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

Forward thinking

With the season officially started I need to wrap my head around where I’m going to fish during 2019. Last season was a disaster for me so I need to think carefully about these plans to avoid yet more disappointment.

Some venues are just too special to ignore, so the likes of Lough Beltra and Carrowmore Lake will be on my hit list for the spring salmon fishing. I’ll admit that I am worried how many springers will actually return this year with already worryingly low numbers of fish around in both Scotland and Ireland. All we can do is hope and pray the fish have escaped the nets and pollution in sufficient numbers to populate our rivers and lakes once more.

Lough Cullin from Pontoon Bridge

Lough Conn didn’t fish worth a damn last year for trout or salmon so I will cut back my efforts there unless the fishing picks up considerably. The same applies to Lough Cullin which appeared to be devoid of life last year. Instead, I might turn to the River Moy for some sport. It is a river I used to fish and indeed one where I caught a number of salmon but I gravitated more to the loughs than the river for many years. Maybe it is time to enjoy the running waters again?

Fishing the fly through the Gub on the East Mayo Anglers water on the river Moy

My beloved local spate rivers were empty of grilse last summer so to prevent further heartbreak I am planning on skipping my normal trips to them in 2019, unless I hear reports they have recovered. I think that is going to be highly unlikely with the blatant netting which is carried out at the mouths of the rivers. I used to love fishing a fining spate and experienced some fabulous fishing in past years but, alas, these are only memories now.

Carr’s pool on the Bunowen

Then there is the river Robe, what do I do about the Robe? Again, the fishing was very, very poor last spring but conditions were bad. Low, cold water combined with non-existent hatches meant that normal fly fishing was severely curtailed in March and April. This year I will expect less from the river and only fish in good conditions when possible. I suspect I have become somewhat blinkered in my fishing and not spread my efforts widely enough. Less time on the Robe and more time on streams like the Glore or Pollagh may reap rewards this coming season.

The Pollagh flowing through the woods. It can be quite challenging to fish!

I am also toying with fishing some of the less well known waters around here too. The Castlebar river and the Clydagh are on my doorstep and both hold reasonable stocks of wild brown trout, potential targets for the odd free hour or two.

Pools and riffles, typical of the Castlebar River

I am also going to break a habit and enter one or two competitions this coming season. Not that I am expecting to win anything, nor am I in the least interested in any possible financial gain. I just feel ‘out of touch’ and miss the contact with good angling friends, most of whom regularly partake of the lively competition scene in the West of Ireland.

Start of a competition

There are other venues which I hope to try. Maybe an evening on Lough Carra for old times sake for example. Or a summer’s evening on the Keel (I hear it has been fished out but you never know…….). Then there is the sea angling which I’ve not even begun to consider yet. All in all it looks like a busy year ahead of me!

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

Getting ready

‘Tis the end of January and the time to prepare for the upcoming season is upon us game anglers in Ireland. I know that some early rivers opened weeks ago but for me and most of the lads I fish with the months of February and March mark the true beginning of another year on the water. In truth, I have been fiddling away all winter getting my tired old gear (both fresh and salt water) into better shape. There is something very satisfying about doing these small jobs, a feeling of pent up excitement mingled with the realism that previous poor seasons have beaten you down with. Hope springs eternal in the heart of every fisher. Here are some of the tasks which I have either completed or am still in the middle of.

fly lines hanging up

Rods have all been checked and any minor repairs such as re-whipping rings undertaken. With so little fishing done last season there were no issues on this front other than cleaning some muck and scales from the sea rods. I always give my rods and reels a good hose down with fresh water after a day’s sea angling but even still there seem to be scales and slime lodged in some nooks and crannies. The rollers on my boat rod also got a bit of lubrication while I was at it. The fly rods just required nothing more than a cursory wipe down as the rings, handles and reel seats were all in good nick.

Looking after reels is a big job when you own as many as I do. Regular readers will be aware that I have been re-building some old multipliers this winter, something I find deeply satisfying. I’ve also cleaned and lubricated all my other reels so they are fit for the rigours of the new season. I know that some anglers send their reels off to have this job carried out for them but I like to do it myself and it engenders a degree of confidence in my tackle if I know how they work and that I have the oil and grease in the right place (and in the right amount). Mine are all in fine fettle now and ready for the off next month.

