Loughgall: restocking a record-breaking water
Former match angler turned carper Paul McBride tells the full story behind the recent restocking of Ireland’s record breaking carp water, Loughgall in Co. Armagh
30th April 2020 Paul McBride
So, how did someone who gave almost 40 years of total commitment to match angling get involved in carp fishing and Loughgall Lake? Before you read on, I would like to say this piece has not been put together for any kind of praise or me gloating about my experiences. Anyone who knows me well knows that’s simply not what I am about. There are a lot of questions and misinformation floating around regarding Loughgall and its carp so I felt it the right time to put a lot of the rumours to bed.
I suppose it began like many anglers, as a youngster loving to be out on the bank, catching an odd fish. At 17, being involved with the local angling club, I got into the competition scene around 1970 and then progressed into the Irish Team in 1974 and 1976. These matches completely opened my eyes to a different level of angling. Sadly, I didn’t get back to this level again until 1986, mainly due to the expense involved of having a young family and the huge commitment needed. Thankfully, in the meantime, the Irish match fishing scene kept me very busy, competing all over the country. I earned my way back into the international team in ’86 and fished there, on and off, right up to 2008.
I managed some fair results at this level as far as Irish anglers went, with a 13th place in the World Championships (should have been 3rd but for losing two 6oz roach, but that’s another story!). I placed 13th again in the European Championships, finishing my last international competition in 2008 at the World Club Championships, coming in 2nd place. This match was so, so special as I was not even supposed to travel to this one. Unfortunately, the team and myself had lost a very dear and very special person, Bobby Smithers, without doubt one of our greatest ever anglers. I got called into the team the day of his funeral and was off to France the very next day. The team were all heartbroken but, somehow, we got things sorted out and managed 9th place over the weekend. All these international matches had between 26 and 38 teams of five anglers, so lots of people to beat. I turned my back on international fishing after the World Clubs, for various reasons. Still, I kept fishing locally for a while. Back then, match fishing was suffering in Ireland, with many team leagues stopping and the number of anglers dropping. Some local matches fell to ten anglers or less. I was slowly losing interest in the whole thing.
The first carp
In and around 2000, the local Council took on a development where, bang in the middle, was a 35 acre lake, named Loughgall. One of the local clubs, Fairline Anglers, got involved with the Council to have the lake and surroundings developed for anglers. Bob Painter was highly involved in this and 30 platforms were constructed with a wide pathway behind for access. At the same time, the Council, Ulster Coarse Angling Federation and Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) (now DAERA) got involved with stocking several lakes in the Armagh Council area. Loughgall was one of them and in went several tons of bream and roach. After this investment the Council and Fairline Anglers persuaded more funding for another 70 platforms with a road all around the lake. At this time the club also convinced the Council to purchase carp from England. There were 90 or so fish in total, averaging 6-8lbs and came from Heather Fisheries in England. This was a well-known source of carp at the time, (also used to stock the first Northern Ireland Carp Angler’s Society (NICAS) water ) and was possible before subsequent changes in legislation (now there is only a single legal source who can export carp from England to the island of Ireland, but more of that later).
Match anglers started using this venue very regularly. The fishing was brilliant with some great festivals on the lake. These matches surely helped the carp in those early days, supplying some additional food. I fished Loughgall during all these matches and enjoyed it as the fishing was so good, but I never had any interest in the carp at all. Soon enough, the lake suddenly started to change due to an invasion of zebra mussels. These filter feeders increased the water clarity and made the match side of things very difficult, with a result that matches on there almost stopped completely.
Fast-forward to around 2010 when myself, my son Mark and Jason, a good mate of mine, were on a pleasure session. Jason went for walkabout and he came back buzzing, having seeing around 20 good sized carp in one marginal area. We had another look and sure enough there was quite a few carp milling in the lilies. Straight away, Jason and myself decided to have a go at these fish. Thinking back now it was a joke really as all we had was float tackle on 6lb line! We had been happily catching plenty of bream and tench at Loughgall but occasionally seeing these carp drift in and out of the swim.
After probably a year or two with only one small carp between us, and the matches almost completely finished, I started to consider buying some ‘proper’ carp gear. I must say, considering what I have learned since then, it was only eBay crap really, but I soon had a pair of rods, reels, large net and alarms. The alarms were £5 each (I can hear you all having a right old laugh), but at least I was much better prepared than before.
