coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

The present

I don’t know how, but I had not met Peter before I started this latest job. A fellow Scot, he lives in the Westport area and does a lot of fishing. We both know the same guys and fish in roughly the same places but we had never bumped into each other before now. Both of us pitched up in Mayo around the end of the 1990’s but unlike me he already had strong family connections to the area. We finally met up and have been swapping fishing tales since I started this assignment in January. Peter’s main focus is on sea angling but he dabbles in other branches of the sport too. Last week he surprised me with a wee present.

Peter has been around and on a trip to USA some years ago he picked up a box of small soft baits which regaled in the name ‘Trout Magnet’. Alas the trout showed no interest but he caught some perch on them back in the day. Since then the lures had been left in his loft and forgotten about until he heard me rabbiting on about canal fishing. I was delighted he no longer wanted the box when he gave it me them. Here was another form of fishing for me to try out.

In the past soft baits have caught me the odd pike but nothing to write home about. The whole drop-shotting thing passed me by and ‘urban fishing’ on canals in cities seemed to be a world away from me drifting in a boat on the Irish loughs. Now that I occasionally fish the Royal or Grand canals here I can see that jigging a small soft bait could bring me a few perch. I don’t own a drop-shot rod but I have a couple of light spinning rods that might do the trick. There is an old ABU Duet with two tops, one of which is rated for 2 – 5 grams so that will probable be fine for this kind of work. I know the experts in drop shotting use braid for their running line but the old ABU’s rings were never intended for that so I will just use some light mono instead. All I want is a set up that I can use for a change and not spend the whole day with.

A likely spot for a perch

The old box is in poor shape, all twisted and bent. I will try steaming it back into shape but I suspect it is beyond saving. The same goes for most of the hooks. The neat little jig hooks were all rusted to some degree. I tried to save one or two but I will have to make up new ones. In the end only4 hooks could be salvaged by cleaning up with fine grade emery paper, the rest were far too rusty. The baits themselves have fared much better and a wide range of coloured grubs are perfectly usable. A good clean in warm soapy water was administered as they were dirty with years of neglect. A swoosh about in the suds then dried off in some paper towel and they looked just fine. They are very small, only an inch long but I think they will be attractive to perch. I already own some bigger ones so I now have a good selection to pick from.

Most of the hooks were consigned to the bin
How they look when mounted on the jig hook

The tiny jig hooks are light enough they could be cast with a fly rod. I however am planning on using them on normal hooks on a drop shot set up. The baits themselves come in a range of colours with browns and oranges prevailing. They are split tails so should have a bit of action in the water.

I looked up Trout Magnet on line and sure enough they are still going strong. There is a short video on the website which goes into the detail of how to rig the lure. They fish these on the river suspended under a bobber on very light line (2 pound test).

all clean and dry

I particularly like the fact they are so small. The run-of-the-mill perch in Irish canals is between a quarter and half a pound. Your average 3 inch bait is just too big for wee fellas like these but my newly acquired one inchers should do just fine. I have watched a few videos on drop-shotting and while the basics look pretty straight forward I am guessing there is more to it than meets the eye. My love of using maggots under a waggler will remain but the wee plastic grubs mean I now have an alternative for slow days of when I am low on bait.

A typical Irish canal perch, you don’t need big lures for this size of fish

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coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, sea angling, trout fishing

Holidays to come

With time on my hands I have been thinking a lot about my fishing. Of course I am missing getting out with rod and line something terrible. I snuck out once in December but apart from that I have not fished for 3 months now. With lockdown set to continue well into the spring this year I am brooding over what I am missing. Which led me to contemplate, what exactly am I longing for so much? Today I thought I would write down what Irish angling is all about, hopefully to give you visitors, and potential visitors, an insight into what makes Ireland such a great place for us anglers. Being non-Irish and having fished here initially as a tourist before pitching up in a full time capacity I kinda have two very different perspectives on the subject.

Anglers have written whole books about fishing here so my paltry few words will not add greatly to the subject but one day this pandemic will ease and we will regain the ability to travel and I hope this post generates some interest in coming to Ireland.

Negatives

Let’s get the downsides out of the way first. Ireland should be the premier angling destination in the world. I honestly believe that! 100 years ago the rivers and loughs were full of fish and the seas teemed with everything from sprats to tuna. Destruction of habitat, pollution, over fishing and neglect have destroyed vast swathes of the aquatic habitat and fauna. Thousands of miles of rivers were dammed, dredged and straightened in the name of hydro-electric power, flood prevention and land reclamation.

