Lots of Fish in Ireland

Frank Lythgoe is involved up to his neck in angling. He is the full-time professional secretary to Warrington Anglers Association – the second biggest club in the UK – and now in his 24th year looking after its members and many fisheries. He is a great fan of Irish angling and in recent years has found himself catching an array of species in Cavan, Leitrim, Tipperary, Roscommon, Galway and Clare.
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“I’ve been dead lucky”, Frank confided. “Over the last four years I’ve been tackling a range of different Irish waters without going to recognised fisheries and have still managed to catch a lot of fish.

“Some of the shorelines showed no signs of having been fished before, yet a little pre-baiting has always helped me to get a fair catch. And it’s amazing that in Ireland an angler can turn up, find a stretch of lake or river that looks inviting and just plonk himself down on the bank and begin catching fish!”

11 ardkeen 30Frank’s jaunts around Ireland have produced some terrific catches yet his most memorable was a netful of small roach. The plan was to tackle Castle Lake, known by some locals as Ardkeen, and located not far from Kilkishen, County Clare. The target fish were bream but there were two challenges; high water levels from the excessive spring rain and oppressive thundery conditions. Frank travelled with Billy Delves, the St Helens Angling Association secretary, and they started their attack with groundbait feeders in flat-calm conditions and no matter what bait went on to the hook, the result was always the same and produced nothing other than roach.

That evening the two lads groundbaited heavily hoping that an early start the next morning would have the slabs waiting for them. That didn’t happen and apart from a smattering of skimmers it was back to a bite-a-cast, so Frank quickly decided to come inshore with a short pole and make the most of what was available on the day.

“Once I committed myself to fishing for whatever swam past, the day became really enjoyable and I managed to get a bite on every drop in”, he recalled with a smile. “I placed my platform close to a drop-off and chose to use five and six metre pole rigs. During the session I tried red maggot, bits of worm, caster and even corn to see if it that would produce a bigger fish, but there was little change and the fish kept on coming. If the opportunity arises I shall certainly try Castle Lake again because it is renowned locally for bream and tench, the fact that they didn’t appear could possibly be blamed on the high waters and weather”.

There is a session that Frank claims to be his “greatest day’s fishing”. “I was with Billy Delves again and on the last day of a week’s cruising holiday on the Shannon-Erne waterway we took a boat to explore Drumharlow Lake (on some maps it is Lough Eidin) that forms part of the River Boyle system. 

“It was early evening when we arrived and a quick walk along the bank with a leger rod and an arlesey bomb gave us a maximum of two metres (6ft) with a 40 metre cast. We had hoped for more but decided to stay and give it a bash with groundbait feeders to see if there was any response. Nothing happened for 45 minutes and then we started catching a few roach. They were magnificent fish averaging between 10 ounces and 1lb, absolutely scale perfect and most certainly had never been caught before. It was June and the light allowed us to fish until 10pm. Then Bill and I spent 20 minutes covering our swims with groundbait using the largest swimfeeders we had and then retired to the cruiser for supper and a nightcap".

“The next morning we were on the bank for 5am and casting into a flat calm lake that showed no indication of life whatsoever – then bingo!  At first I just caught roach to 1lb while Bill, who was casting another 10 metres, latched on to bream of 5lb and ended up with a personal best catch of 130lb. I even managed to make three figures!  It wasn’t the amount of fish that made this a special day but the overall experience; a combination of once again finding a spot that has rarely – if ever – been fished, the anticipation from having to wait for so long to get the first bite, the adrenalin rush when the tip pulls round for the first time and then to slide the net under a fish in prime condition. It was pure magic”.

Published by Angling Times 2010
Written by Dave Houghton

Kevin Ashurst About Match Fishing

12 kevinKevin Ashurst is an angling genius who never gives up trying to catch fish.  He is the John Wayne of angling; unceremonious, brief with his words, easy to understand yet always aware of what is going on around him and very appreciative of those who make the sport tick.

