blog. I hope you found something to entertain, inform or amuse you. Stay safe out there.

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32, coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

32 – Episode 7, County Longford

Thursday, 1st October 2020

Longford posed some difficult questions for me. There is a lot of fishing in the county but from what I could see most of it was going to be very challenging. The Shannon forms the western border but I have been shying away from this river simply due to its size. The fish could be anywhere and me fishing one spot on the bank seems to be inviting disaster. So instead I found a lake in the north of the county which appeared to be a more likely spot to actually hook something. Lough Sallagh. This body of water straddles the Longford/Leitrim border so I would have to be careful not to stray across the county line as I have caught fish in Leitrim before. The IFI website said the lake contained bream, perch and roach, in other words the usual suspects. Parking was very, very limited as the road on the side of the lake was single track. It also said the lake was very shallow and very weedy so there could be some issues with that. In the event that Sallagh was unfishable or I could not find a parking spot I would pluck up my courage and drive down to Lanesborough and try the mighty Shannon. Was the famous hot water section there still fishing now that the ESB flusher is not working? Did the huge Tench of yesteryear still haunt the area? What about the vast shoals of specimen sized Bream – did they still move up the river from lough Ree? Or maybe there would be shoals of silvery roach cruising around in the deep waters. I had no idea but it seemed to be worth a shot if Sallagh was out of ply.

Once again, the most direct route for me coming from Mayo would be to drive to Longford then strike north but I required fresh bait and that would mean a visit to Carrick-on-Shannon. This would add some time to the drive but nothing too disastrous. My plan was to leave Castlebar around 8.30am which should, if the traffic gods were on my side, get me to the side of the lough around 11 o’clock.

I had spent some time since my last trip tidying out the tackle box and cleaning the coarse rods and reels so everything tackle wise was in reasonably good order. I really could do with buying a couple of boxes for all the smaller items of tackle though. Just now there are too many individual tins, each holding one or more bits. Hooks are in an old tobacco tine for example, swimfeeders in a disused washing powder box. In particular I would like to invest in a rig box so that I could have hook lengths made up and ready to go. I reckon that would save me a fair bit of time and hassle. I could also use up the spade end hooks which I seem to have accumulated and are too much trouble to tie when actually fishing. My hope was that the shallow water would lend itself to float fishing and I would be blessed with fine, calm weather so I could spent the day watching the tip of my float and hopefully see it slide beneath the surface a few times. It is hard to know which form of fishing for coarse species I like best, both float and leger have their attractions. I simply adore using my light leger rod and seeing the quiver tip rattle when there is a bite. Then again, focusing on that little speck of red or orange as it sits there in the surface is hypnotic too.

I checked the weather forecast before going to bed – ‘a mix of sunny spells and widespread showers. Some of the showers will be heavy with hail and possibly thundery too. Any mist, fog and frost will clear during the morning but the day will be rather cool with highs of just 10 or 11 Celsius in light southeast or variable breezes’. I threw an extra fleece into the bag.

Even though I wasn’t leaving until 8.30 I rose early on Thursday morning. It’s cool now and I put on the gas to warm the house up a little. Cats fed, I set about loading the tackle in the car. For some reason my thoughts wandered back to the days of my youth and how I would set off every Saturday armed with one fly rod and a small bag containing my only fly box and my sandwiches. Now I go fishing with half-a-dozen rods and enough gear to fill the back of the car yet I don’t catch any more fish than I did as a lad. Maybe that will be the next challenge for me once I have completed the 32 counties – fish all year with only one rod. That could be interesting!

I stowed the ABU 234 heavy leger rod in the car this time, just in case I found myself down in Lanesborough. It is capable of casting up to 40gms which would be useful on the Shannon. A lovely rod to fish with, I planned to pair it up with an old silver Daiwa Regal reel filled with 8 pound line. That should be man enough to handle the strong currents and heavy fish there. Ferreting around in the tackle room I had unearthed some 40gm feeders to bring along too. The big guns were out. I admit to feeling a lot of trepidation about this trip, Longford felt like a big challenge. Lough Sallagh would shallow and weedy with poor access and the alternative of the Shannon at Lanesborough looked to be huge and daunting.

That well-travelled road east along the N5 was not overly busy but thick banks of fog required a lot of concentration. At Frenchpark I cut off and drove north by east to the now familiar town of Carrick where I parked up beside the river. Carrick Angling Centre is conveniently located near the bridge. Unfortunately it was closed and I fear it may be for good. So I hit the road again, down the N4 then off through Mohill and on to Carrigallen where I got some worms before retracing my journey to the junction at the Cloone GAA pitch on that terrible bend. The minor roads to the lake were not signposted but I managed to guess correctly and peeled off first to the left and then down a boreen to the right. The trees were turning red and gold, making the last stages of the drive very pleasant. At last the lake hove into view on the right.

