The huge, arched, wooden door looked very uninviting and as Ken, my dad, lifted the big iron knocker I huddled a little closer to his legs. The knocker hit the door and we could hear the bang echoing through whatever space was on the other side. After a couple of minutes we heard the sound of big bolts being withdrawn and a key turning in the lock, with an eerie creak the door was slowly pulled open and a huge hooded monk stood looking at us,
Ive been told I can hire the boat on the lough said Ken.
I couldnt believe we were talking to him; all my thoughts were to sprint back to the motorbike and get as far away as possible as quickly as possible. However I was at the age where all kids think that their dads are superhuman and so rather than run away I stuck out my 9 year old chest and got hold of my dads hand, placing my total trust in him.
Come away in replied the monk in a strong Irish accent.
We stepped over the threshold and the monk locked and bolted the door behind us, this way he said indicating a long gloomy corridor.
Ken and I followed him, our feet silent on the stone floor, in fact the whole place was totally silent and we felt that we were the only people in it. The hooded monk was huge, Ken was over 6 feet but the monk was a head taller and about 3 stone heavier. He turned to another arched wooden door, took out a bunch of keys and unlocked it, swinging it open he motioned us inside to, what was obviously an office, and went behind an ornate wooden desk. He pushed his hood back, revealing a hawk like nose and thick black hair; this took me by surprise as I thought he would have a haircut like Friar Tuck in the Robin Hood series.
Will it be for the day or the week he asked, picking up a book of tickets.
Just the day please said Ken
The monk then wrote out a ticket, with a fountain pen, in beautiful copperplate script and handed it to my father; Ken checked the amount and paid.
What are you hoping to catch in there, theres no trout the monk asked looking at me,
tench I replied
You cant eat tench, said the monk, you want to get on the river and see if you can catch a salmon he said, giving my hair a tousling with a big horny palm.
He likes his tench fishing, dont you Dave.
Ah, the innocence of youth laughed the monk.
He walked us back to the door, let us out and we heard the door being locked and bolted behind us.
Ken and I walked back to the motorbike and sidecar, Ken started the bike, I jumped on the pillion and we thundered back to the lough.
We were in southern Ireland for a fortnights fishing holiday, leaving my pregnant mother and two year old brother at home. It was circa 1964, Ireland was still a relative virgin as far as fishing went and we had already enjoyed a couple of spectacular days on the royal canal near Mullingar. We had been given a tip by the farmer, with whom we were staying, that this lough contained a lot of tench. He had told us this with about as much enthusiasm as if he had been telling us about the loss of a loved one, if it wasnt salmon or trout the Irish could not understand why we would want to fish for them. The fact that we put them back at the end was way beyond their comprehension and we got the pitying looks that were normally reserved for mental patients.
We had arrived at the lough a couple of hours previously and, having walked all the way around it, decided that the margins were way to shallow to fish from the bank. Out in the middle, three chaps were fishing from a punt and as we walked round we could see their rods bending on a very regular basis. We had noticed a boat moored at the waters edge and, on further investigation we found a sign on the mooring post stating that the boat was for hire and to see the brothers at the monastery up the road, hence our meeting with the hooded monk.
We got back to the lough without incident and we loaded our tackle into the boat. You have to keep very still in a boat Dave said Ken the fish can hear all the noises through the bottom.
Im always still and quiet I replied indignantly.
Just saying laughed Ken.
We pulled away, me hanging over the side looking into the clear water and Ken pulling on the oars like a roman galley slave. We had gone all the way around, without finding any break in the dense weed, when one of the chaps in the punt shouted over to us, theres another anchor point at the side of us, come on over
Thanks mate shouted Ken and he turned the boat towards the centre of the lough.
Sure enough, about 10 yards away from the punt there was a piece of wood floating on the surface attached to a length of rope which was firmly anchored to the bottom. Are you sure were not too close said Ken to our new found friends in the punt.
No problem at all one of them replied, were only staying another hour or so.
We tied up to the anchor and tackled up, Ken with his Apollo Taperflash and centre pin, me with my Sundridge split cane and trusty Intrepid Elite.
Thats a big hook Ken I said as he passed me a size 12.
We are fishing bread he replied so we need a big one.
I lowered my baited hook into the water, no need to cast far, Ken had explained to me, as we were already in the middle of the lough. My red tipped quill cocked and almost immediately sank, I struck, my rod bent double, I was nearly pulled over the side and it was only Ken, grabbing hold of my jumper, which averted a catastrophe.
