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.
I try not to get involved in arguments about fishing. It is a gentle sport and no place for heated fights but if there is one subject guaranteed to raise hackles it is the choice of running line. Somewhat against my better judgement here are my own thoughts on the thorny subject.
I grew up in the era when there was only a very limited choice of line. Everyone used nylon, the only exception was sea anglers who used stuff called Dacron. Dacron has, rightly, been consigned to the dustbin of angling gear. It was not good mainly because it was so thick. I fished with for a few years back in the day but the claimed benefits of low stretch and good strength were comprehensively outweighed by the way it caught the tide and lifted you bait/lure off the bottom.
So nylon was your only option back in the 70’s and 80’s. Maxima was very popular with salmon anglers and while I caught more than my fair share of salmon it I switched to Stren when it came on the market. I don’t know if it is still available but I liked the golden yellow Stren and I can’t recall it ever letting me down. Then along came a new line – braid.
These days boat anglers are using braid more and more. Skippers generally hate the stuff as sorting out tangles with braid is the devils own work but some anglers love the bite detection and thinness of braid. I have used braid on my big multipliers for a few years now and aside from the afore mentioned tangle issue I find it excellent line. I still have nylon on my feathering reel though as constant jigging up and down seems to suit the stiffer nylon better.
I have flirted with braid on and off. I use it now on my trolling rods where I want strong line to cope with vicious takes and rough treatment when trying to prize baits from the bottom when they become snagged. Braid has been a godsend for this type of fishing and most of the other troll fishers I know swear by braid. By local standards I fish light with 30 pound braid on my trolling rods. Many of the lads use 70 pound! Would I go back to nylon for trolling? No, I don’t think I would. I have grown accustomed to braid and will stay with it from now on.
I have tried using braid on my spinning rods but have to admit I swapped back to nylon again. I didn’t enjoy casting with braid, it seemed to ‘dig in’ to the spool and any advantage I gained from low diameter was lost by the stickiness of it as it came off the spool during a cast. I reverted back to 15 pound nylon for my salmon fishing and have not regretted it (so far).
I wish I could say I like using the modern co-polymers, fluorocarbons, etc but in truth I have no faith in them. I have a habit of giving my line or trace a sharp tug before using it and when I did this with those ‘double strength’ and other new products they snapped in my hands. The only one I like is ‘Riverge’ which is horribly expensive but is an excellent product. I often see visiting anglers using extremely long fluorocarbon leaders when fishing the local loughs, maybe around 20 feet or more in length. This might be required on English stillwaters but I doubt they will bring you many additional trout here in Ireland. I personally use nylon for most of my leaders and am happy to stick to that. Many of the top anglers around here use a nine foot leader made out of 8 pound nylon!
Looking at my filled reels here is what is on them right now:
Both ABU Ambassadeur 7000’s – 20 pound nylon. Used for shore fishing
Daiwa PM9000H Fixed spool – 20 pound nylon. As above
ABU Ambassadeur 6500C – 18 pound nylon. As above
Winfield multipliers x 6 – 18 pound nylon. As above
ABU Ambassadeur 10000C – 50 pound braid. Used for boat fishing.
Penn Del Mar – 20 pound nylon. Used for feathering mackerel from the boat.
ABU Ambassadeur 4500CB, 5500C, 5000D’s and 6000’s – 30 pound braid. All used for piking, trolling etc.
Light fixed spools – mainly 6 pound nylon but lighter lines on some coarse fishing reels
Baitcasting reels – 6 pound nylon
Looking at that list there is obviously some rationalisation required. The 20 pound nylon on the big beachcasting reels is a hangover from a bulk spool I bought a while back. Similarly the 10 pound nylon I have habitually filled my 3500 series fixed spools could be upgraded to 15 pound to simplify things a little. The minor loss of distance would not be a big issue for me.
I have gravitated to braid on my trolling and boat fishing multipliers and nylon for everything else. I didn’t set out to do this, it just grew organically over time as I tried different options and ended where I am today. This may not suit everyone but it seems to work for me and I am happy to keep going like this.
With time on my hands I have been thinking a lot about my fishing. Of course I am missing getting out with rod and line something terrible. I snuck out once in December but apart from that I have not fished for 3 months now. With lockdown set to continue well into the spring this year I am brooding over what I am missing. Which led me to contemplate, what exactly am I longing for so much? Today I thought I would write down what Irish angling is all about, hopefully to give you visitors, and potential visitors, an insight into what makes Ireland such a great place for us anglers. Being non-Irish and having fished here initially as a tourist before pitching up in a full time capacity I kinda have two very different perspectives on the subject.
Anglers have written whole books about fishing here so my paltry few words will not add greatly to the subject but one day this pandemic will ease and we will regain the ability to travel and I hope this post generates some interest in coming to Ireland.
Let’s get the downsides out of the way first. Ireland should be the premier angling destination in the world. I honestly believe that! 100 years ago the rivers and loughs were full of fish and the seas teemed with everything from sprats to tuna. Destruction of habitat, pollution, over fishing and neglect have destroyed vast swathes of the aquatic habitat and fauna. Thousands of miles of rivers were dammed, dredged and straightened in the name of hydro-electric power, flood prevention and land reclamation.
I understand the need for electricity, huge parts of the country did not have mains electricity well into the 1960’s so there was some justification at that time but those days are long gone and the mighty dams like Ardnacrusha on the Shannon and the Erne barrage have outlived their usefulness and could be removed. Ardnacrusha was completed in 1929 so it is nearly 100 years old. The last Model T Ford rolled off the production line when this dam was being built. Would we be happy running about in a Model T these days? I think not and these dams on Irish rivers are similarly out dated. For comparison, could you imagine the River Tay in Scotland being dammed at Perth? Both rivers are of a similar size but the Tay has a healthy run of Atlantic salmon, whereas only a handful of fish evade the turbines on the Shannon and the once prolific upstream beats are now devoid of life.
