All this hanging around at home during lockdown leaves a man with too much time to think. Not being able to fish just means I spend hours dreaming up new methods to try, new rigs to make up, new venues to research and, of course, new gear to purchase.
I wanted to scale down the sheer volume of gear I bring coarse fishing, specifically when I tackle canals here in Ireland. I know that in England most of the canal fishing is done with poles and all the gear that requires but I have no wish to go down the path of pole fishing. Instead, I am planning on using a single float rod and the minimum of gear so I can move around as required to find the fish. I also wanted to bring something to sit on too. It sounded like I was wanting my fishing cake and eating it but there are solutions out there for the roving angler.
I found a combined rucksack/stool for twenty quid in Argos and it looked like it should do the job so I bought one. Don’t ask me how Argos are still open when most other shops are closed, it is yet another of the lockdown mysteries. Green coloured, it weighs in at about a couple of kilos and is pretty sturdy with steel frames. The rucksack appears to be water resistant if not waterproof (what do you expect for twenty Euro) and a front pocket in addition to the main sack. It could improved with the addition of a couple of ‘D’ rings but we won’t lose any sleep over that omission. I’d love to be heading out soon to try it out but it will be next spring at the earliest before I am free to go canal fishing.
So what will this new bag hold? Some food and a small flask for sustenance are at the top of the list. A small tin of sweetcorn in case of emergencies. A float tube containing a small selection of canal floats. Weed rake. My camera. A small towel. Maybe a small hooklength wallet. A one pint bait box fits neatly in the front pocket for easy access. That’s about it really. The small items like hooks, spools of line, shot etc. all live in my waistcoat anyway. By limiting my fishing to very basic float set ups there is no requirement for feeders, leads or any other bottom fishing gear.
I may have got this wildly wrong and end up lugging all my gear with me, but for now the idea of travelling light really appeals to me. With a rod in one hand and the net in the other I can try one spot and if that does not produce fish I simple sling the rucksack on to my back a saunter off down the towpath until I find another likely spot. Being able to sit down is a big benefit for me as it will ease the pressure on my arthritic ankles. I harbour images of warm summer days spent on the towpath, watching the float slide gently under as I sit on my new stool. I will ignore the potential harsh reality of horizontal rain on a biting wind drenching me as I curse that I didn’t bring this-that-or-the-other.
I am in the middle of lockdown now and I needed a break from tying flies. The boxes are slowly filling up and some new patterns are under development (more on these in later posts) but I wanted a bit of time away from the vice so I went through all my coarse fishing gear to see if there was anything I needed. You bet there was! I needed floats – lots and lots of floats.
When I took up coarse fishing last year I bought a few bits and pieces to get me going. I already had stuff like split shot and some very old floats so I concentrated on swimfeeders, hook length line and bits like that. I was confident I had enough to commence operations and indeed that is how it worked out for me. I caught a few fish, learned by my mistakes and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I became particularly endeared to float fishing, the joy of concentrating on the float tip in anticipation of the merest tremble or sudden dive is addictive. I got through to the second lockdown using the small amount of gear I had bought nearly a year ago despite a few losses along the way.
Now though, I have to address a blatant hole in my armoury. You see the old floats I had were bought back in Scotland when I used floats while chasing Grayling on the Tay and other rivers. I loved trotting worms and maggots for grayling, it was a beautiful way to fish and I miss that sport very much (there are no Grayling in Ireland). Most of my old floats though are large Avons and these are not in any way suitable for my coarse fishing these days on canals and stillwaters here in Ireland. I did have a couple of Crystal Wagglers which I had picked up somewhere along the line but other than those I was pretty much bereft of good floats.
One of my precious two wagglers came a cropper in some reeds this summer, leaving a solitary float for everyday use. So I got on to the internet and started looking for some nice floats but got a terrible shock when I saw the prices. That pushed me on to ebay and there I found some good secondhand floats at much more agreeable prices. I bought a few. Actually I bought a lot!
So what did I need, as opposed to what I wanted? The Crystal Wagglers had served me well but I needed them in a range of sizes to cope with different conditions. That was easy to fix as these floats are readily available at very low cost. To be honest these will form my first line of attack. Next up I needed some middys in a range of sizes so I could cast a bit further. I bought some in both weighted an unweighted types.
