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Back On The Bank

Well it’s been a long time since I last updated my blog, and I have been putting it off due to circumstances which took place over the past six months.  My father, Peter, was diagnosed with Motor Nueron Disease  in November and passed away in January. To say it was a shock was an understatement as he was such a fit and energetic man who really lived his life to the fullest.

I am not going to go into the details of his illness or how incredibly brave he was, as he documented this himself in an article that was published in the Irish Times before his untimely passing. What I would like to do in the coming months is write about some of our fishing adventures together, which spanned 25 years here in Ireland. We had so many good times on the bank, and it would be a shame not to share them  here. It is going to take me some time to scan in the old photos to really do them justice, but I look forward to relaying some of our eventful fishing trips on these pages.

I seem to have had a mental block with my writing since losing dad and have not had the passion to put words down, but I know if he was looking down, he would want me to carry on with the blog because he said he really enjoyed some of my articles. The one thing he didn’t like was the title, which was a bit tongue in cheek, but he reckoned it lowered the tone of the page. I decided to take his advice and use one of the suggestions he put to me, so now the blog will be known as Running Ledger.

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On the angling front, I have been making quite a few trips out this year, and found my time at the waterside really helps with getting over dads loss, however my catch returns have not made pleasant reading. My pike fishing trips were barren to say the least and apart from some welcome jack pike, I didn’t really connect with anything substantial apart from one mid-double girl early in the season.

Unlike last year where I stuck it out on a couple of waters, I decided this winter to put on my exploring hat and ended up doing a lot of river fishing. I spent hours gleaning over ordinance survey maps looking for interesting back waters, marinas and likely looking pike hotspots. Did I uncover any? well I may have possibly, but the pike certainly weren’t in a biting mood, the days I visited.

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As quickly as winter had arrived, it was gone again and my thoughts turned to the usual summer species. I had been pondering about targeting some big hybrids and roach for a while and over the winter months I decided on a new venue to work on in between tench sessions. I didn’t have much info to go on apart from some water framework directive reports and a gut feeling.

To tackle a decent sized water, you really need to give it at least season of proper fishing, if you want to try and crack its code.  There are some waters I have been fishing for quite a few years yet I still feel I haven’t even scratched the surface with them. They all have their moods, and fish differently in certain conditions. Keeping a diary is a good start and the more information you enter the better the chances are that you will find a trend.

prebait2prebaitMy plan was to get as much feed as humanely possible into the lake to try and get the fish into the area I planned to concentrate on. This can be time consuming, costly, and a lot of hard work, but if you want to do something properly, a lot of effort and drive is needed.  I set about a prebaiting campaign which involved a lot of spombing and spodding and long range catapulting. A boat is really the best tool for the job but if you are organized you can manage to get a good amount of bait into a swim without one.

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I started to do some short morning and evening sessions around St Patricks day and although I did get some fish, I didn’t land anything special. However I was in this for the long haul and nothing good ever comes easily. It wasn’t until April that some better fish started to come out and although I was getting plenty of shoal sized hybrids in the 2-3lb bracket, it was some big roach that I caught that gave me an inclining that I might be on the right track. Fish to a few ounces shy of 2lb made a welcome appearance and gave me the confidence to carry on baiting the lake up for the remainder of the season.

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It was also during April that my Aunt and Uncle came over from the UK to visit for a long weekend. It was lovely seeing them again after far too long.  Since the last time I had seen my uncle he had also caught the fishing bug. Living where he does in Suffolk, didn’t give him much best scope to fish for Salmon or Sea Trout, two species he had never caught before, and it was agreed we would hit one of my local marks to try and right that.

On the Sunday morning we headed off to a local spot on the beach armed with a fly rod and a drop shot rod, hedging our bets that one method would work. This was earlier in the season than I would normally go after them but I had heard reports that there fish were about and being caught. We hit the beach ninety minutes before low tide and spread out to try and find some bars of silver hiding between the sandbars and kelp strewn rocks.

