Fishing in Ireland, Pike, salmon fishing, trolling

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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, trolling, trout fishing

Sutherland Specials

Rummaging through the gear which I took back from my recent trip to Aberdeen I came across a wee box which rattled enticingly. Hard as I tried, I could not for the life of me remember what this small black box contained. It was in with a jumble of fly boxes but whatever was inside weighed considerably more than some salmon flies, even weighted tubes or Waddies. Like a small child on Christmas morning I excitedly prised the lid off…

Inside, in varying states of repair, I found not one but six Sutherland Specials. These are well known and loved baits in Scotland but many readers may not be familiar with them. Most plug type lures sport one vane or lip under the head to make the bait wobble and/or dive. The Sutherland sports no fewer than 4 vanes, one curved one under the head , a small one mounted vertically on the back and two semi-circular vanes, one on each side of the lure. Made of cast lead, it came in three colours – all gold, brown / gold and blue / silver. My little treasure trove contained examples of all three.

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A blue and silver Sutherland Special

To mount the bait simply thread the line through the hole which passes through the middle. Protection from chaffing is provided by a thin rubber tube inside the hole. Now tie the line to the split ring which is attached to a size 4 treble hook. Like a devon minnow, the Sutherland slips up the line when a fish takes, leaving just the hook in the fish.

The Sutherland was a proficient taker of both salmon and sea trout as well as brownies in the river. Some sea trout enthusiasts added a feather (such as a cock hackle) lashed to the treble hook to increase movement. I presume they are still available to buy. The originals were hand made by the Sutherland family who were great fishers on the river Don in Aberdeenshire.

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Cocker’s pool on the ADAA’s Upper Parkhill beat of the Don

I will buy some new hooks (the ones in the black box being rusty after so long) and take them with me next season to try on my local waters. I can see no reason why they won’t work as the action is very lifelike. As one or two of these ones are looking a bit shabby I might re-paint them in new colours. I am thinking that copper might be useful.

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The Cothal Pool on the same beat. Salmon lie just out from that beautifully trimmed hedge on the far bank.

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Specials

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salmon fishing, trolling

Trolling, the gentle art of doing not much at all

Trolling, the not so fine art of dragging spinning and wobbling lures behind a moving boat is not everyone’s cup of tea. If my fishing was confined solely to days spent trolling I would long ago have sold the rods and taken up computer gaming or amature dramatics instead. As it is though, I indulge in the occasional outing when conditions or specific situations arise based on the premise the some fishing is definitely better than no fishing at all.

Each season a few of us troll the lower section of one of the local rivers for salmon. This particular piece of water is deep and slow-moving with high banks intersected by large and deep agricultural drains. On top of these already formidable obstacles the river is a bit remote and hard to get near to by car. So to fish it from the bank would entail a long tramp in to fish a very short section, then a walk out back to the car, drive down some more lanes, park up and repeat the process. Instead of that messing around we troll the river from a small boat, thus negating the problems of access.

pulling awayTrolling in my opinion is best performed by two in a boat. Handling the boat and the rods on your own does have its own satisfaction but the hours of not much happening are easier to bear when there is another living being in reasonably close proximity. And that is the thing with trolling, there tends to be a lot of nothing happening. As an exercise in getting some fresh air into your lungs and taking time to see the local wildlife it is very good but do not expect hectic sport.

Anyway, my mate and I launched the boat, fired up the engine and motored up to the starting point. The water level was high but clarity was pretty good with only a tinge of brown on the day. Rods were armed with suitable spoons and they were trailed some 20 to 30 yards behind us as we made our way upriver at a sedate pace. The rod tips dipped and nodded in response to the action of the spoons and there were occasional moments of action when one or other of the baits snagged on a sunken tree or other such impediment. Regarding baits we use things like Tobies, Swinford spoons, Rapalas and that sort of thing.

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Typical baits for trolling

Bites were at a premium shall we say (ie non-existent) so once we had covered the water up as far as the confluence of a tributary we pulled into the back for a spot of lunch.

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Here we are looking for somewhere to pull in

Out of the cold wind the air was pleasantly warm and springlike. Herein lies the attraction of a trolling session for me, it forces you to slow down. All actions until a fish strikes are unhurried and deliberate. Lunch was a leisurely affair of soup, sandwiches, coffee and chat. Different baits were tied on but to be honest neither of us thought the new ones were any better than the ones we had taken off. Then we pushed off back into the steady flow and continued upstream once again.

heading downstreamAn unassuming straight stretch, no different from miles of similar water yielded a small pike to my rod and I had so sooner got that in the boat than a second, larger pike grabbed the other bait. This river is full of pike and it had been a surprise not to meet any before now. Before the day was out half a dozen small pike would be boated. I know some anglers love pike fishing but I fail to see the attraction. I have seen videos of fishermen in epic battles with pike but to me they are usually just a dead weight on the end of the line and an awkward customer to unhook without being bitten.

the castle

We pressed on up to the furthest extremity of the fishable water near a ruined castle then turned around and started heading downstream again. The afternoon was wearing on now so we motored down through some of the less likely looking water and then fished through areas where fish have been taken, lost or at the very least observed in the past. The baits wobbled seductively enough but no salmon were in the mood for seduction that afternoon. The wind was strengthening and growing perceptively colder so it was with some relief we gained the mooring point and called it a day.

one pike

It was hardly a day of frantic sport but it was nice to be out on an afternoon in March, seeing the willows beginning to bud and feeling the push of the river under the keel once more. Springers are a rare commodity these days and there is a high probability we did not even cover a fish all day. Rumour has it that one was caught down near the estuary earlier in the week but disinformation is a fine art in angling circles so a large dose of sodium chloride needs to be taken with such reports. Unless I hear that salmon have been seen or landed in the system I will return to trouting next week.

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