In the ‘nice to have’ column I splashed out a small sum on a few Peacock floats just because I like the look of them. In one batch of mixed floats there were a few pellet zoomers and while it looks like these won’t be used as I don’t fish for carp I have a notion they could be used for tench. I also invested in some big weighted wagglers. Not too sure yet if they are going to be an advantage but I’ll give them a try. As I was buying job lots of floats there were inevitably some which I will never use. Pole floats spring to mind and while there were not many like this in my purchases there were a handful which are of no use to me. They will probably end up in a drawer where they will gather dust for years.
I bought floats with inserts, ones with different coloured tips and others just because I liked the look of them. I now have a couple of reed stem floats, just to keep it traditional you understand. Floats have become my new obsession. Most are in either new or very good condition but a few are a bit beat up. I’ll enjoy doing any small repairs to the damaged floats as I love tinkering about on small jobs like that. I have divided my new purchases up so that I have a small selection in a tube to take with me when roving the canals next year. I plan on travelling light on those days so all the gear I take with me needs to fit into a small rucksack. The rest of the floats will find a home in a float box tucked into my Daiwa seat box.
I know I could have got away with a handful of wagglers and been done with it but this small weakness for floats is not the crime of the century. It will allow me to try different approaches and cope with varying weather conditions much better than before. Just being able to see the float tip was a challenge sometimes this year, so different coloured tips should help to address that issue. And if messing about with some bits of cane and cork keeps me happy, where is the harm? There are worse obsessions out there!
The more I read about coarse fishing and the more I actually practice it, the more I realise that I need to alter not just how I fish but how I think about the fish themselves. Only by doing that will I become more successful. 2020 has seen me starting a journey to be a coarse angler and the differences from that and when I learned how to fly fish for trout and salmon are stark.
Like many game anglers, as a kid I started out spinning small lures and worming to catch trout on my local river. I got my first fly rod at 12 years of age and took to it immediately. I found casting pretty simple and aside from some hard to understand drawings in old books I was largely self taught. The only books I could afford were those ‘Uncle Bill Davies’ paperbacks. Sadly, they were almost all lost along with a huge collection of other books during a house move many years ago. I only have one on my bookshelf now (priced at 4 shillings!). These books hammered home the need to be silent, to sneak up on the trout. A heavy footfall would be enough to spook a fish. I got it, these were wild creatures and they survived on their wits. From a young age I practiced stealth when fishing and in turn I landed some terrific fish. I learned by spending time on the water in all conditions. I learned from the mistakes I made as well as the successes.
Fast forward to 2019 when the first stirrings of an interest in coarse angling began to stir. The world has changed and now, with a few clicks or swipes, anyone can access tons of information. It is almost too easy, there is very little effort required. Over the winter of 2019/2020 I read books and blogs, watched videos and listened to podcasts about coarse fishing. I was taking in information all right but I’m not sure I was actually ‘learning’ in the true sense of the word. To me, there is an important distinction between information gathering and learning and while the internet can provide a basic level of knowledge it cannot teach as such. Regardless, this information gathering was the best I could do and when the lockdown came it just intensified my thirst for all things ciprid.
July 2020 saw me venturing forth with floats, feeders et al. I immediately felt out of my depth and that some of my deeply ingrained game fishing knowledge apparently did not apply. It all seemed incongruous fishing tiny size 18 hooks while at the same time lobbing in great lumps of groundbait which hit the water like Napoleonic cannonballs. Was stealth in or out? I was confused.
It is often the case that you only understand something by actually participating in it. I had read and listened to advice but some important aspects had not penetrated my dense thinking processes. Some coarse fish congregate in shoals – I got that. They graze on the bottom, consuming large quantities of food – yep, I could understand that bit too. They can be attracted and held in a spot by effective groundbaiting – OK with that concept as well. The groundbait will attract them, usually regardless of the noise caused by introducing it to the swim. That is the bit I struggled with. Surely wild fish will scatter when foreign objects splash down into the water close to them? I now any self respecting trout would bolt if a hurled a ball of groundbait close to it.
Only through time on the water and learning how coarse fish respond was I able to make any sense of this new sport. Only when I actually did throw in balls of ground bait and catch fish was I able to accept the fact that coarse fish do not scare as easily as trout. I am fishing ‘wild’ waters not commercial fisheries but I read that fish in commercials are attracted by the commotion when groundbait is tossed in. They have learned that the noise is a sign that food is coming, like a dinner gong sounding!
