On the subject of new coarse fishing equipment, I have been considering the issues of access to loughs and how to tackle weed infested margins.
Weeds, reeds and other vegetation are a constant problem for me when searching out likely swims on my coarse fishing trips. I think in general this is more of a problems for anglers here in Ireland than it usually is in England where commercial fisheries are well tended. Here, wild loughs are pretty much left to themselves and access can be very difficult, sometimes to the point where I have looked at many loughs and decided it was just too difficult to clear a swim for me to waste time on them. Even on loughs where I do find somewhere to fish there are often lots of reeds and other growth which hamper me and their removal would make life much easier. I suspect here in the west the lakes are left to their own devices because there are so few coarse anglers. I know some waters which are teeming with roach but never see a rod and line.
I had already bought a weed rake for clearing underwater foliage but heavy growth of bankside reeds reaching many yards out into the lake had previously defeated me. Attempts at cutting down the offending reeds with a pen knife understandably came to nought. I was seriously under-gunned. So I bought myself a wee gadget (we all love a good gadget, don’t we?) for trimming aquatic reeds. It regales in the wonderful name of ‘the grim reaper’ and on the face of it this could be a huge step forward for me. It is basically a slash hook but one fitted with a screw thread to attach to a bank stick or a landing net handle. It’s a vicious looking brute of a thing but clearing vegetation is going to require a no-nonsense approach.
It came with a protective cover which was a good thing as it is very sharp. I am sure that regular use will dull the edge but brand new it is uncommonly sharp. In operation it appears to be straightforward to use. The beauty of the cutting head is that it has a 3/8 BSF thread welded on to it so that it screws into my landing net handle, something I will be carrying with me anyway. Once screwed safely into place I simply hook the blade around the reeds and pull towards me, chopping them down and creating space for me to cast through. I can imagine that in use the hook will work loose easily so a length of electrical tape might need to be wound over the joint but I always have a roll of tape in my bag anyway to bind it on tightly.
It has yet to be used in anger but I am hopeful this tool will make my angling life that little bit easier and let me catch a few more fish. Who knows, it might help me to access parts of loughs which have never been fished before! There are plenty of this kind of water, small lakes and ponds over here which are quite literally never fished. There could be anything swimming around in them but it is just too much trouble to clear a swim so anglers pass them by. I’m already plotting on clearing a swim on a small, reed choked lake here in Mayo this summer which was rumoured to have been stocked with tench many long years ago by an elderly priest who loved his coarse fishing. I heard this story years ago but only lately I was talking to a fisheries officer and he told me they once netted the lake in question to check on stocks of trout. Low and behold, lots of tench came up in the nets! There were no big ones in the haul but even small tench are very tempting targets for me and to have some virtually on my doorstep is quite exciting.
So the ‘Grim Reaper’ now resides in my coarse fishing seatbox, ready for action. It joins an ever expanding collection of gear in there. I have added some additional floats (like I need any more), a larger landing net (optimistic in the extreme) and rig wallets so I can carry made up hook lengths with me. So far I have resisted the temptation of trying hair rigs, pellets or in-line feeders. Maybe they will feature further down the line but for now finding good places to fish, gaining access to the water and learning to use basic gear are my main aims.
One of Kingsmill Moore’s lesser known patterns, this is a capital fly for all game fish on a dark, scoury day. It is a fly I place a lot of faith in and it has repaid me with many fine fish over the years. Like the rest of the bumble series it is pretty easy to tie, the only slightly challenging part is winding both body hackles together but you soon get the hang of that with a little practice. I must confess that this is another classic pattern which I can’t help but play around with.
Start by placing a hook in the vice. Sizes range from 14 up to 6 heavy wet fly hook, depending on the fish you are after. It pays to have a few of these tied in different sizes. If limited to just one size I guess a ten would be the most popular here in Ireland. Start the black tying silk near the bend of the hook and run it up the shank, leaving a few millimeters space just behind the eye. Now catch in a long fibred black hen hackle. Next, a black and a royal blue cock hackles are tied in together. Take a few turns to lock everything in place then tie in the tail materials. This is made from two pieces of floss, black on top and blue underneath. I like to use globrite blue but you may want to use a different shade. Run the tying silk down the shank catching in a length of fine oval silver tinsel as you do.
At the bend, bud the tying silk with black fur. I use seal but you may have your own favourite. Form the body by winding the dubbed silk back up to where the hackles are tied in, taking a turn around them to make them sit up. Now grab both cock hackle tips with pliers and wind them in open turns down to the bend where you tie them in securely with the silver tinsel. About 5 turns of tinsel will bring you back to the end of the body where the oval tinsel is tied in using your tying silk and the waste hackle tips and tinsel can be removed.
Wind the black hen hackle now, giving it many turns. Tie in and remove the waste before forming a neat head and whip finishing before applying the varnish. Check the length of the tail and trim it as necessary.
Now while this is a great pattern I like to change the body colour sometimes and use dark blue fur instead of black. The piece of black floss on top of the tail is a bit unnecessary I think so I often don’t bother with it. I have even been known to add a strand or two of flash to the tail.
I have caught fish on the Bruiser fished in every position on the cast. Sea trout in particular seem to love it but brownies fall for its charms too. Despite being written about in the book this is a pattern which I rarely see on other anglers lines which is a pity because it is so effective. The colour of royal blue is important so look out for a deep blue shade.
I sometimes add a few legs made out of knotted pheasant tail fibres dyed black. The jury is out on whether the fish appreciate the extra effort that entails!
I have been quiet on here for a wee while as I was preparing for and then travelling to Scotland last week. It was wonderful to be able to see my family again after so long and we had a great catch up of what has been happening in both countries. Sadly, we had deaths on both sides of the sea and the sense of loss is still very real but we are all looking forward to happier times.
While at my mother’s house she produced a small photo of me from many years ago. It had been roughly trimmed to fit a tiny oval shaped frame but it was a picture of me holding my biggest ever salmon, a brute of 24 pounds. The head of the fish had been unceremoniously cut off so the photo would fit the frame which was a great pity.
Those of you who follow this blog will understandably be dubious that chap in this photo is me, but yes, I used to have hair. I would much rather have had a pic of the whole fish than of my ugly mug! It was September 1996 this was taken and little did I think then that only a little over a year later I would leave Scotland for good and relocate to the west of Ireland.
I can vividly recall the battle with this leviathan. I hooked him on a 11cm Rapala in a pool on the lower Don in Aberdeen. A powerful upstream run left me in no doubt this was a big fish and the following 20 minutes were spent countering his head-shaking and runs. At no time did he show, staying deep all the time instead. One last run took him 30 yards below me and I could not follow due to trees on my bank. With no other option I piled on the pressure, sure the hooks would give way as I doubled the rod into him. Slowly, very slowly, I gained some line and I prepared the net. Inches were retrieved and still the fish did not show. I could have used some help but there was nobody else fishing that morning. Level with me now, I peered into the coloured water to catch my first glimpse of him but he kept me waiting right to the end. I sank the net into the water, tightened down the drag and heaved with all my might to pull the fish towards me. At last it showed just under the surface and I slackened off the drag again. I had thought I was battling a fish in the teens of pounds but it was clear I was into a much more impressive specimen. He made a short, stabbing run but it was clear that I had him beaten and this time I led him into the net without any fuss.
These days, that fish would have been photographed and swiftly returned, but back then there was no thought of C&R. Dispatched, I lost all interest in carrying on so I headed for the car park with my prize. I was living in Fife back then but stayed in a flat in Aberdeen while at work in the mill there. Before returning to the flat I popped in to my parents to show them the fish. That is when the above photograph was taken. The fish was cut up and distributed to friends and neighbours.
All too soon the trip to Scotland was over and it was time to head back across the Irish Sea. The old VW burst a cooling pipe on the way home, necessitating a stop every 30 miles to top the old girl up with some H2O but I made it home none the worse for wear. Who knows when I will get back over there, but at least I saw my family for the first time in a year-and-a-half.
Fermanagh is synonymous with coarse fishing, period. The Erne system and a wealth of other lakes set like jewels on a cloth of green are a coarse fisher’s paradise. Anglers come from all over to fish the pole or swimfeeder, heaving out impressive bags of roach and bream. Competitions around Enniskillen often feature weights in excess of 100 pounds. Fantastic piking is to be had in the county too. Obviously when tackling Fermanagh I would be coarse fishing, right? Au contraire! I had another plan in mind altogether.
Fermanagh, one of the northern counties, is landlocked. It shares a lengthy border with the Republic as well as co. Tyrone. Right at the extreme western edge of the county there lies a small lough called Keenaghan, so far to the west in fact that a small part of the lough is actually in Donegal. In this lough live a healthy population of brown trout and it was these little beauties I wanted to catch. In choosing Keenaghan I was making a strategic decision. You could make a very valid argument that Lough Erne is a more productive fishery and certainly holds larger trout. My issue with Lough Erne is I have absolutely no knowledge of the system and simply locating fish could be a nightmare for me. The same really applies to the coarse fishing. There are well known stretches all over the county but having never fished there trying to track down a shoal of bream or entice some roach from broad, deep waters felt like too big a challenge for me. I wanted somewhere more ’intimate’, somewhere that I could stand a reasonable chance of locating a few feeding fish. Plus I am so much more comfortable with a fly rod in my hand, despite my slowly improving coarse fishing skills. I felt confident on small loughs full of trout, it seems like half the battle has already been fought.
This lough is shaped like a letter ‘Y’ lying on its side. It is small by Irish standards but is still best fished from a boat. Rules allow only electric engines and since I don’t have one I decided to fish from the bank. The idea of trailering my boat all the way there then rowing for the day then manhandling the boat back on to the trailer on my own did not appeal, so I would tough it out from the periphery instead. I had no real idea of how good access was around the lough but I read that there a few stone fishing stands placed where necessary. I liked the sound of these! So waders would be required in case I needed to get past reeds or to reach deeper water. The other day my four year old neoprene chest waders gave up the ghost in spectacular fashion when they ripped at the seams while I was in deep. A new, cheap pair were acquired and these would do fine for this trip. Given my near total absence of a sense of balance these days my trusty wading staff was definitely going to be required.
A contact on social media told me he fished this lough and recommended it to me. He also said it got good hatches including some mayfly. I looked up the NIdirect website to get an idea of the stocking policy and they apparently put 5,000 brown trout into Keenaghan during 2020, the first 1,000 going in in January. More went in during March, May and June. Stocking was suspended during April due to Covid-19 restrictions. I was hoping they followed broadly the same pattern this season and when I looked it up on the NIdirect website I saw 3000 trout had gone in this year so far. Surely there would be a few of them still in there?
Dropping Helen off at work first, I hit the road amid rush hour traffic. Usually I plan trips to avoid the worst of the cars and trucks on our roads but today I had to put up with an excess of my fellow road users. I had grown used to the feelings of trepidation on these ’32’ trips but this time I was really looking forward to fishing a new lough. Many anglers here in Ireland despise stocked fisheries but I see them as an integral part of the angling scene. They make a pleasant change from the big loughs, a chance to try out new ideas and methods.
I had brought along my 5 weight Orvis with a floating line, hoping any action would be in the upper layers of the water. Recent warm weather should have encouraged the trout to look up for hatching insects at this time of the year. In case I was completely wrong a back up of the 7 weight with a range of reels holding various sinking lines nestled in the back of the car. As I would be wading and moving around I filled a couple of fly boxes with some likely patterns and stuffed them in a waistcoat. This lot, and more, were stowed in the back of the car as I motored along, the glorious countryside slipping by, a dull and windy day but warm. Ireland can be cold and grey in winter, but here in June it sparkles with new life.
This trip involved a direct route for me. Up the N17 to Sligo then along the N15 to that newish bypass at Ballyshannon (birthplace of one of my musical heroes, Rory Gallagher) before peeling off on to the tail end of the N3 to Beleek where I crossed into the UK. A mile beyond the town a left turn brought me down a narrow, tree lined track to a car park at the water’s edge. In total, it is about 135km from my home in Mayo. Given the length of some of my fishing journeys this felt like my back yard. One other reason for selecting Fermanagh this time was I am going to be heading over to Scotland next week and didn’t fancy another long drive. There is a car park right beside the edge of the water where I pulled up and shut off the engine. Stretching as I extricated myself from the front seat, I began to I tackle up and appraised my surroundings. the lough looked to a bit smaller than I had imagined but it looked ‘fishy’ enough.
The wind would be blowing in my face from the car park bank so I set up the 7 weight with a floating line and three flies. A car pulled up, soon followed by another. The drivers obviously knew each other but beyond a friendly ‘how are ye?’ in my direction it was hard to see why they were there. No fishing tackle appeared to be present. I toddled off to the first of the stone jetties and started to cast into the wind. Soon a white truck came bumping along the narrow track to the car park. What was a lorry like this doing here? A fish plucked at my flies but didn’t take properly. Damn! I turned to get a better look at the white truck and it was then that it dawned on me – it was a fisheries truck and it was here to stock the lough!
I fished on as the two lads in the cars greeted the truck driver and they planned the stocking. With regimental order the truck was positioned, a pipe fitted to the tanks and suddenly hundreds of trout were being sucked into the lough not 30 yards from me. Some banter from the lads then the truck was off again but by now the water in front of me was heaving with the new arrivals. My line tightened and I struck into a trout but it came off almost immediately. Before I had time to retrieve the slack and re-cast another fish had grabbed the tail fly and was safely landed. Quickly released, I cast out and this time two trout were hooked! Both fell off but a few chucks later I had another brownie. And so it went on, cast, fish, release, cast, fish, release, etc. Double hook ups were common, trebles happened three or four times. Casting to fish which showed almost always resulted in a hook up but fishing blind pulled them too. I photographed some but my mobile was getting all slimy so I stopped after a dozen or so.
Fish were all around me so I kept casting and catching. I thought about stopping when I had landed 20, but that came and went and I was still catching. The fish were typical stockies, about 14 ounces in weight and generally in good condition apart from some chewed tail fins and stunted pectorals. I swapped flies just to see if that would make any difference but to be honest I could have thrown in bare hooks and probably caught just as many! A black goldhead was probably the most effect fly but a peach muddler caught a few as well.
After an hour and a half of this madness I called it a day. I had landed 36 trout, lost twice that number and must have risen close to 100 or so. All fish were safely returned to fight another day. I plodded back to the car to think about what had just happened. The trout were still taking freely but I had had enough for one day.
Never before in my long angling life has this happened to me and I doubt it will ever happen again. Was it fun? Yes, for a while it was exciting but that soon wore off. There was no skill attached to catching the fish, no metal gymnastics we anglers normally associate with our fishing. It was too easy. Sure, like you I have spent so many days flogging the water for no return and would have given my first born child for an hour of non-stop action. When it actually happened the joy was short-lived and the mechanical actions of heaving in fish after fish soon pall. I am glad I stopped when I did, to keep on hauling out trout after trout would have been a pointless exercise. As it was, I had three dozen good trout in 90 minutes, a feat I will surely never repeat. It made for a memorable day right enough! Once in a lifetime you might say.
For the sake of the ’32’ project I can categorically cross Fermanagh off the list. The day turned out to be very different to what I had expected and I guess I did not really learn much about Lough Keneghan. It is a nice place with good facilities, including a disabled access platform. I’d like to fish it again on a more ‘normal’ day.
The drive home was uneventful and I was glad I had returned all the fish, the thought of gutting and filleting really did not appeal to me this evening! I got some more work done in the garden on my return and the tackle in the back of the car can wait there until the morning. I will never have another day like today and it was an incredible experience which I know many of you will be envious of. I was extremely lucky to be in the right place at the right time for once. It will keep me going through the many blanks which no doubt await me.
There is usually a spool of dapping floss lurking somewhere in my bag. I rarely dap but just in case I feel the need or someone else in the boat requires some, a reel of the light brown floss is on hand. As I was tidying up my gear today I unearthed the spool and took a good look at it. It occurred to me the floss might be a suitable material for a dry mayfly so I snipped a piece off and started tying.
Using a Kamasan B170 size 10 hook, I started the 8/0 chartreuse silk near the bend then ran it up to about 4mm from the eye. Here I secured the floss with figure-of-eight turns, creating two wings which I then trimmed to roughly the same length as the hook shank. Now I tied in a chocolate coloured genetic cock hackle. Next, I tied in a bunch of natural brown squirrel tail hair, cutting off the waste and binding it in as I ran the tying silk to the bend of the hook. Here I tied in a length of thick brown silk which would be used as a rib before dubbing the silk with natural seals fur. The body was formed by winding the dubbed silk up to near where the wing were tied in and I ribbed the body with the brown silk, then removed the waste. The hackle was given multiple turns both behind and in front of the wings before tying it off, removing the waste end and forming a neat head with the tying silk. Whip finish and varnish was all that was needed to complete the fly.
The mayfly is nearly over for this year now but I will save this new pattern for next spring. Over the years I have given away almost all of my dry mayflies. A few Wulff’s and my favourite CDC Emergers are just about all that I have left so this coming winter I will make the effort to tie a box full of dries.
‘Oh my mama told me there’ll be days like this’ (Van Morrison)
Not the most noted of Irish counties for angling but I still found a venue to try. This would be another coarse fishing trip for me and one that would be slightly different to my usual canal shenanigans.
Armagh is one of the northern counties, sandwiched in between Tyrone, Down and Antrim as well as Monaghan and Louth in the Republic. The vast expanse of Lough Neagh forms the northern boundary. I have only ever zoomed across this county on the motorway, often in the dark, so know little or nothing about it. When I worked in Belfast this was a weekly occurrence and trips over to Scotland to visit family and friends took me along the same route. Armagh was just another few miles of green lands beyond the tarmac to me. I did start to read up on Armagh prior to this trip but gave up after a few pages, it was just a litany of murder, religious war and plantation. I found it all too depressing when I was supposed to be planning a fishing trip so I abandoned the blood-soaked pages and instead read up on the finer points of stillwater float fishing, an altogether more relaxing pastime.
