My First Classic

Dan Varney has just spent a successful week in Ireland competing in his very first Classic Fishing Festival. Here’s his report from the historic three-day event.


When good friend Steve Hemingray invited me to go on the Waterways Ireland Classic Fishing Festival on the Erne system the temptation was too huge to resist! This is a three-day event with over 200 anglers competing for one of the most prestigious titles in Ireland.

The Lough Erne system consists of the lower lough and the upper lough with the river that runs through Enniskillen joining them together. At this time of year the fish travel from the lower lough to the river to spawn. When you catch this right it can lead to some of the best fishing in the world!

England star Steve Hemingray is an expert in Ireland and helped Dan with tactics.
England star Steve Hemingray is an expert in Ireland and helped Dan with tactics.

Speaking to Steve before traveling I knew my preparation would have to be 100% as each peg can vary so much leaving so many options on how to achieve the very best out of your peg. Methods I had in my armoury were short-line pole, pole to hand, slider, fixed waggler and, probably the most vital, the feeder fished at both short and long range.

The festival is decided on total weight over the three days with a random draw each day. With so many anglers fishing there are lots of pegs, which unfortunately means lots of areas where the fishing can be very challenging. As a result, the most critical part of the festival would be putting your hand in the draw bag!

Day One

dan-ireland-5With a 10am draw it gave Steve and I plenty of time to make sure all our preparation was up to standard and our bait was all prepared. We also went for a walk along the river and could see plenty of fish topping. Steve said that was a great sign that some of the big roach have turned up.

At the draw the atmosphere was fantastic. It’s held in a big sports hall with bait stands in the car park and reminded me of a National day.

I drew peg 11 at Killadease on the lower lough. As I was praying to be on the river I was slightly disappointed, but speaking to a few people in the know gave me some encouragement that it was a good section for a steady day. Amazingly, Steve had drawn peg 15 so he was in the same 5-peg section as me! What the chances?

acolyte-plus-12ft-feeder-rod-5With the match starting at 1pm I had plenty of time to set up. I spoke to Steve and also called my other ‘coach’ Darren Davies and was told it would be out and out feeder fishing.
So, I opted for two Acolyte Plus 12ft Feeder rods for fishing around 50 reel turns; one for using a cage feeder and another set up with a window feeder.

dan-ireland-4My other two rods were 13ft distance models for fishing at 80 turns. I set these both up with window feeders as I felt I could cast these more accurately at longer ranges. I would only be turning to these if I was in real trouble, though.

The match began slowly, just catching the odd perch, but as a regular column of feed kept going into the peg the day got better and better and I kept picking up the odd hybrid. After an enjoyable day I weighed in 8.6kg and to my surprise that was enough to win the section and put me in 36th position after Day One. I came away feeling really happy as I felt I got the best out of the peg.

Day Two

dan-ireland-3Today I felt it was a make-or-break day as I knew I needed a good draw on the more productive river sections to stand any realistic chance going into the final day. I even put my lucky socks on and sorted Steve a pair out as well! Steve found out to his cost that the socks are only lucky for me, as I drew peg 26 at Portora on the river. I was over the moon as there was an 18kg weight off it the day before. I might have a chance…

It was a lovely looking peg with a nice, steady flow. I could wade out a fair way and it all looked perfect. I had the downstream end peg next to me so I knew I was going to have a battle on my hands there.

I set up a 13m pole with a selection of different rigs starting from 0.8g up to 3g. The peg was around 12ft deep so I thought my killer rig would be the 3g rig with five No8 droppers and a size 16 Carbon Match hook.

At the start I balled it in with six balls of Sensas Gros Gardons and River with a few casters in. I didn’t want to go crazy with the feed and felt building it up gradually would be the way forward.

My first choice of hook bait were casters but the bites were very hard to hit and changing to maggot improved things noticeably. It was dream fishing with roach from 6oz to 1lb! When the peg started do fade I topped up with another ball of groundbait. I felt the fish were sitting right on top of the feed, so slowing the float down just as your float hit your feed zone was really important.

At the end of the match I felt I had given it my best effort and only lost two fish all day. I was pleased with my performance but my weight of 19.65kg shocked me, as I dint think I had that much. The end peg had 15kg so I had another section win and also 3rd in the match on the day. I was now 3rd on the overall leaderboard with a day to go…

Day Three

It was a tough Day Three but Dan still managed a section win.

I’m ashamed to say the lucky socks had to come back into play. The conditions were against us all, however, as it was flat calm with bright sunshine. The venue is so clear that this would make the fishing very tough, even in the good areas.

I drew peg 9 on the river in the middle section of Portora, not great but it could have been a lot worse. I did fancy catching a steady 6kg from the peg and I felt that could give me a massive chance of keeping in the top six.

Acolyte_ultra_14ftBeing such an important match I set up an array of tackle. It was a shallow peg so I left the pole in the van and opted for two Acolyte Ultra 14ft float rods to fish a fixed waggler at 25 turns, two Acolyte Plus 12ft Feeder rods for 50 turns and two 13ft distance feeder rods to get me right into the main flow of the river.

I started the match on my 50-turn feeder line and had three small fish straight away. Unfortunately, bites stopped immediately after that and I went two hours without a bite.

A typical Irish hybrid.

I kept rotating my waggler and the two feeder lines in the hope of nicking the odd fish and in the last hour and a half I started to catch the odd small roach and a lone hybrid. That left me with a disappointing 1.4kg. It was still good enough for the section win but I knew I would fall short of making the all-important top six main money prizes.

Well, the final results came in and I had actually ended up 7th overall and first out of the frame. I had just missed out by just 630 grams! I looked at the positives, however, as there were over 200 anglers competing and this was my first time fishing the event.

A massive well done to young Jordan Hall on winning and also Fermanagh Council and Waterways Ireland for running such a fantastic festival. I now cannot wait to go back to Ireland next year!


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