Around 2012 the Council, through DCAL, were given 500 small carp, all 3 to 4 inches long, along with 20 to 25 adult males and females. They were stripping the eggs and trying to spawn these fish at their trout breeding farm, to provide a supply for stocking other waters in Northern Ireland. However, DCAL were having issues getting these small carp to grow once hatched so they decided to bin this trial. These fish were stocked into Loughgall Country Park.
Loughgall carp stocking history
2001 – 96 x carp, average 6-8lb, from Heather Fisheries (Fishers Pond strain, commonly referred to as ‘Simmos’ after carp farmer, Mark Simmonds)
2012 – 500 x 3-4” carp plus 20-25 adults donated by DCAL (now DAERA) from a failed breeding programme. Fish were of Gaulmoylestown Pond stock
March 2020 – 200 x 5-10lb carp supplied by Tony Campbell of Carp4Restocking, England
Reborn as a carp angler
While I was still fishing the odd match, I found myself getting seriously interested in catching some of the Loughgall carp, some of which had grown on considerably since the early 2000s. Having to go on YouTube to actually learn about tying proper rigs, lead safety and some general approaches to carp fishing, I was really amazed at the amount of valuable information available (well done, carp anglers). While I was still trying to get to grips with everything carpy, I met some anglers on the banks of Loughgall and there were a few who actually impressed me with their commitment to everything they were doing on the lake. Aaron Cummings, George Kennedy and Damien McCartney stick in my mind because of this, and their dedication reminded me how devoted I had been to match fishing years ago.
Late 2012 and that was it! All my match gear was up for sale I was going to have a proper go at these special carp. Meeting various carp anglers on the lake, something became very apparent and that was the fact that they were all looking to be allowed to night fish the lake. On a number of occasions, I asked had any of them approached anyone about this but unfortunately, like in most angling, there seemed to be plenty of talkers. I decided to see if I was able to do something so I approached the park manager, trying to explain the demand for night fishing. I must have talked to him a hundred times to the extent I knew I was being a pain in the arse, although this never stopped me. I just couldn’t accept the words ‘can’t’ or ‘no’. I was then given some advice that I should start emailing the Council on the matter, which I did only to be directed back to the Loughgall manager. This went on for about 18 months without much coming back other than the usual old health and safety nonsense surrounding night fishing.
By then I was happily catching the odd carp during the daytime opening hours of the Park. On one trip I met Alex Chew, the chairman of NICAS, along with Darren Reilly. We chatted for quite a while on the night fishing subject. They both said they knew I was trying to sort this out, but also told me that they were also trying to come to a night fishing arrangement. I saw no point in me completely approaching this matter alone, so I took a back seat for over 12 months and let NICAS get on with it. Anyway, something went wrong during the process and it didn’t work out. I met with the manager soon after and he gave me details, some of which was very shocking. He informed that day that he would NEVER help to get night fishing allowed on Loughgall. Obviously, this was not good news and not what I needed to hear. I had no idea how to proceed but had no intentions of forgetting about this.
A new approach needed…
Six more months passed and during that time I met the Park manager several times. I never talked to him about allowing night fishing, instead explaining how the lake was so under-used as a public amenity and how, with investment, it could actually bring extra money into the Park. Of course, I knew all along that legal night fishing was the most important part in all of this. A couple of weeks later I again met the manager and in between these meetings I had set out some ideas in an email with night fishing top of the list. That particular meeting was the turning point I had worked so hard on and he told me that he was now looking to get the Health and Safety officers to re-visit the site. He also said that he had asked a company to survey the whole site in regard to fishing in general. This all took another 8 or 10 months and when I received a copy of the firm’s report – BOOM! – you would have sworn I had written it myself! The report clearly expressed and acknowledged that night fishing was simply part of the whole carp fishing experience and should be considered. I organised another follow-up meeting to hopefully get things moving, and we agreed to have four months of what we called ‘night fishing trials’, two weekends every month. The only down side was they were to start in January and run until April, which wasn’t exactly the best time of year on a deep, low-stock, 35-acre lake. These trials were basically to let Health and Safety Officers, DAERA and Park management see how allowing night fishing would go and if there were any concerns. Unfortunately, only one carp was banked during the trials, but so were a number of bream. Thankfully, everything went really well (apart from the fishing) and all the officials were well impressed. We had on average between 22 and 29 anglers over each session and I think they saw the potential there and then.
