Within the first few minutes of tossing my line into the water, I am wrestling one of the top sport fish of Ireland. In a burst of extreme energy, the large pike launches into a deep and aggressive nosedive below the boat. Suddenly, she lets-up and swims slowly and gracefully to the surface, as if to impress me with her rainbow iridescent body. Seconds later, just as I begin to think the fish has tired, she plunges again in a fierce struggle. Her long, lean frame launches her like a torpedo with preciseness and stealth speed. Controlling her direction requires every ounce of strength I have until she slows again, raises to the surface and poetically appears in close range. This pattern continues several times, and finally she is close enough to the boat to land in my net.
My guide, Richie Johnston, of Guide Fishing Ireland, takes great care removing the hook as the pike’s razor-sharp teeth cut his hand. This 18-pound female is impressive, although in Ireland, these fish can grow to a hefty 40-pounds. We return her to the water, since pike are a protected species. Regulations allow 1 small fish to be kept for eating, but all large fish must be returned alive.
The best time to fish for pike is October through March, when the water is cooler, as evidenced by our immediate catch. It’s now February, and the fishing is prime.
“In warm water, although pike can be good sport, they fight so hard it can be difficult getting them back safe and healthy, so we prefer the colder months,” said Richie.
We are prepared with 3 kinds of fishing tactics to employ, depending on weather conditions. Today, skies are overcast with intermittent sun and the water is murky from recent rains stirring up debris. We have poles rigged for trolling, poles for lure fishing with spoons and fly-fishing rods to utilize in the shallows. Jerkbaits and soft plastics also work well for pike.
All catches today come from float trolling deadbait (sardines, herring and Roach fish) behind the boat or by using shallow Invaders (trolling lures) and dropping crankbait 6 to 8 feet in the water.
The frozen Roach fish we use on braided line makes the bait flutter like an injured fish, becoming an attractive meal to the hungry pike. Without careful technique, the pike, with its enormous mouth, is easy to lose by letting go of the bait.
When the pike bites, I let the line go out with the fish. I know that they have bursts of energy, but cannot sustain that for very long. That explains the wrestling match involved with every catch, followed by several seconds of slow reeling. I reel in the line, keeping the tip bent. I know the fish will dive down several times and I just go with it.
Richie took me to a small spring-fed lake just outside of Dublin, Ireland, but there are many lakes and rivers like the River Shannon and the Lough Corrib in Galway that are fantastic for large pike.
Many anglers also enjoy fishing in Ireland for Brown trout and Atlantic salmon.
“In April, until September, I guide for wild Brown trout and Ireland has many world-class waters,” said Richie, “Fly fishing is the norm, and May sees the best fishing for these during the month-long hatches of mayflies.”
Anglers do well catching wild Brown trout at limestone loughs like Lough Corrib or Lough Conn in Western Ireland and Lough Sheelin in the Midlands. The Lough Currane in County Kerry has some of the best fishing for Sea Run Brown trout and salmon.
If you are serious about fishing in Ireland, I recommend hiring a knowledgeable guide, like Richie, who is well respected in the industry. There isn’t a body of water in Ireland that Richie doesn’t know expertly. When you head into a foreign country to fish, there are lots of things to navigate: regulations, permits, safety and protected species. While many rivers and loughs in Ireland offer free fishing, some require an inexpensive day water ticket and salmon fishing requires a permit. A great guide will take care of those legal details for you.
How do you find a great guide in a foreign country?
To find a quality and reputable guide in another country, I always start with the governing body for fishing, like the Inland Fisheries Ireland, that led me to Richie. Richie provided my transportation, several types of tackle for various weather conditions and even provided a bountiful lunch basket of food that we enjoyed after a busy first half of the day.
Between great catches, Richie and I shared stories, which is a typical form of communication in Ireland. I enjoy listening to his dialogue, decorated with Irish expressions like, “That was a wee bit difficult,” and “Let me know if you fancy that.” Richie tells me that that 75 percent of his clients are American, and more than 65 percent of them are women, which is great to hear.
Despite not catching any fish for several hours, it’s been a terrific fishing day. Just as we decide to pack it in, 2 fish tag at once. With careful maneuvering in our small boat, we both land large pike, making our tally 6 for the day.
Why I fish
We pack up, hungry and happy. This day reminds me, again, of how fishing provides such a connection to the outdoors. The moments between the adrenaline rushes provide such quiet opportunities to feel the breeze, hear the soft taps of water against the boat, smell the flowers and watch birds flying overhead. Like a limerick out of an Irish songbook, I found meaning in the journey, and I caught some pretty cool fish, too.
I totally fancy that!