Fishing in Ireland, Pike, trolling

Lucky Strike

With the collapse of all salmon stocks here in Ireland and the disastrous state of the trout fisheries I am turning more and more to Pike fishing so that I can at least get out occasionally with rod and line. I can’t be bothered messing around with dead baits so I spin or troll for pike in the loughs and my favourite lures are spoons. Big spoons.

I bought an old silver ‘Lucky Strike’ spoon the other day for a few cents. I’ve not owned one of these spoons before so I am keen to give it a swim. I imagine it will work for pike here in Ireland but they were designed for salmon trolling in Canada from what I can gather. This is a large lure, deeply indented to give it a flamboyant action in the water. Plain silver, front and back it looks to have the attributes of a spoon that our big Pike like to attack in cold water.

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This specimen, while in reasonable condition, needed some TLC before I could use it. Big Pike need to be treated with respect so any possible weaknesses in your gear need to be addressed.

Removing the old split ring

  • The swivel looked to be on the small side to me so I changed it for a more substantial one.
  • The top split ring was rusty and had to be changed.
  • The treble hook was in need of some TLC. Surface rust had to be rubbed off and the points sharpened.
  • To give the hook plenty of distance from the broad end of the spoon I added a second split ring between the spoon and the hook. I personally don’t think enough attention is paid to the relationship between spoon dimensions and the size of the hook attached to it. The simple expedient of adding an extra split ring takes only a few minutes but can make the difference sometimes. Pike hooks need to err on the big side in my book. When you open the mouth of even a modestly sized pike the gape is massive. It must be hard for a hook to find a good hook hold in there sometimes.
  • While I was at it I swapped the tiny red plastic tail and put a much bigger one on in its place. An old traditionalist at heart, I like a bit of red on my Pike lures. The wee red tail I took off was just the right size to adorn another, smaller spoon (waste not, want not).

 

The new, larger red tail

I don’t do a lot of pike fishing but this old spoon will be near the top of my list to troll during the coming winter. Silver spoons have always been a favourite lure of mine and they seem to do their best work in cold water conditions. Selecting the right spoon on any given day is far from an exact science and sometimes a different size, action or colour can do the trick when an old reliable has an off-day. A big snap link swivel on the end the trace allows easy and quick changes, something which is important on cold, wet days when any additional effort is best avoided.

Two other lures came in the same packet as the Lucky Strike, a big ABU Atom and a copper Toby. The Atom is one of those black and gold Zebra coloured ones in the 35 gram size. It will find a home in my box of Pike lures too. Over the years I have boated a number of Pike on Atom’s but can’t say they have been particularly effective. Smaller ones work well for jacks  but then those fish are not overly fussy.

The Atom, in reasonable condition

The copper Toby is a handy 30 gram Salmo version, the only drawback is that is is not a Swedish one. Not yet sure if I will hang on to this one or sell it on.

The weather is turning colder now and it is time for me to get back into fly tying mode. I have no excuses, the boxes of hooks and drawers full of feathers await my attention. Both salmon and trout fly boxes have ominous gaps in the serried ranks which need addressed before the next season starts. Old reliables will be tied but I have some new patterns in my head too. I’ll be sure to post my efforts here so keep an eye out for them.

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, salmon fishing, trolling

Zoom

Wind the clock back many, many years to the 1970’s and you would find me on the banks of a Scottish salmon river clad in a worn Barbour coat and thigh waders. Depending on the conditions I’d either be wielding a 15 foot Hardy fly rod or my trusty ABU Atlantic 423 Zoom spinning rod. Sometimes I’d carried them both with me so I could switch between methods as required, my tackle bag bulging with boxes of flies and baits. I still have that old Hardy fly rod but the Atlantic went missing many moons ago.

The Aberdeenshire Don and the Cothal pool on Upper Parkhill. The old ABU subdued many fine salmon here

At the time I was living in a tiny flat in Aberdeen, so minute that there was no room for my rods and they were thus consigned to a cupboard under the communal stairs. I always fretted about their safety but the security system on the front door should have kept any thieves at bay. Alas it was not so! One day I noticed some of my rods were missing and among the haul the perpetrator had taken was my much-loved Atlantic 423. It was a disaster of immense proportions and  I mourned for that 9 feet of Swedish fibreglass for a long, long time. Soon after the theft I moved away and became very busy at work so by the time I got around to buying a replacement heavy spinning rod there were some new kids on the block and I went for something a bit longer. Over the years I amassed a range of rods but none of them really replaced that champagne coloured Atlantic. Until now.