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My uncle, Tim, had travelled some distance the year before with a friend of his, to fish the famous river Towey in Wales, home to enormous sea trout.  When planning those trips you can never negate for weather conditions, and hundreds of miles of driving were wasted when the river turned out to be in flood. This made me all the more determined to try and put us on some fish, but forty five minutes into the session, things weren’t looking too good as I hadn’t seen anything move.

The tide was moving out quite quickly and as the sand bars got bigger, the remaining water gathered into smaller pools and it was in one of these that I spotted my first trout. Not one to miss a chance, I called Tim over to where I had seen it, and as luck would have it a few more started to show. I soon noticed that the widely spread out sea trout were now confined to these smaller pools and this would give us our best chance of connecting with some.

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The first cast into the spot saw me connect with a super fish of about 2lb which fought like a tiger in the shallow clear water. Next cast saw Tim hook a fish and after a couple of nerve biting minutes of acrobatic flips, jumps and powerful runs,  he was proudly holding his first ever Sea Trout. The huge smile on his face made the experience all the better. He couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have such amazing fishing on my doorstep coupled with the breathtaking scenery that surrounded us.

For the next half an hour we managed to land seven good sea trout and lose as many again, with one or two really good fish spitting the hook mid fight. It was a perfect session and one of those red letter days that come along once every so often. I was just glad he was there to enjoy it.

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As May came around the corner, I deviated from the trout and silvers and made my way back out for my first tench session of the season. All winter I had been musing over various lakes which needed to be fished along with reading up on new and improved tactics and of course fine tuning the tench gear.

My aim this year is to beat my personal best of 7lb10ozs but to be honest, catching any decent tench is a pleasure, especially ones as beautiful and hard fighting as the wild ones we have here in Ireland. I kicked off my season at a social for the Tenchfishers club of Ireland on a quiet lake in Longford. It was great to catch up with the who’s who of Irish tenchers, even if the weather was more suited to Pike angling. With howling gale force winds and pummeling hail and snow it was no surprise that the tench didn’t pop out for a meet and greet.

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My next few trips saw me head back to a lake I had been fishing on and off for the past couple of years. The water is a real ballbreaker and blanks are the norm, but there is always a chance of a decent fish if you put the hours in. It wasn’t until my fourth trip till I managed to get my first bite of the year. With the light fading and thoughts turning to the long trip home after another fishless session, my float bobbed then lifted right out before sailing away.

As I struck, the power of the fish as it tore out from the swim, reminded me what I had been missing all through the cold winter months. As with most battles in this lake, it was all about brute force as I gave everything to stop it getting deep into the jungle of weed. The fights always seem to last for ages but in reality, they are normally over in less than ninety seconds. They are a far cry from winching them in from distance on heavy rods, as you get to feel every lunge and surge as you both try to second guess each other.

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As soon as I lifted the landing net, I realised I had just caught an old friend again from last year, what were the chances. The distinct chunk missing from her tail meant it was the 7lb 8oz fish I had caught last May. I zeroed the scales against the sling and popped her in. The initial reading on my Avon dial scales was 7lb 12ozs. I decided to check it again with my Rueben flywieights, and these gave me a reading of between 7lb 6ozs and 7lb 8ozs. I rechecked the Avons and this time they gave me a reading of 7lb 6oz, so I settled for that.

7lb6oz girth

I had remembered to bring a measuring tape with me, as I had not got any details from her last time. From the tail to snout she measured 59cms or just shy of 23 inches in old money. Around her belly her circumference went 44cms or just over 17 inches. It was interesting to see she is a longer fish than my personal best and I have no doubt later in the season would be close to 8lb. However there was slight disappointment that I had caught the same Tench again and not a new one. My thoughts about the lake having a small stock of fish may run true.

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I managed three more sessions there in the past 10 days and I have managed just one more fish which was a lovely male of 5lb 3oz. Both fish came on the float and took corn and maggot cocktail. I have another lake I have been meaning to fish for a while, with the only thing putting me off being the long walk.  I think now is the time to bite the bullet, travel light to see what she has to offer. I will also be back out after the big perch that I was targeting during the Autumn. Suffice to say I have my eye on a fish which was far bigger I caught in September, watch this space.

