coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

Pondering my feeder fishing

What I have learned and what I need to improve on

Two years of coarse fishing have flown by and I am sitting down today to think about one aspect of the sport where I still need to improve, using feeders. Let’s start off with the bigger picture here, I have no intention of trying to become some sort of expert, just a regular guy who would like to be more confident when using this rig. Here in Ireland the use of the feeder is a big part of the coarse scene with the top anglers catching enormous bags of fish on it, usually on the bigger loughs and rivers. My fishing is based around much smaller loughs and ponds so my horizons are much more limited.

Let’s go back in time a couple of years to when I started to fish for roach and bream. I bought a mix of new and second-hand gear and the feeders I started out with were a batch of pre-owned ones of various sizes and designs acquired from eBay. About twenty in total, they made a good starting point for a complete novice like myself and I read up on what these feeders were and how they might be used. Like a sponge, I soaked in the advice from YouTube videos and assorted websites. What jumped out to me was the complexity which this form of bottom fishing had assumed. My ignorant initial thoughts that this was just a fancy weight that allowed you to add bait to a swim were replaced by a realisation of how much I didn’t know. Reading up on a subject is all fine and dandy but I believe the only way to really learn is to get out and do it. So off I toddled to an assortment of venues and fished with the feeder on most occasions. On most occasion I failed to catch very much on said feeders.

Sometimes I get it right!

I am becoming a tad frustrated with myself over this. I have fished all my life, I can handle all types of gear with reasonable proficiency and have access to good stillwaters with a healthy head of fish. Bait is a bit of an issue for me but I can usually put my hand on worms, maggots and the range of baits from the supermarket. My target species are tench, roach and bream. So, no commercial fisheries and little in the way of running water, no carp, chub or crucians, no fancy dan processed boilies, wafters and what have you. On the face of it fishing the feeder should be easy and productive. Wild fisheries, natural baits presented on the bottom to lots of eager bream, roach and tench.

This is where it all started to get very confusing. In a nutshell, some days I haul fish out on the feeder but on others I fail miserably to catch anything, it is as black and white as that. I have to be open and frank here, I much prefer to fish the waggler, I love the visual aspect of that branch of the sport. Our rules here in Ireland allow the use of two rods at any one time so it makes perfect sense to lob out a leger or feeder while fishing the float on the other rod. I have come to the conclusion that this is the root cause for me being so slow to pick up the intricacies of the feeder, I don’t concentrate on it enough.

feeders in various shapes and sizes

A typical session will see me rig the feeder rod with either a cage feeder or a maggot feeder, usually a 20gm size. My normal rig is a twizzled boom to a hook length which can vary from 6 to 20 inches. Hook size is usually a 10 or 12 but I do go as small as a 16 if I am after smaller fish. When fishing for tench I often use a hair rig. Bait is either maggot or worm. On the waters I fish long casting is not necessary (at least I think so) and I rarely go much beyond 30 metres out. Often it is just a gentle lob as close as I dare to nearby weeds or rushes. And that will often be that for the whole session. I vary bait sometimes, swapping between maggot and worm but most days that is the extent of my changes. I used to be more adventurous but saw no big improvement in catches so these days I have drifted into the lethargy of just leaving it out there and hoping for the best. Not that such a lazy approach has not borne fruit, some of my best fish have come to the feeder which has been neglected for 20 or 30 minutes!

So what do I need to do to become more consistent with the feeder? I am open to anyone’s assistance here but these are the variables I think I should work on:

