IN THE EARLY YEARS, the clean waters of the River Erne flowed between the two lakes at Killykeen in Lough Oughter. With little access to that location in the forest, there was no bridge. It was there that we caught big slimy bream to 7 lbs and we learned to use the crust of our precious sandwiches for the lovely rudd around 2 lbs, which fed in the weedy stretch.
When we launched into the development and promotion of coarse angling tourism in the 1950’s, we were to learn that our waters abounded in stocks of quality coarse fish. In those days, the lovely fish with the red fins (rudd) were known as “roach” to us, but years later the true roach was to appear up the Erne waters from Northern Ireland. I well remember receiving my first reports and claim forms from the Specimen Fish Committee and observing with interest the Irish Record Fish List and when compared with the record list of English coarse fish, was greatly surprised to note that our fish were much lighter.
It was indeed no surprise when the Specimen Fish “hunters” flocked over here to discover our waters. Ireland was then a treasure of unfished waters which held vast stocks of big fish. The early influx of English anglers helped greatly to introduce techniques of coarse fishing to Ireland and especially to promote coarse fishing tourism.
I recall rendezvousing with big prison officer, Eddie Hawksworth at the reasonable hour of 6.00 a.m. at Bun Lake to find that he had already 23 specimen rudd/bream hybrids in his net! His lesson was simple. To catch specimen fish, you must be prepared to fish long and hard hours.
It was when the Power Station at Lanesboro began to emit hot water into the River Shannon that the stretch at the town bridge became the mecca for specimen fish anglers. In those early years, the best results came only to night fishing and the fish responded mostly to bread flake as hook bait. Visiting the water during the days of April/May you would find the bankside quiet, while the bleary eyed, unshaven anglers lazed around at their camps, further along the bank.
It was essential to keep one eye on the smoke emission from the Power Station chimneys and should that stop, then all hell would break loose. The temperature of the water outflow dropped, sending a signal to the big fish out in Lough Ree to stop their approach to the river stretch. While protests were being made to the staff in the Power Station to bring that critical hot water on again, many anglers would come to me seeking information on other “big fish waters”.
Trips to Lough Ree, Inny Bay were laid on and I became the Pied Piper, leading convoys to Monalty Lake where I had taken great big rudd in the past. Ray Webb followed in his old van which was his home for years, the John Mills and others followed to enjoy the great sport with rudd/bream hybrids in that rich, weedy water, which then produced good tench. Ray Webb packed up his job and came over to Ireland to haunt our waters.
I enjoyed many expeditions with him, including some hazardous ones in his collapsible marine-ply boat, aptly called “Tinca”. I joined him one night at Stone’s Lake and brought him some news from the outside world, that a man had landed on the moon or some other item of interest but his only response to me was that he had seen some tench move in the lilies to the right! Like so many others, he was totally obsessed with fishing and sadly this was the demise of a truly great character whose name is recorded in many Specimen Fish Reports.
The explosion of the tench population in recent years has been welcomed and low we are finding new waters with good tench to 7 lbs. in fact, I have been looking for virgin tench waters in the Erne System and have had great sport With fish up to 6 lbs. A record to go must surely be the tench.
I fished the Co. Roscommon lakes for big rudd and this year was successful in creating another new Irish Record with a fish of 4 lbs. 8 ozs. I was pleased that at last we had an Irish Record to equal that of an English one. it was in Norfolk that the Rev. Alston in 1933 also landed a 4 lbs. 8 oz. rudd. But, I was dismayed to find roach in most of those rudd waters and one wonders how many more years the lovely big rudd have in Ireland as the roach invasion continues.
Hybrids in Irish waters have increased in size and numbers, bringing great pleasure to many, as those fish of 5, 6 and 7 lbs bend rods. We can expect great times with those fish all over the country.
With new legislation and hopes of a total ban on the killing of all big pike and a great awareness of conservation out there, pike angling is improving. I predict that a fish of 50 lbs will be caught by the angler who is prepared to fish hard and long hours in our rich waters. I am presently experimenting with new baits and using techniques which Ray Webb and I discovered in the pre-bleeper/buzzer era. I insert these last words for all to read and to illustrate that all big fish anglers are prone to dreaming.