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In Search of a Seven

If there is one fish that really gets the hackles on my back stirring then it is the Tench. Since I caught my first one aged 7 years old, I have had a love affair which is still as strong today as it ever was. The first time I caught one, it was the shear terror I felt from their awesome power on my little 11ft glass fibre match rod that first got my attention. I was used to catching roach, perch, rudd and maybe the odd skimmer on the canal where I was learning my trade. On this session the pin prick bubbles appeared in my swim, my float dipped, I struck and all hell broke lose. As I tried my best to tame the beast, white with shock, my father watched by with a smile on his face loving my horror as it uprooted lillies and took line as I wildly back wound my trusty Mitchell 300.

When I eventually got it into my landing net and saw the beauty of its smooth scaleless-like body and amusingly small barbules I knew this was the fish for me. Although it was probably no more than 3lb it had faught harder than anything I had ever hooked.

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30 years on and having caught most species that swim in Ireland, it is still the Tench that enters my mind as I lie in bed at night having fishy dreams. Over the years I have caught literally thousands of them and as much as I like a busy session on the water bagging up, I much prefer sitting it out in the hope that when my float or alarm beeps the next time that it is the tench of my dreams.

At the start of the year my target was to pursue some of the bigger tench that swim our waters. In Ireland, 6lb is the benchmark for a specimen, and a 7lb fish is a damn good fish whereas the record stands at 8lb 2oz or so. So 7lb was the target for the year and although there are quite a few waters that hold such fish, they are not all that common to catch, partly due to the small amount of angling pressure they receive in ratio to the amount of water available here in Ireland and also the fact that at times they can become intolerantly moody.

My approach over the years has been to do overnighters at waters as often as possible in the peak times of year to hopefully put the odds in my favour. The reason for doing overnight sessions is due to big fish waters being that bit further from my home to just pop up for evening or morning sessions. The waters I would approach would either be ones I have done well on in the past, others that have a history of bigger fish or in more recent years ones I have done some background research and have a hunch with.

My aim this year was to scrap the scatterball approach of hitting various big fish waters and to concentrate on maybe 2 waters and work them for the season. My feeling is that a lot more waters hold 7lb tench than we think and if you stick at your chosen waters, keep them fed and work hard at them, the rewards are there. From talking to some of the better anglers out there who target big tench, this is definitely their prefered approach.

My season started well and my first proper session with a fishing buddy saw us bag a whopping 200lb plus bag of early season tench. Although the lake in question has done some good fish in the past, all the fish seemed to be quite light as they had only woken up from their winter slumber and we didnt get any much bigger than 5lb. However it certainly blew the winter cobwebs away and was the perfect start to the tench season.

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From there we headed on to another new water earmarked for the season and we planned to just stick it out come what may. Although fishing was a lot slower due to it having a much lower stock density, the hope of latching onto a bigger fish made it all the more enjoyable. Fishing was hot and cold but I got to find out a lot more about the lake and its moods. Factors like what winds they preffered, their feeding times, baits and successful rigs all made the jigsaw come together. Then just when you thought you had a handle on them and things were coming together, you would blank for the next couple of sessions. The joys of tench fishing.

One thing I found about the water was that I was having next to no joy on my ledger tactics and in that I mean the rods on alarms with either a maggot or method feeder or even small pva bags of castor with a couple of fakes on the hair. All my fish were coming to float tactics.

This didn’t put me off though as I do prefer to fish the float as much as possible and the lake although solid with weed was enjoyable to fish with this way. Silver fish would keep me occupied for the most time but you knew when you were in the witching hour when they buggered off and things went quiet. The next bite would invariably be a tench and that would be the way for an hour before it got too dark at night or too bright in the morning.

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The float tactics could not have been simpler with a crude set-up designed to land any fish hooked instead of delicate presentation for more bites. I used good old 8lb Daiwa Sensor mainline straight through to a size 12 Drennan wide gape hook with a bodied waggler set with 4AAA.

As I said previously, the fishing was not hectic but a couple of fish in a session was the norm and the average size was a very respectable 4-5lb. I was even getting quite a few 5lb males which boded well that the water might hold some better females.