Fly lines which had been unwound from the reels and cleaned in October are now being loaded back on to the self same reels, a laborious job punctuated by swearing at the not infrequent knots I seem to incur. I am thinking about investing in some new fly lines as most of mine are many years old now. The bewildering array of tapers and densities mean I have to do my homework first though. Why is fishing so complicated these days?

A big chunk of my winter evening were spent sorting out and fixing my unfeasably large collection of baits what with cleaning them and fitting new hooks and swivels. That task was completed a couple of weeks ago bar a few strays which keep cropping in in jacket pockets, old tobacco tins and other odd corners.

I also rationalised the boxes of baits so I know where most things are. The same went for the other small items such as swivels and hooks. Hopefully the unedifying sight of me tipping the contents of my bag out on to the bottom of the boat to track down missing items is not going to be repeated this coming season!

Speaking about the bags, I gave the various tackle bags a good clean and then reorganised them all. Fishermen’s tackle bags are akin to Pandora’s box, opening them up unleashes powerful forces, especially smells. When going through the contents of my old blue bag I found gear I’ve been lugging around for years which were never used, so a drastic reorganisation was called for.

I have owned my black shore fishing tackle box for a few years but have never really managed to organise it properly. It is either overloaded and unwieldy or spartan to the point where it contains nothing that I need. I can’t find that happy medium it seems. I’m now contemplating an internal modular system so that I can switch it around depending on what type of fish I am after on any given day. For example, there is no point in lugging float tackle with me when I am fishing off a beach. It needs more thought but I need to be better organised that I am just now. I must ‘7S’ my black box!

It looks OK in this shot but trust me, this shore fishing box is a perpetual disaster area

One change I am going to make this coming season is to carry a few made up leaders with me. This is a simple expedient to work around my failing eyesight and reduce lost time on the bank. Many years ago I was drifting the west shore of Lough Conn one May morning when I happened across some rising trout. Earlier that day I had tied on a leader from my bulging cast wallet. A nice sized trout walloped my tail fly and soon after setting the hook he jumped and the leader parted at the knot. Annoyed at myself for tying a shoddy half blood I tidied up the end of the leader and tied on another fly. Fish were all around me now and I placed the fly perfectly in front of a cruising fish a few casts later. The offer was accepted and a large wild trout set off at pace for the deep water close by. My smile faded quickly from my face when that fish snapped me too. Winding in a gave the leader a tug and it snapped like cotton thread. The nylon had aged in the years that leader must have been lurking in the cast wallet. Lesson learned, I vowed then and there to stop carrying made up leaders and I have stuck to that rigidly – until now. From now on, the simple expedient of scribbling a date on the cast carrier will let me know how old the leader is and when I should dispose of them.

Conn shoreline

The various fly boxes are looking a bit healthier now after some fly tying over the winter months. After a bit of rationalisation I was able to ditch two boxes that I used to take on trips to the rivers for trout. That still leaves me with six boxes though!

There is time yet to tie up a few more killer patterns and the only type I feel seriously under gunned is emergers. I’ll rattle up a few this week and have them ready for those exciting days when the fish are on the top of the water and flies are hatching. With a storm blowing outside and the windows rattling those balmy days seem a long way off. I will also tie up some shrimp copies for the trout. With so little in the way of fly life last year I will make more effort to fish deep with grammus patterns this time around. While I do a fair bit of deep nymphing I am planning a much more targeted approach with a greater focus on shrimps rather than stoneflys and empherid nymphs which seem to be in such short supply these days.

So while the days oh so gradually lengthen I will continue my making and mending, fiddling and foostering and generally edging my way towards the new season in the sure and certain hope that there will be some days in amongst the blanks.

The boat and engines need some work but I’ll go over them in another post.

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sea angling, shore fishing

Recycled reels

In a previous post I discussed my odd obsession for Winfield multiplier reels. I had a large bag of spare parts in a drawer which I have been meaning to investigate for a long time. Being on holiday now I had some time on my hands so I emptied out the bag and poked around to see if I could build a complete reel from the parts.

Because I am frequently messing about with old tackle I keep a tool box filled with the tools I need in the fishing room. There is nothing fancy in this box, just the usual range of screwdrivers, small spanners, punches and files but it is nice to have them all in one place so I know where everything is. The same goes for the assorted cleaning agents and lubricants.