I had opted to try the lake at Loughgall. Set in a country park, it looked to be a nice spot surrounded by trees and with good access via a pathway all the way around it. Stocked with roach and carp, there were some tench, pike and perch also present according to the blurb on the ‘net. There seemed to be an abundance of stands to fish from too and it all sounded like the ingredients for a relaxing day were there. The only cloud on the horizon was a report that the fishing was now terrible after a zebra mussel infestation had caused the water to clear. This kind of mixed messages are a constant problem for me when planning trips and it adds to the uncertainty and worry. Fishing is never an exact science and blanks are part and parcel of the game but when you are travelling long distances to fish you want to give yourself the best of chances. The saving grace for me was the presence of perch, these little warriors are usually obliging and I was banking on tempting at least one of them. I had no intention of bothering the carp. In the north you are only allowed to use one rod (unless you buy another rod licence and permit) so there was no way I would be hunkering down with the heavy gear and boilies or any of that malarkey. No, I planned on keeping it simple and trying for the smaller stuff either on the float or maybe with a leger.
I figured I needed a ‘plan B’ so I looked at the river Bann which flows through the county. The upper Bann around Portadown has a good reputation for bream and roach so I decided it would be my back up water in the event of a blank at Loughgall. Some stretches of the river have been developed for angling and other pursuits so I looked it up on the internet and there were some glowing reports of good bags of bream and roach. As far as ‘plan B’s’ go this one was most definitely on shaky ground. I am useless at catching bream, have no experience of coarse fishing on rivers and the river looked to be devoid of any features to focus on. I was anticipating a difficult day………………….
Getting there seemed to be easy, just follow the usual road to the north via Sligo and Enniskillen. A fair chunk of my life has been spent travelling that road and I have seen it slowly improve over the years. The fine piece of duel carriageway between Dungannon and Ballygawley replaced a boring and badly worn road a few years ago and the twisting, winding, narrow stretch that links Enniskillen to Sligo is gradually being upgraded to remove the worst of the bends. Lord only knows how often I have chugged along this ribbon of tarmacadam, at least I was going fishing this time. Just add to the day I was bringing my outboard engine up to be services at Sands Marine on the shores of Lough Neagh. This involved a slight detour but it was worth doing while I was in the area.
One of the very few good things about growing old is the cheap angling permits in Northern Ireland. If you are a young pup aged 18 – 60 this costs you a whopping £77 for a season permit but oldies like me aged over 60 only pay £17.50 for the season. You need a rod licence on top of this but that only sets us ‘mature’ anglers back a fiver. I had bought mine on line and now I double checked that the printed copies were in my jacket pocket.
I timed my journey to coincide with the tackle shops in Enniskillen opening so I could procure some bait. Digging in the compost heap produced some worms to bring with me but I really wanted my preferred maggots. My deep and abiding love of maggots is founded on the fact they work. OK, it gets a bit self-fulfilling when I use maggots all the time but they are an astonishingly consistent bait. A new venue with some mixed reviews, limited time to fish and rustiness due to lack of any coarse angling for six months made it feel like I needed every possible aid on my side. The old familiar jumble of tackle was in the back of the car of course so I would be able to switch methods if I felt the need.
Gentle, melodic tones awoke me at 5am. I consider the invention of the ring tones on mobile phones to be one of life’s greatest dichotomies, an assault on the ears in most cases but the calming tones of my alarm make the transition from sleep to groggy wakefulness quite pleasant. Coffee, strong and dark, drunk as I make up some sandwiches for the day, one last check I have most things packed then I am off on the road once again. The open road, not much traffic for the first leg as far as Sligo, just the rhythm of the tyres on tar. Roadworks slowed me down a bit but I drew up outside the tackle shop in Enniskillen just as they were opening up. One pint of their finest red maggots were soon wriggling in my bait box and I hit the road again amid rush hour traffic. Just after 10 I dropped off the engine and doubled back through Portadown and on to Loughgall. The last part of the journey was through orchards which give the county its nick name.
My licence checked, I parked up and had to decide what to take with me to the waters edge. I had read the lake was very deep so I was planning on using a swim feeder and based my choice of rod around that. It felt odd not taking my light leger rod or the float rod this time. With a ‘clunk’ the car doors locked and I was off down the path to the lake, bathed in warm summer sunshine. Walking around the lake, I plumped for a stand which looked out on a small weedy bay. No. 78 would be my spot for a few hours.
Setting up a small maggot swimfeeder, I lobbed it out into the greenish water and settled down to see what would happen. I fed the swim often to try and attract some fish and also dropped a few maggots close in. I missed using two rods (you are only allowed to use one in Northern Ireland) and really felt handicapped without the options two rods gives me. The first hour passed pleasantly enough, the warm day making it thoroughly enjoyable just to be out in the fresh air, but there were no fishy responses to the feeder. I reeled in a switched to a sliding float but this was completely ignored too. Back to the feeder and this time I fished it at very short range, loose feeding heavily with maggots. Still nothing so I ate a sandwich and thought about what was going on. Three other anglers were in sight and I had not seen any of them bend a rod into a fish so I was not alone in the ignominy of blanking. A pair of swans swam nonchalantly past me with their 6 cygnets in tow. As I watched them I became aware of some small fish in the weeds on the bottom at my feet. It was impossible to tell what they were or indeed exactly how big they might be but I guessed they were silvers of some description. Here was a possible target for me.
The feeder set up was removed and I set up a small float with bulk shot on either side of it and no other shotting. My idea was to see if the small lads would take a maggot on the drop so I tied on a size 20 hook on two pound hook length and baited it with a single red maggot. Small handfuls of maggots were then trickled into the swim just under the tip of the rod. When dropped in (it was so close I didn’t need to cast), I could watch the wriggling red maggot slowly drop down through the water column, slowly spiraling down until it disappeared in the weeds. I kept this up for maybe 20 minutes until the float gave a tremble and when I struck out came a small perch. Success had come in the spiny shape of a 6 incher but they all count and I had landed a fish in county Armagh. A few minutes later an even smaller perch came to hand by the same method.
I shall refrain from regaling you dear readers with rest of the afternoons catch, whipping out small fish is difficult to relate as a page-turner! Suffice to say I ended up with 4 perch, 2 roach, one skimmer and one unidentified ‘something’ which looked like a tiny silver bream (but different to a skimmer). Eight tiddlers after driving all the way from Mayo but in truth I was pretty happy.
I knew when I started this odyssey that there would be days like this, days when the big fish were not biting or I was just not fishing properly. Or conditions were against me or Lady Luck was sitting drinking gin in a bar instead of watching over me. Days when I would struggle and need to find ways of catching something (anything) to save the blank. Today I had to resort to fishing for small stuff but at least I had figured out a way of tempting them and trickling the loose maggots into the swim worked a treat at holding the little lads at my feet.
By 4pm I had had enough and packed away the gear. The air felt heavy, as if thunder was not far off, as I loaded up the car and heading back to the motorway. Picking up the now serviced engine, I turned for home, the road now clogged with commuter traffic. By Dungannon the heavens opened and I crossed back into the Republic at Blacklion in a downpour. It was a long day but an enjoyable one. Armagh had always bothered me and I suspected if I was going to blank anywhere it would be here. Instead, I landed eight small fish, lost about the same number and missed dozens of bites in that busy final hour. If you had offered me that at the start of the day I would have gladly taken it!
If I am honest I should have really ticked Galway off right at the very beginning of the ’32’ project as I have caught numerous fish in this county over the years. Sea fishing out of Clifden, mackerel bashing off the rocks in Galway Bay, casting flies for brown trout on the Clare river – the list goes on and on. A fisher could spend his or her life in the county and still not fish all the available waters. Some of the angling greats fished in Galway and wrote extensively of their experiences so there is no shortage of literature to digest if you are researching the area. I used to come to Galway frequently when I lived in Scotland and loved the city (especially the nightlife), the surrounding countryside and the fishing. But for the sake of this project I wanted to catch a fish in the county this year so I made plans to try for some trout on mighty lough Corrib.
Anglers across the globe are familiar with the Corrib, it holds a special draw on fishermen’s imagination. Since the dawn of sport fishing the vast, wild waters of this lough have provided spectacular angling for those lucky enough to cast a line here. For many years I kept a boat on the upper part of the lough and got to know it reasonably well, catching (and losing) some terrific trout in the process. The days spent exploring the bays and islands, the offshore reefs and craggy shorelines were a joy and I learned a lot about my own abilities as well as the ways of the fish. Days of high expectation which came to naught were balanced by exciting sport amid glorious surroundings. Corrib is a special lough which captures your heart.
For those unfamiliar with Corrib let me give you a rough outline of the fishery. With a surface area of over 170 km2 it is the second largest freshwater lough on the island of Ireland (after lough Neagh). It lies to the north of Galway city and a small part of it is in county Mayo. Roughly divided into two parts, the northern basin tends to be deeper and rockier with the south basin shallow and open. The lough is narrow and full of reefs where the two basins join. Islands, large and small dot the lough and I have heard numbers for these island vary between 365 and over a thousand. I guess it all depends on your exact definition of when a reef becomes an island. While brown trout are the principle quarry species the lough is also home to pike, ferox, salmon, perch, bream and roach. Visiting anglers are well catered for by the local boatmen who can be hired from villages around the lough. This is no place for a beginner, you need to know exactly where you can motor and fish, keep a close watch on the weather, know how to handle a boat in all conditions and be prepared for every eventuality. Sadly, lives are lost too often when this lough is not shown the respect it deserves.
In terms of the fishing, the Corrib caters for every taste. Some people troll for large trout and salmon while many others prefer to dap. I much prefer to fly fish despite the knowledge a dapper will out-fish me most days both in terms of the number and the size of trout caught. It is late May and that of course means one thing and one thing only – the mayfly. My plan was simple, fish either wets or dries depending on the hatch, move until I found the fish and to enjoy my days out on the lough. I say ‘days’ as I was fortunate to be sharing a boat with that fine angler, Dr. John Connolly of Pontoon for four days on the Corrib.
Sometimes I fish with a 6 or even a 5 weight outfit but here in the Corrib you can run into some seriously large fish so I brought along my 7 weight outfit. Wet fly usually catches average sized trout with the dappers picking up bigger fish but even still trout in the 5 to 10 pound range are caught by fly fishers each season so it pays to fish on the heavy side.
No wind. I looked out first thing in the morning, as all anglers do. The trees stood straight and tall, no signs of the slightest movement in their branches. I was not overly concerned though as the wind usually picks up as the day goes on. I had slung a pile of gear into the back of the car the night before so it only remained for me to sort out food and drink for the day. I would be ghillieing John for these 4 days but I hoped to pick up a rod for a while too, depending on how the days panned out. Due to Covid restrictions we met up on the edge of town but traveled separately, two cars in tandem as we drove down the long road to Doorus. Ballinrobe, Clonbur and Cornamona came and went then down the shrub fringed narrow road to the small private harbour where our hire boat was moored.
Doorus is a peninsular which juts out into the upper part of the western side of lough Corrib. It has long been associated with excellent trout fishing, in particular when the mayfly are hatching. Islands, reefs and shallows dot the waters around the peninsular and the whole area is a fishers heaven. Friends had been fishing there the day before and while they had lean pickings they saw the dappers pick up many good trout up to in excess of 5 pounds in weight.
The time honored rituals of loading the mountain of gear into the boat ensued. We met up with Jim and Brian who were also fishing today and we made loose arrangements to meet up at lunchtime. An aggressive swan got a bit too close for comfort as we pulled away from the shore and headed out for our first drift. The westerly wind was fitful and only 30 minutes in to the day that small breeze died completely, leaving us becalmed. Motoring around we hunted for a ripple, however small. This went on for a while until a faint zephyr from the north gradually built up sufficiently to ruffle the surface slightly. It wasn’t much but it was just enough to allow us to fish. John fished a team of wets while I opted for a pair of dries. We were equally unsuccessful for the next two hours. Mayfly were hatching in reasonable numbers but very few trout had shown. Time for a spot of lunch!
Pulling into an island we decamped and started to walk over to a table in the trees where two fellow anglers were sitting. A string of profanities greeted me and I recognised Liam and Paul, lads from town. I had not clapped eyes on Liam for years so we had some catching up to do. Firing up my kettle, I was horrified to find I had left my mug at home and had to beg a loan of one from the lads. We spent a while recalling our various fishing experiences and there was the familiar raid on my fly box by the boys. Parting on the shore, we all headed off in different directions. It had been great to see the lads, especially on an island in the middle of the Corrib.
I set us up on one lovely drift after another, ghosting over reefs and pale submerged stones or hugging the edges of tree covered islands. Close to a rocky island shore John lifted into a fish but it turned out to be a lightly hooked 6 incher. Back it went and we resumed the drift. Just enough of a wind was blowing to create a small wave and a trickle of mayflies were still hatching so we had some hope. Fishing with one hand on the oar and flicking out casts with my other hand we tried to cover as much water as possible. Fixed intently on the pair of dries I got a perfect view as a trout head-and-tailed as it inhaled my Yellow Wulff. A delayed strike found purchase and I was in at last. After a good fight which featured a blistering run, I netted a fine trout of about a pound-and-three-quarters. The lads wanted some fish to cook so this one went into the bag. Relief was writ large on my face, the day had been slipping away without me moving a fish until then.
Dried and treated, once more the flies were sent back out again but that was all the sport we had for the day. Given the time of year this was a poor return but conditions had been tough and all the other boats we met had similar catches of just one or two trout.
So I had achieved my goal and landed a fish in Co. Galway. Under the circumstances I suppose I should be happy I caught one but I honestly feel I should have done better. Mayfly were hatching a few trout were moving to them. Ah well, there is always the next time.
I blanked on my last visit to Carrowmore so I was hoping for better luck this time around. The lake has been a bit hit and miss so far this year with some anglers catching regularly while others are struggling to meet fish. A storm is forecast for the end of this week which will churn the bottom of the lake so this trip was aimed to put in a few hours before the lake became unfishable. I had been thinking about where to fish as part of my ’32’ project and plumped for Carrowmore, so this was going to be a big day for me.
The usual preparations were made and I arranged to meet Ben in Bangor as we still have to travel separately. I drove up under bright sunshine and with hardly any wind to shake the roadside trees and bushes. In the end, we met up in the car park at the harbour and nattered about the fishing as we tackled up. A few other cars were there too which is normally a good sign. I tied on a 3 fly leader with a Goats Toe Muddler, Claret Bumble and a Golden Olive hairwing creation of mine to start with. Clouds began to roll in from the west and the there was enough of a wind to give a ripple as we motored up the lake in improving conditions.
By judicious use of the oar Ben guided us along the mouth of the Glencullin river over prime lies but there were no takers apart from a few small brownies. We repeated the exercise then moved over to the Barney Shore as the wind was favorable for that drift. I had a small sea trout and a brownie and Ben added another pair of small trout but the salmon were still eluding us. We could see other boats around us and none of them were meeting fish either. With the fishing quiet we adjourned for lunch, wolfed down as we sat on the shore with sky larks serenading us from on high. Why do sandwiches and tea taste so good when eaten on the edge of the water? I took the opportunity to change all the flies on the cast, going for a Green Peter on the bob, a Wilkinson in the middle and a Beltra Badger on the tail. I figured the bright flies suited the day that was in it.
The clouds had burned off by now and we were treated to blue skies and a fierce sun which reflected off the surface of the lough making it hard to watch the flies. Another drift over the Glencullin lies was fruitless so we fished the shallow further out which is marked with an orange buoy. Not a stir. This is typical of salmon fishing, long hours flogging the water with no signs of fish. It takes a strong will and a hefty dose of self belief to keep going some days.
Ben suggested the Barney Shore again and I did not object. We set up on the drift close to the shore. Stonechats were singing that familiar weird song of theirs and I was watching some Sand Martins swooping over the fields out of the corner of my eye. Then it happened………………………
Ten yards from the boat the water broke and the tail of a fish lashed the surface as it turned down. Simultaneously, the line tightened and I lifted into solid resistance. ‘Salmon’ said Ben but I was not so sure. ‘Feels small, maybe a sea trout’ I countered, reeling in the slack and watching what the fish was doing. She swam towards the boat at first, staying deep and shaking her head. I stamped on the wooden boards, our usual tactic to keep the fish away from the boat and potentially swimming right under it. She moved off to my left and very obligingly kept going round to the back of the boat. This is where you want a fish to be so that you have room to play it out. By now Ben had reeled in his line, stowed his rod and had grabbed an oar which he used to move the boat away from the shore. These actions as so well rehearsed that neither of us need to ask the other, we simply get on with the jobs while the lucky angler is concentrating on playing the fish.
The ratchet sang as the salmon went off on a short run but it did not go far, instead turning and coming back towards the boat under heavy pressure from me. I don’t like to see fish being allowed to run too far and possibly drowning the line so I play salmon quite hard. My rod was hooped over and the line disappeared into the water almost vertically as the fish swam near the bottom. Another short run ended with the fish rolling just under the surface and we both got our first good look at it. ‘Fresh fish’ said Ben, not wasting words unnecessarily. ‘Bigger than I thought’ I chipped in. Yet another short run, this time to my right then back down to the bottom she went again. My wrist was aching by now!
I heard the net being extended as I applied more pressure to bring the fish up to the top. There she thrashed, always a nerve-wreaking moment but the hook held. I could see she had taken the bob fly. Circling now, the fish was beginning to tire but she still managed to dive once more then head of to my right again. I checked Ben was ready and led the fish towards the net. She shied away at first but I maneuvered her back and with her head up she slid into the waiting meshes. The relief was palpable and grinning like a pair of lunatics, we shook hands and quickly dispatched the salmon. The whole battle had probably lasted less than ten minutes. Ten minutes of doubts, fears and anxiety. I have fished most of my life and landed hundreds of salmon but the thrill of the fight never leaves you.
