The Crooked Bridge
Invariably, the day began with a telephone call to Seamus Seery.
“What do you think, Seamus, have we a fresh?”
Seamus had been fishing the Aughnagroagh river at Taghmon since the 50s, when the basic expertise and know-how was grudgingly bestowed upon him by some of the older boys in the village. ‘The experts’, as he refers to them now with some good-natured sarcasm.
The person on the other end of the line was my father, who was no novice with a rod either, having started his angling career in the same river as a chap - and in the quarry at nearby Forest, where he and his pals fished for ‘Roacheens’.
Seamus would already know the answer to the question posed. He wasn’t the kind of man who could easily turn down a peaceful morning of trout fishing when it readily presented itself. Chances were, he already had the wellies and gear in the car when the telephone rang.
Once Seamus assured us that conditions were positive, the preparatory work commenced. The rods would be salvaged from the garage, lines untangled, and placed in the boot. My father’s weapon of choice was green with a large reel and a stout cork handle. Mine was a whippy little blue number and the reel was held on with duct tape. A child’s rod to suit the owner. Light and flexible, for me it was perfect.
An essential piece of kit was my father’s treasured fishing bag. So treasured, in fact, that he could never quite bring himself to clean it. It permanently reeked of blood, guts, scraps of rotting fish, and the remnants of long-discarded worms. But amongst the evidence of previous expeditions, this green cloth satchel contained reels, spare hooks, bits of lead, catgut, and various other forms of tackle. He also had an assortment of lures of all shapes, colours, and sizes. But this wasn’t a day for fly fishing.
The bait we needed was worm. A child could source them and often that is what I did, digging them up with a spade while my father got down to the serious business of making tea and sandwiches which would be consumed with relish on the river bank a few hours later. After excavating some of the juiciest worms I could find from the back field, I dropped them into an empty jam jar and jumped into the back seat.
It would have been around this time that our dog – a feisty Cocker Spaniel called Scamper - would have worked out what was afoot and was creeping silently into the boot. He never seemed to realise that there was no need for stealth; he was always part of the day. Packed and set, we pointed the car for Taghmon.
The Aughnagroagh is a tributary of the larger Corock River and begins life in the Forth Mountain before flowing down through Kingsford, over to Crandonnel and the Cools, and then down to the Crooked Bridge at Furlongstown, about two kilometres outside the village.
The Crooked Bridge was normally the spot where Seamus and my father would have agreed to meet. The other locations of choice were Brownescastle, Modubeg, Tottenham Green, Pack’s Bridge or Goff’s Bridge and they were all within a few miles of each other.
Once the cars were parked up on the verge, we would climb down from the road into the fields either side of the river. We’d take a worm each and slide it over the hook. It was only then that we were armed and, to the unsuspecting fish at least, dangerous.
We fished for brown trout, but sometimes inadvertently caught flatfish, eels and, on one memorable occasion, a half-pound white trout which my father triumphantly pulled from the waters at Brownescastle. Although you were supposed to have a licence to fish white trout, I suspect he may have held on to that one.
The first and most important task was to find a place where the fish seemed plentiful. To do this, we looked for ‘ponds’ or ‘holes’, which were usually located under the bank where the water was tranquil and silent, or, if appropriate, we might decide to fish in the ‘runs’, a part of the river where the water drifted along quickly and smoothly.
As a chap, and very much the novice fisherman amongst the trio, any success I had was purely down to luck, rather than knowledge, skill, or experience. My primary failing, as it happened, was impatience. Yes, a fisherman might, if they were lucky, get ‘a bite’ seconds after they put the rod in the water, but it usually didn’t work out that way. Rather than bide my time and wait, I would move on to a new spot further up the bank after just a few minutes. Seamus and my father, after years of practice, could remain hushed and still for as long as it took - and they were usually rewarded.
For me, and I know this applies to most if not all people who enjoy to fish, the excitement lay in feeling the first gentle tug on the line. This usually meant that a fish was, quite literally, taking the bait. And the hope that, as long as you could resist the urge to pull the line sharply, the hook would lodge, and the fish could be landed on the bank.
Young fish would be released back to the river, but we took home the larger adults to cook and eat. My father gutted the fish in our kitchen on old newspaper and then fried them in a pan with butter. They were beautiful. There is nothing quite like the taste of freshly cooked wild trout.
I rang Seamus recently to reminisce about our fishing trips over three decades ago. And I wondered why I hadn’t river fished since then. Perhaps I didn’t go because my father got old and was past climbing down from the road, or the rods lay in disrepair, or it was all too much effort.
Or maybe it was simply because I was distracted by life. A life that seemed faster and more intriguing than the slow, brown waters of the Aughnagroagh. But to quote Seamus: “there is nothing more peaceful or relaxing in life than walking along the banks of a slow-moving river.”
Maybe it’s time to park up at the Crooked Bridge again.