At 72 he is among the sport’s most senior anglers and remains so effective that most matchmen would prefer to be drawn on another section. Kevin loves match fishing and gets out fishing almost every day, though there is no such thing as pleasure sessions because he is forever striving to get an edge whether it is from tackle adjustments, baits, groundbaits or visiting a particular water to discover if there is any new circumstance. In spring and late summer big Kev takes up residence in Ireland so that he can enjoy the increasing number of week-long angling festivals and we caught up with him at the water’s edge.

After winning the 1982 World Coarse Angling Championships, did you ever feel that you could win it again? 
Yes, of course. I had the self-belief and and fished for England 23 times on the World stage. It was terrific to work alongside so many talented anglers who always worked together to establish methods, baits and the best way to feed a variety of waters. After ever World Championship I arrived home a better angler and always believe that if given a decent peg I’d have been in with a chance of winning again.

What do you make of modern match fishing, especially venue experts on commercials that fish one water all year?
I’ve never fished a commercial fishery match, so it is a little difficult to comment, though in fairness to anglers it is an expensive day out with ticket fee and pools. So I can understand and wouldn’t criticise anyone who is being successful on a particular venue who keeps on going back. Very often all venues have more or less the same anglers fishing weekly matches on both commercial and public fisheries – certainly it is the case on north west waters such as the River Weaver at Winsford or Northwich, Carr Mill Dam in St Helens and all of the canals in the region.

You’re now a resident in Ireland – what made you make that decision?
I love the life-style and the bonus of so many angling festivals. It is the type of fishing that I enjoy most of all – traditional methods – on some great waters and my home in County Fermanagh is within striking distance of most of them.

Who’s the best angler you’ve ever fished against or with? 
Marcel van den Eynde was an outstanding and brilliant match angler. Steve Gardener was the best angler who has never won a World Championship, an excellent talent but just unlucky in that event. The England squads have always been outstanding and I’ve a high regard for those who I fished with at those times. It was really interesting because each one had different strengths and if a man had a method suitable for the venue, we would scrutinise it and practice until everyone in the team would be good at it. There’s nothing quite like being “on the method”; it goes a long way towards catching a lot of fish. I would recommend all match anglers to get into a group of anglers who know more, ask questions, listen and learn!

Favourite method if you could only fish one?
I consider myself proficient at all of them (or I used to be) and simply loves all forms and methods used for catching fish under match conditions. Look, I’m an angling fanatic and everything is great as long as I am enjoying myself.

What do you rate as the best match water you’ve ever fished – and the worst?
Late summer and autumn provide exciting fishing in Ireland and during a five day festival there is a chance I shall have to tackle five different lakes, certainly five different sections. One of my favourites match venues is Lough Ramor at Virginia in County Cavan. It is a large, relatively shallow water absolutely bursting with quality hybrids along with bream and roach.

My favourite all-time places to fish are the River Weaver at Northwich and Winsford. I could fish there day-in, day-out. Mind you there were times when my dad used to day: “I’m not going there, it’s bad. Soon there will be nowhere left”.  He was partly right because say 25 years ago there could be match with 500 anglers on the River Weaver and hardly a keepnet in the water. But now it is the highlight of winter when I return to my home in Leigh and within a couple of days I head off for the river where I know for certain there’s a chance to catch plenty of fish.
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Are northern anglers better than southern?
In the 1960’s and 70s the northern lads had a bit of an edge but since then match fishing talent seems to have evened out. Everyone wants to win, whether it’s a World Championship of a pub sweepstake, and there’s not much between them when it comes to ability.

Is Ireland still like it was 20 or 30 years ago?
There is no comparison – the fishing in Ireland today is far better than it has ever been. There are more bites, loads of roach, skimmer bream, tench and hybrids to be caught, but not as many bream. Today is typical, we have spent a few hours fishing on the 12 kevin catch shotpump house stretch of Lough Scur at Keshcarrigan in Leitrim and I’ve got about 40lb of roach and hybrids without a bit of fuss. And we are the only ones on the bank.

