Fishing in Ireland, Pike, trolling

Lucky Strike

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

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

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

Removing the old split ring

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

 

The new, larger red tail

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

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

The Atom, in reasonable condition

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

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

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling, trout fishing

Oddball baits

I own a ridiculous number of old baits, most of which will, in all probability, never see the water. They dangle from racks on the walls of my fishing den, jostle for position in numerous tackle boxes or lie sedately on the bench awaiting refurbishment. Plain silver or gold ones, brassy and coppery ones, multi-hued creations or bright flourescent ones, they are all somewhere in my fishing collection.  I confess that just have too many lures and not enough time to try them all out. The vast majority of them are your bog-standard Toby and Rapalas, but there are a few oddballs kicking around in my collection. For those of you who share my passion for slivers of old metal and plastic here are some of yesterday’s baits that you may not be familiar with.

Tommy

The Tommy spoon is an unusual shape with a wee ‘lug’ on the end of one side which the hook is attached too. This off-centre attachment makes it wobble around in an unusual fashion, one which generations of fish must have found attractive as ABU manufactured and sold this spoon for a long time last century. They made the Tommy over a period of about 30 years from what I can gather which suggests to me that it must have been a productive bait for the anglers who invested in them.

Like so many other spoon baits the Tommy is scaled on one side. Does this make a difference? We will never know but the idea of mimicking fish scales appears to us to be a good move. It catches anglers even if it does not fool the fish. Manufacturers stamp the scales on the convex side of spoons for some reason. All Tommy spoons that I have seen also sport a thin red or orange strip along one edge on the concave side. ABU obviously thought this added to they spoons fish catching ability as they used it on a number of their products.

That off-centre wobbling motion could suggest an injured fish to predators. ABU made the Tommy in a wide range of sizes and colours, including the tiny ‘Lill’ version which weighed in at a paltry 7 grams. ABU made Lill versions of a host of different lures over the years, mainly for targeting smaller species like perch and trout. I have one only of the Lill Tommy versions in silver and gold. It is a bit knocked about but what else can you expect for a lure which is at least forty years old? I can’t recall having ever tried this one out in anger- maybe next year…………..

Then there is the big copper Tommy which came to me sans hook, sans swivel, sans everything except for the spoon itself, liberally coated in a layer of grime. Once cleaned up and re-armed it looks good and it should tempt the odd Pike on a frosty late autumn morning. My 30 gram copper one is at least 50 years old! I like the idea that it will still catch the occasional fish after half-a-century.

 

Torsjo (also marketed as the Daffy in America)

With its orange ‘fins’ on each edge this is an instantly recognisable spoon made by ABU. To me it looks like a very old design. I can’t imagine some hip young fella on his PC drawing the crazy outline of the Torsjo on a CAD programme. Was this spoon supposed to look like a small flat fish? Who can tell? The ‘fins’ on the edges don’t seem to impart any particular action that I can see but perhaps they act as some sort of stabilizer.

The Torsjo first made an appearance way back in 1949 and ran right through until 1972 when it was discontinued.

I have one all silver Torsjo which weighs in at 15 grams. Given its age, it is in good condition. My issue with this spoon is what is it supposed to be used for? I guess it would tempt a grilse but I am not 100% sure what else would grab it. If it was heavier I would use it in salty water but at 15 grams it is a tad too light for that craik. Sudden revelation: would the Torsjo be any good spinning for sea trout in estuaries? I am used to trying longer, thinner and heavier baits like the ABU Krill when spinning for estuary sea trout but maybe the Torsjo is an alternative?

An interesting aside is the influence of the Torsjo on the legendary Toby design. When ABU started to make prototype Toby spoons (or the Tobis as it was then called) the lure did not have those distinctive little fins on the rear of the bait. The designers were not happy with the lures action in the water and someone had the idea the ‘fins’ on the Torsjo might be a clue to stabilising the Tobis as it was retrieved. Small fins were added and an improvement was seen immediately, so after some further tweaking the pair of fins became one of the instantly recognisable features of the Toby for generations to come.

Fins on a Toby, inspired by the Torsjo!