  1. Casting. I strongly suspect I have to be more accurate when casting the feeder and that I don’t get the benefit of dropping the feeder and bait into a tight area every cast. Up until now I have not clipped down my line so I am casting to the same distance, a trick I see most other anglers using. As Bart might write on the blackboard ‘I must clip my line so my distance is consistent’.
  2. Feeder size and design is maybe another variable to think about. Should for example cast out 4 or 6 large open end feeders full of groundbait to feed the swim first and then change to a cage or maggot feeder after that to keep a steady stream of feed going in? I suspect I have nothing to lose doing this.
  3. Choice of hooklength gives me enough worries to keep me awake at night. My current way of judging how long I need is based on whether I pop up the hook (shorter) or leave it lie on the bottom (longer). My shortest hooklengths are about 4 inches and they go right up to about 15 inches. On balance, I reckon the longer length possibly catches me more fish. The lakes I fish are all natural and have silty bottoms and I worry that my feeder and even the baited hook sometimes just disappear into the sludge. I think I will try longer hooklengths, up to a couple of feet or more, next year. My concern is that you lose bite sensitivity my going longer but that could just be my imagination. While I am on about hooklengths I generally use 4 pound mono most of the time, moving up to 6 or 8 pound if I know there are good sized tench in the lake I am fishing. I have suffered a few breakages using those lines so I am upping line strength next year with 6 pound my standard feeder hooklength and keeping 8 pound for the tench.
  4. Bait. Do I break my habits and try other baits? I bemoan the lack of bait suppliers close to me but I can order boilies, pellets etc on line. Other anglers swear by them so I am willing to give them a try. Just having a few in my tackle box gives me more options than I currently have so next season I’ll try them out. Which ones do I try? There are so many pellets and other goodies to tempt the angler let alone the fish. I will do a bit of research and try to find some that are not too garish in colour or flavour. That means investing in a banding tool but they are cheap to buy. Even this tight Aberdonian can lash out a fiver or so for one.
  5. I do have a notion to change from mono line to braid on my reels for feeder fishing. Braid keeps you in much better contact and it could be that I am missing lots of bites due to the elasticity of the monofilament. I’ll mull that over for now but I like the idea of ten pound braid on my reel.

That is about as much as I can think of for now. I don’t own a super-duper specialist feeder rod nor a three hundred quid reel to go with it but I really can’t imagine such an investment would result in a quantum leap in my feeder fortunes. More accurate casting, flexibility in bait choice and a willingness to ring the changes are where my thoughts are now but if any of you seasoned coarse anglers have some other ideas I’d love to hear them.

coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

Scratching the itch one last time

The rains came yesterday, heavy drenching showers under steely grey skies and lit by numerous flashes. They had been promised of course so there was no great surprise when the deluge started. What to do today? Chase salmon on the Moy maybe? September salmon fishing is always a chancy business here in the West of Ireland. No, I would head over to Leitrim again. The year is beginning to get old now, you can feel the autumn in your bones. The leaves are turning yellow or red and the swallows are gathering on the telephone wires before they head off to Africa. One last day at the tench beckoned me and I packed the gear for a few casts on Lough Corgar, just on the other side of the town of Ballinamore.

Ballinamore lies amid the rolling green hills of east Leitrim. A fabulous centre for coarse angler’s, it is ringed by loughs and rivers, each teaming with roach, bream and tench. The whole of this part of Ireland is a fisher’s paradise just waiting to be explored. Each year sees an influx of UK and continental anglers who have learned that the journey here is worth the effort and expense. Lots of fish, glorious scenery and of course the famous Irish welcome await those who make the trek to Leitrim.

Like virtually all the loughs around here, Corgar is surrounded by dense reed beds. I read on a website that there were some stands on the shores which is always a huge plus for a rickety old angler like me. According to the blurb there is a small car park too, somewhere safe to tackle up and leave the motor for the day. So often I have to park up on the verge of a road, worried about collision or the car sinking into the soft earth at the edge of the road. When I read the words ‘car park’ I get a warm fuzzy feeling about the venue already.

My maggots in the fridge had pupated so I wanted some fresh ones and would pop into Carrick Angling on my way to the lough. The casters of course would not be wasted as I like to add them to my ground bait. I have tried them as hook bait but without success.

The thunder and lightning of yesterday has dissipated but it will be another wet day with heavy rain forecast. It would be easy to put the fishing off for another time but I sense the year slipping away from me so I will put up with the  precipitation and hope the fish reward my stoic efforts in the mist and drizzle. I prefer to fish in dry conditions but there is something grounding about sitting by the water in the rain.

Foggy conditions across Mayo gave way to heavy rain as I crossed Roscommon. By the time I reached my destination this has eased off to occasional showers. Turning down the boreen I found the car park that I was so happy about was full of heavy machinery and vans. A brief chat with the workmen revealed another parking spot a few yards along the road so I dropped the VW off there. It rained heavily as I tackled up and trudged back down the road then into a field via a stile. A small bridge over a drain, another stile, yet another bridge and there behind a screen of tall reeds was the lough. The final few yards were through soft, squelchy bog but I made it to the old wooden stand dry shod. Now things got a bit interesting……………

Access was good with styles and bridges to help the angler

Ireland has been subjected to bouts of heavy rain on and off for a fortnight now and water levels are high. In fact the water in lough Corgar was so high the fishing stand was almost submerged. The end nearest to the shore was about two inches above the surface of the water but further out this reduced and both stands at the end were level with the water. Worse, when I edged my way out to the end I could feel the whole structure sway and wobble in a most alarming fashion. I beat a hasty retreat to the middle of the walkway to consider my options. In the end I decided it was too dangerous to perch myself on the very end so I set up about fifteen feet back. This was far from ideal but having suffered a dunking earlier this year I had no desire to repeat the process. Better safe than sorry!

