Launching at the Carrybridge slipway, Fermanagh, is comfortable and straight-forward, albeit in full winter flood conditions at the moment. This area offers the opportunity to target pike around the back-waters and sheltered marinas en-route to the main lough. The bait-fish are inclined to move out of the strong current in favour of a less demanding environment under these winter conditions, with pike close behind them. With Glenn and me choosing the fly, and Andy opting for lures, the two separate disciplines would offer a reasonable comparison as to their fish-catching abilities.
Despite the biting winds, occasional snow, rain and sleet that Mother Nature threw at us in her vain attempt to keep us at home; it was fabulous to be back out on the water again. It is a breath of fresh air to travel reasonably light once again, without the mountain of tackle that coarse fishing and dead-baiting normally require for success. A compact travel fly rod, a tackle bag of accessories, along with my two-piece Abu Black Max jerk-bait rod and a small selection of lures left ample space for three anglers on the 19ft McAlinden. Sharing one boat net, one un-hooking mat, one weigh sling and scales, along with a selection of communal un-hooking tools kept our boat reasonably clutter-free. Smaller pike can be “chinned” and quickly un-hooked, with the larger fish requiring the net and safety mat.
Whilst quietly dropping flies between the winter-dormant reed beds, it was of no surprise how quickly the pike responded, and the fly proved to be lethal yet again. Of course, this is no reflection on Andy’s angling abilities, our experiment simply re-enforced the superior catch rate that the fly possesses. Over the course of several visits, the fly-caught tally raced ahead and fair play to Andy for sticking with the lure through-out the experiment.
The fly didn’t get its own way all the time, it must be said. Strong breezes, pushing 20-30 mph on some occasions, made fly-casting extremely difficult, not to mention a little hazardous at times! 4/0 hooks whizzing past your head under these conditions can be some-what daunting, not to mention tiring. At such times, we reluctantly switched to the light jerk baits with varying degrees of success.
One particular perch pattern worked its magic, taking a nineteen-pound fish almost immediately. Interestingly, this particular fish had a wire trace protruding, and we quickly set about the task of removing the burden. As I extracted the trace with a lead-head lure attached, a tail appeared, followed by most of the body of a jack-pike, partially digested! The lead-head was impaled through the tail of the smaller fish. It’s anyone’s guess what had been going on here, but we safely removed the annoyance. I should have weighed the pike before removing the trace, possibly gaining a specimen river twenty, but never mind, the safety of the pike was of paramount importance in this case!
Although the lure picked up the largest fish of our experiment, I do not doubt for a second, that if the weather had allowed the use of the fly, we would have covered the same fish quite quickly with similar results. Our few short sorties into Fermanagh rewarded us with almost one hundred pike, probably around eighty of which fell to the fly. We were un-able to find any of the really big ladies, but with approximately twenty doubles, we certainly cannot complain.
As we look forward to spring, and hopefully with it, a temperature rise, my pike angling will be placed on the back-burner for a while. This is not due to lack of feeding pike, but due to the opportunity to target all the other species Ireland has on offer as they awake from semi-hibernation or move close inshore around our coast. My few weeks fly angling has been just the “fix” required to keep the passion burning. However, I know for sure and certain, after a few months sea angling, tench fishing, carp, bass or whatever takes my fancy, despite how fantastically rewarding it will all be the hunger will always remain to pick up that fly rod in search of the adrenaline rush that comes with the hit from a pike.