Then one day while on holiday I was mooching around a supermarket in Poland. I was supposed to follow the carefully written shopping list but I stumbled upon a whole aisle dedicated to fishing tackle, so I ditched the shopping list and got down to a closer inspection of what was on offer. Surprise, surprise – on a rack of metal lures made by a company called ‘POLSPING’ I spotted a copper coloured spoon named the CEFAL. Was this a copy of the old ABU Torsjo?

On the same rack there was another copper bait which looked like a skinny ABU ‘Tylo’, this one being called a PERKOZ. These baits are equipped with strong split rings and good quality VMC treble hooks. The only issue I have with them is they do not come with a swivel but it is only the work of a few minutes to add barrel swivels to them. After parting with a few more zlotys, both of these baits were in my basket, starting the long journey which would see them tried out on the Conn next season.

 

 

Pep

Looking somewhat like a Toby spoon the Pep had a short and undistinguished life. Stamped out of thick metal, the Pep looks like it should be a good catcher but I have yet to hook a damn thing on them! I suspect that this lack of success on the end of angler’s lines translates quickly to poor repeat sales and lures which are ineffective don’t last too long. We fishers see our baits as vital items in our armoury which we lovingly look after and consider. To the hard-headed business people who manufacture fishing tackle each SKU must generate a profit. The Pep fell short when it came to catching fish and this led to its demise.

Both of my examples weigh in at 18 grams which I would have thought was the most popular size for a bait like this. One is gold and the other one is silver and each has a lick of red paint on one edge and blue or green on the other. I am toying with the idea of trying the Pep for Mackerel since they are not too fussy when it comes to baits. I’d like to catch something (anything) on a Pep!

 

 

 

Hogbom

Now this is a real odd-bod! Manufactured in Sweden by another company the licence was bought by ABU back in the 1940’s. I understand the lure was designed for use on the famous River Morrum in southern Sweden by an engineer named Mr. Hogbom. The bold Mr. Hogbom created a lure unlike any other that I have seen. The folded metal body is roughly fish-shaped. There is up-tilted, flat, angled ‘tail’ gives the lure its action. ABU dropped them for many years then they made a comeback between the mid-sixties and 1976 when they disappeared for good. I only have one of these strange baits, a gold pre-ABU one which weighs 20 grams.

If the Hogbom was designed for use on the Morrum it was made to be attractive to salmon and sea trout – and big ones at that! The river Morrum has a global reputation for big salmonids as any online search will show. Photos and videos abound of massive sea-trout and gigantic salmon caught there. What interests me is the way the treble hook is attached to the Hogbom if it was being cast in front of these huge fish. A piece of stainless steel wire passes through the middle of the bait, out of sight for most of its length. Maybe I worry too much but I would like to see that vital couple of inches of wire are in perfect condition before I chuck it at a fish of a lifetime!

The treble hook on  my Hogbom is dressed with a rakish looking orange hackle. It softens the otherwise hard lines of the Hogbom. Other examples I have seen are adorned with only bare hooks.

The question is does it work? Disappointingly it has failed to produce the goods so far but I will keep giving it an occasional swim.

 

 

Morrum Spinner

While we are talking about the legendary river Morrum I will show you my only example of the ABU Morrum Spinner. I love these mad-looking baits! The unusual head which acts as a keel is placed in front of the spinner blade on a separate piece of wire. Behind that are a set of beads which form the main body of the lure. The problem I have with the Morrum spinner is that it tangles when casting. Maybe this is a function of my bad technique or maybe it is a function of the articulated nature of the lure. It is so unlike any other lure in my box that it catches my eye every time I lift the lid. Trolled behind the boat it has only tempted small Pike so far.


 

 

 

Glimmy

Ah, the Glimmy! I really like these old spoons and snap them up if I ever see them for sale. A very old lure, they are hard to find these days which is a shame as they are mighty fish producers. The smallest ones are fatally attractive to perch for some reason so on a very slow day I clip a Lill-Glimmy on and run the boat over one of the noted spots for perch. It almost always produces a bend in the rod for me!