Fish have never really been very high on the list of considerations in this country. Unlike many European countries there has never been a tradition of eating seafood and most of what is caught commercially goes for export to mainland Europe. Fish were just a resource to generate some money but beyond that nobody cared much about them. Poaching was always a part of rural life here. A salmon netted out of the local river was a welcome addition to meagre diets for the poor farmers back in the day and who could blame them when you lived close to starvation all the time. These days poaching is a much more sinister business involving organised gangs, sometimes armed, netting and poisoning rivers at night. Some river systems are notorious for the poaching effort and are not worth fishing as a result.
Apart from the dams, the huge expanses of bog across the country were destroyed by state agencies in the name of progress. Peat has a very low calorific value but in a country where there was no coal, apart from a very small coalfield in the north, the decision to build peat burning power stations seemed to make sense. A huge industry grew up around the collection, drying and burning of the peat which is only winding down now. Narrow gauge railways snaked across the bog for miles and huge machines ripped the sodden ground apart to remove the ancient turf. Rivers were damaged or re-directed and the spawning beds became unusable for the fish as the fine particles of peat clogged the gravel. It was environmental vandalism on a grand scale. No attempts were made to mitigate all this destruction. It was just bog and seen as little more than useless.
Arterial drainage. Those two words strike terror into the hearts of anyone who cares about the environment. Here in Ireland the government has a department called the Office of Public Works or OPW. Let me be very clear here – these people operate above the law. It doesn’t matter what EU legislation says, the OPW will just do what it wants with impunity, and what the OPW likes more than anything is to dig. Oh how they love digging things up! Show them a winding, natural watercourse and they will have that dredged, straightened and even encased in concrete at the drop of a hat. They have been at this for years and the level of wanton destruction is almost beyond belief.
I will end this litany of woes with fish farming. A disgusting, nasty business which has made a handful of Norwegians extremely rich and damaged the fauna of the west of Ireland beyond repair. A tiny number of poorly paid jobs was the bait and the government fell for it. The tortured and malformed creatures in the cages often escape and add further pressure on the already struggling rivers of the west. Sea lice in their billions ravage the native trout, eating them alive. We are stuck with the farms as nobody in government has any interest in closing them down.
On the bright side
OK, that is enough doom and gloom. I wanted you to see both the good and the bad to see that there are two sides to fishing here. Now we move on to the good stuff! Let’s start with brown trout fishing on the great loughs.
I don’t have any figures but I would suspect that the majority of anglers who come here do so to fish the great lakes. Corrib and Mask are the obvious ones with some anglers trying their luck on Sheelin, Conn, Cullin or Carra. Maybe some venture to Ennel or Owel in the midlands or the huge Erne system which straddles the border. What is all the fuss about then?
There are so many facets to fishing these hallowed waters it is difficult to know where to start. I suppose the biggest attraction is you are fishing for completely wild trout. The fish spawn in all the small rivers and streams which flow into these loughs and are direct descendants of the fish which colonised the loughs after the last ice age. They are truly beautiful creatures and it is a joy to catch even the smallest of them. Not that they are all small! Every season double figure trout are caught on the fly from the Corrib and Mask. A three pounder will not turn anyone’s head on those waters. Wet fly is the preferred method, a cast of three flies, flicked ten yards in front of a drifting boat. Some of the fishing is out in the deeps while at other times you can scrape the keel of the boat on the tops of jagged limestone rock as you search out fish in the shallows around the shore or the islands. Dry fly is good, especially during the mayfly season. Dapping is hugely popular on the Corrib, less so on Mask. Carra used to respond well to a dapped grasshopper in August. I rarely see a dapping rod on Conn or Cullin though.
So what is the big attraction? The fishing is technically simple after all. I think it is the ‘total package’ which makes trout fishing here so wonderful. The day starts at 9 or 10 o’clock typically. Visitors staying in a hotel or B&B will have no doubt availed of a huge breakfast (the full Irish) to ‘set you up for the day’. If you have hired the services of a ghillie there will be the usual chat about prospects as the boat is loaded to overflowing with all manner of angling gear and then you are off under wide skies and (hopefully) in the face of a good breeze. Depending on your ghillie, drifts will be in total silence or with a running commentary of every topic under the sun. Tales of great fish caught and lost, the latest gossip from around the village, world events – they are all covered from the unique perspective of an Irish boatman. Those of sensitive disposition need to know that here the use of curse words is an integral part of the language. Around 1 o’clock you will pull into an island or sheltered bay for the lunch. Out comes a Kelly kettle or similar device and some hot reviving tea or coffee is handed around. Time to stretch your legs after being cramped up in the boat all morning. More chat about the fishing and plans for the remainder of the day. Relieve your bladder behind some bushes. Tie up a new cast maybe. All of this at a leisurely, unhurried pace. Indeed, on a slow days fishing there is a tendency to linger on shore and just enjoy being outside in the fresh air. The afternoon may produce a few fish, then again it may not. Cast, retrieve, cast retrieve. The ghillie strokes the water with one oar out the back of the boat, correcting the drift as he sees fit. Tangles are sorted out, rainwater baler from the bottom of the boat, sudden excitement as a trout shows close to the boat, waving to other boats as they pass by. Any luck? A slow sweep of a hand indicates they have not met any fish. The glorious countryside provides a backdrop you will long recall. By the end of the day, usually between 5 and 6pm but it does vary, you motor back to the harbour and unload the gear. Back at your accommodation the tiredness sets in and a pint of Guinness in your hand feels heavy. Another huge dinner is greedily consumed. If you are in or close to a town or village there is always the option of heading to a local pub for some drinks and craik with the locals. It really is a fabulous way to spend your days.
