Over 200 anglers are expected to compete in next week’s Waterways Ireland Classic Fishing Festival at venues around Fermanagh.

With over £20,000 in prize money it is being promoted as “Ireland’s premier festival of angling”.

The event kicks off on Monday with the first of three matches, each lasting five hours, and continues on Wednesday and Friday. The angler catching the heaviest aggregate weight of fish over the three days will collect the overall winner’s cheque for £5,000.

There are daily match prizes, venue prizes and in between, on Tuesday and Thursday, there’s the King of the Erne with more prizes on offer.

Eddie McGovern, tourism development officer with Fermanagh District Council, is confident of a good turn out.

“I would anticipate we would have a similar entry to the last two years,” he says, “around 220, which is very encouraging.” And he’s optimistic about the prospects, given that the Classic is taking place a week later than last year and the weather has been much milder.

“It could be fantastic if we hit it right, fishing wise,” he says.

At the very worst, even if the weather turns nasty and the fish prove unco-operative: “It’s going to be OK because the lake has warmed up nicely.

“Some of these years we are going to hit on the right combination of weather and time of year and catches will be fantastic,” he predicts.

The Classic lies in the middle of around six weeks of spring fishing competitions beginning with the angling employees of BT from the north of England who have been coming here for over 20 years.

Then it’s the turn of members of the Fire Service Sports and Athletics Association to cast their lines on the Erne. They have been faithful visitors to Fermanagh for 25 years.

Either side of next week’s classic there is the Mini Mahon’s competition followed by the main Mahon’s Hotel event. The Irvinestown hotel is also the base for the Mal Scott Memorial competition, organised by Rodney Scott in memory of his late father, another avid angler and promoter of fishing competitions in Fermanagh.

“Generally the fishing has been good,” says Mr. McGovern. “It’s coming on nicely.” The Classic, now in its 39th year, is sponsored by Waterways Ireland and the fishing tackle company, Diawa.