The first Glimmy’s appeared in 1951 and back then they came in only two sizes, a meaty 30 gram version and whopper of a spoon that weighed in at an impressive 38 grams. These early examples were both the same length (90mm), just stamped out of different thicknesses of metal.

Years passed and ABU expanded the range of sizes to include the 18 gram and 12 gram Glimmy. These ones are both a nice size for salmon trolling, so if you are keen on that branch of the sport look out for Glimmy spoons and give them a try. These are not easy to find as ABU only made the 18 and 12 gram Glimmy for three years from 1973 until 1976. Those nice wee Lill-Glimmy’s can be as old as 1952! I’m currently looking out for a gold Lill Glimmy as my last example wedged itself on the bottom of lough Conn a couple of seasons ago. The gold coloured ones seem to be particularly effective.

A pair of silver lill Glimmy spoons

 

 

Facette

I only have one of these spoons and it probably takes up the space of a more useful lure if I am honest. Angular in shape, they do have a lively action in the water. My sole example was once black in colour but it is faded now to a marled grey. The outside sports some sort of a reflective material. I got my hands on this spoon just to see what it was like on the end of the line and it does hop around a fair bit when trolled at even a slow speed. Unfortunately the fish seem to be seriously unimpressed with the Facette, or at least with the flashy 18 gram one that I own.

Originally released on to the market in the 1950’s this spoon came in the standard 7/12/18 gram formats but it vanished again at some point in the 1960’s. I think I am right in saying that the Facette then re-appeared back in the late 1970’s. Now it was clad on one side in the reflective tape like my one. With that added bling it looked like a ‘70s lure. I think of it as the Morris Ital of the lure world. It is pretty much crap!

Morris Ital 1.3 HL

 

Safir

a bit worn maybe but they still work just fine

The Safir was a small spoon which ABU made during the period from the late 1940’s through to the end of the 1950’s. I have only ever seen them in 7gr and 10gr weights but maybe they produced bigger ones for all I know. The lads in southern Sweden seem to have had a problem deciding on the colour scheme for these wee spoons as they came in a wide range of variations, most (but not all) had a red or orange painted inner side. The convex face could be silver, copper or gold or some were a mix of different metallic colours.

That 10 gram silver/copper Safir in the photo above can be accurately dated because the weight is stamped on it below the word ‘Sweden’. This was only done by the factory in 1957 apparently.

So are they any good? The Safir is a bit on the small side for most of my fishing so they tend to lead a quiet life, snuggled into a compartment of a big tackle box. On the rare occasions I snap one on to the end of a trace they have brought in Perch and jack Pike. Nice wee spoons though………….

7 gram silver/gold Safir

 

Plankton

Closely akin to the Safir  is another ABU spoon, the Plankton. Deeply concave and semi-scaled, this spoon has a great action in the water. During its 30 year life the Plankton went through remarkably few changes to the colour. The basic silvers and coppers are available in the 7gm, 12gm and 20gm sizes and are still for sale on the secondhand market these days. I have only recently acquired some 12’s and 20’s for my box but one of them is a lovely silver and copper which looks great in coloured water. I’ll try them for Pike, confident that they should do the business.

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Not sure about the BG coloured one I own, I’ve never been a fan of that Bluegill pattern for some reason.

a pair of 20 gram silver Planktons

 

ABU-draget

These are an old design which A.B.Urfabriken introduced around the end of the second world war. With ABU stamped on the top of the convex surface we fishers of a certain vintage have grown up simply calling this one the ‘ABU spoon’. I only possess a copper 15 gram and a silver 20 gram but it came in a wide range of colours and some were even equipped with an additional treble at the head end too.

The ABU-draget has a lovely slow, rolling action in the water. The 15 gram size measures about 50mm, a fine size for summer salmon.

Production of the ABU-draget ended in 1975 and this unimposing little spoon was consigned to history. I like this one though and I keep an eye out for them on the secondhand market. I’d like to find a 20 gram copper version – I’s suspect it could be a killer!

