IFD: When it comes to catching bream and tench, you may just find David McConnell on a mist filled lake at dawn on a Spring morning. It is here where David is most at home, he is one of the top coarse anglers in the country so now we ask David about his life’s fishing and some of his tips.
What was your introduction to fishing?
Well its a bit of a strange one how I initially became interested in fishing, it certainly wasnt the Mr Crabtree introduction that a lot of people we fortunate enough to experience. I grew up in a housing estate in a small town just outside Belfast and about 100 metres from my parents house there was a small trout river but to be honest I dont recall paying much attention to it in my early years as I was completely obsessed with football at the time. However at about 12 years of age I had an altercation with a disgruntled neighbour who wasnt too pleased with me kicking a football against his garage door so he forced an old rod and reel into my hands and demanded that I “piss off down the river, along with the rest of them”. So that was more or less where it started; I hadnt a clue how to fish, my father never fished, my older brothers were more interested in football and the lads from my estate who did fish, got more enjoyment from watching me make an idiot of myself rather than helping me out, so I kind of had to teach myself the basics of angling. My first fish was a flounder from a tidal stretch of my local river where I was “guesting” for trout at the time but I did eventually manage to catch some nice brownies, sea trout and mullet from the river and it was here where I more or less cut my teeth.
My early angling experiences were more or less confined to waters within walking distance of my house so aside from fishing the local river, myself and a couple of friends started to fish for pike in some nearby duck ponds. We caught loads of wee jack pike using simple float rigs and bacon for bait; good times and my first experience of pike fishing.
However my really keen interest in fishing didn’t develop until I was about 14 years of age, when on a family holiday to the Share Centre in Fermanagh an old friend of my father just happen to be staying there also. He was a keen coarse angler and he took myself, my brother and my friend to a small river where I managed to fluke a bream of about 3lb. Aside from being covered in snot, I remember being fascinated with the whole approach to this style of fishing using groundbaits, swim feeders,maggots etc and from then on my obsession began to grow. I fished every river and lake I could find within the immediate area of my house. We didnt have a car at home at the time so at weekends, I would often convince some poor reluctant acquaintance to join me in cycling to various lakes in the vacinity, some of which were 10 miles away, often in the cold, wet and dark and often wearing thigh waders. We would arrive at our chosen venue for first light, fish until dark and then cycle home again. How we never died from exhaustion or got knocked down on the roads I’ll never know. Anyhow it kept me out of trouble as a youth and I caught some nice pike, rudd and roach along the way. I eventually progressed into match fishing in my late teens, where I met good friends Phil Wilson and Keith Gillespie, and it was here that I was first introduced to the waters south of the border. Being involved in match fishing and watching and learning from guys who had been on the scene for donkeys years was a massive help to me and it was a real eye opener at the time. Id regularly see guys catch individual roach, bream and hybrids well beyond specimen weight and not even have the slightest bit of interest in what they weighed, it was all about the total weight of the net. Although I dont do any match fishing anymore I have continued to venture to the south on a regular basis, exploring lakes and rivers all over Ireland , meeting some fantastic characters and thoroughly enjoying every moment of it.
Firstly I know you love your tench fishing so what is your favourite way of fishing for them?
My favourite way of fishing for tench fishing is definitely using simple float tactics; I think a lot of passionate tench anglers would say the same. Sitting by the water on a still misty summers morning at first light watching fish topping and bubbles around your float is what its all about and for me it is the epitome of angling.
It is a simple yet very effective method, requires the most minimalist of tackle and always leaves me feeling more connected to my sport and the surroundings. You see things when float fishing that you will never see tucked up in your bivvy. However I have to admit it is not always the most productive or most practical method on a lot of Irish waters; many of the waters I fish are wild open wind swept loughs and are a far cry from the still canals, estate lakes and ponds that are commonly associated with tench fishing. As such, sitting fishing a float into a force 7 or 8 gale is far from idyllic so I have to adapt and the now common specialist approach has to be used which involves heavy leads or method feeders fished bolt rig or helicopter style using hair rigged baits.
When bream fishing how do you change your approach?