How about salmon fishing on the loughs? The situation here is patchy and some of the best fisheries now struggle to provide good fishing. Others are still plugging away and a day on Inagh, Carrowmore or Beltra will live long in your memory. The format is very similar to the day outlined above but the fishing is harder. Don’t expect to see fish jumping. Most days you won’t see any showing at all. This is a game of stoic determination and workmanship. On some loughs the ideal conditions are summed up as ‘a good wave’. To anyone but an Irish salmon fisher a ‘good wave’ is a terrifying ride in a small boat being tossed around in huge waves. You get soaked, no matter how good your expensive rain gear is. Waves top the sides of the boat and the ghillie battles with the oar to keep you broadside to the weather. Turning into the waves at the end of a drift he opens the throttle and the boat rises and plunges as you forge your way through the white tops. Just to be out on the water in this kind of a day is invigorating. The day-to-day existence which most of us live, commuting, the office, sitting in front of a television, all pale as you are tossed around in this maelstrom. You feel alive! Then, out of nowhere and in slow motion, a great silver fish ploughs through the waves, arrowing towards your flies. It seems to take forever to turn down and it takes all your experience not to strike immediately. The fish sinks down and the line tightens, you are into one! Those minutes as the fish runs, jumps, bores deep or simply sulks are priceless. The Ghillie’s deft swipe with the cavernous net and the fish is aboard. You hold him up for the obligatory photographs before slipping him back into the water. There is no other feeling like this. The rain pours down and the wind howls like the banshee but you care not a jot. As angling experiences go, a springer on the fly from an Irish lough is high up there as one of the best.
I think it is true to say that few visiting anglers come here to fish the rivers for wild trout and this is a great pity. For years I have fished my local rivers and have yet to meet a solitary visitor. I would dearly love to see some of the fine anglers from across the globe fishing my local Irish rivers. These little fished streams have a charm, and the fish, to make even the most jaded angler very happy indeed.
Unlike the loughs, there is little in the way of infrastructure for the river fishers. Access is notoriously difficult, often resembling hacking your way through a jungle rather than actually fishing, but there is some really great fly fishing to be had for those who persevere. I wear chest waders on the river so I can get into the water and wade upstream as required instead of negotiating the wild banks. Do not bring your expensive waders with you. Use a cheap pair you don’t mind about as the thorns, barbed wire and other hazards will almost certainly result in a tear in the fabric sooner rather than later. A wading stick is a necessity in my book, for wading obviously but also to help cross electric fences and a host of other obstacles. The trout you encounter are of course completely wild, there is no stocking of the rivers here. A competent fly fisher will delight in the variety of water to fish, the range of tactics to be deployed and the number/size of the trout. Your typical day on a limestone river will throw up may be a dozen trout between 8 and 14 inches. Trout grow to 5 or 6 pounds and some even bigger! You will most likely have miles of river to yourself. I consider the limestone rivers of the west of Ireland to be a hidden gem and well worth the effort. Even for you dyed-in-the-wool lough lads and lasses, packing a set of river gear when you come over gives the option of a day on the streams if the loughs are ‘off’ or the weather is against you. Tackle wise, your favourite 4 or 5 weight set up will do just fine.
Sea anglers have been coming to Ireland for decades now. The surf beaches of Kerry drew them here as far back as the early ‘60’s. Sadly, our sea fishing is but a shadow of what it used to be. I don’t think I can in all honesty recommend you come here for a sea fishing holiday based solely on catches. By all means come for the experience. The craik after the day out, the hospitality and wonderful scenery are still the same as ever but there are less fish around than of old. I used to come to Ireland on holiday back in the ‘70s and ‘80s when catching 3 or 4 rays, dozens of wrasse, buckets full of mackerel and pollack were the norm. Now we rely on dogfish for most of our sport. The odd ray still puts in an appearance too. Until the overfishing off the west coast is addressed (don’t hold your breath) the situation is not going to change.
The English and European coarse anglers found Ireland to be a paradise many years ago and until the pandemic they made their way to the midlands every year. The small towns in the heart of Ireland rang with the voices of French, Italian and English visitors as they spent a couple of weeks in late spring or summer fishing the lakes for bream, roach, tench and pike. Please come back when you can! With only a handful of commercial coarse fisheries in the whole country this is primarily wild fishing and it can be exceptionally good. I am only a beginner at this branch of the sport but the experts make impressive catches. Regarding tackle, what you use at home will work here. Maggots and worms are by far the most popular baits. Once again though, it not just the fishing which makes it so attractive to come here. The soft Irish weather, the stunning greenery of the country, the friendliness of the locals. There is something unique about rural Ireland, something which endures despite the changes wrought by modern times.
So what is putting you off coming to Ireland on a fishing trip? You have probably heard it is expensive. Well it is! Yes, the cost of living is very high here, nothing is cheap. Living here you become used to it and don’t bat an eyelid at the ridiculous prices charged for everything. Hotel accommodation is very pricy. B&B’s offer slightly better value. Camping has never been a big thing in Ireland so there are only a few campsites around. Eating out is expensive too so you need to budget for that as well. I can’t gloss over it, you will have to pay a fair bit to holiday here but the experience is so unique I think you will find it worthwhile.
