Irish Festivals Made Easy - Part 2

In Part 1 of Cathal Hughes' guide to Irish festivals, he explained everything outside of the fishing. In Part 2, he describes the tackle, tips and tactics you can use to make sure your trip to Ireland is a successful one.

One of the biggest fears for the first time festival competitor is that in order to compete they will need to spend a fortune on specialised ‘Irish’ tackle; well nothing could be further from the truth. Most of the tackle needed has been designed for the UK market and unfortunately the glory days of needing massive floats and fishing 11 meters to hand are more or less behind us.  Most of the fishing now is very similar to the styles used on the UK’s natural waters, with the exception of the fishmeal groundbait which is not commonly used on these shores.

When it comes to feeder fishing, it’s important that your rod has enough backbone to be able to cast 50gm feeders up to sixty metres, but also be soft enough to use with braid.  I use a Tournament 12/13 feeder, but the 12.6’ Team Daiwa Match feeder is also perfectly suited to Irish waters.   Over the past year, I’ve added a 10’ feeder rod to my armoury which is a length  that I never thought I’d use, but I’ve found that for close-in work on the likes of Lough Muckno and Inniscarra the benefits of a short rod for speed fishing are incredible.  Occasionally if I require the use of a more beefed up tool for fishing long distances or combating windy conditions, I’ll use a 13’ Tournament distance feeder. However , if you’re looking for something a little less expensive the 12’ Team Daiwa Method Feeder is also perfect for punching big feeders into head on gale force winds. Thankfully, fishing past 50m is rare on most venues with the majority of the fishing done at 35 metres or less.     

 When it comes to waggler fishing, a standard 13 or 14 foot float rod will cover most if not all waggler fishing situations you’re likely to encounter.  Nowadays it’s pretty rare to fish the waggler in match conditions and to be 100% honest I don’t carry waggler rods to festivals anymore.  This is not to say that they don’t work or have their day it’s just that for me the days when it out scores the pole or feeder are so rare that I can’t justify bringing all the associated gear with me.

Powerful reels are a must.  Constant casting and retrieving of heavy feeders can cause a lot of stress to a reel and the last thing you want is for your reel to break while away from home.  It’s very noticeable the amount of blue reels attached to feeder rods on the festivals and I’m no exception.  I use the hugely popular and reliable TDR 4012’s. My feeder reels are spooled up with the super smooth 0.10 Tournament Evo and ‘J’ braids.  When fishing on the likes of the Erne, I may step up to 0.12 which is just a little assurance when fishing over beds of Zebra Mussels.  All my shockleaders are pre-tied with 8 and 10lb Hyper Sensor and stored on Guru Rig spools. 

Feeder wise, I generally use either a Dennett’s Rapid Feeder (up to 50 grams) or Kevin Leach cage feeders (up to 40 grams).  Both feeders release the feed in different ways which gives me two varying forms of presentation.  For example, I might start on a cage feeder which can be used to create an attractive cloud and then once the fish are feeding confidently, change to a Rapid feeder which carries a lot of feed direct to the bottom which can help you catch much quicker.  I do carry some standard open end feeder in various sizes and some mini 15 and 20 gram open end feeders which are quicker to fill when close in speed fishing.

Pole fishing generally involves short-lining at a distance between nine and thirteen metres, so a 14.5 metre pole should be adequate on most if not all festivals.  On most of the lakes I fish, including the World Pairs venues, top fours are sufficient, so don’t think that you’ll need to fork out wads of cash purchasing top fives and sixes.  Should you encounter a peg that requires a top five a simple way of getting around not having top fives is to rap your plumbed up rig around a winder and store it in the bottom of the number four section.  A pole cupping top kit is essential bit of kit to bring as most topping up of groundbait is done this way.  Depending on the venue or the amount of pike about, your initial feed may also needed to be cupped in.

If possible have spare elasticated top kits, fitted with different grades of elastic to cater for the different sizes of fish that you expect to catch.  My tops two’s are fitted with yellow Hydro for fishing up in the water for hybrids and Preston Original Slip in sizes 3, 4, 5 & 6 for everything else.

Whips are deadly on the right pegs and therefore you should have at least two in your holdall.   Some venues such as the Shannon at Portumna and the Erne around Enniskillen might require the need for strong ‘to hand’ poles fitted with power gum. Nowadays it’s rare that they’re needed, but depending on the time of year and how the fish are migrating you never know.  When they are necessary, the fishing can be amazing.

Stable Pole rollers are a must and sometimes need to be secured so they don’t blow over in a strong wind.  This can also be said for top kit roosts, which can be forgotten about, I recently made the mistake of not securing mine and it ended up blowing over which unfortunately damaged a section!