The truth is that Ireland used to produce a handful of staggering bream catches (that would always make the angling papers) while the majority of lads on holidays would end up struggling and head off to the pub. Today anyone can come along with a pole or feeder, chuck out a 14s hook with double maggot and catch a lot of fish.

Do you miss fishing back in England or are you glad to see the back of it? 
I’m very lucky because I spend most of the winter months in Lancashire and the best part of spring and autumn in Ireland. It is totally a lifestyle thing and I lucky to enjoy the situation because I would hate to have to choose between them. My angling expectations are more than satisfied with the situation.

If you could have your time again would you like to be involved in the current England set up?

Without a doubt or moment’s hesitation!  I have loved my fishing life – even though I used to get up at 4am to work on the maggot farm before heading off to places like the Trent, Welland and Nene to fish a match – and get home at all hours.

The same again, please. I wouldn’t ask to be a perfect angler, just the chance to repeat everything exactly as it unfolded. Fishing the big matches was like being on the stage. There were times when a large gallery would congregate behind me and if I missed a bite there would be great groans and I’d hear someone say “missed another”, but it was a brilliant buzz.

Does match fishing still have its characters like Ivan Marks, you and Billy Makin? Does it need them? 
There are loads of characters throughout angling but certainly match fishing always seems to have a healthy batch and the sport thrives on them.  Frank Barlow was top of the pile and he had the perfect wife, Mo. We were away from home at a major event. Frank was checking in at the hotel reception desk when Mo whispered in his ear: “Best pay our room bill in advance and then we’ll know how much we have to spend on our booze!”

Where next for Kevin Ashurst? Simply more of the same and a few more wins will help towards the pension. Peter Drennan recently insisted that I accept two of his Drennan feeder rods and the exciting Zircon 16mt pole so I will be trying very hard to make the best of them.

Published by Angling Times September 2011

Written by Dave Houghton

General Angling Articles

In an effort to provide as much information as possible, Active Irish Angling is delighted to publish the following list of articles that are relevant to General Angling in Ireland. We shall continue to add reports and results as often as possible and invite customers to contribute helpful information or stories.

If you have a story or information that might help everyone catch more fish, please email: dave@activeirishangling.com


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Kevin Ashurst Talks to Angling Times

Kevin Ashurst About Match Fishing

Lots of Fish in Ireland

Kevin Ashurst Talks to Angling Times

kevin ashurstCatching fish isn’t about sitting on a state of the art fishing station, being kitted out in a team uniform or having the latest pole. It is a whole mishmash of experience, feeling, knowledge and an understating of what is going on under the water. Kevin Ashurst is among that elite band of anglers.

The late Colin Dyson – a giant in coarse angling journalism from the 1960’s and for more than two decades – famously said: “If I needed someone to fish for my life, it would be Kevin Ashurst”. And Dyson knew what he was talking about. He was editor of Coarse Angler magazine, wrote ever week in his local newspaper, had a popular column in Angler’s Mail and wrote several books. Among them were World Class Match Fishing (1977) and The Encyclopaedia of Pole Fishing (1983), both by Kevin Ashurst.

Another brilliant angler was Kevin’s dad, the legendary Benny Ashurst. In 1981 Benny enjoyed the starring role in a film to promote angling holidays to Ireland. It was called Swinging Tips and Dipping Floats and revolved around waters in Drumconrath and Carrickmacross. There was a sequence when he was facing the camera and he was asked: “Who is the greatest match angler?” Without taking a breath and totally sincere, Benny replied: “I am. But one day our Kevin will be”.
And that day wasn’t far off.

The following September I was fishing in the Drumconrath Angling Festival and there was a bit of a Sunday evening “Irish Hooley” in Aclare House Hotel to launch the annual event. It was a favourite week of Benny’s and he was enjoying the craic when the hotel manager called him to the telephone. Benny returned to the packed party and with tears in his eyes he grabbed the microphone away from the singer and announced: “Kevin is the World Champion!”

