Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

Tripping Along The Ledge


Published: Irish Times, August 30 2008


dsc_705511“The first thing you need to understand about fishing,” reckons Gearoid Muldowney, “is that it’s not really about catching fish.” The van chugs along a bumpy Mayo back road. “Sometimes you catch something. Other times you don’t. But even when you do, the amount of time you spend hooking and reeling in that fish is miniscule.” I feel sort of obliged to ask the next question.

So what’s the point of fishing, if not catching fish?

“We’ll see” he replies, enigmatically. “Hopefully, we’ll figure it out today.”

The answer to that question, I have a sneaking suspicion, will have to do with either tranquility or the infinite wonderment of nature. Those things are interesting to me for about ten seconds. Fortunately, I’ve stashed some newspapers in the cooler box in the back of Gearoid’s van. There’s also a flask of gourmet coffee, a thick batch of turkey sandwiches and – the piece de resistance – two packets of Tayto Luxury crisps which I picked up at the petrol station in Swinford. We’re going to have a pretty swanky lunch break, if nothing else.

At McTiernan’s Bait Shop in Foxford they report a bumper weekend for fishermen on the Moy. The salmon have been doing everything but jump onto the riverbank, they tell us. Unfortunately, we’ve left it a little bit late to pick up worms. They’re fresh out. We’re offered prawns instead, but prawns are not permitted to be used as bait on the section of river we intend to fish. This is my first introduction to the myriad of rules and regulations that surround salmon fishing. Space does not permit me to go into these in any detail. Suffice to say, they are myriad.

Fishermen come from all over the world to fish in the Moy. And it’s easy to see why. At the river bend in Clongee, the salmon really are are leaping out of the water (although, unhelpfully, they’re tending to land back in there again).

As we mosey along the riverbank, it becomes clear that we’re not alone. We’re being discreetly observed from a distance by an officer from North Connacht Fisheries. Given how late in the day we’ve arrived, Gearoid explains, coupled with our relative youth, the officer likely suspects that we haven’t a permit to fish here. He has no business with us though, until our line is in the water, so he hangs back like an apache in an old Western stalking us from atop a nearby ridge.

As soon as Gearoid casts off, the man materialises from behind a bush. “How are ye today, lads?” he greets us. “Grand, grand” we reply. It’s one of those quintessentially Irish encounters. He knows why he’s here. We know why he’s here. But damned if anyone is going to let on, not without four or five minutes of preliminary small talk first at any rate. Eventually, Gearoid reaches into his bag and proffers his permit for the man’s inspection. The officer scans it quickly and then shrugs as though asking to see our permit was the last thing on his mind. Then he bids us good day.

Flicking through on of Gearoid’s fishing magazines, the fishing strategies discussed remind me a lot of gambling theories you hear from superstitious slot machine junkies. My hunch is that no one really has the first clue what they’re doing out here. So when Gearoid gives me a turn casting the spinner into the water, I borrow a trick from the eponymous hero of Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. It’s as good an idea as anything else, I reckon. “Little fish” I whisper. “I know that you want to swim upriver to spawn. But my need is greater than yours, little fish. These turkey sandwiches won’t last forever. And, er, I’m not sure if there are any nice restaurants in the area…

Even if the fish can hear me, I’m probably not making the most convincing case here.

Borrowing a trick from the most famously unlucky fisherman in American literature, it turns out, is not the greatest idea I’ve ever had. After a few dozen attempts, I hand Gearoid back back his rod and pull out my newspaper. We’re both happier with this arrangement, I think. “The trick” Gearoid tells me, “is knowing what bait to use in what conditions. Knowing where to fish, when to fish, what time to fish at…” He trails off. “But, then again, you can be pure lucky as well.” We chew our sandwiches in contented silence.

“I’d go fishing every day if I could” he sighs. “Every single day”.


The river Moy is Europe’s most prolific salmon river, attracting some 25,000 visitors a year.

Famous fishermen who’ve fished the Moy include Jack Charlton, Nick Faldo, General John de Chastelain and (perhaps surprisingly) John Rocha.

The salmon fishing season lasts from February to September.