The catching of a monster pike

An Irishman’s Diary: The one that didn’t get away

Frank McNally recently told us the story of the River Finn monster, an enthralling tale of a northern denizen of the deep that bears comparison with any of the fabled accounts of Irish lough monsters. Sadly, like that of its Scottish cousin, it was a case of another one that got away.

Here is the story of one that didn’t get away.

On the morning of May 9th, 1862, two local anglers, Patrick Sheehy and John Naughton, went trolling for pike in the Killaloe area. Lough Derg had the reputation of harbouring monster pike and the anglers were prepared for this eventuality: their lure was a shoe lift, or shoe horn, hooks attached, and tied to stout line. They were to need it, as the enfolding account shows, recorded by John Sheehy (Patrick's father) in the Limerick Chronicle of May 13th, 1862.

Patrick Sheehy was on the oars, with Naughton holding the rod. As they neared Derry Castle, some four miles up from Killaloe, the lure became entangled (as they thought) in a rock or some other obstruction. At the time, a stiff breeze was blowing and on letting the boat drift back, to clear their line, they were surprised by a strong pull, which nearly took the rod from Mr Naughton’s hand.


The reel now screamed as the 30 yards of line quickly ran out. They were left with no option but to pull the boat in the direction which the obvious monster of a fish took, which, fortunately was with the wind.

The epic battle had begun. It was to last two hours, with at times, the anglers pulling after the fish, sometimes coming to within a few feet of the monster. They eventually led the fish (which, like the anglers at this stage, must have been exhausted), into a shallow section of the lake, and jumping out, managed to pull it ashore.

When measured on the public weighing scales in Killaloe, the pike was recorded as being 5ft 8 inches long, more than the average male height of the time. It weighed. 90½lbs. Not alone was it a record for the lake, but Fred Buller in his book, Doomsday Book of Mammoth Pike, claims it is a world record as well that has stood to this day,

Buller, following his world-wide travels recording catches of monster pike, is convinced that the catch of the Lough Derg monster is authentic. “The measurements given are in accord with the measurements that one would expect to find of pike weighing 90½lbs. They impress the stamp of truth on a report about a fish caught in an age when nobody had a notion (even had they wanted to fabricate a story about a big pike) of how to relate a pike’s weight with its length,” he claims.

Buller argues that it was not a story of the capture of a monster pike, concocted from hearsay many years after it happened; rather it is a story of the capture of a pike that was reported by the father of one of the participants in a newspaper within a few days of it happening. “In all, three local men were linked with the report – the rodman, the boatman, and the correspondent – three people who would have to face the response of any reader becoming sceptical about the details of a catch reported in the local newspaper,” Buller claims.

Another witness of the record catch was SJ Hurley, of Abbey View, Killaloe, who, 36 years after the fish was landed, wrote to the Fishing Gazette in August, 1898. He was writing mainly about his tame otters but mentioned the great catch in the course of the letter: "I saw the fish weighed, and it brought the scales well down at the above weight."

Publication of Hurley’s letter started a correspondence among readers who doubted the authenticity of the 90½lb pike. Hurley stood firm, however, and his claim was strengthened by the publication of a letter from an officer of the English Army in the Field that he and a brother officer had come across a monster pike in shallow water in Portumna, in the upper reaches of the lake. “The fish was dead, possibly killed in a great storm the night before. We brought it to the public weighing scale on Portumna Bridge and it weighed in at 84lbs.”

Ireland claimed the heaviest European pike for many years. This fish was landed in Lough Conn in 1920, and weighed in at 53lbs, but as criteria for official recognition was not then available, it has been supplanted by one of a mere 41lbs caught in Lough Ross, near the south Armagh/Monaghan border in 2002.

Let Fred Buller, champion of the Lough Derg monster pike, have the last word: "In my book, Mr Naughton's pike is the world rod-caught record for the species esox lucius, and presumably will be in most people's book, excepting those persons who think that what happened a long time ago must either be suspect or irregular. Time does not turn fact into fiction."