Saturday, 14 January 2012

Bitter Sweet

Phil Cheriton

As many of you that frequent the Pikers Pit Forum will know, I just love fishing the Loughs of Ireland. I have been going over for twenty six years, and always with my same mate Marc. We have been meeting up for the last twenty five of them with two Irish mates George Higgins and Roy Smyth. Our trips have taken us to most of the big famous Loughs with the most famous being Lough Mask and it was to be my favourite of them all.

Irish Pike fight far better than anything I have caught in England. It did not seem to matter where we caught them, they would fight as if their life depended on it. On some Loughs with game anglers and continental anglers who killed pike it most probably did. So with the great scenery, good mates and hard fighting pike it was enough to make me want to move there.

Oh !….the Guinness is to die for !

With so many trips there have been many good ones and quite a few not so good, with awful weather and little in the way of feeding pike encountered.

I have got wet and cold on some of those trips but have still stayed out until eight pm feeling like I have hypothermia and all for nothing. However the good days make up for the poor ones along the way.

I have many stories, such as our first trip to Mask when we had a few twenties and Marc had a 36 pounder and that is not the story I am going to tell. We have had such a laugh and there are dozens of great stories.
When I think back to some of the times and to everywhere we have been there has always been something to remember. Not all good by the way, one trip on Loch Conn, my and George’s car were vandalised. That said we have had trips with loads of twenties and loads of doubles, Blimey I sound like Gordy !

One trip that sticks in my mind is for all the wrong reasons. I had to look in my diary to see what year it was, April 1995. Eighteen years ago this April, where have they all gone ?

Our cottage on all of our trips to Mask has been right in the back of Cushlough bay, It is on the Eastern shore where the Robe river flows into the Lough. It is probably our favourite area, and when the Pike are there you can really bag up. On his particular week they had done a vanishing act, so we had to fish the other bays to catch. These bays are stunning and they are all mentioned in Fred Bullers Doomsday book. Names like Bay of Islands’ , Ballygarry keel’ , Burnt house, Cushlough Cahir , Dringeen , Roshill They have all done their share of big Pike in the past and we have caught Pike from all of them too, apart from Cahir.

I only have to read Bullers book and I am transported back to these truly wild bays. So knowing the history of them we were all fishing with a lot of confidence. Trolling between the bays using mainly deadbaits when we got into them then, we would then drift and spin lures. Back then we did not have many large lures to choose from, unlike the vast choice that we have today. When I think now of the results we could have had with Bulldawgs or Replicants’ it makes me smile !.

Most of our lures would be classed as small now. And two of our favourites were the
Rapala original I think 180 or 190 mm. and the other was the good old Shakespeare big S in Perch scale. The big S had accounted for some of our biggest Pike including Marcs 36 pounder. I still have my one somewhere but it does not get used anymore.

All of the above mentioned bays are on the Eastern shore so there was always loads of water to go at, and on this week we were catching a few doubles but could not pinpoint any really good areas. On the Sunday I had caught a twenty five from the main Lough outside Castle bay by drifting an area with loads of rocks showing on the surface with twelve feet of water between them. This area could not be trolled as it was far too snaggy but it was a great area for lure fishing, however my fish was the only Pike we caught in the area.

On the Wednesday Roy fancied a day on the bank, so we decided over breakfast that George would join us in our boat,as the weather was perfect with no wind forecast we decided we would venture over to the Southern end and have a look at Upper Mask’. If you look at a map of Lough Mask it can make you laugh !. Upper Mask is actually right at the bottom of the map ! ,but as the water flows out of it it is actually higher than the rest of the Lough. Hence the titleUpper’ Lough.

Anyway on with the story...........

We had been drifting down the Lough and I cant actually remember catching anything until we reached an island opposite where a river ran in. By now it was midday. I had been trying different lures and decided to change lures yet again and I clipped on the good old Perch scale Big S’. Bang ! ,first cast and I had a take. Now these pike fight as I have already said but this was something else. I play my fish hard but this one really gave me the run - around. I dont time my fights but I doubt I have ever had one fight longer or harder than this one. Time after time it would look almost ready for the net but she would power away again. Finally George managed to net it and announced she would be close to thirty pounds. We had drifted into the island by now so we decided to do the weighing and take the photos on the shore.

Anyone that knows me will know that I always leave the pike in the net whilst I get things sorted, unhooking gear, scales and camera etc., we got the fish out and unhooked and weighed her at twenty nine pounds two ounces. At the time this was a pb for me so I was absolutely over the moon. We took a few photos and I took her and held her in the water. It was taking a while for her to regain her strength and I was now getting a backache. So Marc took over and held her………still she would not go back…….. so I had another go……… and Marc again. All the while this was going on, George had been walking the bank with a lure rod and had caught weighed and released an eighteen pounder. I took my turn with the fish but noticed that her gills had gone almost white. We had tried to revive her for one hour forty minutes.

I called George over and showed him, we all agreed she had died. We tried to make some sense of it and all we could think was that she had fought so hard she had probably had a heart attack. In fact she had fought as if her life depended on it. I was completely gutted and I actually wished I had not caught her.

We sat there talking about it and as Marc has a tackle shop it was decided that so as not to have her death in vain we would have her set up and displayed in his shop. We wrapped her in a waterproof sheet and fished on for a while. When we had finished we picked the fish up and got back to the cottage. Later that evening we went to the family that owns the cottage to ask about getting the fish set up. The lady of the house told us that lots of the game anglers have their trout mounted and she could arrange it. While we were there she phoned someone in Ballina and arranged a price and told me when she was next in Ballina she would deliver the Pike and it would be done. We asked if she minded but she gave the usual Irish answer and said it would not be a problem. So this pike was duly wrapped up and placed in the bottom of her chest freezer in her garage.

We fished hard for the rest of the week but did not get anything near beating that fish, so with heavy heart we packed up to leave but before we did we booked again for the next year. We had another trip to Lough Beg in the November so April soon came around again

We arrived back again and went straight to her house to get the key to the cottage and to enquire about my pike only to be told it was still in her freezer !. This was 1996 and the netting had started, we really struggled that week. We were told that a couple of thirties and a handful of twenties had been netted from our bay the week before and while we were talking about it in the pub that night the netting was confirmed and we were told the fact that a guy had the thirties in his freezer. Knowing how laid back the Irish are it would not surprise me if my one is still in the bottom of the ladies freezer today !

Until this day we have not been to Mask againbut I live in hope. We have been to some other stunning Loughs and caught many more big pike. But those trips to Mask are the ultimate for me. Mask will make a comeback one day, maybe not in my lifetime, but I have good memories and some good video to remind me.

One small but important point, I have noticed the desire for faster boats,bigger engines and racing to far of marks. I cannot stress enough the need for caution on Lough Mask , it is probably the most dangerous place you could ever fish. Especially the East shore. It should come with a health warning !


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