Fishing in Ireland, Pike

Time for reflection

I went fishing this morning, nothing unusual about that I guess. The purpose of this session was not so much about catching fish (which is just as well as I blanked) as taking some time to reflect on how things are going for me now. As luck would have it the mirror flat calm of the day provided a spectacular backdrop as I cleared my mind in the fresh autumnal air.

the boat on a flat calm Bilberry lake

Gear was purposely stowed on board and the engine coughed into life at the third sharp tug on the pull-cord. Off I went, feeding line out through the rings until 30 or so yards separated me at one end and a shiny, silvery spoon on the other. The Pike could not care less about my choice of bait and they stayed out of my way for a couple hours, leaving me to my musings as the battered grey boat circled and swung around reed beds and headlands. I was deep in thought.

 

Engine and petrol tank to be unloaded

water receding on the slipway

The reason for all this deep pondering is I have reached the end of my latest contract at work and now have to decide what to do, carry on in senior management or go off on my own and try something new. I have become somewhat jaded and uninspired lately and it feels like I need a new challenge but jumping ship and going off in an entirely new tangent feels like a big step at my time of life. I needed space and quiet to allow me to get my head around the new reality and a spot of fishing has always been a great help to me over the years when in such a contemplative mood.

close to the reeds, usually a good spot for a Pike but not today

In the past decisions like this were relatively easy for me to make, whatever was the risky/challenging/unexpected course of action would inevitably be the route I would take. Advancing years have made me more circumspect though and I had to think the options through in detail this time rather than simply jump with both feet as I had previously done. Time is not really on my side anymore so this has to be the right move. With no sign of a Pike I swapped baits and tried a new tack, pointing the prow towards the German Shore.

prefect reflections as I neared the German Shore

The utter peace was the ideal backdrop to me day, nothing to distract me or interfere with my thinking. I weighed up the pros and cons of each option open to me and then considered any other ideas which popped into my head. Getting back into the international circuit once again had a certain appeal but the more I examined it the less attractive the notion of starting once again in Africa or the Middle East became. At 40 hopping on and off planes and living in dodgy foreign hotels was a breeze but now, 20 years later, the gloss has faded from long periods away from home. The rod arched over alarmingly and the reel squawked into life. A good Pike shook his head somewhere behind the boat and he managed to throw the hooks. I wished him well and carried on my way.

Slowly, some clarity of thought and an understanding of my real wants came into view. My priorities solidified and a clear course of action could be plotted. Once the basics of my plans were firmly established I could fiddle about with the details at a later time, for now I just needed to be 100% sure about which direction to head in and I achieved that this morning as the Honda chugged and the delightful Irish countryside slid gently past. Fishing fulfils so many different purposes for us anglers, some obvious and others more vague and partially hidden from sight. Today I needed space and quiet and Bilberry came to my rescue.

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Fishing in Ireland

Tip ring

So those of you who follow these scratchings of quill on keypad will be aware of my deep and abiding love for an old ABU spinning rod, the Atlantic 423. Well, late last season I managed to break the tip ring. As you can imagine this was not a happy moment for me and I immediately set about finding a replacement. Have you any idea how hard it is to source 1970’s ABU rod rings? I will tell you – impossible! I scoured the internet without success and the faithful old rod sat out the end of the season in a corner of the fishing room.

the broken tip ring

ebay came to my rescue though. Not a genuine ABU replacement but instead a packet of 5 similar stainless steel tip rings with the required 3mm internal diameter. I bought them and yesterday I finally got around to making the repair.

I began by carefully cutting off the old whippings using a razor blade. These were for decoration only and the ring itself was actually held in place with some hot melt glue. It was the work of seconds with a match to heat the ring and glue and pull off the broken ring. I took care to leave the silver foil for the decoration in place as I wanted to keep the rod as near authentic as possible. Now I had to pare away at the hard glue which was left on the end of the blank so the new ring would fit.

Melting a drop of hot melt on to the very end of the blank I quickly pushed the new ring into position. Luckily, I got the alignment right first time but using hot melt glue means you can always re-heat the new ring and re-position it.

I had a spool of brown whipping thread in my repairs box so it didn’t take long to whip the legs of the new tip ring and create the open spirals over the silver foil once again. A whip finish using a loop of thread and the waste was cut off to reveal a neat repair job. A coat of clear epoxy finished the job off. She is ready for action next season!