Picked up in Glasgow for a small amount I am now, after a gap of 30 years, the very happy and proud owner of an original ABU Atlantic 423 Zoom. To some of you this may look like a dinosaur of a rod, with its thick fibre glass and metal ferrules but to me I now have possibly the finest spinning rod every produced. The balance, power and strength of this rod put it in a class all of its own for me.

This rod is ringed for use with a fixed spool reel (the ba….d who stole my original rod also got away with my trusty ABU Cardinal 77 as well). I have a nice 4000 sized Okuma fixed spool reel which will fit perfectly on the new rod for now. I am afraid that even I baulk at the cost of an old Cardinal 77. They were absolute tanks of reels and a pure joy to fish with, but a good example is changing hands for €200 – €300. That’s too rich for me I’m afraid!

Specification wise this beauty boasts a full cork handle, those lovely flexible stand-off rings, a keeper ring, shiny chromed metal male and female ferrules, a down locking reel seat and brown whippings over silver tipping. It is rated to cast 30 – 60 grams but trust me, it can hurl an 18 gram Toby clear across most rivers.

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Interestingly the rod bag states the casting range is 18 to 60 grams, different to what is on the rod itself

I’ll grant you that by modern standards the Atlantic is heavy. I personally don’t mind this in a spinning rod as I don’t have the patience to spin for hour after hour. Instead, I fish in short bursts and often stop to change baits (usually in an effort to keep close to the bottom). All that weight is nicely distributed and the rod is not top heavy, unlike so many beefy spinning rods. I willingly put up with increased weight for the security engendered by the thick fibreglass walls as opposed to a brittle, skinny wand made of cheap far eastern carbon.

I think that one of the big advantages this rod had over the competition was its ability to apply huge pressure when required. With such power in the butt section I always felt confident I could bully a fish out of difficult situations and only the biggest of salmon every got the better of it. My old one landed a good few 20 pounders back in the day.

Going ever so slightly overboard, around the same time that I bought the lovely Atlantic 423 I also acquired a somewhat less than pristine ABU Atlantic 443S Zoom. This rod was on offer at a very low price so I bought it to see how it compares to the Atlantic that I know so well. It will certainly handle differently as it is ringed for a multiplier reel and is equipped with one of those speedlock handles. I was confused when I saw this rod advertised as it was claimed to be 13 feet long and a beachcaster! I was sure these old 443’s were 9 feet long and cast 1-2 ounces and while they are grand for spinning in the sea you could not class them as beachcasters. Sure enough, when it landed in my sweaty paws it did indeed turn out to be a nine-footer.

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As I said, the 443 has some damage and the handle needs attention before it can be used in anger. Cosmetically, the deep mustardy-yellow of the blank is not attractive to my eye but that is just my taste. What is more important is the strength of the blank and this is another powerful rod. Once I have repaired it I plan to use it with my Ambassadeur 5500C for salmon spinning or possibly pair it with a bigger 6500C3 or even a 7000C for fishing off the rocks for Pollock.

Length is the only area where I think ABU could have improved on these rods. Nine feet is a wee bit short for my liking and an extra 12 or even 18 inches would have made a commanding weapon. I guess it would also have upset that perfect balance I was talking about so I will settle for just the 9 feet.

The 443 rod actually came with a reel attached to it when I bought it – an ABU Abumatic 350 closed faced spincaster. This seems to be an odd pairing of rod and reel to me, I would have thought a heavy spinning rod like the 443 would require a multiplier reel to get the best from it. Having never owned a spincasting reel like this before I am unsure about its capabilities. I always figured the Abumatics were grand for coarse fishing but would not be strong enough for salmon angling.