Bream fishing! Those two words are enough to make most carp anglers vomit but along with tench they are without doubt my favourite species. In recent times my approach to bream fishing has changed slightly; in days gone by I would have happily sat and fished swim feeder tactics all day, eagerly watching the tip for any sign of a bite but it’s hard work and even more so when targeting waters I tend to find myself on at present where bream numbers are minimal and you could easily sit for days if not weeks on end without a bite. Although the heavy feeder rod still comes out occasionally my regular approach nowadays is fairly similar to the specimen tactics I use for tench ie helicopter rigs or method feeder. One slight change I tend to use slightly longer hooklengths around 8 or 10 inches as I have found this to be more effective when hooking bream although ultimately it depends on the venue and whether the bottom is silty or gravely etc.
Bream are funny creatures but like most species location and timing are the key. Given that the venues I fish are a considerable distance from home I rarely get the chance to prebait so I more or less go about each session in the same way. Ideally if possible I will try to position myself on a shore with the prevailing south westerly wind blowing onto it, then I will start by introducing a small bed of bait over my chosen area, say 10 spomb fulls of groundbait, corn, maggots etc then simply fish over the area with method or maggot feeder and gradually introduce bait over the session. The more bites I get, the more feed I will introduce, nothing too complicated; simple rigs, simple bait and thats more or less it. I have in the past used the old match mans approach of balling it in with 100 balls of crumb and although it does have its merits on larger waters, I have caught just as many bream using the little and often approach.
I dont for one minute claim to be any kind of bream expert but I do have a bit of a knack of catching bream, sometimes unintentionally, and I have lost count of numbers of bream I have had from countless different venues over the years. As I have said previously location and timing are key, if I am fishing a lake from dusk til dawn between May and October, employing the tactics I have described then I am confident in my approach. However if it isnt happening and if I feel a move to a different location or venue might be more benefitial then I will do so.
I learned first hand how important location and timing can be during a long session spent on a remote stretch of the upper Shannon a number of years ago with my friend Phil Wilson. We accessed this particular stretch using kayaks and spent several days bivvied up on a scheduled shore in what were fairly good conditions. However after several nights without a sniff and with only one more night to go we decided to try and make things happen so we took to the water and moved to the opposite shore where we fished head on into a strong south westerly wind. We tied up to some reeds and fished heavy swim feeder tactics at a short chuck from the kayak. Making this move without doubt saved our session and after 5 uncomfortable hours fishing into darkness from the kayak we ended the session with over 100lb of pristine Irish bream. That is just one of several sessions that I can recall where a move or change of venue has prevented a blank.
In the Winter you switch over to the pike fishing and everyone has their own favouite methods, so what is your preferred way to fish for them?
My preferred method for pike fishing is simple static dead baiting with the rods on the alarms and a brew in the hand…. probably because it involves the least amount of effort on a cold winters day. I often find that come September, the tench and bream fishing that I longed for through the winter, I am glad to say goodbye to and I am itching for a few heavy frosts and a bit of winter piking. But again this is not always the most productive method for catching fish and when conditions are more favourable or I’ve had a decent nights sleep I’ll happily launch the boat and spend the day float trolling or lure fishing.
Float trolling especially has produced fantastic hauls of pike for me in the past and its a really enjoyable way to spend the day on the larger loughs, cruising about and taking note of fish shoals and features. Many of my favourite bream and tench haunts have been discovered while out float trolling in the winter.
You also enjoy some carp fishing can you tell us about that?
Although carp fishing is now becoming more and more popular in Ireland, when I first started fishing as kid there werent that many people around that I had heard off who were catching carp. Until recently there were very few places in Northern Ireland that you could actually catch carp. But with legislation change and the development of a few fisheries it started to become a lot more popular.
I however have always been fascinated with carp fishing even as a kid; between the age of 12 and 15 I had a paper round that I did each afternoon after school and by pure chance one of the houses on my round got a copy of the Angling Times delivered weekly so every Tuesday I would hide myself away often under a hedge or tree somewhere along my route and read it cover to cover prior to delivering it. This might sound like some nostalgic tale from the 1950’s but it was in fact the joys of growing up in working class Northern Ireland in the early 90s.