Bring good waterproofs with you. It does tend to rain a lot here so pack accordingly. Make sure your travel insurance is up to date as the cost of healthcare should anything go wrong while you are here is incredible expensive. This especially applies to UK visitors who are so used to the wonderful NHS they find it a terrible shock to be presented with a huge bill after an unplanned visit to an Irish hospital. The question of hiring a ghillie needs to be discussed. It is a considerable expense to hire a ghillie for a whole week. Normally a ghillie can be had for around €100/€120 per dayplus a tip. He/she will know the water you are fishing like the back of their hand, will help with setting up your tackle, control the boat on the drift and selecting the right flies. They handle the boat and help out at lunchtime. It does not sound like much maybe but as someone who ghillies from time to time I can assure you it is a hard days work. My personal recommendation is you hire a ghillie for one or maybe two days, you will learn a lot and be more confident if you go out on your after that. Over the years I have seen time and time again days when the boat with a competent ghillie catches fish while the other boats (with excellent anglers on board) come in dry. I think I need to add that the picture of old fashioned ghillies has receded into the mists of time. Gone are the days of a curmudgeonly old man in tweeds who tells you what to do and woe betide if you don’t do his bidding! All the ghillies I know are knowledgeable, friendly, helpful and, above all, expert anglers.
There are good tackle shops in most towns and cities so please avail of them. Spending a few Euro in them helps to keep them going (we have lost many over the last few years). Prices are maybe a tad higher then you are used to paying but it is nice to have a piece of tackle to take home from your trip here.
These days it is easy to do all the research necessary to find the right place to come. Blogs like this one, YouTube videos, endless publications all contain valuable information which will allow you to plan your trip. Take your time and plan so you have some alternatives if your chosen fishery(s) are not doing well. I used to make sure I had at least one day off from the fishing during a holiday, time to re-charge the batteries and have a look around the locality.
My apologies if I am sounding like I work for the tourist board! The lockdown has deprived us all of things we took for granted and it seemed to me that losing our annual influx of anglers from abroad has been a major loss. When travel restrictions are lifted, and they surely will be eventually, I urge you to consider a trip to Ireland. A warm welcome awaits you here.
A cold start to the day so I am in the spare room which is filled with my fishing gear, sorting out some tackle for pike fishing which I hope to indulge in next week. Hot mug of coffee steaming in my hand, loosely organised chaos around me. School run traffic snarls along outside, the big white buses bringing the children in from the countryside. A normal late autumn day, well what passes for normal during lockdown. I had been tying some flies earlier in the week so there are packets of feathers and fur to be tidied away before I can pack a bag with the smaller items for piking. That got me thinking about the ancillary items we all bring along on a day’s fishing and how much of that we really need. My wide ranging angling exploits mean I am worse than most when it comes to carting a selection of bits and bobs around, usually on the basis that I ‘might’ need them.
We all carry too much gear with us when we go fishing. It is just a hazard of the sport. Here are some of the small items I have secreted about my person when I head off with rod and line. As you may have read before in other posts, I wear 4 different waistcoats for various types of fishing. One is for river trouting, another for salmon fly fishing. Then there is one for coarse angling and yet another for shore fishing. The smaller items listed below lurk in one or other of these waistcoats. The bigger items are in the different bags or boxes which I bring along.
1. Tools. As someone who fished the big Irish loughs with old outboard engines I routinely set off with a tool kit in a bag just in case of a breakdown. Over the years this got me out of a few scrapes and also allowed me to help other anglers who had broken down. Now the proud owner of a decent engine, I still bring with me the small tool kit which came with the Honda. These basic tools all live in a small pocket in my lough fishing bag. I know where to put my hand on them in an emergency but I hope to never need them in anger. In the same pocket live a spare spark plug and a couple of spare shear pins.
A pair of heavy pliers lurk in the bottom of my bag too, handy for pulling out a stuck thole pin or other heavy jobs.
2. Knives. I carry around a small blue Swiss army type knife in my pocket all the time. Then there is a pocket knife in the bag. When I am sea fishing I bring a filleting knife too so I can deal with the catch at the water side.
3. Lighters. For obvious reasons. There is a wee metal tin with a couple of firelighters too for firing up the Kelly kettle.
4. Hook removal. All sorts of disgorgers depending on what I’m fishing for. Cheap plastic ones for removing tiny hooks from the mouths of roach and perch. Forceps for fetching flies from trout or salmon. A hefty ‘T’ bar for when I am out at sea and a proper disgorger for the pike.
5. Priests. It is rare for me to retain fresh water fish but I keep anything edible from salt water. An ancient chair leg with some lead in the business end lives in my sea fishing box. A small metal priest fashioned from a length of stainless bar by a papermill engineer 40 years ago comes with me when shore fishing.
6. First aid. When messing around with hooks and knives it is inevitable you are going to break the skin on your hands at some point so I carry a few plasters with me.
7. Towels. Discarded dish towels are handy to tuck away in the bag. Game angling is not too dirty but sea fishing is a filthy business and I am forever washing and wiping my hands after cutting up bait or handling slimy fish. Mixing ground bait when I am coarse fishing means I am constantly cleaning up afterwards too. Helen has commented on the impossible task of finding a dish cloth in the house, there may just be a correlation with my fishing!
8. I mentioned thole pins earlier, I always have a couple of spares in the bottom of my bag. My own boat has fixed pins but I sometimes borrow a boat from friends and they may or may not have pins. To be at the side of the lough, the boat fully loaded and engine fixed on only to find you don’t have any pins is the very height of frustration. I know because it has happened to me not once but twice! Lesson learned the hard way.
9. The small boxes of ‘bits’. Spare hooks, swivels etc. live in a wee plastic box which in turn lives in my waistcoat. In fact, I have two of these wee boxes, one for game fishing (link and barrel swivels, treble hooks etc) and another one for coarse fishing (shot, pop up beads, float caps, leger links etc).
10. Clippers, nippers and scissors. I like those retracting zingers and they festoon my waistcoats. On them are various nippers and other implements for cutting line.