The 350’s were made from 1976 – 1982 and this particular one is dated June 1977, making it over 41 years old. Try as I might I can’t find out much more about the 350. There is lots of info online about the smaller and more popular ABU spincasting reels like the 120 or the 170 but this 350 remains a mystery. I’m guessing it will hold a descent shot of 10 pound line so I’ll try that for a start. First things first though, I will strip the Abumatic down, fix a dodgy return spring, the loose free spool toggle and the brake which is not functioning at all. It will then need a good clean and lubrication. Any other defects need to be found and repairs effected before I try to fish with it  (as long as I can source spare parts). All of this is an ideal job for a wet Saturday afternoon with the radio on, listening to the football and drinking copious mugs of steaming hot coffee.

As a rule I purchase this kind of old gear to fish with and not just to collect dust in a display. To some people it may appear sacrilege subjecting such fine pieces of angling memorabilia to the muck and water of a day’s fishing. I do understand that point of view and accept that for some collectors my wanton disregard for varnished whippings and lacquered finishes borders on criminality. But my view is that some of these old rods and reels are arguably among the finest tackle every made by human hand and I get my joy from their use. The smooth retrieve of a well serviced reel or the powerful curve in a fibreglass rod are only accessible on the water. I still regularly use an old ABU Atlantic 410 for lighter spinning duties and harbour a sneaking suspicion that fibreglass may just be a better material for spinning rods than carbon.

After the unmitigated disaster that was the 2018 season I am now actually looking forward to Spring 2019 and the chance to use my latest purchases. Let’s hope there are a few more fish around to put a bend in the fibreglass ABU’s!

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, salmon fishing, trolling

Level land

I’m healing. Slowly and painfully, but I am recovering. My balance is poor and I stumble like a ten o’clock drunk sometimes, fearful of falling. Mornings are the worst. It is so hard to keep level until the meds kick in and my internal gyroscopes eventually begin to operate fitfully. My days are punctuated by periods of bewilderment at this turn of events and a sense of loss. Life has changed and not for the better. With no reason for the sudden onset of my vertigo the medical profession have told me ‘this will take time to pass’. How much time? Will I ever get back to normality? No answers, just shrugs of white coated shoulders……………..

Our holiday, touring around Europe by train was a welcome distraction but marred by people’s well meaning efforts to help the old guy who could’t walk properly. ‘Over here, sir, let us help you’. ‘Are you travelling alone?’ Here, have this seat’. I felt sick to my core at the helplessness. I’m too young to be a cripple. I am healing, can’t they see that?

the square in Krakow

It’s the dying days of the season here in Ireland with most fisheries closing at the end of this month. My worst season ever is almost over, slithering to an ignominious conclusion. The drought of 2018 was bad. That long, hot summer completely dried up some rivers and devastated the stocks on others. Salmon were scarce across the country and trout rarely ventured to look up from their work hoovering the bottom of the loughs. It was a season to forget for every angler I know.

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Conn, another poor season on this water too

We trolled diligently but failed to hook a single fish of note on the snaking Cashel River and we were not alone, we heard of nobody else having any success. The Cashel flows sedately through the flat lands between Ballyvary and the village of Park, home to shoals of fat Roach and Perch, numerous toothy Pike, a few large trout and our quarry the Atlantic Salmon. Only the roach thrived this summer and the solid, silvery salmon failed to appear at all.

A stretch of the Cashel river

The Cashel is about as far from your classic salmon river as it is possible to get. The wide, shallow runs interspersed with holding pools so beloved by generations of fishers on the Dee or Tweed are replaced by a narrow, deep channel which barely changes pace as it wends between the tussocks of bog grass. The channel was straightened and deepened by the OPW many years ago with the aim of reducing flooding. It could be argued this has been a success as the low lying flat lands drained and became fields where they had once been wild bog, full of birds and animals of all descriptions. Now they are sterile fields full of grass to feed cows and sheep. The land still floods sometimes but not as often as it used to, that water now runs off fast and causes flooding further downstream. The bird song stopped when the diggers turned off their diesels and clanked off on flatbeds to their next place of destruction. The salmon fishing has never recovered from this act of government sponsored thuggery and these days a small number of springers nose up the Cashel in high water followed by a trickle of grilse if there are any summer spates. From June onwards the river is pretty much unfishable due to dense weed growth caused by agricultural run off.

the hills of the Windy Gap in the distance, the Cashel meanders through the level lands into Lough Cullin

For all its unlovelyness this small river draws us back each year because in the past it was productive. We managed a few salmon each season and there were always those autumn days when we boated pike after pike. Not this year though. The salmon never did run the river and even the pesky pikes were absent. We tried it a few times on days when the conditions were good  and all our senses told us we should be contacting fish but the rods did not bend nor the reels screech. Shimmering spoons wobbled and weaved enticingly through the murky water but we would have been as well propping up a bar with pints of black porter to sup. We blanked again and again.

