A Story about Fishing

Rising from my bed at 7 o’clock in the morning, I had a heavy head, legacy of a night of Guinness and cards at the Bridge Inn. It was a case of whoever was first up, would get cracking with the breakfast. I was struggling to get up, what with the late nights and the Guinness. Even when we got in after a night out we would watch the Olympic Games on the television until 2 in the morning. There was the inevitable scrap for the bathroom. Stuart usually won this and seemed to spend long periods of his life in there. We even christened him Insignia Man because he had a the full Insignia range from aftershave & deodorant to talc and balm.
Breakfast consisted of the usual greasy morass of bacon, sausage, tomatoes, baked beans, fried bread, black pudding, fried potatoes, soda bread, some of last night shepherds pie and finally mushrooms (which were freshly picked the field adjacent to our rented bungalow). This would be washed down with a couple of gallons of tea. Whilst I toiled over a hot stove, Jack would be washing last nights dirty pots, Pete would be loading the tackle up into the cars and Stuart would still be in the bathroom.
I always had to check to make sure there was enough bait loaded into the cars as Pete had a nasty habit of underestimating the amount of bait four anglers would need for nine hours fishing. When you are fishing for bream you cannot afford to economise. In Ireland the little and often principle goes out of the window. Bream are like vacuum cleaners and can consume vast amounts of food, so if you want to attract a shoal of them you must have enough bait to hold them in the area where you are fishing. If you skimp a bit then the shoal will sweep up then forage elsewhere.
They don’t hang around for you to throw bread at them like ducks in a duckpond, oh no, if there’s nothing to eat they’re off, no messing. Sure enough, every day I had to top the bait up. It was time to go. At the bottom of our drive we turned onto the Roscommon road up past the grave of the IRA soldier.
To the right was the vast expanse of Lough Ree, 5 miles wide from Warren Pt. to the mouth of the River Inny, 12 miles long from Lanesborough to Athlone. Trees of all types obscure the view of Lough Ree. Everything is so green and natural. The road gets quite busy at times. This is the main link between two farming towns. At the sides of the road we would occasionally come across a schoolchild waiting for his yellow and black school bus, or somebody hitching a lift into Athlone or even to Dublin 90 miles away.
Imagine doing that every day, every week?
At Roscommon we would bear left, skirting around the Dr Hyde All Ireland Football and Hurling stadium then to our right past the majestic granite cathedral and onto the narrow road to Fuerty. At this time in the morning the roads were awash with schoolchildren smart in their burgundy and grey uniforms, milling about near the cathedral and the nunnery waiting for the school-bell to ring.
Half a mile further on and by way of divergence there was just total silence, green fields, the birds in the trees and the narrow road. We had to go through Castlecoote so we would nip into the village store and stock up with essentials, fags, mints, biscuits and milk, then we were on our way again. Small villages like this are a distinct feature of rural Ireland. Quiet, spotless streets, large church, prominent bar or bars and several derelict cottages, some legacy of the failed potato harvest as far back as 1847.
Castlecoote was special though. We would weave our way down narrow lanes, with their high hazel hedgerows interspersed with hawthorn and elderberry bushes. Every so often another vehicle would approach and would mean finding a passing place or doing a spot of reversing, sometimes half a mile or so before you found the entrance to a field to pull into. If it were a tractor approaching, more often then not he would just drive into the hedge amid the cracking and splintering of wood, and wave us past. The usual acknowledgement is just to raise your forefinger from the steering wheel. The rural Irish don’t care much for histrionics!
It was a breezy morning as we arrived at Athleague full of anticipation. Dairy farmers from the surrounding areas were descending on the creamery with their milk to be tested, measured and then sold to the co-operative. They rolled up in all sorts of contraptions, from lorries to old Datsuns with their boots open and a couple of churns clanging about in the bottom. I’ve even seen a couple of donkeys pulling carts with milk-churns on the back. Some cars had just one churn tethered to a rickety old trailer whilst others had half a dozen neatly loaded onto a rusty old roof rack. There was invariably milk splashed all over the roads leading to and from the creamery, interwoven on the road with the cow-pats, crushed turnips and potatoes.
We unloaded the tackle from the cars and threw it over the wall into the field, locked the cars and shinned over the wall. All the sheep look around at us as one. We made our way down the well-grazed field and headed for the single hawthorn bush. It had been under 5 foot of water the previous week so we were lucky the floodwaters had receded. We all chose our swims and set about tackling up. My swim had about 5 foot of water in it for 15 yards then there was a thick growth of rushes, indicating shallower water thereon. It was at the edge of the shelf where the rushes met the deeper water where I would contact my fish. Hopefully!