11. Hook sharpeners. A small stone comes with me when I am fly fishing in case a killing fly loses its sharpness. In other forms of fishing I simply change any hook which becomes dull or gets damaged but I am loathe to change a fly that is working. A few strikes with the stone soon returns the point to full use again.
12. A roll of electrical tape, a couple of safety pins, a needle or two, some cable ties. At different times and for different reasons all of these have proved useful and for the small amount of space they take up I always have them stowed away in a bag or waistcoat pocket. I once used a safety pin to replace a tip ring on a rod which I broke while fishing. It was not pretty but it allowed me to keep fishing for the rest of the day. Likewise, I cable-tied my reel on to a beachcaster when an old Fuji reel seat broke one night years ago. Just recently I used a cable tie to attach a thin rope to a winch on someone’s trailer. They take up very little space and weigh next to nothing so I will keep a few tucked away, ‘just in case’.
13. A bucket. Yep, a cheap and nasty plastic bucket which used to contain paint. Battered and bruised it has served me well for years and while it lacks in any atheistic beauty it performs numerous functions for me. Primarily it is for baling water out of the boat. Then I chuck any loose odds and ends into it while afloat. When coarse fishing I use it to hold water scooped from the lake or canal which in turn is used to wet ground bait and to wash my hands in. When shore fishing it is used to transport smelly bait to the mark and then take the catch home with me. Maybe I should invest in one of those branded buckets but I can’t bring myself to agree it would do these jobs any better than my old 10 litre job.
14. A spring balance. Here is where I have to hold my hand up and say this piece of kit is literally NEVER used. I hear you cynics out there saying that is because I never catch anything worth weighing and there is a modicum of truth in that observation. Be that as it may, even when I do land a good fish the exact weight is of absolutely no interest to me what-so-ever. Records, PB’s and all that stuff are for others. I am happy just to see a good fish then pop it back in the water with as little fuss as possible. It is a very nice brass spring balance mind you, a lovely thing to own even if it is redundant.
Written down, this is an extensive list and I am sure I have missed out other things. The big question is do I need all of this junk? There is no clear cut answer in my book. Some things, such as the tools for the outboard engine are really safety items and as such are a necessity for me. Others are less clear. ‘Needing’ an item is too general and to me it more a question of does the tool add to my angling pleasure? I can just about bite through lighter lines for example but a pair of clippers is much neater and easier for me. Do I need clippers and scissors – probably not but I find the scissors are better for dealing with heavier lines.
I am a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde I suppose. When fly fishing rivers I only take what I can carry in my waistcoat pockets. But when boat fishing I take the bloody kitchen sink with me!
The school run has eased off and it is quiet outside now. Chaffinches are squabbling in the garden. No sign yet of the winter visitors like redwings or fieldfares. Today is the say we learn if the lockdown restrictions will reduce to level 3 or not. Fingers crossed they will and that I can get out pike fishing next week. As you can see, I am all prepared!
There is a box or rather a few boxes and some bags, of bits for old reels. This treasure trove lies in the corner of the fishing room and every now and again I take a notion to investigate the contents and see if I can fix up some of the sad old winding mechanisms. Today was one of those days.
I have hundreds of bits for old Winfield multiplier reels in the boxes. In amongst the jumble I found what was basically a whole ‘Surf caster’. Back in the ’70’s these were about all I could afford so between the reels I bought then and various bits and pieces I have found over the intervening years there are a lot of parts of reels. I fiddled about with it for a while, swapping out parts or just making sure they were the right bits to start with.
In the end I had a reel which was complete but still didn’t work. The spool didn’t want to turn and if it did it made a horrible noise. The gears were OK, I had checked them out and they were fine. In the end I figured out that the clicker on the side plate was broken and this was jamming the spool. A frantic search of the boxes failed to reveal a spare side plate. What to do?
Then it struck me, in a polythene bag somewhere in the boxes I had bits for Bass fisher reels. I was pretty sure both reels shared the same end plates, the only difference being the sticker on the outside. Sure enough, when I found the Bass fisher parts and compared the end plates they were indeed identical. It was the work of minutes to swap the end plates and bingo! The reel worked perfectly.
A small victory perhaps but I now have a nice old reel which will live in the boot of the car for use in emergencies. We are just at the beginning of 6 weeks of lockdown here in Ireland so any positivity is welcome and a bit of lateral thinking allowed me to bring a sad old reel back to life. I confessed to feeling a little bit chuffed this evening!
It took me long enough but I finally got around to tidying up that old Atlantic 484 beachcaster which has been lying around in the fishing den. This rod was never going to be returned to pristine condition, it simply had too much abuse over the years from previous owners. No, I bought it knowing the best I could do was make a usable rod but one which was always going to look second rate. I don’t mind that, all my gear gets well used and none of it is in showroom condition. I buy tackle to use, not to look at.
I remember when these rods first appeared and the stir they caused in the shore angling fraternity. Until then, beachcasting rods had a through action but the big Atlantics changed all that overnight. These very stiff rods had a flexible tip and were designed to cast long distances. In the right hands they could chuck leads a prodigious distance and they became the ‘go to’ rod for the best shore anglers and everyone wanted one. Thing was, they were very expensive and were well out of the range of normal Joe Soaps like me. I recall one of the lads I knew, Ally Shewan, bought one and I was so envious! He was the best caster I knew before he got that 484 but he could blast a bait for incredible distances with his new Swedish rod. Time moved on and the competition learned from ABU’s designs and overtook them with some amazing, powerful rods. Anglers on the East coast of England developed new casting techniques, new, thinner yet stronger lines became available and the whole shore fishing game moved to a higher level. I never dedicated myself to learning to distance cast, where I fished a 100 yard lob usually put you in amongst the fish. I guess I am just lazy that way.