Not catching fish is the norm for us anglers. Hours slip past without anything much happening. We accept this because we anticipate the rare moments when a fish does bite. It’s that hope which is a vital but oft unspoken spur which keeps us fishing. Without hope we would not bother to fish. This season the flame of hope flickered and died on the banks of the Cashel amid the flat, silent fields. It feels like we have just done too much damage and there are not enough unfettered green spaces remaining.

Will we bother to fish the Cashel next season? At this stage we don’t think so. The hope which has been eroding since February doesn’t simply regenerate and the endless disappointments can’t be erased from the memory banks. Angling is all about hope and the belief that a fish will take your fly or bait at some point but that has been stretched to the limits of credulity this year on the Cashel river. Some late runners will swim up the river now the season is closing and the next spate will see them leap the falls at Carrowkeel as they head for the spawning redds. I doubt there are enough of them though to see the fortunes of this quirky fishery turned around.

Yesterday was a better day than the one before with only a couple of stumbles. A dizziness descended for maybe 20 minutes in the morning but it cleared it before anyone but me noticed. I am getting better!

Here is James McMurtry singing about another desolate flat landscape.

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, salmon fishing, trout fishing

Around Conn and Cullin

Just some bits and pieces from the Conn/Cullin area to give you a feel for this part of Ireland. Let’s kick off with some figures shall we?

  • The Conn/Cullin catchment drains roughly 800 square miles of north County Mayo
  • Conn is a big lough, it covers roughly 48 km2 and has a maximum depth of 40 metres
  • Cullin, which sits to the south of Conn, covers just over 10 km2

The loughs are joined by a cut which replaced the old river and this is spanned by a bridge on the R310 road. The village of Pontoon is situated on the narrow isthmus which separates the two bodies of water. Two hotels in the village are currently both closed. There were hopes that at least Healy’s would open again next year but the existing building may have to be demolished and a new one built.

Healy’s hotel, Pontoon

The Pontoon Bridge hotel changed hands last year but it too is still shut. The local economy badly needs both of these hotels to open up.

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The water level on Lough Conn was lowered by 1.83 m (6 feet) in the autumn of 1966 as part of the Moy Arterial Drainage Scheme. There is a general opinion in the area that this scheme had a negative effect on fish stocks in both loughs.

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the Lough Conn drainage area

In Irish folklore these loughs were created when the Celtic hero, Fionn MacCumhaill was out hunting boar with his two hounds named Conn and Cullin. The dogs were chasing a boar when water began gushing from the boar’s feet. The chase went on for days but eventually the steady flow of water from the boar drowned the poor dogs while simultaneously forming two lakes: Conn and Cullin.

The huge bulk of Nephin towers over Conn

pontoon

Back in the 1960’s there was a dance hall in Pontoon. Hugely popular in its day, people flocked to it to dance the night away. Legend has it that one night, towards the end of the evening, a girl was asked for a dance by a handsome young man. She stepped out with him and he turned out to be a superb dancer. She was having the time of her life until by chance she happened to look down. Instead feet the bold young fella walked on hooves – the devil himself was abroad in Pontoon!

pontoon

 

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Lough Conn stretches all the way from Crossmolina in the North to Pontoon in the south with fishing all over the whole body of water. As with most Irish loughs, the best fishing is in the shallows around the shoreline, island and offshore reefs. Unlike Mask and Corrib there is virtually no angling in the deeps.

