A few years back, my fishing mate, Rob, joined me for a week’s fishing in and around Co. Mayo. Rob is a mad keen trout and salmon fanatic who lives almost literally on the shores of Rutland Water in England. As Rob doesn’t get to fish for salmon very often, we decided to try our luck on the River Moy for a couple of days but it was the usual story: we should have been there the previous week when the salmon were crawling up the rods.
The highlight of those two days was the sighting of a corncrake. The damn thing had been driving us mad all day with its constant “Crek, Crek”, so I decided I needed to see our tormentor. I spent a couple of hours hunting it down with my video camera until I finally got a very brief glimpse of its head in the lush grass bordering the river.
We decided to cut our losses and try a bit of trout fishing. Having the luxury of a 16’ boat on a trailer, all we needed was a decent slipway and we were off. Another close friend, David, had just the slipway we needed on Lough Carra and it was here we fished for a few days during the mayfly hatch. The first couple of days weren’t very productive and the only sizeable trout we caught was hooked outside the mouth. As it was Rob who caught it I insisted he put it back, and this he reluctantly did after various threats of exposing him in the angling press as a “snagger”.
Our third day started off well with a nice oily ripple and the odd trout sipping in the mayfly. We set up a drift onto Lynches Point where we had seen a few trout rising consistently to the fly close to the reed-beds. However after a few drifts into the hot area we had another boat cut right across our drift and ruin any chances of catching in that area.
We had met a couple of other anglers from Donegal earlier in the week; they were staying at David’s house. They were quite elderly and had a wealth of experience and tales to tell about fishing on the Carra, so when we saw them heading to the Twin Islands for lunch, we decided to join them. I would point out that the oily ripple had changed into a slightly heavier swell from the south as we headed for the Twin Islands. After an hour the Donegal gentlemen headed out again for another hour’s fishing before they headed off home. We decided to have a bit longer ashore and another cup of tea. As it turned out this was a bad decision as the wind had really picked up and was literally howling up the Lough by the time we were ready to go back out.
We took the decision to stay put for a while and let the wind abate before heading back to the slipway. There were a few fish still moving in the shelter of the island so we tried a bit of bank fishing – but to no avail. All the time the wind seemed to be getting stronger and stronger and of course the temperature was beginning to drop as well. We decided to try and find some shelter and soon came across an old hut in amongst the trees. At least we could get out of the wind and thoughts of having to huddle together for warmth were quickly and happily dispelled, or were they? Both Rob and I are non-smokers, so neither of us carried matches or a lighter. Neither did we have a Ray Mears flint kit or even two boy scouts to rub together to create a fire. To make things worse some other anglers were on the adjacent island and had a roaring fire that was clearly visible through the trees: we felt even colder!
Then suddenly Rob spotted a single Swan-Vesta match on the floor of the hut and our hopes soared. Not wanting to miss our chance of heat we sought out all the dry combustible material in our tackle bags and found some dry sticks and branches ready for the match to be struck. With the materials all in place we sheltered the match as we drew its red head across the old matchbox we had also found and the red head fell apart: IT WAS TOO DAMP TO STRIKE!! OH NO!! Luckily we could still see the funny side of life and after several minutes of hysterical laughter, we consigned ourselves to a night together in the hut.
The day dragged into evening and the wind was now at its height and all hope of getting back to the shore seemed to be draining away. We decided to tackle down and rope all the tackle into the boat for safety while we waited and hoped for a drop in the wind. This proved to be a good move because at around 9.30pm the wind did seem to have dropped a bit. We noticed that the other anglers on the other island had gone so we decided to try our luck.
With everything tied down and waterproofs fully zipped up we pushed the boat out onto the lough, started the engine and gingerly nosed our way out between the Twin Islands. We were soon meeting the full force of some massive waves and began to doubt our sanity – but we pushed on. Freezing water was spraying into the boat and the shock was taking my breath away. I was unable to use the power of the 25hp outboard and just accelerated whenever we found a flat spot between the waves. My biggest fear was that the boat would be blown over as we crested some of the huge waves as even with Rob’s considerable weight in the bows he seemed to spend an awful lot of time way above me, sitting in the stern.
After what seemed an eternity we eventually reached the slipway and safety. The relief on Rob’s face was obvious and for one awful moment I thought he was going to kiss me. Luckily he just wanted to give me hug and thank me for saving his life [?]
After loading the boat onto the trailer we popped into David’s house to let him know we were safe and well. He had been about to inform the Garda we were missing out on the lough, so it was as well we dropped in on him. The gale force 10 winds of that day caused major disruptions, with all flights into Knock being cancelled and ferries to the UK cancelled as well.
The second piece of good luck for us (the first being escaping with our lives) was that the guests David had been expecting were delayed by 24 hours and all the food that was prepared for them had to be eaten. How could we refuse!
There are three morals to this tale:
• Never go afloat without an inflatable life jacket!!
• Never go afloat without getting an accurate weather forecast!!
• Never go fishing without a means to start a fire should you need one!!
It was during a recent visit to Lough Carra and the Twin Islands that I found the hut was no longer there! Could it possibly have burned down?
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