Anyhow, every week the AT would always be filled with the latest carp news and tactics from England and beyond and I remember being fascinated by the whole carp scene that was taking place across the water. I remember sitting in a bus shelter one wet windy day reading about Terry Hearn breaking the British carp record with a fish called Mary and being some what confused as to how a fish had a name; now most carp over 20lb (and some under) have names.
Carp fishing is something that I have dabbled in and out of throughout the years. My first experience of carp fishing was on Gaulmoylestown in 2001 during a baking hot summers day when after several hours of failing to catch a carp of the surface on bread I gave up and decided to rudd fish. However my first real experience of carp fishing was during the early days of Ballywillin around 2003, prior to it becoming a syndicate. I must admit my initial interest in the venue was not the carp but rather the bream and the tench although there is something about carp fishing that draws you in. I had some great times on the lake and although I never managed to catch any of the monster bream I did catch some nice tench and carp. Nowadays there are a lot more waters around and I am now a member of a carp club in Northern Ireland and I regularly venture out in search the next named fish.
I think its the challenge and the hunt for the larger fish that fascinates me although I regularly find myself questioning my sanity whilst sitting behind my rods for 3 days without so much as sniff. However with every blank I always take comfort in the fact that I’ve learned something new about about that particular venue that will hopefully help me in preparing for my next session.
Can you talk us through your fishing calender so to speak and how often do you get out?
My fishing calendar has changed some what in recent years; for a long time April to October were my dedicated tench and bream months and November to March were solely pike fishing months. However I am now starting to concentrate on targeting various other species throughout the year that I have tended to neglect chasing; ie carp, roach, perch, rudd and hybrids. How and when I will target these will depend on what I perceive to be favourable conditions or simply whatever I am in the mood for. I spent quite a bit of time last Autumn seeking out perch venues and in January and February I did the same seeking out roach venues. I aim to repeat this over the coming years in the hope of landing that fish of a lifetime. That’s what I love about fishing in Ireland for all our troubles we are still blessed to have countless waters out there which are still largely unexplored.
How often I get out now depends on work and family commitments. With a young family and a very busy job my sessions of late have been limited to quick day sessions or overnighters with at least one two night session a month thrown in also. With my favourite venues being a considerable distance away it doesn’t really give me the time I would like to properly untap some of the mysteries that they may hold but I cant really complain as there are those a lot less fortunate than myself and anytime spent on the bank I regard as precious.
You have done some fishing abroad, where have you fished and where else would you like to fish?
I was very fortunate to be able to take in some fishing whilst on my travels a number of years ago. Nothing on that serious a level, I’m certainly no Jeremy Wade but I did seize the opportunity when I could and I managed to wet a line in many of the places I visited including India, South East Asia, Australia and the USA.
My favourite sessions were in Thailand where along with my long suffering angling companions Keith Gillespie and Phil Wilson where we did two trips, first in 2004 and then again in 2006. We targeted the infamous Bungsamran Lake, holder of many world record captures in the past and one of the first specimen venues to be established in Thailand. Our target species were mekong catfish, giant Siamese carp and the enormous arapaima. Although try as we did, we failed to land any of the arapaima or Siamese carp during both trips; I lost a cracker Siamese carp at the net which was estimated to be over 100lb. The sheer numbers of catfish made it near impossible to get through to the other species however we had some fantastic sport for mekong catfish which are the hardest fighting fish I have ever encountered and we were catching in excess of 50 fish per day with some in exceedance of 40kg; probably the best sport I have ever had in some fantastic if not urban surroundings and witnessing huge arapaima regularly surfacing a rod length from the bank was something I will never forget.
My foreign adventures are far from finished though and with a French carp/tench trip planned for 2017 and a River Ebro session also on the cards for the future I hope to experience more memorable adventures in the years to come. The ultimate dream though is Taimen fishing in Mongolia; what adventure that would be. If my football bet ever comes up, I’ll be straight there.
What has been your most memorable session?
My most memorable session, thats a tough one. Fishing has gave me some fantastic memories and my friends and I often reminisce about sessions we have had in the past. However for me the one that sticks in my mind most vividly involved a bream session in County Clare a number of years ago. It didnt involve the capture of any PB’s or even any specimens for that matter but it was just a magical session and something I have not experienced since.