Mayfly time and Brown’s Bay on Lough Conn is busy with anglers preparing to go out for the day

Fish stocks are but a shadow of what the were, Indeed, the population of Char seems to have died out completely. Surveys carried out many years ago suggested that a big majority of the trout from Lough Cullin spawned in the Castlebar river. Nowadays there are very few trout in Cullin and they have been replaced with coarse fish.

Ballyvary river

the Castlebar river

An angler trolling for salmon in the shallow waters of Lough Conn, off the mouth of the river Deel, Crosmolina

 

 

 

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, trolling

Remembering Bilberry Lake

Years ago I used to fish Bilberry Lake, half way between Castlebar and Westport. At the time this was a stocked trout fishery and the fishing is looked after by the Bilberry Angling Club. Membership was comprised mainly locals from Islandeady who did a small bit of fishing with a sprinkling of more experienced anglers. Having served on the committee of the club in the past I can vouch for the hard work and ‘never say die’ attitude of that angling club. Bilberry Lake has very limited spawning sites, just a few small streams, certainly not enough to support a viable head of trout in the lake. So the club used to get the fisheries board to stock it with brownies ever season. When this supply source of fish dried up due to the hatchery being closed Bilberry could no longer function as a trout fishery.

looking towards the reek

looking across Bilberry Lake towards the distant reek

The lake is shallow and surrounded by rich farmland, so the nutrient loaded waters rapidly weed up in the summer. Every summer the club put huge efforts into weed cutting, just to keep the lake fishable. A major competition for the McConnville Cup was organised every July which rivalled some of the bigger and more prestigious waters in terms of attendance and prizes. Fund raising, boats/engines, re-stocking, traffic management, prizes, and all the hundreds of other details were carefully worked out and every effort was made to make the three days a success. I understand the McConnville cup is still fished every July but it is held on Lough Mask these days

pumphouse shore

Autumn, trolling along the pumphouse shore

Bilberry was unlike the big lakes in almost every way and was much closer to an English stocked fishery in character. It was stocked solely with Brown Trout and they varied in size from 12 inches up to a couple of pounds with a small number overwintering and growing to a decent size. There are also a tiny number of native trout too.

reeds at the mouth of the river

reeds at the mouth of the river which links Bilberry to Lough Lannagh

Other scaly inhabitants are pike and perch. You would think that the pike would grow large in Bilberry, given that for years the angling club thoughtfully supplied them with free dinners by stocking the lake, but I haven’t seen any pike over 20 pounds caught there. What they lack in size they make up for in numbers and the lake simply teems with small pike in the 2 – 5 pound range.

So now that the trout have gone where do you fish on Bilberry Lake for Pike? The fish seem to hold in specific areas so it pays to give these particular attention. Looking out from the slipway near the graveyard the opposite shore is a great spot for a pike. A wind which favours that short section of shore will often produce some action. I find the main body of open water is a bit hit and miss but anywhere close to the reeds can give up a pike by quietly working your lure as close to the vegetation as you dare. Hayes’s Bay is a small, shallow bay which always holds a stock of small jacks. Again, a quiet approach pays dividends.

There is deep water just outside Hayes’s Bay but working around the corner brings you to ‘the pins’ a line of marker rods in a line which warn of a very shallow reef. This is a reliable area in any wind.

From the pins the lake stretches off into the distance and trolling plugs or spoons can give you a chance of a fish anywhere here. The shore then turns sharply round a point and into MacDonald’s Bay. I found the pike scarce in this bay but any I met were usually of a good size. Coming back out of MacDonald’s bay the shore runs down to the Pumphouse, a handy place to fish if nothing much is happening elsewhere.

For me, the hotspot for pike was all the way along from the German shore right up to the graveyard. I have seen large numbers of pike boated here, nothing too big mind, but the smaller fish seem to like lying between 5 and 50 yards right along that shoreline.

German shore

German shore

Near the pumphouse the river leaves Bilberry and flows down to Lough Lannagh. You can drive a boat along the short river and down into Lannagh where an even bigger population of small Pike can be found.

small pike nearly ready

small pike nearly ready for the net

The spoon that worked

…..and the spoon he took

I have never enjoyed deadbaiting for pike so I only use artificial lures or flies. Any of your favourite lures will catch fish but I found silver spoons very effective in the winter.

these Solvkroken were particularly good on Bilberry

 

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, trolling

Split-ring the Atom!