There were a number of parts from old Bassfisher multipliers so I started cleaning them up and laid out all the good bits in order. One of the main drives was busted but the other one was in good condition after it was cleaned and greased. Frame parts were cleaned up using a bath of vinegar and scrubbed with an old toothbrush. I pepped up the vinegar by adding a couple of teaspoons of baking powder as this seems to speed up the process of removing the gunk. The cross bars had mostly shed their chrome finish but the brass underneath will cope with all I plan to use this old composite reel for. The end result, while far from perfect, is a serviceable reel.

The completed Bassfisher

Next, I attempted to make one reel from what appeared to be the parts of at least three different shore caster/surf casters. An end plate and drive had to be completely stripped and various parts replaced. The wrong screws had been used by someone in the past so that gave me a few headaches as I searched for the correct ones and cut down a couple of oversized screws to make up the balance. The drag didn’t work so that had to be taken apart and different washers fitted. The anti-reverse spring was missing but I had a spare so I popped that in.

There was no ratchet on the opposite end plate and this is a problem as the ratchet button is riveted in. I had a near complete end plate with a ratchet from a Surf caster and they are the same size so I used that instead. Once again, the finished reel was fully functional and will live in the back of the car as a spare in case of emergency. I will give them both a final lubrication and clean then spool some new line on to them in the morning.

Why bother? That’s probably what you are all thinking as you read this post. You can buy a cheap reel for a few Euro these days and I could have saved myself the hassle and cursing as I spent an afternoon messing about with the old bits of 1970’s reels. The thing is that I get enjoyment from little projects like this, making something useful from a pile of old junk.

The next day……………….

There was an elderly and much abused Woolworths levelwind reel in with the rest of my junk so I decided to try to resurrect this one too. There were obviously some parts missing and one end plate was badly cracked. The reel would barely turn and it emitted a horrible grinding noise when you did get the handle to turn. Removing the spool end float the cause of the noise became obvious. The cracked end plate had been allowing salt water directly into the bearing, causing the grease to emulsify and the bearing to dry out. The bearing was trashed.

Emulsified grease in the spool bearing

The ‘bag of bits’ came to the rescue and I had a near complete end plate and bearing assembly which I could simply swap into place. Cosmetically it meant the reel now had one side black and the other green but I am guessing the fish won’t mind a jot.

cracked end plate

Next I took a look at the drive and was horrified to see the previous owner had smathered the whole inside of the reel with thick red grease
(‘smather’ seems to be a west of Ireland word meaning to cover in excess). I needed lighter fuel and a bit of effort to remove the worst of this grease then I put the drive back together again.

Talk about over-greasing!!!
Despite the huge quantity of grease the bearing here is for the bin.

The level wind itself was also chocked with thick grease and required stripping down and cleaning. When I finally got it cleaned I found damage to the shaft so that had to be binned. Once again, I had a spare which popped right into place. Re-assembly was straightforward and in a few minutes I had a perfectly functioning reel.

the drawer full of old reels and the famous blue bag of bits
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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, sea angling, sea trout fishing, trout fishing

Why do we go fishing?

Many anglers and writers have addressed this question over the years but I thought I would chip in with my own thoughts on the matter. People who have never fished frequently fail to see what all the fuss is about and it can be hard for us anglers to articulate exactly what we see in our sport. The image of the dedicated angler, alone on the bank in all weathers, usually catching nothing or at best the occasional slimy, smelly fish are firmly stuck in the national consciousness. Anglers are seen as either working class coarse anglers, all maggots and flat caps or toffs with split cane rods and garbed in Barbour jackets. I personally don’t know anybody who fits either of those outdated stereotypes!

For me, fishing is about communing with the natural world. Being part of the natural order. Immersing oneself totally in a world older than our own. As a kid I used to think it was all about catching fish, bent rods and screaming reels. A blank day was a disaster and I fished very hard to avoid the ignominy of returning home fishless. The basic hunter gatherer was near the surface with me and I really loved the actual ‘catching’ part of the sport. That excitement when a good fish took the fly or bait was like a drug to me and the long, seemingly empty hours between those hallowed moments were the price I had to pay. Yet just under the surface there was an altogether deeper set of emotions which kept me returning to the river or sea. A longing to be immersed in nature. I strongly suspect this is a key driver in many fishers so let us examine this in greater detail.

the Claddy river before the dam

There are lots of pursuits which take us humans back into the natural world. Some of us live in the countryside either through choice or birth. Other work in the great outdoors, making their living on the seas or from the very land itself. For these people the countryside is the backdrop to their every day, they cannot help but be immersed in the ever-changing dramas of the natural world. For the rest of us, time in the countryside is usually at a premium. Let’s just take a moment to let that sink in – modern life has moved the vast majority of us humans into towns and cities and away from the natural world. We possibly experience nature more through the medium of television rather than first hand. Watching David Attenborough may be highly entertaining and informative but it cannot replace actually feeling the full force of nature. Angling brings us back to nature.

