There was a time – only a few years ago – when the law insisted that fanatical coarse fishermen had to put their rods in the cupboard and stop fishing for three months.
It was the close season; and so the sensible anglers jumped into their cars, minibuses and transit vans and headed off to Ireland.
Escaped maggots caused havoc as they wriggled across the ferry car decks and the bars were crammed, ‘holiday’ anglers determined to spend every pound note on Guinness.
Thousands booked trips and by November those who hadn’t already sent off a deposit for the last two weeks in May and the first in June wouldn’t stand a chance.
Fishing seasons have changed here and so fewer anglers travel to Ireland. It’s possible to get a bed in any farmhouse or guesthouse in even the most famous angling centres and enjoy some of Europe’s best fishing on tranquil lakes without another angler in sight.
And the fishing is better than ever…….
Not only that, but real and continued peace is believable so opening up the whole of Ireland to even the most hesitant first time visitors.
Republic Of Ireland
Southern Ireland is the most popular destination for thousands of anglers and they disappear into the masses of rivers and lakes available all year round, and for the most part absolutely free of charge.
Though technically a “foreign” country, passports are not needed, they speak the same language (well almost!), and drive on the same side of the road (sometimes!).
The Irish pound is called a punt and at the moment if you change your money the value is about IR£ 1 for Stg£ 1.25. But don’t panic about changing it; this can be done on the ferry, at the airport or at a bank when you arrive in the Emerald Isle.
Species not available in Ireland are barbel, chub and zander. All of the popular angling centres have bream, roach and hybrids; with many also having good stocks of tench.
The River Erne emerges in County Cavan then runs from the south into Northern Ireland. It is the most popular fishery for coarse fishermen and its network includes hundreds of lakes.
Most anglers head for Cavan, Monaghan and Leitrim, dotted with lakes and a mass of backwaters belonging to the Erne system.
Ireland’s biggest fishery has to be its longest river – the Shannon. This provides exciting bream, roach, tench and pike fishing throughout its length from Leitrim, through Longford, Westmeath, Offaly, Galway, Clare and Limerick.
The biggest concentration of fish will be found on the Erne system in County Fermanagh. Massive shoals of bream and roach pack into the waters surrounding Enniskillen during May and early June to spawn.
Millions of them move in from Upper and Lower Lough Erne and matchmen have taken advantage of this reliable annual migration to stage a series of week long festivals. But don’t worry, there’s room for lots more pleasure anglers on both the main river or quiet backwaters that hardly ever see a fishing rod.
Getting To IrelandThere are 13 different ferry routes between the UK and Ireland with daily crossing leaving from Swansea, Fishguard, Pembroke, Holyhead, Liverpool, Heysham, Cairnryan, Stranraer and Troon and the quickest of the modern fleet takes one hour!
Ten Fishing Counties Of Ireland
Not so very long ago there was Cavan.
Every coarse fisherman sailing across the Irish Sea seemed to be heading to Cavan in the hope of a crack at its famous bream.
But today the picture has changed; those fish still abound in County Cavan’s well known angling centres – such as Belturbet, Cootehill, Killeshandra – but visiting anglers have spread themselves around Ireland, just like a spider’s web, in search of a change of scene and to try new waters.
And they haven’t been disappointed.
There isn’t anything especially better, just different, and the common factor wherever you may roam are unspoilt waters, fish that have not been hooked before and the ‘craic’ that only the Irish can provide.
Brilliant roach fishing on the River Erne contributed to the fame of Cavan. There were always plenty of bream, rudd, pike and perch, yet it took an influx of roach to light the fuse.
Those roach are said to have been transferred by continental pike anglers using live bait collected many years ago on Cork’s River Blackwater, but nobody knows for certain.
But the fish did colonise the delightful and extensive Erne system and continue to provide superb sport to this day.
Fishing is on a mix of large lakes – many of which are connected to the River Erne – or the river itself and tributaries such as the Annalee and Dromore.
Expect to find roach from a couple of ounces to 1lb along with bream averaging 3lb, hard-fighting hybrids to 2lb, plus pike and perch in abundance.
