This competition decides the captain of the Irish team and puts 10 anglers through to the "fish off" which decides the final 4 other places in the team and 1 reserve.
As many of you will know Ireland are the current World Champions and the standard here at the moment doesn't get any higher, anywhere.
Four of us travelled up from our club West Cork and District SAC , Paudie O'Driscoll , Stephen O'Donovan , myself and Derek Kendrick who was a member of that World Championship winning team which won in South Africa last year.
A fifth member of our club ,JP Molloy the captain of that WC team would also be heading up fresh from coming 2nd in the Irish pairs in Kerry the weekend before.
The event was held in Sligo and there was three 4 hour competitions held over 2 days which covered 6 different beaches and around a hundred miles of coast line . Once you had drawn your three envelopes out of the three boxes at the opening ceremony, along with the other 125 anglers, you knew your peg numbers,zones and what beaches they would be on.
To some it's a weekend away to be enjoyed even though it takes a year of matches to qualify for this chance.
A few pints , a bit of rugby on the box and a chance to catch up with familiar faces and old adversaries, while enjoying a spot of fishing against the beautiful back drop of the Sligo coastline .
To us four (and JP) we only had one thing on our minds , the top ten of the leader board . Consistency was key over the three matches , a poor result in any match and your chance was blown.
"Fail to prepare, prepare to fail" as one famous Cork man puts it.
In our case this involved a lot of hard work collecting , 40 king rag , 1000 maddies , 150 lugworm and dozens of peeler crabs each just for starters .Throw in shellfish , sandeel , mackeral ,salted black wraps and you're starting to have enough bait for 12 hours match fishing.
Will you use it all ? not a hope , but you have to cover all possibilities as you don't even know whether you're fishing a beach or an estuary at this stage?
Aswell as collecting the bait it has to be kept in tip-top condition , tricky enough in a vehicle over three days!
If any of you lure only guys are still reading I can imagine your thoughts :-).
With an 80 kilometre drive to the first match watching the rugby (Ireland v Wales) in the morning lost its priority status, it was breakfast then hit the road.
Enniscrone that first venue greeted us with a lively surf and plenty of kelp washing around , luckily we were able to drive on the beach because I was pegged right at the top end .The match would be from 10am-2pm.
I started with a flapper rig and the 6oz pyramid leads I chose to use let the rig trundle slowly through the surf from right to left . I baited with maddies or crab and lug tipped with maddies and fished with 30lb mono straight through as I didn't want to waste time dealing with lots of weed stuck on a leader knot.
My first cast produced a double shot of flounders, to the envy of those around me, and the heavy mono tactic was working well. I could confidently retrieve the gear without worry about the mainline parting under the weight off the kelp, unhook the trace, slide off any weed and be back in the water while those around were still struggling with their leader knots.
The flounders kept coming in and I have to admit it was a great buzz . The guys around me were getting the odd one now and again but it was clear I was doing well.
By the last cast the buzz had turned to mild horror as the water had reached the back wheels of my van , moving higher up the beach wasn't an option either as the sand was too soft . I just managed to get the gear into the van and get moving with a push from one of the lads . My nerves were shredded at this point and thoughts of losing the van (the tide still had 2 hours till high) were running through my head as I slalomed my way back down the beach , zig-zagging between rod stands , vehicles and anglers while trying not to stop the van .
By the time the four of us met up I'd calmed down a bit and was able to enjoy the fact that I'd caught 13 flounders and was in the top 5 in my zone. The other three lads had done well enough too and we left that venue in high spirits.
JP had had a bad first session and hit the road back to Cork ,6 hours away .He must have been wrecked/fished-out from the Diawa pairs as he's one of the best anglers in the country but had failed to bag-up when there was plenty of fish in his zone?
There was no time to rest as we had a long drive to the next venue Streedagh , for a 6pm-10pm session, we ate food as we drove. I felt great and for a few hours I was able to dream of maybe getting myself into the top ten and maybe even the Irish team..............?
I was pegged at the far end of this beach aswell and the walk with seatbox, beach buddy, coolbox , rods , rod stand and bucket full of crabs was as gruelling as any walk I'd ever done before. As it was raining the water proofs had to be worn which didn't help matters, they just made me boiling hot. I was exausted ! there was no two ways about it.
Fish short was the general consensus , for coalies and flats. In the first couple of casts two flounder were caught a few pegs up from me and conditions looked perfect, we were all looking forward to the action that would surely happen once it got dark.
Those two flats turned out to be the only two fish caught at our end of the beach for the whole competition!
We fished short , long , crept with the gear , every conceivable bait was used but it all came back in as perfectly presented as it went out , there wasn't even any crabs to have a go , it was a dead zone!
A blank was looming and the dream slipping away , any couple of fish would have kept me in with a chance after my good start but it wasn't to be.
I didn't feel as bad as I probably should have? so much effort had gone into getting here but the fact that all around me failed to find any fish was some sort of solace.
When I finally made it back to the van it was disappointing to tell the lads I'd blanked , thankfully they had done better and were still in the mix otherwise spirits would have been low. I knew I would be driving back in the morning as my chance was gone and fishing the last competition was pointless, I was also out of energy.
In the last comp the lads kept it going and Derek finished well in his zone and in 4th place over-all on the final leader board, he's a brilliant angler and it was no suprise to any of us , the guy just has a knack for finding fish and his gold medal is proof of that fact.
We were also delighted that Stephen had finished in 6th spot on the leader board, his consistency over the three comps has got him a well deserved place in the fish-offs and I wish both the lads the very best of luck in that.
Paudie fished a stormer on the last comp winning his zone and catching more fish than anyone in any zone. Infact during the whole tournament he collected the 5th highest amount of fish points! Unfortunately though his night session on Streedagh had been nearly as bad as mine. The couple of fish he caught were just not enough on the night and he paid for that in the end , finishing a respectfull 28th over-all but a cruel quirk of the format when taking his fish points into account. He will be back though , I've no doubt about that.
Species landed over the weekend included turbot, flounder, whiting, dogs, seatrout(not counted), mullet and probably a few more that I can't confirm yet.
On reflection it was damn hard work , the bait gathering , the hours on the road and the consistent effort fishing and walking .
I knew I was a bit out of my league before I went , it was my first and possibly the only time I'll have a crack at making the fish-offs. The lads with me are very experienced match anglers and that definately helps having fished the Masters before. On hindsight I would have spent a lot more time fishing at distance in my last comp instead of waiting/expecting the fish to come feeding inshore soon. I will take these experiences forward with me now and I'm pretty sure they will improve my match angling in the long run.
Congratulations to Martin Howlin from Wexford who won over-all and is now the new captain of the Irish team .
I haven't tried for bass in weeks and am looking forward to some proper fishing again :-).............