I understand the need for electricity, huge parts of the country did not have mains electricity well into the 1960’s so there was some justification at that time but those days are long gone and the mighty dams like Ardnacrusha on the Shannon and the Erne barrage have outlived their usefulness and could be removed. Ardnacrusha was completed in 1929 so it is nearly 100 years old. The last Model T Ford rolled off the production line when this dam was being built. Would we be happy running about in a Model T these days? I think not and these dams on Irish rivers are similarly out dated. For comparison, could you imagine the River Tay in Scotland being dammed at Perth? Both rivers are of a similar size but the Tay has a healthy run of Atlantic salmon, whereas only a handful of fish evade the turbines on the Shannon and the once prolific upstream beats are now devoid of life.

Fish have never really been very high on the list of considerations in this country. Unlike many European countries there has never been a tradition of eating seafood and most of what is caught commercially goes for export to mainland Europe. Fish were just a resource to generate some money but beyond that nobody cared much about them. Poaching was always a part of rural life here. A salmon netted out of the local river was a welcome addition to meagre diets for the poor farmers back in the day and who could blame them when you lived close to starvation all the time. These days poaching is a much more sinister business involving organised gangs, sometimes armed, netting and poisoning rivers at night. Some river systems are notorious for the poaching effort and are not worth fishing as a result.

Apart from the dams, the huge expanses of bog across the country were destroyed by state agencies in the name of progress. Peat has a very low calorific value but in a country where there was no coal, apart from a very small coalfield in the north, the decision to build peat burning power stations seemed to make sense. A huge industry grew up around the collection, drying and burning of the peat which is only winding down now. Narrow gauge railways snaked across the bog for miles and huge machines ripped the sodden ground apart to remove the ancient turf. Rivers were damaged or re-directed and the spawning beds became unusable for the fish as the fine particles of peat clogged the gravel. It was environmental vandalism on a grand scale. No attempts were made to mitigate all this destruction. It was just bog and seen as little more than useless.

Arterial drainage. Those two words strike terror into the hearts of anyone who cares about the environment. Here in Ireland the government has a department called the Office of Public Works or OPW. Let me be very clear here – these people operate above the law. It doesn’t matter what EU legislation says, the OPW will just do what it wants with impunity, and what the OPW likes more than anything is to dig. Oh how they love digging things up! Show them a winding, natural watercourse and they will have that dredged, straightened and even encased in concrete at the drop of a hat. They have been at this for years and the level of wanton destruction is almost beyond belief.

I will end this litany of woes with fish farming. A disgusting, nasty business which has made a handful of Norwegians extremely rich and damaged the fauna of the west of Ireland beyond repair. A tiny number of poorly paid jobs was the bait and the government fell for it. The tortured and malformed creatures in the cages often escape and add further pressure on the already struggling rivers of the west. Sea lice in their billions ravage the native trout, eating them alive. We are stuck with the farms as nobody in government has any interest in closing them down.

On the bright side

OK, that is enough doom and gloom. I wanted you to see both the good and the bad to see that there are two sides to fishing here. Now we move on to the good stuff! Let’s start with brown trout fishing on the great loughs.

I don’t have any figures but I would suspect that the majority of anglers who come here do so to fish the great lakes. Corrib and Mask are the obvious ones with some anglers trying their luck on Sheelin, Conn, Cullin or Carra. Maybe some venture to Ennel or Owel in the midlands or the huge Erne system which straddles the border. What is all the fuss about then?

looking across lough Mask to Mamtasna

There are so many facets to fishing these hallowed waters it is difficult to know where to start. I suppose the biggest attraction is you are fishing for completely wild trout. The fish spawn in all the small rivers and streams which flow into these loughs and are direct descendants of the fish which colonised the loughs after the last ice age. They are truly beautiful creatures and it is a joy to catch even the smallest of them. Not that they are all small! Every season double figure trout are caught on the fly from the Corrib and Mask. A three pounder will not turn anyone’s head on those waters. Wet fly is the preferred method, a cast of three flies, flicked ten yards in front of a drifting boat. Some of the fishing is out in the deeps while at other times you can scrape the keel of the boat on the tops of jagged limestone rock as you search out fish in the shallows around the shore or the islands. Dry fly is good, especially during the mayfly season. Dapping is hugely popular on the Corrib, less so on Mask. Carra used to respond well to a dapped grasshopper in August. I rarely see a dapping rod on Conn or Cullin though.