To say there was a shortage of parking spots would be a gross understatement. First appearances were of a potentially productive water but access is appalling, especially considering the road runs right alongside the lake. A couple of days work with a digger to clear parking places and a few shots of concrete to make some fishing stands would create a lovely facility for visiting and local anglers. Instead, I located only two possible fishing spots. Both were very shallow but one seemed to be a little deeper so I set up there.

By now the sun was out and it felt like a summer’s day. I waded out to see if there was any deeper water but even 30 yards from the shore I was only in 18 inches of water. The combination of shallows and bright light did not inspire confidence but I tackled up and fished for an hour without a bite. Time for some drastic action. I packed up and hit the road again, bound for Lanesborough.

For those who have never heard of it let me explain what the flusher at Lanesborough is all about. The surrounding flat bogland was for years stripped by huge machines and the peat which was extracted used to fuel a number of power stations. The one at Lanesborough sits right on the banks of the Shannon. Excess hot water was pumped directly into the river and this attracted the fish to the area immediately downstream of the flusher. For many years this was possibly the main spot in the whole country for visiting coarse anglers to congregate. Now the power station is closing down meaning no hot water is being pumped. The question for me was are there still some fish hanging around?

A fine carpark is situated right next to the fishing stands on the Shannon in the town. I opted to start just below the road bridge with a swimfeeder on the heavy rod and touch legering on the light rod. It had clouded over by the time I was set up and fishing and a breeze was beginning to build from the south so conditions were at least a improving for me. The river was very low and the anticipated heavy flow was just a sedate one instead. A thick bed of reeds splits the river here and I was fishing on the Longford side, the Roscommon side is the one used by the boat traffic (not that there was much of that). Small hooks and a single worm failed to get any response so I scaled up on the heavy rod and ended up with a size 10 and a bunch of worms. With no bites on the leger rod I decided to change over and set up a float on it (being too lazy to go back to the car for a float rod). I trotted the 17 foot deep water with the float for another hour or more before at last it pulled under and I landed a small perch. Soon after that the heavens opened and a heavy squall hit, making it very uncomfortable for a while. In the middle of the downpour I had another take and I lifted into a nice roach. With one last twist he shed the hook as I was about to swing him in. A murder of crows wheeled in the air above me, mocking my misfortune with loud cawing.

All the while I had been steadily moving downstream to cover as much water as I could. I’d cast in the swimfeeder and leave it where I could see it, then trot the float down and come back to the heavy rod every few minutes. I came back to the swimfeeder just in time to see the smallest of twitches which I struck firmly. Fish on and this one held down deep. The net was soon under him though and I gazed upon my first Hybrid! I was unfeasibly happy with this fish as I was not expecting to bump into a Hybrid here at all. A couple of quick snaps and the fish swam off strongly.

I fished on for a while longer but more heavy rain made the job unpleasant so I called it a day just after 4pm and made my way back to the car. Everything was sopping wet as I broke down the rods and loaded up all the gear. Time to reflect on what had been a difficult day.

Firstly, I had caught fish in county Longford. I have now caught fish from the mighty Shannon and I had landed my first Hybrid. Lough Sallagh was way too shallow in my opinion and I am sure I would have blanked had I stayed there. So the move to a different venue was a wise one. Lanesborough is but a shadow of what it used to be now the power station in no longer pumping millions of gallons of hot water into the river. The vast shoals of dustbin lid sized bream and enormous tench have found another billet. Still, it is a nice section to fish and it might be better earlier in the year, say around May or June. I really enjoyed fishing there, it was comfortable and a constant stream of (socially distancing) passers-by and dog walkers provided bits of chit-chat throughout the afternoon.

‘Bridies’, the tackle shop in Lanesborough has closed down and it looks like the tackle shop in Carrick-on-Shannon has also closed. The shop in Mohill shutdown some time ago. It must be incredibly hard to keep a small tackle shop open during these hard times. Finding bait is becoming increasingly difficult for me and it remains to be seen just how many tackle shops are still open next spring. The last time I spoke to Frank here in Castlebar he seemed to be doing OK, long may that continue.

The bait question is so serious I am now thinking about breeding my own maggots next year. It seems to be a simple enough process, if a bit smelly. Apparently the quality of home reared maggots is much superior to shop bought ones which could be another plus. Obviously Helen must never know about this particular project!

Realistically I should switch from coarse fishing to the pike from now on. The weather is getting colder and getting bait is proving to be really difficult. I will tidy up the coarse gear and put it away for the winter. My next outing may well be to chase the toothy green fellas!