My own venerable pair on Conoflex’s, rated for 4 and 6 ounce respectively, have served me well since the early eighties and are still going strong. This 484 will be my back up to those old warriors.
It was not pretty, I grant you. As bought, the rod sported a range of different cheap rod rings, each whipped on by multiple turns of different coloured threads. Great blobs of what seemed to be boat varnish covered some of these whippings. In some places the original gold/brown flecked thread could be found, badly frayed or broken. All the metalwork was corroded due to not being washed down after use in salt water. In short, the rod was a mess. Most of the issues could be fixed though and I would end up with a good spare beachcaster.
A visit to Frank’s shop in town provided me with a set of rings and a spool of pale gold silk. Finding the lovely old gold/brown flecked silk was going to be impossible so I plumped for the pale gold as it would go well with the dark brown blank. I was also going to add some gold highlighting here and there to try and make it a little bit prettier. I had planned to pair the rod with a multiplier so it was going to be ringed accordingly. Twenty odd Euro changed hands and I had all I needed to fix the rings. Frank’s shop was busy and he told me he was fortunate because he would be allowed to remain open for business as a large part of his clientele were farmers (he sells wellies and waterproofs to them).
Back at home I started work on the rod by removing the old whippings from the butt section. I counted three different threads, all of them in terrible condition. The horrible cheap butt ring was removed and discarded and then it was time to carefully scrape the old varnish from the blank where the whippings had been. A scalpel, wielded slowly and oh so carefully, was my tool of choice for this task. Once the butt section was done I moved on to the tip. Removing each ring and cleaning up the mess underneath took about 20 minutes for each one but it was time well spent. Then I could start whipping each new ring into place. A small piece of electrical tape stuck one leg to the blank and the alignment checked before starting the silk for the other leg. The waste end was cut off once the binding had a few turns. Before the whipping was finished I introduced a loop of brown thread which would be used to pull the waste end back under the turns. Check the alignment again! Now removed the tape and bind the other leg to the blank in exactly the same way. Repeat for all seven rings. Then the tip ring had to be glued in place with some hot melt. I added some other whippings at the handle and the ferrules too. The whole lot then needed coats of varnish to finish them off.
The metal parts on the rod were in poor condition and needed to be cleaned up. These rods had unusual metal locking ferrules and metal reel seats. To remove the surface corrosion I mixed some salt and white vinegar then applied his to the metal, using an old toothbrush to rub it in. Next, I made up a paste of bicarbonate of soda and applied this to the metal. Finally, I washed the metal parts down with fresh water and dried them off thoroughly, buffing them to an acceptable finish. A drop of WD40 on the threads finished it off. Look, the metal is never going to be perfect but it is strong and the surface corrosion has all gone.
So was it worth all the effort? I have to say yes, it was. I ended up with a very serviceable rod which I hope to use for many years to come. Good examples of this rod are still on the market and typically command around €100 for a decent one. The 484 is very powerful and can cast a wide range of weights so it can be put to many uses. Since I don’t do any beach fishing it will see action off piers and easy to reach rock marks. It’s good to know the old rod will be catching fish for me instead of ending up in a skip.
I suspect it says something about me that I get more pleasure from rescuing an old piece of fishing gear rather than buying something new. Not sure if that is a good or bad thing though! I don’t want to sound too weird but there is a feeling of ‘connection’ with inanimate objects which have been brought back to use. In this world of throw away objects I like to buck the trend. My old ABU rods and reels from the 1970’s and 80’s were superbly engineered and made to last. How many of the rods and reels produced today will still be fully functional in 40 or 50 years time?
The newly completed rod will have to wait for its first outing. In all likelihood it will be next summer before I give it a try but that’s OK. Once we get out of lockdown and return to some sort of ‘normality’ I hope to do some shore fishing as part of my attempt to catch a fish in each of the 32 counties. The old 484 will surely accompany me on those trips.
First things first, you need to get the pronunciation correct. ‘Purteen’ is said ‘Purcheen’.
Purteen lies on the south coast of Achill Island, a small fishing harbour, home to a few small boats that ply the near waters on the fringe of the Atlantic. It is usually busy with tourists during the summer but of course this year there were none so life was very quiet out there in 2020. Achill is very beautiful in a desolate sort of way. It has known many hard times and life there has never been easy. Scraping a meagre living from the hill or sea was the lot of the islanders for countless generations but these days it is the natural beauty of the place which draws visitors and their money. I guess that I very lucky in that even in lockdown I can remain within my county and still visit such a magical place.
A spell of calm weather tempted me to try my luck, even though it is very late in the season. I hoped there might be a few stray Mackerel hanging around or maybe a few small flat fish. It has been many years since I last cast a line from the harbour but I remember two salient points, the horribly rough ground off the end of the pier which swallows tackle and the huge shoals of mullet that came in with the rising tide. Regardless, it was a chance to get some fresh, salty air and admire the views. I looked out a couple of rods and packed a bag.
Bait, the never-ending problems of procuring the damn stuff. I had some Mackerel in the freezer as well as some very old and fragile sardines so they came with me on the journey west. I would have preferred worms as bait for the flatties but digging them around here is the devil’s own work. Slivers of fish it would have to be.
The harbour itself has a skinny outer wall which is difficult to fish from because it is so narrow. In anything but a flat calm it is too dangerous to walk out on. There are three inner piers, short, stubby affairs which dry out at low water. This is very much a high water mark so I planned on getting there to fish up the rising tide and down the first hour or two of the ebb. The rocks to the west of the harbour can be fished too but again, the bottom is incredibly rough and tackle losses will be high.