The analogy of cyprids being like sheep is a good one. A shoal moves around, grazing on the bottom. They hoover up the small creatures and quickly denude the area of such organisms so they keep moving on. Sheep move in herds and grazed the grass but need to keep moving as they quickly eat all the herbage. The aim of the anglers groundbait is both to attract the shoal and then keep them occupied in front of you. I try to keep this thought in my mind when coarse fishing but judging how much groundbait and how often it should be introduced is the bit I am still learning. It feels like I over feed but maybe not, I’m really not too sure and have no idea how you can verify if your groundbiat is there in sufficient amounts.
The next step for me really is crossing the Rubicon, I have bought a rake. When I first read about raking a swim it seemed like utter madness, the fish must high-tail it to the next parish when someone lugs a dirty great lump of metal into their water and then drags it back covered in weeds. In case that was not enough tom-foolery the whole process is repeated until a clear space is formed on the bottom so the angler can cast into.
It was only when reflecting on the ‘grazing’ aspect of my quarry that raking a swim made any sense at all. If they didn’t mind the cannonballs of groundbait them they probably would not be too put out by the rake. The idea of the fish then entering the cleared swim to look for food also became less far fetched.
It will be spring 2021 before the new rake gets a chance to show its metal (sic) but I have high hopes it will be another arrow in my quiver, especially on the canals. Irish canals are notoriously weedy and my small experience of them leads me to think the rake might be at least part of the answer when seeking bream, tench and roach.
I am not an expert but from what I can gather you can cast the rake out with a rod and reel loaded with 30 pound breaking strain braid and slowly wind it back in again. Rather than mess about with a reel just to do that task I will try simply attaching a length of cord to the rake and lob it in by hand. A much bigger swivel needs to be fitted to handle the cord I plan on using. The rake itself is of very simple construction and looks like it is too small to be effective but I have read they are more than up to the job and are easier to lug around with you than the homemade efforts constructed out of a pair of garden rakes lashed back-to-back. My one won’t be able to stir up the bottom like the garden rakes do though so I might be missing out out that benefit.
My plan for the canals is to rake out a few swims as I walk along the towpath then fish my way back. This should allow time for the swim to settle down and for the fish to find their way there. I could also throw in some ground bait too I suppose. If this all sounds a bit vague that is because I need to experiment and learn as I go along.
If I am perfectly honest with myself the learning process is at least as much, if not more enjoyable than actually catching the roach and perch. It’s like being that wee boy again on the banks of the Don in Aberdeenshire learning the art of angling. The failures and occasional successes marking my slow progress. This lockdown is only increasing my passion for getting back out there to wield the old coarse gear again.
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:
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…………………
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 muffle ‘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.
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.
It is the 10th September 2020 and yesterday I decided to tackle another county, this time our near neighbour Leitrim. In one sense this should be a very easy place to catch a few fish as Leitrim is full of lakes brimming with fish. My issues are around exactly what kind of fish. You see Leitrim is a coarse fishers paradise but I am no expert at coarse angling, hence my reticence. An awful lot of online study had gone into today’s trip, venues abound but finding the right one was hard work. It had to hold plenty of fish (obviously) be easy to find, have adequate parking nearby and some structures to fish from. Irish banks tend to be wild and overgrown and as a novice I want to be standing on something stable. Those criteria narrowed down the choice considerably as many of the loughs in the area are pretty wild and poorly served with infrastructure.
I eventually hatched a plan to fish a small lough called Drumgorman Lake, about 3 km to the south of Drumshanbo. According to the IFI website it held Bream, Roach, Perch and Pike. There were some stands to fish from and a carpark right next to the water. The main road from Carrick-on-Shannon to Drumshanbo ran next to the shoreline. It sounded perfect.
Thursday morning was dry and the winds were light but forecast to pick up through the day. All the relevant gear was chucked in the back of the motor and I hit the road, bound for lovely Leitrim. For a change the N5 was pretty quiet and I trundled happily on, heading east and listening to the usual gloom on the radio. Brexit this, Covid that, the latest depressing updates on the total mismanagement of global issues. At least the fishing would take my mind off all of this crap for a while. Somewhere between Frenchpark and Carrick the road had been dug up and I had to divert through Boyle, a town I had never been in before. Negotiating the strange one-way system in the town, I emerged on the N4 road and turned towards Carrick. There is a canal only a few yards along the road which looked pretty fishy to me (one for another day). The green and pleasant scenery rushed by as I ploughed on eastwards.
