32, coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

32 – Episode 13, Meath

The Royal county

My research into finding somewhere to catch a fish in Meath threw up lots of options but none of them really ‘sang’ to me. No gasps of excitement when reading about possibilities, no heart-fluttering watery discoveries. Meath is a large county situated in the east of Ireland stretching all the way from Westmeath in the heart of the midlands to close to Dublin city. The Irish Sea marks the extreme eastern edge of the county around the town of Drogheda. Mainly flat agricultural land, it also hosts many commuter towns. The marketing guys sell Meath to tourists as the heart of ‘Ireland’s ancient east’ which is fair enough I suppose. Kells and Newgrange are both in Meath for example. The rivers Boyne and Dee were spectacular salmon fisheries in days gone by but they have both faded to a shadow of their fomer selves and it would not be the silvery salmon I would be after this time. 

Coarse fishing is cropping up a lot in my ramblings across the country, more often than had expected to be honest. This is the result of naivety on my part and also a reflection on the poor game fishing we see these days here in Ireland. Years ago the loughs and rivers of Ireland were full of trout and salmon but that simply isn’t the case anymore. Abstraction, pollution, dredging, overfishing, invasive species and the rest of modern day ‘progress’ have reduced our game fish populations greatly across vast swathes of old Ireland. In their place we see huge shoals of roach, dace in some southern rivers and even chub in the river Inny. Anyway, it soon became apparent that my foray to Meath would in all probability entail a spot of float or leger fishing. And what harm? I have grown to love dabbling in the black arts of maggot drowning. I lack any degree of sophistication or expertise in the genre but I learning process is proving enjoyable and fulfilling.

The Mentrim loughs up near to Ardee sounded very good but it is a long auld trip from here to Ardee and I was hoping to find a spot nearer to home. I looked at the path of the royal canal as it cut across the county and found a place called Boyne Dock just inside the Meath border not too far from the town of Kinnegad. I settled on there and planned accordingly. I hold my hands up and confess there was a large element of laziness on my part here, Kinnegad is just off the motorway and is easy to get too without a long, complex journey down winding country roads. Would this lack of effort on my my part come back to haunt me?

I am attracted to spots on the canals where the shape of the waterway changes, either narrowing or widening, or where locks interrupt the long miles of straight, featureless towpath. I surmise that places like this must be attractive to the fish so I hunt out basins, bends, locks and harbours. That is how I came to select Boyne Dock. Here, a small basin had been excavated, a widening where I hoped the fish might congregate.  On the map it does not look like much but any slight change in shape inspires my confidence. I have read nothing about the dock and it seems to have either slipped under the radar of anglers or, heaven forbid, is utterly useless. I was about to find out.

I was planning for roach but hoping for bream and praying for tench. The usual coarse gear came with me including the never used pike rod. It is always along for the ride but somehow never sees action. Maybe today that would change, if there are no signs of roach or bream the spinning gear will be given an airing. A light rod for drop shotting also made the cut so the option of targeting perch was also available to me. Yes, I know, this is far too much gear to bring with me but I have a dread of missing out on an opportunity when doing this 32 project. The thought of driving home fishless just because I didn’t bring this or that bit of tackle plagues me.

The usual process of loading up the car and setting off on the road to the east has been well rehearsed at this stage. Not for the first time I was off down the Dublin road. I stopped off in Longford to pick up some bait from Denniston’s shop. To be honest the timing of this trip was based around the opening time of the bait shop. At 9.30 am Denniston’s fling their doors open to the world and I could avail of their finest grubs. My complete and unshakable faith in maggots shows no signs of abating so I bought some red ones and white ones. I thought I had brought along a few worms for good measure too. These were dug from the compost heap the previous evening, a mixture of small reds and brandlings. None of them were any great size but they would be good enough to tempt a perch I reckoned as I popped them into a small white container. It was only when I stopped in Longford that I realised the hard won worms were not in the car – I had left them at home! I bought a few more at the shop.

A shop that sells guitars and maggots – heaven!

Back behind the wheel and the miles slipped by as I mulled over the prospects for the day. If the dock did not fish I would be forced to try walking along the towpath, searching for a shoal of roach or a stray perch. There are worse ways of spending a day I guess. My decision not to make the longer trip to Ardee prayed upon my mind though, doubts swirling about in my head as I cruised along at a steady, if unexciting, 55mph. An uneventful journey saw me turn off at Kinnegad and only a few miles further on I turned into a car park near to the dock. A number of cars were already parked there but as it turned out none of them belonged to fishermen.

