The fishing can be absolutely fantastic as regulars will testify, however for the first time visitor to the Emerald Isles there are a few pointers that may prove invaluable whichever part of the country you choose to fish.
The quality and price of bait in both the north and south of the country is pretty much in keeping with over here depending of course from which part of the UK you hail. If you have the money and don't want the trouble of taking your own, then most guest houses/hotels have a bait contact plus bait rooms with fridges. If you do have a cheaper supply then it can save pounds by taking your own, especially worms in bulk.
If you decide to buy bait over there then book it first. This applies especially to casters but ordering in advance is a sensible idea for all bait. To transport your own if you never have done so requires some planning. This applies to both worms and maggots as the holding deck of ferries can sometimes get quite warm. I remember a colleague of mine taking over bronze maggots in open plant-pot type containers and when we docked in Belfast there was the most amazing bronze line artwork all over the walls and ceiling of the ferry, what was left of his bait was stone dead.
The only way to successfully transport LIVE maggots and end up with pristine bait is to get them chilled down so that they are hardly moving. About an hour or so before you are ready to leave for the ferry, tip them into heavy duty bin liners, a couple of gallons per bag. The trick is to remove all the air from the bags and then knot the top (not too tight as it's a pain undoing it!) then place into a cooler box that has plenty of frozen ice packs. To be 100% sure, just seal with parcel tape and leave until you reach your destination. Be sure to take plenty of receptacles for housing the bait. Cat litter trays are cheap, riddles are a handy accessory and of course some maize meal/sawdust to keep them in good condition.
Now you may undo the bin liners and find that I seem to have tricked you into mass murder and spoilt your bait but after a few moments the seemingly flaccid lifeless critters will start to come around. Now, I want you to remember this description if you decide to have a night on the Guinness or Smithwicks - you will come around, but not as quick as your maggots! Some anglers like to take plenty of maggots for turning into casters but this is time consuming and requires much more effort and hardware so that's left to the individual.
Worms should not be placed in airtight bags. A cotton pillow case is better and ensure the freezer packs are wrapped in newspaper this will prevent the worms being freeze burnt, again place into a sealed cooler box and leave until you get to fish with them.
There are a few other considerations with regards to types of bait. I would take plenty of sweetcorn, bulk catering tins are the most economical and then lastly there is the groundbait which is a prerequisite for bream fishing anywhere in the world.
Lots of people over the years have asked me which is the best groundbait to use and I think there are a couple of good answers. Firstly, if you are fishing on pressured match waters then this is going to be more important, I would go for a good quality brown crumb and then take some sticky continental groundbait. Van Den Eynde's World Champion is brilliant for this, as it enables the angler to put plenty of particle bait in the mix without it exploding mid air. PV1 is also another worthy additive that can be used to "tighten" up a mix.
If you are really skint then good old fashioned white crumb will suffice but put plenty of time in the mix. A 60/40 brown to white crumb respectively is about right but this can be altered to suit depth and flow. For "virgin" waters that have not received as much attention, the groundbait need not be as scientific. A great bulking medium is flaked maize, basically this is flattened coarse maize and it can be soaked overnight, it takes lots of water and swells up quite considerably. The resultant mash can be added to other groundbait and the cloud it gives off is amazing, fished with worm and sweetcorn it is a very effective cheap alternative and is available from larger pet stores.
In the past, some matchmen have opted to takes squatts for some of the harder sections and it is advisable to take some different colours of maggots for ringing the changes (I love that expression) and maybe a few disco pinkies wouldn't go amiss.
Pretty much standard UK equipment will suffice. There is nothing over there that will scare you size-wise except maybe a few pike or the odd big brown trout. I would pack a couple of feeder rods, a medium and a heavy one, two poky float rods and a pole (a spare is handy) with plenty of tops. Spare top five or sixes may be worth packing as some venues can be deep.
Terminal tackle: Reel lines of 4-6lb, rigs depending on venue from 1.5-5 gram (take plenty of floats and winders so you can make them up) wagglers up to 25gramme for slider work, although many club anglers prefer Polaris type floats for floatlegering/feedering.
Hooks: Well 18-12 should cover all eventualities I prefer strong ones, barbless. Here are a few patterns worth considering: Kamasan B611, B520, Mustad Power Gape, Preston Carp type hooks. For big weights on the pole, line to hand, I would use an eyed hook as this stops the bait blowing up the line and is easier to unhook at speed.
