Every time an Irish trip was planned it had to be cancelled for some reason or other. It was not until July that I managed to escape for a three and a half day session on Mask. After last seasons disappointment with the fry feeding pike I did not know what to expect. This time, for some reason, the pike were feeding voraciously and the float trolled deadbaits scored heavily. In order of capture, pike of the following weights fell to my rod: 24-00, 21-08, 21-00, 12-14, 10-08, 15-04, 13-06, 24-00, 12-08 and 22-12. Quite a result, and it was pleasing to see the average weight of pike well up on previous years. My father joined me one morning, fished for a couple of hours, knocked out a 22 and left in time to get home for lunch! That October I was back again on Mask for another three day session. Due to pressure of work it was all the time I could spare. I have always found the pike in October to be rather unpredictable as regards location and behaviour. This visit was to be no exception and I struggled to find fish. A lot of water was covered but it was not until the final day that a few pike were located near to where a river flowed in. The sounder showed a lot of large marks on the screen and several pike were seen swirling on the surface. Despite getting quite a few takes to my float trolled deadbaits, only two were converted, resulting in fish of 10-00 and 20-02. Winter on Mask is most definitely my favourite time of year. The lake is free of trout anglers and the average size of fish I have taken has been exceptionally high. To my disgust it was not until January of the new year that I made it over for a week long session. Two things were worrying me. One was that I might be a bit late and that the pike feeding on spawning trout may have dispersed. The second thing was that I had heard that some other pike anglers had sussed out what it was all about, and that my usual spots might have been hammered. Thankfully I was wrong on both accounts and in fact had my best ever session! On two occasions I managed three pike over twenty pounds in a day, which was something I had never done before. A total of nine pike over twenty were recorded in the week with the icing on the cake being my fifth thirty pounder at 30-08. The other twenties taken weighed 29-02, 26-04, 20-06, 21-00, 25-00, 24-12, 20-04 and 21-10. A further half dozen doubles were also added. Virtually all the fish came in the first four days. Bad weather made the last three days a waste of time. All the fish fell to float legered deadbaits fished from the boat. Seven of the nine twenties came to half mackerel, one took smelt and one a dead trout. Mind-blowing stuff and it shows just what Lough Mask is capable of when conditions are right. The setup I use for deadbaiting from the boat is a bog standard float leger rig. I would normally fish two rods on half mackerel and one with either a smelt or trout. Half mackerel I have found to be far and away the most effective deadbait and it also casts the furthest which is a definite advantage. My float trolling rig is perhaps worth a closer look. The double trace helps to reduce line twist and aids retackling. After a fish has kinked the lower trace it can be quickly unclipped and a new one clipped on. Trebles are two size six Terry Eustace Super Strongs and I find no need at all for the fancy hooking arrangements some people seem to require. Line twist with this setup is virtually non-existent. I also have no use for elaborate devices for stopping the float moving down the line. Using this rig, fished slowly with the electric motor, it just is not a problem. I have caught hardly any pike from Corrib or Mask on trolled deadbaits with the bait set deeper than about 12 ft. Most of the time I set the float at six or seven feet deep. On the rare occasions that I do fish baits deep, I like to use a larger float and increase the weight on the trace to about an ounce. Other pike anglers I have talked to have also found that shallow fished baits outfish baits fished at depth. Downriggers or wireline I have never found a need for. In addition, the thought of getting a wireline or downrigger snagged on the bottom in rough weather is not something I have a great desire to experience! Bait choice when float trolling is fairly important. There are times on Mask when dropped and missed takes are a big, big problem. When I first encountered this phenomena, different rigs and hooking arrangements were tried in an effort to convert more takes. Nothing that was tried made much difference. It was not until I obtained some perch deadbaits that things improved. All of a sudden many more takes were resulting in fish in the boat. The pike, which were feeding on spawning perch at the time, seemed to be preoccupied with perch, and on hitting a bait which turned out to not be a perch, were dropping it in disgust. Since that day my first choice of bait will always be a perch or trout deadbait and I have found that they consistently result in less missed takes. On some occasions seabaits are accepted with gusto, but if missed takes start to occur then a natural