I put the fish into a bass to keep it fresh after fitting both tags through the gills. Now we had to get the boat back in order to resume fishing. The net was stowed, my tackle checked after the rigors of the fight and the oar put back into the right position. We set up to fish the balance of the drift and started casting again as we discussed every minute detail of the battle. In salmon fishing, it is often the case a second fish can be lured soon after the first one so it pays to fish hard when one is in the boat. Today though the lough was not going to play that game and we fished out the long drift without any further action.
We did the same drift again, then back out to the buoy and over Glencullin once more too. Not a fish stirred so we decided to stop for another cuppa. We both felt the conditions, while very bright, meant there was the chance of another fish so we next headed off for Paradise Bay. A couple of drifts failed to produce anything and so I decided to call it a day. I was tired and my wrist was aching. Under an azure sky dotted with cotton wool clouds we drove back to the harbour, both deep in thought. Today it had been my turn but is could just as easily been Bens. Why that fish had taken my fly and not his we will never know but that is part of the attraction of salmon fishing.
Gerry, one of the local Fisheries Officers, was at the harbour when we pulled in and he checked my catch to see everything was in order. We chatted for a while about fish and fishing and Ben decided he would go back out to fish on a while longer. I got out of the fishing clothes and packed everything into the car. The wind was dropping now and the sun was starting to sink in the west. The long road home seems much shorter when there is a salmon in the back of the car!
So there you have it, Mayo has been crossed off my list of the 32 counties. I had fished hard all day, kept persevering in marginal conditions and never gave up hope. This does not always work but I believe persistence is critical to being a successful salmon angler. I will sleep soundly tonight, trust me!
After such an enjoyable day on Mask last Saturday I decided to head out on lough Conn for a few hours today. I rose early and checked the tall trees for movement – nothing, it was dead calm. Looking at the sky though it seemed to promise a little wind so I got myself ready and headed of about 10am. Neil Young on the CD player, giving it socks with ‘Ragged Glory’ as I cruised along the R310 once again. I sang along with Neil and the lads, distortion turned up to maximum, as the greening land slipped by.
The boat was in fine fettle apart from the 4 inches of water inside her, so I bailed that lot out and loaded up. Pike Bay was calm but there seemed to be a small ripple out in the main body of the lake. 3 tugs on the cord then the engine burst into life and out into the lough I headed. Rounding the point I found a small wave was coming out of Castlehill bay so I drove in there. All of my biggest trout from Conn have come from this bay but the past few seasons it has fished very poorly for me. Mayflies were hatching, not in huge numbers but there was a steady trickle of them. No signs of any fish rising though. I set up on a drift and kept an eye on the other three boats who were already fishing. The first drift was blank, as was the next one. Next drift took me nearer the shore and the line stopped abruptly and a weight on the end moved off a little. I knew immediately what this was – a perch. Sure enough, in came a lovely stripy lad with blood red fins. We are a funny crowd us fishermen, if I had landed this perch on worm under a float on a canal I would have been over the moon. Here, fishing for trout it was a disappointment. I unhooked him and slid him back into the water after a quick photo.
Fly life was good with lots of buzzers and some small sedges on the water but not a single trout did I see. None of the other boats appeared to be catching either so I decided to make a move. Motoring down the lake I stopped a Massbrook but here there was no wind, making fishing extremely difficult. I waited and watched for a while, hoping to see some mayflies hatching and the trout rising to eat the duns. Nothing stirred. I ate a sandwich, washing down with some luke warm tea. What to do next?
I was tempted to return to Castlehill again, simply because I knew there was a hatch of mayfly there. In the end though I opted to cross the lough and fish Bracawansha. The wind picked up a little on my way over, just enough for a wave of a foot or so. In fact, I had really good conditions now with a steady wind, thick cloud cover and when I arrived at my next spot I was greeted by a few mayfly on the surface. Three wet flies were chucked out and pulled back in again as I dodged among the boulders, some marked with poles but others unmarked and dangerous.
Mayflies were now hatching in good numbers and I expected to see fish rising but they kept their heads down in the main. A heavy tug indicated a fish had at last shown some interest and I duly boated a fine fish of about a pound and a quarter. He took the Golden Olive Bumble on the top and I admired his gorgeous colouring before slipping him over the side. The wind would not settle at all, moving from north to west them back again in the space of a few minutes. Setting up on a drift was a challenge even though the wind was not strong. Working the oar constantly was the only way to keep on anything approaching a steady drift.
Another trout splashed as he took the fly and after a lively tussle he came to hand, maybe a little smaller than the first lad. This time it was the wee Silver Drake that worked and this one too was released. Drifts were typically two or three hundred yards long and each time one ended close to the shore I backed up a little and came over new ground. The water here is shallow and wonderful for trout fishing so each cast could be the one to produce another take. I missed two rises, feeling no resistance to either of them.
My casting seems to be a shoddy and I suffered frequent tangles. As I ended a drift I could see all three flies were in a bunch so I motored far out into the deep water where I would have time to make up a new leader. By the time the job was completed I was near enough the shallows to start fishing. Lengthening the line on the first cast a trout grabbed the tail fly as it hit the surface. This one was a bit smaller but it put up a good scrap. He too was let back into the water, none the worse for his encounter. Showers had come and gone throughout the afternoon and I was a bit wet by 3.30pm so I decided to call it a day. Across the wide expanse of the lough I motored, the Honda buzzing happily along as I mulled over the past few hours.
The point of today had been to reconnoiter the lough and see if I could locate mayflies hatching and trout feeding so in both respects it had been a successful trip. Perhaps I should have stayed in Castlehill and the trout may have come on the feed but I strongly suspect that did not happen. Massbrook had no signs of fly life but then the wind was wrong for that shore and it may fish well in a more favorable breeze. A good hatch at Bracawansha had definitely got the fish feeding and I should have probably done better than the three fish I boated. The bottom line is that the mayfly season has started and the next couple of weeks, if the weather is good, should see a steady improvement in catches on lough Conn. I shall return!
This trip had been planned for a while but had to be put off for various reasons. Mike works at the plant in Westport where I had been on contract and we talked often about our fishing exploits, eventually agreeing we would fish Lough mask one day. After numerous false starts we finally made it out on the water yesterday.
Mike keeps his boat on the western shore of the lough and we arrived there just around 10.30 this morning. The weather forecast was for light winds and we were concerned we would be greeted with a flat calm, but no, there was a nice wave and a wind from the south-west as we tackled up. Both setting up on wet flys, we headed off for the Schintellas where Mike had been very successfull a couple of weeks ago. Since then though the water level has dropped and it seemd like the fish which had been there in numbers had moved out now.
On the first drift Mike saw a fish rise and casting to it, he set the hook in a small trout but it quickly fell off. A promising start, but 3 or 4 drifts went by we had not seen any other fish let alone hook anything. Low cloud and rain squalls did little to encourage us so we pulled into an island for a reviving cuppa and to figure out a new strategy. The lack of fly life was my biggest concern and we felt we should move to try and locate a hatch. Mike had heard reports from other fishers that the mayfly were up but the hatches were very localised. With no signs of life here we would need to go looking elsewhere. Back in the boat we headed east and then south to the well known waters off the mouth of the canal.
For those unfamiliar with Lough Mask let me explain a little about this area of the lake. During the mid-nineteenth century a plan was hatched to link Lough Mask to the sea via a canal to join it to Lough Corrib. The two loughs are separated by a thin strip of land so this did not look to be too big a problem. Unfortunately the engineers had not bargained for the porous nature of the limestone rocks around here and while they dug out a channel in the normal fashion they simply could not keep the water in it. Fractures and chasms in the rock allowed the water in the canal to drain out and no matter how often the engineers tried to staunch the flow their efforts were all unsuccessful. The canal was abandoned and left alone except for the fish which used it for a breeding area. Where the disused canal joins lough Mask is known as the mouth of the canal and it is a very popular fishing area with a reputation for holding big trout.
We set up on a drift and I soon turned a fish which stayed on only for a few seconds before shaking the fly free. The wind dropped and we set up on the next drift, a tad closer to the canal mouth. Mike had by now switched on to dry fly as the conditions were ideal. There were even a few mayfly hatching out so we both felt much more confident. I managed to put a knot in my leader and as I was sorting it out I looked at my middle dropper and thought it was not right for today (it was a red-tailed Invicta). My Golden Olive Bumble variant might be a better option, so I ferreted about in the fly box and found one on a size 10 hook.
I had only made about 20 casts when the line tightened and I was into a fish which fought really well before sliding into the net. A fine fish of a pound and three-quarters with wonderful markings was my prize. It had taken the newly added bumble. It was great to land a fish but even more satisfying that it took the newly tied on fly.
We drifted on, both fishing hard now on the back of the success. Once again my line tightened and a good trout took to the air, ran to the right, turned around and shot off to my left, leaped again and finally threw the hook. Who could grudge such a doughty fighter his freedom? The brief encounter was huge fun and I felt no sense of loss at the fishes escape. On down the shore we drifted and yet another fish took me. The rod bent hard over as he powered off on a run but this one stayed deep, trying to snag the line on the jumble of limestone boulders on the bottom. Safely in the boat he turned the scales at two pounds and was the most glorious bronze hue. In the space of 20 minutes I had hooked three good trout and boated two of them. Lough Mask was being very kind today.
Pulling in to the shore, Mike changed back to the wet fly and I gave him one of my bumbles to tie on. A quick cup of tea then we were back out again. Pretty soon Mike had a trout slash at the dropper but it failed to connect. Lifting off, he cast again and this time was rewarded with a firm take to the tail fly, a black dabbler. Played out, he slid the fish into the meshes and we both admired the third trout of the day. We fished hard on various drifts in the bay but the fish had gone quiet so we moved out to try new water.
The rest of the day was fishless but drifted over some fantastic reefs and were expecting a take on every cast. The noticable difference between the mouth of the canal and the other areas we covered was the fly life. It was almost totally absent on the other drifts but we found a few mays, lots of caddis, some lake olives, alders and midges near the canal. Even though we are in the middle of May the mayfly hatch has barely started. The recent cold weather must have played a part in this and we need to hope for rising temperatures before the end of the month.
About 6pm we decided to call it a day after fishing around the islands on our way back to base. The wind had been very good to us all day, falling away sometimes but always picking up again to keep a small wave on the surface.
OK, so three trout landed for a day out on Lough Mask is hardly scintillating fishing but we both enjoyed the day. Just to be out on the lake after lockdown is a great feeling. A large number of boats were out today, many I am sure having traveled from other counties now the restrictions have been lifted. I suppose some boats did very well today while others blanked but in the grand scheme of things I think we can be happy with three good trout for our efforts. The mayfly are starting to hatch but numbers where we were fishing are still low. If the weather is good we should see an increase in activity over the next two weeks.
We pulled into the shore at the end of the day just as the wind dropped away, leaving the face of the lough serene and peaceful. Gear was unloaded and lugged back to the car, rods dismantled and waterproof garments removed. The boat secured, we drove off and headed home, talking about the day as we went. The car was full of our gear, engine, fuel tank, bags, rods, nets and the rest. We marveled at the sheer quantity of accouterments required to catch three small fish but that is our chosen sport and we love it. Days like yesterday when the weather is kind and we catch a few fish in glorious surroundings are the stuff of dreams. It was our first time sharing a boat but I hope we can do so again in the future. Mike is a skillful and persistent angler and it was a pleasure to share the day with him.
I did not fish last week as we had a death in the family. Sadly Helen’s mam, Patricia, passed away at the age of 81 years. She will be sadly missed. A larger than life character, she was a kind and caring woman who battled great difficulties all her life. Rest in peace Pat.
Tuesday, and I am going to try lough Conn with Ben. The weather seems to have forgotten this is the month of May and is doing its best impression of February. When we should be expecting blossoming trees swaying in balmy breezes, we are instead in the chilling embrace of an arctic airflow. Extra clothing is chucked in the car before setting off.
We meet at the edge of the water and decide to put his engine on my boat, given the day that is in it. My 6ph is grand on a normal day but the beefier 8hp Yamaha that Ben uses will be useful in today’s conditions. Tackled up, we head out into the teeth of a northerly wind, heading for a well known salmon lie in Castlehill Bay. By the time we reach the spot, only a few minutes from where my boat was berthed, we are both soaked. A three foot wave means we are covered in spray as we travel. Worse, there seems to be a leak in my old jacket and a rivulet of icy water is running down the back of my neck. Set up on the drift, we cast and retrieve as the rain lashes down and the wind roars. We must be mad to go fishing in this! Short roll casts snake out across the waves and numb fingers pull the line back before lifting the rod for the next throw. The salmon are conspicuous by their absence. The wind eased off for a while only to pick up again within a few minutes.
A few drifts later, and with no signs of life, we decide to try trolling for a while. Out comes the ironmongery and a pair of old Toby spoons are sent flickering behind us. A course for Massbrook is set and we hunker down. The following wind drives us forward, the boat slithering over creamy wave tops. The waves must be near four feet high as we turn into the shelter of Victoria Bay. The waters calm and the sun actually comes out so we decide this is an opportune moment for a break and we pull into the shore. Hot coffee, a bite to eat and the chance to dry off a little are all gladly accepted. Discussions on the next step lead us to sticking to the troll so after a quick change of bait we head out again. One circuit of the bay later we exit Victoria and swing into the wind once again. Hail stings face and hands. We grit our teeth and plough on.
‘It’s like the Cape of Good Hope’ shouts Ben over the maelstrom. The boat bucks and the engine needs a bit more throttle to push us into the weather. All the way back up the lake we troll but the fish are simply not interested. The extensive shallows along the western shore should be alive with feeding trout now but we see no evidence of that in this weather. Olives, who hatch out in any weather, are nowhere to be seen. In the end we call it a day and head back to tie up the boat. We are both chilled to the bone by now and the task of emptying the boat and stowing the contents in the cars is painfully slow.
So what did we learn from today? Reports from Conn have suggested the fishing has been very slow so far and today has done nothing to change that. We had hoped to ambush a springer in the good wave but they seem to be few and far between. I saw a handful of mayfly hatch out in the sheltered bays so there is hope of better fishing in the near future if the weather improves. Freezing northerly winds are always going to be a huge challenge so we are not too disappointed. Days like today are part and parcel of Irish lough fishing and you have to accept them along with the good ones. There is always the next trip to look forward to.
Wednesday was spent catching up on chores and doing a bit of fly tying. The gear was dried out and I tidied out the back of the car which resembled an explosion in a tackle shop. The weather on Wednesday stayed stubbornly cold and windy. Thursday is the same and so I decide to make some flies for people who have been asking for them. Forecasters are sure the winds will swing southerly over the coming weekend, bringing rain but higher temperatures. I’ll keep my powder dry until then………………
Yesterday I opted for a day chasing silvery salmon; I was off to North Mayo and the holy grail of lough salmon fly fishers – Carrowmore Lake. Carrowmore sits to the north of the village of Bangor in the old Earldom of Erris. Wild lands of hill and bog, this is a sparsely populated part of the country where scratching a living from rough pasture or the stormy Atlantic has been the lot of generations. The famine decimated the area and many more left to try and build a new life across the oceans. Here, on the very edge of Europe, there used to be few opportunities for the locals but that has at least partly changed as technology has allowed people to work from home.
The village of Bangor consists of little more than two streets. A few pubs, a couple of shops and some small businesses make up the buildings and the place has a sleepy quality about it. The angling plays a big part in the local community and many of the locals fish the river and lake. The Bangor Erris Angling Club has the rights to the lower section of the Owenmore river and Carrowmore lake (the upper river is in private hands). Permits are freely available and are a reasonable cost. Any visitors who want to come and fish in the area will find excellent B&B accommodation in and around Bangor itself so it is well worth considering if you are thinking about an angling holiday once we are all free to travel again.
What can I say about Carrowmore that has not already been said? Anglers have been waxing lyrical about this piece of water since sport fishing started here in Ireland hundreds of years ago. It is very much a ‘one off’, I know of no other lake which has such unique characteristics. Over the years it sounds like it has changed from being predominately a sea trout fishery to a spring salmon lake and that alone is very unusual. Beltra has followed that route to a degree I suppose but those two lakes are completely different in almost every other way. Beltra is deep and the fishing is confined largely to the narrow shallow margins while Carrowmore is universally shallow with some areas even being too shallow for boats to drive through.
Then there is the question of the bottom of the lake. We salmon fishers normally appreciate a high wind. It seems to stir up the salmon and gets them chasing the flies. That is not the case on Carrowmore where the bottom is composed of fine peat silt which has washed off the land. A high wind whips up the shallow water, causing the peat silt to ‘churn’ turning the lake a filthy brown colour. This is useless for fishing. I don’t know is it the fish are blinded in the oxtail soup consistency of the churned water or if they find the taste of the silt unpleasant or if the silt chokes their gills and makes breathing hard. Anyway, a churned lake is the nemesis of Carrowmore angler’s and many days are lost each season to the phenomenon. It is worth noting that Carrowmore is a spring fishery, April and May are the prime months and the salmon fishing tails off after that. Sea trout are numerous during the summer months but realistically the fishing is over by August.
For me, a day on Carrowmore was always one of rituals. We have followed the same procedures for many years now and to break any of our self-imposed rules would feel like sacrilege. The drive up to Bangor, the first glimpse of the Owenmore river at Bellacorrick, parking up on the main street and the breakfast before chatting with Seamus and picking up our permits. From there we head off to the lake, usually to find other fishers tackling up and loading boats.
There are some boats moored on the west side of the lake but there is a fine harbour on the south eastern shore with ample parking spaces, a hut and toilets and floating pontoons. More tales of fish landed and lost are told and the conditions for the day examined in microscopic detail. But that was all pre-covid and now we are social distancing and the pub is shut.
Anyway, the day had arrived for Vincent and myself to chance a day on Carrowmore. Careful scrutiny of the weather, past, present and future, had led us to think today would be a good and we had heard recent stories of fresh salmon in the lake to boot. The previous night’s sleep had been punctuated with dreams of bent rods and large silver fish leaping on the end of my line. Were they a precursor to success?
