32, coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

32 – Episode 18, County Carlow

Storm Barra had rattled the windows and felled trees across the south and west earlier in the week and the cold, windy weather lingered on long after the eye of the storm had passed. Being cooped up indoors for days on end was taking its toll so I decided to fish this Sunday and even more exciting, I would tackle another of the 32 counties. An uncomfortable day beckoned but what else can you expect in December? Being honest, winter fishing is something I find less and less enjoyable as each year slips past. I used to love it, the cold and wet didn’t knock a stir out of me at all when I was a young man but these days I hate the chilly weather. Just being cold is enough to ruin being outdoors for me so a selection of thermals, fleeces, waterproofs and hats are necessities when I do venture out. Met Eireann were promising rain with strong winds all day which is always a pretty safe bet here in Ireland.

Carlow does not immediately spring to mind when thinking about Irish angling. Gentle farmland and busy towns, just about commutable distance from Dublin; that is how it always struck me. Situated in the south east of Ireland, Carlow is one of the smaller counties, sandwiched between Laois, Kilkenny, Kildare, Wexford and Wicklow. Carlow Town is a thriving community with lots of shops, pubs and restaurants to be enjoyed.

By now you will have all gathered that I am no fan of the OPW (office of public works) but the information on their website on river heights is excellent and I was able to see the Barrow was running at half a metre on the gauge and slowly dropping near where I planned to fish. Water temperature had dropped quickly at the end of last month but had steadied recently at just over 5 degrees. If that was good or bad for roach and dace fishing I had no idea.

The river Barrow is one of the country’s great waterways despite many man-made diversions. It flows very roughly north to south and empties into the salt at Waterford along with her sisters the Suir and the Nore. Much of the river has been canalised and numerous weirs make it hard for salmon to penetrate far upstream. OK a few salar still force their way into the system but aside from the locals who haunt the bank it is not seriously fished for the salmon. Instead, over the years it has become a popular venue for coarse fishers. Angling clubs along its length cater for a large and active fishing community who use pole and rod to extract roach, dace and pike in good numbers. The river also holds a head of brown trout and there are perch in the river too.

Once upon a time I worked in south county Kildare, just a few miles from Carlow Town. Indeed, I often stayed in Carlow and got to know the town reasonably well at the time. Evenings would sometimes see me go for a walk after work and I used to stand on the bridges, watching the river flowing beneath, wide, deep and coloured. I never did see any anglers though. In my research I found out that the section of river in the town is actually a good spot for both roach and dace so it is strange that I never came across an angler trying their luck on the town water. The same stretch apparently also holds bream along with occasional pike and perch.

For the purposes of this trip I eschewed the Carlow Town water itself for a stretch further downstream at Clashganny. To quote directly from the Fishing Ireland website: ‘The stretch at Clashganny offers coarse anglers the opportunity to try different coarse fishing techniques in picturesque surroundings. Float, feeder and pole techniques all offer possibilities on this superb stretch of river’. That sounds good doesn’t it? Here I would target the roach and dace which allegedly stalked the weed beds on the bottom. From the images on the internet it looked like a nice place with the river, a stretch of canal and a lock all possible pegs. The humble maggot and worm would be my baits of choice and it would be a day when the float was going to be my preferred method of presentation. Having only ever caught roach in flowing water by accident on the fly this was going to be an interesting day out for me.

You will all know by now that on these long distance trips I plan for a back-up venue in case my first choice is unfishable or I simply fail to catch anything there. In this case I figured I would head upstream a bit to Bagnalstown or Leighlinbridge, also on the Barrow. Similar water and fishing for similar species but it would be a change of scene in the event I was still blank in the afternoon. As for tactics I would bring along a swimfeeder rod in case the float did not work so feeders in a range of weights were dug out and tossed into the box. I use smaller feeders regularly but the bigger lads rarely enjoy a dip in the water. On the swiftly flowing Barrow their gravitas might be required.

As always, a humongous quantity of gear came along for the ride. Not being used to fishing in flowing water for roach I was unsure which rod to bring with me, so I brought them all! As I mentioned, my heavy leger rod looked like my best option if I turned to the feeder in the main flow of the river but would my 12 or 13 foot float rods be best suited to trotting a float? I’m used to canals and fishing at close range, what if I had to fish at distance? The Barrow is a big river as it flows through Carlow and if the roach were holding further out I might struggle to present the bait properly. It is also pretty straight with not much in the way of pools or other features where I could easily identify holding areas. The canalisation of the river has removed most features but there are locks both upstream and downstream of Clashganny so these may just be the prime spots to hunt the roach. I needed more clarity of thought. Was I biting off more than I could chew?

Driving to Carlow entails a long and winding journey via Tulsk and Roscommon Town then down to Athlone. Drive east along a stretch of the M6 motorway as far as Tullamore then to Portlaoise. My plan was to stop off in Carlow and picked up some bait from the tackle shop in town. The final stretch is on the R448 down to Leighlinbridge, then the R702. A cool 290 km from home or a 580 km round trip in total. I set off early.

So I pulled up in Carlow Town, already stiff in the joints from 3 hours at the wheel. Barrow Fishing Tackle Shop is on Maryborough street, looking right on to the river. It was immediately obvious that I was in bother, the shop was closed. Twenty minutes past nine on my watch and the website said the shop would be open at nine. A heavy padlock on the door suggested that was not going to happen. A ‘self service’ bait dispenser next to the door had a sign proclaiming ‘bait 24/7’ but it was out of order. It would be good to say I was mildly put out by this turn of events but in point of fact I was livid. Why would a retail business advertise its opening hours on a website and Facebook page then completely disregard those hours? Now I was stuck with no alternative and would have to make do with the worms and dead maggots I had brought along with me. The dead maggots had been in the freezer for months and were in poor condition, I had planned on just using them up in the groundbait. There was nothing else for it, I drove off again heading for Clashganny, my plans in tatters.