For me, repairs such as this are part and parcel of my fishing. I fix what ever I can rather than send it off to be repaired (or worse still simple thrown away). Winters are spent fixing reels or replacing broken rod rings, making flies and painting lures. I really believe this adds a lot to my enjoyment of the sport. And don’t get me started on boats!!!!

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Fishing in Ireland, sea angling

Dogfish traces

When I look at the literature about traces for dogfish I see only very basic rigs mentioned. A simple, plain ledger, either fixed or running is all that I ever read about but here in the West of Ireland we take our doggie traces much more seriously. In this post I will discuss the different traces we use and the reasons why we think we need so many.

So what are we talking about here? Very simply I am going to go over the traces I use when fishing for Lesser Spotted Dogfish, both from the boat and the shore. You can and do pick up doggies on all sorts of bottom gear but there are occasions when you may want to specifically target them and it is the end gear for those times I am writing about. Let’s dive right in with boat traces first.

  1. The basics. Some anglers like to use paternoster type traces but I prefer ledgers when targeting doggies. That leads us to the question of running or fixed ledgers? My personal preference is for a fixed ledger. This is because of the way a dogfish bites. When they pick up your bait you will feel that ‘rattle’ which is so easy to identify. I am guessing that this rattle on the rod tip is due to headshaking by the fish rather than a pick up/run which you get from some other species. I want the hook to find purchase as quickly as possible with dogfish and don’t feel the need to wait for them to run off with the bait – they will either have swallowed it or dropped it. A fixed ledger allows the line to tighten very quickly and hopefully help to set the hook. So for me it is going to be a fixed ledger set up. You can increase your chances by adding a second hook to the ledger on a short snood.
  2. Line. My personal preference is to make the trace out of 30 pound Amnesia. This resists abrasion well and has good knot strength. I’ve used this for years and can’t say it has ever let me down. I do change traces pretty often, checking them frequently for wear and tear and replacing them when I see any damage.

3. Length. OK, this is where it begins to get messy because I vary the length of the ledger depending on how the fish are reacting on any given day. Between 3 and 5 feet is the range I would personally recommend for a single hook ledger. I make two hook ledgers another 18 inches longer to accommodate the second hook and snood. Snood length on the two hook version should be about 6 or 8 inches.

With longer traces it tends to become more difficult to register bites. Remember that you are trying to tempt and then hook fish which make a grab at the bait and swallow it quickly. An overly long trace is not going to be any advantage to you.

  1. Hooks. Personal choice comes into it here. I like smallish hooks around size 1 or 2 but anything up to about a 3/0 will work. If you are missing bites or fish are dropping off on the way up then go to a smaller hook.
  2. Visual attractors. Other angling writers don’t seem to mention visual attractors but in this part of the world they are a key element on any doggie trace. There are a number of different types of attractors in common use:

Beads are the most common and are almost universally used here in the west of Ireland. 8mm or 6mm are the common sizes and if you can think of a colour it has been tried!

Spinning blades such as those used on flying C lures are often used, placed somewhere in the middle of the string of beads. Colours vary through the whole range of silver, gold or copper but fluorescent yellows and oranges are especially favoured. The best way to mount these blades is to add small beads below them so they can spin properly.

Smaller, shiny plastic blades are very popular too. These are available in a wide range of colours and are often used in 3’s or 4’s mixed in with the beads.

cheap and cheerful, these blades add a bit more bling to the trace

Muppets! Yes, I kid you not, we sometimes use a plastic muppet in the middle of the beads too and this can work a treat. Once again, colours are in legion so you can go as crazy as you like. Position the muppet above the hook, not on it otherwise it will cover the bait.

Muppet in the middle of the red beads

Yellow and white is a good combination

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Fl. Chartreuse is also a proven killer

Black and White bead – very popular and productive

red and white beads with a yellow blade

lime and black is often good

When it comes to traces for shore fishing for dogfish the same applies as for the boat except everything is scaled down a bit. Don’t add so many beads as the drag will seriously affect your casting distance. Also scale down the size of the beads you use with 6mm and smaller being a better choice.

Use a clip down system to make the rig more aerodynamic and thus aid casting otherwise it will flap about horribly in the air.

small red beads used on this shore trace

In use, I pick a trace to start fishing and if bites are slow I tend to try others as required. By using the set up shown it is on the work of seconds to un-clip one trace and put on another.