The recent upsurge in ‘urban’ fishing is to be applauded as it provides an introduction to angling for countless thousands of predominately younger, city dwelling anglers. I have never been drop-shotting on an industrial canal but it does look like fun. A world removed from my playgrounds like Lough Conn or the small spate rivers of western Ireland maybe but if it encourages young people to pick up a rod and try to catch a fish then it is no bad thing in my book. Does this negate my argument that it is the interface with nature that attract us to the water’s edge? I don’t think so as there is a common thread here – the water itself. Be it a rushing mountain stream or a concrete channel through an industrial estate, if there are fish swimming in it the water will always keep us anglers coming back. That natural element and all its mysteries is a world we only barely understand. The lives of our quarry and all the small creatures therein fascinate us. Nature, it’s all about nature.

There needs to be an acknowledgement that actually catching something is a huge driver when it comes to getting out of a warm bed in the early hours to brave inclement weather. A bent rod is always in the thoughts of any angler, that glorious moment when battle is joined with a good fish. The scenery suddenly fades when you set the hook, the glories of the natural world take a back seat until the fish is safely in the net. Yes, the catch is part of the picture. I am guessing that most anglers were mad to catch fish as youngsters and as the years roll by the need to catch a fish at any cost diminishes somewhat. Possibly the competition anglers buck this trend as they live for catching more than the other guys, but the majority of us lose that edge, that necessity of bringing the corpse of a fish home with us.

this one was around 7 pounds

A coloured fish about to go back

The advent of C&R shows us that the catch is not the main driver for us anglers. We still spend huge sums of hard-earned cash on the latest tackle, travel inordinate distances, brave inclement weather and then return any fish we do happen to catch back to the water unharmed. That all sounds like a definition of madness! Yet the basics of being a part of nature remain the same. The assault on our senses which accompany every fishing trip combine to provide experiences which resonate with something deep inside us. The push of a swollen river in spate, the high, blue skies of August, mysterious tangled vegetation, the stars shimmering over an October beach or the Atlantic swell under the keel. Evocative sights, sounds and smells which connect us with a common past, long-lost but still remembered.

Doo Lough

Of course there is more to it than just the reconnection with nature. The company of good friends, the craik, learning new skills, the joys of boat-handling and all the myriad other facets of our sport are part of the mix. You could sum it up by saying ‘its complicated’.

Boats at Cushlough

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Fishing in Ireland, sea angling, shore fishing

The wonder of Woolies

I hate shopping. I mean I really, really do hate shopping. There, it is out in the open and you can launch as much criticism as you like at me for my profound dislike of the retail experience. Freud would be delighted to know that I trace this back to my childhood and the trauma (OK, slight over exaggeration) of shopping on Union Street in Aberdeen with my mother. Three kids in tow, she would battle the Saturday morning crowds to get us new school clothes, shoes, football boots or whatever else we required. I simply could not fathom why it was so important to get the right thing, why there had to be so many items to choose from and why it took so long to complete the whole dreary exercise. To this day I hold all shopping in complete and utter contempt. Except for buying fishing tackle!

Woolworths on Union Street, Aberdeen

Funnily enough, the only high street shop I didn’t mind was Woolworth’s. Universally known as ‘Woolies’ (well, in Scotland at any rate) they were purveyors of what was probably best described as general goods and wears under the brand name ‘Winfield’. The Aberdeen branch occupied a prime site on Union Street behind one of those solid grey granite facades. It had a small section upstairs for fishing gear, so every family visit saw me shoot off up those wide stairs with the tiny mosaic tiles to examine the tackle in detail. Occasionally, pocket-money allowing, I’d purchase a packet of hooks or maybe even stretch to a small metal devon minnow. But it was the multiplier reels which I was always fascinated by. Way, WAY beyond the reach of my pre-teen pocket money, I still gravitated to them and always spent some time looking at and handling these inaccessible machines. They seemed to be so exotic and incongruous perched there in their Teal blue boxes on the shelves between haberdashery and baking/cake making. Shiny black side plates enclosed by glittering chromed rings, free spinning spools, the ‘clunk’ when the gears were engaged and those star drags that I had only ever seen in books.