It felt like a very long and tiresome road as I motored ever southwards, down the motorway as far as Leighlinbridge then winding through the khaki-coloured fields of rural Carlow. A very convenient car park close to the waters edge made life a bit easier for me and I was soon taking in my new surroundings. This is a very lovely corner of Ireland, mature trees bounding the brown waters of the river, clipped grass around the neat lock gates, small birds flitting among the undergrowth. I’m sure it is even prettier in the green of summer. Here the river flowed over a weir off to my right with another one a bit further downstream. To allow small craft to navigate past the obstacles there is a short stretch of canal with locks. The river is high all right, the aftermath of storm Barra earlier in the week but the canal is very shallow here. The strong southerly wind which was forecast for today is absent and the air is pleasantly warm for the time of year.

I had seen an ariel photograph of this stretch but found it hard to get a sense of scale and form so it was only now, when standing on the bank that I could sense what the river ‘felt’ like. I will try to explain that statement for you. Angling for me is not simply the mechanics of casting/baiting/catching. Sure, technical knowledge, masterly of techniques and so on are vital for success but I have a much deeper feeling for the places I fish. I guess you could say it is a spiritual connection of sorts. For me, the privilege of immersing myself in the natural world for a few short hours means I can be in a different head space. I am not a neurologist but I suspect I engage different parts of my brain when out in the natural world. So the ‘feeling’ of a waterway is a major part of how I fish on any given day. The Barrow noisily tumbled over the weirs above and below me, creating a wall of sound as a backdrop to the session.

The obvious starting point for me was the swim below the lock where an old boat was tied up. I set up with two rods, the feeder and the float rod. This looked very ‘perchy’ to me so I tried a worm held in place with a couple of dead maggots on the feeder rod. Since the sad demise of my old Daiwa Harrier reel I have been using a cheap black one which I bought in Sligo a while back. It even has a baitrunner facility, not that I need that when using it for float fishing but it fits well on the small feeder rod and the baitrunner facility means if anything big does take me it won’t pull the whole lot into the water. Balls of groundbait plopped into the water and a short cast sent a worm to the bottom. For the feeder the waiting began……………..

The feeder rod could look after itself while I set up the float rod. A couple of feet of mucky water flowed past me so I set up accordingly with an stick float and a size 14 hook. Shotting was simple, bulk shot above the tippet, and a couple of runners spaced up the line. Then I hurled in some some more balls of groundbait and loose fed a trickle of the dead maggots. Having never caught a dace before and lacking any real idea how to target them specifically meant limiting my choices to simply using a small hook below the bulk shot. In reality I was setting my stall out for roach today instead. I’ve yet to land one of better than a pound in weight and mostly they are only a few ounces but I still love fishing for the wee silvers.

The float trotted through the swim a few times without being troubled by the fish. The shallow water meant I could see the groundbait lying on the bottom and the float could be perfectly positioned to cover the exact spot. Soon however the feeder rod gave a small rattle. Dropping the float rod I lifted the feeder and there was a small silvery fish on the end. A dace no less, the first one I have ever landed. It had taken a worm which I found a bit surprising but I was damn glad to see it anyway. Some bubbles on the surface where I had chucked in the balls of groundbait looked like a good omen so I settled into concentrating hard on the float, trotting a worm or a pair of dead maggots through the swim time and time again. Nothing. Not so much as a nibble. I tried chopped worm, hoping the small pieces would be easy for the small dace to take but they failed to elicit any reaction. I tried a single dead maggot on a size 18 hook but that was no better. The problem with the maggots was not that they were dead, it was to do with their poor condition, they smelled horrible. A hour passed but no more bite were forthcoming so I decided to try above the lock.

A small Dace beside a very big feeder

The flow was minimal up there and try as I might no bites came my way. Eventually a group of guys with kayaks appeared and noisily launched right next to me. I took this as a hint and decided I needed a change, but where to go? In the end I packed the gear into the car and headed back the way I came and stopped at Muine Bheag where there are some stands on the channel of the Barrow. Three other guys were fishing the pole there and were catching a few roach and dace on (you have guessed it) maggot. I set up the rods and fished hard for the next couple of hours. Worm after worm trotted through the swim in front on me and never once did the float dip in anger. I knew in my heart I would be catching fish if only I had some maggots but it was not to be and when the rain came in the afternoon I called it a day and packed up.

Returning home I took a different road, driving up the M9 to Athy and reaching Tullamore via Portarlington. I had time to think about what had been a very poor day’s fishing. I accept it is possible I would have not caught anything even if I had some maggots but I doubt that. I have seen this before and for me maggots equals fish, it is as simple as that. If I had known the tackle shop in Carlow was going to be shut I would not have gone fishing there today. I like to be supportive of Irish tackle shops but I am left extremely frustrated and angry by the events of this morning. How hard would it have been to post a note on their FB page to say they were closed today?

So despite what was a terribly poor day I did actually catch one fish in co. Carlow, which under the T&C of the ’32’ project means I achieved my aims. It feels like a very hollow victory though; travelling the length of the country for one small dace was hardly the most exciting day on the bank. At least the promised high winds and rain kept away while I was fishing.

