January 13, 2014 Last Updated 11:58 am

* Bass by Technique, Pike by Nature!

When the weather causes havoc with your fishing there are always choices for the dinghy angler. Jim Clohessy takes to a lake in search of pike. Can this old sea dog learn new freshwater tricks?

Bass by Technique, Pike by Nature!

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(This article appeared in Irish Angler Magazine March 2012)

As a confirmed dinghy angler there is only so much fishing related things you can do keep yourself occupied when the weather is bad. The next best thing to being out in your boat is to be doing boat-related jobs. Getting service and maintenance items out of the way is good, getting tackle and gear sorted and organised is better. Helping buddies out getting jobs done is always great to keep your sanity. It’s great to be ready to head out fishing when the windows of opportunity arise.


“We started to talk about pike and pike angling and the more we talked the more it sounded like bass fishing to me.”

Keeping busy is not that difficult. We’ve been busy monitoring the movements of some local criminals that are intent on illegally fishing for bass. Such practice is akin to economic treason in the times we live in as bass have the potential to help drive tourism forward around many parts of the country. We have also been engaged in a drive to put up bass protection signs around the Cork Harbour area. These are all small things but a contribution that helps in the overall scheme of things angling and tourism.

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As I do not do a whole pile of shore angling I wait impatiently for windows of opportunity to get out in boats for some fishing. I have not seen such patterns of incessant wind for many years. The opportunities for boat angling are few and far between. I was discussing the current state of affairs with local  guide Mark Houlihan and was busy bemoaning my lack of fishing when Mark came up with a suggestion – “How about a bit of pike fishing Jim?” Holy God! We started to talk about pike and pike angling and the more we talked the more it sounded like bass fishing to me. Pike are predators, so are bass. Pike can be finicky, so can bass. Pike can be caught using various different techniques, so can bass. It was all beginning to sound like a challenge. I asked a simple question: would I be able to tackle some pike fishing using the exact same gear that I use to fish for bass? Mark assured me that other than the addition of a wire leader to my current setup there should be no impediment to catching some pike. Fishing buddy Kevin Murphy stuck his oar in from the start and wanted a chance to catch a pike as well. That was that! We were sold the plan and we began to put things in motion.

Mark presented some options: We could head for some recognised pike waters like Inniscarra and try there. West Cork offers some superb pike fishing and Shepperton Lake is a favourite destination of Mark’s. Well it would be as he had his biggest pike on the fly there towards the end of last year. He did point out that the fishing there can be tough, as the Shepperton pike are big but can be notoriously difficult to catch. I felt that as this was going to be Kevin and my first foray into freshwater we should make things as simple as possible for the greenhorns! It was then Mark introduced Liss Ard House into the equation.

pike (23)Liss Ard Estate is located just outside Skibbereen in West Cork. Apart from 200 acres of beautiful woodland, farmland and gardens the estate boasts its own 50 acre lake that Mark assured us holds good numbers of pike, maybe not the monsters of Shepperton but lots of fish. It seemed a good idea but we had one stumbling block – I had planned to take my Honwave rubber dinghy. The lake is a reservoir for the town of Skibereen and as such the use of outboard motors is not permitted. It would be trolling motors only. Still, the thoughts of fishing from a proper lake boat add to the adventure and so Liss Ard was chosen for our first attempt at pike fishing.

The simple plan would be to catch some pike. While it would be nice to catch a big one, catching any sized fish would be the priority and important to us was that we would use our bass gear. Pike angling could be a viable alternative for us stir-crazy bass anglers. We assembled at my house on a crisp and breezy winter morning. Conditions would not be suitable for boat angling at sea, even in the sheltered waters of Cork Harbour. I eyed the sky dubiously and wondered what I had let myself in for. Mark assured me that the conditions on the lake would be ideal. At 50 acres the lake is not huge and there is good cover from the westerly wind that was blowing – “I’ll be fly fishing so you can be assured that the conditions are OK”.