If you have been following my early exploits in coarse fishing you will recall that I have lost faith in sweetcorn as bait. This time I was determined to get some maggots so I stopped off at the Carrick Angling Centre to pick up a pint. I opted for red ones and invested in some brown crumb for ground bait while I was at it. Next, some brown bread from the local Gala store on the corner of Bridge Street (for me to make myself a sandwich) and I was off on the final, short leg of the journey up the R280 and through Leitrim Village. I very nearly drove past the small carpark at the side of the lake as it is not signposted! Gear was hastily unpacked, rods pushed together and I set up on a fine new-ish looking disabled stand. With nobody else around I elected to fish from the stand. A handful of maggots were tossed in while I set up two rods, the 12 foot Shakespeare with a Daiwa Harrier and my lovely little ABU Legerlite with the old Cardinal 444A. Both had 6 pound nylon on them. I put a small swimfeeder on the 12 footer, loaded it with maggots and put 3 maggots on a size 12 then cast it out. A couple of swan shot is all the weight the Legerlite needs and I added a link of pound and a half nylon to a size 14 crystal bend, tipped with a pair of maggots. This rod was cast to the left.
I started mixing up some ground bait and fired a few balls of it into the coloured water but almost right away I started to get bites. The steady wind blowing from left to right was making bite detection a bit hit and miss but soon enough I connected with a fish on the Legerlite. Winding in, I found what has to be the smallest Perch in the world hanging on to my hook. Ah well, at least it was a start.
More ground bait mixing and throwing and more small bites followed but I wasn’t connecting with them. Changing the swimfeeder size 12 for a size 14 seemed to help and when I struck a solid bite there was some weight on the end. A lovely Roach of about 8 ounces came to hand, was photographed and quickly released. Happy days!
More missed bites followed and I changed down in hook size again, this time to an 18 and a single maggot. Bites promptly stopped altogether on that rod but I picked up another good Roach on the Legerlite. Clouds had been building and sure enough the rain started and the wind picked up, making conditions less than favourable. Hunkering down I surveyed my swim and thought the tree roots next to me looked like the perfect spot for a Perch to set up home. Re-baiting, I literally lowered my rig down at my feet into the roots and waited. I didn’t have long to wait as a lively bite resulted in a firm hook up and a nice perch as soon in my hand.
All the time a somewhat scruffy Robin kept me company, darting down to grab any stray maggots that had crawled out of the bait box. He was obviously well used to this trick.
Time flew by as the rain first eased off then returned with a vengeance. Bites dried up so I tried to liven things up with even more ground bait. Trying some casts to my right brought a flurry of bites and a few small Roach but I was soaked through by now so I decided to call it a day. Sheltering under the trees, I broke down the rods and tucked all the bits and pieces away before turning the key in the ignition and heading off homeward. Everything was sopping wet and will need to be dried out thoroughly before I venture out again. Note to self – must buy a new waterproof ¾ length jacket. The one I am using belonged to my father and is worn out.
So, what to make of the day and what lessons were learned? Firstly, and probably most importantly, I caught some fish in County Leitrim. I has set out to try and catch Bream, Roach or Perch and had landed 2 out of the 3. Shame I didn’t connect with any Bream but I was absolutely delighted to catch the Roach. The first couple were really pretty fish and I now get why some anglers fish so hard for this species. My choice of bait was vindicated and I will make a lot of effort to get maggots when I am going coarse fishing. Not wasting time trying to float fish in the wind was a good move (I think). Dropping the bait into the tree roots looking for Perch was a success too.
On the negative side I failed to catch a Bream (again) and I badly want to land a few of these fish. I read that they should be easy to catch but they are eluding me right now. OK so they are slimy and don’t really fight but I still want to catch some! I will persevere and read up some more on the species, then target them specifically on my next outing. I also need to figure out my choice of hooks because I missed a large percentage of the bites I got. Dropping down in size reduced bite numbers but increased hook ups until I went to a size 18, then all action on that rod ceased. Why? And my hooking ratio was terrible so maybe I need to think about different styles of hook? My ground baiting was a bit haphazard and I need to think about the quantity and frequency of groundbait. I could not hold the shoal of roach in front of me and this means I was doing something wrong. I don’t know did I over feed or not put enough in. I need to look into hair rigs as they could help me to convert bites into solid hook ups. I’ll do some research first before buying the bits and bobs.