Christmas is but two weeks away and realistically I won’t have time to fish again before then. There are a few days off at the end of the month but it remains to be seen if I will venture out. Today was tiring and disappointing but they can’t all be golden days of bent rods and full nets. I know I have now caught one fish in county Carlow and that is all I wanted to do at the outset of this project. Just the one fish was supposed to be sufficient for me but in this case it simply is not. I am left with a hollow feeling after today, a need to right a wrong if you will. Looking back, I am sure that given decent bait I would have done much better so a possible additional visit to that fair county is under consideration for next year. I still have to fish the neighboring counties of Wexford, Kilkenny and Waterford and they are close enough for me to dart across to Carlow for a few hours angling. If I do you can bet I will bring a pint or two of maggots with me!

Update: The internet is a wonderful thing, isn’t it! I have found another tackle shop that is open on Sundays and sells maggots. https://www.vivado.ie are based in an industrial estate on O’Moore Street in the town of Tullamore and they open at 10am on Sundays. Wish I had known that earlier.

Fishing in Ireland

River Suck permits abolished

River Suck permits are to be abolished

In the challenging times we are living in it it nice to pass on some good news to fellow anglers. The permit system which had been in place for the river Suck and it’s tributaries has been abolished. This is a positive step as the €45 cost of the permit was a deterrent to anglers from fishing in the area. I understand there is also works planned to improve access to various parts of the system to further enhance the angling opportunities. Here is what Roscommon County Councillor, Anthony Waldron had to say:


The Suck is a major tributary of the Shannon and a much under-rated fishery. Access to date has been very limited unless you had access to a boat. The river, which is about 100 miles long, is largely wide, deep and slow moving making in just about perfect for coarse fish. Pike are very common and grow to over thirty pounds.

I will be down that way next season to try my luck on a couple of the lakes and will report back on them on this blog.

coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

Pondering my feeder fishing

What I have learned and what I need to improve on

Two years of coarse fishing have flown by and I am sitting down today to think about one aspect of the sport where I still need to improve, using feeders. Let’s start off with the bigger picture here, I have no intention of trying to become some sort of expert, just a regular guy who would like to be more confident when using this rig. Here in Ireland the use of the feeder is a big part of the coarse scene with the top anglers catching enormous bags of fish on it, usually on the bigger loughs and rivers. My fishing is based around much smaller loughs and ponds so my horizons are much more limited.

Let’s go back in time a couple of years to when I started to fish for roach and bream. I bought a mix of new and second-hand gear and the feeders I started out with were a batch of pre-owned ones of various sizes and designs acquired from eBay. About twenty in total, they made a good starting point for a complete novice like myself and I read up on what these feeders were and how they might be used. Like a sponge, I soaked in the advice from YouTube videos and assorted websites. What jumped out to me was the complexity which this form of bottom fishing had assumed. My ignorant initial thoughts that this was just a fancy weight that allowed you to add bait to a swim were replaced by a realisation of how much I didn’t know. Reading up on a subject is all fine and dandy but I believe the only way to really learn is to get out and do it. So off I toddled to an assortment of venues and fished with the feeder on most occasions. On most occasion I failed to catch very much on said feeders.

Sometimes I get it right!

I am becoming a tad frustrated with myself over this. I have fished all my life, I can handle all types of gear with reasonable proficiency and have access to good stillwaters with a healthy head of fish. Bait is a bit of an issue for me but I can usually put my hand on worms, maggots and the range of baits from the supermarket. My target species are tench, roach and bream. So, no commercial fisheries and little in the way of running water, no carp, chub or crucians, no fancy dan processed boilies, wafters and what have you. On the face of it fishing the feeder should be easy and productive. Wild fisheries, natural baits presented on the bottom to lots of eager bream, roach and tench.

This is where it all started to get very confusing. In a nutshell, some days I haul fish out on the feeder but on others I fail miserably to catch anything, it is as black and white as that. I have to be open and frank here, I much prefer to fish the waggler, I love the visual aspect of that branch of the sport. Our rules here in Ireland allow the use of two rods at any one time so it makes perfect sense to lob out a leger or feeder while fishing the float on the other rod. I have come to the conclusion that this is the root cause for me being so slow to pick up the intricacies of the feeder, I don’t concentrate on it enough.

feeders in various shapes and sizes

A typical session will see me rig the feeder rod with either a cage feeder or a maggot feeder, usually a 20gm size. My normal rig is a twizzled boom to a hook length which can vary from 6 to 20 inches. Hook size is usually a 10 or 12 but I do go as small as a 16 if I am after smaller fish. When fishing for tench I often use a hair rig. Bait is either maggot or worm. On the waters I fish long casting is not necessary (at least I think so) and I rarely go much beyond 30 metres out. Often it is just a gentle lob as close as I dare to nearby weeds or rushes. And that will often be that for the whole session. I vary bait sometimes, swapping between maggot and worm but most days that is the extent of my changes. I used to be more adventurous but saw no big improvement in catches so these days I have drifted into the lethargy of just leaving it out there and hoping for the best. Not that such a lazy approach has not borne fruit, some of my best fish have come to the feeder which has been neglected for 20 or 30 minutes!