I was there on a week long trip with a couple of friends, one of which who knew the lakes in the Clare area very well. One evening, he took us to a remote secluded lake which he had not fished in a number of years and it appeared as if nobody else had either. There were no designated swims as such and the lake was surrounded in thick foliage, as I approached the lake I noticed fish rolling no more than 6 ft from the bank, I crept up and peered through the reeds and in the gin clear water I witnessed a shoal of about 10 bream all of which looked enormous; I couldnt believe what I was seeing and I actually did give myself a wee nip on the arm just to make sure I wasnt dreaming. I grabbed a float rod and quietly crept up trying my best not to spook them. The water was quite deep close in but with the fish hovering in mid water I set the float at about 6ft, I cast beyond them and retrieved until the bait was right over the shoal. The float buried straight away and I landed a stunning bream of around 6lb. It was all so surreal; to cut a long story short I went on to land 7 bream to 7lb in a short 2 hour session before the bites dried up. Brilliant memories. Strange as it is, the following year I returned to the same lake with my friend Keith Gillespie with him moving into the swim I had fished the year previous and he repeated my session almost fish for fish, bizarre. Although the next session after that ended in a blank so it was back to bream fishing as normal. Good times all the same.
What fish capture has meant the most to you?
Catching my PB bream at 10lb 1oz in May 2015 is definitely my most cherished capture. Although the circumstances which lead me to go fishing in the first place will forever be tinged with sadness it is without doubt the capture which meant the most. Only days previous to me catching the fish my father had passed away suddenly, although he had been battling lung cancer for the previous year his death still came as a shock and I am still coming to terms with things. As you can imagine everything was a bit weird at the time and I was in a bit of a daze. However, I have found that fishing has always been a great way of helping me gather my thoughts and put things in perspective. So a day or so after the funeral, I loaded the car up and headed of for several days to sit it out in the hope of landing some decent bream. To be honest I wasnt really bothered if I caught or not, I just needed some time to clear my head; maybe not the best way to deal with the grief I know but better than moping about the house I thought. Prior to heading off though I sought the advice of a bit of “an old Irish bream oracle” who shall remain nameless because he’s far too modest to accept praise but having previously spent 10 blank nights on this particular venue, I needed reassurance and guidance regarding my approach. Well needless to say his advice, came up trumps and along with the bream I landed, the only one of the session I might add, I also ended up catching numerous tench to just over 6lb.
10lb bream are fairly common in England and the capture of such a fish is unlikely to raise any eyebrows across the Irish Sea but in Ireland they are some what of a rarity nowadays. I have spent the best part of 15 years in search of a bream above that ambitious milestone weight; I have travelled the length and breath of Ireland in search of it, fished possibly hundreds of different venues, endured countless blank nights, sacrified nights on the booze, family occassions, holidays, weddings…you name it. Although I have had some fantastic times chasing this target, I was elated to say the least to finally achieve it and even though the circumstances leading up to it will forever be poignant, it is a capture that I certainly will never forget.
What is left on your Irish angling bucket list?
I dont think I will ever get through my Irish angling bucket list, in fact it keeps getting longer. I have goals that I would like to achieve especially in pursuit of specimen sized fish; with ambitious dream targets of tench to 7lb+, hybrids to 6lb+, roach to 2lb+, perch 3lb+ and carp 20lb+ I acknowledge that I have to be realistic and if I am able to beat any of my PB’s in the future then I will be happy.
My main ambition however is to keep exploring new waters because that’s what really interests me. Finding somewhere off the beaten track and attempting to unlock some of the secrets it may hold is the ultimate buzz for me. I keep finding new locations every year that for the most part are rarely ever fished and I aim to give these a go over the next couple of years in the hope of finding that one magical place that holds freakishly sized fish.
I also aim to continue to lend my support to all the individuals and organisations throughout Ireland who work tirelessly to promote and conserve our sport, north and south. I think now more than ever its vitally important that we continue to push for better management of our waters and if I can I will help out in any way, then I will.
For the most part though, as soppy and cliched as it sounds, as long as I am able to keep doing what I am doing, meeting friends old and new, sharing ideas and experiences, having road trips and adventures, bbq’s and beers and great craic along the way then I’ll be more than happy. Up The Tenchfishers!