Swimfeeders break! I started by tying on a nice little maggot feeder but after a few casts I noticed there was something wrong with it and a little crack had turned into chunks of the plastic body falling off. I changed it for a sturdier one but I will buy some new feeders so I have a good stock. On the subject of tackle, my tackle box badly needs to better organised. I seemed to be constantly rummaging around for hooks/line and could never just put my hand on what I wanted. The list of potential improvements goes on and on but today was a step in the right direction for me. Will I ever give up my game and sea fishing to concentrate on coarse? Not a chance! Having said that, I am fascinated by this branch of the sport and can’t wait to get back out there chasing Bream and Roach again.
So that is Leitrim ticked off the list, making it the third county out of the 32. It is a largely unspoilt county with a huge amount of coarse fishing. If I was a visiting angler the idea of holidaying in Carrick-on-Shannon would be very appealing. It is a nice wee town with lots of accommodation options, plenty of bars and restaurants. The river Shannon flows through the town and there are dozens of good fishing lakes within easy reach. For me, it is just over an hour’s drive from home so I will be coming back to the area from now on.
The day dawned fine and fair as promised by the forecasters. An easterly breeze blew across the garden as I surveyed the flowers and pulled out the odd weed. Where shall I fish today? The eternal question needed a swift answer and looking at the thin clouds I plumped for lough Conn. Out came the outboard engine and fuel tank, the fishing bag and rods to be stowed in the car. But wait! The thin cloud cover had broken already and blue sky was filling the heavens above me. That wind seemed to have dropped to a mere zephyr too. Conn would be terribly hard work in a flat calm and brilliant sunshine. Maybe I needed to re-think my plans. It was a few minutes work to empty the car again and fill it with coarse gear. I would go to County Roscommon for the day and try to chalk off another of the 32 counties.
In the townland of Creeve, some miles to the North of Strokestown, there is a lake with excellent access, Lough Cloonahee. It apparently is home to Bream, Rudd and Hybrids so it sounded like a good place for a novice like me. My local filling station provided a shot of diesel for the car and a couple of loaves of bread for bait then I hit the road. As always, actually finding the lough was harder than it should be. The brown signposts pointing out the fishing lakes were either missing or pointing in the wrong directions but I managed to figure it out and found the lough without too much hassle. In the small, rough carpark I got chatting to the local farmer about this and that, as you do. What with the Covid he had seen virtually no anglers this year so he had no idea how the lake was fishing. A quick look at the water revealed the good folks of Roscommon had seen a lot of rain recently as the fine wooden walkway which stretches for 30 metres along the shore was partially submerged. I tackled up and found a dry spot off to the right to commence operations.
Plumbing the depth I found 15 feet of water close in so I set up the float rod with 3 pound straight through and a size 14 hook adorned with a single ear of sweetcorn. My feeder rod and old Cardinal reel full of 6 pound mono was rigged with an open cage feeder and a size 10 hook tied to 9 inches of 3 pound. 3 ears of sweetcorn were pushed on to this hook and I lobbed it out a few yards. This process was repeated a few times so the feeder full of bread and corn could unload in the same area to try and attract the fish to me. I also loose fed corn into the swim as I fished.
Time flew by as I made small adjustments to the rigs and re-baited frequently. About an hour into the session I lifted the feeder rod to recast and felt a sharp tug. Striking, I met fierce resistance and I was into a good fish. What was this now? It felt heavy so it might be a bream and images of slab-sided bronze fish filled my head. Off on another run went the fish, so it definitely was not a bream! Still unseen she hugged the bottom shaking her head and making lunges in different directions. Maybe it was a huge Rudd, there were supposed to be some big ‘uns in here. No, Rudd would be higher up in the water column. What about a Hybrid? After all they are supposed to be great scrappers. I applied as much pressure as I dare with the 3 pound breaking strain tippet foremost in my thoughts. Up came the beast and she broke the surface – it was a blooming Pike! The battle raged for a while longer but I admit I could scarcely care less if the fish broke free. She didn’t and at the second attempt she slipped into the meshes and was lifted out. I thought it must surely be foul hooked but no, the pike had taken the sweetcorn fair and square with the hook nicely placed in the scissors.
Quickly unhooked, I slid her back into the water. It was only later when I had cleaned off the slime, changed the hook link, re-baited and got the rod back in the water that it dawned on me – I had managed to catch a fish in Roscommon!
