(International Pike Challenge 2009 – Part 1)

Well, the second day of fishing and a quick look out of the bedroom window at 7 o’clock tells me it’s still pouring down with rain and worse still, the wind is blowing again. Seems to me that since we’re in a golf hotel that might be a better sport to take up right now, but breakfast beckons.

Everyone seems to be looking forward to today, we have the first of two short matches to fish on the Lough, I just hope we can get on some good marks well known for big pike. Andy get’s the frozen deadbaits out of the freezer, one in the basement the hotel manager has let us use.

  Andy, myself and Jimmy.   Pic: Dave Houghton

Seems our baits are still OK so with all the rods loaded along with the bags and boxes, the echo sounder (with broken bracket) and 12 volt battery, we set off for the Athlone slipway again. Jimmy’s waiting for us and as soon as we’ve loaded up we are under way and it’s still pouring down!

The match will take place in the afternoon so we have the morning to find the best marks and hit them hard in the afternoon. We seem to be working over the western side of the lake and surprisingly, the water isn’t as rough as I’d expected considering what the wind was like when we got up. Sure there’s a few choppy swells now and then, but not as bad as the washes caused by the other boats passing us along the way.

Back at the slipway, people mentioned islands and bays where we’d be fishing and where we’d meet up for lunch, but not knowing these areas they meant nothing to either Andy or myself. We just relied on our Jimmy to take us to the right places and before long we slipped into this rather nice looking bay, we later found out that this was Carnegie Bay.

It was quite pretty with big patches of Norfolk reed standing in the edges and the odd weed cables reaching up from the bottom so after we’d slowed down, we got some baits over the side. Andy was again on the deadbaits and if only for convenience I was sticking lures out again. Heavy ones this time, big gliding jerkbaits on the Daiwa Whisker Jerkbait rod.

  Franny Ruiz with his fish. Pic: John O’Connor

Around and around we trolled. Minutes passed into the hour, then we moved down a bay into what we later found out was Bally Bay. The hour passed into the next and the next and yet this looked like such a terrific bay with reed on every bank and masses of weed at the bottom. We put the echo sounder over occasionally to find it was anything between 9 and 15 feet deep, what we thought would be a perfect area for hungry pike.

At one stage we tried drifting and Andy left a deadbait sitting in the one spot whilst letting line pour off his Baitrunner. When he came to reel in there must have been about 120 yards of line to recover, but still no fish, no bites, no tweaks, no nothing. The only good thing about the morning was that the wind had eased off, the rain had stopped and the sun came out.

It got close to lunch and I mentioned to Jimmy that we were supposed to be meeting up with the rest of the party somewhere. He phoned his cousin, Liam, and off we went to join them. It was when we arrived on this little island (one used for shooting practice by the Guarda) that we realised, we’d left our lunch in the hotel!

Some of the guys had Irish Stew cooked by the boatmen, but our Jimmy only had sandwiches though and shared those out. I still couldn’t help looking enviously at Mark Barrett lying on his belly tucking into a second large bowl of stew though! (Deanos came to mind. Sorry Mark! Private joke with the members here.)

Dave Houghton turned up in a  really fast rescue boat and laid down the rules of the pike match that would follow. All fish to be measured and we were to call the rescue boats to see if it would beat the previous best fish reported so far. If so the rescue boat would then race to the scene to verify the catch, the pike being retained in a tube (we had one) until it had been verified and then released.

We would be testing the system that would be used in the main festival next year, subject to modifications that we, the lucky journalists, would recommend during today and tomorrow.


Sheffielders, Jimmy Baxter and Peter Foster. I refered to them as ‘The Hairy Pikers’* before I got to know them. * I can only think that the pair of them reminded me of Dave Myers, Jimmy with a short beard, and Sy King, Peter with his pony tail. These other lads are best known on TV as the Hairy Bikers and so….. A nice pair of lads though and Jimmy is Editor (I believe) of the Angling Star. Picture courtesy of Dave Houghton.

So, at 2pm, we were back in the boat and motoring out, but to where? We still hadn’t found any pike in those bays at all, and with hundreds, if not thousands, of hectares of water before us, were to go? Surely there’d be a scattering of pike all over the lough, but would we find them.

We kept looking around to see if anyone else was catching, but didn’t see any signs at all.  Andy got snagged on something that he thought at first was a bite, but he was really locked on. All the pulling and pumping didn’t budge it and not even when we put the boat about to try and free it would it come away. In the end there was that inevitable snap as his 30lb Power Pro parted.

  Where do you fish on this lake?

It seemed as if Andy was going through the deadbaits like there was no tomorrow, smelt, herring, mackerel, even lamprey and some manky old frozen sardines I’d brought that had sat in the freezer for two years at least. Even I put a deadbait out on the Prowla Boat rod at one stage, but most of the time I was fishing the lures on my Daiwa Powermesh rod and letting them sink as deep as I dared without hitting rocks. The pike just weren’t showing.

The rains came and went and came again, one downpour so hard it was as my dad used to say “Bouncing half-dollars” (the old half-crowns) off the water, but it only lasted about ten minutes. I think by then we’d had enough. We’d tried drifting, trolling, casting to them on the bottom, in the middle and on the top – nothing!

So this day, we blanked completely. Back to the slipway and we didn’t hear of anything else of any size being caught amongst the few that were still there. We got back to the hotel, bit of a rest, wash and brush up for tonight, it was dinner at Grogan’s Bar in Glasson village. Before the coach came to pick us up we had a quick one in the hotel bar and it was there we found out that lucky Mark Barrett had caught one of over 25lbs with just four minutes to go before the end of the match. He later showed up to confirm this.


  Richard Lee with his 20lbs 3ozs fish.

Photo Courtesy of John O’Connor

Richard Lee of Angling Times had faired better on numbers of fish, but he was in his own boat rigged with a fast motor and a built-in echo sounder.  Both he and Terry Knight, his partner, had caught fish over 20 lbs and they told us you needed to be in 25–40 feet of water. The deepest we’d seen was 20-23 feet.

They also said that big rubber Replicants were working well too and to show what a good sport Richard is, he loaned us a spare echo sounder fitted to a bracket and three large Fox Replicant lures, a perch, a trout and a chartreuse one with a curly tail. At least now we had something to go on for the Friday (last day) match.

Other notable catches from that day were Richard Lee with a fish of 94cms (37inches), Neville Fickling with a 84cms (33inches) beauty, and Andy Briggs recorded one of 74cms (29inches).

Off we went into Glasson village and to the quaint old Grogan’s bar, a really lovely restaurant with good old fashioned cooking and plenty of it. Again we had some Gaelic music provided for us afterwards amongst a group of musicians. Strange how these groups seem to grow, first there’s two, then another joins in and someone else comes from down the road. One of the French lads grabbed a pair of spoons and joined in and believe it or not, he was good!

It was late when we got back to the hotel and still we had to be up at 7 o’clock the next morning, the final day of fishing.