PS. The car decided to play up a bit. There was a discernible loss of power for some reason when I was driving home. It has gone off to my mate’s for some repairs now and I have asked him to fix the knocking rear suspension while he is at it. Always something……………..

PPS. Prognosis on the car is a failed air mass flowmeter, €350 for a replacement. Looking around for a secondhand one now.

End of October update: Good news – found a much cheaper new air mass flow meter. Bad news, a CV joint has failed and an ABS sensor has packed in along with a rear wheel bearing and a track rod end. Oh the joys of running an old banger! All being repaired now.

7th October: We are locked down again, initially for a period of three weeks but who knows what will happen after that. With no travel outside your own county the ’32 project’ is now firmly on hold with 7 counties successfully fished to date. Here is a summary of where I am as of this week:

 County venuefish caughtmethod
1Antrim    
2Armagh    
3Carlow    
4Cavan5Garty Lough, Arvagh6 x Roach, 4 x Perch5 on touch leger, 7 on waggler
5Clare4Cloondorney Lough, Tulla small Rudd, 1 x skimmerfloat,  fished shallow
6Cork    
7Derry    
8Donegal    
9Down    
10Dublin    
11Fermanagh    
12Galway    
13Kerry    
14Kildare    
15Kilkenny    
16Laois    
17Leitrim3Drumgorman Lakesome Roach and 2 x Perchfeeder and ledger
18Limerick    
19Longford7Shannon, Lanesborough1 x perch, 1 x hybridtrotted float and feeder
20Louth    
21Mayo    
22Meath    
23Monghan    
24Offaly6grand canal at Shannon Harbour3 x roach, 3 x perchtrotted maggot and leger worm
25Roscommon2Cloonahee lake1 pikefeeder
26Sligo1Lough Talta dozen Brown troutfly
27Tipperary    
28Tyrone    
29Waterford    
30Westmeath    
31Wexford    
32Wicklow    
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32, coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

32 – Episode 6, County Offaly

24th September 2020

Offaly sits in the very heart of Ireland, bounded by no less than 7 other counties. It is another one of those places which I have driven through so many times while commuting to jobs but have never stopped in, let along fished. In my mind Offaly was all bog which was being systematically stripped by the huge machines of Bord na Mona to feed the hungry power stations. I required a spot of re-education. The most obvious angling opportunities were on the river Shannon which formed the border between Offaly and Galway. The river is wide and strong here, it sounded like too much for a novice coarse angler like me to tackle with any degree of confidence. What I required somewhere more sedate and intimate. The river Brosna flows across the county but I could not find out too much on exactly where was best to fish so I discounted that river too. How about the canal? The Grand Canal could just be the place to try.

The Grand Canal links Dublin in the east to the river Shannon in the west. By the time it was fully open in 1804 it had taken nearly 50 years to build. After a brief period of success it fell into disrepair for many years. Nowadays, restored to its former glory, it is full of pleasure boats and is home to a good few coarse fish. I read the canal held Pike, Perch, Bream, Eels and some Roach. Pike ran to 5 or 6 pounds in weight but the perch were wee lads with a half-pounder being a good one. I began to hatch a plan to fish for perch on the canal and found a nice looking stretch at Shannon Harbour, right at the very western end of the canal. It looked like it would normally be extremely busy with boats but this year there are few people holidaying on the canal and anyway this is the end of the season. One of the big attractions for this spot was the abundance of parking places at the edge of the canal.

Looking at various maps it appeared there would be an interesting area to fish where the 36th lock (the last one on the canal), the river Brosna and the river Shannon all converged. Surely there would be some fish hanging around such a piece of water. If not, between the lock and the hump-backed bridge in the village there were moorings and some wide basins which would also be worth investigating. All in all, it looked as if there was going to be more than enough water to keep me busy.

The weather forecast was not great. The day was promised to be cool and windy with heavy showers, your typical autumn day in Ireland. I packed some rain gear in the car and a few spare clothes in case I got very wet.

This would be another first for me as I have never fished a canal before. From my very limited knowledge of canal fishing you need to find the fish first and this can be difficult. The advice was to look for places where the canal either narrows or widens as this seems to attract the perch. Under bridges are also good holding spots apparently. Perch are very accommodating little fish that can be caught on a wide variety of baits and lures so I figured on trying small jigs to start with. As there were small Pike also present there was a good chance one of them might grab a soft bait too. In addition to jigs I also packed some spinners too. Lacking the new fandangled drop-shotting gear I packed a couple of 6 foot baitcasting rods and reels. I planned to give some small jigs a whirl and see if the perch liked them. That would entail moving around a bit to cover as much water as possible and I would need to travel light. As a back-up plan I would bring along my coarse fishing tackle in case the perch were unresponsive and I could try for roach and bream on the maggot or worm. As usual, I would bring some bread and sweetcorn with me too in case of emergency.