Waking early I fed the cats and made myself a strong coffee. The sky is cloudless and the air is still. Dressed and packed, a last minute check I had everything then into the car. The engine wheezes into life and I hit the road. Motoring north along the shores of Lough Beltra, noting water levels Dead low) and the wind (none, flat calm). Snake past the foot of Nephin then across the flat boglands of Keenagh with the impressive Nephin Beg range off to the left. Across the infant river Deel and on to Bellacorick, the site of the old peat fired power station. White painted houses, small green fields amid the bog, old stone walls crumbling back into the turf, hawks and buzzards quartering the dun-coloured ground in the search of small furry prey. The wildness of the vistas is breathtakingly beautiful. Ever north by west l until I pass the statue by the river and rumble into Bangor pretty much on time.
Vincent rolls into town a few minutes later and we meet Seamus. The serious matters of the day are broached. A key on a large fob, the necessary paperwork and the exchange of coin. ‘How are ye all up here?’, Not so bad, and ye down there in Castlebar?’ ‘Any fish being caught?’ ‘A few’. The Irish way of saying a lot yet nothing at the same time. ‘Toby Gibbons had another fish’ and a photo on his phone of a smiling Toby is passed around. ‘Two fish caught yesterday’, not much for a Saturday. ‘Boat five lads’.
Back into our respective cars and off on the final leg of the journey and that first glimpse of the lake. There is the dreaded flat calm now but a wind is forecast to pick up later today. It is likely to be a challenging day with so little wind but we will give it a try anyway.
Tacking up, I make up a new leader out of ten pound nylon straight through. I don’t feel the need for anything fancy for this type of fishing. Casts will be 15 to 20 yards with the wind behind me so rolling out the flies is not really a problem. A Clan Chief catches my eye so he has the honour of filling the tail position. A Green Peter is next in the middle then a Muddler Claret Bumble on the bob. That will do to start with.
We fill the boat with all the gear and tug on the cord until the Honda bursts into life, and then we are off. We now needed to negotiate the narrow harbour to exit into the lake. Even for experienced anglers this is tricky in anything of a wind in the wrong direction. Once out in the lake you still face dangers as there is an extensive shallow just outside the harbour where many a propeller has come to grief. There are some marker poles but in low water the shallows extend beyond those poles so take great care. I personally would not use a long shaft engine on Carrowmore but a lot of angler do but they are very careful where they motor. There are also shallows which are unmarked in the middle of the lake. You have been warned!
The bay on your right is called Bog Bay, a spot that has been good to me over the years. A hooked fish can easily stick you on the dead tree roots which litter the bottom here so try to keep the pressure on and his head up if possible. I recall hooking a small springer in this bay and he led me a merry dance including attaching my dropper fly on a sunken stump for a while. In the end, just as I thought he was tiring, he dived to the bottom then launched himself into the air not a yard from the gunnel of the boat. My fly lost its hold and the fish gained his well-earned freedom. We laughed like lunatics at his escape, who could grudge such a doughty fighter? On another day, a fish in the same bay rose to Ben’s fly but didn’t take it. Instead, he swam on a couple of yards and engulfed my fly (a Goat’s Toe as I recall) and was duly landed. A fine fish of over ten pounds weight. I like Bog Bay!
Next bay on the right side is Paradise Bay. I have found this to be a moody spot but many fishers swear by it and every season there are some fine fish caught in here. It is a large bay and most of the fish lie close to the shores.
I tend to fish a lot around the mouth of the Glenicullen River, as do a lot of other anglers. This is probably the hotspot on the lake for salmon (for sea trout the Barney Shore is possibly a better bet). There are extensive shallows here and the salmon can congregate in large numbers. Don’t expect to see many fish showing. Unlike loughs like Furnace, the fish in Carrowmore tend to keep their heads down and it is unusual to see a fish show other than to rise to a fly.
We bypass the other spots and head straight for Glencullin. The merest ripple begins to form providing a little encouragement for us. I set up on the first drift but judge the light breeze badly and have to double back and start over again. The drifts are slow with so little wind and I have to work the oar to keep us moving. I saw a couple of salmon jump in the distance and Vincent saw a very large fish show far out.
The day would be punctuated with bands of cloud coming in from the west and when that happened the wind would pick up giving us good conditions. It was during one of these spells that Vincent turned a fish. The rise looked good but as the fish turned down he seemed to turn and thrash the water. Vincent felt nothing and I suspect the fish turned away before actually taking the fly. We fished on.
After a calm period the wind picked up and I suggested a change of drift. As I rounded the corner I thought the wind had changed direction slightly and it should favour the gravel bank I know as the spit. It turned out I was wrong and the boat headed straight for the shore in a reasonable chop. I was pulling hard on the oar to give us some sea room when Vincent shouted. ‘Another fish’! I turned just in time to see a large boil not 5 yards from the gunnel and the rod pulled hard over.
Vincent is an experienced angler but new to this fly fishing craik so I kept up a stream of advice while working the oar to keep us out of danger of grounding. The fish showed a few times so we could see it was your average sized springer. It tended to stay close to the boat, only making one run which took ten yards or of line. Vincent played him like he had been doing this all his life and after about ten minutes the fish had tired sufficiently for the net. I dipped my venerable old gye below the surface and the salmon slid into the meshes in text book style. The fish was swiftly dispatched, hand were shaken and the details of the take and fight discussed in minute detail. Weighting the fish later and he tipped the scales and exactly 8 pounds. A small Beltra Badger was the killing pattern.
The wind dropped to a zephyr again and we fished hard but for no further return. A late lunch was called for so we pulled in to the shallow, sandy bay at the mouth of the river and hungrily ate our sandwiches amid the glorious Mayo scenery. Bladders relieved, we set off again amid variable conditions and now joined by at least 4 other boats. We flogged hard, Vincent raising another two fish which were most likely trout. Late on I had a pull accompanied by a boil on the surface, my only chance of the day but the fish did not take properly.
On our way back to the harbour we tried Bog Bay but it was lifeless so we called it a day around 7pm. By then I was very tired and emptying the boat/packing the car seemed to take me an age. We rendezvoused with Seamus to hand over the brown tag I didn’t use and to update him on our day. He knew of one other fish caught and another lost.
Driving home slowly I reflected on the day. Obviously, the salmon was the highlight and for Vincent to be the successful angler was important. I am old and have caught plenty of fish, it really doesn’t matter if I get one. Vincent on the other hand is represents the future of game fishing here. Today the angling gods smiled on him and he took his opportunity with alacrity. I don’t think I could be any more happy if I had been the lucky one in the boat.
Dark rain clouds piled up on the western hills as I drove south, harbingers of a storm due to break overnight. Hopefully it will bring lots of rain as the rivers are all bone dry now. With my work assignment now completed, I have time to do a bit of fishing. Yesterday just whetted my appetite!
A couple of people have asked me recently if I have given up on my attempt to catch a fish in all 32 counties on the island of Ireland. The answer is an unequivocal ‘NO’, my pet project is still very much alive. It has just on hold due to the current Covi-19 travel restrictions. To be honest, work has been hectic since the start of this year and left little room for fishing even if I had been allowed to. I tried to make good use of any free time though.
My spare time has been used to research possible venues and tackle shops, studying maps and making up flies and end tackle for when the shackles finally come off and I can travel around the country again. I have been haunting the backwaters of the internet, poking my nose into other anglers blogs and podcasts, downloading screen shots from Google Earth and figuring out the best roads to take me to different destinations. If I put half as much effort into the actual fishing as I have into the planning stage I should do OK.
I now have a spreadsheet (I do like a bit of Excel you know), filled with venues for each of the 24 counties I still have to visit. As much detail as I can muster has been added to this sheet, items like directions, where to buy a permit, back up venues close by in case I don’t catch, best baits, species to target and the even nearest tackle shops have all been meticulously logged by yours truly. This has taken me far longer than I thought it would but the sheet is now complete and so I have a detailed plan to follow.
While I accept that the fish care not a jot for all this feverish activity on my part it has still been a useful exercise for me. A lot of times I thought about fishing one spot only to change my mind once I had carried out the research. This is angling so there are no guarantees, but by looking at the options and making decisions on the best information available I hope to increase my chances of success.
I have been able move around my home county of Mayo since 12th April so it makes sense to target Mayo soon and tick that one of the list. Look out for that post very soon. I am hoping that by the end of June I will be allowed to travel between counties and at that point the full weight of my angling energies will be deployed. The only delay will be a trip to Scotland once travel there is given the all clear. A week in Alba should be about right. From then right through to the autumn will see me traversing the country, fishing, photographing and blogging as I go.
Investment in some permits and licences will be required but I will wait until I am sure that I can travel before doing that. I don’t want to shell out money for licences and then find myself locked down again and unable to make use of them. Talking about money, I have also made a rough guess at the total cost of the project. I won’t divulge the actual number (it is just too depressing), suffice to say that permits and bait are minor items but the cost fuel accounts for 85% of total. With so many long journeys it is hard to reduce this significantly but I will temper my driving style and see if I the old VW will return any better than my current average of 48mpg.
Of necessity, there will be a mix of different fishing methods and styles. Eleven fisheries on my list will be fly only, trying to catch salmon, brownies or rainbows. Then there are eight coarse fishing venues, mainly targeting roach and perch but with a couple of other species thrown in for good measure. Only five are salt water marks but I am really looking forward to them. I have not managed to get out sea fishing for many, many months and the idea of casting into the sea again holds a huge attraction. The saltwater angling around Ireland does not really begin until June when the water starts to warm properly and peaks in August/September so it will be later in the year before I tackle those 5 venues.
I have concerns about the availability of bait. With the tackle shops all being closed for so long during lockdown it is hard to know who will be opening up again and if they will be stocking worms and maggots. Some may never open again while others will not bother to order bait until they see anglers at their doors looking to fill their pint boxes. I can always scratch around in the compost heap at home to find a few worms but I rely heavily on maggots when chasing roach. I’ll need to make a few phone calls nearer the time to see who is open and selling the precious grubs. Other options such as bread for roach or prawns for perch may be required.
The recent rioting in the north is a bit of a worry. Brexit was always going to stir up trouble and we may yet face a summer lit up with petrol bombs. That the UK government made so little effort to work out answers to the complex issues around the border and trade between Ireland and Britain was, to say the least, a disappointment. The tinderbox that is Northern Ireland requires only the smallest spark to ignite the flames and Brexit was more akin to a blazing oil tanker than a spark!
I have yet to fish any of the 6 counties so I will be picking my time to stray north of the border very carefully. For me, the month of July is out of the question. That is marching season and I will be avoiding it like the plague. Don’t get me wrong, I am not on one side of the divide or the other, I have friends on both sides. I just don’t want to be anywhere near trouble, meaning the flashpoints of the marching bands during July will be a strong deterrent for me. So much depends on the date when travel begins; if possible I will hit the Northern Ireland venues by the end of June. If that does not work out it will be September/October before I hop across the border.
All my gear is ready to go now after a winter and lockdown of tinkering and repairing. When I visit Scotland I always nip in by the Glasgow Angling Centre and purchase more stuff that I don’t need! I will try really hard not to buy a new rod or reel but I can’t promise I will be successful with that endeavour. While I was working on ‘32’ spreadsheet I also logged all my rods and reels. Much of my old salmon fishing gear from my days casting on the Dee and Tweed is never used these days and I really should sell it off. Lovely Hardy reels are just sitting there gathering dust as they are too big for my fishing here in Ireland. I have more trout fly reels than I can ever use too, but I’ll hang on to them for now. None of this will prevent me from perusing the aisles of the GAC and no doubt parting with some hard earned cash for yet more expensive tackle. I cannot justify buying even a single hook, let alone a new reel, but we anglers are a marketing guru’s delight and I will surely be suckered into buying even more shiny winding mechanisms.
In summary, the ‘32’ project is ready to be resumed this summer. At work, I am between contracts after this week and barring any sudden requirement for me to rush off on an assignment, I will be fishing hard on the rivers and loughs of Mayo soon and then right across the island from late June onwards.
The signs went up three years ago. Ugly, threatening signs plastered on gates and fences, warnings in red letters. Details of how you would be arrested if you dared to walk by this stretch of the river as it was now under new ownership. Of course, this was the prime stretch of the river and now it was out of bounds to me. I let it be and fished elsewhere but it rankled me that my harmless pursuit was now illegal. It appeared that the old building in the field and its grounds had been purchased and the new owners did not want anyone on their land.
Then, when driving past the gates and fences last summer (during the break in lockdown), I noticed the signs were no longer there. I took a mental note and promised myself I would return in 2021. I drove down there this morning only to find new warning signs have been erected along with miles of barbed wire! I toyed with the idea of hopping the fences anyway but decided against it. I would hate trying to fish while looking over my shoulder all the time. I drove on down to a nice looking stretch which I have fished a couple of times before but without any success.
Access is not easy. There used to be a stile at the bottom of the stretch, plus a very large and steep set of steps leading from the stile on the edge of the lane down to the riverbank 3 metres below. This wooden structure has rotted away and a set of ropes or the agility of a mountain goat are now prerequisites if you want to enter the river there. I walked upstream for a bit and found a place where I could slither down the steep bank between some trees. I commenced operations there amid budding branches, the air thick with bird song.
A pair of spiders on dropper and a weighted PT tied to a 3 pound leader fished off a floating line were my starting point. Changes to dry fly or nymph were all possibilities for the future but for now I would swing the wee soft hackles through the shallow runs. Short roll casts to start with, just flicking out the leader and a foot or two of fly line, searching the water at my feet. It always surprises me how many trout you can catch like this. The pools in this stretch are about 15 yards wide and a few inches deep. In high water it is too fast to fish and at summer levels it is too shallow for anything big, but today the height was just right. To get the flies to fish on the far side of the current I had to throw big mends in the line. Trees on my bank made for challenging castings, judging the right length and allowing for the mend were tricky and kept me on my toes. I worked my way downstream, rolling out the line as best I could but of a trout there was no sign. A few olives were hatching out but the fish showed absolutely no interest in them. Fishing as far down as the old bridge I climbed out to the path and had a think about things.
This stretch looks to be perfect trout water but it does not seem to fish at all. Rather than waste any more time here I decided to try another stretch at Hollymount. Off I went, winding along the narrow roads until I came to where I park for near an old 5 bar gate. What would this piece of water yield?
I fished the bridge pool diligently but without an offer. Olives and some stoneflies were in the air which was encouraging but a nasty, gusting wind was blowing directly upstream, making placing the flies close to the far bank a bit of a challenge. Half way down the next pool I rose a fish but failed to connect. A few paces further on I had a solid take and a 6 incher came to hand. A few casts later a gust of wind whipped my flies into a bush and I snapped off. A new leader and flies were soon tied up and I was back in action, only for the same thing to happen again! I re-tied the leader once more.
The next trout shook the hook but soon I had a second, then a third and a fourth. All the same stamp of trout, between 6 and 9 inches long and in great condition. The size 16 Iron Blue Dun on the top dropper was doing most of the damage and I saw one or two natural Iron Blues on the water. My guess is the trout are feeding on the nymphs as they ascend because I see no natural rises.
More trout are caught, a few threw the hook and some simply pluck at the flies as they swing in the current. I work my way downstream. Part of the reason for going to fish the river today was to test my dodgy right knee. It has never been right since a motorbike accident when I was 20 and since January I have been in a lot of pain with it. I suspect it is a damaged tendon and I have been resting it for months and now I am slowly trying to build up the surrounding muscles. I manage to cover about a mile or so before the pain returns but a bit of massaging works wonders and I carry on.
I have landed 9 trout by now and am working my way slowly down a good run. The line tightens and I bend into a better fish which fights hard before I slip the net under it. A quick photo and back it goes, about 13 inches and a pound or so in weight. The tail of this pool is now partially blocked with a tree which has been felled. There seems to have been a lot of branch trimming, presumably by the IFI. I am not a fan of this kind of thing, I prefer the banks to be left to grow wild.
Three more trout are landed as I reach the limit of where I will fish this afternoon. There is more water further down but I have had a good few hours and there is no need to push on any further. I about-turn and slowly plod across the fields back to where the car is parked. I am tired now, the winter of sitting on a couch watching Netflix followed by 4 months at work sitting at a computer screen/giving PowerPoint presentations have taken their toll on me. Today was about getting some fresh air and catching a few fish so I can head home well satisfied. The little Iron Blue was the star today, taking most of the fish I landed.
A couple of weeks ago the government announcement that some small easing of restrictions will commence on 12th April coincided with a spell of fine weather and the Easter bank holiday weekend. Ministers stressed the need to wait until the 12th before meeting in small groups or travelling outside 5km of your home. Being Ireland, this was roundly ignored and like children in a playground the population is currently running around in gay abandon defying the lockdown rules. Who can blame them? This lockdown has been the hardest for many and people need to have some small freedoms. The disease is still circulating strongly and we are looking at a third wave in the near future as vaccination levels are very low so far.
I had had enough of being cooped up at home and so decided to have a few hours on the water this morning. The gear was dusted down and with growing excitement I stowed it all in the car. At the filling station I bought some petrol, the smell of it filling the car as I drove slowly down the road to lough Conn. It had been a fine, bright spring morning but it was bitterly cold so I was in no great hurry. The troubles of the world seemed far away as the greening countryside slipped by. I played a CD (the Cowboy Junkies actually) instead of listening to the radio as I drove; I wanted a rest from bad news for once. Margo Timmins syrupy voice was the perfect backdrop to the day. I sang along to ‘Sweet Jane’, my flat Scottish brogue murdering the modern classic. Ah well, we can’t all be good singers (on the plus side, I have been playing this tune on my CBG and it sounds good).
With little in the way of wind I was armed mainly with a solitary trolling rod. That was fine, all I wanted to do was get out on the water, feel the boat slipping through the wavelets and seeing the lough once again. A fly rod was also along for the ride but I doubted it would be used in such poor conditions. There was only the slimmest of chances I would meet a fish but that really didn’t matter to me. The wind, although gentle, was blowing from the north, arctic air spilling over this part of Europe bringing us near winter temperatures at a time when we expect more pleasant conditions. April is always changeable here; normally we expect wet and relatively warm weather as spring picks up pace but this year it has been different.