With very little space to manoeuvre I went about setting up the feeder rod with six pound line, a twizzled boom, maggot feeder and a four pound link to a size 10 hook. A pair of worms, held in place with a couple of maggots would be my bait and I cast the whole thing 50 yards out into the still, grey water. Next I rigged the float rod with a medium waggler, a six foot drop to a four pound tippet and a size 12 hook dressed with maggots. I was aiming for better sized fish today, hence the larger than normal hooks. I baited the swim three rod lengths out with a mix of casters, corn, black crumb, a handful of hemp and some liquidised biscuits. I was very conscious that any sideways movement on my part would probably see me slip off the walkway into the water, making for a nervous session. Another shower rattled through then all became very still.

The third cast with the float saw my first fish of the day come to hand. A lovely rudd of close to a pound no less! What a stunning fish this was. Next a good roach and then a nice hybrid of more than a pound. An even larger rudd fell for the maggots soon after. I had read there were rudd in Corgar but these were superb fish, much bigger than the run-of-the-mill rudd I normally encounter on Irish loughs.

Foreign voices off to my left grew louder then some splashing heralded the arrival of a pair of anglers in float tubes. Rods swished in the still air and the two lads set off around the lough, hunting for pike. Maybe they had some luck when out of my sight but while in my line of vision they saw no action.

With no bites at distance I changed tactics and dropped the swimfeeder hard into the edge of the reeds to my left. It still remained stubbornly quiet though. It was very different on the float rod. The roach settled in and the fishing became hectic for a while. Some of the roach were the usual 6 ounce fish but there were some good fish sprinkled in among them, the best nudging a pound in weight. Loose feeding maggots and the odd ball of ground bait kept the fish in front of me and the fishing was excellent all morning.

I was reeling in another roach when the bait runner on the swimfeeder let out a high pitched screech and the line fairly melted off the spool. I literally threw the float rod down (almost losing it in the water) and grabbed the Shakespeare. This could only be one thing and sure enough a spirited scrap ensued before I subdued and netted a fine tench. I’d say it went about four pounds and this one fish had made the journey to Ballinamore worthwhile for me. You guys are fed up with me waxing lyrical about tench but they really are amazing creatures. Back in the water, he shot off as soon as I lowered him in, hopefully none the worse for our encounter. The tippet showed signs of fraying so I took the time to cut it off and tie on a new one. The fish on the float rod had wriggled off by now of course.

I do love a tench, don’t you?

A couple of nice size skimmers fell for the charms of the maggots but these would be the only bream I would see all day. Then it was back to roach again, interspersed with the occasional rudd. Most of the fish fell to the float but some came to the feeder too. The rain had been reduced to a fine mist for most of the session but as the day wore on some heavier bursts made for uncomfortable fishing. By 3pm the swim was slowing up and I decided to call it a day. Dismantling and packing up all the gear on the narrow walkway was a challenge but I was soon heading back to the car. The bog was now even more saturated and a couple of times I got stuck and had to extricate my wellie clad feet from the mire.

Lough Corgar had provided me with a wonderful few hours and I feel I can heartily recommend it to you. The roach were larger than most other loughs I have fished and of course the good tench and rudd were the icing on the cake. If Corgar is not fishing there is another lough, Bolganard, is just across the road. This lake is famous for the one time record bream which was caught there. I think I am right in saying it weighed over twelve pounds.

My final tally for the day came to 43 roach, 9 rudd, some hybrids, a pair of skimmers and the one tench. All day the bites were positive and very few were missed or fish lost. Depth in front of the stand was about six feet, making it easy to fish with the waggler. They were taking confidently for once and I really enjoyed the fishing today. Interestingly, no perch showed up today which is unusual on loughs like this. Ballinamore is a bit of a trek for me but with excellent fishing like that who would mind the extra few miles?