My route there was straightforward, M17/M6/R357 then cut off for Shannon Harbour. There should be none of the twisty roads of my last couple of forays into Leitrim and Cavan, just good straight road and motorways. I reckoned that a bit more than a couple of hours should see me at my destination and as I wanted to be back at home for 5pm that would give me somewhat less than four hours actual fishing. Would that be long enough for me to catch something (anything!)? I stepped out into the garden to check the weather before I went to bed, a cold, clear night full of twinkling stars. What would the morrow hold?

Sure enough, the day broke amid squally showers driven by a wind which didn’t seem to know which direction it wanted to blow from. Whatever the direction it was strong! Eating my porridge I consulted the weather forecast again, they were now talking about gale force winds and heavy rain with possible spot flooding today. Looks like it is going to be a rough one!

The trip down to Offaly was uneventful and the roads were pretty quiet. The small bridge over the canal in the village was supposed to be closed so I diverted through Cloghans and came into the village from the south, a fair bit of a detour. On reaching the village it was obvious the bridge was in fact open so my detour had been for nothing. I bounced along the rough track on the south side of the canal and reached a parking spot next to the last lock on the canal. I quickly surveyed my surroundings and decided to try the jig first to try and temp some perch from the likely looking water above the lock. Problems immediately became obvious in the shape of weed, lots and lots of weed. It grew thickly on the bottom and maddeningly floated in great clumps on the surface too. Each cast resulted in a fouled hook. The weed on the bottom came away easily enough so I was not losing any gear but nor was I catching any fish. This wasn’t working at all so I needed a plan B.

The weather now degenerated and a troublesome wind sprang up closely followed by a very heavy shower. I got a good soaking but used this time to grab my coarse gear and leg it down to the end of the canal, only about 100 yards from the Shannon itself. There was a steady flow here as the river Brosna came in just up from where I was on the opposite side. Plumbing the depth I found there was about 12 feet of water in front of me. Given the weed situation above the lock I opted to try red maggots on the float tackle with the worm on my light leger rod close in to the reeds at my side.

I trotted the float through the run for an hour or so without success before the float ever so slowly slid under. I was equally slow in lifting the rod, thinking this was just a bit of weed again but no! A nice wee roach came to hand, sparkling silver flanks and red fins. I had photographed him and popped him back in the water before it struck me, I had done it, caught a fish in Offaly! I repeated the exercise again with another, slightly bigger roach on the float fished maggot about 20 minutes later but by then the weather had taken a turn for the worse. A veritable monsoon broke and driving rain penetrated every leak in my old waterproofs. Fishing was extremely difficult as you could hardly see or feel anything in the deluge. I packed up as quickly as I could and started to plod back to the car through the downpour.

Nearing the carpark it became clear the rain was easing off somewhat so I decided to try a few casts from a floating pontoon. I was soaked through anyway so a few more minutes in the rain wasn’t going to make a hell of a lot of difference. In normal days I am sure this spot was a hive of activity as boats queued there to ascend the lock. Today there was a solitary empty boat tied forlornly to the pontoon leaving tons of room for me to fish. This looked like the ideal spot for perch so I dropped a worm over the edge of the pontoon while I sorted out the float rod. I turned to see the tip of the leger rod rattle but when I picked it up and wound in the perch had scoffed my worm and got away scot free. The rain renewed it venomous downpour, horizontal now in a howling wind. I turned my back to it and kept on fishing but it was very tough to see any twitches on the rod tip. Thankfully, the torrents of rain eased off a bit and I was able to see and feel again. Soon the tip of the wee leger rod give a rattle and I set the hook in a small perch. I repeated this trick another couple of times with similar sized perch then added another nice roach, also on the worm, before the next belt of weather came rolling in.

By now even I had to admit defeat so I packed up and made tracks to the car and some welcome respite from the elements. A drop of hot coffee and a sandwich revived me a bit and I sat there watching the teeming rain on the windscreen. It was nearing three o’clock and I lacked the will to tackle up again so I called it a day. Once more I braved the rain to throw the rods and gear into the back of the car then I turned the key in the ignition and set a course for home, this time driving over the bridge and cutting a big chunk off the journey back north. Strangely, the bad weather abated as I neared Ballinasloe and I completed the rest of the journey home in sunshine and light showers. 