That was quick Dave, I havent put the landing net up yet said Ken frantically sliding the brass rings of the landing net around the frame so that he could open it up, meanwhile I was hanging on for grim death, my mouth gaping open like a goldfish. I had never felt such a powerful fish, my old split cane rod was actually groaning under the strain. After what seemed like hours, but was probably about five minutes, Ken slipped the net under the biggest tench I had ever seen.
Well done son he exclaimed proudly, he always called me son when I did well, he still does today fifty odd years later and it still gives me a warm glow, such was the relationship we had and still have to this day.
How big do you think it is I asked
Ken pulled out the spring balance, probably Little Samson but I am not sure, and weighed the fish in the landing net.
We can knock off a pound, for the weight of the net said Ken and watched the needle settle at just over six pound. Thats youre first five pound tench Dave, see if you can catch another.
I was ecstatic and realising why Ireland was rapidly being regarded as the mecca of coarse fishing.
Good here innit it I grinned.
Certainly is Ken grinned back and the fish are perfect, Im sure theyve never been caught before.
I lowered my bait in again and, just as before, it sank and I was in again. Ken looked up from tying his hook on, he had yet to wet a line, come on Dave, give me a chance to set up he laughed and once more wielded the landing net. This time the fish was smaller, about three pound, and was soon netted, my mouth had done the goldfish thing again and I resolved to keep my lips together next time.
I waited for Ken to tackle up before I put in again and five minutes later I was returning the favour with the landing net as Ken took a tench of about four pounds.I had to drop the landing net pretty quickly though, as my float had, again, disappeared. A quick strike and tench number three was heading for the net. This was incredible fishing, we had already caught four tench and we had only been fishing half an hour, we had not even put in any feed.
The chaps in the punt were also enjoying great sport and they were chatting away with Ken whilst landing big tench on a very regular basis.
It was then that a very peculiar thing happened; I was playing my fourth tench, determinedly keeping my mouth shut, when I felt a strange jolt through my line. One of the chaps in the punt was playing a fish at the same time and he called over that he thought we were both playing the same fish. Ken took the bail arm off my reel and the chap in the punt quickly landed the fish and sure enough my hook, and his, were both in the lip of the tench. That fish must have picked up the other chaps bait whilst I was playing it, or vice versa!
Well share this one Dave, he shouted over.
Ok I replied
Im beating you three and a half to one now Ken I said to my dad.
Fair enough replied Ken but I will soon catch you up.
Our three, new found friends, packed up about an hour later and Ken and I had the place to ourselves for the rest of the day. The procession of tench eventually dried up in the afternoon but, in some ways, I was relieved as my arms felt like sticks of liquorice. We packed away our gear and I tried, and failed, to lift out the keepnet. Ken had no such problem, the net was lifted out and I looked at the best days tench fishing I had ever had; to this day it remains my most successful tench outing. Kens net was just as impressive, full of pristine tench all between three and five pounds, my first fish was the biggest of the day and I reminded Ken, of the bet we had made at the start and that he now owed me an ice cream back at the farmhouse.This must have been the start of my lifelong passion for competitive angling.
Come on then, Molly will be waiting for you said Ken.
He started up the 500cc BSA and I jumped up behind him, giving a last look at the little lough which had been responsible for providing me with lifelong memories.
The lough in question was lough Patrick which was discovered a few years later by the Tenchfishers specimen group and by all accounts it still fishes well today.
Anyway back to the story. We rode back to the farmhouse, getting the same stares and waves, that we had received since we got there, from any locals that we passed. It appeared that 500cc motorbikes, complete with a double adult sidecar, were a rarity in sixties Ireland and many folk thought that we actually slept in the side car. I remember one chap talking to us outside a shop and he stated,
Jesus, thats the smallest caravan that Ive ever seen for a couple of travellers such as yourselves, Ken and I still chuckle about that one.
We got back to the farmhouse and were greeted by Oliver, youngest son of the Foley family, with whom we were staying. Oliver was the same age as me and we had hit it off from day one and were now firm friends.
Come on Davey, Molly is all set to go he shouted.
Go on Dave said Ken I will put the tackle away.
Awe Thanks I replied happily.
Now I must point out that I had lost my heart to Molly, a beautiful soft eyed Irish colleen of a pony, brown and white in colour, I think the term is skewbald, but I cannot be sure. Oliver and I mounted up, no saddle, just a bit and a piece of rope for reins.
Ken shouted over to us hold on and he went into the farm shop and emerged with two ice cream cones I always pay my bets he said handing one to each of us.
He stood there and waved us off as Oliver and I, ice creams in hand, galloped over the hill in search of further adventures.