By the time I was working and in a position to buy my own tackle I had become more circumspect and Woolies finest was disregarded in favour of ABU and Hardy’s. I moved away from the city, the shop in Union Street shutdown and the shiny multipliers therein were forgotten about. It was many long years later that somewhere along the line I bought some fishing junk in a second-hand shop and in amongst the various items of tat there was a big old Winfield multiplier. It brought a smile to my face but I had no thought of actually using it. Meaning to sell it on later, this old reel lay in the bottom of a drawer or in various boxes as I moved around different cities with work over the years. I’d unearth it periodically, give the handle a spin and chuck back into the box it came from. Then an odd thing happened, I came to buy a few other Winfield multipliers. It started off as just seeing a cheap complete reel or one which required repairs which could be bought for an insignificant price. Useful, cheap reels. Over the year though my resonance with these reels has grown and developed into an appreciation of these solid testimonies to Japanese manufacturing.

So what is the attraction of these old sea fishing reels? It is hard for me to put it into words because, at the end of the day, they are pretty agricultural in use. No silky smooth drag systems, no ceramic spool bearings or hi-tech anti-backlash brakes here! Winfield fishing gear was universally known as being cheap and not of particularly good quality but I am not sure this is the truth. The reels were good copies of the popular American Penn models of the day and were manufactured in Japan by the same company who built the Matchmaster and Chuyo reels. Over the years I have heard lots of tales of stripped gears and disintegrating spools which may or may not be due to bad technique in use or poor maintenance. I can only comment on Winfield multipliers as I have zero experience of any other Winfield reels (they were purveyors of fixed spool and fly reels too). To me the build quality was OK. Unsophisticated perhaps, but the materials used and the way they were put together was not bad for that era.

Woolies stocked a bewildering array of multipliers. Why they thought they needed so many variations beats me and it must have been hard to turn a profit out of so many stock lines. The minor differences between the surfcaster and the shore caster for example can hardly be described as significant yet both models were on sale at the same time. The one reel which stands out for me is the tiny Bassfisher. These are actually sought after these days and if you own one which you are not using you will have no trouble selling it on the second-hand market.

A drawer full of old Winfield reels

I have a couple of nice, clean Bass Fishers which are in great condition for 40-year-old reels. I also have a couple of somewhat battered examples which have obviously seen a lot of action in the past and I keep them for spare parts.  These reels have very narrow spools which mean you can brake them during casting by applying pressure to the inside surfaces of the spool as the lead flies out. Don’t imagine for a single minute that this means this reel is a good casting machine – it is not! These old reels were bereft of any sort of braking system beyond your thumb, so bird’s nests are not infrequent if you try to push for distance. But then again, this reel was not designed for lashing 6 ounces over the far horizon. It was meant for dropping a peeler crab or lugworm just beyond the third breaker, typically a gentle lob of 60 yards or so. Use it for that kind of work and you won’t be disappointed.

I’ve got a real soft spot for my Bass Fishers. Gloriously quirky, they are unlike any other reel I own. Yet they are strongly built for such small reels and I know that if I keep looking after them they will last for many more years. In an age where everything seems to be dumbed down so the user requires less and less actual skills my wee Bass Fishers demand a small degree of ability to use them properly. I like that. I enjoy mastering the physical learning process of handling the reel so I can cast with it without getting too many bird’s nests.

We don’t get a lot of bass around our part of the Irish coast here in Mayo. The odd one or two turn up in the summer and autumn but fishing specifically for them will entail lots of blanks! The old Bassfisher reels don’t get as much use as they should but I still like to give them a try on those occasions when I’m casting over roughish ground looking for anything that forages on the bottom.

All the reels in the original range of beachcasters had black side plates (I will call them mark 1 but there was no designation on them). These were replaced by reels clad in the much nicer green side plates (mark 2?). As far as I can make out the mechanics of the reels were basically unaltered and the side plate colour change was for cosmetic purposes only.

