An Irish Anglers World

Something Fishy’s Going On.

For me, angling is a sport that just keeps on giving and giving. It takes me around the country, it allows me to see, experience and interact with people, places, wildlife and scenery that most of the population unfortunately never encounter. It gives me an escape, a door to the wider world where I can always learn something new and I never stop to wonder at the things that present themselves before me on my angling escapades. I have been privileged to witness so much of Nature’s splendour and the beauty Ireland has to offer from the banks, shores and from boats on Ireland’s vast and varied waterways. I never cease to be amazed at the places my interest brings me too and I have only scratched the surface. So when I was asked to give some of my time helping some fledgling anglers to bait hooks, cast rigs and try and catch the all important first fish of their angling careers, how could I refuse? I look at it as my little contribution back to a sport that has given so generously to me over the years.

Transition year students from Templeogue College enjoy a day at the Angling for All facility, Aughrim, Co. Wicklow.

I was asked to go down to the National Disabled Angling Facility which is located in the pretty little town of Aughrim, County Wicklow. It was the first time I had seen the facility in at least eight years and I was very impressed with how the water and its surroundings had matured. The banks are very well kept and the planting has come on beautifully. The fishery’s motto is “Angling for All” and they facilitate this with well kept pathways which run right around the perimeter of the lake, allowing wheelchair users access to all parts of the water. Fishing is by fly or bait and the stocked rainbow trout are in great condition and hard fighting. Fishing tackle can be rented from the staff at the facility who are extremely friendly and only too willing to help. They have also built a small playground for non-fishing family members and those younger anglers who bore easily! The facility can be contacted by telephone at 0402-36552.

I was to be assisting Des Chew from the Dublin Angling Initiative. Des does a lot of fantastic work in the Dublin area, introducing youngsters to the sport. There are many stories circulating about the ability of angling to give children and teenagers a focus for their energies. It gives them an interest in the environment around them, it teaches them respect for the natural world which we inhabit and in some cases it keeps young hands and minds out of trouble by giving them something to occupy their time with. Des is full of stories of what the initiative has been able to do for the local area and the people from it and he carries out his work with a passion and enthusiasm that is infectious. He has a gift of being able to get down to the youngsters level and they engage with him. Not many people possess these abilities and they are certainly one of the major contributing factors to the success of the Dublin Angling Initiative.

Des Chew of the DAI giving a fishing demonstration to transition year students of Templeogue College.

We were working with a transition year from a Dublin school for the couple of mornings I was assisting but the work of the initiative reaches far deeper into the community than that. Regularly, there are groups of youngsters that ordinarily would never get to try fishing. The initiative brings groups like this out for a day by the waters edge. The day out gives them the opportunity to try something new and to interact with their environment. It opens their eyes to other things that they could be doing and the project has many success stories, too numerous to go into here. The only downside I see to the project, through no fault of the Dublin Angling Initiative, is that every county in the country does not run a similar programme. Maybe when the country starts to sort herself out we could see a few steps in this direction?

On the mornings in question we were working with a group of just under one hundred teenage lads that make up the transition year in Templeogue College, approximately fifty each morning. Des had preceded the trip with a couple of in-class modules where he explained to the lads all about the aquatic environment and gave a run down of the fishing gear itself. The trip to the lake was a chance for the lads to put all this theory into practice. I met Des and the rest of the Inland Fisheries Ireland crew – Josie Mahon, Maurice Carolan and Chris McGregor – shortly before the school staff arrived with the bus load of students, so we could get to work setting up rods and checking the drags on the reels, making sure everything was ready to go when the lads arrived.

Landing a rainbow trout at the Angling for All facility, Aughrim, Co. Wicklow.

