Three men in a boat

THEY were total strangers at the start … but by after four days of cruising and fishing on the Shannon-Erne Waterway, Billy, Frank and Reg were like a well oiled angling club committee.

And was certainly an Irish element creeping into life on their 8-berth Carrick Craft cruiser as the fourth day was declared open when Frank Lythgoe, secretary of Warrington AA, stumbled into the main cabin declaring it was 7 o’clock. The lads jumped out of bed and hurriedly dressed, only to discover it was 5am!

Reg Wild from Stoke-on-Trent, the cruise elder, asked for the umpteenth time if he could claim the previous day’s top weight on Kiltybardan Lake as his first Irish Festival win?  Amid the chaos and confusion of living with two 60-plus aged anglers, there was a chink of light (just a small one) that Merseyside’s Bill Delves – secretary of St Helens AA – could bring some sense to the occasion and catch some fish.

We needed the boat in the right place for day five.  This was an all-or-nothing gamble as the Captain Bill turned the 37-foot cruiser back in the general direction of Carrick-on-Shannon, on a course plotted to Lough Eidin on the Boyle River system that runs into the Shannon about five miles upstream of Carrick.

By now we had collected bait on the first day in the lock system at Kilclare, picked up another two gallons of maggots from the Angler’s Rest in Ballyconnell and now we had to stop for another batch of red maggots, along with half-a-gallon of casters, from Glenview House in Ballinamore. Each of the bait stockists was only a short walk from the boat, making life on board a lot more comfortable than trying to cope with a whole pile of bait in one delivery.

Bill’s decision was forceful; a plan to dash through directly through all the remaining locks in one sailing then park in Leitrim Village Marina, have a meal and get fishing by lunchtime on the fifth day. We got through the last lock by the skin of our teeth before it closed at 8pm and an hour later we were walking into the Treasure Boat Chinese Restaurant that was a one minute stroll from the boat.

Eating done, we got back to the cruiser for an early night but then out came Bill’s Bacardi, Reg’s Jameson Whisky and Commodore Frank managed to unscrew the cap from his beloved Sapphire Pink Gin (really) for a couple of sips. I can tell you, there was no 5am shout this time and breakfast was around 10am in a small café in the village.

Lough Eidin
It could only happen in Ireland … scouring the angling reference books for information before the holiday was useless until I discovered that everyone in the country called it Drumharlow Lake.

Eventually the man with the best information was Mike Fitzpatrick, a Fisheries Officer who lives nearby in Boyle, who described it as rich water that is hardly ever fished because of difficult access to the very shallow shoreline.

As regards fish he suggested there to be rudd, roach and hybrids, but couldn’t be sure, though suspected bream because they are present in Lough Key, which is on the same Boyle River chain of lakes.

Our idea was to find suitable shoreline on an island that showed up on the navigation chart and expectations heightened as we made our approach. Heavily reeded shorelines emphasised the lakes shallow margins so we searched with the boat’s binoculars and eventually found a likely looking stretch on the mainland.

Bill sailed the cruiser at a snail’s pace in the shallow water and someone on board must have been saying their prayers because hidden away behind a mound of rocks was water deep enough for us to dock. What a stroke of luck.

The fishing rods had been left made-up on the deck after each session so Reggie clipped an Arlesley bomb on to his leger rod and walked along the shore and got an average depth of two metres (6ft). Bearing in mind that there was a good chop on the water – an east wind had dogged us all week – at least it would provide some cover.

The conditions dictated that at least for the moment, fishing would be confined to feeder fishing and once the lads were set up they discovered up to maximum of three metres (10ft) at 50 metres-plus.

Drumharlow Lake was to be our last venue of a week on the Shannon-Erne Waterway and the evening session was taking place on June 21, the longest day of the year and it would have been possible to see a waggler 20 minutes before midnight in perfect conditions. We began choosing our swims and setting up about 5pm and finished the session at 9.30 because we hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast …. But at least it was a chance to get something into the water bearing in mind that perhaps this spot had never, ever, been fished with a rod and line.

We all fished at a minimum of 50 metres and there was a nail biting 45 minutes before the first bite and then roach arriving in increasing numbers to provide a bite-a-chuck.  Double caster on a 14s hook was taking roach to 1lb on the drop by the time we finished and the brightest hint of things to come was when Bill latched on to a 5lb bream. It looked good for the moment so everyone agreed to bait up their swims using a swimfeeder and whatever groundbait they had in their bowl, along with bits of corn, caster, hemp and some red maggots.

The ‘craic’ was great over dinner on board as we devoured Frank’s welcome offering of steak, potatoes and beans, with a bottle of wine.  Cheese and biscuits appeared and eventually each of the lads produced a bottle of their favourite tipple, including the Sapphire Gin guarded so well by the Commodore, as we anticipated good fishing early next morning.

Frank, Bill and Reg, did without breakfast and were on their boxes and fishing before 6am, knowing that this was absolutely their last chance of a decent catch because they had to be back at the marina for 2 o’clock to prepare for their journey home. And the fish were there, waiting and joined in the fun to provide a fairytale ending to this special jaunt.

It was very special – and deserved – for 51 year old Billy on his first ever trip to Ireland as he did his very best to empty his swim by catching 23 bream, all around 5lb and with a best fish of 5-12-0.

“It is amazing that fish of this caliber have arrived from nowhere on what must be a 1,000 acre lake and stayed on what amounts to no more than a full bowl of groundbait”, he pondered. “Altogether I’ve used two bags of Van den Eynde Lake and one Ringers Dark with a few bits of corn, caster, worm and maggots”.

Bill was fishing with a 13ft Daiwa Connoisseur and 12 ounce tip, 8lb braid with a seven metre 4lb shock absorber and a forward weighted ‘flier’ plastic open-ended feeder. His casting distance was about 60 metres in three metres of water and was using a 14s hook on for most of the time but changed up to a size 12 as the bream became bolder, and the best bait in this session was a full worm tipped with a red maggot.

“This morning I’ve caught 23 bream averaging 5lb and another 10lb of roach and hybrids, and on top of that I am having to pack up to go home and the fish are still feeding”, he pointed out .

“Ireland is a wonderful place. Today is what I cam here for and believe me, if you sit on a shoal of fish like this, it is just so easy. This is a personal best catch for me and to get more than 100lb is magical. Ireland is like all other natural fisheries, there are good days and bad days, which is a major factor in the fun of fishing”

Our friendly Commodore Frank reckons cruising and fishing is a brilliant idea.

“Obviously this holiday is ideal for families or a group of like-minded anglers who are prepared to give-and-take a little, bearing in mind that a cruiser is a confined space for a week’s holiday.

And Reg, who has been to Ireland umpteen times, says: “Among the many advantages is being able to stop and fish spots that are otherwise inaccessible and take advantage of Ireland’s beautiful countryside”.

TOURISM is important to the Irish economy and €millions have been spent creating the Shannon-Erne Waterway and a link between the famous Shannon and Erne river systems. Cruising was an obvious thought behind the development and by connecting Ireland’s longest and second-longest waterways, suddenly here was a continuous stretch of unspoilt water that would take more than three weeks journey from Limerick in the south to Belleek in Northern Ireland. Unwittingly, it has created a wonderful fishery with a range of new angling opportunities and year-round sport.


By Dave Houghton

Published in Angling Times 2007