Long story short, another meeting in mid-May 2018 finally gave the go ahead for night fishing to proceed for a longer trial period. The only issue was that you had to have a buddy within three platforms of you, for health and safety reasons. Things were moving in right direction at last. June came around anglers started night fishing but unfortunately nowhere near the numbers I had expected. Judging by the amount of anglers who were expressing the need for nights to be allowed, I was slightly deflated and very disappointed at the angler’s response.
Fast-forward through another year of meetings, emails, more ‘no’s’ and ‘cant’s’, I just kept thinking that now was not the time to let this sit still. I first approached the manager to allow 10 pegs between anglers during the nights. After a while he decided on a compromise and we could be 5 pegs apart. I was happy enough he was working with me; it was still some progress. By now it became very clear that anglers who wanted to be allowed to night fish had not really taken up this opportunity, to the extent where management started to doubt allowing it at all due to a lack of demand. Concerns started to creep in and I could see all the hard work being binned. A big rethink was needed and various things came to me. I decided to approach the manager again and sent an email explaining the need to be allowed to fish alone, to have full car access for night anglers, 24-hour toilet access within the Park and, importantly, a decent stocking programme. The carp stocks had dwindled (for various reasons) since the original introduction and were clearly now very low. Being so deep, carp spawning and recruitment is not successful at Loughgall, so the stock was never going to increase naturally. As a result, the interest simply wasn’t there from a lot of anglers, sitting it out for not much in the way of results.
Time was passing too quickly. Five years had now passed from when I had first asked about night fishing to it being allowed. I was still taking notes from anglers about this and that. I met Darren Reilly one evening on a NICAS water, where he gave me a big congratulations on what I had achieved to date. He told me if I could manage to get anglers permission to fish alone, he had 60 or 70 guys ready to join the lake. I thought about this for several weeks, thinking although the lake had 100 platforms, having too many anglers coming would just end up over-crowding the place, something no carp angler would want. Then I thought back to those anglers who were actually fishing the lake before night fishing was allowed and how many actually took up the offer of doing nights… It was time to try and get things moving again.
Sitting down with the Park manager to discuss my latest email proposal, he informed me he was able to get toilets sorted for 24-hour access, they would allow night fishing without the need for a buddy nearby and they would grant vehicle access to anglers fishing overnight. This was to be included in the yearly ticket for £137.50. At the meeting I was delighted to hear this, so, with spirits high, I just came out with it – the need to re-stock the lake. He acknowledged the lake had not been stocked for a number of years and then informed me he would put it to the Council Sport and Leisure Committee to see if there was any money available. More great news!
Soon after, I received an email from the manager giving me the time and date of the committee meeting where the stocking money would be discussed. Apparently, he had asked for £10,000. I realised that all the hard work had nearly paid off, but this money was needed to secure a future for the fishery. Never one to just leave things to chance, or hope we would get this money, I looked up on Council web page who was actually on this committee. Getting the names and phone numbers of seven of them, I got on the phone straight away, getting through to five and filling them in about who I was, what we were trying to achieve and why the money for restocking was so important. My pestering must have worked because a few days later the incredible news came through that the money had been approved for a carp stocking, the only drawback being that the funds wouldn’t be available until the next financial year. It had taken years to get to this point, so what was another few months?
On the 11th March 2020, Tony Campbell of Carp4Restocking arrived at Loughgall Lake with a truck full of 200 belting carp to 10lbs, ready to go into their new home. I couldn’t believe it was happening really. It had been eight years since I first started to get things moving on the lake and it had now all come true.
Loughgall currently holds the official Irish carp record of 14.24kg (32lb 4ozs) and to maintain its eligibility for record status according to the rules of the Irish Specimen Fish Committee (ISFC), we needed to ensure that no fish above the qualifying specimen weight of 13lbs were stocked. These carp made it into the lake just before the Covid-19 restrictions were enforced.
On any project like this, the work is never done. Hopefully, when the pandemic is over, myself and three of our club’s committee can again sit down with the Councillors we met before the lockdown to continue discussions on the future of the lake.
Take care and be safe,
For more information on fishing Loughgall please see https://www.loughgallcountrypark.co.uk/fishing/
For more information on Carp4Restocking and how their carp can be legally imported from England to both Ireland and Northern Ireland, please see our article here