“While it would be nice to catch a big one, catching any sized fish would be the priority and important to us was that we would use our bass gear.”

Sikbeereen is a gateway to areas in west Cork like Baltimore, the Beara Peninsula and Castletownbere, all brilliant boat angling venues. I was completely unprepared for the idyllic beauty of a place like Liss Ard Estate. We entered the estate and drove the track that runs parallel to the water until we came to where Brian Fowler the fishery manager had a 19ft lake boat and a pontoon boat nestled against a beautiful little landing point. Once we got the greetings out of the way we spoke about the lake and the fishing. Liss Ard house is primarily an exclusive guest house. Calling it a guest house might be somewhat unfair though. It strikes me as a place where you could have a different, almost religious experience of a stay. It really is a splendid place. Maybe as a sea-faring angler I have missed out on this type of place but I could sense something special about the location. Apart from the house they have a lakeside lodge sited on the side of the mountain overlooking the lake. The “lodge” is the size of a good sized hotel! The estate is known for its beautiful gardens and walks and it is only now that attention has turned to the potential of the lake. Brian tells me that they accept day anglers all year round for pike angling. There is a plan in place to stock the lake with brown and possibly rainbow trout to add another dimension for visiting anglers. Mark was quick to point out that the resident pike would only flourish with an even bigger choice of diet than the prolific rudd and perch that inhabit the lake as is.

Mark, Kevin and I took to the lake boat while Brian mounted the pontoon boat. The pontoon boat looks like a superb fishing tool but I suppose one step at a time in freshwater fishing is important so I was happy to have a solid hull beneath my feet. Brian pointed out areas that we should try out first and we motored to the western end of the lake in the lee of the biting wind and in flat calm conditions. “Jaysus!” says I. “It’s like a lake”. Mark looked at me with raised eyebrows. “Of course it is Jim,” says he smiling.  I suppose it is hard to take the sea from the sea angler!

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I tackled up my plugging rod with an articulated jig head and an Absolut Worm soft plastic lure. Kevin selected a Tackle House Feed Shallow, one of his favourite shallow swimming bass plugs. Mark tackled up his fly gear with a fly the size of your pet budgie. He had been busy over recent weeks tying new flies and was raring to give them a run out. He was trying a new pattern for him – a Stealth Fly. He tells me, and I cannot contradict, that the fly is designed to imitate an injured fish as it pulses through the water. Mark has tied these himself and the connection between making it and then catching a fish on it is not lost on me. It must have been the stunning location that got me all touchy feely!

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I was still fluting around with my gear as Mark hit a small pike. He was not impressed by the size. I was most impressed on many levels. Soon after, on the same drift Kevin caught another small pike on the Feed Shallow. I worked the same way I would fishing for bass – cast out my plastic, let it drop to the bottom and worked it back to the boat, up through the water column and down to the bottom. Once I got a feel for the bottom I worked my lure and changed it after every few casts. Mark had a succession of fish to the fly. He changed patterns from time to time and each one seemed to attract pike. I watched his speed of retrieve and matched my speed accordingly. Finally I felt a subtle tug on my plastic. I knew the bottom was fairly clean, so I slowed slightly and was rewarded with a take. This was not the stuff of fairytales, it was a small fish, but I couldn’t give a toss. I had a pike on the end of my line and it was a spirited fish. It eventually tail walked as it approached the boat.

Brian on the pontoon boat was working the far shore and was consistently catching some pike, most around 4-6lb. The experienced pike anglers were not as impressed as me and Kevin. We steadily worked the margins of the lake looking to lure pike out from the rushes. It was clear that a lure fished for the most part of the cast parallel to the cover secured the most hits. It seemed we were only on the water for a short spell when Brain motored up to us and announced that we were expected at the house for lunch. Lunch! What have I been missing? I suppose it’s hard to motor in from 20 miles out in order to have a bite to eat. If this is the norm I might have some more of this freshwater fishing. We visited the main house and had a swift but beautiful lunch before taking to the water again. I could have nearly done with a little snooze.