Storing traces is important as you will probably end up carrying around a number of different ones. There are lots of commercially available trace carrier systems but if you want to go down a different route you can make some up with discarded ends of pipe lagging. this works fine and is the most commonly used carriers in this area.

Hope that help you sea anglers a bit when out chasing doggies. To me they are a much under-valued fish who give sport on many days when nothing else is around.

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Fishing in Ireland, sea angling

Jimmy Burke cup

The middle portion of Clew Bay is ‘dogfish central’, home to packs of Lesser Spotted Dogfish, Bull Huss and a few rays. For this reason it is a popular mark for competition anglers who can bag up on LSD if there is nothing else biting. Saturday past saw me gently bobbing at anchor slap bang in the middle of the bay in the company of some like-minded souls. I was fishing the annual Jimmy Burke memorial cup.

boats at the quay ready for the off

Strong winds and heavy rain have battered the west coast for weeks now but the day in question dawned fine and calm. My old 30 pound boat rod with the 10000 on it was lobbed into the car with all my other gear. Would I remember everything this time? More by luck than good judgement I brought all the necessities along.

it’s all in there somewhere!

Thursday had been windy and wet, Friday the same. But for one the weather Gods smiled upon us and Saturday dawned wet but with only light winds. The forecast was for showers and that is exactly how the day panned out with occasional heavy burst of rain in between long fine spells. A day of rainbows.

Just one of the spectacular rainbows we saw

This particular competition had a rule that you could only use one hook, so the night before I tied up some single hook ledger traces. I used some size 2 hooks, smaller than most anglers use for dogfish but they have relatively small mouths and I like the smaller hooks to match this. As it turns out, my mate Paul handed me a trace to try and I clipped it on and left my own ones in the box for the duration of the day. I have not seen too much written about traces for dogfish in the mainstream angling press bur small changes to traces can make a huge difference to your catch rate. I’ll write a short post soon about this topic.

I was drawn on the Restoric with Tom the skipper. My mate Paul was also drawn on the same boat. Tom knows the marks in the bay like the back of his hand so we were confident he would find us fish. All anglers were given a smart black shirt when they signed in.

Bait consisted of the ubiquitous Mackerel strips, held on to the hook by some shirring elastic. I had a few in the freezer from my last trip out on the boat. While rummaging around amongst the peas and potato waffles I unearthed a bag of sardines so I brought them along as well. Someone had a couple of squid so I pinched some scraps of that too.

bag of frozen bait

note the small size of the chopped bait, it does not need to be big when targeting doggies

Lines went over the side at 10.15am precisely and we were into fish pretty much right from the start. Within minutes I had a heavy thump on the line then it all went quiet so I waited for the bite to develop. Sure enough, after a few minutes the rod began to nod and I lifted into a fish which turned out to be a small Thornback Ray. A doggie soon followed and then a second ray, this time a little bit bigger. My good start was amply rewarded by a white envelope containing €20, the prize for the first person to get three fish in the boat.

Sully lifts up a Thorny

Next to me Sally was hauling in dogfish to beat the band and she continued like this the whole day. Cries of ‘another dog for Sally’ being the soundtrack to the afternoon. Mary started slowly but picked up a few as the day wore on. She then boated a large spider crab which was safely returned (as were all our fish as this is a C&R competition). Paul, seemed to be slow out of the traps too but he made some changes to his traces and after lunchtime he went into overdrive.

Mary’s crab

I was catching steadily with a LSD every 15 minutes or so. These fish hunt by a combination of sight and scent and it takes them a little time to find your bait when it is lowered to the bottom. It is easy to be distracted by the scenery when fishing the bay, especially on a day like Saturday with the vistas constantly changing.

 

3.15pm was lines up and it was time for the reckoning. Somehow Paul had caught Sally with a tiny ray on his last drop. Each species attracted a different number of points with the humble doggie giving 5 points but a ray adding 15 points to your score. I came in a respectable third for the boat but with 50 anglers spread over 5 boats I was well off the prizes. Ah well, there is always next year.

The Westport boats will be lifted out of the water next week, signalling the end of another season’s fishing in Clew Bay. Winter is coming…………….

steaming home through the Bertra gap with Clare island on the horizon

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling

Red Rapalas

Over the years I have heard of other anglers painting Rapalas red and having great success with them. I always meant to do the same but somehow never got around to actually painting any myself. Then a heard that Rapala actually produced a red coloured plug themselves but only in very small numbers. So the hunt was on to find and buy some examples.

