The Master Angler competition has been running in Ireland since 1966. Its inaugural winner was Mr J Murphy from Cork SAC and over the years, Ireland’s best and brightest anglers have had their names etched onto this famous and much sought after cup. 

The competition rotates around the four provinces of Ireland. Munster in the South, Connaught in the West, Leinster in the East and Ulster in the North. In order to qualify for the Master Angler you must first qualify through your clubs own Master Angler, which is generally held over the course of the previous year. With the 2020 Master Angler cancelled, an enhanced field would compete for the 2022 title making it all the harder to win!

The prize for winning is far superior than cash or prizes. The winner gains the honour of captaining the senior men’s Irish world championship team, whilst the top ten men gain entry to the world championships squad and the chance to enter the fish off for the team to travel to Italy. Over the years we have had some fantastic lady anglers and since Paula Dunphy won the first one in 2015, the lady Master Angler is also a hotly contested competition that is going from strength to strength with the top six anglers making up the ladies team to compete in Italy 2023. Both the ladies and men’s competition are run over the same weekend with the format being three competitions. One on the Saturday morning, then Saturday night and finally Sunday morning. As you can imagine this means no end of preparation needed in order to really compete. 

Anglers at their pegs

The weeks preceding the competition are generally spent gathering information on what is happening on the selected venues. The traces for the expected venues along with rod selection and reels mean that the workload can be quite large for those hoping to challenge for the titles. For Ulster, we would be fishing Benone on the Saturday and Sunday mornings while the zones would be split between East Strand at Portrush and Whiterocks for the night session. 

With all that explaining done it was time to get some fishing in. Originally, we were supposed to fish the area to the left of the gun range but, the range was active so we were forced to move to the ‘Downhill’ end of Benone. After a quick rejig and some rescued vehicles from the soft patches, I was on my peg and ready to go. 

Surely some good karma would come my way as I cast into the building surf in the hopes of either a turbot or a flounder. maddies tipped with mackerel was my main plan of attack but, I also had lugworm, black lug, sandeel and some crab in my arsenal just in case things became desperate. 

First cast, Turbot and, on a beach that can really punish you, I was feeling really good until I looked two pegs to my right and seen my brother David with a treble shot of flounder, then Paul Whelan repeated the trick of a treble this time with a lovely bass, a flounder and a small plaice. Not bad for the first half an hour. 

An early turbot had my spirits up

I couldn’t help but think that my good karma got lost along the way. After around an hour it became clear that the resident fish had been mopped up by the very well prepared anglers. All the way to low water there was a trickle of fish and people began to feel fairly frustrated. There were stewards for every 10 anglers and 21 per zone in the men’s section and they were reporting very little action but that I was sitting in 3rd spot of their 10, so the socks needed to be pulled up! 

Thinking I’d try for a Bass in the increasingly appealing surf I rang my buddy and top match angler at the other end of the beach for inspiration. JP Molloy answered straight away… a real bad sign. I explained my thought process and the reply was… ‘if you’re going to do something stupid do it now the flats will be back’,  I decided to leave off the gamble and promptly gathered three more fish. Two flounder and a turbot on the last cast to pip David and win my 10, only to narrowly lose 3rd spot in the zone on the 2nd tie break to a 47cm 3.5lb turbot (a worthy winner vs my 31cm turbot) by Tommy Carneige. 

Word along the beach was much the same with some areas of zones fishing far better than others which can often be the case on a long surf beach. After session one had concluded we had a four hour gap until the night session so we needed to refuel the bodies for the task ahead. Naturally, in a situation where you’re facing into a bitterly cold night of 30mph north winds in the face for almost five hours, you need to have the right clothing and eat properly. So, with the Mcdonalds full we headed for the warmth of Burger King. 

Once finished, we headed for the hotel to replenish the frozen bait supplies and get rid of some of the rubbish we had accumulated. Warm clothes… check. Bait.. Check. Headlight… check. We headed further north to the town of Portrush to drop David off while myself and Troy Francis headed a few miles up the road to ‘Whiterocks’ and after a fairly long walk we set up to the sound of the wind howling and waves crashing. 

Careful drving onto beaches, it only takes one soft spot!

This was going to be a tough session and whoever found the fish quickest would certainly be close to the top. After an hour I only had a pin whiting to my name and having seen no other fish I was glad of it. I decided a flounder walk down eight pegs to Troy was in order. Along the way I gathered that only three fish was winning the zone so my poor start wasn’t being punished too badly. Reinvigorated with the knowledge that I still had a chance I doubled down on my efforts and started to search out my peg to try and find the flounder. The tapered line indicated that I was at about 60m when I landed a double shot of flats followed by a small turbot to move well up the leader board. This is where I made a terrible mistake. Listening to news up the beach I decided to go out for the coalies and whiting that had appeared as the tide dropped. Moving off of fish came back to bite me in the rear and I ended up 5th in the zone to add to my 4th in the morning session. Troy, who had had a similarly slow start ended up 2nd in the zone to current Irish team member Mick Curtin who finished very strongly to take a tight zone. 