At home the sopping wet clothes were bundled up and fired into the washing machine. The left over bait was frozen for use as ground bait in future. The rest of the gear can wait until the next day to get cleaned/dried/sorted out. Reviewing the day’s events, I had found a really nice place to fish and it is clear that in better conditions and a bit earlier in the year the canal at Shannon Harbour could produce some great fishing. I was reasonably pleased to have managed to winkle out a few fish in truly horrendous conditions. I know they were small but I was far from disappointed. Once again I had fish to both float and leger tactics. The only real downside is my inability to catch anything other than roach and perch. I need to think out what to do when there is a lot of weed growth. I figured that the float was the answer but would a swimfeeder with a popped-up hook bait been a better option? It did cross my mind to change to that set up but the rain was so heavy the idea of making any changes was just too much effort. All I wanted to do was try to keep as little water as possible from getting through my jacket and trousers.

The next day I dried out all my gear and tidied up my tackle box. Items which were not being used were removed and a few small bits were added. Rods and reels were wiped down and checked over. The old Cardinal 444A was running a bit stiff so I opened it up and lubricated the innards. Groundbait is running low now so a visit to a good tackle shop is required. I need to look at new waterproofs, my old ones are past their best now and I got very wet in the heavy rain. I’m also going to start bringing my heavy leger rod with me when I go coarse fishing. It can handle heavier/larger swimfeeders and this might help me to add more groundbait into swims and thus attract and hold some bream.

Counties Dublin and Donegal are locked down again due to spikes in Covid-19 with other counties looking like they will go the same way. At least I have ticked off another county before it becomes out of bounds. After this burst of activity over that past month I will be slowing down a bit over the winter and, if the gods are good to me, I will go at it hell for leather from next spring. I am plotting some local pike fishing next month, watch this space…………………

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32, coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

32 – Episode 5, County Cavan

21st September 2020

It started a couple of weeks ago. You had to listen hard to hear it to start with but it quickly increased in volume and frequency. Now it is a robust ‘clunk’ emanating from the region of the rear suspension whenever I drive over a bump in the road (not an infrequent occurrence here in Ireland). On good roads it disappears but as soon as the surface returns to the normal level of inconsistency it comes back. I strongly suspect that a bushing on the suspension has given up the ghost and it will need to be changed. I have added it to the list of jobs the car needs done. Until I get around to fixing it I just turn up the volume on the radio to drown out the disconcerting noise. I thought before setting off on the next leg of my odyssey that the car might be a problem for me but no, it ran faultlessly while all sorts of other disasters befell me on Monday.

The next target county on my quest to catch fish in every one was Cavan. While I have passed through bits of Cavan on lot of different occasions I have not spent any time there so it is all a bit of a mystery to me. Cavan is one of the border counties, its northern boundary forming part of the border with Northern Ireland. When driving to/from Scotland on my annual trips I pass through a tiny piece of Cavan at Blacklion and I have been in Cavan Town and Ballyconnell on business before now. It is another one of those counties blessed with endless opportunities for the coarse fishing enthusiast so I planned to try for Bream (again) on one of the smaller loughs. Cavan really has an awful lot of loughs to pick from.

While researching possible venues I hit on a daring plan. I found a lough which straddled the border between Cavan and Longford. With a bit of luck I could catch a fish on Cavan side of the lough then wander over to the other side and catch another fish on the Longford side, thus ticking off two counties in one day. The idea really appealed, so I laid plans to attempt just that.

The lough in question is called Guinikin and it lies close to the village of Arvagh. The village itself nestles in Cavan but three counties meet on the edge of the town. Leitrim and Longford are all a short walk from the middle of the village. Probably the most direct route for me would be to drive to Longford along the N5 then hang a left up go up the R198. Instead, I decided to go via Carrick-on-Shannon so I could pick up some maggots at the tackle shop there. That would entail driving through the other popular coarse fishing centres of Mohill and Carrigallen. It probably was much the same in terms of kilometres driven but the roads would be poorer and therefor slower.

The weather has been fine, warm and dry for the past few days, allowing water levels across the country to drop to something approaching normal for the time of year after a long wet spell. I was hoping that Guinikin was not too high as I wanted to be able to walk around a fair old chunk of the shoreline. In case of bad conditions I packed a pair of thigh waders. If nothing else the banks were likely to be muddy even if they were not under water. Information about the lake was sparse, there was a small carpark nearby which is always a big plus for me. On Google maps it looked like there was a lane which led to the edge of the lough. The IFI website stated there were stands to fish from which would be nice if they were there. In terms of fish the IFI said there were Bream, Roach, Tench, Hybrids, Pike and perch present. A nice spread of species to have a go at if the Bream failed to appear (as is normal for me). I planned around starting operations with one rod on feeder and the other on waggler. I’d bring a spinning rod with me in case I wanted to try for a Pike.

