Tench in Ireland are perhaps more legendary than they are in England. Although Ireland still officially has to produce the amount of 10lb plus specimens that England has, without doubt they are there. The big difference with Ireland is that there are few gravel pits. The majority of tench fishing takes place in natural loughs or loughs produced by peat diggings. Tench are also to be found in Irish rivers. The great pioneering angler Ray Webb who devoted his time to Irish tench caught the one time Irish record from the warm water outfall at Lansborough on the mighty river Shannon back in the 1970s.
I have fished many times in Southern Ireland, mainly in the area around Strokestown. The biggest Lough in the area is Kilglass Lough that has produced some enormous rudd in the past. However several trips out on a boat pre-baiting areas has only produced numerous bream, no sign of the sought-after tench, or rudd.
There is no doubt that to fish in Ireland, thigh waders are a must and it was by donning these that I made a wonderful discovery in the shape of Lough Lea. Lough Lea is actually three separate loughs. The one nearest the road (well actually a farm track) is the smallest and is approached via boggy fields to find an almost totally reed fringed small water with no swims at all to fish from. There may be some good fish in there but over ten years I never cast a line in there.
The far lough is the biggest and given the most attention will produce the biggest catches of bream - big bream too. I took specimens of over 7lb on several occasions. The only problem is that Ireland has few periods of pleasant weather and this large open lough is very exposed to the weather. My efforts of a more serious campaign were always thwarted by the weather and the strength-sucking walk across boggy fields to get to its banks.
The most practical lough therefore was the middle one. A nice sized water of around 5 acres, surrounded with reeds with lilies dotted around. The water is around 10 feet deep with a good amount of light bottom weed. Access to its banks still requires waders but there are a few open areas where I could set up a chair in only a few inches of water.
The method was simple, as all Irish fishing is, an 11 foot quivertip rod, 5lb mainline, 4lb hooklink, a size 12 hook and two maggots tipped with a single piece of sweetcorn. An open end feeder stuffed with maggots and plugged at both ends with brown breadcrumb groundbait. This was cast 20 yards to an area just off a small point of reeds that had been groundbaited with around 10lb of groundbait and corn the day before.
At dawn I arrived at the track giving me enough light to negotiate the boggy fields - this takes about 30 minutes. If the groundbaiting has worked then signs of tench should be fairly obvious usually bubbles and disturbed water. If this is the case, action usually comes quite quickly after casting, the quivertip pulling round hard. There is no need to be holding the rod as the tench usually hook themselves, often the old Mitchell reel will be spinning before I lifted the rod. The fights are as we expect from tench, hard and prolonged. Most of the fish are in the 4 to 5lb bracket, I have yet to get a 6lber from Lough Lea. I also usually get a few 3lbers, so it's good fishing. An average catch of 10 fish is normal; my best was 16 from around 7am through to 1pm. After that things generally slow down with just the odd fish coming, usually in fact the rudd get on the bait after the tench move out.
That is how the brochures make out the fishing in Ireland is - but in my experience that's an exceptional water and I personally only found consistent sport on Lough Lea, the other waters I fished were more problematical. I will give two examples.
Just down the track from the guesthouse on the banks of Kilglass Lough is another very small lough, around 2 acres, that rather confusingly is also called Lough Lea. This lough was approached by asking the farmer for permission as it is situated behind his house. It is totally surrounded in reeds apart from one area of open bank with stages built out 5 yards or so into the lough. It was stuffed full of tench and had a reputation of producing some fantastic catches. One year I decided to spend most of my time on there so I arranged with the farmer that I could have sole access to the water for the week. He agreed so I started to pre-bait a large area of the lake in the evening and fish in the mornings. It took a couple of days to get the tench interested in the bait but on the third morning I finally got a bite and landed a 4lb female. That was as good as it got!
For the remaining 4 days I had the tench feeding really well but could not buy a bite. The problem, I realised in the end, was that they were only eating the tiny pieces and breadcrumb and the maggots that were suspended on the light bottom weed. The main area of groundbait on the bottom, with my hookbait, was being ignored. On the last day I managed to get a small boat and gently drifted over the baited area. There below me in the clear water were around 20 tench drifting around feeding on the suspended morsels, they were even sending up bubbles that had led me to believe they were feeding on the bottom earlier in the week.
That was an expensive lesson and given another week I would have solved it but I ran out of time and went home from my weeks holiday with just one tench. The lesson of course is to not be so dogmatic to think tench only grub around on the bottom, some of these tench were picking up bait a full 2 feet off the bottom.
A final example where, on a happier note; I failed to catch my target tench due to the amount of fish actually present and feeding in my swim. The warm water outfall at Lansborough, although not quite so good as it was in the 1970s, still produces a lot of fish and I have fished there many times. An early arrival is recommended to get nearest the warm water itself, so a 'before light' arrival was normal for me. The channel is only 20 yards wide and the fish will hole-up near to the reeds on the far side.
The reeds separate the channel from the main river. Again plenty of groundbait is needed and I found the open ended feeder method with maggot/corn cocktail worked best. I had caught plenty of tench from there in previous years with a biggest of 6lb 13oz with catches of 15 to 20 individuals possible. So this particular year I expected the same, however it coincided with some very hot weather and the bream had moved into the channel to spawn.
To cut a long story short, I could not get near the tench because of the bream. I could see the tench rolling but every cast produced a bream. Of course I write this tongue in cheek because really I was pleased to be catching but over three days I had weights of 100lb plus of bream but not a single tench to show. Under normal conditions the bream are at the end of the channel on the other side of the bridge in the main river, leaving the tench in the slower warmer water.
Irish tench fishing is great fun and can be very productive but they are by no means a guaranteed doddle. Next week I return to England and look at a water that had not been fished for 20 years and was full of massive tench.