I was a bit early in leaving but thought the slow drive would ensure I arrived about the right state of tide. No, I was to early and the water was still very low in the harbour so I took my time and had some coffee before tackling up. There was a stiff wind blowing so I parked the car in such a way that I could get some shelter from it and this worked out really well for me. Frequent showers throughout the morning caused me no undue stress as I simply ducked under the open tailgate of the motor. I baited up and cast out but each throw had the same result, stuck in thick weed. I kept at it as the tide rose but all I landed was one minute Pollock.
A small boat left soon after I arrived and I greeted the fisherman with a wave. He returned after a couple of hours and after tying up he hailed me over and gave me some fresh mackerel and a pair of coalies. We chatted for a while about the state of the fishing and life in general then I let him get on with his work of sorting out the catch which consisted mainly of Huss from what I could see. More casting, more weeds, no bites.
The day was not going according to plan at all so I decided to change venues. Packing up I drove back the way I had come and then turned off on to the narrow road to Cloughmore. It was nearing high water by the time I was set up and the bait was in the water. I could see lots of sandeels shoaling in the water at the foot of the pier so I set up a spinning rod with a set of tiny feathers and proceeded to catch about a dozen. These will be frozen for bait.
I hooked a much bigger fish on the feathers but it shot straight under the pilings of the pier and stuck me fast there. I snapped the main line trying to free the hooks. My guess it was a mullet which I had accidently foul hooked because I have had them pull the same trick of shooting under the pier at this mark before. A shoal of small Pollock arrived and made life interesting for a short while but they soon moved on again.
The beachcaster was getting constant nibbles but I am sure they were just crabs, a persistent nuisance at this mark. Eventually I had a good solid bite and lifted into a small fish which turned out to be a lovely small female Corkwing Wrasse. She was only lightly hooked so I slipped her back into the water with the minimum of fuss after a quick snap. Heavy showers came and went with warm sunshine between them but the fishing was slow to say the least. In the end I packed up and headed home.
The fishing around Achill used to be some of the best in Europe but today it is a shadow of what it was. I first fished here nearly 40 years ago and the marks were alive with fish back then. Descent sized Pollock were a nuisance and any bait left on the bottom for more than a few minutes would be snaffled by a dogfish. Big wrasse, huss and coalies were easy to catch. The beaches were home to rafts of flounder and dabs. Making the effort to reach deep water rock marks could result in huge fish. Now there is very little left for the angler. I read some of the advertising blurb from IFI and the tourism people about the wonderful fishing on the island but to be blunt they are telling lies. Achill is beautiful and sad but there are hardly any fish left for the angler.
Some of you may be wondering what I would do with the coalies? I make fish cakes with them, the strong flavour they have fits well with the potato. Don’t be put off by the grey-ish flesh, it turns pure white when cooked. Remove the flesh from the bones and skin. Place in a saucepan and cook in milk with salt, pepper and bay leaves. Remove the bay leaves, drain and mix with an equal quantity of mashed potato. Divide into balls and flatten them into thick patties. Coat in egg them breadcrumbs and shallow fry until golden.
I took a few minutes to swap the standard handle on my old Ambassadeur 6000C for a shiny new power handle. I really like these bigger handles, they are so much nicer to use in the cold and wet which are so common here, especially early in the season.
The task itself is very easy, just take off the old handle and the new one should fit straight back on. I say ‘should’ because there are some power handles out there on the market which claim to fit Ambassadeurs but they don’t. It is a case of buyer beware.
The advantages for me are the bigger and more comfortable knob which sits in my hand perfectly and the greater cranking power you can get because the handle is longer. Winding seems to me to be smoother as well, I am guessing because of the counterweight on these handles.
The job went perfectly today and the reel is now ready for the new season (whenever the water recedes enough!)
New power handle fitted
This isn’t the first power handle conversion I have done, I have also fitted them to my 10000CA and the 7000C. I am now thinking of swapping the standard size double paddle handle on my 6500C as well.
Having decided that I will tackle trying to catch a fish in each of Ireland’s 32 counties I now need to sit down a begin planning the whole thing. This is going to be a large part of the fun, just researching various places to fish a figuring out what I need to use, how to get there etc. The good old internet is a wonderful tool for searching out potential fishing spots There may not be a huge amount of detail on most websites but there is often enough to whet the appetite and encourage some deeper inspection via phone calls or emails. Perhaps in pre-internet days it was more fun just turning up somewhere and hoping the fishing was going to be vaguely like what you expected. Nowadays we can be much better prepared and forearmed by a few quick taps on the keyboard.
I started by listing all 32 counties so I could get a feel for where my travels are going to take me. I was a bit taken aback my my near complete lack of knowledge of so many of them! I honestly thought I knew more about Ireland than it appears I do. Here is how I summed each county up in one line:
Northern Ireland (Ulster)
Far north, rocky coastline. Looks out on Scotland
Northern Ireland (Ulster)
Hundreds of lakes, pike fishing paradise
Long coastline, Cliffs of Moher
Huge, famous for the sea angling
Northern Ireland (Ulster)
Unknown to me
Northern Ireland (Ulster)
Belfast, Mountains of Mourne
City, industrial, canals
Northern Ireland (Ulster)
Rural, lots of lakes
The Corrib, shallow coastal waters
Landlocked, commuter towns
Known for its hurling not its fishing
No coast, not much fishing as far as I know
Coarse fishing around Carrick upon Shannon
Heart of the midlands, lots of coarse fishing
Border county, river Fane
Western lakes, river Moy
The grand canal
Rural, also lots of lakes
Central location, no salmon
Mainly coarse fishing
Northern Ireland (Ulster)
Suddenly, the enormity of my task is laid out before me. Gaps in my understanding the size of the grand canyon have opened up before my eyes and completion of the 32 seems unattainable. Where do I even begin. My embarrassingly skimpy knowledge of some (most) parts of the island needed to be addressed if I was going to achieve my goal. I couldn’t set off for the far flung corners of the Ireland without some better understanding of the different places I hoped to visit. I have now given myself a target to read up about each county before I visit it.