I had fished here before but not just after a flood so I was hoping the deep water at the edge of the rushes had been a holding spot during the flood in which the bream could take refuge, and that they were still there. The next paragraph is for Techno-Fishheads only, but you can read it if you like. I was using a heavy Trent style feeder rod to cope with both the big fish and the considerable flow should the fish get into it. I used 6lb line joined to the bottom hook-length which was a 12 inch piece of 5lb line with which to give me a weak point should I need to break off if I got stuck in the weeds. Should I overcast into the rushes then I would be able to break free losing only the bottom 12 inches of line. I had on the line a 2-inch long cage feeder into which I would put ground-bait laced with casters, sweet-corn and maggots. On the size 10 barb-less hook went 3 beads of sweet-corn, a lob-worm and on the tip a caster to stop the worm wriggling off. I lobbed 12 cricket ball sized balls of ground-bait towards the edge of the rushes and cast my feeder baited hook into the same place. My seating arrangements comfortable and everything to hand, I settled back and waited for my rod to be pulled in. I poured myself a cup of tea and lit a fag (yep, no point denying it, I liked my little ciggies then), and waited.
It was very windy and to the right the sky was black and looked full of rain. Can’t be helped though, you can’t chose your weather in Ireland. The overcast weather and strong winds were due apparently to the tail end of Hurricane Gustav, which a fortnight previous had flattened Bermuda and Key West in Florida. The trees opposite me didn’t just sway, they strained continuously towards the south-east in a permanent bend. Leaves were flying everywhere. Balls of sheep-wool rolled across the fields intermingled with dry grass and twigs. The sheep just carried on grazing. We hardly existed as we had passed through their pasture, we just disturbed them momentarily. A lame one hobbled towards the rest of the flock, stopping to glance up at us, then carried on munching.
First I had a little twitch on the tip of my rod and the whole thing lurched round to point towards the rushes. I picked the rod up and leaned into it, gently feeling the weight of the fish. It was a big bream, about 5lb. They use their slab sides in the flow to avoid capture and give the impression they are even heavier. It was a dark brown colour, a scale pigment due to the peat in the water. All the lakes and rivers in Roscommon, Longford and Offaly look black, due to the peat deposits suspended in the water. All three counties are renowned for their peat bogs, Offaly and Longford in particular are intensively farmed for the peat, creating bleak, black and largely surreal landscapes. Most of the peat is used to fire the Lanesborough power station.
I ended the day with 29 bream for 98lb 12oz. When you go in the bars later on everybody is talking about bagging up and tons. It’s a bit pathetic really. I just enjoy being out in the open air and having the chance to catch these large fish and lots of them as well but on this occasion, I weighed my catch.
I don’t normally go in for weighing my fish but it was obvious I’d had my biggest catch and was curious to find out how much I had caught. All day the wind had hammered away at us and occasionally it rained stinging our faces with it’s ferocity. Only my eyes and nose were open to the elements, the rest of me was cocooned in my waterproofs, balaclava and my waders. This was except when I was having a cuppa or a cig at which times inevitably it either lashed it down or I got a bite, as is the unwritten law of fishing.
The photograph Stuart took of me with my net full of fish, caught me with a red nose and a grimace on my face whilst in the background you could see the trees almost bent double from the howling gale.
At the end of the days fishing Stuart had 4 for 16lb. A luckless Pete caught only 2 bream and Jack the Dishwasher had only 5 fish but they weighed over 5lb each and he had over 25lb, by far the best net of fish he had ever caught in 40 years of fishing! The previous day Jack’s umbrella had been wrecked by the fierce storms. He looked hilarious sitting under his steel pole with lots of bits of metal and green canvas shreds dangling from it, but today was his angling zenith and he had a grin on his face from ear to ear.
After our hard day battling against the elements, nobody put up much of a fight when it was suggested we pop into Golden’s bar to wind down. Its funny how a small question such as “Fancy a Guinness?” can evoke a spontaneous reaction from even the most dormant of men. This bar serves up the best pint of Guinness in the whole of Ireland, but as I have said previously, every other bar lays claims to this distinction! I tended to agree today. We sat on the high stools, slowly drawing the wonderful black liquid from our glasses. It was only 4pm. We could have fished on and I might have caught 150lb of fish but I was satisfied with my lot. The weather was filling in again anyway so we had decided to pack in early. The Guinness was the icing on the cake.
There was a peat log fire smouldering in the grate and we warmed our cold hands over it. Above the fireplace on the wall is a faded but touched up colour photograph of the 1943 Roscommon All Ireland winning team. It was the last time they had won anything! They’re about as good as my team!
Stuart left with Pete in his Citroen GSA, which we nicknamed “The Hairdryer”, because the fan came on a soon as the ignition was switched on. Jack and myself had another two pints and chatted to the locals mainly about the terrible weather. We hadn’t really noticed it whilst we were fishing. I was hoping Stuart and Pete might have got the tea ready and tidied up the bombsite of a garage. They turned up ten minutes after we did with some peat briquettes, a box of firelighters and a 6lb lump of steak. I don’t know where they had got that from but Pete and myself conjured up a good meal out of it with onions, potatoes and an assortment of vegetables. This was basically the way all the meals went, infact one day Jack cooked his speciality (Shepherd’s Pie) which consisted of about 4lb of potatoes, 2 whole onions and 4lb of beef mince. It took an age to finish it but between us we did it. We just cooked, ate and enjoyed. I suppose this epitomises a self-catering holiday.