A Fisherman’s Tale – August 1996

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Angling as we know it today was first introduced by a man named Isaac Walton. Now if that poor man only knew what he was the cause of starting he would have had second thoughts about it. He is responsible for millions of people spending millions of hours trying to catch fish that can be bought for a few pounds and Athenry like the rest of the world had and still has it’s share of anglers.

For most people fishing is something you can do when you are young and have no sense but some people like myself never get any sense and keep fishing all their lives. When I was young and the river was in spate we went to Mr’s Browne in Bridge Street, bought an eel hook and some line, went down to the river, lifted a stone, got a worm and were fishing straight away. When the river was low we resorted to the lowest type of fishing namely poaching, an art in itself, having a net made from a bag, holding it down stream of a weed then poking with a stick until a trout dived in.

Another form was ticking a fish on the belly under a rock and then grabbing him. Babbling for eels was also a very popular way of fishing, This consisted of a ball of sheep’s intestine tied with thread or hemp, lowered into the river until the eel caught it.

When you felt the pull, you lifted it up and with his hook teeth he cannot let go. This type of fishing was done in the late evening or at night. Memories of lazy summer nights spent down Taylor’s Avenue bobbling for eels come back. We caught some good ones too, often two pounds or more.

Fishing today is a lot more sophisticated. There are fishing rods light as a feather, made from fibre glass or carbon fibre and spinning reels that can cast the bait thirty or forty yards with ease. There are all kinds of baits, lures and flies, all shapes and sizes, with the quaintest names. Some names associated with flies are lovely like; Wickam’s Fancy, Harvey’s Favourite, Greenwell’s Glory, Orange Grouse, March Browne, Hare’s Ear, etc.

Fly fishing is the art of fishing at its best and it takes years of practice to perfect it. Watching a good fisherman casting a fly and striking a fish is something to remember. Another form of fishing is spinning – very popular and very rewarding. You can spin for trout, salmon or pike. The most deadly spinner today is called “a Flying Condom” (must be in keeping with the times). The most relaxing form of angling is with the humble worm. You put a worm on a hook, sit down and wait for a fish to bite it.

As already stated, Athenry, with its little river “The Clarin” running through it, has its own anglers. There is a very successful anglers club in town and they hold many competitions every year. They encourage young and old to participate.

Years back there has been some great fishermen in Athenry. Mick Goode from Northgate Street, who spent half his life fishing at Taylor’s Dam was a bit temperamental. He ran off any young lad who came within fifty yards of him, which of course was the cue to fish near him and get his “gander up”. John Crosby from Caheroyan Avenue was another great angler. He was a butcher by trade and he told me once he seldom put on a cast of flies without including a fly called the “Butcher”.

Ned Kennedy was a salmon angler of note, he caught twenty-eight peel (Summer Salmon) at Dunkellan in one day, which must surely be a record. His neighbour and friend Joe Pollard was also a good fisherman. He told me, that he after cycling to Turloughmore, fishing all day and catching nothing, coming home up Raheen Hill dead tired, swore “he would never fish again”. Next morning when he’d see Ned Kennedy heading away on his bike he would get the fishing fever again and repeat what happened the day before.

Jimmy Corley from Cross Street was another dedicated angler and many the happy hour I spent fishing with him on the Grange river. Gerry Browne from Bridge Street was another lover of the sport and when there was no fishing he spent hours looking in the river at Taylor’s Bridge. Gerald Collins from Caheroyon Park was truly the most patient fisherman I have ever known. Of course, there was other great fishermen and great characters.

Paddy Corley from Bridge Street is probably the best of the old school of fishermen and can still be seen fishing whenever there is a flood in the river. There are too many anglers in Athenry today to mention everyone of them as true followers of Isaac Walton but there is one who must be regarded as top gun and that is Tommy Ryan from Abbey Row. He has caught more salmon than any other fisherman I have known, with spinner or flies – a master of the art.

Fishing for some reason or another abounds with stories of exaggeration. Fish weighing twenty to forty pounds always seem to get away, which begs the question “are all fishermen liars or is it only liars that go fishing?”. Like very other sport there is always the element of beginner’s luck. I knew a man once (the editor of this magazine to be precise) who bought a fishing rod on a Friday and caught two salmon in twenty minutes in the same pool the following Sunday and was never seen on the bank of the river again — retired undefeated!

Fishing is a sport of the unexpected. You never know when or what you will catch, but the thrill of hooking a big fish, seeing him run and jump out of the water, playing him out and landing him is like nothing else on this earth. When fishing is poor and the fish are not biting, you can lie down on the bank of the river at peace with yourself and with everybody else, look at the sky and watch the world go by.

Alas the conclusion of this little tale about fishing is not a happy one. For whatever the reason fishing has deteriorated to an alarming degree – fish have become very scarce even after restocking. Years ago it was not uncommon to catch a couple of dozen trout in our river, all weighing half a pound or more. To land two or three now would be considered great. At this writing the Clarin looks a sorry mess, the bed of the river overgrown with algae and not a sprat in sight. In the Craughwell river, which

yielded hundreds of salmon every year, not one has been caught for the last four years. It is the same story with the Clare River, trout are very few and far between.

If something is not done about it very soon, by the powers that be, fishing will become a sport of the past.

Feature Photo: Taylor’s Mill Dam where Mick Good liked to fish

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About this record

Written by Pa Hall

Published here 07 Nov 2022 and originally published 1996

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