First item on the agenda, which was the same for both days, was a quick talk on safety and the introduction of the helpers which was delivered very well by Des and the lads hung on his every word. Fifty teenage lads eager to go, coupled with sharp hooks flying each and every direction could be a recipe for disaster so this initial speech was of the utmost importance. That done, it was time for the lads to divide up into groups, with approximately ten to a “leader”, the leaders being the Inland Fisheries Ireland staff, Martin Murphy who is on the staff at the school and myself. Each morning we also had a couple of helpers in the form of fifth year students that enjoyed the same trip the previous year and they really were of great help to us. The groups then spread themselves around the lake so everybody had a nice bit of water to be fishing into. On both mornings, as I led my group to the water I asked if any of them had fished before. Most of them had never held a rod but they were all keen to give it a shot and the anticipation and excitement in the air was almost palpable.

First thing I did when we reached our area of the lake was run through with the lads how to cast and how to bait their hooks. After spending about ten minutes explaining and demonstrating the lads were ready for action. It must be said that the groups I had on both mornings were great bunches of lads and a credit to their school and it made my job very easy. Most of them seemed comfortable enough with their casting and very willing to listen so that freed me up to give a bit more time to the lads that were having difficulties. Casting and baiting hooks is simple when you have been doing it for years but it is important not to forget that we all had to start somewhere. Most of the lads took to it like a duck to water and the only problem I had, if you could call it that, was trying to overcome some of their squeamishness with regards to handling and hooking worms. Not to everybody’s taste but if you want to progress as an angler then you must overcome the fear of the bait!

Ryan Graham (left) displays his trout after being guided by Gary Robinson.

And soon, with baited hooks and bubble floats flying through the air it wasn’t long on both mornings that excited shrieks indicated that fish had been hooked. A mixture of panic, adrenaline, and confusion poured through the lads who were connecting with their first fish and it then was just a case of being on hand to talk them through using the tackle to tire the fish, to keep the rod tip high and keep a tight line, to use the drag and finally to steer the beaten fish over the landing net that I had ready and waiting for them. Panic and adrenaline rapidly turned to smiles as the anglers proudly displayed their first catches for the waiting cameras – those that mustered up the courage to touch their prize anyway!! Those first catches spurred on the remaining classmates to get their baits back in the water and before long it was amusing to notice the competitive edge creep into these fledgling anglers. Questions of who was going to land the best fish, or who was going to catch the most started flying around the lake. Friendly rivalries had been ignited!

The lads were allowed to fish away for two hours. On both mornings when the final whistle went you could hear a lot of them sigh. After a stunning April, the weather had turned a little inclement but we were very lucky with the lack of rain for both sessions. A lot of the young anglers caught fish, some of them catching more than one. Those that didn’t catch said they thoroughly enjoyed themselves anyway and every teenager that I asked told me that they couldn’t wait to try fishing again. I had a lot of questions about their local water, the River Dodder, and how they could go about getting the tackle and the permits to fish there. On that basis I think the whole project was a success and it was a fantastic couple of days out to help launch the Inland Fisheries Ireland’s “Fisheries Awareness Week”. Both sessions ran very smoothly and I am of the opinion that this is testament to the dedication and hard work of the IFI staff. We packed up the gear on the second day and I said my farewells. It was a very rewarding couple of mornings and I was delighted to be able to contribute, in a very small way, to a sport that has given me so much and asked for nothing in return.

Craig Hendrick, Des Chew, and Owen Walsh show off their catch, Angling for All facility, Aughrim, Co. Wicklow.

The work that the “Dublin Angling Initiative” and other similar groups do around the country is priceless. They give younger anglers an interest that will stay with them for life and a thirst for knowledge about the natural world around them. There are also the benefits of taking the more deprived children and teenagers out of the worrying social issues that some of them face daily. Angling is a fantastic release and the fascination that these budding new fishermen and women will find when they pick up a rod and reel will keep them going back time and again. They safeguard the future of the sport by introducing these young newcomers. After all, when we are gone who will inherit our waterways? Youngsters are the future of the sport and the country and every step should be taken to encourage them to wet a line. You don’t need to take them out “catching”. In many cases just a few simple hours by the water’s edge is more than enough to plant the seed that will grow into a love and respect for the sport and the countryside.

Gary Robinson © May 2011