I eventually tracked down a couple of different ones. Both are in a colour called Red Hologram Flake, the Rapala colour code being FRHF. The red paint has been infused with very fine holographic glitter which to the human eye looks very good indeed. Whether the fish find it equally attractive has yet to be proved as the season is over now and it will be next spring before these plugs get a swim.

5cm red rapala

The first one I bought is a 7cm model, one of those ‘Team Esko’ lures with the cranked lip which according to the blurb on the back of the box are made in Estonia these days. 7cm is really too small for early season trolling but is a fine size for the summer grilse. They have a different action to the original models and I have not used the Team Esko ones before.

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Later, I found a bog standard 9cm floating Rapala in the same red hologram flake colour so I snapped that one up too. This is a good all round size and I use this or 11cm are my ‘go too’ sizes for trolling on Lough Conn. I have yet to find a red 11cm but I will keep looking.

As yet untried, I guess that there is every possibility these lures will be useless but somehow I don’t think so. Red was always a popular colour on Lough Conn and the action of the various types of Rapalas have been the downfall of so many fish for me over the years I have a bit of faith in these two crimson beauties. I will keep an eye out for more of these red Rapalas as I think they will catch fish. Some colours don’t inspire me with confidence, the blue and silver ones for example have never caught me a salmon despite being universally popular. I like gold, orange and silver with a black back.

magnum.jpg

While I was searching for the red ones I spotted an ad online for a ‘large vintage Rapala’. The accompanying photo did not give any idea of the size but I took a punt on it and bought it anyway, thinking it would be a 13cm original. What turned up was a pristine example of the 18cm Magnum in brown and gold livery. It even came in the original box. While I am sure the local Pike would love to chew on this fabulous lure it is just too pretty to be used. Instead, I will add this to my collection of lures for show only. I think this amazing lure dates from the late 1960’s or early ‘70s by the look of it. It really is stunning!

Have any of you who read this blog had any success with the Scatter Rap Rapalas? I have only acquired some recently and have not had the opportunity to try them for an extended period. The idea that they swerve about like a wounded fish is appealing but I wonder if they are good fish catchers. One of the ones I bought is in ‘Gold of Lapland’ colours and it looks wonderful!

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Gold of Lapland Scatter Rap

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

Littlewood

Saturday

I drove off the ferry at Cairnryan into stygian darkness filled with rain, the long drive North through the night ahead of me. I was back in my homeland again and the rain perplexed me. All the way to Glasgow it lashed down from the heavens, flooding the road in places and making me think of swollen rivers which would be out of ply for days. The Stincher was huge and the Ayr full to the banks as I crossed them in the early hours of Saturday morning. What would the Aberdeenshire Don be like? I had booked a rod on the lovely Littlewood beat for the coming Monday and I needed some rain, just not as much as the South West was suffering that Saturday night.

The downpour eased off somewhere around Cumbernauld and there was dense fog lying around Stirling before it all cleared by the time I was nearing Dundee. The North East appeared to have missed the rain again and now I was fretting there had not been any precipitation to lift the Don a few inches. The old VW chugged through the night under a clear skies on the final leg of the journey. I shut the engine off at exactly 6am and I slurped a quick cup of coffee in Aberdeen before some well-deserved sleep and dreams of rivers either in raging spate or as dry as a bone. I woke a couple of hours later to another downpour outside.

All of this fretting about rain comes naturally to us salmon fishers. The timing and quantity of precipitation can make or destroy a day on the river. I had been studying the long range weather forecast for a week before I booked Littlewood, banking on a wet Saturday followed by dry conditions on Sunday.   The Don was running only 4 inches above summer level the previous week, not enough to fill me with confidence that salmon would be on the move. I wanted a rise of a foot or so on Saturday/Sunday and for the river to start falling again on Monday. In that respect Littlewood was a gamble. It does not have any well-known holding pools, deep sanctuaries where salmon hold up in times of low water. It is a streamy beat where running fish can be picked up in shallow water or from odd corners where they stop briefly on their way up river. Like a piscatorial Goldilocks I wanted the river not too high nor too low, just somewhere in the middle and slowly falling.