 

 

Barramundi Mauler

Always a sucker for a good name, I had to buy one of these when I came across it. Marketed in Australia (hence the name) this a well-made plug, one which should stand up to a lot of punishment. I have never tangled with a Barramundi but I’m guessing they are tough customers which can destroy poorly made baits. This is another deep diver and it came equipped with stout treble hooks and hefty split rings for battling big, aggressive fish.

Similar to a lot of other plugs already ensconced in my tackle bag, it may be just the lure to give me a salmon someday. Then again, maybe it won’t. Great name though!

 

 

Risto Rap

The hot Alabama sun beats down on the lily pad fringed pond where the old angler is flipping his bait out. It catches the rays of the sun as it sails 20 yards through the moist air before landing with a resounding ‘plop’. The snapping turtle watches him from the sunken log it is hiding behind as the short baitcasting rod twitches during the retrieve. Small Bluegills and crappies shoal in the shallows, constantly moving as they search for food while keeping an eye out for their enemy – the largemouth bass. The angler fans his precise casts out to cover the deep water, sweat on his brow under the weathered John Deere baseball cap. Just as he thinks he is wasting his time the rod slams over into a sharp bend and battle is joined with a stubby four pounder. The Risto Rap has worked again.

That is how and where I image Rapala’s Risto Rap was supposed to work. I expect it was made with the American Bass fishing market in mind. It sports a gargantuan front lip to push the buoyant bait down to about 8 feet below the surface. My own one is a nice, flashy chrome example. Rapala stopped making them a while ago and they are hard to find these days.

I was looking around for a plug to dive that bit deeper when I came across the Risto Rap. Drop offs have always fascinated me and the thought that big fish are lurking in the black water just over the edge from the shallows sends shivers up my spine. I wanted a plug to troll deeply in that zone and I figured the Risto Rap was worth a try. Watch this space………………………..

 

 

Landa Lukki

Fancy a change from tossing Toby spoons? Then look out for Landa Lukki spoons. Made in UK in the late 70’ and 80’s these were good copies of the famous Swedish Toby. They work too! The best news is that you can find them easily on the second-hand market where they change hands for very little money. I recently bought half-a-dozen perfectly good Lukkis for less than a Euro each.

Sizes are similar to the Toby but the colour range is restricted to the basics. Lukki spoons with slashed sides, marketed as ‘Lukki Turbo’ can also be found out there. These can bend easily under pressure so check them if you have to free them from rocks or other stickers on the bottom. If they are out of shape simply bend them back again and carry on fishing.

As a side note, Landa used to make a really nice bait called the ‘Herring’. Now this did not look much to the untrained eye but by jingo they slaughtered Pollock and Mackerel. I have lost all the ones I used to own bar one tiny wee gold specimen which is too small to fish in the sea. I keep looking for more of them but with no luck so far.

 

All of the lures (even the Pep) will catch a fish on their day. Trolling can be a boring pastime so swapping baits helps to liven up an otherwise quiet day. The ABU spoons in particular were very well made baits. High quality metals must have been used in their construction because they have lasted so well.

I am a late comer to trolling and it will always be my second choice when fishing Lough Conn. On those days when the fly is not going to be effective, such as flat calm and brilliant sunshine, I turn to the trolling rods and trail the ironmongery behind the boat for a while. Using these old baits adds something to an otherwise boring day. If you left me to fish with only a single 18 gram silver and copper Toby I strongly suspect I’d still catch the same number of salmon but the enjoyment of a day cannot always be measured simply by the number of fish. When a silvery salmon grabs that oddly shaped few grams of metal, stamped out on a press in a factory in southern Sweden decades ago, I feel a tingle inside. Oddballs are good in my book.

On the troll

 

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, salmon fishing, trolling

Zoom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, salmon fishing, trolling

Level land

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

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

the square in Krakow

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

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Conn, another poor season on this water too

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

A stretch of the Cashel river

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is James McMurtry singing about another desolate flat landscape.