Mask

So what is the big attraction? The fishing is technically simple after all. I think it is the ‘total package’ which makes trout fishing here so wonderful. The day starts at 9 or 10 o’clock typically. Visitors staying in a hotel or B&B will have no doubt availed of a huge breakfast (the full Irish) to ‘set you up for the day’. If you have hired the services of a ghillie there will be the usual chat about prospects as the boat is loaded to overflowing with all manner of angling gear and then you are off under wide skies and (hopefully) in the face of a good breeze. Depending on your ghillie, drifts will be in total silence or with a running commentary of every topic under the sun. Tales of great fish caught and lost, the latest gossip from around the village, world events – they are all covered from the unique perspective of an Irish boatman. Those of sensitive disposition need to know that here the use of curse words is an integral part of the language. Around 1 o’clock you will pull into an island or sheltered bay for the lunch. Out comes a Kelly kettle or similar device and some hot reviving tea or coffee is handed around. Time to stretch your legs after being cramped up in the boat all morning. More chat about the fishing and plans for the remainder of the day. Relieve your bladder behind some bushes. Tie up a new cast maybe. All of this at a leisurely, unhurried pace. Indeed, on a slow days fishing there is a tendency to linger on shore and just enjoy being outside in the fresh air. The afternoon may produce a few fish, then again it may not. Cast, retrieve, cast retrieve. The ghillie strokes the water with one oar out the back of the boat, correcting the drift as he sees fit. Tangles are sorted out, rainwater baler from the bottom of the boat, sudden excitement as a trout shows close to the boat, waving to other boats as they pass by. Any luck? A slow sweep of a hand indicates they have not met any fish. The glorious countryside provides a backdrop you will long recall. By the end of the day, usually between 5 and 6pm but it does vary, you motor back to the harbour and unload the gear. Back at your accommodation the tiredness sets in and a pint of Guinness in your hand feels heavy. Another huge dinner is greedily consumed. If you are in or close to a town or village there is always the option of heading to a local pub for some drinks and craik with the locals. It really is a fabulous way to spend your days.

Great conditions on Lough Beltra

How about salmon fishing on the loughs? The situation here is patchy and some of the best fisheries now struggle to provide good fishing. Others are still plugging away and a day on Inagh, Carrowmore or Beltra will live long in your memory. The format is very similar to the day outlined above but the fishing is harder.  Don’t expect to see fish jumping. Most days you won’t see any showing at all. This is a game of stoic determination and workmanship. On some loughs the ideal conditions are summed up as ‘a good wave’. To anyone but an Irish salmon fisher a ‘good wave’ is a terrifying ride in a small boat being tossed around in huge waves. You get soaked, no matter how good your expensive rain gear is. Waves top the sides of the boat and the ghillie battles with the oar to keep you broadside to the weather. Turning into the waves at the end of a drift he opens the throttle and the boat rises and plunges as you forge your way through the white tops. Just to be out on the water in this kind of a day is invigorating. The day-to-day existence which most of us live, commuting, the office, sitting in front of a television, all pale as you are tossed around in this maelstrom. You feel alive! Then, out of nowhere and in slow motion, a great silver fish ploughs through the waves, arrowing towards your flies. It seems to take forever to turn down and it takes all your experience not to strike immediately. The fish sinks down and the line tightens, you are into one! Those minutes as the fish runs, jumps, bores deep or simply sulks are priceless. The Ghillie’s deft swipe with the cavernous net and the fish is aboard. You hold him up for the obligatory photographs before slipping him back into the water. There is no other feeling like this. The rain pours down and the wind howls like the banshee but you care not a jot. As angling experiences go, a springer on the fly from an Irish lough is high up there as one of the best.

A good fish in the net
A productive stretch of the river Robe

I think it is true to say that few visiting anglers come here to fish the rivers for wild trout and this is a great pity. For years I have fished my local rivers and have yet to meet a solitary visitor. I would dearly love to see some of the fine anglers from across the globe fishing my local Irish rivers. These little fished streams have a charm, and the fish, to make even the most jaded angler very happy indeed.

Unlike the loughs, there is little in the way of infrastructure for the river fishers. Access is notoriously difficult, often resembling hacking your way through a jungle rather than actually fishing, but there is some really great fly fishing to be had for those who persevere. I wear chest waders on the river so I can get into the water and wade upstream as required instead of negotiating the wild banks. Do not bring your expensive waders with you. Use a cheap pair you don’t mind about as the thorns, barbed wire and other hazards will almost certainly result in a tear in the fabric sooner rather than later. A wading stick is a necessity in my book, for wading obviously but also to help cross electric fences and a host of other obstacles.  The trout you encounter are of course completely wild, there is no stocking of the rivers here. A competent fly fisher will delight in the variety of water to fish, the range of tactics to be deployed and the number/size of the trout. Your typical day on a limestone river will throw up may be a dozen trout between 8 and 14 inches. Trout grow to 5 or 6 pounds and some even bigger! You will most likely have miles of river to yourself. I consider the limestone rivers of the west of Ireland to be a hidden gem and well worth the effort. Even for you dyed-in-the-wool lough lads and lasses, packing a set of river gear when you come over gives the option of a day on the streams if the loughs are ‘off’ or the weather is against you. Tackle wise, your favourite 4 or 5 weight set up will do just fine.