Edinburgh Angling Centre – worth a visit if you are in Auld Reekie

During my recent visit to Scotland I dropped in by the Edinburgh Angling Centre. Just like its counterpart in Glasgow, this is a jaw-dropping cornucopia of everything any angler could every want or need. While I loved every minute of browsing the aisles I did feel a bit of a dinosaur amid all the new-fangled gear. The Pike baits in particular left me feeling distinctly elderly. Spoons and plugs make up the vast majority of my pike baits but these days you can buy the most amazingly accurate artificial fish (if you have deep enough pockets that is). I bought the bits and pieces I required but exited the building like a man who had seen a vision of the future, one he did not really fit into. I only dabble in Pike fishing as something to do during the close season for game fish. I can’t for the life of me see my wallet opening and £30 or £40 being exchanged for one of these super-duper glide baits.

I used to like the old ABU Atom for pike fishing and I recently had to re-arm one which I had picked up cheap somewhere. It was one of the 2 hook design so I thought I’d show you how to re-equip this bait (without sticking a dirty great treble into yourself). These Atoms with two hooks were buggers for casting as the top treble would catch on the line with infuriating frequency, but they are fine for trolling.

All the old hooks and other gear were rotten so the first job was to remove and safely dispose of them. That left me with a bare spoon to work on.

all the rusty old fittings have been removed

The originals sported one split ring to hold the top hook but I prefer to fit two smaller split rings so the hook has freedom of movement. This is the most awkward job so I do this first.

2 small split rings for the top hook

Next you add the new split rings to the top and to the bottom of the spoon. Here I use slightly larger rings.

A barrel swivel goes on to the top split ring.

I like my Pike spoons to have a dash of red on them so I fit a small plastic Vee to the bottom split ring before adding the treble, in this case a size 4.

I keep a few of the red Vee’s in my box just for jobs like this

Fitting on the same split ring that the treble will go on to

Finally, add the top treble (same size or one size smaller than the tail treble). I cover the bottom treble with a plastic hook guard when putting on the top hook to save any accidents!

top treble added

There you go, a finished spoon. In a world of fancy thru-line, holographic printed 10 inch glide baits this old school spoon looks to be a very poor relation but it still catches Pike for me.

Ready for action

 

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, salmon fishing, sea angling, shore fishing, trolling

Multiplication

1970’s ABU ambassadeurs (from a tightlines catalogue)

Why on earth do I own 5 different ABU multipliers you may well ask? Surely just one of these venerable old multiplying reels is enough for any fisher? Two of them may seem overkill and any more is simply rampant hedonism. The answer is that I don’t need them all but I use them for slightly different roles. So today I thought you might like to see what I use these old wonders of Scandinavian mechanical engineering for. Let’s start with the big lads, the 7000’s

ABU Ambassadeur 7000 and 7000C

a pair of very grubby looking 7000’s.

They built them tough in Sweden! This pair are my heavy beachcasting reels. Both date from the early ‘80’s and continue to serve me well despite horrific abuse over the intervening decades. Purchased new (from Somer’s in Aberdeen when they were still in the tiny shop in Thistle Street if my memory serves me correctly), these monsters were at the time regarded as the very best reels for surf casting. The competition has improved over the years and at the same time I feel the modern AB Garcia’s are not as strong as the old reels.

my red 7000, showing a few battle scars

These pairs are certainly no match for modern multipliers but these days my fishing does not require gargantuan casts to the far horizon. Although they look beat up I’m hopeful they will see me out as, despite outward appearances, I have maintained and lubricated them regularly. The red 7000 in particular carries many battle scars, the result of long forgotten finger-tip scrambles down steep rocks to get to remote marks. I used to take just my 6 ounce beachcaster and the 7000 with me when attacking the more extreme marks, meaning scrapes and scratches for both rod and reel as I slithered down granite and basalt outcrops. This reel is built like a tank and soaked up the punishment, no matter how extreme the mark was.