bait is definitely worth a try. Line is of critical importance, and for all my summer fishing I use 20 lb. test Big Game line having been broken several times on 15 lb. test line in the past. Lough Mask pike in the warmer months really do battle hard. Most of my fishing is done in the vicinity of weed and snags so an abrasion resistant line is very important. For winter fishing I scale down to the 15 lb. test Big Game line. A rod with considerable backbone is also vital because when a big pike goes for the anchor rope you have got to be able to stop it in it's tracks. I have used all sorts of rods but have now settled on 13ft 3 1/4 lb. test curve Simpson Eclipses for all my fishing. They are a quite awesome fast taper rod that will put a half mackerel out of sight. I can see no need at all for the short rods many people seem to advocate for boat fishing. Reels used are the inevitable Shimano Aero Baitrunners. The baitrunner feature is indispensable for boat fishing, and for float trolling in particular. There is nothing revolutionary about any of my methods. Success on Mask is all about finding the fish. Once located, the pike are usually very easy to catch and a float trolled or static deadbait will do the job. Some people might be surprised that lures have virtually no place in my approach. This is quite simply because I have found mobile deadbaits to be vastly more effective. I also feel no need to be tempted to use livebaits. I am convinced that mobile deadbaits will nearly always catch you the fish you are after on Mask and that livebaits are not worth the hassle. Anyone caught using livebaits on Mask, particularly roach, would be liable to have their teeth removed by the local trout anglers. Believe me, it is not worth it! The reason for lures not being effective, is I believe due to the large number of trout anglers that troll the lake during the summer months. Any pike that has a liking for small Tobys or plugs will get bashed on the head very quickly. Of course, the good lure angler should always be able to catch the odd pike and I do know of some very large fish taken on lures in recent years. For consistent results though, a float trolled deadbait wins hands down. Anyone reading this account might be starting to think that Lough Mask is stuffed full of big pike just waiting to throw themselves onto the hooks. This is definitely not the case and I am convinced that pike numbers are low in relation to the size of the water. My experiences have shown that unless a concentration of pike is found the fishing can be very difficult. The results which I have enjoyed are the product of intense research and an awful lot of days. I would expect even very experienced pikers to struggle without some prior knowledge of exactly where and when to fish. The Angling Times sponsored Pike Hunt being a case in point. To be fair to the guys though, I was on the lake at about the same time and could not catch either. On several occasions, especially in early Springtime I have gone a whole week without a fish. What is undeniable though, is that Lough Mask does produce some very big pike and at times the fishing can be second to none. I doubt that there is any water in the British Isles which offers a better chance of a thirty pound plus pike. My results in recent years have suggested that the pike fishing on Mask is getting better and better. I have not fished on Corrib sufficiently to be able to say the same but I would not be surprised if that is the case also. Sadly though, all the fun may be about to end. As I write this, the axe is hanging and the prospect of pike culling is looming yet again. This is despite the fact that many trout anglers now also agree it is a waste of money and that the money could be better spent elsewhere. One question I have asked Lough Mask trout anglers and boatmen time and time again, and that is "Did the pike culling in the past have a beneficial effect on the trout angling?" About half have replied "Yes" and half "No"! All that effort and expense for something which has no definite result! One thing is for sure though and that is, it will make the pike angling a waste of time. FOOTNOTE This piece was originally written back in 1995. I have left it unchanged as it represents what I thought and felt about Lough Mask at that time. Sadly, since the time of writing the gill nets have indeed returned to Mask and have wreaked great carnage amongst the pike. My own experience, post culling, is that Lough Mask is no longer worth fishing for pike. A sad loss indeed. Fortunately Ireland still offers a great deal for the visiting pike angler. Loughs Allen, Gara, Poulaphuca and Derravaragh all continue to produce superlative pike fishing. Many lesser known venues hardly see a pike angler from one year to the next! Only time will tell what happens on Lough Mask. We can only hope that one day the netting stops and the great pike of Lough Mask return once more. Please add your support to the campaign to Save Our Western Lakes and write to: Save Our Western Lakes PO Box 0001 Cong Post Office Claremorris County Mayo Ireland