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The Good Place

By Jim Clarke


In my last years at school, when parent-accompanied fishing trips had begun to seem limited and restricting, but fully independent, distant fishing was inaccessible, I was, like most young fishermen in those days, restricted to bicycle range.

Good rabbit shooting, my other passion at the time, was to be found a mere three miles from home, some six miles outside Belfast. There was a glen, or canyon, in the side of those sometimes benign, sometimes looming mountains which delimit the environs of that city on the west. Fairly steep sides of sandstone were well covered with stunted brush and grass, providing admirable cover for the bunnies. There was a stream at the bottom, though not ample enough to hold fish, that possibility had been explored earlier. Rabbits abounded (this was long before myxamatosis ) and provided great sport with rifle or pistol. You can tell that this was before the troubles made all kinds of shooting very difficult in the province.

I passed many hours talking to John Beacon, a farmer who eked out a precarious living on the edge of the glen, just above a village which for many reasons must remain nameless. Sympathising with him one day about the drought which was making life difficult and stunting the few vegetables he suffered himself to grow, he surprised me by saying that he had always a little income from the estate to fall back on.

Estate? What estate?

He explained that on the other side of the glen, just above the village outskirts, was the ruined shell of a minor stately home. Indeed I had noticed the last standing wall at a distance but hadn't let my curiosity get in the way of the rabbits. It transpired that the estate had consisted of the big house, the gardens, the glen and apparently the village as well. Broken up many years before for whatever reason, few traces remained. John had been appointed "agricultural janitor" and received a small annual stipend from the solicitors who represented the trust which still owned the, now largely valueless, land.

There was at this time a bacon-producing factory in the village from which emanated at all hours the strong smell of salt and the aroma of the bacon curing industry. Seagulls massed around the place, making a great deal of noise and considerable mess.

The big house had been occupied in days past by a line of "sporting squires" who had left a legacy of tall stories but little else.

" There is no trace of it now," said John, "except the wee dam beyond." ( Quick translation . . ."A wee dam" means a small man-made lake, "beyond" simply means - over there somewhere).

Dam? What dam? Why haven't I seen it? Where is it? Are there any fish in it? The questions came tumbling thick and fast, as I followed up this red rag.

It turned out that the strange brick channel I had noticed leading off the stream away up at the head of the glen had been the feeder channel for an ornamental lake in the gardens of the house, and had become almost totally overgrown and invisible along it's length . The lake was still there!

When I could prevail upon John to show me how to find it, I discovered a little paradise. Crescent shaped, cut into the side of a gentle slope, it was about a third of an acre, stone built with ornamental cappings and little dwarf walls here and there to break up the line. It looked beautiful but practically overgrown, even though the cattle had kept nature from winning completely.

Into my sorrowful musings that such a jewel of a "wee dam" had been so neglected when it could have been oh! so fishable, came, as from Heaven, the words "Sure there must be some sort of fish in it, we see them leaping around at night." John had followed me to make sure I found the spot. It appeared that the dam's water was still used for washing and sluicing down in the factory in the village, although no-one working there had any idea, or any desire to know, where it came from. It came out of the taps and that was enough.

Some years ago, the general manager (bacon ) had been, in his leisure, the Hon. Sec. of a fairly exclusive trout fishing syndicate consisting of some ten or twenty rather tweedy gentlemen. The Hon. Sec. had the bright idea that if some fish were bought small, introduced to this rather out-of –the-way water, they would grow on naturally and be used at low cost to replenish the stocks of fish in their other, naturally stocked, lakes.

Good idea, followed by realisation of bad idea!

The fish were bought and put in. They seemed happy to be there and great things were expected. The syndicate then found they couldn't get them out. The lake was anything up to twenty feet deep, even at the edges. Much anonymous material had found it's way into the water over the years, and together with weeds of jungle proportions made netting impossible.

Plan abandoned.

The wee dam was now subjected to much scrutiny over the next two or three evenings. As you can imagine. There was no doubt, there were still trout in it! It seemed to be full of fish, fish rising to flies, fish swirling after the fry with which the water abounded and fish just plain jumping for fun. Two more days were allowed to pass. Two days of preparations. These consisted of repeatedly pinching myself, followed by heavily veiled inquiries as to the present owner of the dam and of the fish. It was soon established that the Hon.Sec. had passed on and that the entire hierarchy of that syndicate had changed. No-one now in office or on the member's list remembered the late lamented (not by me ) project.