Rock marks like this one in Donegal were tough on my gear

Black 7000C

So what is the difference between a 7000 and a 7000C? Ball bearings is the answer. The old original 7000 came with brass bushings on the spool while the 7000C sports stainless steel roller bearings. These super-duper bearings should give much better performance but in practice I found that there was not much to pick between the two reels. The numbers stamped on the reel foot tells me the red 7000 dates from 1980 and the black ‘C’ from just two years later, so they are both knocking on for 40 years old!

The level wind on a 7000. Removing this improves casting performance markedly

Size and line capacity of the 7000’s is identical and they are both beasts of reels, strong and reliable in even the most extreme conditions. I have two 7000’s because I often fish with a pair of beachcasters. This allows me to push one bait out a long way and drop the other bait closer to the shore. I can also try different baits and rigs by using both rods/reels. On a slow day this keeps me ticking along, just reeling to check the baits, making small changes or trying out different rigs. On a day when the fish are biting it can lead to high excitement as both rods go off at the same time!

ABU Ambassadeur 6500C3

Next in line I possess an elderly 6500C3. I have seen beautiful examples of this type of reel; the chrome rockets in particular are pure fishing porn! My one is a somewhat shabby model dating from 1999 which I picked up second-hand. It is more Nora Batty than Marilyn Munro I am afraid. 6500’s are among the most popular beach reels and the various versions can been seen in action across the globe wherever distance casting is required. If you are in the market for a 6500 you need to decide if you are going to plump for one with or without the level wind. The sports mags and ultracast’s were superb reels with no level wind to slow them down. My old C3 has a level wind but is still a fine casting machine. I’ve tweaked my one a little by replacing the spool bearings with semi-ceramics.

The all important ‘made in sweden’ logo

Smaller and neater than their big cousins, the 6500 range are lovely reels in use. They somehow just feel ‘right’. This is important to me. When I’m fishing I like my gear to be an extension of myself, both physically and emotionally. The sense of ‘oneness’ adds hugely to my enjoyment of a day on the water. Over the years I have owned some rods and reels which I never really felt were right, despite hefty price tags and well-known brand names.

In case you are wondering, the difference between a 6500 and a 6000 reel is the 6500 has higher gearing and therefore a faster retrive speed.

I use the 6500C3 for lighter beach and rock work in saltwater. Spool capacity is one hundred and fifty yards of 20 pound mono, not nearly as good as the 7000 but then again it is not so agricultural as the big old 7000’s. Paired with my 4 ounce beachcaster it can chuck a lead a fair old distance.

This one needs a good clean!

The topic of handles always inspires a lively debate among Ambassadeur owners. To some it is sacrilege to change any part of the hallowed reels. To others , and I fall into this category, upgrading your reel can be a good thing if it is done well. 6500’s came with a small double paddle handle which were fiddly on the beach in the cold and wet. Power handles for retro-fitting became widely available and these are a useful upgrade in my opinion. I am thinking of changing the double paddle handle on this reel for a power handle.

ABU Ambassadeur 5500C

Boys oh boys, this is a dream of a reel! I use it for casting and trolling for salmon (I know, what a waste using a 5500C for dragging metal behind a boat!!!). Everything about the 5500C oozes class; smooth and light yet strong and aesthetically gorgeous. Of all my ABU multipliers this is my favourite. ABU made a range of different 5500’s over a long production run and you can see why these little beauties were so popular. Essentially a narrower 6500, the 5500 series are favoured by salmon and pike anglers. I think those who pursue catfish in the States use them too.

The free spool control is sensitive on this reel

My example dates from 1973 but there is hardly a mark on it and it fishes perfectly. The only downside of this reel is that it does not have a clicker. I’d like that refinement for those all too rare occasions when a salmon grabs the bait and that wonderful sound of the clicker screaming fills the air!

not mine, but examples like this pristine 5000 cost thousands to buy

 

ABU Ambassadeur 4500CB

Finally, we come to a bit of an oddball – a 1980’s 4500CB. These reels would not be very common here in Ireland as they were designed for the USA market where small baitcasting reels were developed for use by bass fishermen. Flipping jerk baits for large mouths required a reel with specific characteristics and the small ABU’s were hugely popular across the pond. From what I can gather, they have been largely replaced by those fancy new baitcasting reels that look like something out of a Batman movie!