The previous day I spent some time sorting out the coarse fishing tackle which had degenerated into chaos after the last few outings. I find that I chop and change methods a lot when coarse fishing and that leads to a host of little bits of used tackle congregating in the box. Discarded hook lengths, floats still attached to bits of shotted line, empty bait boxes and other detritus all had to be gathered up, cleaned/sorted/discarded safely and necessities like clean towels and spare tins of sweetcorn replenished. I had read somewhere that Bream like sweet flavours in groundbait so I went ferreting around in the cupboards to see if I could find something suitable. Right at the back I came across a suspicious looking wee bottle which proved to be vanilla essence. The best before date suggested to me this was not going to fit for human consumption so I added it to my tackle box.

The tackle shop in Carrick opens and 9.30am so an 8.30 departure from Castlebar would put in the parish around the right time. Traffic in the town was heavy but once I was on the main road it eased off and the dry, dull weather made the journey pleasant enough. The knocking from the suspension came and went at intervals but there were no dramas with the car. I rolled into Carrick at twenty-to-ten and after parking strode manfully up to the tackle shop – it was closed! Bugger, there goes my plans to use maggots today. I was really unhappy about this as I continue to hold no faith in sweetcorn despite lugging a couple of tins along with me. Back in the car I pressed on, passing through Mohill and then to Carigallen. I was almost through the town when it occurred to me there was a small tackle shop attached to a B&B. Sure enough, there it was just as you are leaving on the left hand side so I pulled over and, clutching an empty bait box, strode up to the wee shop. ‘Closed due to Covid’ said the sign on the door. Before I could start cursing properly someone inside the house knocked on the window and signalled to me. Anne, the owner came out and said she happened to have some bait and after an exchange of coin a pint of bright red maggots were mine. I nearly skipped back to the car, my mood completely changed due to my good fortune. Not far now and I was in Arvagh, a bustling village with a one way system.

My chosen lough was on the other edge of the town and easily found. I parked up and got all my gear sorted but of a lane there was no sign. Instead, a deep and foul looking drain led from under the road to the lake and the ground was swampy all around it. Electric cattle fences barred my path and I could already see swathes of dense reed beds around the water. More cursing ensued as I battled my way to the nearest point of the water but there were still many yards of reeds between me and open water. I tried hacking some reeds down but it would have taken me hours to clear a spot to fish from. In the end I gave up and trudged through the muck and across the fences back to the car. I had wasted a good hour and had still not even set up a rod. I needed a new plan.

The gear was hastily bundled back into the car and I headed back into the town then found a sign for Rockfield lough. I followed the road and guessed the lake was a body of water in a hollow to the right. It was also surrounded by a thick belt of reeds so I beat a retreat, not fancying another battle with more vegetation. Back into the town again and I found a big lough which I later found out was called Garty Lough. There was space to park and even a pontoon to fish from. This would have to do.

Finally, I set up the gear. One feeder rod and one on the float, both baited with maggots. Plumbing the depth I found there was about eight feet of water three rod lengths out from the pontoon. Groundbait was made up and balls thrown in, then I settled down with some coffee to see what would transpire. An hour passed and I bent to pick up the feeder rod to check the bait. There was a muffled ‘crack’ and the old rod sagged just above the bottom joint. I had managed to strike a big cleat on the pontoon and snapped the rod. Let’s just say I was not having the best of days so far!

I packed away the broken rod and set up my wonderful old light leger rod and mulled over the day’s events. My plans were in tatters as was one of my rods. It was 1pm and I had not even had a bite yet. Things were looking bleak. On the plus side I was settled into a nice swim and I had confidence in my tactics and bait. I would add some more groundbait for a start and this time a mixed in some of the prehistoric vanilla essence. Mushing it into the mix I could smell the vanilla, very appealing to me if not the fish. Balls of the sweet-smelling goo were chucked into the swim, each laced with some maggots for good measure. I re-cast and very soon the float dipped. I struck – nothing. I re-baited and cast again. Once again, the float dipped and I struck into thin air. This was repeated a few more times. I needed to make a change. I was fishing a single maggot on a size 18 hook on the float rod so I changed the leger rod to a bigger size 14 tipped with 3 maggots. First cast with the leger brought a strong bite and a fish on the end. A nice roach of about 8 ounces came to hand and I’m sure I smiled.  The float was now being ignored but the leger produced three roach and a perch over the next hour, none big but all welcome. The last swallows of summer hawked flies above me in the gentlest of breezes, life was good.

It went quiet again so I took the opportunity to change the hook on the float rod to a 14 and put 3 maggots on it. From then on the leger rod was ignored by the fish but I landed another 3 roach and 3 more perch on the float. That was 10 fish for the session, not too bad for a day which had started so unpromisingly. The fish went quiet again about 3.30pm so I packed up and hit the road home.