The main angling centres with a choice of accommodation and waters are Arva, Ballyconnell. Belturbet, Cootehill, Killeshandra and Loch Gowna.
Clare is a ‘soft’ county with many beautiful reed-fringed lakes and runs alongside Ireland’s longest river, the Shannon.
Those same roach have now spread along the entire system of the Shannon and can be caught in great numbers on the lower river at Plassey, Castleconnell and O’Brien’s Bridge.
But the mighty river is also home to very big bream, tench and monster pike and together they provide superb all-round fishing.
It would be easy to imagine that the Shannon is a fast-moving river because of its size, but the coarse angling stretches have a stately flow and for most parts are 80 metres wide and more.
Providing a change of scene is the many lakes, especially around Broadford, which also boast tench, bream, roach and a good head of rudd.
Doon Lake continues to be called ‘Duffer’s’ and still deserves the tag because of the extraordinary easy-to-catch skimmers and roach.
There are small pockets of places to stay around County Clare and the best known is O’Brien’s Bridge, Clonlara (near Limerick). Mountshannon, Killaloe and Feakle.
Cork’s main boast for coarse fishing was always the River Blackwater, yet its fame came mostly from the tidal waters at Cappoquin, which is actually in County Waterford, where hundreds of roach in the 2lb bracket used to be caught each year.
Dense shoals of prime fish congregated downstream of a slaughterhouse that drained blood and bits of offal into the water.
Imagine that happening today!
By and large those big roach had vanished but the upper reaches from Lismore, Fermoy and Mallow still offer a charm plus pleasant fishing for dace and roach.
However, just a few years ago a bream explosion was discovered on the River Lee and especially in the extensive waters of Inniscarra Reservoir.Now there are several fishing festivals each year and many pleasure anglers discovering the new opportunities.
And we are talking big fish – some taking the scales at 9lb – with plenty of hungry skimmers and large shoals of small rudd, all of which can be caught on pole, waggler or swimfeeder.
The main places to stay are Cappoquin, Fermoy, Mallow, Macroom and Inniscarra.
Northern Ireland’s best know angling hot-spot depends much on the immense maze of lakes and river which forms Upper and Lower Lough Erne; the downstream waters of the same river which starts its journey across the border in the Republic.
The coarse fishing came to the fore about 30 years ago when anglers discovered hordes of quality roach and bream packing into the waters around Enniskillen Town each spring to spawn.
The Tourist Board reacted swiftly to encourage visitors and within no time at all the first May festival were taking place and famous names such as Ian Heaps were ‘bagging’ to their little hearts content.
Angling is the one tourism product that has remained constant through the turmoil of the late 60’s to the present day.
While the fishing can be incredible in May, early June and September on the Erne, the county can also offer a vast number of lakes – some hardly ever visited – holding bream, roach, rudd and a few tench.
Enniskillen Town and surrounding villages such as Carrybridge have an array of hotels, guesthouses and self-catering properties.
Anglers who fancy themselves as adventurers should head off in the direction of County Galway. Its most recent development has been coarse fishing around Moycullen on the River Clare and dozens of lakes in the district.
Go armed with plenty of bait and big keepnets to cope with frenzied feeding from impenetrable shoals of roach which often average 10 ounces.
The standard of fishing can be quite brilliant but the town’s location on the West Coast seems to deter British anglers from the journey, yet it can be done within four hours and then fishing is on the doorstep.
Closer to hand and very popular fishing centres in Galway are Portumna on the River Shannon – where the bream run big – and popular Ballinasloe sitting astride the River Suck, a tributary of the Shannon.
These are more areas for slow river fishing with pole or swimfeeder tackle and a chance to sort out a few bream to 6lb, maybe a tench or two, and an increasing number of roach.
Pike anglers could realise their dream of a real whopper while fishing the Shannon or Suck.
The major fishery for County Kildare is the Grand Canal and the best known angling spot is without a doubt the village of Prosperous from where the tench, rudd and hybrids can be targeted.