Killery Harbour

Sea anglers have been coming to Ireland for decades now. The surf beaches of Kerry drew them here as far back as the early ‘60’s. Sadly, our sea fishing is but a shadow of what it used to be. I don’t think I can in all honesty recommend you come here for a sea fishing holiday based solely on catches. By all means come for the experience. The craik after the day out, the hospitality and wonderful scenery are still the same as ever but there are less fish around than of old. I used to come to Ireland on holiday back in the ‘70s and ‘80s when catching 3 or 4 rays, dozens of wrasse, buckets full of mackerel and pollack were the norm. Now we rely on dogfish for most of our sport. The odd ray still puts in an appearance too. Until the overfishing off the west coast is addressed (don’t hold your breath) the situation is not going to change.

The English and European coarse anglers found Ireland to be a paradise many years ago and until the pandemic they made their way to the midlands every year. The small towns in the heart of Ireland rang with the voices of French, Italian and English visitors as they spent a couple of weeks in late spring or summer fishing the lakes for bream, roach, tench and pike. Please come back when you can! With only a handful of commercial coarse fisheries in the whole country this is primarily wild fishing and it can be exceptionally good. I am only a beginner at this branch of the sport but the experts make impressive catches. Regarding tackle, what you use at home will work here. Maggots and worms are by far the most popular baits. Once again though, it not just the fishing which makes it so attractive to come here. The soft Irish weather, the stunning greenery of the country, the friendliness of the locals. There is something unique about rural Ireland, something which endures despite the changes wrought by modern times.

So what is putting you off coming to Ireland on a fishing trip? You have probably heard it is expensive. Well it is! Yes, the cost of living is very high here, nothing is cheap. Living here you become used to it and don’t bat an eyelid at the ridiculous prices charged for everything. Hotel accommodation is very pricy. B&B’s offer slightly better value. Camping has never been a big thing in Ireland so there are only a few campsites around. Eating out is expensive too so you need to budget for that as well. I can’t gloss over it, you will have to pay a fair bit to holiday here but the experience is so unique I think you will find it worthwhile.

Bring good waterproofs with you. It does tend to rain a lot here so pack accordingly. Make sure your travel insurance is up to date as the cost of healthcare should anything go wrong while you are here is incredible expensive. This especially applies to UK visitors who are so used to the wonderful NHS they find it a terrible shock to be presented with a huge bill after an unplanned visit to an Irish hospital. The question of hiring a ghillie needs to be discussed. It is a considerable expense to hire a ghillie for a whole week. Normally a ghillie can be had for around €100/€120 per dayplus a tip. He/she will know the water you are fishing like the back of their hand, will help with setting up your tackle, control the boat on the drift and selecting the right flies. They handle the boat and help out at lunchtime. It does not sound like much maybe but as someone who ghillies from time to time I can assure you it is a hard days work. My personal recommendation is you hire a ghillie for one or maybe two days, you will learn a lot and be more confident if you go out on your after that. Over the years I have seen time and time again days when the boat with a competent ghillie catches fish while the other boats (with excellent anglers on board) come in dry. I think I need to add that the picture of old fashioned ghillies has receded into the mists of time. Gone are the days of a curmudgeonly old man in tweeds who tells you what to do and woe betide if you don’t do his bidding! All the ghillies I know are knowledgeable, friendly, helpful and, above all, expert anglers.

There are good tackle shops in most towns and cities so please avail of them. Spending a few Euro in them helps to keep them going (we have lost many over the last few years). Prices are maybe a tad higher then you are used to paying but it is nice to have a piece of tackle to take home from your trip here.

These days it is easy to do all the research necessary to find the right place to come. Blogs like this one, YouTube videos, endless publications all contain valuable information which will allow you to plan your trip. Take your time and plan so you have some alternatives if your chosen fishery(s) are not doing well. I used to make sure I had at least one day off from the fishing during a holiday, time to re-charge the batteries and have a look around the locality.

My apologies if I am sounding like I work for the tourist board! The lockdown has deprived us all of things we took for granted and it seemed to me that losing our annual influx of anglers from abroad has been a major loss. When travel restrictions are lifted, and they surely will be eventually, I urge you to consider a trip to Ireland. A warm welcome awaits you here.

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coarse fishing

Loose feed vs groundbait

Here is a question for all you coarse anglers out there. What is your decision process when deciding to opt for loose feeding or ground baiting? As a newbie I am still confused about which to use. Due to the lockdown last year there were no other anglers around to learn off of so I have been trying to puzzle all this out on my own.

