sea angling, shore fishing

Lateral thinking

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 contents. 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?

A Bassfisher

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!

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sea angling, shore fishing

484 repairs

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.

surface corrosion, nothing too serious

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.

Before…
After

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.

The reel seat was seized solid and had to be carefully worked loose and cleaned up
It will never be perfect but the reel seat is now free from corrosion and working properly

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.

The kind of mark where the refurbished rod will be used, this is Broadhaven Bay in Mayo

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fly tying, shore fishing

Level 5

It comes as no great shock but it is never the less desperately disappointing that Ireland has returned to level 5 restrictions to battle the covid-19 pandemic. The harsh lessons of earlier this year were largely ignored by a sizable minority of the population and we are now all paying the price for their stupidity. In lieu of a holiday this year Helen and I had one night in Galway back in August and we were amazed and disgusted at the throngs of young ones gathered near the Spanish Arches. Hundreds of them with no social distancing at all, making a mockery of the hard work and suffering of the front line workers who had given so much to try and stem the disease. We are paying a high price now for their ignorance.

my long suffering partner, Helen

So what does this mean for Irish anglers? Basically we are screwed. No travel outside 5km from home means that unless you are lucky enough to live on the banks of a lake or by the sea you can’t go fishing. My planned autumn piking has been cancelled and a trip to Donegal to fish from the beach for flatties has also been called off. All that remains is to tie flies and carry out any repairs and maintenance on the gear. We have to hope that the situation improves sufficiently to allow us back to the water’s edge next spring. A blind person could see this coming and that was why I fished so hard during the months of August and September. I don’t feel guilty about that and enjoyed my trips coarse fishing, even if I did not catch any monsters.

So what jobs have I to do? For a start I have a load of small (size 16 to 20) spade end hooks for coarse fishing which need to be snelled and tied up as hook lengths. This is something I have been putting off for ages as I hate the nasty little job of snelling on such small hooks. I am OK with size 10s and the likes but the little fellas drive me around the bend. The only way I can do them is to put the hook in my fly tying vice so that I have both hands free to do the wrapping and pulling tight. Once tied, I’ll wind the hook lengths on to those foam rig winders ready for use. I want these for fishing single maggot for roach and rudd. I have grown to use a small bunch of maggots on a size 12 or 14 normally but I want to have the option of going finer to be at hand and not be fiddling with thin line and tiny hooks on the bank.

I have to clean and lubricate all my reels, something I do religiously every close season. Due to missing the months of April and May due to lockdown this past year a good few reels did not even make it as far as the water so there are only a small number which need attention. The fly reels in particular were barely used so a quick shine up and a few drops of oil will be all that is required in many cases.

If I can track down a set of good eyes and reels of whipping thread I will re-ring an old ABU beachcaster which has been sitting in the fishing room for a while now. It is a 484 and the poor old thing has been horribly mistreated by previous owners. She lost about three inches from the tip somewhere along the line but this doesn’t worry me too much. When you purchase a classic rod for a tenner you don’t expect too much! I want to get this particular rod refurbished because it can handle a wide range of casting weights, from 2 right up to 9 ounces. With (as yet vague) plans to fish the Limerick side of the Shannon estuary next summer the ability to switch from light to very heavy weights is useful given the tidal flows down there. The blank is good and with a bit of TLC I can make a very serviceable rod. I’ll pop down to Frank’s shop for a set of 7 rings plus a tip and some orange thread…………….

Think I can make a better job it than this!

Then there is the fly tying. I have a host of ideas for new patterns and many gaps in the fly boxes to fill so I will be kept busy at the vice for a number of weeks. I am thinking about stripping a large number of old salmon flys and reusing the hooks. these are mainly old doubles which I would have tied back in Scotland for use on the Dee and Don. I tied extremely simple patterns back then, a floss or tinsel body and some hair for a wing. That was it! They caught me loads of fish and would probably continue to do so but I fancy making some nice looking patterns just for the sake of tying them. I have tons of materials just lying around to be used up and so it makes sense to repurpose these old flies.

a very messy fly tying station

So there you have it, lockdown is a massive blow to the country and many people will be horribly affected. I will hunker down and catch up on the odd jobs which I have been putting off and get ready for what I hope will be a better year to come. Mind yourselves out there!

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Fishing in Ireland, sea angling, shore fishing

Achill for the day

A tale of two harbours

Purteen Harbour

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.

Cloughmore harbour

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.