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trolling, trout fishing

Killer on Loch Cluanie

With no fishing right now due to the ongoing drought I have been amusing myself by sorting through some old gear which was jumbled into an old biscuit tin. There were lots of Mepps and other small spoons which I am unlikely to ever use again but an ABU Killer was tangled up in amongst the French spoons. I think these plugs are deadly, an appreciation which can be traced all the way back to my childhood.

Summer holidays back then in the late ‘60’s involved the family plus some suitcases wedged into a Triumph Toledo and we all headed off to the North or West of Scotland. These were simpler times, no notion of passports, theme parks or cheap sun holidays laced with red wine. No, instead we three kids spent a couple of mid-summer weeks in the outdoors being bitten by midges, splashing about in rivers or bouncing about on the back of poor old trekking ponies. My two sisters loved the trekking bit while I just wanted to have a fishing rod in my hand. Looking back on it now I wonder at the patience of my long suffering parents as they did everything possible to keep us all happy and safe.

My love affair with the ABU Killer was complex. Pocket money certainly did not stretch to the purchase of these very expensive ABU plugs. The silver example I was so proud of had been recovered from the bottom of the river Don at Inverurie sometime before when my worming gear had stuck on an underwater object which turned out to be the branch of a tree. The blackened, knarled limb must have been washed down in a flood from the expensive beats up river because nobody I knew who fished that cheap, local authority stretch could afford a Killer. However it got there it was now the centrepiece of my collection of spinners. I had never actually used it, being far too afraid it would get stuck on the bottom again. So it languished in the old tobacco tin, biding its time.

I must have been about 11 or maybe 12 years old when the Killer showed its true metal. The family holiday that year was a week in a rented cottage in Wester Ross. The oft travelled A96 up to Inverness, down the shore of Loch Ness through Drumnadrochit to Glenmoriston where the road turns off to the west and the amazing drive through Kintail with the Five Sisters towering over the road. The cottage was an old house with some basic appliances but it was all we needed and I have many fond memories of that vacation.

I had extracted a promise from my father that he would take me fishing on one of the big lochs. I think it might have been the second last day of the holiday before that promise was honoured, so anticipation had been building to fever pitch. The mighty River Moriston had at one time been one of the great salmon rivers of Scotland. It drained the wild lands of Kintail, pouring itself into Loch Ness after a tumultuous journey through the giant cleft in the land. Then, in the late 1950’s the surveyors and engineers arrived, bringing with them the plan for cheap electricity and the death warrant for the river. Great dams throttled the Moriston and the salmon were exterminated from the upper river. Huge reservoirs were created to feed the ever hungry turbines and the splash of leaping salmon was replaced by the low hum of the generators. The salmon are long gone but the little brown trout from the river found better pickings in the newly created still waters and they grew to a better size. It was these brownies I wanted to catch.

A Tay-rigged ABU Killer

I recall the Cluanie Inn was where you could hire a boat for a day (maybe it still is for all I know).  Few shillings changed hands and we set off in the car to the end of the loch where the boat was moored. I suspect it was only when my dad saw the cockleshell 12 footer that the enormity of the day ahead really struck him. We were going to fish a 10 mile long loch from a wee rowing boat with the emphasis very firmly on the ‘rowing’ part. I had been doing my homework and I knew what to do, father had to row the boat while a trolled a bait behind us. I was so full of excitement! Dad looked utterly dejected.

We set off and I got myself sorted, a wooden devon (silver in colour with a deep blue back to it) was lowered into the water and the line paid out until a good 30 yards separated the rod from the bait. I hunkered down to concentrate of the rod tip, snake-like concentration being required on my part. Dad pulled gamely on the oars, steady strokes which I had to tell him to increase in speed as we were not dragging the devon through the water quickly enough in my estimation. He muttered something inaudible through gritted teeth and picked up the pace slightly. My cobra’s stare deepened.

My faded copy of the 1965 ‘Game fishing in mainland Ross and Cromarty’

 

The entry for Loch Cluanie

We kept this up for maybe an hour before the rod gave an almighty lurch and the reel screamed. A half-pounder was soon in the boat and one wee boy was thrilled to say the least. Even dad managed a smile before I announced that the other shore might be a better spot to try next. He suggested that we eat our sandwiches first before covering the width of the loch (again). I was enjoying every minute of this most magical of days, dad on the other hand seemed to be wilting ever so slightly.