My coarse angling was confined to natural stillwaters and canals last year and my planned trips to fish the rivers for winter roach this month are obviously on hold due to the pandemic. My target species are roach, bream, hybrids, rudd and perch but being of easy virtue I accept anything that is willing to bite. Bear in mind we don’t have crucians, chub, dace, carp, ruffe or catfish here (Ok so there are a tiny number of carp fisheries in Ireland but none near me). My methods are normally one rod on the waggler and the other either touch legering in the margins or a swimfeeder further out. I don’t fish with the pole. Looking back the float probably catches 60% of the fish, a worm legered in the margins about 30% and a measly 10% fall to the swimfeeder. Maggot tempts most of my fish but the worm is very good too. To date I have found sweetcorn useless and have not tried other baits such as bread, paste or even casters.

Sweetcorn, the only thing I have caught on this was a bloody pike!

From the above is looks to me like I am very inefficient with the swimfeeder and too conservative with my bait choice. Watching videos by expert anglers has confused me more than anything. Do all these fancy groundbaits really make such a difference? Does some mush labelled ‘crab and coconut’ or whatever really drive the fish mad? I am deeply reluctant to fork out 6 or 7 Euro for such smelly delicacies on the off chance they will attract a few fish into a swim. But then again my brown crumb with some maggots approach is none too successful so far. I did reasonably well one day when I added some vanilla to the groundbait but have not had the opportunity to try that experiment again.

Up till now my typical approach is to fire in some balls of groundbait, usually brown crumb with a few maggots, while I am setting up. I will throw in some more balls for the first 20 minutes or so and if I start catching I will either loose feed a trickle of maggots or chuck in the odd ball of groundbait. I must admit this does not seem to work too well as I often catch in short bursts and can’t seem to hold a shoal in front of me. What am I doing wrong? It has crossed my mind that I am overfeeding but judging by the videos it doesn’t look like it. As a rough guide, half a pint of maggots and a small tub of worms will last me a 4 or 5 hour session, usually with some left over. I use a bag of brown crumb in that time too.

I like watching Greame Pullen’s ‘Totally awesome fishing show’, it is both entertaining and informative. He makes up a cheap groundbait based on bran and no.1 horse feed, something I might try this year. None of the tackle shops in the immediate area stock things like groundbait and I have no desire to buy that fancy stuff online. I want to make my own and the TAF recipe looks to be as good as any I have seen.

Watching all those videos I was struck by the fact they are often filmed on days when conditions are perfect. ‘It’s a lovely day on the such-and-such canal’ says the angler sitting on the banks of a picture perfect swim and the water is not the colour of oxtail soup or the wind blowing a hooley (my normal conditions). I am maybe just impatient and just need to stick to the basics and I’ll pick up the tricks of the trade. Any ideas from you guys would be deeply appreciated!

Just a quick update on what is happening here in Ireland. The level 5 lockdown is still in force and is being rigorously enforced by the guards. No travel beyond 5km unless you are travelling to work. That means for virtually all anglers there is no fishing. The death rate and rate of infection are both stubbornly high so it is unlikely the restrictions will be lifted any time soon. Here in Mayo we have some of the highest per capita rates in the country which is a bit scary. Areas like Belmullet have been particularly badly hit.

Stay safe out there!

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coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

Hook lengths

Hook lengths have been a bit of a concern for me in my new found drive to learn about all things coarse fishing. I am maybe just being hyper critical, but my game angling background taught me that the final connection between main line and hook was often the difference between success and abject failure. Choice of hook, thickness/colour/ length of line and knots used all had to be correct if I was to fool a fish and hang on to it when fly fishing. I imagine the same is true of the final few inches when chasing roach.

spools of line for making hook lengths

Not being a competition angler I don’t require a vast armoury of gear so a few pre-tied rigs does me fine for a day on the canal bank. I have seen anglers with those plastic hook length boxes which are then filled with rows of perfectly tied hook lengths of exactly the same dimensions. I greatly admire the guys who populate those boxes and keep them topped up. I am not that accurate when tying my hook lengths and don’t trust bought ones so instead I acquired a couple of foam lined rig wallets and use them for my hook lengths. That works well enough for me and it means I can store a few hair rigs in there too. Not being a carp angler per say the world of hair rigs, bolt rigs, helicopter rigs or ronnies don’t really concern me too often. My interest in hair rigs simply extends as far as bigger baits for tench or using a pop up in weedy conditions.

I think I have mentioned in a previous post how much I detest snelling tiny spade end hooks. For someone who makes small trout flies it seems a bit weird that I struggle with a simple knot on a size 20. In the end I decided to cut my losses and invest in a hook tyer. These can be purchased for a very small amount. A simple little gadget, this has greatly speeded up my creation of hook lengths. The particular one I bought is a ‘Matchman tyer’ but there are lots of different ones made by other manufacturers out there. The added bonus of using the tyer is that you can easily use the tag end loop to make a hair rig.