I spend the day with family and catch up on all the news in Scotland. A good day, topped off by a hard fought draw at ‘Villa for the Clarets. I’m happy enough with 10th spot in the Premiership after a tough schedule of games since the start of the season. Everton visit Turf Moor next – another hard game for us.

Sunday

A dry day. Tackle wise I would equip myself with a 13 foot Spey rod and no. 8 lines. A range of tubes and flies with a few spools of nylon were all I planned to take with me. Littlewood extends to 4.5 miles, a lot of water to cover so I wanted to travel light. With time on my hands I checked over the gear, paying particular attention to the reels and leaders. The reels needed a clean and some light oiling which was only the work of a few minutes. Old leaders were cut up and replaced with new ones in readiness for the next day. I made heavy leaders tipped with 18 pound breaking strain tippets. This may sound over the top but some big salmon run the river Don at the end of the season and fish in the high teens or low twenties are not unheard of. Better safe than sorry.

In the afternoon I went on to the Fishpal site to check water levels. This is a hugely helpful service which I would encourage all anglers to use if they are fishing salmon rivers in the UK. It looked like the top of the river did not receive any rain at all as the levels were steady. The same was not true of the rest of the watershed though. Parkhill, on the lower river was at two-and-a-half feet above summer level and falling while, more interestingly for me, Bridge of Alford, a mile or two below Littlewood, was registering one foot and 3 inches and falling. With no rain that should equate to roughly 12 inches of water on Monday, as near perfect as you could ask for on Littlewood. With no fishing on a Sunday in Scotland any salmon in the system can move unhindered on their journey upstream. Many of the fish will be coloured but there should be some fresh ones mixed in with the old stagers. I was in with a chance!

This beat has a historical connection, the much maligned politician Neville Chamberlain used to fish it frequently. It is situated on the left bank of the Don upsteam of Alford. Here the river is about 30 yards wide and comprises a series of runs and glides more than pools. It is great fly water throughout the whole 4.5 miles length of the beat but it does demand a high level of experience to get the best from it. Some sections can be covered using overhead casting but there are lots of bankside trees meaning spey casting is definitely a better option. Fishing water like this demands the ability to read the water and control your fly more than great technical casting ability or depth control. By that I mean there is no need for fast sinking lines or shooting heads as the width of the river and depth of the water are easily manageable with conventional tackle. Mending the line and knowing how/when to hang a fly over a potential lie are keys to success in my opinion.

I had packed three boxes of flies and ferreting around in various jackets and the back of the car I turned up another three boxes! Just how many flies a salmon angler actually requires is something of a moot point. One box is in all honest sufficient but being a fly tyer it is impossible to restrict myself in that way. I rooted out some patterns which would definitely not be required on Monday then roughly organised the more likely ones into one box. The others were chucked into the back of the car, ready if called upon but I felt it unlikely I would require much else than the one box now in my jacket pocket. My usual patterns were in the box, Cascades, some shrimps, Hairy Mary and Willie Gunns.

 

Monday

Up early. Coffee. Fill a flask and make up some sandwiches. No rain.

I battle my way against the flow of Monday morning commuters as they stream in from the towns and villages around the city of Aberdeen. When I grew up here in pre-oil days the likes of Westhill and Kingwells were small and quiet, now they are home to thousands of workers, many of whom come into the city each day. The traffic thins after Elrick and I head west to the pretty town of Alford. Hopes are high today and confidence is a necessary attitude for the salmon angler. Without belief there is little chance of sport. Confidence is something which grows and is honed by experience. The tiny lessons which are picked up every time we fish add to the lexicon of detail stored in our brains. Things which are impossible to convey in words can mean so much to us, things like the tension on the line when the fly is swimming properly, the look of a lie at the right height of water. Understanding these and many more details are what make some anglers more successful than others. Sure, luck has a huge role to play but experience breeds confidence and confidence leads to fish on the bank. This morning I am feeling confident.

My first view of the river is at the same time encouraging and perplexing. There is some colour and the height looks to be more like 2 feet above summer level. I drive to a parking place near the top of the beat and tackle up. A size 8 Hairy Mary goes on the end of the line then I am off down to the river bank.

I fish through a couple of pools, getting the feel of the rod and my surroundings. The banks are generally rough and I am finding it tough on my arthritic ankles almost from the off. I concentrate on my spey casting which is going OK.

There are some trees which reach all the way to the waters edge, barring downstream progress so I walk back up to the road and skirt the trees. Crossing a field I reach a lovely pool which has given me fish from the opposite side in the past.

