Every April, an armada of boats and pike anglers descends on the town of Athlone in County Westmeath. The Lough Ree International Pike Fishing festival is always an enjoyable, well attended fishing tournament with around 200 anglers taking part. They travel from all corners of Ireland with a good contingent of overseas anglers as well. It’s exclusively a boat fishing tournament with teams of two or three anglers per boat.
The contest is spread over three days of fishing on the southern and western part of this huge lake and the standard of fishing is always very high – a testimony to the quality of the participating anglers and the rich stocks of fish in Lough Ree. The rules dictate that all the fish you catch have to be measured and photographed. Every year many fish over 1 meter in length are caught, so you need to bring your A-game (and big landing net) if you intend to get into the prizes.
Each year I fish with my regular team mate Damien Culliney of Anglers Paradise and we set our sights on the ultimate prize – the Pike World Cup. This is awarded to the team with the longest combined length of three fish. The trick is, you can only select one fish from each of the three days fishing. Consistency is the key, with winning teams needing to catch a good fish each day to be in contention.
On day one we got off to a good start with a lovely 98cm fish (about 16lbs) which came to one of our favourite lures trolled behind the boat. Not big enough to win any of the daily prizes, but a good start to the 3-day campaign.
On the second day, conditions became difficult with low wind and bright skies – very pleasant, but not ideal for pike hunting. The fishing was slow but, after a change of location, our fortunes changed and we hooked into a large fish that pulverised the trolled lure, then tail walked and thrashed it’s way all the back to the boat. At 104.5cms it was good enough to earn us 2nd prize on Day 2. First prize on the day went to Danny Colleran and Daniel Nesbitt with a tournament record-busting pike of 119.75cms. An incredible feat from these talented anglers from Co. Clare.
With two decent fish under our belt, we went into day three in a fairly good position. One large fish could win the World Cup. Again, the weather conditions were unfavourable. Bright sunshine and barely a breath of wind – not typical April weather in Ireland ! We knew this final day would be a struggle and , sure enough, by 1pm we hadn’t encountered a single fish. A change was needed so we headed out to deeper water to troll our favourite lures.
A result wasn’t long in coming. A rod buckled round into a deep bend and we knew this was another nice fish. She measured 96cms. Not the monster we had hoped for, but a welcome fish in these challenging conditions. A couple more smaller fish soon followed, but our tournament score remained set on 298.5cms. Not bad, but how would we fare against the other teams? We would have to wait for the nightly prizegiving ceremony to find out.
In the end, our score over the three days was enough to get 5th place out of 100 teams. A respectable performance which just nudged us into the prizes for the overall tournament. Top marks and the Pike World Cup went to Krzysztof Sibiga & Marcin Gregorczyk with a brilliant score of 314cms (another team from County Clare!). Well done also to all the daily prize winners. A special thanks goes to the tournament organisers led by Adrian, Eamonn and Ger. No mean feat putting the whole event together and marshalling almost 200 pike anglers over three days. As usual the craic in Athlone was first class. It’s a great town for a night out, whether toasting your victories or drowning your sorrows. Really looking forward to the event next year Maybe, just maybe………