A post mortem of the day revealed a number of mistakes on my part. I should have checked the bait shop in Carrick was open on Mondays (it appears it is not). Guinikin Lough was a disaster because I was overly optimistic there would be somewhere relatively easy to fish there. I need to be certain about venues before hiking half way across the country to fish them. Maybe a younger man, equipped with a heavy rake, might have cleared a swim there but it was torture for me just getting across those 7 electric cattle fences. Not managing to tick off two counties in one day was a shame but that was always going to be a big ask. Breaking the rod was pure carelessness on my part. It was an old rod that I had bought second-hand for a pound or two so it was not great loss. I won’t rush to replace it, I have enough rods to see me through the winter and I can think about a new dedicated feeder rod next spring. Bream continue to elude me but I am getting used to that by now. I understand that not pre-baiting is a major drawback but there is nothing I can do about it.

On the plus side I caught fish in County Cavan! That is a big success for me and I am pretty happy about that. I’ve discovered a huge affection for roach, they are such a pretty fish and I’m enjoying learning how to catch them. Did adding the vanilla essence to the groundbait make a difference? I honestly don’t know but it sure smelled good to me so I will definitely try it again. Getting fish on both float and leger was fun and I am feeling more confident with the coarse gear with each outing.

I saw a few heavy splashes out in the lake today which I could not identify as they were too far away. Then a large, silver fish jumped clear of the water not 30 yards from me. Later, another large, silver fish rose at my feet and I saw both very clearly. They were salmon. How salmon got into this lake in the heart of Cavan I do not know. The stream exiting the lake is little more than a drain. I can only imagine this drain links to Lough Gowna which is close by and is part of the massive Erne system.

I now need to think about which county to target next. 5 down, 27 still to go. For obvious reasons I have been fishing those counties closest to me, so from now on the journeys are going to get longer and more arduous. The more distant counties are 4 hours drive or more from home, so at least eight hours will be spent getting there and back. Fishing time will be at a premium and these long range trips will require much more careful planning than I have put into my jaunts so far. With the winter fast approaching and some counties being in lockdown it makes sense to keep my powder dry for next year once September is past. A fine spell of weather in October/November might tempt me out to fish for Pike but other than that I will hunker down and make preparations for 2021 once September is over.

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32, coarse fishing

32 – Episode 4, County Clare

Monday, 14th September 2020

The next county I would target in my project the catch fish in every Irish county would be Clare. Once again I was busy online researching possible venues and plumped for this one, Cloondorney Lough. This lake, near the town of Tulla in the east of the county seemed to be the best option to me. It sounded like the fishing was easily accessible and the lough held Bream (my target species), Roach, some Hybrids and lots of Rudd. The Rudd apparently run up to about a pound in weight, a great size for the species. Tench, Eels and Perch also inhabited this water but in small numbers.

My plan was to use two rods, setting one up with a feeder to search for Bream and the other with a waggler set high in the water to try for Rudd. In case that didn’t work out I took along plenty of other rods, reels and gear so I could switch around if desired. For bait I had some worms, dead maggots, sweetcorn and bread. So really I was armed to the teeth and ready for anything.

Monday and the alarm goes off in the cool darkness of the early morning. The car had been packed the night before so all I had to do was eat my breakfast and sort out some food to bring with me. It would be a long day so I needed sustenance. Six-thirty saw me pulling out of the driveway and off into the darkness. Light was just creeping into the eastern sky as I motored through the villages of south Mayo, crossing into Galway at Ballindine on-route for Tuam. There the new motorway bypasses the town and led me ever southwards. Traffic built up approaching Galway city but it eased again once passed the M6 junction. In two hours I was passing through Tulla and looking for the brown signpost for the lake. The narrow road was under some sort of repair by the looks of it, consisting of untarred gravel but I found the lough and reversed into a neat little space by a small concrete stand.

I inspected my new surroundings and was a bit taken aback by the colour of the water – it was like strong tea. I can only presume this was due to heavy rain but it did not inspire me to see such a filthy lough. As I was contemplating the water two locals arrived and occupied the swim next to me. We had a brief chat and it was clear they knew the lough well and fished it often. What should have been a peaceful spot was ruined by a heavy digger which decided to work right behind my swim all morning. It looked like he was clearing a site for a new house and the clanking of the 360 went on for most of the day.