 

 

I fish it down then change flies and go down it one more time. Near the tail the line tightens but my momentary joy is short lived as a small trout proves to be no match for the salmon gear.

I stick with the small tube as I fish through the next couple of pools but there are no offers here.

 

 

I switch flies and put on 22mm brass tube to get me down a bit and while I’m at it I change to a sink tip line. I sense the river is actually rising but as I am working my way downstream it is hard to be sure.

There is a lie in a small pocket to the side of a fast run which looks inviting and I swing the heavy tube through it a couple of times. Bang! Fish on and just as quickly he is gone. I pull in the line to check in case the fly had fouled on the leader or I had somehow broken a hook but no, everything looked just right. A simple case of bad luck this time.

I continued to work my way down the river, covering every inch of likely water. There are some lovely pools on Littlewood and I swam a number of different flies through them all on Monday, to no avail.

In the end I had to concede defeat and as the rain started to fall I packed up and left the river in peace. All my fretting about the rain was not entirely wrong, the slowly rising Don did not live up to expectations in terms of fish on the bank. That said, I had a great day out in the fresh air and with a small slice of luck I might have hooked the one fish that came to the fly.

For those of you who don’t mind rough banks I can thoroughly recommend Littlewood. It is very scenic and on its day it can be very productive. Just Monday wasn’t one of those days!

 

 

 

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Fishing in Ireland, sea angling

Inish Turk

plans for this day afloat had changed so often that I had begun to suspect it would never happen. The original day was supposed to take place last month but a strong wind whipped up the sea and it was cancelled at the last minute, leaving us all huddled in the rain on the quay in Westport trying to balance disappointment we would not be fishing with relief we would not be thrown around the deck of a heaving boat all day.

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Some of the intrepid anglers

Next up was a rearranged date and a switch to fishing from Roonagh. But the weather managed to upset even that idea with a strong southerly once again leading to a cancellation. The next idea was complex but just might work. Catch the ferry to Inish Turk and fish with the local lads in the lee of the island. Having never been that far out this idea appealed greatly to me. Happily, this one actually came to fruition.

The ferry tied up to the quay on Inish Turk island

I wake early, too early and so I try in vain to go back to sleep. I’d like to say this was due to excitement but in fact poor sleep patterns are just another sign of old age. It’s getting darker in the mornings now as the year wears on. Darker and cooler with the first hint that frosts are on the way. I read for a while before feeding the cat and make myself some breakfast. There is tackle to be sorted out before I can pack the car so I get dressed and commence the hunt for all the necessary tools of the trade. Some come easily to hand, others are lost to me for now and I leave without them.

my old Plano box is about due for retirement!

I always seem to be so disorganised when heading out on the high seas, too many boxes and bags with all the tackle and clothes muddled through each other. Because I have not been doing much sea fishing for many years now a lot of my gear needs to be replaced due to wear and tear or the inevitable blight of corrosion from the salt water. When I am old out on the boat once or twice a year it is hard to justify the expenditure on shiny new tackle or smart new waterproofs but some of my kit is falling apart so I plan to invest in some gear over the winter. Anyway, back to Saturday…………….

We finally found ourselves on the ferry to Inish Turk this Saturday, crossing the outer bay to link up with a local boat who would take us out to fish in the what we hoped would be relatively calm water behind the island for a few hours. We gathered on the deck of the ferry looking nervously at the weather, a big Atlantic swell was pounding the pier even as we sat tied up there. The forecast was for strong southerly winds all day meaning no let up for us. The trip out to Turk takes about an hour and the red ferry pitched and rolled as she climbed each wave and dove into the following trough, water cascading over the decks and anyone foolish enough to venture out there. I had found a nice dry spot for the journey but some of the unwary looked as if the had just rounded the Horn by the time we docked on the island.

 

 

 

Gear and bodies transferred from the ferry to our boat and we were soon heading back out to sea. The journey out had given us a taste of the conditions we were going to have to embrace and sure enough the impressive swell kept up for as long as we were out. The strong wind whipped us along at a fair old pace and the 20 foot swell rocked us endlessly. These were challenging conditions and it was hard work just to keep you feet, let alone fish properly. The scenery was majestic, tucked under the cliffs as we were with the waves crashing and foaming on the rocks sometimes only a few yards away.

