Fishing in Ireland, Pike, trolling

Remembering Bilberry Lake

Years ago I used to fish Bilberry Lake, half way between Castlebar and Westport. At the time this was a stocked trout fishery and the fishing is looked after by the Bilberry Angling Club. Membership was comprised mainly locals from Islandeady who did a small bit of fishing with a sprinkling of more experienced anglers. Having served on the committee of the club in the past I can vouch for the hard work and ‘never say die’ attitude of that angling club. Bilberry Lake has very limited spawning sites, just a few small streams, certainly not enough to support a viable head of trout in the lake. So the club used to get the fisheries board to stock it with brownies ever season. When this supply source of fish dried up due to the hatchery being closed Bilberry could no longer function as a trout fishery.

looking towards the reek

looking across Bilberry Lake towards the distant reek

The lake is shallow and surrounded by rich farmland, so the nutrient loaded waters rapidly weed up in the summer. Every summer the club put huge efforts into weed cutting, just to keep the lake fishable. A major competition for the McConnville Cup was organised every July which rivalled some of the bigger and more prestigious waters in terms of attendance and prizes. Fund raising, boats/engines, re-stocking, traffic management, prizes, and all the hundreds of other details were carefully worked out and every effort was made to make the three days a success. I understand the McConnville cup is still fished every July but it is held on Lough Mask these days

pumphouse shore

Autumn, trolling along the pumphouse shore

Bilberry was unlike the big lakes in almost every way and was much closer to an English stocked fishery in character. It was stocked solely with Brown Trout and they varied in size from 12 inches up to a couple of pounds with a small number overwintering and growing to a decent size. There are also a tiny number of native trout too.

reeds at the mouth of the river

reeds at the mouth of the river which links Bilberry to Lough Lannagh

Other scaly inhabitants are pike and perch. You would think that the pike would grow large in Bilberry, given that for years the angling club thoughtfully supplied them with free dinners by stocking the lake, but I haven’t seen any pike over 20 pounds caught there. What they lack in size they make up for in numbers and the lake simply teems with small pike in the 2 – 5 pound range.

So now that the trout have gone where do you fish on Bilberry Lake for Pike? The fish seem to hold in specific areas so it pays to give these particular attention. Looking out from the slipway near the graveyard the opposite shore is a great spot for a pike. A wind which favours that short section of shore will often produce some action. I find the main body of open water is a bit hit and miss but anywhere close to the reeds can give up a pike by quietly working your lure as close to the vegetation as you dare. Hayes’s Bay is a small, shallow bay which always holds a stock of small jacks. Again, a quiet approach pays dividends.

There is deep water just outside Hayes’s Bay but working around the corner brings you to ‘the pins’ a line of marker rods in a line which warn of a very shallow reef. This is a reliable area in any wind.

From the pins the lake stretches off into the distance and trolling plugs or spoons can give you a chance of a fish anywhere here. The shore then turns sharply round a point and into MacDonald’s Bay. I found the pike scarce in this bay but any I met were usually of a good size. Coming back out of MacDonald’s bay the shore runs down to the Pumphouse, a handy place to fish if nothing much is happening elsewhere.

For me, the hotspot for pike was all the way along from the German shore right up to the graveyard. I have seen large numbers of pike boated here, nothing too big mind, but the smaller fish seem to like lying between 5 and 50 yards right along that shoreline.

German shore

German shore

Near the pumphouse the river leaves Bilberry and flows down to Lough Lannagh. You can drive a boat along the short river and down into Lannagh where an even bigger population of small Pike can be found.

small pike nearly ready

small pike nearly ready for the net

The spoon that worked

…..and the spoon he took

I have never enjoyed deadbaiting for pike so I only use artificial lures or flies. Any of your favourite lures will catch fish but I found silver spoons very effective in the winter.

these Solvkroken were particularly good on Bilberry

 

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Fishing in Ireland

Moving a boat on Beltra

Mid September and recent heavy rain has pushed water levels up. Small numbers of fish are running but Lough Beltra is pretty much finished for another season so I decided to take advantage of a quiet day to take a boat off the lake. All too often this task is attempted in high winds and driving rain making the whole exercise unpleasant and hard work, so a day like yesterday made a welcome change and I could enjoy just being out in the early Autumn countryside.

I borrowed a van and trailer and headed for the lake around 10am in glorious sunshine. I used to live very near to the lake so I know the people in the houses as I drove along the quiet road past the fields of cattle and sheep. I mulled over that strange sense of belonging yet being apart which every ‘blow in’ feels here in the West. Out the Newport Road and those never-ending roadworks which have kept Mick O’Malley’s lads so busy all summer and along the new stretch at the back of Cornanool before taking the Bangor road off to the right. The first views of Nephin and those deceptive bends at the Glenisland National School. Through the still green trees with the river on the right, now thankfully back down to a normal level. The land was very wet but still retained that vibrancy of well tended farmland. Then along the edge of the lake and the temptation to look at the water instead of the road! I swung the wheel hard left and drove into the harbour carpark.

Boats are an integral part of our fishing here. Back in Scotland everyone hired a boat for a day’s fishing but in the West of Ireland you don’t get off as lightly as that. Maintaining, baling, lifting, storing, varnishing, sanding, checking and moving boats takes a bit of effort and you either accept and enjoy the experience of owning a small fishing boat or the time spent on them will feel wasted. I admit to enjoying the whole boat owning experience and so days like yesterday were a joy for me.

The recent rains had left some boats full of water. The modern fibreglass hulls never really sink due to the buoyancy tanks fitted to them. They fill up to the top but with a bit of baling they can soon be re-floated. The boat I was moving was half full and took about 20 minutes to bale out with the aid of a big bucket. Some fellas fit pumps to their boats but the bucket meets all my water removal requirements and the little bit of exercise does no harm.

Taking the boat around to the small beach where I could load it on the trailer I stopped for a breather to take in the scenery. Glenisland is a beautiful place and on a day like yesterday with the sun on the hills it was picture-postcard Ireland.

 Now came the job of loading the boat on to the trailer. In a big wind this can be tricky but the flat calm meant aligning the boat and winding her up on to the trailer was pretty straight forward. Lights clamped to the back, run the cable to the connection on the tow bar then pull the belly band across to secure her in place – it all went like clockwork. 

I double checked everything and then set off back home bathed in early autumn sunshine. It has been a poor season but hopefully enough spawning stock has evaded the nets, sea lice, seals and all the other perils which salmon and sea trout face to regenerate the rivers which feed Beltra. I will be back here again soon to help out with the Glenisland club boat lift when we take all the club boats out of the lake for the winter and stow them safely inside. Only when that day is over will it feel like the end of the season for another year.

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