Shorecasters and Surfcasters were the same reel but with longer bars to give a wider spool on the Shorecaster. I use these as pier reels where nothing more strenuous than a lob of a few yards is required of them. The idea of a full-blooded pendulum cast with one of these is terrifying! They would make nice little reels for jigging for Mackerel from the boat and you can pick them up for a tenner on a certain well known online bidding site. I’d say the Shorecaster is the weakest of the Winfield stable due to the width or the reel. To my mind the Surfcaster is a better balanced reel given the design which is all screwed together. I use the Shorecaster with my venerable Milbro Monarch glassfibre rod for pier fishing.

Lord only knows where the ‘DB’ series fitted into all of this! Were they the forerunner of the surfcaster reels? I honestly don’t know but they were certainly available along with the others in the 1970’s and I have seen the odd one on the market. These reels are instantly recognisable because of the odd semi-circular thumb rest on them.

I want to emphasise to you the need to protect plastic spools on older reels. You can easily destroy old spools by not cushioning them effectively from the high compression forces of tightly wound nylon lines. By this I mean winding on the layer of compressible material first before winding on your mono or braid. I use cheap fly line backing, just running on about 3 or 4 layers of the backing then joining that to the line and continue to fill the reel as normal. Trust me, the few minutes extra and the small outlay for a few yards of backing will be worth it in the long run.

I don’t remember seeing this next reel as a child so it possibly came along later in the 1970’s or even ‘80’s. By then ABU had the shore multiplier market all to themselves with the exceptionally smooth and refined Ambassadeur series of reels. Winfield boldly took on the challenge by introducing a level-wind model. Sporting oddly shaped end plates which were strangely prescient of the ultra-modern casting reel in use nowadays, these level wind models don’t seem to have sold in big numbers as they are not common finds these days. I managed to make one out of a bag of bits which I bought for next-to-nothing online. Trust me, this was no major feat of engineering; the insides of the Winfield reels were simple and easy to understand. Thoughts to self: I must have a proper search through all the bits and pieces which were left in that bag, I might have enough to make a second Woolies level wind!

Buying broken reels or even just parts is something which has served me well over a lengthy angling career. These days it is much easier to source parts than it was in the past. There are specialist companies who deal in spares or upgrades for the most popular brands and even a cursory search online will yield a range of these businesses across the globe. It does begin to get expensive when ordering bits online due to the high cost of postage. Over the years I have picked up everything from complete reels, stripped down  and packed in old boxes right down to gear trains, end plates and handles sold separately. I guess it all depends on what you get enjoyment from – I’d rather repair a good reel and keep it running than rushing out to buy a replacement. The downside is the mass of bits and pieces which are in boxes in the fishing den. I have boxes upon boxes of parts for freshwater, shore and boat fishing reels!

Speaking of the boat, Woolies stocked a range of bigger multipliers for use afloat too. These were pretty robust affairs which, at first glance, looked identical to the Penn’s of that era. The shore reels all sported plastic spools but these were replaced with proper metal spools on the boat reels. Whether the internals were perfect replicas of the near-bulletproof Penn gear train is not certain. Again, there were Winfield boat reels in an impressive range of sizes. The International sized reels in 20, 30, 40 and 50 formats can still be picked up for a song on the secondhand market. The metalwork on the Winfield boat sea fishing reels all seemed to be heavily chromed and they do appear to be lasting very well if they have received a minimum level of TLC over the years. Even the best reels on the market will be reduced to a ball of rust if neglected and the simple job of a good rinse with warm water to wash of the salt takes only a few minutes after a trip but it will add years to the life of your reel. I’ve seen excellent reels like the big ABU 20’s and 30’s destroyed by salt just because the owners were too lazy to wash them in fresh water after use and keep them properly lubricated.

An International 50

I have a venerable ‘International 50’ (this was the first one I bought all those years ago) which suggests to me it was built to cope with 50 pound test lines and the rigours of heavy leads / tides / fish that go along with that class of reel. I don’t go in for the skate and shark fishing this reel was made for, I just happened to pick it up as part of a job lot of tackle and I use it sometimes for general bottom work. Having seen at first-hand how some modern reels fail utterly when out on the boat I think my old Woolies job is at least as robust as some cheap new kids on the block. I will admit to having doubts about my International 50 being up to hauling a barn-door of a skate up off the bottom of Clew Bay!

this is the 50 I am using for spares, note the missing reel seat screws

I was lucky to pick up another ‘International 50’ for use as spare parts recently for a few cents. The gears, side plates, drag and handle were all in good condition with just some of the smaller parts missing or broken. With luck I should be able to keep the good reel ticking over for many years to come.