In an effort to try and regulate my stock of hook lengths for use here in Ireland I settled on the following standard set ups made up in my (roughly) 4 and 6 inch lengths:

hook sizeline breaking strain
221.5
201.5
182
162.5
143.2
124
104

I realise this is a crude and unsophisticated arrangement but hear me out. Irish coarse fishing consists of relatively straight forward methods. Yes, a competition angler would need to be able to make many small adjustments to maximise their catch but a pleasure angler like me will do just fine with the above range of hook lengths. The smallest sizes are used for single maggot, usually for fishing on a canal. I use size 14 and 16 hooks for two/three maggots, a section of worm or sweetcorn and the bigger hooks are for larger worm baits or bread flake. For bigger fish like tench or carp I make up special rigs on eight pound line. These I keep in another rig wallet but given the rare occasions I might fish for carp it sees little action. If, for some reason I feel the need for a hook length which is different from my ‘standard’ ones I make them up with eyed hooks when fishing. I carry some packets of eyed hooks in my waistcoat pocket for this purpose.

One of my rig wallets

As for attaching the hook length to the main line I use two methods. For the lighter lines I tie a simple surgeon’s loop on the hook length and make a loop-to-loop connection. On heavier lines I sometimes use a tiny swivel. I guess there is a reason why swivels are not used by most coarse anglers but they make perfect sense to me. The tiniest ones add only a small amount of weight.

When fishing, I change hook lengths fairly regularly, usually to change hook size or if I suspect it has been abraded on the bottom. I cut the old hook length off and put it into a box I carry just for this purpose. The same happens if I change my whole rig, I snip it off and put it in the box to be dealt with later. When I get home (or more usually the next day) I go through the contents of the box and chop up all the line into tiny sections for disposal. I salvage all the useful hooks, shot, floats etc. and put them back into their respective tackle boxes. The whole point is not to be messing about on the bank and to get the baited hook in front of the fish as much as possible.

After a day’s fishing

Expert coarse fishers are no doubt appalled at my lack of sophistication here but look, we all had to start somewhere. I have tried to apply a degree of logical thinking into organising my hook lengths and it seems to be working for me so far. A potential fly in the ointment is my growing interest in method feeders. Would they offer me an advantage when trying for tench? If so, I might need shorter hook lengths. A conundrum for another day…………

One of the reasons it took me so long to take up coarse fishing was my perception that you required a huge amount of tackle. In particular, the sight of anglers with barrows loaded to the gunnels with bivvys, beds, chairs, multi-sectioned poles, fancy cooking and lighting gear, bite alarms and myriad of other hi-tech accessories left me cold. Hell, the complex seats sprouting all manner of trays, umbrellas, pole roller systems et al made me feel totally inadequate. It was only when I broke down what I absolutely needed that the shopping list became manageable. Even still, I am slowly buying little bits which, while not essential, are making my angling more enjoyable. These are not ‘big ticket’ items. For the fishing that I do a €500 seat with all the bells and whistles would be overkill. I admit I am considering an umbrella but it will only be a very basic model. The reason for taking my time in deciding whether to buy a brolly is the fact wet weather here in Ireland often coincides with high winds. The jury is still out…..

It is the smaller items which I have bought which are bringing the greatest rewards. The hook tyer mentioned above is typical of the kind of thing I am talking about. I also got a multi-purpose needle which is great for attaching bait on to hair rigs for example. A nice woolly hat with a built in rechargeable LED light is another, great for setting up or packing up in the dark. Artificial maggots were a welcome discovery. They float and don’t easily fall off the hook so they are ideal for tipping natural baits, preventing them from falling off and at the same time lifting them above the debris on the bottom. None of these thing cost much money but they all added to the experiences of a day with float and leger.

If I had some money (I don’t so this is purely a day dream) I know what I would invest in – a boat! ‘You have a boat you bloody fool’ I hear you say. Correct, but my 19 foot fibreglass boat is intended for lough fishing and is a devil to tow/launch/retrieve. No, what I would buy is an inflatable dory and an electric engine. Easy to transport and inflate, a 2.3m or 2.5m dory would be ideal for accessing rarely fished parts of loughs. Here in some parts of Ireland we have whole systems of loughs which are full of fish but you cannot access them from the shore. A small inflatable would provide me with a huge range of opportunities. And I just love messing about in boats. So the answer to the question ‘what would you do if you won the lottery’ would surely elicit an unusual reply from me.

I am rabbiting on a bit now. I wanted to talk about hook lengths and here I am going on about inflatable boats! I guess that is a reflection of my mind now, with no fishing my thoughts are wandering down all sorts of avenues. Mind yourselves out there and I will write again when I am less scattered.