So what do I need to do to become more consistent with the feeder? I am open to anyone’s assistance here but these are the variables I think I should work on:

  1. Casting. I strongly suspect I have to be more accurate when casting the feeder and that I don’t get the benefit of dropping the feeder and bait into a tight area every cast. Up until now I have not clipped down my line so I am casting to the same distance, a trick I see most other anglers using. As Bart might write on the blackboard ‘I must clip my line so my distance is consistent’.
  2. Feeder size and design is maybe another variable to think about. Should for example cast out 4 or 6 large open end feeders full of groundbait to feed the swim first and then change to a cage or maggot feeder after that to keep a steady stream of feed going in? I suspect I have nothing to lose doing this.
  3. Choice of hooklength gives me enough worries to keep me awake at night. My current way of judging how long I need is based on whether I pop up the hook (shorter) or leave it lie on the bottom (longer). My shortest hooklengths are about 4 inches and they go right up to about 15 inches. On balance, I reckon the longer length possibly catches me more fish. The lakes I fish are all natural and have silty bottoms and I worry that my feeder and even the baited hook sometimes just disappear into the sludge. I think I will try longer hooklengths, up to a couple of feet or more, next year. My concern is that you lose bite sensitivity my going longer but that could just be my imagination. While I am on about hooklengths I generally use 4 pound mono most of the time, moving up to 6 or 8 pound if I know there are good sized tench in the lake I am fishing. I have suffered a few breakages using those lines so I am upping line strength next year with 6 pound my standard feeder hooklength and keeping 8 pound for the tench.
  4. Bait. Do I break my habits and try other baits? I bemoan the lack of bait suppliers close to me but I can order boilies, pellets etc on line. Other anglers swear by them so I am willing to give them a try. Just having a few in my tackle box gives me more options than I currently have so next season I’ll try them out. Which ones do I try? There are so many pellets and other goodies to tempt the angler let alone the fish. I will do a bit of research and try to find some that are not too garish in colour or flavour. That means investing in a banding tool but they are cheap to buy. Even this tight Aberdonian can lash out a fiver or so for one.
  5. I do have a notion to change from mono line to braid on my reels for feeder fishing. Braid keeps you in much better contact and it could be that I am missing lots of bites due to the elasticity of the monofilament. I’ll mull that over for now but I like the idea of ten pound braid on my reel.

That is about as much as I can think of for now. I don’t own a super-duper specialist feeder rod nor a three hundred quid reel to go with it but I really can’t imagine such an investment would result in a quantum leap in my feeder fortunes. More accurate casting, flexibility in bait choice and a willingness to ring the changes are where my thoughts are now but if any of you seasoned coarse anglers have some other ideas I’d love to hear them.

32, coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

2022, looking forward

It is that time of the year for me, the time when I start to plan my angling for next year. I go through this exercise every close season and find it not only enjoyable but worthwhile as it gives me an excuse to research the fishing potential here and learn a bit more about what Ireland has to offer the angler. Most of my plans come to nought but that is simply because I find too many options to try them all. For many years my plans have been fairly similar but I want to try some new venues in the coming season, see a bit more of the country and try out some new methods for a change.

At the top of my ‘to do’ list is the completion of my ‘32’ project which started way back in 2020. Covid wrought havoc with my plans and while I caught up to some extent I still have a lot more counties to do. So much work has been done already that solid plans have been made and just need time to execute them. Here are the one I still have to visit:

  • Derry
  • Tyrone
  • Down
  • Louth
  • Wicklow
  • Wexford
  • Waterford
  • Cork
  • Tipperary
  • Carlow
  • Kerry
  • Limerick
  • Donegal
  • Kilkenny
  • Kildare

With 15 far flung counties on the list I feel that with a good start to the year I will complete my mission by the end of 2022. By that I mean I hope to tick off at least three counties by the end of March then blitz the rest during the spring and summer. Kildare, Carlow maybe Wexford seem to me to be the most likely candidates for the early trips when coarse fishing might be my best chance of success. High water in the Barrow pushes coarse fish into the quieter canal sections and I may try to ambush them there. And there is a commercial coarse fishery down in Wexford I want to try as I have never fished somewhere like that before. There are some holidays I need to use up before the end of March and taking the odd day off to go fishing should be feasible, it will depend on weather conditions I suppose.

I am itching to get back on the road and fish such counties as Waterford, Cork and Derry. Some amazing venues are on my list, ones which I hope you are all going to enjoy reading about. Talking about reading, I am using my travels to the 32 counties as the basis for a book which is coming along nicely (as if I don’t have enough going on). So, the 32 project is high on my list of priorities for next year, what else is there?

My boat will go back on lough Conn again. I have toyed with the idea of switching her to the Mask but in the end I think I’ll leave her in the normal berth on Conn. I only need to make a couple of phone calls and I can get the loan of a boat on Mask any time I want. Conn was patchy last season with a few good days but some poor fishing despite very good conditions later in the season. I can only hope it improves a bit next year. I will pay more attention to the upper basin of the lough I think, there does seem to be more trout up at that end of the lake.

I have skipped trout fishing on Lough Cullin for a few seasons because it simply wasn’t fishing well but I miss my spring days on that lovely water so I will give it a lash next April before the weeds get out of hand. My good friend John and I have hatched a plan to do some coarse fishing on Cullin too. I have seen specimen sized rudd caught there and who knows what else is swimming under those rafts of weeds?


Last year a much anticipated trip to fish the Corrib was thoroughly enjoyed but the actual fishing was poor due to dreadful weather (brilliant sunshine and flat calm). I am hoping to make a similar trip this coming year at mayfly time and pray the weather gods will be kinder this time around.