I picked my one up on ebay for a smallish sum. It is in good condition but cannot be described as pretty. It’s functional but not eye-catching. I have seen some lovely examples out there, gorgeous wee reels in lustrous dark green, silver or Florida orange hues. Again, the pretty ones command high prices in the marketplace.

The ‘CB’ denotes that this reel has an unusual sophistication – a self-centring level-wind no less! I must confess that exactly how this is an advantage in every day fishing escapes me, but it is a sweet little reel which I bought specifically for trolling. These reels were designed to hold 10 pound breaking strain nylon but I reckoned that was close enough in diameter to modern 30 pound b/s braid. Trolling for salmon here-abouts does not require massive line capacity of a reel, one hundred yards is more than sufficient as you can turn the boat and follow even the mightiest fish out to deeper water. As the reel for my ‘poker’ – the short middle rod when trolling – it only has about  15 yards of line out when fishing. The 4500CB accepts 120 yards of heavy braid, meeting all my requirements in a neat little package. This reel also has a level-wind which does seem to be overkill considering the narrow spool, but hey, why not flaunt it if you got it!

The decision to buy an old 4500C was deliberately taken to give me a reel purely for matching up with the poker rod and 30 pound braid. Then I mixed things up a bit! A fella in New Jersey was selling off some spools for my reel at a very, very low price so I simply had to buy all three of them. Now I am in the happy position of being able to switch the wee reel between different uses as required.

spare spools for the 4500 CB

If under extreme duress, you were to restrict me to only one of the above reels I would have to plump for the 6500C. It can easily do everything the others can do. I bought the 7000’s at a time when I was rock fishing (frequently in the dark) for winter cod on Scotland’s North East coast. Heavy leads, slung into the teeth of a gale amid mountainous seas needed tough reels and the big 7000’s could handle the stresses and strains with aplomb. They have easier lives now, gently lobbing baits into summer seas for doggies and rays. The 6500C is build for this type of shore fishing and would work just fine when casting or trolling for salmon too.

The 5500C is probably slightly under-gunned for rock fishing. It is perfect for salmon fishing though. It is a pure joy to fish with when casting heavy baits (20 – 40 grams). It is hard to put into words but this reel somehow just feels ‘right’.

The baby of the pack, the 4500CB is very much a specialist piece of equipment for Irish fishing, too small by far for most ‘normal’ angling situations here. But it does exactly what I require of it so it has earned its place in my tackle bag. Now that I have spare spools for it I can also use it for other situations where light lines are required.

So that is the reason I have acquired all these different reels over the years; I don’t really need them all but each one is a delight to use and they add to my enjoyment each time I use them. The small differences between then give them individual characters. The doughty, world worn heftiness of the old 7000’s is a million miles removed from the genteel, silken feel of the 5000C or the dinky wee 4500CB. I get huge enjoyment out of using these old reels, the workmanship and design are timeless and fit well with my values when it comes to fishing gear.

If you hanker after an old, Swedish manufactured Ambassadeur yourself they are easy to find secondhand. Expect to pay big money for rare models in mint (or even unused) condition. There are many collectors who track down the finest examples for their display cabinets. Reels with minor surface wear can be had for a lot less. Of course there are some extremely dodgy reels floating around the secondhand market and it is very much a case of ‘buyer beware’.  Look out for reel which exhibit heavy corrosion (especially on the cage), cracked side plates or grinding gears and avoid these like the plague. Spare parts are easily available but if you have a lot of work to do to a reel it soon becomes quite expensive. Oh, and a word of caution – owning old Ambassadeurs can quickly become an addiction (see above!). Don’t go buying gear you can’t afford.

Please don’t run away with the notion that I am an expert on these old Ambassadeurs – I assure that I am anything but that! Check out youtube for lots of videos on cleaning, strip down and upgrades for these reels. There is a wealth of information out there. Then there are the specialist collectors who have websites you can visit to drool over their immaculate reels. If you really want to get into collecting these reels in a serious way then the bibles written by Simon Shimomura, author of not one, but three books on collectable Ambassadeur reels. I will leave you with multiple photos!

Clockwise from the left: 4500CB, 6500C and 5500C

 

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