But it would be unfair not to mention its neighbours because these days they get the biggest share of angling visitors.
The first is Vicarstown and Athy (strictly speaking on County Laois) offering a pleasant mixture of sport on the canal but specimen bream and rudd on the River Barrow.
There are some lovely lakes for tench and rudd within a 40 minute drive.
Whether you stay in County Kildare or simply drive through it to your ultimate destination, keep an eye on the developing Blessington Lake on the outskirts of Dublin because the huge reservoir is alive with roach.
Back to the Grand Canal…and two centres capable of providing super bream and tench fishing are Edenderry and Tullamore.
Carrick-on-Shannon is reckoned to be the very first town to offer holiday accommodation to visiting anglers and they’re still at it today.You might have guessed that fishing on the River Shannon comes into play but there are also something like 25 lakes within a few miles drive and all of them have lots of fish.
County Leitrim’s other fine angling centres weren’t long in catching up with fishery development and super facilities for British anglers with places like Ballinamore, Carrigallen, Mohill and Roosky.
Everywhere you travel and stop there is brilliant fishing to be had with roach, bream, skimmers, hybrids, pike and perch, and between them there is an array of lakes of all sizes and some of the country’s best tench fishing at Ballinamore and Mohill.
Each of the towns and villages mentioned have a selection of small hotels, pubs, guesthouses and self-catering, and it is a small enough county to stay in one place and try the fishing in each of the others.
Leitrim, like Cavan and Monaghan, has the distinct advantage of being able to provide year round fishing and from October through to March that can mean inexpensive holidays.
Anglers who find the huge Irish loughs a daunting experience will delight in Meath’s collection of small lakes, most of which are situated around the village of Drumconrath.
Unfortunately accommodation is a bit of a problem and anybody wanting to try their hand at waters containing first class bream, tench, roach, rudd, pike and perch, are best advised to stay in Carrickmacross in Monaghan.
Carrickmacross is a long established town for anglers to stay and fish, and fish, and fish.
Apart from being close (ten miles) to the waters around Drumconrath, the town has enough of its own including Monalty and Na-Glack – two lakes that chucked up more specimen bream than any others in Ireland.
Mind you, the best fishing comes of a night and that’s a clash of interest for most visitors who see the pub as an integral part of their break!
It doesn’t really matter because there are plenty of waters with a variety of fish.
Ballybay is another lively market town with a reputation for looking after fishermen and is situated on the banks of the Dromore River system that opens up into 13 lakes on its nine mile route to Cootehill.
About the same distance the other way is Castleblayney which has gained a reputation for producing happy anglers in recent years due to prolific Lough Muckno.
Most anglers go looking for bream and roach but pike anglers should have it on their fishing list because the vast deep lake hosts truly big fish.
Athlone is County Westmeath’s most notable destination for visiting fishermen and the attraction is the River Shannon and some brilliant bream fishing.
Past angling matches staged around the busy town – which is split in two by the river – have often been won by bream hauls totalling 150lb and more.
The only nearby alternative to the river is Lough Ree, a daunting fishery whenever there’s a stiff breeze and to make an impact on its huge shoals of bream, heavy groundbaiting is essential.
The welcoming town of Mullingar is another gem with fishing on several lakes for bream, carp, rudd, tench, perch and pike.
There is also the Royal Canal cutting its way through town and within a few minutes drive the challenging River Inny with roach, bream and lots of hybrids. The Inny is best during spring when fish arrive for spawning.
Athlone and Mullingar both offer a variety of accommodations to suit every pocket.
It’s also worth noting that Lough Owel and Ennell at Mullingar are respected brown trout fisheries.
Dave and Angela Houghton run the highly successful Leisure Angling of Liverpool that specialises in holidays to Ireland. Leisure Angling is celebrating its 21st birthday this year. The new Leisure Angling brochure can be ordered on 0151 734 2344 or www.leisureangling.co.uk
The new Leisure Angling brochure can be ordered on 0151 734 2344 or www.leisureangling.co.uk