The canal here is raised above the surrounding countryside. Indeed, when approaching the dock the R160 road passes right under the canal as well as the railway. Kildare was but two fields away to the south. So it was here, amid the verdant fields on the very edge of the royal county that I would try my luck. It is quite ironic that I have taken to canal fishing at this stage of my life. Many years ago I lived in Kirkintilloch, just north of Glasgow. Formally an industrial centre for heavy engineering, the town had slid into depression and decay over the years but one major part of infrastructure remained, the Forth Clyde canal. Every day I walked my faithful collie for miles along the towpath and it never once crossed my mind to try fishing there. At the time I simply had no interest in coarse fishing so passed up some great opportunities. I now understand the canal there is full of roach, perch and pike. Ah well……

It was wet while I was driving from the west but the forecast was for a dry afternoon. By the time I had reached my destination there was some blue sky showing amid the fluffly white clouds. I unloaded all the tackle and set up two rods, one for the float and the other with a simple link leger. My thinking was to target roach with float fished maggot and aim for perch by legering a worm on the bottom. The old 13 foot ABU float rod, Daiwa Harrier reel and 4 pound line and a small float was soon set up and I used the 10 foot margin rod with a wee red Firebird reel that I found in the bottom of a cupboard filled with 6 pound main line for the running leger.

The basin was small but it gave the appearance it could be home to a few fish. Weeds looked like they might be a problem though and my decision to delay this trip until late June looked like a mistake. Before commencing fishing I raked out a swim and baited it. Small balls of brown crumb with a little hemp mixed in and flavoured with vanilla provided the ground bait, my aim being to attract fish into my chosen swim and then try to keep them in front of me with a trickle of loose feed. Opting for a size 14 with a couple of maggots on it I fished over depth on the float rod. A worm on a size 12 was my chosen end gear for the leger. One of the big issues when fishing Irish canals is the clarity of the shallow water. This leads the fish to be very easily spooked both by unwary movements on the bank or by overly thick line. For that reason I was using 2.6 pound breaking strain hook lengths. I realise this was taking a chance because if I hooked a decent sized fish it could easily break me off in the weeds. The internet had informed me that there were good tench and even carp in this canal but I was pretty sure the best I could hope for was a 6 ounce roach or a minuscule perch.

The towpath was a hive of activity with a constant stream of dog walkers, hikers and cyclists making the best of the nice weather. I cast in the light leger first then set up the float rod. The canal is shallow, only two-and-a-half feet deep in the middle so a small waggler was all that was required. Settling into a rhythm, I fished steadily for an hour or more, occasional balls of groundbait interspersed with some loose fed maggots decorating the swim. Some small rudd could be seen messing about near the surface a few yards away but otherwise all was quiet. The water was gin clear and weeds grew right to the surface outwith the small area I had raked. This was proving to be a tough gig.

At last the float gave a slight tremor then dived but I missed the bite. By now I had dropped to a size 20 hook hoping to match the single maggots that I was feeding in. I fished on, glued to the float and wishing it would register a bite. I ate a sandwich, drank some coffee and scowled at the stationary float. I had to try something different. Taking the float off I changed it for a lighter one and re-shotted the line. I also swapped the tiny size 20, a huge looking size 16 taking its place. Two red maggots adorned the new hook and off into the cool water they sailed. Almost immediately there was a tap at the float but it came to nothing. I loose fed a handful of maggots and re-cast. This time there was a positive take and a small perch came to hand. A few casts later a slightly larger perch repeated the exercise. OK, so I was not breaking any records here but at least I had not blanked.

the first perch
the second one

It went quiet again for a while but a cast to the very edge of the raked area produced a solid bite and I lifted as the float slid off to my left. This was a better fish which required netting. A lovely hybrid fought well and was quickly snapped and then released.

The small rudd had been knocking at the maggots all afternoon and one was unfortunate enough to get himself hooked and landed. They are such pretty little fish! It all went dead after that and try as I might I could not get any more offers. In the end I packed up and headed off home.

So what to make of all that? In the bright conditions in very clear water I suspect I actually did OK landing one good fish. Early morning or late evening would definitely have given me a better chance but beggars can’t be choosers. My normally reliable method of a legered worm in the margins failed to register a single offer even though there were some perch knocking about. Raking the swim took me ages and I think I need a bigger rake. Weed growth is luxuriant in the canals at this time of year and effective raking is a must if you want to contact fish.

So Meath is crossed off the list. After the shenanigans up in Fermanagh during my last outing this was a return to reality with a bump. I am beginning to suspect I need to be more flexible with my times on these longer trips so I can fish early or late rather than during the middle of the day. It’s all a learning curve for me!

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