The water level had dropped back only a little since I launched the boat two weekends ago and she was stuck fast by the stern when I got there. I bailed a few inches of water from her first then a bit of pushing and shoving was called for before I had her floating again. I didn’t park in my usual spot next to the boat, the boreen is in poor condition and I feared I would get stuck so I parked on the sandy space near the small beach. Seven months had passed since the Honda engine had been started so I was expecting she would need a few pulls on the cord to coax her into life again. As it was she burst into life at the second tug on the cord.
A silver and copper Toby, probably 50 years old now, was attached to the rod. As usual, I dropped the lure over the side so I could check it would swim correctly. The Toby flickered enticingly in the coloured water, flashes of silver in the murk. Eighteen grams of Swedish steel was sent off 30 yards behind the slowly moving boat and I relaxed into that meditative state all trollers know. Out of the bay and down the shoreline I slowly motored, breathing in the cold, fresh air.
My fly fishing mates find my liking for trolling strange. Uncouth, boring, lacking in any finesse, they fail to see the attraction in slowly dragging bits of metal through the water for hours on end. I harboured the same prejudices for most of my life and it has only been the last few years that I have grown to enjoy a bit of trolling. For me, it is perfect for a day like today. Too cold/bright/early for fly fishing, I would not bother venturing out if not for the trolling gear. I lack the determination to troll relentlessly for hours/days/weeks on end as some fishers do. For me it is a ‘fill in’, way of fishing marginal conditions or to take a rest from the fly. I find that wielding the heavy 11 foot salmon rod all day is too much, so an hour’s rest trolling over the lies gives my aching arm a chance to recover. As you have possibly read elsewhere on this blog, I love using the old ABU spoons. There is some connection with the past for me that I really get a kick out of. So the Toby and Tilly spoons get a regular swim and they still catch me fish.
One turn around the pin at the mouth of the bay then off down Massbrook with the sky full of hail showers. I dodged them on the way down but in Victoria bay the heavens opened and a rough squall hit me full in the face. Hunkering down, I headed back up the lough with water finding its way into every nook and cranny. These showers are cold and nasty but rarely last too long and by the time I had covered a mile or so the hail had eased off. Sand Martins, the first of the swallow tribe, were hawking flies over the surface as I regained the bay and called it a day.
The whole purpose of today was not to catch fish but just to get out on the water again. To see the sunlight play on the waves and the ever changing colours on Nephin’s heathery flanks. Simply to breathe some fresh air instead of through a mask, at least for a little while. I was home again by 3pm, a mug of hot coffee to heat me up and I felt better. There is time enough for the hard fishing, the long days of May and June are close at hand now. At least the fishing has now started!
I know what you are thinking – he is opening a can of worms here! Be that as it may, I want to discuss boat partners as they as such a vital part of the lough fishing experience. Let me say at the outset that I have been very lucky and fished with some of the finest anglers over the years and an awful lot of my knowledge has been gleaned from those fine fishermen.
So what makes a good boat partner? Anglers, like the rest of society, are a diverse bunch. Some are gregarious and voluble while others are introverted and quiet. Some are skilful and others bumblers of the highest order (I fall into the latter group). There is no magic formula and I find that while pretty much all boat anglers get along just fine there are some combinations which work better than others.
When fishing I tend to be quiet. I don’t say much and certainly don’t indulge in idle chit-chat when afloat. I like my boat partners to be similarly silent when on the drift. While that works for me others will find my quietness irksome. I know some boats that you can often hear before you see them! Loud laughter and constant chatter mark them out at a distance and good luck to them. It works for both parties and they thoroughly enjoy their days of constant banter on the waves.
Then there is the question of the division of work. Drifting an Irish lough seems to some like perfect peace but trust me, there are days when the oar is in constant use or short drifts mean the engine is often purring as you shift back to the start of a drift or work your way down a shoreline. Some boats share the load by swapping positions in the boat, usually at lunchtime. This is a very fair way of doing things as it also changes casting positions giving both anglers a chance of fishing from each end of the boat. Other boats never swap positions, perhaps due to the engine being the property of one of the anglers and he/she may not want anyone else operating their expensive outboard. In my book that is fair enough. It is all too easy to strike a hidden rock and seriously damage an engine. I for one would feel terrible if that happened to me.
Ability and physicality need to be considered too. As I get older I appreciate that I am not as agile or strong as I was in my youth and am not too proud to ask for help. Young fellas can row all day or stand up in the stern facing the weather as we beat upwind in a force 5 much better than I can!
Little things can make a difference, like what happens at lunchtime. For some boats this is a team effort where each party knows their job and indeed even who brings along what bit of grub. Some lads are deft with the frying pan while others are good at foraging for twigs to start a fire for example. Some enjoy a glass of wine while others a pioneers.
The vibrant competition scene here in Ireland fosters long-standing boat partnerships. At the same time, many competitions feature a draw at the start of the day when your name is in the hat with everyone else and whoever your are pulled out with is your partner for the day. I won’t get into that now as I am not a competition fisher but for many meeting other anglers is one of the joys of the competition scene.
Somehow all these variables shake down over time and anglers gravitate to each other and form strong bonds. Good boat partnerships last a lifetime and losing that partner can feel like a bereavement.
So where do I fit into this picture? I am afraid I am a bit of a tramp, I flit between boat partners. In my defence I have to say this is partly because I vary my fishing so much. Different venues, different species, different methods – they all play a part in this mosaic. Virtually all of my lough salmon fishing is with my mate Ben, a dyed-in-the-wool salmon fisher. Trout fishing on the other hand sees me partnered with a phalanx of other anglers depending on where and when I am fishing. Very often I fish alone, not because I am particularly anti-social but more that my outings are often unplanned. I see a window in the weather or have time on my hands and take advantage of those opportunities at short notice. I am also notorious for swapping between methods which some people don’t mind but others find a challenge. I may start the day fishing the fly but if the wind drops I will troll for a while until the breeze comes back up. Most of my acquaintances are fly-only men who would not be seen dead with a trolling rod in the boat. So you can frequently find me out on the water alone, trailing a lure behind the boat or doing that cast/pull the oar (repeat) thing.
There does not seem to be one magic rule which decides how a good partnership is formed, rather it is an amalgamation of a host of factors. The complexities of human interaction mean we will never fully understand it but sometimes you just ‘click’ with another angler and when that happens it adds enormously to the days afloat.
After 12th April we will be allowed to travel within our counties here in Ireland and I will be back out on the water, either alone or with a boat partner. The long wait is nearly over and I am hopeful of some good fishing this season. Part of the excitement of returning to the fishing is reaffirming those friendships forged over past seasons with like-minded fishers and I hope to meet and fish with many more of you this year.
A grey, damp day dawned. The gales force winds of yesterday had abated and all was still, just the constant drip, drip, drip of the water running off the roof as I threw some bits of gear into the car. It had taken me a few minutes to even find my old waders it has been so long since I needed them. The boat was on the trailer from yesterday when it was rudely awakened from its winter slumber at the back of the shed and hoisted onto the trailer. Today she was going back to the lake.
The roads were wet and pools of water, of indeterminate depth, blurred the edge of tarmac and grass. The world was painted in battleship grey. I chugged along, the car fresh from an oil change and a repair to mend a hole in the exhaust. It was nice not to sound like a Massey Ferguson anymore!
The boreen which had been levelled last spring was a mess of pot holes again and the lough had flooded it during the winter. A line of dead rushes and twigs showed how far the water had reached but now it was down a good foot on the high water mark. The bad dip in the track near where I launch was now a lethal hole filled with rank water so I did not chance driving through it. The launching itself went smoothly and I rowed the boat into my usual spot where I tied her up. Tyres forced under each side of her stern and a couple of extra lengths of twine to hold her straight until the level drops were all that remained to do. Then it was off with the boots and into the car for the quiet and reflective drive home.
The pandemic has changed so much already and no doubt there are more trials and tribulations to come. Vaccine roll out is painfully slow here in Ireland but it is happening and realistically, it is our only real hope. The guards are very busy fining people for breaking the 5km rule but more and more of the population are risking the financial penalty because they need some small glimmer of hope. The huge rise in suicide in the country is simply being ignored by the government but at some point there needs to be an easing of the lockdown for peoples mental health.
A number of other boats are on the lough already, fishers doing what I did this morning. Just get the boat in the water so nobody steals ‘your’ place. We are far from normality yet but just seeing that old, shabby grey boat in the water lifted my spirits. The fishing is not far away now lads!
The best thing about this assignment I am on just now is that I finish work for the week at 1pm on a Friday. It’s lovely to feel the morning flying by and suddenly it is time to leave and head off for what feels like a long weekend. Yesterday was no different and after a forenoon wrestling with PowerPoint and the aftermath of a particularly trying OH&S audit I departed the site amid a howling gale driving hail showers before it. I dropped the car off for a service and toddled around the local Tesco, picking up some bits for our weekend then walked home in the fresh wind. Only when I finally plonked myself down on the sofa with a coffee did I notice I was still wearing my ear plugs around my neck.
Such lapses in sartorial elegance are part and parcel of growing older. I never bother to look in a mirror these days, it is just too depressing to see the ravages of time writ large upon my face. So a length of string with a blob of foam on each end are not an unusual addition to my attire. These particular ones were orange and as I (belatedly) removed them from around my neck I had an idea……….
If you are new to fishing the mayfly hatch here in Ireland you will be forgiven for thinking we locals all have a colour vision problem. The natural fly ranges in colour from green, through yellow to pale cream. Virtually any inspection of a wet fly angler box of artificials will show we use reds, clarets and, yes, oranges in our mayfly patterns. The bit of ‘string’ on my ear plugs was a deep burnt orange hue which I felt could be used for a new fly.
I like burnt orange as a colour and have used it since I was a teenager in Aberdeen. Then I fished for sea trout in the brackish waters of the lower Dee and Ythan. My favourite fly was a bastardisation of the Dunkeld. I tied it with a wing made of teal instead of bronze mallard and the hackle was not the usual hot orange but a deep, burnt orange instead. My best day with that fly yielded 13 seatrout on the Pot & Ford water run by the ADAA. I have caught brownies here in Ireland on the same pattern too.
I messed around at the vice for a while and in the end I settled for the following tying.
Silk: Fire orange 8/0
Hook: a trusty Kamasan B175, size 10
Hackle 1: French Partridge dyed orange
Hackle 2: Badger cock dyed golden olive
Hackle 3: A large Brown Partridge hackle
Tails: Cock pheasant herls dyed yellow (they look pale olive) with a couple of strands of fine pearl flash
Rib: burnt orange ear plug string or something similar
Body: Pale olive, medium olive and dark olive dubbing either mixed or in three bands from light to dark
If you have read this blog before you will know the order I tie everything and this is a pretty simple fly to make despite all the materials. Leave plenty of space at the neck for all this hackles and don’t wind more than a couple of turns of each feather.
The acid test will of course come when the mayfly is hatching and I am drifting over the rocky shallows of Mask or Conn. There are stirrings that the government here may start to relax the ridiculous 5km travel limit next month and if that miracle does come to pass I will be able to fish Loughs Conn and Cullin.
This was a fly I dreamt up a couple of seasons ago but due to the pandemic it has not been tried. It should work but I am taking no responsibility if it is a lemon.
I wanted a black dabbler for early season work on lough Conn, something with a bit of bling in it to attract the trout who are notoriously hard to stir in cold water in the lough. Usually it is not until the water warms up in May before the fishing takes off there but the lough is quiet early on in March and April so I like to get out early if possible. This is the time for sinking lines and slow retrieves. Fiery Browns, Silver Dabblers and Bibios are my normal patterns for April but I wanted to ring the changes so I sat ant the vice and came up with this lad.
I used the original Sweeney Todd for rainbows back in Scotland after reading about it is a book by the inventor, the late Bob Church. All black apart from a dash of pink at the throat and a red hackle, it worked alright but I thought the ace of spades was a deadlier pattern. Fished deep for rainbows, it did enough to convince me that the combination of black and pink was a winner.
Like many anglers here I already use a pink-tailed black zulu for salmon. It was something of a cult fly on Carrowmore lake a few years ago and I still use it up there.
To make this fly 8/0 black tying silk is started at the eye of a size 10 heavy wet fly hook. Leave a bit of space at the head before tying in a short fibred black cock hackle and running the tying silk down to the bend. Catch in a tail made from some pheasant tail fibres dyed black, flanked with some pearl flash and a length of oval silver tinsel. Dub some black seals fur on to the silk and make a body to cover two thirds of the hook. Now tie in and wind a piece of fl. pink wool. You can chop and dub it if you prefer. Remove the waste and wind the cock hackle down to the bend in open turns. Bind the hackle in place with the oval silver tinsel, tie in and cut off the tag end. A cloak of bronze mallard finishes off the fly.
The dash of pink just might make the difference on a slow day. I will give it a try if/when we get to go fishing again.
As the winter gives way to springtime us fishermen turn our thoughts to the early season fisheries and prime amongst the Irish loughs is Beltra. There are more prolific loughs and rivers but for sheer beauty it is hard to beat lovely lough Beltra. Since it is one of my local waters and one which I fish regularly I thought I would share some information on the best drifts on the Glenisland side of the lough. It may just help a visiting angler to locate a springer. Opening day is 20th March and one or two locals who live on the shores of the lough will no doubt be out to try their luck on that day.
Beltra lies to the west of the town of Castlebar in the townland of Glenisland. This is marginal farming country of rough pastures and hill sheep. The lough collects water from the Crumpaun river which flows into the northern end of the lough and the Newport river discharges from the opposite southern end. The Newport river is a good salmon fishery in its own right but I have only rarely fished it and am no expert on that water. In addition there are a few small streams which drain the immediate area and find their way into the lough.
Roughly two miles long by a mile or so wide, the lough is set on a northeast – south west axis and this is very important to know when planning a day on the lake. The predominant wind direction here in Mayo is an Atlantic breeze from the south west. This is pretty much a perfect direction for Beltra as it allows you to set up a drift from the southern end of the lake and be blown up the full length of the lough to the north. In practice the wind is rarely spot on and the drifts need to be adjusted as you proceed down the lough but either a south west or a north east wind suits the Glenisland Coop side of the lough.
While there are islands and bays on the Newport side of the lough there is an open shoreline on the Coop side. Fishing is carried out close to the shore, if you are more than 50 yards from the bank you are too far out in most places (I will come to exceptions to that rule later on). The reason for this is the depth falls away rapidly and the salmon (and sea trout) much prefer to lie in shallow water when they get into the lough. So keep close to the bank and adjust your drift with strokes on an oar out the back of the boat. Unlike most of the big loughs, there are no rocks or reefs to worry about on this side of Beltra. There are a few well marked rocks on the Newport House side but none on Glenisland. For some anglers this is a blessing. I know not a few very good anglers who hate dodging in around rocks and reefs for fear of grounding of smashing a hole in the boat. Others, myself included, find that where there are reefs or rocks there will often be fish so put up with the occasional scratch on the keel from barely visible obstructions.
Let’s take a look at some of the well known drifts on the Glenisland side. We will presume there is a good force 4 or 5 south-westerly blowing. The mouth of the river where the stream at the harbour enters the lough is a good spot. Silt from the river has built up over the years and the water is shallow (mind your propeller!). Start your drift well to the south so you have time to get your line lengthened and everything in the boat settled. It will depend on the height of water in the lough but roughly 20 – 40 yards out is about right. Drift past the mouth of the river then guide the boat towards the shore. Fish on down the length of the shoreline, keeping inside the 50 yard line. This a good drift for sea trout too.
Moving down the lough, Morrisons is a grand lie for a salmon. Drifting up to it from the south you come to a small point of gravel; fish can take you either before or immediately after this point. After this there are sometimes a fish or two sitting 50-100 yards further down.
Next as we drift along the shore we come to the Wall. The reason for the name is obvious as there is a wall practically on the edge of the water where the road runs close by. No major features here bar a small stream which enters the lough via a culvert under the road.
The red shed is now a bit of a misnomer after the owner painted it grey a few years ago! We still refer to it as the red shed though. Another good salmon lie, they can come to you from right along this piece of shoreline. There is a tiny little bay where a small stream comes in and fish lie all around here. The slightly featureless shore stretching northwards from the small bay is all good salmon water. This leads you down to the northern harbour which is known as ‘the dock’.
So what do you do if the wind is not blowing conveniently from the south west. Your best bet is going to be the northern end of the lough where the shallows at the mouth of the Crumpaun river can be tackled in just about any wind direction. You are sort of trapped in a small area but it is always a good spot for a salmon and I have seen many fish caught there in winds which meant the rest of the lough was almost unfishable. The bottom here is sandy and the fish seem to like lying in the shallow water. By late spring there will be some weed growth on the bottom here, especially as you get closer to the shore so watch out for vegetation fouling your flies. The shallows outside the dock are one of the prime drifts for sea trout on the lough. It is worth noting that when the Crumpaun river is in flood this end of the lough can become very dirty with sediment from the river, making it unfishable at times. The limit of the beat is marked by a buoy so you often here locals referring to catching a fish ‘at the buoy’. It is good fishing water right across from the buoy to the dock. Keep a careful eye on the depth of water when drifting into the mouth of the river, it shallows up and you can ground the boat which could be tricky to re-float in a good wind.
I am not saying it is impossible to fish the main lies along the east shore in any wind except a south westerly, it is just much harder work. A westerly pushes the boat fast on to the shore and drifts consist of a few hasty casts before starting the engine and going back out a hundred yards or so. This is tiring work for little return. An easterly wind is blocked by the hills meaning calm water on the Glenisland shore (who likes an east wind anyway!)
In a North Easterly wind Walsh’s Bay at the south of the lough is a good lie. Here the fish lie very close to the shore so cast your flies as close as you dare to the rocks and rushes and be ready for a pull within inches of dry land. This is a lovely wee bay to fish, very intimate and calming.