I started feathering to try and catch some Mackerel for bait. The first couple of drifts were fruitless but on the next drift we hit a shoal and all the rods stated to catch. As soon as I could I switched to my favourite flying collar rig to search the seabed for Pollock and Cod. Over the years I have found this to be the most effective way to catch Pollack from a boat but on Saturday they were having none of it. Some of the other lads started to pick up Pollack on feathers so I had to swallow my pride and go back to feathers but I baited mine with long strips of fresh Mackerel. Shortly after setting up like this I had a viscous take and a very heavy fish bent the rod hard over. I had got the fish off the bottom and all seemed well only for the line to snap at the middle hook. I’ll never know how big that fish was but it felt like a really good one.

Drifts were short and brutal affairs, the swell throwing us around the deck like rag dolls. Sea sickness afflicted some of the gang and they took to the shelter of the cabin to recover. But gradually the box filled with fish, a mix of Mackerel and Pollock. Codling began to show up, smallish fish of 2-3 pounds. I managed a couple of them before another hefty take saw me boat a nice Pollock of about 8 pounds.

I was happy with that Pollock, the best one I have caught for a while. Soon after we encountered a shoal of Scad, good sized ones at that. Scad are pretty much inedible but the skipper asked us to keep some for the commercial fishermen on the island as they make good bait for their lobster pots. Half a box was filled in no time at all. Next up was a shoal of Mackerel which were high up in the water. Those lads using just feathers could not get down through them and were whipping them out with every drop over the side. I was using large pieces of Mackerel on my feathers and so got through the shoal unmolested. Under the Macks there were cod and Pollock who were happy to take my baited hooks and I had a productive spell with both species. A small ling then turned up, just a bootlace but welcome never the less.

The day passed quickly as is does when you are catching fish. Another good sized Pollock snaffled my baited feather and when it came aboard it turned out to be only slightly smaller than my earlier 8 pounder. By now the fish box was looking healthy.

Some more Scad and Mackerel came aboard and then I caught something unusual – an Octopus. The small pink fella was easily unhooked and returned to the sea. Not to be outdone, Paul landed two of them a few minutes later.

We called it a day and fought our way back to the harbour to hear the other boat had stopped much earlier and found their way up to the community centre on the island. We hitched a lift and found them all happily enjoying a few pints. The views from the community centre were awe inspiring and I am planning on visiting Inish Turk properly next year, maybe with an overnight stay.

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In the end I went home with some fine Pollock, 4 codling and a host of Mackerel, some for eating and the smaller ones to be frozen down for bait. Not too shabby for a day of high winds and a huge swell. If we had been more fortunate with the weather I am sure we could have doubled our catch. Our leads were constantly being lifted meaning our baits were not on the bottom where the fish were. I’d like to go back there on a better day!

Tuesday: there is a twist to this tale! I was in Dublin on Monday so did not return to work until Tuesday morning. Toby called me first thing, wanting me to come and discuss a purchasing issue which I thought had been put to bed. Anyway, I stomped off in his direction and entered the large open plan office where he works. I could sense something wasn’t right and sure enough when I reached his desk there was a large silver cup sitting on it. Turns out I had caught the most fish and had won a trophy, the first in many, many years. Happy days!

 

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Fishing in Ireland, sea angling, shore fishing

Bank holiday action

It is a Bank Holiday weekend here in Ireland and after some strenuous chores in and around the house yesterday I had earned sufficient brownie points to head of for some fishing today. The decision on where to go and indeed what to fish for, was left to the last minute. In the end I plumped for Killery and we drove down the winding miles with a fair degree of optimism for the day ahead. This was despite fishing over low water and the lack of any positive reports there were fish in the area. Sometimes you just have to follow your gut feeling, don’t you?

I have to say that he weather forecast did not inspire confidence with heavy rain spreading to the west according to those who should know about such matters. Low cloud draped itself over the mountains all the way from Westport to the harbour, hiding the sunshine and adding to the sense of grandure. Tourists milled around the only street in Leenaun, most of them sensibly clad in brightly coloured waterproofs. Tour buses disgorged their cargo at the usual spots where the breathtaking views of sea and mountain are snapped again and again. A land of endless selfie opportunities. The rain started just as we turned off the main Clifden road and it steadily increased in volume as the wriggled along the narrow track to the edge of the sea.