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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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coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

Making plans

The cabal of fools who run Ireland in a poor approximation of a government have decided that travel outside of your own county will be permitted between 18th December 2020 and 6th January 2021. A lot will depend on the weather but if there is a dry spell I am plotting a couple of short fishing sessions. Initial thoughts are that I might try the Ballinamore canal in Leitrim which could throw up a few roach. The Rinn river, also in Leitrim, might also be worth a try as the roach move up into it seeking warmer water around this time of the year. Failing that, I will try a shore mark in Galway in case some whiting are in. It is all a bit sketchy right now but I need to give myself some hope of getting out with rod and line soon.

I have exhausted all the small tasks of cleaning, lubricating and repairs and badly require some time on the bank now. I will have to figure out where I can get some bait before next Friday though. Nobody around here stocks maggots or worms at this time of the year so I think it will mean me digging around in the garden to see if I can locate a few worms. I have not done that since I was a kid! I have read that bread can be an effective bait for roach but have never tried it. Maybe next weekend will see me slinging bits of loaf into a swim.

If, and this is a very big ‘if’, the weather is very good I might risk the long trip down to Athy in county Kildare to fish the marina there. During periods of high water the marina apparently fills with fish seeking shelter from the fast flowing river Barrow. It would certainly tick off another county from me in my rudely interrupted task of completing all 32 counties, if I could tempt a roach or a perch down there.

Talking about the 32 project, I have spent a fair chunk of the lockdown researching possible venues across the country and I now have a list of places I want to fish in every county. In most cases I have two or more options. During this process I also unearthed a lot of fisheries in counties I have already visited, giving me a useful database to work from even once I have completed all 32. Tapping the keyboard is little compensation for not actually fishing but it has provided me with some comfort knowing all this angling lies ahead of me over the coming years.

Let’s wait and see what the weather does but I am hopeful of managing a few casts soon.

Update- Out of all those ideas I only managed one outing, to Westmeath for some canal fishing. The lockdown was re-introduced early of course and level 5 restrictions are in place at least until the end of January.

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coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland, Pike, salmon fishing, sea angling, trolling, trout fishing, Uncategorized

Bits and bobs

A cold start to the day so I am in the spare room which is filled with my fishing gear, sorting out some tackle for pike fishing which I hope to indulge in next week. Hot mug of coffee steaming in my hand, loosely organised chaos around me. School run traffic snarls along outside, the big white buses bringing the children in from the countryside. A normal late autumn day, well what passes for normal during lockdown. I had been tying some flies earlier in the week so there are packets of feathers and fur to be tidied away before I can pack a bag with the smaller items for piking. That got me thinking about the ancillary items we all bring along on a day’s fishing and how much of that we really need. My wide ranging angling exploits mean I am worse than most when it comes to carting a selection of bits and bobs around, usually on the basis that I ‘might’ need them.

We all carry too much gear with us when we go fishing. It is just a hazard of the sport. Here are some of the small items I have secreted about my person when I head off with rod and line. As you may have read before in other posts, I wear 4 different waistcoats for various types of fishing. One is for river trouting, another for salmon fly fishing. Then there is one for coarse angling and yet another for shore fishing. The smaller items listed below lurk in one or other of these waistcoats. The bigger items are in the different bags or boxes which I bring along.

The wee box contains a spark plug, sandpaper and shear pins

1. Tools. As someone who fished the big Irish loughs with old outboard engines I routinely set off with a tool kit in a bag just in case of a breakdown. Over the years this got me out of a few scrapes and also allowed me to help other anglers who had broken down. Now the proud owner of a decent engine, I still bring with me the small tool kit which came with the Honda. These basic tools all live in a small pocket in my lough fishing bag. I know where to put my hand on them in an emergency but I hope to never need them in anger. In the same pocket live a spare spark plug and a couple of spare shear pins.

A pair of heavy pliers lurk in the bottom of my bag too, handy for pulling out a stuck thole pin or other heavy jobs.

2. Knives. I carry around a small blue Swiss army type knife in my pocket all the time. Then there is a pocket knife in the bag. When I am sea fishing I bring a filleting knife too so I can deal with the catch at the water side.

3. Lighters. For obvious reasons. There is a wee metal tin with a couple of firelighters too for firing up the Kelly kettle.

4. Hook removal. All sorts of disgorgers depending on what I’m fishing for. Cheap plastic ones for removing tiny hooks from the mouths of roach and perch. Forceps for fetching flies from trout or salmon. A hefty ‘T’ bar for when I am out at sea and a proper disgorger for the pike.

5. Priests. It is rare for me to retain fresh water fish but I keep anything edible from salt water. An ancient chair leg with some lead in the business end lives in my sea fishing box. A small metal priest fashioned from a length of stainless bar by a papermill engineer 40 years ago comes with me when shore fishing. 

