The Final Countdown! We are now on Friday, 3rd day of fishing, last day of fishing and another match to play for today.
This morning looks more promising weather wise and following a hearty breakfast we once again head down to the slipway in Athlone. This time we have Richard Lee’s echo unit and he also loaned us some additional Fox Replicants so that we could have a good day.
|Andy, suffering from Guinness flu?|
When we get there we’re offered a chance to go downstream into the Shannon or up into the Lough and since we’ve heard that the latter is where the big girls are, that’s where Andy and I elect to go. Off we set under a watery sun, but Andy’s not feeling too well, he seems to be suffering from a rare strain of flu, common in Ireland, but possible to contract it here too. It’s known as Guinness Flu and the symptoms are more nauseous than cold-like, we just hope he doesn’t start throwing a technicoloured yawn. At least the water is fairly calm, waves are small with the largest being only 2 foot high.
With the echo sounder switched on and clamped to the side of the boat we start to look for the deeper waters, Richard had said between 25 and 40 feet. Gradually the sounder charts a drop off and our baits go over the side whilst our Jimmy lets the engine drop to tick-over. Sure enough we’re showing 30 plus feet and everything looks good.
|Alban Choinier with a Shannon pike
Photo – John O’Connor.
It’s maybe 40 minutes or so later and I get a tug that at first I thought was the bottom, but the tug is followed by a shake and Andy swears it’s a fish. With the rod now in my hands I can feel it and it’s only a second later the fish launches itself out of the water like a Trident missile and tail walks. What fantastic fish these Irish pike are, they all seem to want to do that, whether it’s the boats still pulling on them or what is unclear, but it’s nice seeing them do it.
After a brief fight it’s on the surface and dives for the bottom again, but I’m on 80lbs line on the heavier Daiwa jerk rod so unless the hooks slip out there’s little chance of losing it and it did look a good fish. Andy has his gigantic 52” (I think he said) landing net to hand and it went over the side ready. The fish gave a couple of more lunges and my drag let it have some play, even on 80lbs line you don’t want to haul these fish in too hard.
The net slipped underneath it and Andy laid it on the unhooking mat we’d had down the centre of the boat all the time. I didn’t see much else from then on as Andy had his back to me so I prepared the camera ready for the trophy shots. All I heard from Jimmy was something like “Je**s, that’s the biggest fish I’ve ever seen from this lough.”, this comment made me wonder.
The last view many a small roach will have of this world
Pretty soon Andy had the fish in his weigh sling and onto the scales where it weighed in a 18lbs 8ozs. I then held the fish up for a few shots taken by Andy (see headline picture) and then swung it around for the mouth shot. I was pleased on the one hand, this was my best pike ever on lures, but Jimmy’s comment rang in my ears and I was starting to doubt we would see anything bigger.
I put this beautiful specimen fish back over the side, with the heaving boat I couldn’t hold on to it as I would like, but it gave one solid kick and headed off back to the depths it called home. The handshakes followed, the photos checked and we got back to the business of catching another, followed by another and another, we hoped.
| German writer Thordes Hawich Photo – John O’Connor
Within just a few minutes it seemed Andy had one great tug and struck into it. He felt the fish for just a second only to have the line fall slack on him. He reeled in and the deadbait, I think it was a joey mackerel, was lacerated all along it flanks from the trebles to the tail. The pike had obviously taken the bait short.
We tried for another hour around an island, ran aground on rocks, which seemed strange a mile or more from land although perhaps only 300 yards from the island. What seemed even stranger was seeing Jimmy with his leg over the side standing up in the middle of a lough, it’s full of surprises this place. We hadn’t been watching the screen on the echo sounder and these rocky outcrops suddenly rise up, we found out watching the screen as it soon dropped off to 20 foot again.