Following my plan the feeder rod was set up with the Cardinal 444A and 6 pound line. A cage feeder and a hook link of 4 pound b/s completed the set up. A lively worm was my bait on this rod. For ground bait I mixed brown crumb and added a few dead red maggots. The float rod with the Daiwa Harrier reel and 2 pound running line was set up with a small float and a foot of 1.5 pound hook length to a size 18 carrying a single red maggot. Lots of balls of ground bait were hurled into the swim in an effort to attract some fish nearer. Right from the start the float dipped every cast but hooking the Rudd was proving to be difficult. Eventually I hit one and swung in a typical tiny Rudd. Another couple followed but I was missing 90% of the bites. In between the action on the float I was continually winding in the swimfeeder and refilling the cage.

Time for a cuppa. I had brought along a flask of hot water and a plastic box full of tea bags of indeterminate age. All I know is that they had nestled peacefully in that box of a long, long time. I pulled out the first one that came to hand, dropped it into the cup and filled up with the hot water. Then I had a rough sandwich with a tomato I had brought and let the tea brew. The first sip of the tea was a surprise, it was impossible to tell what tea I had just brewed. It tasted of pepperminty/cranberryish/orangy with a hint of ginger (or maybe lemon). Obviously all the different flavours of tea had intermingled over the time the tea bags were in the box and now the all tasted the same. Ah well, at least it was drinkable.

The float dipped again and I struck into another small silvery fish but this time it was a wee skimmer. Growing tired of the small stuff I changed the float rod for my light leger rod and tried worms in the margins as close to the reeds as I dare. Starting with a single worm (nothing), I moved to two worms (nothing) then put on a bigger hook and tried a bunch of worms (yes, you have guessed it, nothing).

Since bait had failed to produce any fish I broke down the leger rod and set up a pike rod. Half-an-hour of flinging a large spoon proved to be unsuccessful. The rain which had started about midday grew heavier as the afternoon advanced, warm but never-the-less wetting mist. With little happening I decided to call it a day at 3pm and packed the soggy gear away in the car. The trusty VW engine burst into life at the first turn of the key and I bounced down the gravel road, retracing my outward journey to Tulla. Unfortunately the junction of the lakeside road with the main road was blocked and I had to reverse back a hundred yards then carry out a 29 point turn to go off in the opposite direct down some more minor roads to get back to Tulla. It rained the whole way home.

So what did I learn from today? I caught some (tiny) Rudd, a species new to me so I was happy about that. The skimmer was very welcome too but it would have been nice to catch something a bit more substantial. The colour of the water looked odd to me and when I mentioned it to the other fishermen they said the lake was never normally that colour. Was it due to the heavy rains we have had of late? Or maybe all those road works had allowed silt to enter the lough. Either way, I am sure the fish were upset by the change and this did not help my cause any today. It was a long way to travel for a few tiddlers but that is fishing for you! I didn’t catch anything on the swimfeeders, all the small stuff were caught on the float. Maybe if I had stuck with the float some bigger Rudd may have showed up, who knows?

Bream continue to elude me. OK, I had a skimmer today but catching the full grown lads is still beyond my ken. I have read that pre-baiting is the secret to catching Bream but that is not practical for me. To drive for at least an hour or two just to chuck a load of groundbait into a lake then drive home is not an option for me. Instead I need to find smaller waters which hold bream, small enough that I can cover them all in a day. That way I know the fish will be seeing my bait at some point and I can try to hold them in the swim by chucking in groundbait and loose feed. I am also tempted to try a flavoured ground bait and I’ll do some more research on this before I venture out again.

The lough itself was a nice place to fish and it was an example of how so many other lakes could be opened up for coarse angling in Ireland. The concrete stands were very simple affairs which would have cost very little and been easy to make. The two biggest issues for anglers here are car parking and access. There are literally thousands of lakes in the Republic which are full of coarse fish but anglers can’t get near them. Narrow roads with nowhere to park is the norm. Having to cross fields, often full of stock, is a problem (have you tried hopping a few barbed wire or electric fences with all your coarse gear?) only to be confronted with 20 or 30 yards of reeds before open water. Over the years IFI has carried out some excellent work to try and open up more waters but so much more could be done if there was real government will to do so. This being Ireland, nothing is simple or straight forward. Land ownership is a huge issue here and it is often very complicated with multiple owners of small parcels of land. These would all need to be dealt with and compensation for the loss of small bits of land on lake shores or to create access paths will work out to be very expensive. With ever dwindling game and sea fish stocks I can see an upswing in coarse anglers over the coming years in Ireland. It would be great if IFI could find the funds to increase safe access to more loughs and rivers for coarse fishers.

So anyway, I have now caught fish in county Clare, not big ones I grant you but fish never-the-less. I knew at the outset of this project that there would be many days when settling for one or two tiddlers will constitute success. That was very much the case today in the Banner County.

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