Fishing on your own can be hard work as casting a heavy line and pulling on an oar to keep on the drift demands a degree of physicality. The services of a ghillie can really be a boon and there are some excellent ones on the lough, including some real characters (you know who you are!). If you are not used to handling a boat in big waves and high winds then I strongly recommend you hire a ghillie for the day. He will take care of the hard work on the oar and let you concentrate on your casting in the challenging conditions. The ghillie will also have the advantage of intimate knowledge and experience which can be crucial, especially on marginal days.
I could go on and on about this lough but the best thing is for you to come and experience it for yourself. The fishing is not easy and blank days are common but few places finer for spending a day.
I know I have written about salmon fishing on spate rivers before but with this season already slipping away I am planning on fishing a couple of small local rivers this summer. I have avoided them recently as the stocks were being hammered by poachers in small boats at the mouth of the rivers and I felt my fishing them was only adding to the difficulties of the poor salmon. But after last year I am hopeful the fish numbers might have increased a little so I will chance trying for some grilse come the summer months. With my early spring fishing already lost due to travel restrictions I want to maximise my summer angling so that means grilse fishing on spate streams for me.
The small spate rivers of the west of Ireland are very similar to their counterparts on the west coast of Scotland so pretty much all of what I am going to talk about applies to both countries. These are small, intimate fisheries, far removed from the classic ‘big four’ of Tweed, Tay, Dee and Spey. Each has its own character and a large part of the enjoyment is getting to know the moods and signals the water will give you if you look and learn. I confess it took me a while to key into small rivers, I was so used to fishing the big Scottish rivers that tiny streams seemed a huge challenge. No more 200 yard long pools where I could get into a rhythm casting or fishing over lies where I knew fish would hold for days on end. I learned slowly and now appreciate the beauty and excitement of the spate rivers.
In my previous posts I dealt with the basics but here I want to go into more detail of the methods I personally have found successful. I’ll start with tackle. Although the average width of the rivers I am taking about is from about 5 – 20 yards I prefer a rod of around 11 feet in length. Many local anglers go longer than that and 12 or 13 footers can often be seen in use around here. Partly this is simply using the same rod for boat fishing as for the river but the longer rod gives a couple of advantages over its shorter brethren. Anything which reduces the need for false casting is good, the banks of the river are wild and unkempt so keeping the fly in the water and not in the air too much is a good idea. I find a longer rod is an aid when landing fish too. Often you have to reach over bankside obstructions so that extra foot or two of rod length can be a godsend.
For me personally, chest waders are a must. I see other very successful anglers rocking up to the river wearing only a pair of wellies but I want the freedom of crossing the river as required and bridges are at a premium usually. The price I pay is being lathered in sweat but there you go.
For fishing big rivers I own a range of different line densities to cope with varying conditions but for spate rivers I just use a floater. If I want to get down a bit or combat a very heavy current I use a small brass tube fly rather than mess about with sinking lines. Keep your tackle simple, there is no need for anything fancy.
Some pools on small rivers look just like miniature ‘classic’ pools in shape and depth profile, a fast run into the pool at the neck then the deeper main body before the water shallows and smooths out at the tail. For an experienced angler this is easy to read and fish. A lot of ‘pools’ on the small rivers are not that obvious though. Winkling grilse out of odd corners is one of the great charms of this type of fishing and I have caught them in all sorts of places. Every sunken rock, surface disturbance, drop off or gravel bar should be fished diligently. Only experience will tell you when a particular lie will hold fish at any given height. And this is where the question of height becomes paramount.
Beginners are often caught out by the speed a river rises or drops. In these times of intensive farming, hill sheep, Sitka plantations and drainage systems our spate rivers swell with flood water and then empty at astonishing rates. Knowing the river you are fishing is a vital component of your armoury. The visiting angler who decides to fish on a certain day, starting at a given time will always be at a huge disadvantage compared to a local who can be flexible. For example, imagine a small spate river in July. A visiting angler books a days fishing for the Wednesday to fit in with other family commitments. The weather forecast is for rain on Tuesday so he is pretty confident of sport. Sure enough, it rains early on Tuesday morning and the river is a roaring flood by midday. It falls rapidly though and the locals are out in numbers by 3pm and fresh grilse are landed in prime conditions of falling and clearing water. By 9am on Tuesday the river is low and clear once again and our visitor is forced to fish either the sea pool or one or two deeper holes in the river. During the summer here in the west there is a constant flow of calls and texts between us salmon fishers. Every snippet of information regarding weather and water levels is passed on. ‘I was driving over the Party mountains an hour ago and the heavens opened, the Erriff will be up soon’, or ‘I was talking to a lad who said it’s lashing in Bangor, the grilse will be in the Owenmore’. Such juicy titbits are the lifeblood of summer fishing here and are the reason you see locals appear as if by magic when the rivers are in ply.
Within the window of a falling spate the experienced angler will have his or her own preferred pools at any given height. I could recount so many tales of catching a salmon from a lie which two hours later was bone dry. Each river system has it’s own character and seems to fish best under certain conditions. Take the Carrownisky river in west Mayo for example. I have fished this small river for many years and know excellent anglers who have done so since they were kids. None of us would bother fishing the lower stretches on a bright day. Cloudy, windy and damp are what you need there. On the other hand I have seen some good fishing on the Owenmore though on bright days though and even caught them in blazing sunshine on the Bunowen. Again, it comes back to knowing your water.
Have I caught salmon from a rising river? Yes I have. Have I caught many? No, only a handful over my lifetime. The ability to wait it out and allow the river to begin to drop is a huge plus. Often I have looked at the river at 9am to find it rising, filthy and unfishable. I’ll go off and do something else for a while then come back later in the day, the exact timing depending on the rain. If it rains all day I’ll pass on the fishing but if it stops the river will stop rising then start to drop, the exact timing depending on each system and where the rain fell. It is then that you want to be tackled up and on the bank. It can be a period of frustration or intense excitement when waiting for the river to come into ply. Here in the west the weather systems can sometimes roll in one after the other so just when you think it is time to get the rods out another belt of rain dumps yet more water into the river and up she goes again. Then again sometimes the the river drops during the night and that roaring flood at 10pm has subsided to a trickle by 5am the next morning.
The actual fishing itself is a hotch-potch of different casts trying to present the flies to fish in a wide range of lies. Long casts are rarely required but the ability to read a piece of water and fish it well are a necessity. I find myself roll casting frequently to avoid trees and bushes, wading deep to get the right angle to drift a fly into position or throwing outrageous mends in the line to hang the fly just right. I am sometimes out fished by the spinner and worming lads but in general over a season I regard the fly as the most effective method of tempting spate river salmon.
I’ve gone into fly design and patterns in other posts so I won’t re-hash that here, suffice to say that I find the smaller the better when it comes to summer fishing. Confidence in your fly is much more important that the particular pattern. I change flies often but that is simply because I am a fly tyer and like giving my new creations a swim. A Black Pennel, a Cascade or an Allys Shrimp will all catch you a fish or two so don’t sweat fly choice.
In summary, being on the water at the right time during the very short period of falling water is 90% of the battle. After that you need to read the water to figure out where a salmon could be lying then present smallish flies on a floating line. The real joy of this type of fishing is getting to know the river and its ways. Just being out on a small Irish river as a summer flood recedes is a wonderful experience. Swallows swooping as they hunt flies, the odd splash of a running salmon, the stunning green foliage on the banks or the smell of the new cut fields all combine to assault your senses. It is a very different experience to fishing the big, well tended rivers of Scotland. You should try it sometime!
I hold up my hands here and confess I am no expert when it comes to tossing streamers for wild brownies on rivers. I have used them a few times and caught fish but compared to some of the masters of the method my knowledge is very limited. I wanted to touch on them today as I was making up a few to top up the streamer box and realised I had not talked about them before. Take the advice which follows as simply as starting point for anyone who comes to Ireland to fish the rivers for trout and wants to try streamers. So here we go.
I associate streamers with high/coloured water but they will catch fish in most conditions bar dead low/crystal clear. That means using them mainly early season around here. I find that some days the fish hit them really well but on others they are totally ignored, so if you find yourself trying the streamer and they are not biting give it a rest and try another method rather than wasting too much time on them. I look for structures such as deep holes, undercut banks, rocks, tree roots or sunken logs to fish. Anywhere that a good fish might have taken up station to ambush fry or crayfish. The usual cast is at 90 degrees to the current but sometimes you need to be more creative so cast as best you can to present the fly deeply. I know places where I have to cast directly upstream just to get the fly over the lies. So be prepared to mix it up and do what you have to to present the streamer at the right depth and speed.
I guess that streamers would possibly catch fish on a dead drift but I like to give them as much action as possible, varying the retrieve until I find which provokes a strike. Short, sharp pulls often works but at other times long draws are better. You need to experiment to find the killing retrieve on any given day. Don’t be afraid to try fast strips too, they can provide some hair-raising takes. The Marabou or rabbit fur or flowing hackles of streamers mean they respond well to plenty of movement and remember these patterns are suggestive and don’t stand up to close scrutiny by the trout. Keep it moving in jerks and you won’t go far wrong.
One other thing, watch out for pike as they take a streamer with gusto too. I got bitten off on the Robe once by a good pike which nabbed a streamer in a deep pool. Where there are a lot of pike it is worthwhile adding a short section of wire to the end of the leader. Even a 6 inch length of 10 pound breaking strain wire will give you some security from the green fellas teeth but it may reduce the number of strikes from trout.
Serious streamer anglers have a dedicated set up with a more powerful rod and heavier lines. I don’t fancy lugging around a second rod with me as my wild brown trout river fishing is a highly mobile affair. Instead I put up with the limitations of my 5 weight Orvis which, although far from ideal manages to cast the heavy fly the relatively short distances I require. I also stick to my faithful floating line as well. I know that many streamer anglers use sink tip or even full sinkers to get down a bit more. I doubt if a sinker is going to make a huge difference to me on such a narrow river as the Robe so dragging around one or two spare spools hardly seems worth it for a method which gets used infrequently. I like to use a leader of 6 pound breaking strain nylon as it is tough and can stand the abuse of being pulled through rough patches of weeds or the bottom. It also gives a degree of hope if you run into a big fish. Double figure brown trout live in some Irish rivers and meeting one of these on light leaders is only going to end in disaster.
For me, the hardest part of fishing streamers is the strike. Forget lifting into a fish as you normally do, you need to learn to strip-strike. That entails sharp pull with the hand retrieving the line. Sounds very simple I know but it takes practice as your instinct is to lift into the take. I must have missed dozens and dozens of trout by not strip-striking over the years. I guess if I was to do more streamer fishing it would become second nature but for now I will just accept I need to work harder and pay more attention to the strike.
I have one pattern I use almost to the exclusion of all others, all be it in different colours. Buggers. I love buggers in all sorts of sizes and shades. They imitate everything and nothing at the same time, being simple suggestive patterns. I tie them in all colours from brilliant white through olives and browns to jet black. Some sport bead heads, some have lead wire under the body and few even have no weight at all. Dark olive grizzle and black ones have probably been my two most successful to date. I tie them on size 6, 8 or 10 long shank hooks. A marabou tail maybe with a hint of flash, a fur or chenille body and palmered hackle are all that is required. I have some crawdad patterns in the box too just to give me something for a change.
So why am I tying up more streamers? With time on my hands I have been thinking about the places I am fishing on the Robe and there are some spots which could be home to better fish which I have not dedicated enough time to get to know. Searching with a streamer may produce a trout of considerable size from these spots and I want to fish them more diligently when lockdown ends. I know the river has been heavily fished by the bait and spinner fishmongers lately but maybe they missed a few of the big lads. There is one particular pool which I want to try out again this season. I had some success on it a few years ago with an olive bugger but I did not fish it all as there was a big, deep drain on my side of the river which I could not cross, meaning I only covered about half of the pool. This place is also full of pike so there may be some action with them too on the streamer. I plan to attack the pool from the opposite bank where access is a bit better, all be it from a high bank.
Streamer fishing will never replace my love of swinging spiders or flicking dry flies but it is an alternative on days when you just want to change things up a bit or look for a big fish. My wee fly box holds enough to see me through a season and only fills a small pocket on my waistcoat so I think they earn their keep. For me, that is good enough and I can’t see me investing in another set up anytime soon. I would urge those of you coming to fish the rivers here for trout to bring along a few streamers, they might just catch you the biggest fish of the season.
I don’t know how, but I had not met Peter before I started this latest job. A fellow Scot, he lives in the Westport area and does a lot of fishing. We both know the same guys and fish in roughly the same places but we had never bumped into each other before now. Both of us pitched up in Mayo around the end of the 1990’s but unlike me he already had strong family connections to the area. We finally met up and have been swapping fishing tales since I started this assignment in January. Peter’s main focus is on sea angling but he dabbles in other branches of the sport too. Last week he surprised me with a wee present.
Peter has been around and on a trip to USA some years ago he picked up a box of small soft baits which regaled in the name ‘Trout Magnet’. Alas the trout showed no interest but he caught some perch on them back in the day. Since then the lures had been left in his loft and forgotten about until he heard me rabbiting on about canal fishing. I was delighted he no longer wanted the box when he gave it me them. Here was another form of fishing for me to try out.
In the past soft baits have caught me the odd pike but nothing to write home about. The whole drop-shotting thing passed me by and ‘urban fishing’ on canals in cities seemed to be a world away from me drifting in a boat on the Irish loughs. Now that I occasionally fish the Royal or Grand canals here I can see that jigging a small soft bait could bring me a few perch. I don’t own a drop-shot rod but I have a couple of light spinning rods that might do the trick. There is an old ABU Duet with two tops, one of which is rated for 2 – 5 grams so that will probable be fine for this kind of work. I know the experts in drop shotting use braid for their running line but the old ABU’s rings were never intended for that so I will just use some light mono instead. All I want is a set up that I can use for a change and not spend the whole day with.
The old box is in poor shape, all twisted and bent. I will try steaming it back into shape but I suspect it is beyond saving. The same goes for most of the hooks. The neat little jig hooks were all rusted to some degree. I tried to save one or two but I will have to make up new ones. In the end only4 hooks could be salvaged by cleaning up with fine grade emery paper, the rest were far too rusty. The baits themselves have fared much better and a wide range of coloured grubs are perfectly usable. A good clean in warm soapy water was administered as they were dirty with years of neglect. A swoosh about in the suds then dried off in some paper towel and they looked just fine. They are very small, only an inch long but I think they will be attractive to perch. I already own some bigger ones so I now have a good selection to pick from.
The tiny jig hooks are light enough they could be cast with a fly rod. I however am planning on using them on normal hooks on a drop shot set up. The baits themselves come in a range of colours with browns and oranges prevailing. They are split tails so should have a bit of action in the water.
I looked up Trout Magnet on line and sure enough they are still going strong. There is a short video on the website which goes into the detail of how to rig the lure. They fish these on the river suspended under a bobber on very light line (2 pound test).
I particularly like the fact they are so small. The run-of-the-mill perch in Irish canals is between a quarter and half a pound. Your average 3 inch bait is just too big for wee fellas like these but my newly acquired one inchers should do just fine. I have watched a few videos on drop-shotting and while the basics look pretty straight forward I am guessing there is more to it than meets the eye. My love of using maggots under a waggler will remain but the wee plastic grubs mean I now have an alternative for slow days of when I am low on bait.
A much-loved fly tying book which has been lost for ages turned up yesterday when Helen was doing some spring cleaning. It had somehow found its way into the bottom of a press along with some of her astrology books, disused scarfs and toys for the cats. Rescued from this ignominious fate, it has now returned to pride of place on one of my fishing book shelves. Yes, one of the bookshelves, there are a few. Let me state quite clearly that I am not a book collector. There are no first editions in my collection and nothing remotely valuable. I simply acquired various angling books along the way over the years and it adds up to a nice few by the time you get to my age. With modern technology I wonder how many younger anglers will enjoy the same experience of owning angling books or if there will just be digital copies floating around in the ether?
Between us, herself and I have filled the house with books of many kinds. Besides my fishing books my passion for military history, travel and nature means there is a healthy collection of those genres too. Add in Helen’s tarot, astrology and cookery books and it gets to be a bit overwhelming sometimes. There are books galore in the sitting rooms, in the bedrooms, on the landing, in the hall and kitchen. Only the bathroom is a book-free zone (so far). There used to be more! Over the years I have moved house/country often and along the way a chest of books and photographs disappeared. I was very busy with work at the time and failed to notice the loss for months but I miss those treasures from my past now.
The long lost book I mentioned at the start is a lovely volume simply entitled ‘Irish Mayflies’ by Patsy Deery. Gorgeous photographs adorn the pages and it is a pure joy to sit and read the descriptions of the flies and the notes about the fishers who invented them. If you enjoy making trout flies I highly recommend you buy this book even if you live far from Ireland, it is a lovely thing to own. For me it evokes memories of past glories during the mayfly seasons of yesteryear, great trout slashing at high-riding dries, greendrakes on the breeze or the fish dimpled surface on a calm day. The hatch is but a shadow of what it used to be but I was lucky enough to enjoy some spectacular days on Mask and Carra in the waning years of the last century.
I tend to trot out the same books again and again. Both Hugh Falkus books, simply titled ‘sea trout fishing’ and ‘salmon fishing’ are rightly seen as classics and I bought my copies many moons ago and still read from them on a regular basis. That the man himself has since been shown as none too pleasant does not detract from the brilliance of his work. Clear, concise, tempered in the forge of experience they provide anglers with a solid grounding for migratory fish angling. I know he fished on prime beats during halcyon times but still the concepts he wrote about generally apply today as well. Cold winter nights in front of a blazing fire, spent with a glass of something strong and one of Hugh’s books to ponder over are a great joy.