Having a huge selection of pole float patterns is not really essential, but having a good selection of sizes is.   Throughout a festival week, the characteristics of the pegs you fish will probably vary dramatically and therefore you should be prepared for all eventualities.  I like to stick to a few patterns which I know work and that have served me well.  I use the wire stemmed Carpa Gloucester in sizes between 1 gm and 4 grams.  It’s a very stable float that suits Irish conditions perfectly, but also has a good diameter bristle that’s both sensitive and easy to see, which is important in the ever changing light on the massive Loughs.  My Gloucester rigs are simply shotted with an Olivette 18” from the hook with two or three droppers evenly spaced below.  The other float that gets used on most days is a Dino Caster.  This is very similar to the discontinued Drennan Roach and it’s a float I use when fishing a strung out shot rig or fishing through the water.  The last float I regularly use is Carpa Sliver for fishing shallow.  Obviously I do carry other floats but it’s these patterns that seem to get used on most of the festivals I fish.  Having an adequate range of rigs takes time to prepare, so rig making should start well in advance of the festival in order to be done properly.  The last thing you want to be doing is re-making rigs in the evenings after the matches.  All my rigs are made up using .14 and .16 Daiwa TDR rig line.  I also use this material for my feeder and pole hook lengths, its strong durable and doesn’t spin up when fishing the feeder.

My feeder hooklengths are pre-tied in four 4 different lengths, 50cm, 75cm, 100cm and 150cm on lines between .14 and .18.  Hook wise, I use the super sharp Guru LWGF’s for nearly all my feeder work.   All my pole fishing hooklengths are 15cm long and series 18’s and Sensas 3260’s cover 95% of the fishing if do.

On most festivals throughout Ireland, it’s rare to be fishing off purposely built fishing stands, so a large stable platform is essential.    Long legs are crucial as some pegs (depending on match wading rules) might require wadding up to 60 cm.  If the angler beside you can do it, so must you or you will be at a serious disadvantage before you start.   I use a six leg ‘skeletal’ platform made by Matchcraft Fishing Tackle in Holland, it’s an extremely solid bit of kit and because of its design it doesn’t catch the waves which can be a problem in rough weather.  With the tackle requirements and accessories covered it’s time to move onto some of the baits you’ll need.

Luckily, at most Irish festivals quality fresh bait is available at the draw every day or at least every second day, so keeping your bait fresh is not usually an issue.  My daily requirements for an average Summer/Autumn festival would be as follows: 4 pints of casters, 2 pints of maggots, 1 kilo dendrobaena worms, ¼ pint of red worms, 2 tins of hemp and a tin of corn.   This might seem like a lot but what I don’t use, I’ll use the following day.

Before deciding what groundbait to bring it’s important to know the venues you’ll be fishing, so a text or call to the organisers might be a good idea if you’re not sure.  In fairness  on most if not all venues you’re likely going to be fishing for roach, hybrids and possibly small skimmers,  so a dark active mix is favoured by most festival regulars. These days it’s unusual to target just bream, but if they are showing on sections it’s no harm to have a suitable inert mix with you for the day your rotation goes there.

 Every angler has their favourite mixes and I’ve successfully used various brands over the past few years.  I like to use a versatile mix that will catch everything and one that can be used for both pole and feeder fishing.  I’ve settled on a mix of Sensas Attractive Gardons, Epiceine, Black Lake and brown crumb.  Should I require a sticker mix or if I’m fishing deep water I’ll add Sensas Gros Gardons.  Allow 3– 4 kilos of groundbait per day, this way you won’t get caught short.   If possible bring a groundbait whisk and battery drill with you as they make short work of mixing large quantities of bait.

Ireland can be prone to the odd downpour, so it’s essential that your bait is protected from the elements.  There’s nothing worse than after a shower of rain, your maggots start crawling everywhere and your groundbait becomes slop.  A bait brolly is a vital bit of tackle that you don’t want to get caught without.  Also make sure that you have at least one spare set of good quality rain gear with you, I bring two sets as I feel there’s nothing as miserable as putting on wet or damp set of clothing after having been soaked the previous day.

One of the easiest ways of preparing for a festival is to make a check list, this way you shouldn’t forget anything.  Before you’re due to leave for the festival, write down everything that you will need to take with you and tick it off as it’s packed and loaded.   In the past, I’ve been known to arrive on the bank only to find that all my pole top kits are 150 miles away in my garage, not a nice feeling and it won’t happen again!

 Also, it’s worth checking with festival organisers to see if a licence is needed.   In Sothern Ireland you generally don’t need one with the exception of a few waters, such as the River Suck and Inniscarra. In Northern Ireland you need a licence along with a permit on some waters, again its better be safe than sorry, so check!

Most anglers don’t need to be told, but there’s always a few.  Most of the fishing in Ireland is accessed through private farming land.  While organisers work tirelessly trying to gain permission to access it, it only takes one noddy to leave litter or a gate open to have it all withdrawn.  So please keep the shorelines clean and have respect for your fellow angler by obeying the unwritten laws of the land.

 The most important thing to do on a festival is enjoy yourself and your fishing, it’s hard not to. Generally the same anglers fish the same festivals year in year out and this makes for great annual reunions.   Some of the bank side banter is unbelievable and it adds to the excitement of the week.  Is there a better way to spend a week’s holidays?  I don’t think so.