The chosen mark is only one field away from the car park so even I could manage that short distance. The tackle box, which had felt relatively light when I stowed in the car at home now felt like a ton weight as I tramped through the sodden grass and thistles. On reaching the mark we found three other anglers were already busy with bait and lures. It quickly became apparent they had no success so far though.

Fellow anglers on the mark

I’ve fished here many times before and knew what the likely target species would be – rays and dogfish. That means big smelly baits fished hard on the bottom and we were suitably prepared for that with some frozen sandeels. I tackled up 2 beachcasters and got to work. Baits out, I poured myself a cup of coffee and waited. The rain got heavier.

As it turned out I didn’t have to wait too long. A sharp pull on the 4 ounce rod was the first indication of interest so I let the fish have some time and did nothing bar hold the rod and tighten up the slack line. Minutes passed before the second tug and the rod gave a few nods indicating the ray had actually taken the bait. Safely ashore she was unhooked and returned to the water with little fuss. Not a bad start! By now the rain had assumed monsoon like proportions.

The tide was dropping fast, exposing more and more of the rocks below us. There was still enough of a flow to keep the fish interested and a small LSD was soon brought to hand. The bite from these wee pests is very different to the slow motion take of the ray, more of a rattle than a bite. Minding my hands and keeping the tail under control so he could not wrap himself around my hand the hook was quickly extracted and he was put back into the sea.

OK, so not the best photo of a dogfish but you get the idea

Unbelievably, the rain got even heavier and we hunkered down with our backs to the weather. Bites were coming pretty much to every cast but the fish were shy and only nipping at the baits. To cut a long story short I managed another couple of dogfish either side of dead low water. The rain eventually cleared and blue sky peeped through the clouds for an hour or so. Ben took advantage of the improved climatic conditions to have a sleep on the grass. Unfortunately, the drier weather brought out the midges in force and no amount of Jungle Formula kept the little pests at bay. I was being eaten alive! Just as we were getting used to the nice weather (if not the midges) the sun was chased away by the next band of precipitation.

Like a baby in his cradle……………

It was decision time, the weather was closing in fast and it looked like it would turn nasty. On the other hand the tide was rising and there was every chance the fish would waken up and show more interest in our offerings. In the end we cut our losses and packed up, the rain hammering down on us by the time we had gained the track leading to the car.

Killery looks almost tropical in the brief spell of sunshine

All in all it had been a good trip with a few fish to show for our efforts. The much maligned dogfish had helped to save the day and this year above all others they have been a welcome catch with little else available to us anglers.

The rain was never far away today

The lesson for anyone fishing on the Mayo coast at the time of the year is to keep the bait firmly on the bottom. Dogfish are present in numbers and even if nothing more exciting turns up you can bank on the good old LSD to keep you busy. The other anglers who fished the same mark had no success at all but they were float fishing and spinning with large paddletails. Both methods are fine where there are big pollock close to the shore but this is a mark for bottom living species.

All of this rain means there is a chance of a grilse on the spate rivers tomorrow. I wonder how many brownie points I still have in the bank?

 

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Keeping it simple

Sometimes I look at the plethora of new fly patterns which appear every year and wonder if we anglers are deluding ourselves. The latest ‘must have’ synthetic materials or the most fashionable hooks adorn the pages or screens of every angling periodical, begging us weaklings to part with hard earned cash so we too can tie up this season’s killer patterns. I’m no expert when it comes to the wider angling world but here in the West of Ireland I find the old reliables just as effective as always.

That old warrior, the Stoat’s tail still catches fish when the water is low and warm, just like it did all those years ago when it was invented. I play around with body materials just for something to do rather than any great conviction one is significantly better than the others. I like a red body on my Stoat’s for no reason other than I like the look of it. A dash of red never does any harm in my book. It looks like the colour of fins on small fish to me. The rest of the dressing remains the same though, there is no need for any flashy new bling.

We are in August now so a daddy is a likely performer. Again, I don’t get too hung up on exact patterns. A natural colour body for the browns or a silver body for the migratory lads, be they trout or salmon. Legs? Yes, and plenty of them. Hackles? long and flowing to give life. After those essentials I’m not overly pushed on the exactitude’s of the remainder of the dressing.

Tying in some legs on a silver daddy

I am more than willing to accept, and indeed revel in the tag ‘old fogie’ as at my time of life change is hard to enjoy. But my bias for the simple has been born out over the years and in all kinds of angling scenarios.

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