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The Elusive Lake

By Jim Clarke

"There are rainbows in it!" A customer and fellow fisherman whispered this electric phrase in my ear. In the far distant days before put and take fisheries with their never-ending supply of trout, including among their numbers exotic strains and fish of enormous size, rainbows were unheard of in Ireland. Those waters which were stocked, and they were very few, received their quota of brownies, or the popular Loch Leven variety, a clean silvery fish with beautiful black and red spots on it's flanks. The very thought of rainbows conjured up visions of British Columbia and the western states of USA where they originated. Roderick Haig-Brown, one of the classic fishing writers, was among my heroes. He has written at length of the rainbow, but the realization of rainbow- catching dreams was as far away as the moon from the mundane surroundings of Northern Ireland in the Sixties.

Neverthless I was ready to go . . . tomorrow!

"It's a lake up on the plateau, off the coast road near Garron Point."

"Doesn't sound too bad? Wait."

"You pass Waterfoot, and then a mile or two on you come to two big white gateposts with red balls on."

(Let not the reader feel that was in any way derogatory or even bordering on the risqué. I can assure you it is quite normal in Ireland. You see, if the Little People can sit on your gatepost they can put a spell on the access to the property, removable only by payment or forfeit. Therefore gateposts are surmounted by points, spikes or concrete balls. It follows that with this forward planning "Yer Man" the leprechaun cannot sit thereon and practice his mischief.)

Back to the story.

"Well, you ignore the gateposts," again par for Irish directions, "and go on for maybe half a mile till you find a bit of a lay-by on the left. Park your car there and follow the track which will take you to the top, the lake is up there, it's called Galboley."

Imaginations fired, my fishing partner, Alan, and I had to go! Madge and Heather, our respective better halves, felt that if a Sunday morning stroll on the very scenic Antrim Plateau in fine weather was in the offing, then we would make a day of it and take a picnic.

You have the picture now? Wait.

The four of us duly ignored the gateposts one lovely Sunday morning and found the lay-by. We parked as instructed, got out and looked up. We were confronted by a sheer cliff which appeared to be about three miles high. On closer inspection, folds and possible paths were to be seen in the otherwise impregnable face of rock. We remained undaunted.

Windswept Plain Optimistically, which shows how young and foolish we were, we set off, laden with coats and waders, worn because we also had to carry rods, reels and fishing bags together with food and drink for four people. We approached the cliff, it lost nothing of it's forbidding appearance as we got nearer. A path of sorts was found which wound upward, like an Irish Appian Way, snaking to and fro across the face, seeming in no place to be impassably steep. We climbed the first hundred yards, still in high spirits, and met a shepherd coming down. He appeared out of a mist that had suddenly gathered in front of us, like Moses coming down his mountain. Accompanied by the obligatory Border Collie, he greeted us if he met lunatics every day.

"Good day to you."

"Good day."

"You are looking for the lake, are you?"

Not, you will notice," You are going up to the lake?" but "You are looking for the lake?"

This subtle little distinction, from someone who probably knew the whole mountain like the back of his hand, should have set the alarm bells ringing in our heads at a high rate of decibels, but what is a little uncertainly set against the thought of enormous willing rainbow trout (which neither of us had ever seen - only heard about) just swimming about waiting for us to catch them.

Convinced that we really meant to carry on, he scratched his head and said "It's up there all right" and somewhat under his breath, "Somewhere."

We started off again, refusing to let the uncertainty gain ground in our thoughts. As we trudged along (isn't "trudge" a lovely word, so descriptive) in single file, hot, sweaty and wondering what if anything, we could discard to lighten the load, someone bravely glanced over the edge of the path. To our horror, a hundred feet below, we saw a sheep, dead on the rocks below. A sheep, and a mountain sheep at that, had failed to negociate the path we were so lightheartedly ascending. Not a great thing for the confidence!

Antrim Plateau

After an hour of hot exhausting climbing we arrived at the top . . . or so we thought. This part of the Antrim Plateau looks flat topped from the Coast Road but when one gets there, to the edge, it is clearly an illusion. The grass and scrub continued to climb, albeit now a little more gently, into the distance. Still determined as a group, even though individually we might have begun to harbour some small seeds of doubt, we carried on. Carried on over fold after fold of gently undulating mountain top. No lake!