Skipper-Darragh-McGee-lifts-Sean-Fahys-prizewinning-skate-aboard-the-White-Water-II-with-a-little-help-from-his-crew-480x319

Skipper Darragh McGee lifts Sean Fahys prizewinning skate aboard the White Water II in Clew Bay

Then there is the International 40 which I bought only this year. Senility must be creeping in because I have parted with cash for a reel that I do not intend to fish with. This reel has never seen the water and comes with the original box, instruction leaflet, oil and spanner. It is just too damn pretty to use! It’s like those reels I drooled over as a schoolboy a lifetime ago.

 

I have a Winfield boat reel badged the ‘Nautilus 30’ but I’m not sure if they came before of after the ‘International’ reels. Somewhere out there I suspect there lurks an avid collector who could tell me more about these reels but for now I will have to remain merrily ignorant. The Nautilus I own sports a metal spool and looks the same as an International of the same size. This reel is in poor condition and needs a total re-build. Once it is repaired it should hold enough line for the type of bottom fishing I do out in the bay. Another wee project for this winter!

nautalis-30.jpg

The Nautalis 30. Note the metal spool on this reel

Those of you long-suffering masochists who read my blog on a regular basis will already know that I have a certain penchant for using vintage (read – old) fishing gear. The link with the past, the better quality materials which were used, the ‘feeling’ you get using old rods and reels are part of me and how I approach this life. New-fangled contraptions are generally beyond me and so I stick to the gear I know well and have enjoyed using all my life. It’s not just fishing tackle this extends too – I could go into a showroom tomorrow and buy a new car if I so desired, but my trusty 17-year-old VW does me just fine, thank you very much! Like its owner there are too many miles on the clock, the bodywork is a bit tatty and it can’t reach top speed anymore. But it chugs along and so do I, each of us comfortable with the others foibles.

Earlier on in this post I mentioned stripped gears. To void this always ‘pump’ heavy loads instead of winding against them. This applies to weeds/rocks as well as fish. Reels are not built to withstand high pressures and the best of them will fail if you keep winding against a load. Lift the rod up high then lower it quickly, winding in the resulting slack line. Stop winding and lift the rod again. Keep repeating this until you have retrieved the line. If you are stuck on the bottom and can’t free the hook by pumping them give yourself some slack and wrap a cloth around your hand then pull until the hook frees or the leader breaks.

Talking of old shops in Aberdeen, who remembers this one?

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Fishing in Ireland, sea angling

Del Mar drag

A calm morning on the quay at Westport.

I can’t recall exactly how old this reel is. I do remember picking it up at a house clearance in Beith, North Ayrshire and even then it was attached to an elderly glass boat rod. Until this evening I had never separated the two. You see this unpretentious combo have been my Mackerel outfit for many’s a long year. I figured they would last me one or two seasons and then they would be consigned to the bin or I might strip the reel down for spares. I confess to treating them terribly, a quick spray with fresh water when I landed ashore after a day on the boat but nothing else. ‘Ah sure, I’ll get one more season out of them’ was my oft repeated motto. Each summer they had the cobwebs blown off them and I’d use them for the messy business of feathering Mackerel for bait. Covered in scales, slime and salt water they only ever received that short, cold blast of fresh water before being chucked, unloved, in a corner until the next trip.

So it was the same procedure this evening. I fetched the rod and reel in preparation for a trip out in the bay this coming weekend. As always, I spun the handle and tried pulling the line to see if the drag was still working. Nothing. Pull as I might that drag was absolutely solid. A frown wrinkled my forehead, the last thing I wanted to do now was strip down an ancient reel! I had in mind a glass of red wine and my feet up in front of the telly. But no, this task had to be done now.

So let’s get down to the basics. The reel in question is an old Penn Del Mar. These were workhorses of reels which were well designed and built. Penn’s suffer from poor metalwork in my opinion and the Del Mar was no different. The gears are very good and the metal spool means they handle any type of line with ease.