A Break For Lunch photo D. Houghton
I think it was Inchmore Island where we all met up for lunch, all those fishing the lough. We were all wondering how the lot that went down the Shannon were fairing out, it was most the French, Belgians and Germans that had gone down there. There seemed to be a showing off of how big your lure was, like lads do, but Mark Barrett also won this contest with a special he’d bought off Ebay with two others for £3.50 I think he said.
We got the call for the afternoon match, sadly my fish was caught beforehand so didn’t count, and off we set again. We only had two hours from 2 until 4 o’clock to find and catch some fish, but this time we seemed to have difficulty finding deep water. We motored to where Jimmy thought there was deep water, but the echo sounder told us only 15 feet.
|John O’Connor himself with one|
Three times we stopped in the next half hour and each time was just about the same, 15 feet. We did find some around 20 and with time now running out we gave it a try. After a further fruitless half hour, we started on our way back all the time with the baits out and all the time with nothing to show for it. When 4 o’clock came around it was almost a pleasure to draw the rods in and go back to the slipway.
I saw Richard Lee when we got back and had to apologise as we had lost one of his three Replicants he’d loaned to us. Andy had used it to try a bit of trolling and must have caught on Lough Ree’s plug. He had to pull for a break and when I told Richard of this he said it was a pity as they weren’t his, they were Mick Brown’s lures. So sorry Mick, but the man you’re looking for is Andy Nellist (that’s A-N-D-Y N-E-L-L-I-S-T), not me.
In the evening, we had a whiskey tasting session, neither Andy nor I are whiskey drinkers, but out of gratitude I did try a little sip. It confirmed why I am not a whiskey (or whisky) drinker, I’m afraid, but the boatmen joined us and they probably made up for what Andy and I left. Then we made our way upstairs at the hotel to the private function room where the evening meal would be served and the presentations made.
There was a surprise for everyone because the company that had given us the whiskey tasting session also gave us each a bottle of Ireland’s finest. As I said, I am no whiskey drinker, but I know a man who is and our Mr Marsden has never been known to refuse a bottle so mine was earmarked. They also gave each of us two cut glass presentation tumblers, but they have remained in the Woodhouse household, a nice souvenir of a well enjoyed trip.
It came as no surprise that Mark Barrett won the matches with his 25lbs+ fish and for that he was presented with the beautiful cut glass vase that had been handed over on the night we arrived at the civic reception. The other runners-up received their prizes too and then came the dancing girls. We had a display of cailie dancing by the local Athlone troupe, talk of sparks from flying feet! Just out of interest, had my pike been caught during the match, it would have won the day, but then a lot of other anglers could have said that too.
| Even Richard Lee won one! Photo – D. Houghton
With the ceremonies over we bid our farewells to everyone, especially to our very sozzled Jimmy who might have caught a touch of the Guinness Flu off Andy. In the morning it was packing up time and loading everything back into the car. My other worry, of course, was would this exhaust get us back to Blighty?
We had a slightly better sea voyage back with a good plate of fish and chips. I drove us back to Sandbach services and Andy took over from there. I think it was about 9:40 p.m. when we arrived at my house, quickly unloaded Andy’s gear and off home he went. It was Tuesday before I could see about the exhaust, but it turned out to be just the bracket and as luck would have it, my man had a similar bracket off a Mini that only needed a few more bends and a new hole for the screw and the job was a good ‘un! £25 – phew!
I’d like, on behalf of Andy and myself, to thank all involved, but especially Mark Rowlette and Marie McCormack of Fáilte Ireland and Dave Houghton of Active Irish Breaks without whom this whole adventure would not have been possible. Nice work lads and lass, thanks. And now, I just want to get back there!
If you fancy a trip to Ireland for some excellent coarse, sea or fly fishing, try contacting Dave at Active Irish Breaks and he now has a new site called www.pikefishinginireland.com, look it up. I’m sure he’ll put you on to some good deals. The friendliness of the people there and the entire charm of the place, not to mention the fishing, are well worth sampling.