It has been many, many years since I fished lough Carra due to low fish stocks and pollution. 2022 might just see me sneak over there for a day though. Angling pressure has been negligible for many seasons now so I am toying with the notion of giving the lake a try during the mayfly. Given the eutrophication of the lough the chances are there are a low number of very large trout now in there so a hectic days sport is unlikely but there may be the chance of an exceptionally large fish.

I’ll fish the river Robe of course, my normal early season forays are an important part of my angling calendar. Weather play a big part in deciding if the fish are responsive in March but I hope for a mild spell and some fly life to bring the trout on the feed.

high water on the Robe near Hollymount

Moving on to coarse fishing, tench will again be one of my target species in 2022 and I have some known loughs to fish again as well as a few venues which are new to me that I am planning on trying out. I want to experiment with new tactics and baits too next summer and I’m excitedly looking forward to chasing Tinca Tinca amongst the reed fringed loughs once again. I am not someone who is prone to regrets but why oh why did it take me so long to discover tench fishing!!!!!

For the first time I will purchase a Midland fisheries group permit. This is required if you are fishing the Shannon tributaries and loughs in the catchment, game or coarse. Here is the full list:

RIVER SUCK and tributaries.
Lough O’Flynn, (stocked trout lake) Lough Acalla, (also a stocked trout lake), Hollygrove Lake, Stonehams Lake, Lough Loung, Blacks Lake – all coarse loughs

RIVER INNY and tributaries.
Lough Sheelin, Lough Owel, Lough Ennel, Lough Derravaragh, (all trout), Lough Glore, Louh Kinale, Bracklough Lough Patrick, Lough Iron

RIVER BROSNA and tributaries.
Ballinafid Lake, Doolin Pond, McEvoys Lake, Sheever Lake, Slevins Lake, Mount Dalton Lake, Pallas Lake

LITTLE BROSNA RIVER and tributaries.
Camcor River.

CAMLIN RIVER and tributaries.

The ones I am interested in are Black’s lake, Stoneham’s Lake and possibly the Camlin river. All of these are coarse fisheries and I just fancy trying them for a change of scene. Lord only knows how often I have crossed over the Camlin River when driving to Dublin but I’ve never wet a line in it. Deep and slow moving, it looks like it should be a good spot for roach and bream. Last year the charge for the Midland permit was €39 so it feels like a lot of money to spend on places which are 90 minutes drive from home but I enjoy seeing new parts of the country and that whole area to the south of Ballymoe/Roscommon town is a mystery to me so far. There is a brochure which give some info on the area and it looks nice to me. https://www.fisheriesireland.ie/sites/default/files/migrated/docman/Suck%20Valley%20%26%20L.%20O%27Flynn%20Web.pdf  

The chatter on the internet suggests these lakes are only lightly fished as the local lads prefer to fish for trout on Acalla.

The list of other places I want to try is extensive and most will just not be realistic given time constraints on me. The Royal Canal at Mullinger has a good reputation, the same goes for the Grand Canal at various locations along it’s length. Patrick’s Lough in the midlands is a good tench pond I also want to investigate. I have never fished lough Melvin or lough Erne for trout and would dearly love to try those hallowed waters. I could go on and on but 2022 is unlikely to be the year I mange to visit all the spots on my angling wish list.

As I still have three Northern counties to fish as part of the 32 project I will buy licences and permits for up there too. That will have to include Loughs agency licences but they are very cheap. What with all the other licences I am looking at well over €350 just for the bits of paper I need to go fishing across the republic and the north. I know this is not a lot to most game anglers but it is still a lot of cash for me to save up (and more importantly justify at home).

I don’t know what to do about salmon fishing next year. With the species hanging on by a thread I am torn between my love of fishing for them and the need to give the fish every chance of making it to the spawning beds. I usually retain one fish each season and let the others go but is that sufficient in these terrible times? Should I simply cease fishing for salmon altogether? For now at any rate I am not planning on any salmon fishing. I may have a day or two on Carrowmore, who knows?

All of the above is dependant on the house move which is dragging on and on and on……… It is now so close to Christmas that I am planning on having the house on the market next spring and that is bound to impact my fishing time. It also means I will dig out my fly tying gear which was all packed away weeks ago. The few days off at Christmas time will be the perfect opportunity to top up the fly boxes. Most winters I make a few flies but not that many. This winter I need to up my game significantly as there are a lot of spaces to fill in my trout fly boxes. The salmon flies are no so bad due to the scant salmon fishing of the last few seasons but even those boxes have thinned as I gave away flies to other anglers.

a sorry looking box of trout flies

Then of course we have covid and how it will limit us all over the coming year. With infection numbers across the country off the chart now I fully expect another lockdown here this side of Christmas and another one starting in January. The same sort of thing as last year.

If we are allowed to travel next year I will pop over to Scotland and bring a rod with me this time. A day on one of my old haunts appeals to me, Loch Leven for example. A day out with my mate Chris on one of the loughs around Edinburgh is also an option, he knows those fisheries better than I do and he could show me where to try. Looking much further into the future I am seriously thinking about a pretty major road trip, fishing around Scotland for a couple of weeks once I retire. Yes, I am making plans for my retirement at last! It is a while away yet but this year has made me think hard about the future and what we want to do and so retiring is obviously the big issue for me. In the past I dreaded the thought of retirement but now I can honestly say I am looking forward to it. Certainly taking off for a fishing trip, toddling along half-forgotten byways and chucking a line in peaty waters in the auld country is very appealing and is firmly on my to do list when my working days are done.