Before relocating to Ireland I used to buy books on Irish angling to get me through the long periods away from the Emerald isle. These are all well worn now after years of thumbing but I still love them. Malone’s book of Irish Trout and Salmon Flies was, and indeed still is, a particular favourite. Lots of variations and many very old patterns are in this volume and I found it fascinating that there could be so many flies with the same name. The complexity of some of the old salmon flies must have made them a real challenge to make. While I enjoy making and fishing with some mixed wing patterns I steer clear of the ones which demand the eyesight and dexterity of a jeweler.
Most of my books were bought from book shops or online and exactly where or when I bought them is not something I remember but some books are different. This one for example:
What makes this non-descript soft covered book of New Zealand fly patterns special is where I bought it. I was in Delhi with work ( I have been lucky enough to have worked out there a few times). I had a day off so met up with a mate and we spent the day visiting museums, eating amazing food and walking the dirty, over-crowded but endlessly fascinating streets of the Indian capital. We ended up taking a tuk-tuk to a book market where you could buy just about any book in any language and in any condition. The thing was there was no order to any of this, just piles of books of all kinds to rummage through. Books in Russian, Japanese, Mandarin or any tongue you can imagine littered the market but I stumbled upon the New Zealand paperback and was delighted to buy it. Just picking it up reminds me of the afternoon heat, that poor woman picking over a pile of rubbish looking for something to eat, the black kites wheeling in the hazy sky and that unmistakable smell of Delhi. I admit to falling in love with India, I miss it terribly and want to go back again despite the awful things you see there. Maybe next year………
Most of my books are either fly tying manuals or cover game fishing but there are a few dedicated to the rough and tumble of sea fishing. I love an old book called ‘The Anglers book of Sea Fish’ which I remember buying from an angling book club in the dim and distant past. This large format book contains virtually nothing about how to catch the fish but it has glorious photographs of the different species and it for this reason I adore looking at it. Sometimes you need lots of information but other times just staring at a good picture is sufficient.
I think you will have gathered by now that I love books and fishing books in particular. Is my generation going to be the last to enjoy a love affair with the written word or will physical books make a comeback? I don’t think they will. Chopping down trees to make books is going to become a no-no in the near future (book paper needs to be made of virgin fibre to give it bulk and opacity). With so much of the planets resource under pressure and diminishing on a daily basis reading books for pleasure is going to be a thing of the past. I will hang on to my collection, enjoying them and reading often until my eyesight fails me. Then I hope to pass them on to someone younger and who will treasure the books as I have. like all my other fishing gear, I hope someone else get enjoyment out of them once I depart this mortal realm.
Perhaps in a small way I am contributing to the demise of books. Here I am at a computer writing down my thoughts and ideas in a blog instead of in a book. I must admit the idea of writing a book does appeal and it is something which I might tackle at some point in the future. I can’t imagine any publisher would take me on but self-publishing is common now and I will look into it later this year. Who knows, maybe in years to come someone will pick up a dusty volume written by an exiled jock in the book market in downtown Delhi!
I know that none of you who read this blog want to hear anything remotely pertaining to politics but today I am so angry I feel the need to vent. For those of you of a gentle disposition, please ignore the first paragraph!
The fools who comprise the Irish government are now telling us we are to be locked down at least until May. Their utter lack of leadership has led the country to this point and I suspect it could even be June or July before they reduce to level 4 and allow us the minor relaxation of being allowed to travel within the bounds of our home county. That we have to try to eliminate the virus by reducing person to person contact is clearly understood, it has been for a full year now. Why then did Me-hole Martin and the rest of his cronies present the whole country with a free-for-all for three weeks before Christmas? The virus remains very strong here in the west and I personally know many people who have recently contracted Covid-19. Most are far younger than me and it is a worry how rapidly it spreads through the younger generations. I will have to wait until late spring to go fishing thanks to a government bereft of intelligence, empathy or decency. If I sound bitter it is because I am. Hopes of some relief in March or even April have been dashed and I know exactly who to blame for that. Sorry, rant over!
So fishing is on hold indefinitely. Some anglers, lucky enough to live close to the water, are catching a few salmon from the Drowes and Delphi. Locals down Oughterard way are catching good brownies on the Corrib on trolled brikeen baits too. Apart from that it is all quiet here. Water levels are high so hopefully some spring salmon are nosing their way upstream, unmolested by us anglers. There were good numbers of salmon in most rivers last season and we have to hope that trend continues this year.
I will tie some flies and do some repairs but with the grass growing outside, birds singing in the bushes and the days lengthening it feels like time to be out on the water. I fixed three broken swimfeeders yesterday afternoon but it really just made the longing for the riverbank worse. The swimfeeders were part of a batch I bought online secondhand. It was a good selection of types and weights so it was handy to get me started. Some of them needed repairs and these three had somehow escaped previous attention so I whiled away a few minutes tying on a loop of 30 pound braid and a swivel to each of them. To finish them I wanted to use some silicon tubing to stiffen the new link but try as I might I couldn’t lay my hands on any. They might twist a bit in use but they are a nice size, small enough for everyday use and not like some of the huge, heavy ones I have in my box.
Next up I sorted though some plugs to put together a set to bring coarse fishing with me. I always carry a pike rod in case the roach are not biting. A small tin of metal spoons live in the bottom of the coarse fishing box, different sized Tobys and Atoms, but I think a selection of plugs would be handy too. I have a couple of spare 13cm original Rapalas so I pop them in an old blue plastic box. An 18grm Hi-Lo was lying around so it found a new home. There is a very nice X-rap too which could be a great lure for canal pike. Then there are some tiny wee rapalas which are as likely to lure a perch as a jack. That will do, I just wanted a few plugs to give me an option if metal spoons don’t work on the day.
In an attempt to cheer myself up I ponder over a map of the local area. I am looking for somewhere within 5km of the house where I could wet a line. I know there is nowhere with good fishing but I am desperate so perhaps I can find a few perch in one of the small loughs around the town. Lough Sallagh reputably holds a population of perch but it is surrounded by houses and the margins are dense beds of reeds, so it is no use. Mallard Lough is just on the 5km limit for me, just out the Newport road. I used to live out that direction and passed the lough every day but never fished it despite there being a ramp for launching a boat. Over the years I have heard differing reports about this lough. My angling mates would have all fished it when they were kids, cycling out there with rods strapped to their bikes. All they ever caught were tiny perch and minute jacks. A mate of mine from Westport had much better success a few seasons ago float tubing it with a fly rod and taking pike to double figures there. I have no float tube but I could drop the boat there for a day and see if there are any of these pike still living in the shallow, rocky water. I would not risk taking my engine with me, not knowing the lake it would be an invitation for disaster.
The Castlebar river is just a tad over 5km from home but it is not worth risking fishing there. The cops patrol the path beside the river on bikes, handing out fines to anyone they catch there. It is a shame because there is a good head of trout in the river and it get a big hatch of Large Dark Olives in April.
The far end of Lough Lannagh has a small population of Tench which I might try for once the water warms up a tad. I would be right on the 5km limit and so risking the fine if caught. I heard of one poor chap out Louisbourgh way who was a keen surfer. He just could not stand being cooped up any longer so he went to a local beach to catch a few waves and breathe some fresh air. The cops were waiting for him on the beach when he came in. That is how bad things are in the Irish police state these days. So the tench in Lannagh will have to wait until summer.
It looks like Mallard lough is my only option then. The weather is has been mixed lately with everything from snow and ice to balmy but windy days. Next month will see some proper fishing weather and I will venture out and try for a pike on Mallard then.
We got some snow here over the past few days. Not a lot of snow, maybe an inch or two but enough to make the roads treacherous and to push gas bills into the stratosphere by keeping the heating on all day. It’s February so we should expect some inclement weather I suppose. My problems is still the lockdown and the noises coming out of the Irish government that they will keep level 5 in place into April and maybe even May. Their incompetence knows no bounds! Hundreds dead because they opened the country up too early and now we have to suffer in silence until the summer.
I am making a few flies for Dr. John Connelly today. A wonderful angler and great naturalist, John lives in Pontoon and fishes the loughs around here as often as he can despite his 80 years. One of life’s true gentlemen, I had the pleasure of fishing with him and Derek Woods last year and I promised him then I would make some flies for him. Today seems to be the perfect day for that job.
I started off with my Fiery Brown, just the normal tying but with an added orange hen hackle and jungle cock cheeks.
Then a Katie Bibio which are always a good early season pattern on lough Conn.
A Bumble next, golden olive.
Raymond, that great killer of trout on lough Conn is next.
Green Peter, of course on size 10’s for sedge time.
A teal, Blue and silver in case he is fishing for sea trout…..
Maybe a Yellow Stimulator too, good during the mayfly
I make a few others and chuck in a couple of salmon flies for good measure. John lives right on the shore of Lough Cullin and Conn is well within the dreaded 5km limit of travel so he will be able to get out fishing when he wants. I hope these few flies bring him a trout or two, the good doctor is a great man for winkling a few out!
OK, so the obvious schoolboy error here is I am a full 24 hours late in posting this! I was wrapped up at work all day then busy with household stuff when I got home yesterday so it is only now I have a spare minute or two and can post this to you all. Just imagine it is yesterday!
This date was always one of the major highlights of the angling year for me when I lived in Aberdeen all those years ago. 11th February was the opening day of the salmon season on the river Don. I was very lucky to have easy access to some of the prime water on the lower river and for a few seasons before I moved away from the area. A time of chasing pretty girls, drinking beer, riding motorbikes and catching salmon, what a life! In those marvelous days of my late ‘teens I enjoyed some amazing sport.
As a lad I had fished the local association water which back then came as far down river as the road bridge at the end of the Upper Parkhill beat. While the occasional salmon might make its way that far upstream in the opening weeks it was the hard fished beats from Stoneywood to the sea which offered the best chance of a springer. As luck would have it, I began my working life in Mugiemoss papermill and that factory backed on to a short but very productive stretch of the river, including the famous Saugh pool. The Saugh had been created by a pair of weirs which were part of the scheme to provide vast quantities of water for the mill. These weirs also had the unintended effect of creating a thermal barrier for the migrating salmon. Fish swimming up-river would halt in the Saugh pool and wait there for the water to warm up before continuing their journey. Thus the pool would literally fill up with prime spring salmon.
For the weeks before opening day my fellow anglers and I would watch the pools to see if the fish were coming in. A four story building called the beaterhouse was where I often found myself working and on night shifts a huge security light shone down on to the pool. This was there for safety reasons but also to illuminate the whole pool to deter poachers. Not that the poachers took much notice and they were always very active at this time of the year. One night I recall being told to go and look out at the pool. Someone had seen some movement on the far bank and a few of us opened the door on the top floor of the beaterhouse to see a gang of poachers at work. They had equipped themselves with a very small dinghy which one of them had rowed across the fast flowing water, dragging a net behind him. The bold enterprise degenerated into farce though as the flashing blue lights of the local constabulary caused panic in their ranks. Someone let go of the rope which held the boat and it shot out of the tale of the pool, its occupant screaming blue murder as he disappeared into the white water and out of sight. We heard later there had been arrests and the unfortunate boatman had been recovered, soaked but alive some way downstream.
Most years we would see some salmon from our vantage point, the odd fish turning at the tail of the pool or a resounding splash as one showed in the neck. One season though we could not believe the number of fish that built up in the pool. It was like looking into a giant tin of sardines they were packed so closely together! There was a booking system for the fishing with only 3 rods allowed to fish on the whole beat at any one time. It was the second week of the season that year before I cast a line in the ‘Saugher’ and I managed a couple of fine springers but by then the shoal had largely dispersed.
The fishing itself was pretty ‘agricultural’ shall we say. This was not classic fly water by any stretch of the imagination. The mill owned the right-hand bank. The river poured over the two weirs (which were only 30 yards apart). A deep, fast neck of the pool dug in to the left bank and this had been strengthen by huge blocks of granite. The main current hugged the left bank and a big back-eddy was created on our side. The water was very deep in the middle of the pool and it shallowed as it flowed to the tail. The salmon lay in all areas of the pool depending on height. This was spinning water, pure and simple. In very high water the fishing was better from our side while in what would be classed as the best conditions the flow meant the opposition had the best of it. Strong gear was required and there was nothing subtle about the angling in the Saugh pool! Devon minnows and a wye lead 3 feet above it was the order of the day. The weight would range from 3/8ths to an ounce, depending on conditions. The bottom of the pool was very rough and as we all know, spring salmon fishing means scraping the bottom with your lure. Tackle losses were horrendous! It was nothing to lose 8 or 10 minnows in a session. Sometimes you might retrieve a minnow lost by another angler but it never made up for the immense losses. I used 20 pound breaking strain line but many anglers preferred 30 pound. This was long before Braid was on the market so this was thick, curly mono we were using.
A typical morning would start by signing in at the lodge. This was a security gatehouse where you solemnly wrote your name and angling club number down in a A4 hard-backed book. Pick up a key to the hut while you are there. The walk through the mill, dressed in waders and fishing coat, waving or chatting to fellow workers before descending into the bowels of the mill. Past the huge water pumps and out of the noise and smells of the mill by a door which led to a bridge over the lade (a lade is a man-made waterway for feeding water to a mill, its like a small canal). Down to the wooden shed which was used as the fishermen’s hut and open the door. Time to tackle up as the excitement rises within you. ‘The Opposition’ would be busy already on the other bank, two rods heaving their heavy tackle into the slack water at our side. What would they be like today? Sometimes there was great banter between both sides but there were often heater arguments too!
It is hard to describe what it felt like fishing the mill pools. The constant hum of the huge machines was only a few yards behind you so this no country ideal. The bed of the river was coated in thick, smelly, brown scum caused by generations of waste from the other mills upstream of Mugiemoss. Waste treatment in all the mills was rudimentary back then and the river stank, turned different colours and looked like an open sewer some days. The situation is much better now but back then it was amazing any fish at all could live in those conditions.
Two rods could fish at any one time on the Saugh from our side, a third rod could rotate or go and fish any of the other water. When it was your turn you started at the lower end of the neck and fished down, roughly one step per cast. The total fishable water was less than 100 yards in length. Cast square across, keep the bale arm open to let the bait sink as fast as possible, close the bail arm when you judged the minnow was near the bottom. Hold the rod high and let the minnow work around in the current until it was below you then wind in fast. You might change weight if you were sticking on the bottom or were too light and not feeling the ‘bump, bump’ of the lead/minnow on the rocks. ‘Stickers’ brought a fine array of cuss words and much tugging until the hooks pulled out, straightened under the pressure or the line snapped with a sound like an air rifle.
There was no mistaking it when a salmon took the bait. The rod hooped over and the reel screeched. ‘FUSH’ you would yell in your finest Doric dialect, indicating to the other rods they had to wind in to give you space to play the salmon. In such deep, strong flowing water a fresh salmon usually out up a terrific struggle. A large net was on hand but I often beached a fish on the fine golden sand bar near the tail of the pool. After reading Hugh Faulkus’s book I practiced hand tailing them too and really enjoyed that way of landing a salmon. With such a density of fish in a pool it was inevitable the odd fish would be foul-hooked and that led to some protracted battles. These days we release most of the fish we catch but it was not like that back in the 70’s. Any salmon landed were the property of the mill and had to be killed and handed over. I understand the fish were then sold. The fish were stored in a disused dog kennel near the lodge (they had a number of German Shepherds as security dogs).
Some days the opposition would completely out-fish us, their rods continually bent into another fish. There were days though when we could do no wrong and for whatever reason the fish preferred our baits. I have endless tales of derring-do from those far-off days. Some great characters fished there and got up to the height of nonsense. Huge catches, days when every single fish escaped, lads falling in, rows with the opposition, hip-flasks of whiskey to warm us up on freezing mornings, there was always something going on at down the Saugh pool.
It started fishing there back in 1976 (I joined the mill in May that year) and apart from one day many years later I didn’t fish it once I left Mugiemoss in 1981. During that time the mill water gave me a couple of 20 pounders, very many in the ‘teens and a host of smaller salmon to my rod. Now I look back on the killing of so many fine fish with regret but in those days we had not even heard of conservation. In our view, the bad guys were the netsmen who took a huge toll on the returning salmon. The nets have thankfully been bought out and anglers practice C&R but the salmon numbers continue to decline.
I don’t know who owns the fishing rights to the right bank of the Saugh these days. Granholm still have the left bank as far as I know. Mugiemoss mill shut down and the land cleared years ago. There are smart new house now where the massive machines used to rumble and thunder. With Covid-19 restrictions I doubt if any of us will see spring fishing in 2021 and the best we can hope for is we get access to some angling in the autumn. Our memories will need to tide us over for now and I have those in abundance!
After struggling through a tough week at work I am sitting here at the vice here making flies this weekend. For the past few days I have been battling with a computer which kept crashing, ‘Word’ that froze and ‘Excel’ which corrupted all my spreadsheets as I pulled together the documentation for a ISO45001 audit. Data was lost/corrupted every day and the whole thing was a nightmare culminating in a total melt down of the desktop on while in the middle of the audit itself on Friday. We scraped through but it was a stressful week. I could have really used a day out fishing this weekend but that was not to be. The 5km travel ban is still firmly in place here in Ireland so the best I can do is play some blues guitar and tie some more flies.
Normally I sit down to tie roughly similar flies. It might be a batch of spiders or maybe some shrimps for example but this weekend I just made what came into my head with no rhyme nor reason behind it. Sometimes it is nice to just go with the flow and see what happens.
My black winged olive. I tied this fly up years ago and it was a great pattern for the tail of a wet fly cast. Tippets for a tail, an olive seals fur body with gold rib, a black hen hackle and wings made from slips cut from crow or jackdaw flight feathers.
Coch spiders. Well, kinda! I prefer the paler Greenwell hackle for this pattern. Have not used these for ages but made a few up to try again. Tinsel tag (silver, gold or pearl), peacock herl body and long fibred greenwell hen hackle.
Blue Delphi. Usual pattern but with blue hackles to replace the normal black ones. sea trout like this one very much.