The drag obviously needed to to taken apart, checked and lightly greased if all the washers were in good condition. After removing the reel from the rod with the aid of  a big wrench (yep, that is how long it had been on there), I removed the screws from the side plate taking care to keep the shorter ones which secure the reel seat to one side. WD40 was required in liberal quantities to aid the removal of the screws.

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Next, I removed the handle and spun off the star drag. out popped the spacer which lives under the star drag

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The main shaft pushed out and I grabbed the tiny ratchet spring and kept it safe. With the main shaft on the bench the problem became obvious, the drag washers were seized solid into one mass of fibre and brass. It took some careful prizing to split the drag washers. Close examination showed the soft washers were still in reasonable condition for the kind of work I wanted this reel for. A light greasing of the washers was all that was required then they were put back on the shaft in the right order. Re-building was straightforward with just the positioning of that tiny ratchet spring to look out for (I put a blob of grease on the base plate and stick the spring into it). I double checked all the screws were tight and tried the reel – it all worked fine, including the drag!

So you are probably thinking why bother with the drag on a reel which is used for Mackerel fishing? The shoals of Mackerel can be found at any depth ranging from just below the surface all the way to the bottom. When you are feathering near the bottom you are just as likely to catch Pollock as a Mackerel so I want to be able to give line if I bump into a reasonable sized Pollock.

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Fishing in Ireland, sea angling, shore fishing

No macks

The pier at Roonagh is a favourite spot to fish and each summer I try to get over there to spin for Mackerel (macks). The great thing about Roonagh  is the views across to the islands, so even if the fishing is slow you can still be captivated by the ever changing vista.

the target………………..

Yesterday evening seemed to be a good one for such a trip. What constitutes optimum conditions for Mackerel? I much prefer calm seas and good water clarity. Mackerel hunt by sight so dirty water makes it harder for them to locate my lures.

Off we set and arrived to find the pier deserted – not a good sign! The word spreads like wildfire when the macks are in and the locals throngh the short pier, heaving strings of feathers into the sea. Trust me, venturing on to the pier when the fishing is at its height is not for the faint-hearted. The empty pier which greeted us was a clear sign the fishing would be tough.

Tackling up I decided to try a bait ledgered on the bottom as well as spinning, so the 4 ounce beachcaster was strung up and a sandeel cast out. Happy that everything was as it should be I turned to the spinning gear and perched myself in my favourite spot at the end of the pier. The old rythym of cast, snap back the bail arm, retrieve was repeated numerous times, each cast being completely ignore and shiny lure made its jerky way back to me totally unhindered by the fish.

Clare Island

Even as I had been tackling up my attention was drawn to a tiny boat out in the bay. It was too far out for me to be sure exactly what kind of craft it was but somehow it didn’t look ‘right’. As I was fishing the blue dot in the middle distance came a little closer and I could see it properly. Two men were fishing off of an inflatable dingy barely 12 feet long and with a freeboard which could be measured in millimetres. The sea calm enough for Clew Bay but even still there was a wave of maybe a couple of feet running. The bright blue dingy could be seen flexing in the middle with every wave which passed under it. I personally would not have got into that thing in a bath, never mind on the Atlantic! The closer the two anglers came the clearer I could see them and it became obvious they were not wearing life jackets. I was both stunned and angered in equal proportions, stunned at the stupidity  of not wearing life jackets but also angry that if they got into trouble the press would have been happily reporting two ‘fishermen’ were in difficulty. None of the fishermen I associate with would ever do something this foolhardy. Even the wash from the small ferry would have been sufficient to overturn that joke of a boat.

The beachcaster gave a languid nod, no more than that. Tightening up the line I could feel a very faint bite so I struck with an upward sweep of the 12 footer. There was a considerable weight on the end but not much of a fight as such. Out of the crystal clear waters emerged a mass of thick, brown weeds. Somewhere below a dogfish was wriggling so I hoisted fish and weeds on to the concrete. A lesser spotted dogfish, very dark in colour, had swallowed the sandeel. Far from the most exciting catch, he was none the less a welcome sight on an otherwise fishless evening. Unhooked, I lowered him back into the water and he swam off, none the worse for his adventure and probably thinking that was the last time he was going to eat a sandeel he found lying on the bottom!

At least I caught something!

We fished on but the macks were simply not there to be caught. Having failed to locate them on the north Mayo coast and now at Roonagh the next venue will be further south. Sunday may be a good day.

 

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