Let me say straight away that I am a dyed-in-the-wool game fisher. Brought up on river fishing with fly and spinner I missed out on coarse fishing completely all my life, up until now. I’m on solid ground when it comes to chasing trout and salmon and have a reasonably firm grasp of the basics when angling for those species. To a degree I have kept up with the technical and tactical advances in game fishing over the years as well. Of poles, groundbait and keepnets I know not a jot, at least I didn’t up until very recently.
My new project of aiming to catch at least one fish from each county in Ireland has inadvertently led me down a very different path though, one which is proving to be bewildering but at the same time an interesting challenge. I need to learn how to catch coarse fish from scratch, so the last few weeks have been an education for me. To be perfectly honest I have caught way more coarse fish either by accident or design on fly tackle than I have on floats and legers.
A small roach caught on the fly
My fishing den has shelves groaning under the weight of books on fishing from skinny little booklets on individual rivers to mighty tomes encompassing the minutest details of game and sea fishing. What you won’t find there are books on coarse fishing. I scanned the dustcovers for any stray coarse angling books which I might have forgotten about but could only find one slim volume which gave some brief details of the different species but nothing on angling methods. From the pages of this book I gleaned that Bream were common in Ireland along with Perch but that other mainstays of English coarse fishing such as chub and barbel were absent completely and carp were scarce. Of course we have countless millions of tiny roach in virtually all our Irish waterways these days and I have been told in the past about some lakes which are full of that most handsome of fish, the rudd. At least this narrowed things down a bit for me.
The internet can be viewed as one of the great evils of our times but it certainly came to my rescue when researching coarse fishing methods these last few weeks. YouTube is jam packed with useful instructional videos on how to catch just about anything that swims and there were hours spent watching experts haul out impressively large bags of bream and roach using methods and baits which could have been developed on the moon for all I know. I admit to being fascinated by pole fishing, the concept that you take your rod apart every time you hook a fish seems so alien to me! I very quickly dismissed poles and whips (whips are shorter poles apparently) from my potential armoury as being too cumbersome and expensive for my needs. I want to be able to spent short sessions at new waters meaning I will probably have to move a fair bit to find good spots, setting up all the equipment for pole fishing looks like it takes the organisational ability and heaving lifting of a military regiment.
A Common Cary I caught a few years ago in England on freelined bread
I already owned a float rod, a cheap Shakespeare jobbie that landed me some roach and carp back in England many moons ago. I can clearly recall the alarming bend in that rod when a good sized carp took off for the other side of the lake but it was only ever used a few times and remains in good nick. It will do nicely for float fishing for roach and rudd and anything else that can be tempted on the stick or waggler. Ferreting around in various tackle boxes yielded some old floats and a box of mixed split shot but no line that was light enough for making hook lengths. And so the shopping list began. I guess I knew it would come to this and that some excuse to spend money on fishing tackle would be found. My research on the internet was raising lots of questions and there were obvious gaps in my equipment just as there was in my knowledge. Bottom fishing was a case in point.
A carp breaks the surface as he feels to hook
Watching the experts on YouTube it became obvious that feeders are a major form of fishing for bottom dwelling species such as bream and tench. The concept of a small device which carries ground bait close to your baited hook is the mainstay of much bottom fishing and this appears to have now flourished into a cornucopia of tackle to cope with every possible variable within the basic method. The rods to hurl the rigs prodigious distances, the details of the rigs themselves and the baits used all held me in close attention and I soaked in all this new-fangled knowledge like a sponge.
I needed a rod for feeder fishing but I was not going to go mad on one of the new specialist feeder rods which are eye-wateringly expensive. It seems that fishing big Irish lakes for bream often involves long, accurate casting of the feeder on large beds of ground bait. Add in the wind which is a feature of this part of the world and you can see that long rods for distance casting in difficult conditions are a real bonus. But I am not planning on jumping into the extreme end of coarse fishing. I want easy venues (to start with at least) where casts are going to be of more normal proportions, depth of water won’t be excessive and the stresses and strains on tackle will be commensurately less. Those of you who follow this blog will recognise where this is all heading – I needed an old ABU rod!