West Cork landscape, I will save this for next year
Getting the first one under my belt is going to be tough. March is usually the beginning of my angling year but it would be nice to have bagged one or two counties before then to set the ball rolling. Some possibilities include trying for whiting and coalfish from Glassilleun beach in Co. Galway or maybe a pike from one of the lakes in Leitrim or Monaghan. There used to be great bass fishing in Kerry in January but I think that fishery has all but collapsed these days, so the huge journey there and back would be a very risky objective.
I’ve never fished Glassilleun beach despite its close proximity to the mark on Little Killery which I fish regularly. That’s because the beach itself is a very popular spot for tourists, walkers and others during the summer. The small car park is normally thronged and romantic couples, boisterous dogs while Japanese tourists roam the golden crescent of sand in all weathers. I don’t blame them, it is a lovely spot with grand views out to sea. Night time during the winter is the time to fish here, in biting winds with a sea running. Then the whiting come close to the shore looking for food which has been loosened from the sand. Importantly, it also the best time to avoid the holidaymakers and dog walkers.
Glassilleun beach, Co. Galway
So unless a better idea pops into my head I am planning on targeting Glassilleun beach in January next year to kick off the 32 project. In between now and then I’ll keep my ear to the ground in case I hear of anywhere else that happens to be fishing well.
When I look at the literature about traces for dogfish I see only very basic rigs mentioned. A simple, plain ledger, either fixed or running is all that I ever read about but here in the West of Ireland we take our doggie traces much more seriously. In this post I will discuss the different traces we use and the reasons why we think we need so many.
So what are we talking about here? Very simply I am going to go over the traces I use when fishing for Lesser Spotted Dogfish, both from the boat and the shore. You can and do pick up doggies on all sorts of bottom gear but there are occasions when you may want to specifically target them and it is the end gear for those times I am writing about. Let’s dive right in with boat traces first.
The basics. Some anglers like to use paternoster type traces but I prefer ledgers when targeting doggies. That leads us to the question of running or fixed ledgers? My personal preference is for a fixed ledger. This is because of the way a dogfish bites. When they pick up your bait you will feel that ‘rattle’ which is so easy to identify. I am guessing that this rattle on the rod tip is due to headshaking by the fish rather than a pick up/run which you get from some other species. I want the hook to find purchase as quickly as possible with dogfish and don’t feel the need to wait for them to run off with the bait – they will either have swallowed it or dropped it. A fixed ledger allows the line to tighten very quickly and hopefully help to set the hook. So for me it is going to be a fixed ledger set up. You can increase your chances by adding a second hook to the ledger on a short snood.
Line. My personal preference is to make the trace out of 30 pound Amnesia. This resists abrasion well and has good knot strength. I’ve used this for years and can’t say it has ever let me down. I do change traces pretty often, checking them frequently for wear and tear and replacing them when I see any damage.
3. Length. OK, this is where it begins to get messy because I vary the length of the ledger depending on how the fish are reacting on any given day. Between 3 and 5 feet is the range I would personally recommend for a single hook ledger. I make two hook ledgers another 18 inches longer to accommodate the second hook and snood. Snood length on the two hook version should be about 6 or 8 inches.
With longer traces it tends to become more difficult to register bites. Remember that you are trying to tempt and then hook fish which make a grab at the bait and swallow it quickly. An overly long trace is not going to be any advantage to you.
Hooks. Personal choice comes into it here. I like smallish hooks around size 1 or 2 but anything up to about a 3/0 will work. If you are missing bites or fish are dropping off on the way up then go to a smaller hook.
Visual attractors. Other angling writers don’t seem to mention visual attractors but in this part of the world they are a key element on any doggie trace. There are a number of different types of attractors in common use:
Beads are the most common and are almost universally used here in the west of Ireland. 8mm or 6mm are the common sizes and if you can think of a colour it has been tried!
Spinning blades such as those used on flying C lures are often used, placed somewhere in the middle of the string of beads. Colours vary through the whole range of silver, gold or copper but fluorescent yellows and oranges are especially favoured. The best way to mount these blades is to add small beads below them so they can spin properly.
Smaller, shiny plastic blades are very popular too. These are available in a wide range of colours and are often used in 3’s or 4’s mixed in with the beads.
cheap and cheerful, these blades add a bit more bling to the trace
Muppets! Yes, I kid you not, we sometimes use a plastic muppet in the middle of the beads too and this can work a treat. Once again, colours are in legion so you can go as crazy as you like. Position the muppet above the hook, not on it otherwise it will cover the bait.
Muppet in the middle of the red beads
Yellow and white is a good combination
Fl. Chartreuse is also a proven killer
Black and White bead – very popular and productive
red and white beads with a yellow blade
lime and black is often good
When it comes to traces for shore fishing for dogfish the same applies as for the boat except everything is scaled down a bit. Don’t add so many beads as the drag will seriously affect your casting distance. Also scale down the size of the beads you use with 6mm and smaller being a better choice.
Use a clip down system to make the rig more aerodynamic and thus aid casting otherwise it will flap about horribly in the air.
small red beads used on this shore trace
In use, I pick a trace to start fishing and if bites are slow I tend to try others as required. By using the set up shown it is on the work of seconds to un-clip one trace and put on another.
Storing traces is important as you will probably end up carrying around a number of different ones. There are lots of commercially available trace carrier systems but if you want to go down a different route you can make some up with discarded ends of pipe lagging. This works fine and is the most commonly used carriers in this area.
Hope that help you sea anglers a bit when out chasing doggies. To me they are a much under-valued fish who give sport on many days when nothing else is around.