For those who might not know, this was the 1982 World Championships on the Newry Canal and Big Kev became the first British angler to win the World Championship while pole fishing. As a team, England finished third. These days Kevin is as active as ever. He lives in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, for six months of the year and return to his home in Leigh for the winter months and fishes as much as he possibly can.

Kevin, you have fished with and against Europe’s finest anglers. Who was the most outstanding?

There’s one who was streets ahead of the field in his day – Benny; my dad. I’m not going to apologise for putting him in the frame simply because he was so innovative, questioning and searching for angling answers; he could recognise good tackle or methods in what was an era that moved forward at a great pace. And while I was still in my pram, he was itching to get me fishing.

However, Dave Thomas was ahead of the pack when it came to river fishing and consistently impressive. He was picked England at the 1981 World Championships on the River Avon at Luddington and managed to catch fish wherever he fished. In one session I sat with him and watched as he caught fish-after-fish on a stick float while feeding just five maggots at a time.
I said: “You are starving those fish, step up the feed to 20 maggots at a time”.

Dave refused saying it would kill off the fish. We chatted about it and he then handed me his rod, so I copied him but started feeding more heavily, but as predicted, the fish disappeared. He told me to carry fishing but feed just three maggots, which I did and within 20 minutes the fish were back and I eventually did what Dave said and ended up feeding five on each run down.
In the England side that year were Max Winters, Tony Scott, John Dean, Clive Smith, me and Dave. It was then I realised that if his own team mates couldn’t beat him, certainly nobody else was able and that meant he was bound to would become the World Champion.

Ireland has played a big role in your angling, and these days, your personal life. How did this evolve? 
It began in 1964 while I was fishing for Leicester AS in the Angling Times winter league. We got to the final when it was held in Ireland for the first time. The match took place on the River Suck at Ballinasloe where I won with 56lb and the team became the AT Winter League Champions with 145lb.

My introduction to Northern Ireland came along in 1968 – smack bang in the heat of the “troubles” – when the Tourist Board invited me to help make an angling film about fishing on the Erne, Colebrook and the River Mourne at Strabane. Today the Mourne is better known as a trout and salmon water but back then it was stuffed with bream and roach.

My first trip over for an open competition was to the River Bann at Portadown and then I started fishing the Benson & Hedges Classic (now the Waterways Ireland Classic) on the River Erne at Enniskillen. On my third visit I won the festival with 331lb of roach over three days, which is a match record that still stands.

I’ve been semi-resident in Fermanagh since 2000 and my year is split so that it’s possible to fish the major angling festivals. I like them all and don’t want to miss any. The one major festival missing from my winner’s list is the King of Clubs; perhaps will be lucky for me one day.

What about fishing during the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland that spanned more than 30 years

I’ve never had any sort of a problem and certainly would not have decided to live in Northern Ireland if there was any sort of threat. There are dozens of English who moved into County Fermanagh and now work here or are retired and get out fishing or playing golf as often as they can.

The only nasty incident was during the Classic many years ago when the terrorist targeted soldiers attending the festival it affected a few anglers on holiday – including former Angling Times journalist Mac Campbell – were standing nearby. I can’t remember all the details but Mac and Tom Pickering have never been back to Ireland since. And that is a shame. To this day there are still English anglers who will not come to Fermanagh fishing because their wives have stopped them. That’s fair enough because things have to be right at home.

So how do you find all the time for this fishing?
Hang on a minute, I’m 71 and retired! I did my share of hard work running our family bait farm in Leigh, working seven days a week and on a Sunday getting up at 4am so that I’d have time to get to a decent local match. Nowadays I enjoy being able to choose where and when I fish.

And what about winter fishing when you return to Lancashire? 
I love it. Most of my fishing is on the River Weaver at Northwich and Winsford with an odd time on the Leigh Canal. Two years ago Northwich & District AA made me a Life Member because of my support to them over the years attending presentation evenings and such things. It is really appreciated and a generous compliment.