I was assured by John that no-one of any authority had been in the area for years, and my way was clear. Now arose a back-of-the–mind niggle. Why had the then members not tried to remove the fish one by one in the traditional sporting manner? I soon found out. The fish wouldn't take! The feeding was so rich that fish didn't need to come to the surface to feed unless they were there anyway, and even so natural flies were present in such quantity that artificials didn't stand a chance of being singled out for consumption. Even fishing in the last moments of daylight evoked no response to my wet flies and nymphs. Perhaps a dry fly? Not likely, in those days dry fly was used upstream on rivers and only there. The exception was the dapping of Daddies and Mayflies on the big loughs. Any fool could see that one could not move a floating fly in a lifelike manner on still water, and to attempt to move it would produce drag which would make the idea a non-starter.

However, I didn't know this, and in the course of throwing everything in the box at these infuriating fish one evening, I tied on a dry fly. I had what we called a knotted midge, thin black silk body, black whisk tail and double hackles and wings. The idea was to imitate a pair of midges in a compromising position, and it worked well on the local rivers when the black midge was "up and at it." I tied this on and cast it out, only to have it firmly taken as it touched the water! A trout had thrown a lifetime's experience to the winds and decided that my little fly was all that was needed to make it's evening complete. Now I discovered what was probably the real reason my friends in tweeds had not taken their fish out. They couldn't get the fish out of the weeds! The weed, as I have said was of jungle proportions, something my enthusiasm had blithely ignored, and added to these were a very healthy selection of water lilies. It was not just a question of keeping a fish away from weed, wherever a fish was in this lake, he was in weed, and very heavy weed at that. My fish regarded clumps of weed as his natural habitat and proceeded towards the closest example at a high rate of knots.

Sod's Law now made it's appearance. The seagulls which clustered on the roof of the bacon factory decided that the time was ripe for a return to salt water, some six miles distant in Belfast Lough. You can guess the next attractive feature of the evening, the flightpath lay directly over the dam! Seagulls appear not to deposit their trademarks while on the ground or on a factory roof, but seem to delight in letting it fall from altitude, a habit which manifested itself on the evening in question by dappling the lake's surface with a veritable hail of guano. This may, in the past, have helped to fertilise the lake and the weeds, contributing to the survival and growth of the fish, but tonight it did tend to make life difficult, having to dodge the airborne missiles while trying to coax a reluctant trout out of tenacious weed. As luck would have it however, as desperation reared it's head, a large dollop fell precisely on the dorsal fin of my trout, who was engaged in burrowing ever deeper into the weeds. He left the green stuff as if ejected, probably feeling this was unfair treatment. The line came free! I managed to keep the line out of further trouble after that and eventually slipped the net under a golden brownie of two pounds.

That was the first fish of many I took from the "wee dam", but it was the biggest. The fish seemed not to grow to that size very often, most fish I took were in the one to one and a half pound class, perhaps because of heavenly nitrates, or perhaps in spite of them.

Local Belfast Lake Today (not THE lake)

In later years the village and surrounding area became "politically sensitive" and grew to be a district best avoided. This example of what the troubles have done to Northern Ireland shows the least publicised but possibly the most far-reaching effect of the sectarian idiocy on the lives of ordinary people, the restriction on everyday travel. If you have to think whether or not you dare go to such and such a place, it takes a lot of the pleasure from wandering about with a fishing rod.

The memories, however, are inviolate, and fishing memories are for life. ~ Jim Clarke


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River Piddle, U.K. - By Paul Slaney
A Day on the River Test By Mike Pratt
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To Russia with Love - By Ron Gras
Just Simple Pleasure - By Mike Pratt
Rich - Beyond the Dreams of Avarice - By Mike Pratt
The Good Place (Ireland) - By Jim Clarke
The Elusive Lake - By Jim Clarke
The Big Rod - By Jim Clarke
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Catch and Release . . .or not - By Jim Clarke
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The Artist - By Jim Clarke
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2004 Fishing Season in the Czech Republic - By Tim Baldwin

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