When ABU where still making all their gear in Sweden back in the seventies and eighties they produced a range of coarse fishing rods in both fibreglass and carbon. I quickly found a couple of old leger rods, one light and one medium, which were going for a song and duly snapped them up. An old Cardinal 444A seemed to be a good reel to match up with these rods and filling it with 6 pound line gave me a pretty balanced outfit for basic feeder fishing. OK, so these rods are heavy by todays standards but look, I will be fishing short sessions so fatigue won’t be an issue.
I have also been picking up different types and weights of feeders. Each have their own niche and it looks like I need different ones for different scenarios. I can see a lot of experimentation is going to be required but that is a large part of the fun from my perspective. I remain unsure if I need to expand into method feeders as they seem to be more specialised and the carp fishing lads love them. For now I will stick to simple cage, block and open end feeders for a start anyway. I might be wrong but feeders look like the kind of thing which will get stuck on the bottom easily and so I am anticipating losses. My 6 pound breaking strain running line is hardly going to be fit for much pulling and dragging if the gets snagged in weeds or rocks.
The whole issue of groundbait is another minefield. The experts all agree that Irish bream require huge volumes of groundbait to attract the fish to your swim and to hold them there. Hugely expensive bags of prepared groundbait in an amazing array of flavours and textures seemed to be used by the top fishers but I am unconvinced as yet that I need to go down this road. For a start I will be avoiding the big, deep loughs with their shoals of specimen sized ‘dustbin lids’. I get that you need copious amounts of ground bait to pull the shoals in to casting range on these challenging venues and that little old me with a handful of bread or sweetcorn would likely be fishing barren water most of the time on the big loughs. But I want to cut my teeth on much smaller venues where I already have a good chance of covering fish. Big bags of huge fish simply don’t excite me and a modest catch from an intimate lough are much more appealing to this newbe. I was thinking of making a simple groundbait out of a mix of bread and bran but most of the research I have done suggests your groundbait for Irish waters needs to be dark in colour. Brown flake may be the way to go but I will figure something out.
Hook baits opens up another can of worms (sorry). My small amount of previous coarse angling involved bread paste on a size 14 hook dangling below a stick float and I saw no reason to doubt this would work here in Ireland too. While bread is used it looks like maggots, coloured red preferably, are a better bet for most fish. That presents a slight problem as nobody in my area stocks maggots and I will have to buy them locally when I go coarse fishing. The humble worm is also used a lot and they will be easier to lay my hands on. Even easier again is that old reliable sweetcorn. I am hoping sweetcorn does work as I can have a few tins stowed in the car ready for use at any time.
Small roach, probably one of the species I will target
When to go coarse fishing is all a bit of a mystery too. With no close season here in Ireland I can in theory go fishing every day of the year but obviously some times are much better than others. I had always imagined coarse fishing was a summer sport, lazy days watching the tip of the float under blue sky. It turns out hardy coarse anglers go about their business in winter too. Tench seem to be a summer only fish but the others can be caught all year round. This very interesting for me as the option of fishing outside the game angling season has great appeal. Then again, sitting hunched up against the lashing rain in a howling gales does not sound too great! The jury is out on winter fishing for now.
So after all my hours of research it looks like I will be targeting Bream, Roach, Rudd and Tench this summer. I will float fish or use feeders and have all the gear I now require bar a landing net which I will pick up sometime soon. Venues will be carefully chosen for size, ease of access and species present rather than looking for specimen sized fish or heavy bags. Over the course of the past few months my perception of coarse fishing has completely altered. Previously I had no interest in the sport at all. It looked difficult and far too technical for me with the outcome not worth the effort and expense. Now, I am looking forward to learning new techniques and catching new species in the heart of the Irish countryside. From a fog of confusion back in the autumn I can now see some glimmers of light. Whether this new found insight into coarse fishing will translate into fish on the bank remains to be seen but it has been fun just learning more about this fascinating branch of our sport.