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The winter sun was beginning to set and this seemed to set the pike off in a big way. I was persisting with my soft plastics and now I was fishing with a Black Minnow, well known as a superb bass lure. It is a lure that swims well with little effort and it certainly got the pikes’ juices flowing. Within a few casts of our return to the water I had a brace of small pike to the side of the boat. Experience was holding sway on the day though. Mark had landed more and bigger fish than Kevin or me and indeed he was also piloting the boat and correcting our drifts with the trolling motor in between. Mark is an experienced pike guide and his enthusiasm and skill showed. While he huffed and puffed about the small size of the fish myself and Kevin were happy just to be catching the target species whatever the size. As Kevin said, “We can work on the size the next time, at least we know the technique works”. Fishery manager Brian reckoned there are plenty of double-figure fish in the lake, but as ever, locating them is the issue. Mark has only fished here a handful of times and feels that he would like to spend time studying the bottom contours to locate features and drop offs that should hold the bigger fish. In the meantime the virgins were happy popping their cherries at the margins of the lake! All too soon the watery sun dipped below the mountains to the west and the temperature dropped as fast as the light. We fished on until it got almost dark and we pottered back to the launch site.

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So is pike angling a viable option for the bass angler looking for an alternative? Yes it sure is! Other than a wire tippet I added nothing else to my bass gear, so there is little additional investment required. I had brought some wire leaders that I had in the shed. Mark made me up a short biting leader from Authanic Wire and this made a huge difference to the action of my lure, so I will invest in some of this before travelling again. Like bass, pike would seem to be fairly hardy fish. They can put up with firm but gentle handling and the same attention that you give a bass will see the fish go back safely. Obviously pike are toothy critters so watch these as you would bass gill plates and dorsal spines. There are many lakes where shore angling is available. There are lakes where it is possible to launch your dinghy or runabout without much problem but there are things that the usually-at-sea angler needs to consider. Many lakes are controlled in terms of access so you may have to use a provided boat and purchase a permit. You need to check this out before you travel. It would seem that €30 will get you fishing on many lakes on a day ticket including your boat and petrol or trolling motor – cheap entertainment for a pair of anglers. A portable fish finder is a useful tool if you are on a rental boat. Tactics are simple enough – work the margins of the lake and as you would when bass fishing watch the water for signs of bait fish and movement. Watch the sounder for shoals of fish and look for obvious drop offs and ambush points. Pike are similar to bass in this respect they will hang about waiting for an ambush or they may actively hunt down prey. Like bass fishing you could troll areas, but this is just not my way of fishing. If you are launching your own boat that is a bonus, if you are renting a vessel be aware that this is not going to be like your Warrior 175. Bring all your own safety gear with you and get to grips with the handling of the boat – these things are like canoes! Watch the conditions and be aware that rowing into a wind is not easy and that bigger lakes can get quite rough.

Overall this style fishing can be very rewarding. It’s different to your average small boat angling trip at sea. Things go at a slower pace though the angling is just as intensive. Even if you don’t catch the surroundings will take away some of the pain.

Author’s note: I have not lost the plot. This was a challenge that had to be done and will be done again but it will be back to the high seas next month! You can check out some video footage of our trip to Liss Ard Lake on my Facebook page or You Tube search – lissard.

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Fact File

Address: Liss Ard Estate, Skibereen, Co Cork

Contact: www.lissardestate.com

Contact Brian Fowler for angling related enquiries and Arthur Little for everything else.

Mark Houlihan is a well-known fly fishing guide based in Cork. He specialises in guided pike trips and bass fishing from his boat. While his first love is fly fishing for all species he is not adverse to chucking plastic to achieve his ends! Mark also sells pontoon boats and accessories – check out his website! Contact www.flyfishireland.ie  or 085 7794377

Shepperton Lake is an IFI fishery open for pike for the winter. Contact IFI for details or check out www.fishinginireland.info

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