We stopped for lunch as the weather started, rather sneakily, to change. The girls had, by this time, begun to voice their feelings, not yet open revolt, but the signs were there, whether or not we had the sense to read them aright.

After a somewhat subdued lunch, no loquacious Irish effervescence graced this meal, we started again, performing the hill walker's mantra. "Over the next rise and we'll see it." "Just one more crest and it will be there."

And so on and so on.

That we eventually found the lake owed less to good judgement than to the fact that we had our faces turned hard to the right to avoid at least some of the by now torrential rain which had decided to liven up the proceedings and was now threatening to blow us off the mountain. We all saw it at once, with mixed feelings, some relief, some resignation, and just possibly, a little guarded optimism. The last few hundred yards were as nothing to two fishermen eager to break new ground and catch a rainbow. A rainbow! We had never seen a rainbow. They were things we read about in the pages of Field & Stream or the classic stories of Haig-Brown. For us they held an allure not much short of the Golden Fleece.

Admittedly it was a very little lake.

Admittedly it was weed-fringed to within a inch of it's life and to such an extent that clear bank was non-existent.

Admittedly the wind and rain were now so mountain-top ferocious that breathing was only comfortable with our backs to the weather. Casting was going to be fun! However, we had come to fish and fish we would, in spite of the girls having taken shelter in the lee of a peat hag and having broken into the whiskey we had intended for the ritual celebration of our first rainbow. This independent action on their part, we felt we should, in the circumstances, overlook.

Alan and I fished for a full five minutes, until sense conquered pride and we slunk gratefully into shelter and close proximity to the Irish Water of Life, the level of which had gone down alarmingly already.

After a half hour the weather eased a little, so the two of us ventured out into the climate and fished a bit. The reeds occupied some eighty percent of the lake's surface leaving the remaining twenty at extreme casting distance, even with a hurricane behind us.

Of fish there was no sign. But you have guessed that already!

Home beckoned, Home, comfort, sanity. As we trudged (there's that word again) down the mountain our minds were occupied with separate thoughts. Those of the girls were unprintable. Alan put the blame squarely on my shoulders, in spite of the fact that he had been so keen to come that we had set out in his car and on his petrol!

My head was full of thoughts of revenge, revenge on the customer and one-time friend who had set us up, for I was convinced by now that the whole thing was a plot to repay me for some imagined offence.

A few days later he strode innocently into the shop. Acquainted with the fact that we had been to Galboley, he hid his incredulity with visible effort, or could it have been amusement hiding in those twinkling eyes? "I'm sorry you didn't catch anything. Last time I was there, there were no weeds. Mind you, that was a year or two ago."

I will translate that little speech in English for those of you not familiar with Irish vernacular. What he really meant was ---"I have never been there myself -- I was told by someone else --- aren't you the eejit for believing anything I tell you." Beneath the surface there was also a suggestion of . . ."at least I know now there are no fish there without going all that way myself."

North Ireland Rainbow

We have photographs of that day which we get out and look at when we find it hard to believe we did really venture up that hill. Alan and I are married to those long-suffering girls, and they will make sure we never forget the day we found Galboley and the only rainbow was in the sky! ~ Jim Clarke

About Jim:

Jim Clarke

Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, longer ago than he cares to remember, and on leaving school went into his family's business - Gunmakers and Fishing Tackle manufacturers. By the time he joined the firm it had become more retail than manufacturing , though the history and reputation of the company was somewhat patrician, which stood them in good stead in the face of the modern, retail only, fly -by-night businesses which proliferated in the fifties and sixties in the climate of leisure time explosion. A few years later, feeling somewhat stifled in a company run by father and two warring uncles, he left to take over an ailing gun maker in Chester, England. He was to stay there for thirty pleasant years, retiring some six years ago, ostensibly to have more time to fish. He had given up shooting, but in reality appears to have retired to garden, decorate and construct THINGS in the garden. He has, nevertheless managed to fish in Ireland, Scotland Wales and England, with trips to Sweden and Alaska thrown in. You will find more of Jim's writing in our Readers Casts section.

Credits: The Photographs in this article are from Norbert Grasshoff

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