More groundbait, more waiting and re-casting, more nothing happening. I tried a bigger hook with numerous ears of corn on it but that didn’t work. I tried moving to the other end of the walkway and setting up there in a nice looking swim. That was a similar failure. In the end I gave up and packed away the gear. It was mid-afternoon so I would get back home in good time. If it hadn’t been for that suicidal pike I would have blanked. I know I caught a nice fish and I should be happy about that but it felt like cheating somehow. I was not fishing for pike and had set up to catch roach or bream. Beggars can’t be choosers I suppose.
While the lake was very high it was not too coloured and I am not going to blame conditions for my lack of success. According to the IFI website Cloonahee holds Bream, Roach, Perch, Hybrids and even some Tench but none of them distained to take my bait. I am of the opinion that using sweetcorn was the problem. In future I will make sure I have a range of baits with me so I can swap as required. For now, I am just happy to have captured a fish in Roscommon.
Let me say straight away that I am a dyed-in-the-wool game fisher. Brought up on river fishing with fly and spinner I missed out on coarse fishing completely all my life, up until now. I’m on solid ground when it comes to chasing trout and salmon and have a reasonably firm grasp of the basics when angling for those species. To a degree I have kept up with the technical and tactical advances in game fishing over the years as well. Of poles, groundbait and keepnets I know not a jot, at least I didn’t up until very recently.
My new project of aiming to catch at least one fish from each county in Ireland has inadvertently led me down a very different path though, one which is proving to be bewildering but at the same time an interesting challenge. I need to learn how to catch coarse fish from scratch, so the last few weeks have been an education for me. To be perfectly honest I have caught way more coarse fish either by accident or design on fly tackle than I have on floats and legers.
A small roach caught on the fly
My fishing den has shelves groaning under the weight of books on fishing from skinny little booklets on individual rivers to mighty tomes encompassing the minutest details of game and sea fishing. What you won’t find there are books on coarse fishing. I scanned the dustcovers for any stray coarse angling books which I might have forgotten about but could only find one slim volume which gave some brief details of the different species but nothing on angling methods. From the pages of this book I gleaned that Bream were common in Ireland along with Perch but that other mainstays of English coarse fishing such as chub and barbel were absent completely and carp were scarce. Of course we have countless millions of tiny roach in virtually all our Irish waterways these days and I have been told in the past about some lakes which are full of that most handsome of fish, the rudd. At least this narrowed things down a bit for me.
The internet can be viewed as one of the great evils of our times but it certainly came to my rescue when researching coarse fishing methods these last few weeks. YouTube is jam packed with useful instructional videos on how to catch just about anything that swims and there were hours spent watching experts haul out impressively large bags of bream and roach using methods and baits which could have been developed on the moon for all I know. I admit to being fascinated by pole fishing, the concept that you take your rod apart every time you hook a fish seems so alien to me! I very quickly dismissed poles and whips (whips are shorter poles apparently) from my potential armoury as being too cumbersome and expensive for my needs. I want to be able to spent short sessions at new waters meaning I will probably have to move a fair bit to find good spots, setting up all the equipment for pole fishing looks like it takes the organisational ability and heaving lifting of a military regiment.
A Common Cary I caught a few years ago in England on freelined bread
I already owned a float rod, a cheap Shakespeare jobbie that landed me some roach and carp back in England many moons ago. I can clearly recall the alarming bend in that rod when a good sized carp took off for the other side of the lake but it was only ever used a few times and remains in good nick. It will do nicely for float fishing for roach and rudd and anything else that can be tempted on the stick or waggler. Ferreting around in various tackle boxes yielded some old floats and a box of mixed split shot but no line that was light enough for making hook lengths. And so the shopping list began. I guess I knew it would come to this and that some excuse to spend money on fishing tackle would be found. My research on the internet was raising lots of questions and there were obvious gaps in my equipment just as there was in my knowledge. Bottom fishing was a case in point.
A carp breaks the surface as he feels to hook
Watching the experts on YouTube it became obvious that feeders are a major form of fishing for bottom dwelling species such as bream and tench. The concept of a small device which carries ground bait close to your baited hook is the mainstay of much bottom fishing and this appears to have now flourished into a cornucopia of tackle to cope with every possible variable within the basic method. The rods to hurl the rigs prodigious distances, the details of the rigs themselves and the baits used all held me in close attention and I soaked in all this new-fangled knowledge like a sponge.