There are many anglers that have switched to braid and I do use it from time to time. There is some new Bream Braid by Leeda which apparently sinks, so that would be worth checking out. 6-8lbs is more than enough and I do use a shock leader of 6lb when fishing snaggy swims or when I am using lighter hooklengths. The benefits in terms of bite indication are remarkable and also I like the way I can "twitch" the feeder, and in turn the hookbait, in a very controlled way.
Take plenty of swimfeeders. Open end type or cage are best but if you are thinking of fishing the river systems then you will need extra weights in the form of dead cows or strap leads to hold the flow, this may even apply to some of the bigger Loughs where the undertow is very strong.
General Fishing Approach
Try not to get too carried away with the idea that the fish are easy to catch. Sure enough on some venues at certain times the fish will hang themselves with the crudest of terminal tackle and poor quality bait, but remember that, unless you are prebaiting, once you have put in a load of bait it cannot be removed, so start off 'little and often' and build things up gradually. If the fish are going bananas then it is easy to step up the feed and gear up with stouter terminal tackle.
This is one of the most important aspects of going over the water. As I mentioned earlier, the weather can be incredible, bright tee shirt sunshine one minute and hail stones as big as marbles with squally winds and monsoon rain storms the next. Therefore warm, waterproof clothing is absolutely essential, plus thermal boots. There is nothing worse than getting cold whilst trying to concentrate on your fishing. Also have plenty of spare clothing for the next day if you do get deluged. A brolly is owned by most anglers but not as many take guide ropes and tent pegs. For extra security I would advise you to get some, unless you want to see your brolly flying into the distance.
It's natural that the first thing you want to do when you get to your destination is to go fishing, and it may be that the tour operator, the people who put you up, or the local tackle shop can put you onto some immediate fishing.
I would advise that the first day, or at least half of the first day, is spent doing a bit of reconnaissance. Drive around and see if anglers are still fishing and catching (it pays to fit in with other anglers rather than nick pre-baited swims if possible). Chances are they may be leaving as you arrive and you will have a ready made situation where the fish have been herded into an area on the back of another anglers presence.
Try not to keep moving around willy nilly each day or you could end up with a very poor weeks fishing. Some of the larger Loughs are massive and, unless the fish are aware that bait is on one particular part of the Lough, a blank could be on the cards. Once again I repeat, do some homework. You could find a spot that looks promising and pre-bait it for a few nights and then give it a try mid-holiday when the fish have moved in.
Vehicular transport is still by far the most common means of getting over to Ireland via the ferry. The benefits are that it can be cheaper and that more bait and equipment can be carted with the you. Commercial vehicles are a boon as lots of wet muddy kit will result in a nice saloon/estate car requiring a complete valet on returning home. If you are taking your own bait then I would advise a group of you taking a mini bus and get the operators to remove some of the seats. Usually the transit type coaches have roof racks which are ideal. Take great care when driving around the tight bends and narrow lanes in Ireland. I know of lots of incidents where anglers have hit each other head on so be careful out there.
Smell the roses along the way
It goes without saying that you will all want to get as much fishing as possible and you pays your money and takes your choice, but might I suggest that you take some time out to have a look at some of the sights. Maybe take a trip to the coast? There are some wonderful sight and the people in the sticks are extremely hospitable.
Food & Drink
I briefly touched on the drink side of things earlier in a hangover context, the Guinness seems to be thicker over the water both in the north and south and takes time to get poured, so be patient. Try a bit of the old Irish Mist, one of my favourite tipples in days gone by and of course, there's the Bushmills to fall back on.
The food is second to none. I swear that the main objective of the Irish hosts is to make us fatter by a couple of stone in a week. The size of the plates and the mounds of good wholesome food needs to be seen to be believed.
Try getting into the local culture of an evening. In the south there is always some music to be enjoyed in the bars plus plenty of places to eat out, they do great meat dishes and the Soda & Wheaten bread is marvellous in it's uniqueness
I hope you have a great time if you are going over to Ireland. I have had some of the happiest times over there, although these days I prefer to fish off the beaten track and away from the masses. I really love the Irish people as they go out of their way to make us feel looked after. The fishing and weather can be a little disappointing but that happens anywhere, even in warmer climes. If it is your first visit don't be frightened to ask lots of questions about where to fish and maybe even pioneer some new spots that have not had any attention because they are out of the way.
Good Luck, Great Fishing & Great Craic!!!