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32, Fishing in Ireland, sea angling, shore fishing

32 – Introduction

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:

County Province short description
Antrim Northern Ireland (Ulster) Far north, rocky coastline. Looks out on Scotland
Armagh Northern Ireland (Ulster) virtually landlocked
Carlow Leinster Small, landlocked
Cavan Ulster Hundreds of lakes, pike fishing paradise
Clare Munster Long coastline, Cliffs of Moher
Cork Munster Huge, famous for the sea angling
Derry Northern Ireland (Ulster) Unknown to me
Donegal Ulster Rugged
Down Northern Ireland (Ulster) Belfast, Mountains of Mourne
Dublin Leinster City, industrial, canals
Fermanagh Northern Ireland (Ulster) Rural, lots of lakes
Galway Connaught The Corrib, shallow coastal waters
Kerry Munster Sea angling
Kildare Leinster Landlocked, commuter towns
Kilkenny Leinster Known for its hurling not its fishing
Laois Leinster No coast, not much fishing as far as I know
Leitrim Connaught Coarse fishing around Carrick upon Shannon
Limerick Munster The Shannon
Longford Leinster Heart of the midlands, lots of coarse fishing
Louth Leinster Border county, river Fane
Mayo Connaught Western lakes, river Moy
Meath Leinster The grand canal
Monghan Ulster Rural, also lots of lakes
Offaly Leinster Central location, no salmon
Roscommon Connaught Mainly coarse fishing
Sligo Connaught Lough Arrow
Tipperary Munster Lough Derg
Tyrone Northern Ireland (Ulster) Lough Neagh
Waterford Munster Munster Blackwater
Westmeath Leinster Sheelin
Wexford Leinster Bass
Wicklow Leinster Mountains

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.

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Fishing in Ireland, sea angling, shore fishing

Bank holiday action

It is a Bank Holiday weekend here in Ireland and after some strenuous chores in and around the house yesterday I had earned sufficient brownie points to head of for some fishing today. The decision on where to go and indeed what to fish for, was left to the last minute. In the end I plumped for Killery and we drove down the winding miles with a fair degree of optimism for the day ahead. This was despite fishing over low water and the lack of any positive reports there were fish in the area. Sometimes you just have to follow your gut feeling, don’t you?

I have to say that he weather forecast did not inspire confidence with heavy rain spreading to the west according to those who should know about such matters. Low cloud draped itself over the mountains all the way from Westport to the harbour, hiding the sunshine and adding to the sense of grandure. Tourists milled around the only street in Leenaun, most of them sensibly clad in brightly coloured waterproofs. Tour buses disgorged their cargo at the usual spots where the breathtaking views of sea and mountain are snapped again and again. A land of endless selfie opportunities. The rain started just as we turned off the main Clifden road and it steadily increased in volume as we wriggled along the narrow track to the edge of the sea.

The chosen mark is only one field away from the car park so even I could manage that short distance. The tackle box, which had felt relatively light when I stowed in the car at home now felt like a ton weight as I tramped through the sodden grass and thistles. On reaching the mark we found three other anglers were already busy with bait and lures. It quickly became apparent they had no success so far though.

Fellow anglers on the mark

I’ve fished here many times before and knew what the likely target species would be – rays and dogfish. That means big smelly baits fished hard on the bottom and we were suitably prepared for that with some frozen sandeels. I tackled up 2 beachcasters and got to work. Baits out, I poured myself a cup of coffee and waited. The rain got heavier.

As it turned out I didn’t have to wait too long. A sharp pull on the 4 ounce rod was the first indication of interest so I let the fish have some time and did nothing bar hold the rod and tighten up the slack line. Minutes passed before the second tug and the rod gave a few nods indicating the ray had actually taken the bait. Safely ashore she was unhooked and returned to the water with little fuss. Not a bad start! By now the rain had assumed monsoon like proportions.

The tide was dropping fast, exposing more and more of the rocks below us. There was still enough of a flow to keep the fish interested and a small LSD was soon brought to hand. The bite from these wee pests is very different to the slow motion take of the ray, more of a rattle than a bite. Minding my hands and keeping the tail under control so he could not wrap himself around my hand the hook was quickly extracted and he was put back into the sea.

OK, so not the best photo of a dogfish but you get the idea

Unbelievably, the rain got even heavier and we hunkered down with our backs to the weather. Bites were coming pretty much to every cast but the fish were shy and only nipping at the baits. To cut a long story short I managed another couple of dogfish either side of dead low water. The rain eventually cleared and blue sky peeped through the clouds for an hour or so. Ben took advantage of the improved climatic conditions to have a sleep on the grass. Unfortunately, the drier weather brought out the midges in force and no amount of Jungle Formula kept the little pests at bay. I was being eaten alive! Just as we were getting used to the nice weather (if not the midges) the sun was chased away by the next band of precipitation.

Like a baby in his cradle……………

It was decision time, the weather was closing in fast and it looked like it would turn nasty. On the other hand the tide was rising and there was every chance the fish would waken up and show more interest in our offerings. In the end we cut our losses and packed up, the rain hammering down on us by the time we had gained the track leading to the car.

Killery looks almost tropical in the brief spell of sunshine

All in all it had been a good trip with a few fish to show for our efforts. The much maligned dogfish had helped to save the day and this year above all others they have been a welcome catch with little else available to us anglers.

The rain was never far away today

The lesson for anyone fishing on the Mayo coast at the time of the year is to keep the bait firmly on the bottom. Dogfish are present in numbers and even if nothing more exciting turns up you can bank on the good old LSD to keep you busy. The other anglers who fished the same mark had no success at all but they were float fishing and spinning with large paddletails. Both methods are fine where there are big pollock close to the shore but this is a mark for bottom living species.

All of this rain means there is a chance of a grilse on the spate rivers tomorrow. I wonder how many brownie points I still have in the bank?

 

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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, 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, 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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