It is mid-September now and the weather has been wet but unseasonably warm so far this month. That will change soon and the tench fishing will be over for another year with the upcoming drop in temperatures. I am already laying plans for fishing lough Corgar next year!

coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

Tinca time

Awake in the early morning I twitch the curtains open a fraction to check the weather. Bright and calm, well that’s no use! I turn over and close my eyes again for another hour of fitful sleep. The alarm jolts me out of slumber and I pull on some clothes before opening the curtains. Lo and behold! The sky is a patchwork of fluffy grey clouds, it is going to be a fishing day after all. Sandwiches are made and coffee brewed, double check I have everything I need then set off on the road. I am Leitim bound again.

There is no wind in town today, meaning it will be poor conditions on the big loughs so instead I will go hunting tench and bream in a small lake. The maggots in the ‘fridge have morphed into casters so I bring them along to add to ground bait but I need to pick up some fresh maggots and maybe a few worms. I have been losing tench on a regular basis lately so I had previously filled my reels with heavier line and made up some new heavy rigs. Feeling much better prepared there is a feeling of confidence in me (never a good sign). The road is quiet as I plough ever east by north through Mayo and Roscommon till I finally cross the Shannon into Leitrim at Carrick. Coin is exchanged for a pint of red maggots at the shop then I hit the road again on the final leg of the journey.

There is nobody fishing when I arrive there so I set up and have two rods on feeders. A wind is blowing from left to right, ruffling the surface a bit. The stink of slurry spreading fills the air and I can hear the farmer at work with tractor and muck spreader nearby. The clouds have thickened but it does not look like we will have rain today. I have a waterproof coat on, just in case.

In an attempt to attract some fish into the swim I feed heavily, balls catapulted in on a regular basis for 4 hours or so. During that time I have a couple of very half-hearted little bites which come to nothing. Bees buzz around me and gorgeous damselflies in azure and deep ruby red flit among the reeds. I dip my net in a few time to see if the weeds are harbouring any wildlife and find huge waterboatmen, snails and various other grubs in abundance. Although quite small this lough is extremely rich.

I mull over what is (not) happening and decide to persevere with the feeder on one rod but change the other on to the float. An antenna, heavily shotted, a six pound hook link to a size 12 baited with a bunch of maggots was soon rigged. I placed the bulk shot immediately below the float with a single swan shot to lie on the bottom and the 6 inch hook length over depth. I was really hedging my bets by doing this. There are roach on this lough and I thought maybe the small bites were coming from them. The bunch of maggots would attract bream or tench too. I loose fed some maggots and started fishing the float.

Sure enough, the bites started to come, slowly at first but increasing in frequency over the next hour. I kept feeding balls of groundbait and some maggots to keep the fish in my swim. The roach were mainly small but a couple of them were decent fish. A solitary perch showed up, the first one I have every caught from this lake. The hook was snagging on weeds frequently as I was fishing over depth so when the tip of the float slowly sank out of view I thought nothing of it and lifted the rod to free the hook. The old rod heaved over into a serious curve and the reel sang, that was not weeds or even a 6 ounce roach! The fight went on for a while, the tench darting for the lily pads and reeds and me applying side strain to stop it in its tracks. I tested the six pound hook length to its limit but everything held and I slipped the net under my prize. A fine fish of between three and four pounds I guessed. A couple of quick photos and the fish was safely released.

Re-baited, the rig was sent back out again and after only a few more casts the float did the same slow sinking trick and I lifted into a second tench which could have been the big brother of the first one. The fight was similarly dogged and the feeling of relief when the fish hit the meshes was real. This one had a scar on his right flank but otherwise was in great condition. I find tench such beautiful creatures, the olive colour, that paddle of a tail, those teeny-tiny red eyes all make for an iconic freshwater fish.

you can just make out the size 12 hook in his lip

I fished on, catching some more roach but in the end it went a bit quiet so I packed up and headed off homewards. It was a 90 minute drive in increasingly heavy traffic but I made it home safely. Sorting through my tackle I made a quite alarming discovery. I use differently coloured pins in my rig wallets to identify different strengths of line. Yellow ones are 6 pound breaking strain and I had tied on a hook length to the float rig which had been held in place by a yellow pin. Alas, I had somehow used the wrong coloured pin when tying the hook lengths and on examination the one I was using this afternoon was in fact four pound breaking strain! I had been piling on the pressure full sure I was connected to the fish with 6 pound. My job for tomorrow is to go through the rig wallets with a fine tooth comb and make sure everything is in order.

At least I have ended that run of losing tench. With no rain forecast for the coming week I may have another tench session soon.