Car update: The Renault is running very well so far. I have a couple of small jobs to do on it over the coming weeks but it is looking good for my fishing travels next year. I have to buy and fit a tow bar to it so I can pull the boat around if required and I am thinking about getting a roof rack for it too as I miss the huge storage space the old Golf estate had. The boot is too small for me really but in compensation there is a ton of space in the back seat area so the less smelly/damp gear can go there for now. I can fit the outboard and fuel tank in the boot so that will do I guess.

2022 already has the feel of a messy sort of year with even more unknowns than normal. Just getting through the next couple of months may be the biggest challenge what with covid and inclement weather! At least I have a vague plan now, one I can look forward to executing, even in part, next year. It is something I do every winter but it has taken on greater significance this time around due to the upheaval of 2021. I feel much happier now I have my ideas in some sort of order. It goes to show how important having something positive ahead of us is for our mental health.

Update: I snuck off to county Carlow in December 2021 and caught one dace on the Barrow.

coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

Little adoo at Gulladoo

I could tell she was unimpressed. There are a million jobs to be done around the house but I badly needed some time off to do a bit of fishing so I broached the subject of a day on the bank to my better half. The look said it all, there was no need for words but she took pity on me and I had my pass for the day.

Saturday morning saw me driving off down the road to Leitrim one more time, the first road trip in the ‘new’ car. I am still getting used to the Renault despite owning it for a couple of weeks now. The old Golf was like a second skin to me and this was the first long journey I was making since the old green car went off to the scrapyard. Our Scenic feels very roomy and the driving position is high. The smaller engine means a lot less power (and cheaper insurance) than I have been used to but as I tend to trundle slowly along the highways this is not a big issue. The boot, while large enough I suppose, is less voluminous than the Golf so gear has to be stowed on the back seats as well. Us humans are an adaptable bunch and I’ll soon grow accustomed to the car.

The drive gave me a chance to review the past few weeks. With only light traffic and good roads I could use the time to mull over what has been a continuingly challenging period. I started the new job since the last time I was fishing, our beloved cat, Theo, has gone missing, my old car was unceremoniously carted off to the breakers yard and of course Covid restrictions have tightened once again. For me, a day on the bank is something akin to pressing a reset button, giving me headspace to look at problems in a more positive light. By the time I pulled up in Carrick-on-Shannon the Renault was purring like a kitten and smelling ever so slightly of manure, courtesy of the freshly dug worms in the boot. Helen is going to have that non-plussed look on her face again I fear.

Maggots purchased, I returned to the car and set off for my destination along the winding R201 to Carrigallen and then south to my chosen venue for the day, Gulladoo Lough. We are half way through November so I was not anticipating hectic sport but just to be fishing would suffice today. Some fresh air and the peace that comes with being beside the water and hopefully a few small roach were the height of my ambitions.

I’ve passed Gulladoo a few times and kept telling myself I had to give it a try one day. A chilly November Saturday was possibly not the ideal time to try a new water but I had read it was a pretty consistent fishery and anyway I could scope it out for next summer. An unusually shaped water, there are two lakes joined by a narrow cut. Bream were the dominant species before but is sounded like roach were more likely to be caught these days. Some perch, pike, rudd and a smattering of tench also lived in the shallow waters. I had looked at ariel maps before planning this trip and could see some areas which looked to be pretty open and accessible for bank fishing. These lakes are very popular on the competition circuit so there must be plenty of space for all those anglers. I must admit though that I much prefer fishing off a stand or something similar. I like the solidity of concrete or strong timber under my feet when coarse fishing. There is only one double stand on Gulladoo and it is a disabled access one so if someone else with challenges was there or came along during my session I would have to move on to the bank but that’s OK.

I had grown accustomed to warm weather over the summer but today would be much cooler and I had dug out some winter clothes for today. Layers of shirt/fleeces and thick trousers were the order of the day. As a young fella I was almost immune to the level of cold we get here in Ireland. These days my old bones feel the slightest drop in temperature so wrapping up well is a necessity for me if I am to enjoy being outdoors at this time of the year. It is my hands that suffer the most as I hate wearing gloves which seem to remove all the touch and feeling from proceedings.

Will the drop in temperature increase the spread of Covid even further? Here in Ireland the numbers are already high and even more restrictions have been put in place including a return to working from home. I am vaccinated but resolutely refuse to download the vaccine pass which I consider to be a dangerous step towards a totalitarian state. I therefore don’t socialise at all and things like eating in a restaurant or going to the pub for a pint ceased for me two years ago. So be it, at least I have my angling for now.

My choice of gear today consists of my normal starting set up of two rods, one rigged with a feeder and the other with a waggler. I start with worm on the feeder, targeting bream while maggot on the float was more likely to tempt any roach or rudd. I don’t normally go into the detail of my rigs because I am new to coarse fishing and no expert but just for the record here is how I set up initially.

Swimfeeder: The 12 foot general purpose rod with a cheap 2500 size baitrunner reel loaded with 6 pound mono. To this I tied a 20 gram maggot feeder mounted on a twizzled boom made from 8 pound nylon. An 8 inch nylon tippet of 4 pound mono and a size 12 hook completed the set up. I fret over the hook length, always unsure if it would be better to go longer. I start off with a worm held on the hook with a couple of maggots.