I needed a rod for feeder fishing but I was not going to go mad on one of the new specialist feeder rods which are eye-wateringly expensive. It seems that fishing big Irish lakes for bream often involves long, accurate casting of the feeder on large beds of ground bait. Add in the wind which is a feature of this part of the world and you can see that long rods for distance casting in difficult conditions are a real bonus. But I am not planning on jumping into the extreme end of coarse fishing. I want easy venues (to start with at least) where casts are going to be of more normal proportions, depth of water won’t be excessive and the stresses and strains on tackle will be commensurately less. Those of you who follow this blog will recognise where this is all heading – I needed an old ABU rod!
When ABU where still making all their gear in Sweden back in the seventies and eighties they produced a range of coarse fishing rods in both fibreglass and carbon. I quickly found a couple of old leger rods, one light and one medium, which were going for a song and duly snapped them up. An old Cardinal 444A seemed to be a good reel to match up with these rods and filling it with 6 pound line gave me a pretty balanced outfit for basic feeder fishing. OK, so these rods are heavy by todays standards but look, I will be fishing short sessions so fatigue won’t be an issue.
I have also been picking up different types and weights of feeders. Each have their own niche and it looks like I need different ones for different scenarios. I can see a lot of experimentation is going to be required but that is a large part of the fun from my perspective. I remain unsure if I need to expand into method feeders as they seem to be more specialised and the carp fishing lads love them. For now I will stick to simple cage, block and open end feeders for a start anyway. I might be wrong but feeders look like the kind of thing which will get stuck on the bottom easily and so I am anticipating losses. My 6 pound breaking strain running line is hardly going to be fit for much pulling and dragging if the gets snagged in weeds or rocks.
The whole issue of groundbait is another minefield. The experts all agree that Irish bream require huge volumes of groundbait to attract the fish to your swim and to hold them there. Hugely expensive bags of prepared groundbait in an amazing array of flavours and textures seemed to be used by the top fishers but I am unconvinced as yet that I need to go down this road. For a start I will be avoiding the big, deep loughs with their shoals of specimen sized ‘dustbin lids’. I get that you need copious amounts of ground bait to pull the shoals in to casting range on these challenging venues and that little old me with a handful of bread or sweetcorn would likely be fishing barren water most of the time on the big loughs. But I want to cut my teeth on much smaller venues where I already have a good chance of covering fish. Big bags of huge fish simply don’t excite me and a modest catch from an intimate lough are much more appealing to this newbe. I was thinking of making a simple groundbait out of a mix of bread and bran but most of the research I have done suggests your groundbait for Irish waters needs to be dark in colour. Brown flake may be the way to go but I will figure something out.
Hook baits opens up another can of worms (sorry). My small amount of previous coarse angling involved bread paste on a size 14 hook dangling below a stick float and I saw no reason to doubt this would work here in Ireland too. While bread is used it looks like maggots, coloured red preferably, are a better bet for most fish. That presents a slight problem as nobody in my area stocks maggots and I will have to buy them locally when I go coarse fishing. The humble worm is also used a lot and they will be easier to lay my hands on. Even easier again is that old reliable sweetcorn. I am hoping sweetcorn does work as I can have a few tins stowed in the car ready for use at any time.
Small roach, probably one of the species I will target
When to go coarse fishing is all a bit of a mystery too. With no close season here in Ireland I can in theory go fishing every day of the year but obviously some times are much better than others. I had always imagined coarse fishing was a summer sport, lazy days watching the tip of the float under blue sky. It turns out hardy coarse anglers go about their business in winter too. Tench seem to be a summer only fish but the others can be caught all year round. This very interesting for me as the option of fishing outside the game angling season has great appeal. Then again, sitting hunched up against the lashing rain in a howling gales does not sound too great! The jury is out on winter fishing for now.
So after all my hours of research it looks like I will be targeting Bream, Roach, Rudd and Tench this summer. I will float fish or use feeders and have all the gear I now require bar a landing net which I will pick up sometime soon. Venues will be carefully chosen for size, ease of access and species present rather than looking for specimen sized fish or heavy bags. Over the course of the past few months my perception of coarse fishing has completely altered. Previously I had no interest in the sport at all. It looked difficult and far too technical for me with the outcome not worth the effort and expense. Now, I am looking forward to learning new techniques and catching new species in the heart of the Irish countryside. From a fog of confusion back in the autumn I can now see some glimmers of light. Whether this new found insight into coarse fishing will translate into fish on the bank remains to be seen but it has been fun just learning more about this fascinating branch of our sport.