“Get out in the fresh air and work off all the Christmas indulgences” could have been the motto of the Killybegs Mariners Sea Angling Club as they managed to encourage beach anglers from all over the country to abandon their comfy Christmas sofas and make their way to the beautiful venue of Rossnowlagh, Co. Donegal to participate in a competition with all funds raised going to a noble cancer patient support scheme.

The ‘Good and New’ organisation operate a free-of-charge coach that takes cancer patients from Killybegs and the surrounding areas in Co. Donegal to Galway City for their chemo treatment. It was the support of these patients and their families that drew the attention of the Mariners SAC who decided to help out through a fund-raising angling competition.

Out in the fresh air... Where better to be after the Christmas indulgences?

It would seem that many anglers agreed and, within one week of announcing the event in November, almost 80 anglers had expressed their interest in competing and supporting the cause.


From the tip of Northern Ireland to as far south as Howth, anglers arose early on the morning of December 28th and made their way to Rossnowlagh and, whilst unfortunately a few anglers had to cancel due to Covid positive tests or close contact with others, 68 entrants still made it to the sunny, calm morning in the beautiful venue surroundings.

A check-in registration point had been prepared by the Mariners’ club members and anglers drew their pegs and were registered by Chairman Cormac Burke and Secretary Noel Kennedy whilst cards with rules and scoring system were distributed by other club members on standby.

For this competition, the Killybegs Mariners adopted their own league rule system which some found slightly complicated (understandable if you’d never seen it before) but it is in fact a very easy and fair system in which a minimum size of 20cm is employed (at 1pt per cm each fish) and 25 points is awarded for the first of each species even if its under the 20cm mark (only the first of each species allowed to be undersized). Other fish such as dogs, rays, conger, weavers, rockling etc do not require measurement as they have set points allocated (plus the 25 species points for the first of each).

A high point scoring flounder

Although Rossnowlagh is one of several favoured venues of the Mariners for their league outings due to its usual variety of fish such as flounders, turbot, coalies and sea trout (with an Irish Specimen smoothhound also captured there last summer), it transpired that on this day not having enough room for fish on your score card was not going to be an issue – with the price of a weirdly summer-type calm December day resulting in very few fish feeding.

With lines in the water at 11.30pm it was soon apparent across the beach that, despite the vast menu of baits in the water, the story was the same with everyone – just an odd undersize flounder or turbot showing – all valuable though with 25 species points on offer for the first of each species, even the under 20cm ones.

A busy beach on a summer like day

As the lines-up time of 3.30pm was nearing, excitement rose as rod tips began twitching and some fish finally began to feed in the ebbing tide and it was at this point many anglers were delighted to see their first and second flounders of the day and at least beat ‘the blank’ – but it was all too little to late.

One Northern Irish angler, however, had been chipping away slowly but surely throughout the session as Phillip Williamson consistently took in the odd flounder over the course of the match – not in huge numbers but on a day when many people blanked and most others only had one or two fish, Phillip’s six fish left him with 176 points – some 73 points ahead of the next angler.

All the anglers were well prepared on the day and it seems that three hook flappers were the rig of choice with some anglers choosing to use popped up mackerel baits to target the turbot and extremely valuable sea trout.

Six fish doesn’t sound a lot, but on such a day when basically the weather conditions were ‘too good’ it takes the best anglers with the skill to eek out a result against the odds – and so it was in this case and few would have begrudged Phillip Williamson his first place prize of a lovely Diawa Saltist beach caster rod and a weekend away for two in the Clayton Hotel in Galway (with a value of €350).

The results!

There were more high quality prizes still on offer and with a top seven placings in each of the two zones, plus Penn reels for longest flattie in each zone and top five juniors placings (all participating juniors received a prize), suddenly the men with only one or two fish got the pleasant surprise of collecting something.

Even for those who were unfortunate enough to have got neither a fish nor a prize, there was still a chance in the huge raffle that took place afterwards, which included rods, reels, wet gear, fishing tackle, vouchers, food hampers and bottles of spirits – all generously donated, with some of these prizes coming from Mariners members themselves.

Given the nature of this charity competition, and despite the massively high standard of prizes which were generously sponsored from tackle shops and businesses nationwide, spirits were high amongst the anglers, regardless of whether they got fish or not, as they knew that their participation had helped raise the fantastic amount of €4,560 for this well deserving cancer support charity.

The most important result

In an interview with Hookpoint, Killybegs Mariners SAC Chairman Cormac Burke said that the club were thrilled with the turnout and with the money raised.

“I can’t heap enough praise on all the participating anglers – firstly for making the effort to come but mainly for their warm-spirited and good-humoured attitude throughout the event, even though the venue was unusually unproductive on this occasion. 

“And, of course a big thanks to the vast number of sponsors who got involved as well as people who simply made a donation to the event via the club’s competition PayPal system.

“But most of all, and I’m sure the visiting anglers will agree with me, this was a fantastically well organised competition and that only happens when you have a good club working as a team and often their efforts go unseen… 

…from Kieran who walked the beach at 7.30am to place the pegs to David who was still the next day returning the Mooney Boats van that we had been allowed use of as our HQ — simply wonderful teamwork, but naturally I’d like to give a special word of thanks to the club secretary Noel Kennedy who put in many long hours in the weeks leading up to the event.

“For those who were disappointed with the fishing, it’s worth noting that less than 24 hours later it was blowing a very strong SW gale and as this was a charity event, I think most anglers would have not traded the slow fishing in almost balmy conditions for more fish but in conditions that would have meant tying down your gear, having to use big grip leads and getting soaked into the bargain,” he said, adding that so many more anglers have already been in touch to ask if they can book yet for next year’s event.

These serene conditions soon changed the following day...
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