The following couple of hours were painfully blank and the solitary trout looked like a poor return for all our (sorry, his) efforts. I had changed the bait a couple of times but nothing interested the fish. Dad began to talk about heading back and how we better not be late. I needed some inspiration and as I poked around in my ‘Golden Virginia’ tin of baits I figured it was time to do the unthinkable – actually use the ABU Killer. With trembling hands I tied it on to the end of the line and tested the knot. I swear I was more afraid of losing the bait than any thought of catching a fish on it. I had read that some pike lived in this loch and in my mind’s eye I could envision a huge pike severing the line as he engulfed my lovely silver plug.

Dad rowed stoically on, nothing was said but I could see he had surreptitiously turned the boat in the direction of the far off mooring spot. Within minutes of immersion in the peaty waters my ABU Killer produced the goods! An alarming whack on the rod was almost instantly followed by the sight of a trout leaping clear of the small waves. A good trout, twice the size of the first lad. He fought well but not well enough and dad scooped him out of the loch and into the boat. My suggestion that we ‘take another run over that spot again’ was not well received and instead we picked up speed as we made a bee-line for the mooring.

It turned out to be the only fish that Killer caught. A few seasons later it did indeed snag on the bottom and the line parted when I tried to yank it free. I was sad to lose it just because of the memory of the day on Loch Cluanie but by then I was working and had money to buy a replacement if desired. Salmon have fallen for Killers fished by me over the years since then and even when I discovered Rapalas the old ABU plug still snuck on to the end of my trace from time to time.

The Abu Killer was in fact made in America (the same applied to Cello and Hi-lo plugs from ABU). These days ABU Garcia have them made in the Far East. I still pick up old ones second hand for not much money. I have less fear of losing them now! Funny how a couple of inches of plastic, moulded in the land of the free, can create such memories.

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling, trout fishing

Still quiet on Conn

Conn (again) today. Like some sort of a piscatorial junkie I had to go back there again to get another ‘fix’. Previous disappointments were pushed to the dark recesses of my memory and I packed tons of gear and even more optimism before setting off.

Hazy day on Lough Conn

Let me get this off my chest straight away – I failed to catch anything of any consequence today. Conditions were good and the weather was kind for a change so I don’t really have any excuses. I tried hard and used all my knowledge of the lough but still came up short. My hopes were initially pinned on the first of the years salmon showing up but there was no sign of them today. After trolling and fly fishing over a couple of normally productive lies I pulled into the shore to swap over to a cast of trout flies.

a very full boat!

I met a pair of experienced fishers from the midlands who were on the last day of a three day trip to the Conn. They had not caught a fish during their stay! A few mayfly were hatching out so I decided to drift the edges of Castlehill Bay. A number of other boats had the same idea, making for a busy day on the oars to keep clear of everyone else.

boats on Lough Conn

With a steady breeze behind me I drifted right across the bay, then repeated the exercise for good measure. Two small trout nipped at the flies and I saw only three natural rises in the distance during those lengthy drifts. Maybe some of the other boats saw some action but I didn’t see anyone bending a rod into a fish. The few mays which were hatching seemed to thin out and the hatch stopped altogether. Time to move on!

On the move

I set up the trolling rods again and turned into the wind, the engine pushing me slowly southwards. A Toby on one line and a nice copper ABU Salar on the other, it was time to hunker down as the mist rolled in.

mist coming down over Nephin

mist coming down over Nephin

The long haul down the Massbrook shore was fishless and the return journey equally unproductive. No trout rose and no salmon jumped clear of the water. In these conditions it was hard to believe this was Lough Conn. the only action came in the shape of a tiny 8 inch trout which grabbed a 12 gram Toby. Luckily. the wee fella was lightly hooked and soon returned.

mayfly

an out of focus mayfly!

Mayfly shuck

Mayfly shuck

With the mayfly hatch finally underway there must be hopes the lough will start to fish soon. I will probably back next weekend to mainline on the Conn!

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