Angling for Equality

Vicky Neill finds Danes Cast fishery fully equipped for disabled visitors

Deep in the heart of Co Armagh lies a rapidly growing community of anglers. Danes Cast fishery, Jerrestspass, Newry, consists of three lakes - one for beginners and two for the more accomplished rodsman.

Danes Cast was first established in May 2000, the result of a childhood dream of the owner John O’ Hare. As a boy, O'Hare had always fished and throughout his life he maintained a keen interest.

When O'Hare acquired the land in Jerrettspass, close to the family home, he and wife Margaret noted that the blue clay in the land was the ideal foundation on which to build a fishery.

The fact that the lakes are spring-fed was an added bonus to the couple, meaning that the water replenishes itself. With the help of EU 'Peace and Reconciliation' funding, a second lake was opened in 2004.

It was after the opening of lake number two that the O'Hares began to realise the need for disabled access at the fishery.

‘Just because people are disabled, it doesn’t mean that they should be turned away from sports such as angling,' says Margaret.

'Everybody here is still an angler - a lot of our anglers have fished all their lives so why should they stop because of physical limitations? In our view everybody is equal - that’s one reason we continually improve the facilities.

‘We already have excellent access for wheelchair users.’

In February 2006, a third lake was completed with gravel  paths all around the banks and disabled access. Facilities also include designated parking, toilets and wide access doors to the lodge.

Danes Cast is a fly-only fishery, stocked weekly with rainbow trout weighing between one and a half and six pounds.

All skill levels are welcome. O'Hare offers tuition to all anglers who require it.

‘We make no distinction between able bodied or not', adds Margaret.

'We consider everybody to be the same. After all, we all have to start learning somewhere. Even if someone hasn't one iota of knowledge about fishing, John is here to help.'

One wheelchair user, John Neill, tells of how he enjoys regular trips to Danes Cast.

‘I learnt how to fly fish through a friend a few years ago, who taught me how to cast properly and tie flies. I order most of my equipment from catalogues, though it is possible to hire everything at Danes Cast.

'I first discovered the fishery whilst driving to Newry. I saw the sign and decided to investigate the facilities. John invited me in and made tea.

'He said that they would always help me with the chair and down to the lake if need be, and they have always been true to their word.’

'The monthly competition', he added, 'is the best craic. You pay to enter and can draw cards for your peg number, which is the starting position. Each angler starts at his peg and when the whistle blows you have half an hour before moving to the next peg.

'This can last for up to five hours and there are prizes for either the heaviest fish or for who releases the most fish. To round up the day there is a prize-giving at the lodge and Margaret often makes the anglers soup or stew.

‘I use a combination of dry and wet flies and lures including egg flies and cat's whiskers. If the fish is landed quickly and the hook removed properly, the fish can return quite happily to the lake, unhurt.

‘On competition day the craic is mighty. It’s a good way to meet new people and challenge your own skills. The best parts of the day are early morning and late evening. This is the time when fish are most likely to feed.

‘The atmosphere is great at Danes Cast - friendly and relaxed, a great day out regardless of whether you catch anything. You can buy tickets which means you can bring the fish home. I usually prefer to return them to the water.

‘I would urge other wheelchair users to take up a sport of some sort. Sometimes you just have to get out there and go for it.

'Nothing is achieved by sitting in the house. Danes Cast isn’t the only fishery to cater for wheelchairs - some even have aluminium wheelie boats which means you can go out onto the lake, chair and all. This just isn’t a sport - it’s a lifestyle.'

'I'd encourage anyone who hasn’t tried fishing to take at least one lesson, I guarantee that you’ll be hooked!’

Danes Cast fishery can be contacted by phoning, (028)3082 1758 or 079 7363 2016. Booking is advisable, with special discount for groups.