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Odds & Sods
Irish Trout and Other Monsters
Friday, 2nd June, 2006  - Robin Day

Robin Day with fish and friend

A sojourn in Colebrook House, Fermanagh could easily see hours drift into days and days drift into weeks as the beautiful countryside and the peacefulness become addictive.

There was however something particular to look forward to on the first morning - my first fly-fishing lesson with the superstar Irish gillie. It was certainly challenging but after an hour of tuition I managed to fluke landing a fly within range of a hungry trout and a fish of about one pound was duly played, landed and gently released. I now began to understand how my old friend Andrew Hood could speak of a great weeks fishing and describe the catch as "ït".

The action late that afternoon was still more my scene. We assembled for the preliminaries of a pike fishing expedition "method au maison" or rather the family method of proprietor Lord Brookborough.

A brace of frozen frogs were liberated from the freezer, thawed in water and ganghooked and bound with a round or two of cord and their hind legs broken to give movement. So as we headed off to the stream a fairly meager set of instructions were issued. The line with frog attached would be cast and then reeled in with a spinning action so that the frog with its dangling hind legs would appear to be swimming on the surface. Each half turn of the reel would replicate a breast stroke kick which was somehow going to be completely irresistible to the theoretical pike below.

The tone of skepticism in the last line might seem a little gratuitous but as is well known with the retelling of any occasion of significance, you had to be there. And if you were there you knew for example that this was a trout stream, as there were pieces of tangible evidence. Like the occasional plop followed by a circular ripple, and no one yelling "That was a monster of a dragon fly". Then the more circumstantial stuff like the presence of the TV star gillie giving lessons and then finally the hard evidence - the landing and liberating of an entrée sized brown trout.

So with all of this it seemed like it was OK to be labeled as a trout stream, but surely it would have been a blind leap of faith to think that it might also be a pike stream. These are not really the kind of things one has time to reflect over when you are being ordered about by a retired Captain from the Territorial Army who knows what he is doing.

On instruction, I cast out at the first stop and got the hang of the technique, which took about ten seconds and after a couple more casts was whisked of to another spot having been told that there wasn't anything there. It seemed a slightly premature conclusion but what did I know - I was out of my normal environment if not out of my league entirely.

What followed were some of the most surprising moments of my recreational life. On the second cast, the water under my frog heaved and boiled and all hell seemed to be breaking loose. My frog did a crash dive and my coach at my right ear began issuing concise and absolutely unambiguous instructions. If it was indeed a pike which was causing all this turmoil then it seemed as if Lord Alan Brookborough had the thing wired for thought control. "Don't hit him, don't hit him - just keep a gentle tension on the line. He will do a couple of circles and then come down and just sit on the bottom until he is comfortable with the frog and then he will swallow him then he will move off fast. Remember a pike has a very bony mouth so you will not catch one until he swallows the bait. He will sit here for about a minute until he swallows the frog."

He was late. It was about sixty five seconds.

Then when he moved off this time the rod was u shaped and it was a struggle to stop giving him heaps of line. For the next three minutes or so I did exactly as I was told. "It "did circles and the odd figure eight, which probably made the pike more numerate than one viticulturalist I remember. Then as it was showing signs of tiring I was permitted to wind in a bit of line, ensuring that there was heaps of tension on the line to stop any unscheduled sideways excursions. I was reminded at this stage of what it must be like to be a pole-vaulter, an activity, which it is said, requires the thinking of and execution of thirteen actions in the space of one second. So I was obeying instructions keeping the line taught and winding in at the same time. The gillie who had temporarily put on hold his abhorence of this kind of fishing to brandish the landing net, was also now receiving instructions. Together we were being coaxed to the waters edge to land "It". There were a third set of instructions being given out at the same time, which, if it hadn't seemed like mid air during a pole-vault, would have been really strange. I do remember thinking that it was really odd that Alan had started talking to his dog, a black Labrador. Why in the name of whatever was he talking to his dog when I was about to land this monster of a pike?

There certainly wasn't time to dwell on anything else but keeping the line taught while edging the pike towards the landing net. Finally, just as the pike was within reach of the net the Labrador received his most vigorous instruction. In virtually one movement, he dived into the stream, seized the pike in his mouth and turned and clambered up the bank. It would be a real stretch of the imagination to say that a Labrador with a mouthful of pike could smile but the rate at which his tail was wagging told the whole story. He was pleased! And that was what he was trained for in his native Labrador - to jump into the water and seize the fish.

Thank you , Lord Alan Brookborough for a truly memorable catch.

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