Have you been tempted to sneak off for a day on a commercial fishery? 

There is no doubt that if I was a young man I’d be fishing matches on the commercial fisheries because they produce a lot of fish and attract the bulk of match anglers. Other than that I can’t really comment because I’ve never tried them and they are of no interest to me. Even Ireland has two quality commercials, Lakeland Fisheries near Roosky and Galmoystown at Mullingar. The match reports look good but I’m still not tempted.

Is there anything that you really miss in modern day angling? 
I would love to turn the clock back 50 years. Without doubt I was born in the right era for the sort of match fishing that I enjoy on traditional fisheries, whether it be lake, canal or river. Yes, I miss team fishing the way it used to be when the Angling Times winter league was at its height and we had big open matches with up to 800 anglers on the banks of a canal. Sadly team match fishing is now a “win at all costs” event and the friendly banter has gone.

Those early years of the AT winter league were brilliant. I took part in the North West and most of the matches were on local canals (Lancaster, Bridgewater, Leeds-Liverpool, Shropshire Union) and the River Weaver. There were 20 men in a team and and the first nail in the coffin of the competition was the introduction of a points system, which does away with the element of luck and favours teams with a higher percentage of good anglers. The league had a system that paid back pools money back to the top six in every team, so no matter what the angling abilities were, everyone got a share of the pot - and more important than anything else - they felt they were part of the game.

But greed put paid to that. The rules changed (mostly under pressure from men in the leading teams) so that the top anglers got all of the money and those who were there for the fun of the thing simply stopped coming. Match fishing was brilliant through the 1960, 70s and 80s. Angling was big business than and attracted a lot of valuable sponsorship that created competitions such as the Woodbine Challenge (later to become the Embassy Challenge) and regional sponsors, such as the North West brewery company Greenall Whiteley.

The Greenall Whitley match could entice a 1,000 matchmen on to the bank, and what about the Birmingham AA Big ‘Un; at one time it had an entry of 8,000! And across the country local association match organisers could click their fingers and have 250 eager anglers on the bank on any Saturday or Sunday.

Is your your passion for match fishing at a bigger level satisfied to some degree by living in Ireland spring to autumn and within reach of most the major festivals?

Yes, of course it is and my hope is that the Irish festivals will go on and on. But there is a problem because I’m not the oldest angler taking part and it makes me wonder who will be left when the current brigade fall off the perch. No matter what the Irish Tourist Board, the travel trade and match organisers do, they are finding it difficult to encourage anglers to Ireland for the first time and the number of anglers coming across slowly going down.

new style feederIn the UK there are plenty of fishing programmes on the TV but they don’t seem to encourage more newcomers to the sport.

There could be a chance for angling to grow if the TV producers and angling experts got together to entice more people into the sport by emphasising those elements that may entice a family to become involved in angling as a pastime.

I notice you are using a different sort of swimfeeder while we’ve been chatting. You know that I began my serious fishing with a Spanish reed rod, a centre pin and crow quill float - well I’ve moved on a little since then!

This is a swimfeeder designed by Bob Nudd. There have been maggot feeders of the same shape around for quite a while and using the same narrow shape, he has created a forward-weighted feeder with a sliding panel that can be pushed aside.

The feeder is perfect for distance fishing, it is effortless and I’m casting it 65 metres today and the feeder is packed with loose caster and just a smear of groundbait that in effect is the door to the opening. It can be used as a maggot feeder or a groundbait feeder, it doesn’t matter. I have now been using it for a year or so and apart from being aerodynamic, the forward weighting means that the feeder sits up in the water and is therefore less likely to become snagged.

There’s always something new coming along that helps us to catch more fish.

The interview and session took place on Church Shore at Garadice Lough near Ballinamore, County Leitrim. Kevin caught hybrids and a 2lb bream during the chat session.

Published by Angling Times. November 2010
Written by Dave Houghton