Float: The old 13 foot ABU float rod with the ABU Garcia Orra reel, again filled with 6 pound mono. A heavy waggler rated for 5BB attached via a float adaptor so I can change it easily and trapped in place with two shot. The rest of the shot are bulk immediately above the loop to loop connection and the tippets is made of 3 pound mono to a size 14 hook. Hooks are barbless in both cases. The reason for the shotting pattern is the presence of rudd in the lake and I want to get down fast to reduce the number of rudd I might otherwise hook. I would be interested to hear from any experienced anglers what rig they would use for similar waters here in Ireland.

For groundbait I make up a batch of brown and black crumb, porridge oats, some hemp, a few drops of vanilla, a tin of sweetcorn and a few maggots tossed in for good measure. Once again the blandishments of the groundbait advertisers has fallen on my deaf ears. The price of the bags of sweet or fishy smelling powders make me shudder and I can’t bring myself to part with big money for the latest sensational bag of goo. Maybe I am letting the side down here and I could triple my catches by investing in some prepared groundbait but for now I’ll stick to my own cheap and cheerful mix. I like the idea of particles in my groundbait, hence the tin of sweetcorn, but to brutally frank I have not a whit of evidence it makes any difference. I suppose I could adopt a more scientific approach and run trials with/without groundbait or using different mixes and compare results. That all sounds a bit too much like work to me so I’ll stick to my homespun methods and ingredients for now. Maybe next summer I will venture into the brave new world of commercially produced groundbaits.

Of course I was not able to pre-bait and this could potentially be a problem for me. Gulladoo is not huge by Irish standards but it is still a fairly big water and the perceived wisdom is that pre-baiting is pretty much essential for good fishing on the bigger waters. With the guts of a two hour drive to this venue there was no way I could just pop up the day before and heave in a pile of bait so I just have to take my chances today. This is partly the reason I tend to fish smaller, more intimate loughs rather than the big headline venues like Muckoo, Gara or even the Shannon. I’ll leave those to the locals or holiday anglers who are in the immediate area and can pre-bait as required. The best I can do is lob in a few balls of groundbait as soon as I arrive and hope for the best after that.

this little lot needs a thorough clean over Christmas

The box coarse tackle is looking a bit tatty right now after a lot of use over the past summer. It needs a good clean out and some items will have to be replaced. I bought a few hooks and a couple of small swimfeeders the other day as I was running low on both of them. How I manage to break/lose so many feeders is a mystery to me! The same goes for floats but there are lots of spares lurking in a box at home that I can always dip into for replacements.

Hook design is something I have not investigated fully for my coarse angling which is strange as I am very fussy about my game fishing hooks. I have been caught off guard a couple of times by big fish when using fine wire hooks, resulting in lost fish. I am guessing there has to be a balance between using fine wire hooks so they don’t burst the maggots but the same hooks being strong enough to land a 4 or 5 pound bream or tench. I now tend to use medium wire hooks on my swimfeeder rigs and fine wire ones on the float. The exceptions are one or two loughs which I know are home to big fish and there I step up hook strength accordingly on both feeder and float.

fine stand

Four loud ‘plop’s as I throw in balls of groundbait. The wind is blowing almost directly in my face and there is a heavy mist which mean I am soon very wet. I am on the right hand wing of the stand and lobbing the feeder towards the far bank. The float is the very devil to cast into the strong wind but I persevere as best I can. No bites are forthcoming so I change the feeder on to maggots but this fails to elicit any response either. I am loose feeding now, a few maggots each time I cast the float. Still nothing and the rain really gets going now with a heavy downpour which lasts about 30 minutes. Once the rain has passed I move to the left side of the stand and try there for a while but again, there is no signs of fish. I dry off a little and sit there, contemplating life in general. Sandwiches are consumed, washed down with some hot, reviving tea and I decide that since the wind has dropped a bit I will change to a lighter float. Of course this make not a whit of difference and I am still biteless.

The sky darkens ominously and the rain starts to fall again driven by a rising wind. The temperature is dropping too, turning the day in a bit of a challenge. I see that shower out and a thin strip of blue sky emerges in the west. Checking the time I decide the options for me here are very limited so I pack up and head back the way I came. In an effort to rescue something from the day I plot a course for the canal at Leitrim Village.

would the canal save the blank

Pulling up in the gravel car park beside the locks I set up just the float rod. Leaving the feeder gear, ground bait and even the landing net in the car I cross the canal and find a spot to try. Depth adjusted, I loose feed some maggots and concentrate hard on the float which is difficult to see in the rapidly fading light. I miss one half-hearted bite but the next time the float dips I hook a small roach. Success at last! The very next cast yields another similar sized roach then it all goes quiet once more. My final cast of the day produces a small perch but by then I am getting cold and so I retrace my steps back to the car. I have been fishing the canal for about an hour or so. Roadworks push me miles out of my way as I head for Mayo, making for a long and tedious journey so I fiddle with all the buttons and switches in the car trying to figure out what they all do.

obliging roach

All that time, effort and planning only resulted in three small fish. I knew at the outset I was chancing my arm going prospecting on a large new water on the verge of winter. I suspect the roach are forming up into big shoals and moving into the rivers now, Gulladoo certainly felt devoid of life today. For me the day was not a total washout, time spent by the water is never wasted and I was able to take time to contemplate what is going on in my tiny corner of the universe.