As an indication of how tight the zones were, 1 more point would have had me 4th, 8 more points 3rd and a flounder of 25cm would of nabbed 2nd. This pattern was repeated throughout the zones on both beaches. So cold and fairly dejected I headed for the car. 

Back at the hotel, after unloading the gear we headed for a pint at the bar to see how we were positioned going into the last day. It was a familiar sight with some good happy tables, some with sullen faces and some empty ones. The amount of empty ones could only mean one thing. This was wide open. Word on the grapevine was that local man Raymond McCann found himself sitting with 2 x 2nd place, Jordan Muir had a 1st and a 4th and there was a chasing pack of very good anglers right on their tails. David Farrelly, Alan O Dowling, Johnny Snoody, John Marshall and a few more big names were in contention. I figured myself to be just behind these and knowing that Benone in a stiff North wind could destroy dreams I went to bed earlier than planned but hopeful of pulling off a surprise. 

Finding the turbot in the night match too

There was a distinct buzz around the breakfast tables and a lot of very upbeat anglers. With social distancing in effect it was harder than normal to get the information on how the ladies section was faring but again it seemed very close with anyone in with a shout. We again organised our frozen bait and headed for the beach where we were greeted by a fierce north wind directly into the face. The temperature was given as 8 degrees but it was closer to 0 with the wind chill. It was hard to get motivated, all of a sudden the cold was going through two fleece tops and I was thinking when my mate from Yorkshire calls us ‘gulf stream softies’ he might be right. 

Feeling sorry aside, the match was almost ready to start. I went with the same set up as the previous day. A three hook flapper approx. 7ft, with 2ft snoods. Maddie’s tipped with mackerel landed me a small turbot on the first cast and again hopes were high. I found myself very close to locals Nicholas McNeill, Tommy Carneige and Ryan Blair. They all landed fish in the first few casts so I knew again it would be hard to get a result. 

Again, the resident fish were all taken in the first hour and if you hadn’t caught by now it was looking bleak. With 3 small fish I was well back and needing a stroke of luck or inspiration. A few messages up the beach to see the lay of the land revealed everyone in the same boat. Shane McMahon had had a wonder start with three turbot 45cm, 35cm and 31cm in quick succession, losing a 4th in what would have been an exceptional treble shot. John Marshall expertly used the turbot walk to land a good fish in the 30s in my zone bringing him to the top of my ten with three fish. 

At the halfway mark, anglers were starting to bunch up, which is a sure sign of poor fishing. Jordan Muir was in the zone to my left and looked to be doing well with the small flats and turbot when nobody else was doing well and it seemed that Raymond McCann was also on the fish so it was a shoot out between them two with an hour to go. Again, the fish came on after low water and I managed to get three more flounder and turbot to tie on points with John but narrowly pip him on fish caught for our half of the zone. 

Some cracking turbot showed

Unfortunately, with a seven hour drive home ahead of us there was no option to stay around for the presentations so it was the job of the Facebook stream to see how things had panned out. Unsure of how things had gone in the rest of my zone I was hopeful of a top five finish but it wasn’t to be. Places 6 to 9 had all tied and I found myself 9th after the tie breaks. I couldn’t help but be happy though as that’s a 3rd and 9th in the past two Master Angler. My brother, David, was 8th and club man Shane McMahon 7th to show a fine performance from the club anglers. Also, by virtue of the fact David was the best in the car, he had the honour of buying dinner on the way home. Top three were David Farrelly 3rd, Jordan Muir 2nd and Raymond McCann in top spot.

David and Jordan have both fished multiple times for Ireland youths in the past few years so it shows that we are heading in the right direction with youth development.

It was an incredible weekend and a massive thanks has to go to the lads that stewarded over the three sessions. It was bitterly cold and to give up their time was brilliant. Graeme Blair and the team organised a great fair event and kept nearly 100 anglers reasonably happy which is an achievement in itself. 

To continue the club celebrations Liz McMahon 6th and Rosaleene Murphy 3rd took places on the ladies team along with Linda Snoody 5th, Linda Manton 4th Tracey Whelan 2nd and over all champ Lisa Gormley making up a really strong ladies team! 

Thank you for dinner David!