6. First aid. When messing around with hooks and knives it is inevitable you are going to break the skin on your hands at some point so I carry a few plasters with me.

7. Towels. Discarded dish towels are handy to tuck away in the bag. Game angling is not too dirty but sea fishing is a filthy business and I am forever washing and wiping my hands after cutting up bait or handling slimy fish. Mixing ground bait when I am coarse fishing means I am constantly cleaning up afterwards too. Helen has commented on the impossible task of finding a dish cloth in the house, there may just be a correlation with my fishing!

8. I mentioned thole pins earlier, I always have a couple of spares in the bottom of my bag. My own boat has fixed pins but I sometimes borrow a boat from friends and they may or may not have pins. To be at the side of the lough, the boat fully loaded and engine fixed on only to find you don’t have any pins is the very height of frustration. I know because it has happened to me not once but twice! Lesson learned the hard way.

9. The small boxes of ‘bits’. Spare hooks, swivels etc. live in a wee plastic box which in turn lives in my waistcoat. In fact, I have two of these wee boxes, one for game fishing (link and barrel swivels, treble hooks etc) and another one for coarse fishing (shot, pop up beads, float caps, leger links etc).

10. Clippers, nippers and scissors. I like those retracting zingers and they festoon my waistcoats. On them are various nippers and other implements for cutting line.

11. Hook sharpeners. A small stone comes with me when I am fly fishing in case a killing fly loses its sharpness. In other forms of fishing I simply change any hook which becomes dull or gets damaged but I am loathe to change a fly that is working. A few strikes with the stone soon returns the point to full use again.

12. A roll of electrical tape, a couple of safety pins, a needle or two, some cable ties. At different times and for different reasons all of these have proved useful and for the small amount of space they take up I always have them stowed away in a bag or waistcoat pocket. I once used a safety pin to replace a tip ring on a rod which I broke while fishing. It was not pretty but it allowed me to keep fishing for the rest of the day. Likewise, I cable-tied my reel on to a beachcaster when an old Fuji reel seat broke one night years ago. Just recently I used a cable tie to attach a thin rope to a winch on someone’s trailer. They take up very little space and weigh next to nothing so I will keep a few tucked away, ‘just in case’.

Theo inspecting the old bucket.

13. A bucket. Yep, a cheap and nasty plastic bucket which used to contain paint. Battered and bruised it has served me well for years and while it lacks in any atheistic beauty it performs numerous functions for me. Primarily it is for baling water out of the boat. Then I chuck any loose odds and ends into it while afloat. When coarse fishing I use it to hold water scooped from the lake or canal which in turn is used to wet ground bait and to wash my hands in. When shore fishing it is used to transport smelly bait to the mark and then take the catch home with me. Maybe I should invest in one of those branded buckets but I can’t bring myself to agree it would do these jobs any better than my old 10 litre job.

14. A spring balance. Here is where I have to hold my hand up and say this piece of kit is literally NEVER used. I hear you cynics out there saying that is because I never catch anything worth weighing and there is a modicum of truth in that observation. Be that as it may, even when I do land a good fish the exact weight is of absolutely no interest to me what-so-ever. Records, PB’s and all that stuff are for others. I am happy just to see a good fish then pop it back in the water with as little fuss as possible. It is a very nice brass spring balance mind you, a lovely thing to own even if it is redundant.

Written down, this is an extensive list and I am sure I have missed out other things. The big question is do I need all of this junk? There is no clear cut answer in my book. Some things, such as the tools for the outboard engine are really safety items and as such are a necessity for me. Others are less clear. ‘Needing’ an item is too general and to me it more a question of does the tool add to my angling pleasure? I can just about bite through lighter lines for example but a pair of clippers is much neater and easier for me. Do I need clippers and scissors – probably not but I find the scissors are better for dealing with heavier lines.

I am a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde I suppose. When fly fishing rivers I only take what I can carry in my waistcoat pockets. But when boat fishing I take the bloody kitchen sink with me!

The school run has eased off and it is quiet outside now. Chaffinches are squabbling in the garden. No sign yet of the winter visitors like redwings or fieldfares. Today is the say we learn if the lockdown restrictions will reduce to level 3 or not. Fingers crossed they will and that I can get out pike fishing next week. As you can see, I am all prepared!

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coarse fishing

Travelling light

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 simply 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.

The straps look a bit skinny but they should be OK
The very epitome of angling luxury!
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coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

A new obsession

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.

Where it all started…….

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.

Avons, grand for Grayling on the boisterous river Tay, pretty much useless on a canal though

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!

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coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

Rakes progress

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.

looks like it should be easy to use

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.

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