Portumna - brilliant in spring and autumn

IRELAND isn’t just about the fishing.

According to Ron Dowling, a man with more than 20 years tackling Ireland’s rivers, lakes and canals, there is nowhere better in the world for a fishing holiday. The 64-year-old from Newton-le-Willows first ventured across the sea in the early 1980’s and reckons the fishing is better today than ever.

“The type of catches has changed, that’s for sure”, Ron revealed. “It is no longer about ‘bagging’ on bream but a great mix of big roach, hybrids, bream, tench and perch. There are lots more fish in the Shannon so the level of sport is more consistent and reliable, especially compared to the days when it was bream or bust”.

That very moment, Ron’s observation was emphasised as he lifted his pole smoothly and netted another 12 ounce roach. Ron and his son Tony had been joined for a week-long break at Portumna by Tim Johnson from Bradford and fishing on the River Shannon close to where it enters Lough Derg.

Having previously spent a number of years in the famous Cavan angling centres of Cootehill, Ballyconnell and Belturbet, the lads emigrated 100 miles south seven years ago and it will take a mighty shoehorn to shift them.

Spring and autumn is when the roach fishing is at its very best. Huge shoals of roach and hybrids migrate from Lough Derg into the river and the ‘canny’ veteran organises his holiday to follow on from the Portumna Angling Festival, which puts him on to the river bank for around the last week in April.

“We often have the river to ourselves but tend to concentrate on what everyone calls ‘Roger’s Island’, a grassy bank stretch about half-a-mile downstream of the main road bridge across”, Ron explained. “There is a footpath along the bank that makes it possible to walk to the swims, but I’ve had a problem with my knees so we hire a boat and engine in town – it only costs €25 (£19) per day - and leave it tied up alongside the bridge car park each evening.

“After breakfast we simply climb into the boat with our fishing tackle and sail along to the bank for a full days fishing. Having the boat also gives us the option to sail into Lough Derg and pre-bait swims and fish for the big bream from the islands and hidden shorelines”.

Tackling The River
Portumna regulars will tell you that the most successful style to catch roach and hybrids is fishing-to-hand with a 10 or 11 metre pole; though there are times when a groundbait feeder will work almost as well. All three men were kitted out with bodied pole floats between six and eight grammes and 12s elastic able to cope with the big hybrids and even a bream or two in the deep water.

Ron, whose best roach this week weighed in at 2-12-0, wasn’t messing about and was getting a bite on every cast with 8lb main lines and a size 14 hook tied to a 4lb bottoms. His main hookbait was two or three red maggots with worm offered as a change every now and again.

Ron and Tony’s bait order for the start of the week consisted of two sacks of brown crumb (25 kilos), six gallons of caster, three gallons of red maggots, two kilo of worms and a selection of various flavoured groundbaits … and they can easily use more if the fish are feeding seriously.

Tony, a 40 year old self employed foster carer now living in Blackburn, who usually has a second trip to Ireland for the ‘King of Clubs’ Festival in September, explained the need for so much bait. “The obvious exercise is to attract and keep the fish in my peg”, he pointed out, “but with such deep water and mass of fish it is essential to feed a reasonably stiff ball on every cast, making sure that it gets close to the bottom before breaking open. This will keep the fish on my chosen pole line”.

He makes it sound easy and certainly this threesome made it look so as they caught fish after fish, yet some anglers will not want to put that much effort into their holiday fishing.

“If that’s the case, then a swimfeeder is the answer”, explained Tony. “However, similar amounts of bait will be necessary and the best idea is to start with a large open-ended feeder and later switch to a medium.

“I would also recommend fishing the same sort of distance out on Roger’s Island, but anyone choosing to fish closer to the road bridge (on what is known as the Town section) will need to cast at least 25 metres into the river”.

The End Result
Fishing conditions last year were absolutely ideal and Ron’s best day catch was 87lb of hybrids and roach while Tony was a bit miffed to trail on a best of 75lb in a week of nets that averaged 60lb per session.

But the weather wasn’t so kind this April and four consecutive nights of heavy overnight frosts meant that the fish were slow to start in the cooler water. In spite of this, the level of sport improved into the afternoon and I witnessed Tim weighing-in with 44lb to win the sweep; Ron had 28lb and Tony was again pipped by his dad, finishing with 26lb.

The good news is that they were the poorest catches of their week’s holiday, not that they really worried about the quantity of fish when they all had caught roach over 2lb and hybrids approaching 3lb.

Top Tips

(1) Specimen roach and hybrids are on the cards from mid-April to mid-May and then again in October on the River Shannon at Portumna, Meelick and the Salmon Run.
(2) Be bold – use plenty of groundbait (think of at least 5 kilos a day) with casters and worms in a stiff mix. And keep the balls going in to attract and hold the fish in your swim.
(3) A session on Lough Derg makes a lovely change. This will be feeder fishing from a stony shoreline or island and to get there means hiring a boat from David Harris, who will also help with advice on the best spots.
(4) Big and lots of them demands ‘beefy’ gear. Take the most powerful pole kit and feeder rod that you have and rigs to match. Pole elastic needs to be at least 14s, four gramme bodied float, 5lb main line, 2.5lb hook lengths a size 14 hook.

Where They Stayed and Played

The lads raved about the hospitality and facilities at ‘Oak Lodge’, a Tourist Board approved guesthouse that has top class facilities plus a location in Portumna that is only a stroll into town.

“Once we get back and sort the tackle and have a shower, we wander into town and our favourite place to eat is O’Meara’s Pub and Restaurant where the ‘day’s special’ meal is only €12.95 (£10)”, Tim said, licking his lips.
“From there walk to Curly’s Bar for a pint because it’s where anglers on holiday tend to congregate for a natter, report on the day’s results and discuss tactics for the next day”.

Published in Angler’s Mail 2008

By Dave Houghton


For somewhere to stay and fish call Dave on 0151 324 4744