The chatter on the airwaves here is all about another lockdown before Christmas so there is every possibility today was my last outing of 2021. If it was I went out with a whimper instead of a bang!

sun dips below the horizon and another days fishing comes to an end

Fishing in Ireland


I need a break away from learning my new job. I’m working from home for the moment but that will gradually change over time as covid restrictions change. It is pretty intense and made all the more difficult as I am trying to pick up a complex set of instructions, comprehend them in detail and then put that information into practice over a dilapidated broadband connection. It’s quite stressful and it’s not like me to get stressed at all. Team meetings are a nightmare as I drop out frequently or people can’t hear what I am saying. I could use some angling downtime but that is only a remote possibility so I am left instead to recall happier times at this season of the year.

In Scotland, October was the highlight of my season. Back in the ‘70’s and early ‘80’s the rivers were teeming with salmon and sea trout after the first of the autumn rains had swelled the flows. There would be a few dark fish nearly ready to spawn but a high proportion of the salmon were perfectly clean. Those far off days I worked shifts so there was always time off to spend time in and around the Dee, Don and Ythan. Some of the biggest fish of the whole season would put in appearance and the fishing could be hectic. Methods varied according to where and when I was fishing, fly on the Dee in September of course, possibly spinning in high water on the Don, switching to the fly as the levels dropped back and the water cleared. Big floods on the Ythan would see me worming until I could chance the fly. I’ll freely admit I was damn near useless with the worm. I could catch sea trout on the garden flee but the salmon just laughed at me. Looking back, I did not pay enough attention to depth or controlling the bait and my worms probably drifted harmlessly above the heads of the fish most of the time. If I could turn back time and use my coarse fishing knowledge I would make a better fist of worming for salmon.

Kinclaven Bridge over the Tay

Sometimes I would head south and try the Tay, Tummel or Teith. Great rivers back in the day. The ability to throw a long line was crucial but there were some huge fish to angle for. Ally’s Shrimp was the fly of choice back then, I wonder if it is still as effective? I kept meaning to fish the Tweed during the autumn but somehow never quite got around to it. I have been lucky to fish in all sorts of places but there are always those rivers or loughs which elude you and will remain on your piscatorial wish list.

I grew to adore fishing for Grayling on the Tay system during the autumn. Only the Earn has a stock of these wonderful fish north of the Tay. I tended to fish worm under a float for them and had some brilliant days amid falling leaves on some of the best salmon beats on the river. I don’t know what it is like now but I used to buy a permit from the post office in Stanley (I seem to recall it cost me the princely sum of 50p for a day permit) and spent the days catching fish around the pound mark. I miss the grayling fishing, they are such pretty fish which gave sport at times when other seasons were closed. It’s ironic that for all my autumn grayling fishing with trotted worms my biggest was caught on a wet fly during a hatch of olives on the Ericht one fine May afternoon. I very much doubt I will ever beat that two-and-three-quarter pounder.

It is through the autumn and winter months I normally begin to plan any trips for the following season and I will miss the joy of doing that this year. With no clear timeline on the house move and where we are going to end up there is no point in even attempting to think about fishing trips.

With the packing for the house move in full flow I am keeping my eyes open for a battered cardboard box which contained hundreds of old photographs. It went missing years ago during a previous house move and it has not turned up since. There were photos of me holding up huge salmon or grinning over descent bags of trout, scenes of famous beats, celebrations in the pub afterwards, me hiking or climbing in the Scottish hills and many more gems from a sporting past. It is sad that they were lost, at my age you appreciate old photographs much more than you do as a youngster. Who knows, they may turn up yet. There are three old boxes just visible under the cobwebs at the furthest end of the loft, perhaps one of those is the receptacle I am after?

October here in the west of Ireland is far less productive. The salmon season is long over and the trout are but a memory. Pike and perch are the targets but even they have been quiet this year so far. A drop in temperature is needed to stir the pike into feeding again. I may sneak a few hours trolling for them this weekend is the weather is kind and Helen wants some peace and quiet from my moaning. A heavy spinning rod and the immense box of pike lures were strategically left on top of a pile of packing boxes, ready at a moments notice should the opportunity arise. An escape, be it ever so brief, would be a very welcome break from spreadsheets, teams calls and moving house.

With all my fly tying gear packed away the release of just sitting down making a few flies is also beyond me at present. Ideas for patterns are swirling about in my head and under normal circumstances some of these would have reached the vice by now. Instead, I will start to write the new patterns down so I don’t forget them and hopefully I will be able to get back tying sometime next year. There is a Fiery Brown Muddler I think would work and some variations on spiders that need to be tried. On top of that, my old fly box is exhibiting a few alarming gaps in the serried ranks of lough flies. The row of Octopus patterns is all but empty and Cock Robin, Deer Hair Sedges and virtually all my mayfly emergers are thin on the ground. I have also promised some mates I will make up flies for them. I was probably a bit rash on reflection with that commitment! October and November are my main months for tying usually, I like to fill my boxes early on in the close season so there isn’t a mad panic immediately before the start.

OK, that’s enough moaning from me, time to get back to work on the spare bedroom. A wild day is forecast for tomorrow so I will be busy inside again, filling the packing boxes and chucking out items we no longer have space for. I wish those of you lucky enough to be able to fish tight lines. I’m ever so slightly envious!

Fishing in Ireland

Choosing an outboard

old Evinrude

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

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

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

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

on Conn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fishing in Ireland, sea angling

Out of Cleggan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

32, Fishing in Ireland

On hold

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

Lough Conn under October clouds

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

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

The road goes ever on…………

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

All packed up for now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fishing in Ireland, Pike

Here comes the rain again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looks like a police line up but in fact this was the boat lift crew for last weekend