One of the enjoyable things about fishing this water was that although I didn’t see much fizzing, they would put on quite a performance of rolling just as feeding time approached . With this activity you could see them at quite close quarters as they nosed out of the water and porpoised before flicking their tails to power down the depths, in doing so showing their approximate size. At first they all looked a decent size but after a few nights of watching this ritual every so often you would catch a glimpse of some much bigger ones and you knew as long as you kept plugging away, you were in with a chance as the were definitely in the area.

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As the season progressed the target fish was still eluding me and my main worry was that the weather was changing with a settled high pressure and prolonged heat wave kicking in causing the fish to start showing signs of getting ready to spawn. On maybe my 8th or 9th visit to the lake I was hearing fishing splashing in the weedbeds and I was sure they were getting down to it. That session a 6lb 8oz fish was caught and it was a long lean fish that I couldn’t be sure had spawned or not. This was not too worrying as if they had and fish of that weight were there then surely a 7lb spawned out fish was possible.

The next overnighter went much the way of the previous sessions and I managed 3 fish that evening to 5lb 10oz, however they were all good stocky fish that didnt look like they had recently been getting down and dirty. That night also saw me lose a good fish which might have been landed if I had not been so hard with it. Obviously I didn’t want to lose them to the weed but I felt I was giving it just a bit to much welly.

The following morning I was up at 3.50am and sat and watched the lake for 20 minutes with a coffee as the sun started to peak over the horizon. Things looked good for a fish or two with some good tench rolling over the baited area. I cast my float out at 4am and although fish were showing we couldn’t buy a bite from either a tench or a silver. I was using a variety of baits on the hook from my usual cocktail of corn and caster, to worm, pellet, red maggots and even bread. By 7am it was starting to heat up and I thought my chance had gone for this session however I said I would not move until I got at least one bite.

My chance came half an hour later when my float baited with a favourite combo of 3 castor and 3 red maggots slid away out of the blue and I struck into what was obviously a decent tench. Remembering my mistake the night before I was a little more gentle with the fish and apart from one or two runs towards the rush beds I was in control of the fight. Into the net she went and at first I thought it might scrape 6lb, however my mate Craig said I was off my rocker and it was a proper lump. It wasn’t until I lifted her from the water that I noticed the frame and weight of it. Surely this wasn’t it.

Craig said will we get her on the scales straight away and I agreed still rambling on about it being a mid 6lber, however he was slagging me saying I was well off and it was well over 7lb. We put her into a bag and onto his calibrated scales that were zeroed and it went down to 7lb 10ozs. I had done it and by quite a bit.

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Over the moon was not the word and only after cradling her in my hands for the pictures did I realise the actual size of her and how lucky I was to have landed such a fish. Her bulk was immense but in proportion to her body with her not being overweight from spawn. The fact that it was only 8 or 9 ounces under the long running record only dawned on me whilst sitting down with a celebratery cigeratte and a coffee ten minutes later. I was literally grinning like a cat for the next few days.

Having read Keith Berry’s insperational article in the Tenchfishers book about catching his impossible tench of 8lb9ozs after setting several targets for himself over the years, I think that have to set my target now towards an 8lb tench no matter how hard it will be. Whether I will ever see let alone catch an Irish 8lb fish is another matter as they are as rare as hens teeth. I know a few people who have achieved it over the years and although it will be difficult, you are always in with a chance if you are fishing a water that contains them. As the saying goes, you can only catch whats in front of you and if you are not on a water that holds fish of this size then no matter how hard you fish you are never going to achieve your goal. So I will continue to fish the lake in the hope that I have not caught the biggest one in there but still savour every moment on the bank no matter how big the tench are I catch.

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One thing I don’t want to do is get blinkered and devalue smaller fish along the way and forget the reason I first fell in love with them in all those years ago.

For the rest of the season I will still be doing some sessions for tench but I also aim to try and get myself a double figure bream and a wily carp or two from one of the relatively unfshed waters I have on my doorstep before the pike season rolls in.

Until next time, tight lines.