GRHE Bumble. A topping tail, hare’s ear/yellow seals fur mix (50/50) for the body with oval gold ribbing holding down a palmered red game hackle. A couple of turns of a yellow grizzle then three turns of a slightly longer blue grizzle hackle finish it off.
White IPN! Yes, I do make and use rainbow lures and this is as good as any in cold water. Not that I am likely to get the chance to use it anytime soon but I needed a few for the box. I use fire orange silk and leave some of it showing behind the bead in the hope it might suggest gills. White marabou and pearly tinsel chenille with a gold bead. Easy Peasy.
Rogan’s Extractor. Never a big catcher for me but it picks up the odd trout at mayfly time.
Let me see, what news do I have from around here? Delphi picked up their first and second salmon of the season last week. Obviously angling pressure is virtually nil but local rods had a nice wild springer and a rancher. My mate, Ben Baynes, has been elected to the chair of the East Mayo Anglers Association. This is a big job as the club have a lot of water and members. Wishing the big man every success in his new role. The weather is promised to be very cold this coming week so I guess we will just batten down the hatches for a while.
I try not to get involved in arguments about fishing. It is a gentle sport and no place for heated fights but if there is one subject guaranteed to raise hackles it is the choice of running line. Somewhat against my better judgement here are my own thoughts on the thorny subject.
I grew up in the era when there was only a very limited choice of line. Everyone used nylon, the only exception was sea anglers who used stuff called Dacron. Dacron has, rightly, been consigned to the dustbin of angling gear. It was not good mainly because it was so thick. I fished with for a few years back in the day but the claimed benefits of low stretch and good strength were comprehensively outweighed by the way it caught the tide and lifted you bait/lure off the bottom.
So nylon was your only option back in the 70’s and 80’s. Maxima was very popular with salmon anglers and while I caught more than my fair share of salmon it I switched to Stren when it came on the market. I don’t know if it is still available but I liked the golden yellow Stren and I can’t recall it ever letting me down. Then along came a new line – braid.
These days boat anglers are using braid more and more. Skippers generally hate the stuff as sorting out tangles with braid is the devils own work but some anglers love the bite detection and thinness of braid. I have used braid on my big multipliers for a few years now and aside from the afore mentioned tangle issue I find it excellent line. I still have nylon on my feathering reel though as constant jigging up and down seems to suit the stiffer nylon better.
I have flirted with braid on and off. I use it now on my trolling rods where I want strong line to cope with vicious takes and rough treatment when trying to prize baits from the bottom when they become snagged. Braid has been a godsend for this type of fishing and most of the other troll fishers I know swear by braid. By local standards I fish light with 30 pound braid on my trolling rods. Many of the lads use 70 pound! Would I go back to nylon for trolling? No, I don’t think I would. I have grown accustomed to braid and will stay with it from now on.
I have tried using braid on my spinning rods but have to admit I swapped back to nylon again. I didn’t enjoy casting with braid, it seemed to ‘dig in’ to the spool and any advantage I gained from low diameter was lost by the stickiness of it as it came off the spool during a cast. I reverted back to 15 pound nylon for my salmon fishing and have not regretted it (so far).
I wish I could say I like using the modern co-polymers, fluorocarbons, etc but in truth I have no faith in them. I have a habit of giving my line or trace a sharp tug before using it and when I did this with those ‘double strength’ and other new products they snapped in my hands. The only one I like is ‘Riverge’ which is horribly expensive but is an excellent product. I often see visiting anglers using extremely long fluorocarbon leaders when fishing the local loughs, maybe around 20 feet or more in length. This might be required on English stillwaters but I doubt they will bring you many additional trout here in Ireland. I personally use nylon for most of my leaders and am happy to stick to that. Many of the top anglers around here use a nine foot leader made out of 8 pound nylon!
Looking at my filled reels here is what is on them right now:
Both ABU Ambassadeur 7000’s – 20 pound nylon. Used for shore fishing
Daiwa PM9000H Fixed spool – 20 pound nylon. As above
ABU Ambassadeur 6500C – 18 pound nylon. As above
Winfield multipliers x 6 – 18 pound nylon. As above
ABU Ambassadeur 10000C – 50 pound braid. Used for boat fishing.
Penn Del Mar – 20 pound nylon. Used for feathering mackerel from the boat.
ABU Ambassadeur 4500CB, 5500C, 5000D’s and 6000’s – 30 pound braid. All used for piking, trolling etc.
Light fixed spools – mainly 6 pound nylon but lighter lines on some coarse fishing reels
Baitcasting reels – 6 pound nylon
Looking at that list there is obviously some rationalisation required. The 20 pound nylon on the big beachcasting reels is a hangover from a bulk spool I bought a while back. Similarly the 10 pound nylon I have habitually filled my 3500 series fixed spools could be upgraded to 15 pound to simplify things a little. The minor loss of distance would not be a big issue for me.
I have gravitated to braid on my trolling and boat fishing multipliers and nylon for everything else. I didn’t set out to do this, it just grew organically over time as I tried different options and ended where I am today. This may not suit everyone but it seems to work for me and I am happy to keep going like this.
For a few weeks now there have been rumors circulating in the county of strange goings-on in the cold waters of Clew Bay. The lockdown has meant that very few people can see what was allegedly happening but the reports were pretty consistent. Explosions of bait fish were to be seen, obviously being chased by predators. but what could the mysterious winter visitors be? Dolphins some people said but others were not convinced.
Today a good and trusted friend showed me a couple of video clips. He wouldn’t share how he came by them but it was very obvious where they were taken, from the salmon farm in Clew bay. There were two clips, each a few minutes in duration and of high quality. One was taken from a boat and the other was shot underwater. In both you can clearly see the culprits who have been harrying the bait. Tuna.
We all know that Tuna visit Irish waters and some specialist boats go out fishing for them. I have not heard of the tuna coming into the bay before now though. I have tried to upload both the clips here but so far only the underwater one has uploaded (I will keep trying). While it is wonderful to see these majestic fish it is heart-breaking to know they will soon be dead. The Japanese tuna fishing fleet is just off the coast, ready to sweep up the fish when they move slightly offshore. For now, they are feeding hard on small fish, probably sprats or herring fry. Why can’t we just leave these amazing creatures alone?
With time on my hands I have been thinking a lot about my fishing. Of course I am missing getting out with rod and line something terrible. I snuck out once in December but apart from that I have not fished for 3 months now. With lockdown set to continue well into the spring this year I am brooding over what I am missing. Which led me to contemplate, what exactly am I longing for so much? Today I thought I would write down what Irish angling is all about, hopefully to give you visitors, and potential visitors, an insight into what makes Ireland such a great place for us anglers. Being non-Irish and having fished here initially as a tourist before pitching up in a full time capacity I kinda have two very different perspectives on the subject.
Anglers have written whole books about fishing here so my paltry few words will not add greatly to the subject but one day this pandemic will ease and we will regain the ability to travel and I hope this post generates some interest in coming to Ireland.
Let’s get the downsides out of the way first. Ireland should be the premier angling destination in the world. I honestly believe that! 100 years ago the rivers and loughs were full of fish and the seas teemed with everything from sprats to tuna. Destruction of habitat, pollution, over fishing and neglect have destroyed vast swathes of the aquatic habitat and fauna. Thousands of miles of rivers were dammed, dredged and straightened in the name of hydro-electric power, flood prevention and land reclamation.
I understand the need for electricity, huge parts of the country did not have mains electricity well into the 1960’s so there was some justification at that time but those days are long gone and the mighty dams like Ardnacrusha on the Shannon and the Erne barrage have outlived their usefulness and could be removed. Ardnacrusha was completed in 1929 so it is nearly 100 years old. The last Model T Ford rolled off the production line when this dam was being built. Would we be happy running about in a Model T these days? I think not and these dams on Irish rivers are similarly out dated. For comparison, could you imagine the River Tay in Scotland being dammed at Perth? Both rivers are of a similar size but the Tay has a healthy run of Atlantic salmon, whereas only a handful of fish evade the turbines on the Shannon and the once prolific upstream beats are now devoid of life.
Fish have never really been very high on the list of considerations in this country. Unlike many European countries there has never been a tradition of eating seafood and most of what is caught commercially goes for export to mainland Europe. Fish were just a resource to generate some money but beyond that nobody cared much about them. Poaching was always a part of rural life here. A salmon netted out of the local river was a welcome addition to meagre diets for the poor farmers back in the day and who could blame them when you lived close to starvation all the time. These days poaching is a much more sinister business involving organised gangs, sometimes armed, netting and poisoning rivers at night. Some river systems are notorious for the poaching effort and are not worth fishing as a result.
Apart from the dams, the huge expanses of bog across the country were destroyed by state agencies in the name of progress. Peat has a very low calorific value but in a country where there was no coal, apart from a very small coalfield in the north, the decision to build peat burning power stations seemed to make sense. A huge industry grew up around the collection, drying and burning of the peat which is only winding down now. Narrow gauge railways snaked across the bog for miles and huge machines ripped the sodden ground apart to remove the ancient turf. Rivers were damaged or re-directed and the spawning beds became unusable for the fish as the fine particles of peat clogged the gravel. It was environmental vandalism on a grand scale. No attempts were made to mitigate all this destruction. It was just bog and seen as little more than useless.
Arterial drainage. Those two words strike terror into the hearts of anyone who cares about the environment. Here in Ireland the government has a department called the Office of Public Works or OPW. Let me be very clear here – these people operate above the law. It doesn’t matter what EU legislation says, the OPW will just do what it wants with impunity, and what the OPW likes more than anything is to dig. Oh how they love digging things up! Show them a winding, natural watercourse and they will have that dredged, straightened and even encased in concrete at the drop of a hat. They have been at this for years and the level of wanton destruction is almost beyond belief.
I will end this litany of woes with fish farming. A disgusting, nasty business which has made a handful of Norwegians extremely rich and damaged the fauna of the west of Ireland beyond repair. A tiny number of poorly paid jobs was the bait and the government fell for it. The tortured and malformed creatures in the cages often escape and add further pressure on the already struggling rivers of the west. Sea lice in their billions ravage the native trout, eating them alive. We are stuck with the farms as nobody in government has any interest in closing them down.
On the bright side
OK, that is enough doom and gloom. I wanted you to see both the good and the bad to see that there are two sides to fishing here. Now we move on to the good stuff! Let’s start with brown trout fishing on the great loughs.
I don’t have any figures but I would suspect that the majority of anglers who come here do so to fish the great lakes. Corrib and Mask are the obvious ones with some anglers trying their luck on Sheelin, Conn, Cullin or Carra. Maybe some venture to Ennel or Owel in the midlands or the huge Erne system which straddles the border. What is all the fuss about then?
There are so many facets to fishing these hallowed waters it is difficult to know where to start. I suppose the biggest attraction is you are fishing for completely wild trout. The fish spawn in all the small rivers and streams which flow into these loughs and are direct descendants of the fish which colonised the loughs after the last ice age. They are truly beautiful creatures and it is a joy to catch even the smallest of them. Not that they are all small! Every season double figure trout are caught on the fly from the Corrib and Mask. A three pounder will not turn anyone’s head on those waters. Wet fly is the preferred method, a cast of three flies, flicked ten yards in front of a drifting boat. Some of the fishing is out in the deeps while at other times you can scrape the keel of the boat on the tops of jagged limestone rock as you search out fish in the shallows around the shore or the islands. Dry fly is good, especially during the mayfly season. Dapping is hugely popular on the Corrib, less so on Mask. Carra used to respond well to a dapped grasshopper in August. I rarely see a dapping rod on Conn or Cullin though.
So what is the big attraction? The fishing is technically simple after all. I think it is the ‘total package’ which makes trout fishing here so wonderful. The day starts at 9 or 10 o’clock typically. Visitors staying in a hotel or B&B will have no doubt availed of a huge breakfast (the full Irish) to ‘set you up for the day’. If you have hired the services of a ghillie there will be the usual chat about prospects as the boat is loaded to overflowing with all manner of angling gear and then you are off under wide skies and (hopefully) in the face of a good breeze. Depending on your ghillie, drifts will be in total silence or with a running commentary of every topic under the sun. Tales of great fish caught and lost, the latest gossip from around the village, world events – they are all covered from the unique perspective of an Irish boatman. Those of sensitive disposition need to know that here the use of curse words is an integral part of the language. Around 1 o’clock you will pull into an island or sheltered bay for the lunch. Out comes a Kelly kettle or similar device and some hot reviving tea or coffee is handed around. Time to stretch your legs after being cramped up in the boat all morning. More chat about the fishing and plans for the remainder of the day. Relieve your bladder behind some bushes. Tie up a new cast maybe. All of this at a leisurely, unhurried pace. Indeed, on a slow days fishing there is a tendency to linger on shore and just enjoy being outside in the fresh air. The afternoon may produce a few fish, then again it may not. Cast, retrieve, cast retrieve. The ghillie strokes the water with one oar out the back of the boat, correcting the drift as he sees fit. Tangles are sorted out, rainwater baler from the bottom of the boat, sudden excitement as a trout shows close to the boat, waving to other boats as they pass by. Any luck? A slow sweep of a hand indicates they have not met any fish. The glorious countryside provides a backdrop you will long recall. By the end of the day, usually between 5 and 6pm but it does vary, you motor back to the harbour and unload the gear. Back at your accommodation the tiredness sets in and a pint of Guinness in your hand feels heavy. Another huge dinner is greedily consumed. If you are in or close to a town or village there is always the option of heading to a local pub for some drinks and craik with the locals. It really is a fabulous way to spend your days.
How about salmon fishing on the loughs? The situation here is patchy and some of the best fisheries now struggle to provide good fishing. Others are still plugging away and a day on Inagh, Carrowmore or Beltra will live long in your memory. The format is very similar to the day outlined above but the fishing is harder. Don’t expect to see fish jumping. Most days you won’t see any showing at all. This is a game of stoic determination and workmanship. On some loughs the ideal conditions are summed up as ‘a good wave’. To anyone but an Irish salmon fisher a ‘good wave’ is a terrifying ride in a small boat being tossed around in huge waves. You get soaked, no matter how good your expensive rain gear is. Waves top the sides of the boat and the ghillie battles with the oar to keep you broadside to the weather. Turning into the waves at the end of a drift he opens the throttle and the boat rises and plunges as you forge your way through the white tops. Just to be out on the water in this kind of a day is invigorating. The day-to-day existence which most of us live, commuting, the office, sitting in front of a television, all pale as you are tossed around in this maelstrom. You feel alive! Then, out of nowhere and in slow motion, a great silver fish ploughs through the waves, arrowing towards your flies. It seems to take forever to turn down and it takes all your experience not to strike immediately. The fish sinks down and the line tightens, you are into one! Those minutes as the fish runs, jumps, bores deep or simply sulks are priceless. The Ghillie’s deft swipe with the cavernous net and the fish is aboard. You hold him up for the obligatory photographs before slipping him back into the water. There is no other feeling like this. The rain pours down and the wind howls like the banshee but you care not a jot. As angling experiences go, a springer on the fly from an Irish lough is high up there as one of the best.
I think it is true to say that few visiting anglers come here to fish the rivers for wild trout and this is a great pity. For years I have fished my local rivers and have yet to meet a solitary visitor. I would dearly love to see some of the fine anglers from across the globe fishing my local Irish rivers. These little fished streams have a charm, and the fish, to make even the most jaded angler very happy indeed.
Unlike the loughs, there is little in the way of infrastructure for the river fishers. Access is notoriously difficult, often resembling hacking your way through a jungle rather than actually fishing, but there is some really great fly fishing to be had for those who persevere. I wear chest waders on the river so I can get into the water and wade upstream as required instead of negotiating the wild banks. Do not bring your expensive waders with you. Use a cheap pair you don’t mind about as the thorns, barbed wire and other hazards will almost certainly result in a tear in the fabric sooner rather than later. A wading stick is a necessity in my book, for wading obviously but also to help cross electric fences and a host of other obstacles. The trout you encounter are of course completely wild, there is no stocking of the rivers here. A competent fly fisher will delight in the variety of water to fish, the range of tactics to be deployed and the number/size of the trout. Your typical day on a limestone river will throw up may be a dozen trout between 8 and 14 inches. Trout grow to 5 or 6 pounds and some even bigger! You will most likely have miles of river to yourself. I consider the limestone rivers of the west of Ireland to be a hidden gem and well worth the effort. Even for you dyed-in-the-wool lough lads and lasses, packing a set of river gear when you come over gives the option of a day on the streams if the loughs are ‘off’ or the weather is against you. Tackle wise, your favourite 4 or 5 weight set up will do just fine.
Sea anglers have been coming to Ireland for decades now. The surf beaches of Kerry drew them here as far back as the early ‘60’s. Sadly, our sea fishing is but a shadow of what it used to be. I don’t think I can in all honesty recommend you come here for a sea fishing holiday based solely on catches. By all means come for the experience. The craik after the day out, the hospitality and wonderful scenery are still the same as ever but there are less fish around than of old. I used to come to Ireland on holiday back in the ‘70s and ‘80s when catching 3 or 4 rays, dozens of wrasse, buckets full of mackerel and pollack were the norm. Now we rely on dogfish for most of our sport. The odd ray still puts in an appearance too. Until the overfishing off the west coast is addressed (don’t hold your breath) the situation is not going to change.
The English and European coarse anglers found Ireland to be a paradise many years ago and until the pandemic they made their way to the midlands every year. The small towns in the heart of Ireland rang with the voices of French, Italian and English visitors as they spent a couple of weeks in late spring or summer fishing the lakes for bream, roach, tench and pike. Please come back when you can! With only a handful of commercial coarse fisheries in the whole country this is primarily wild fishing and it can be exceptionally good. I am only a beginner at this branch of the sport but the experts make impressive catches. Regarding tackle, what you use at home will work here. Maggots and worms are by far the most popular baits. Once again though, it not just the fishing which makes it so attractive to come here. The soft Irish weather, the stunning greenery of the country, the friendliness of the locals. There is something unique about rural Ireland, something which endures despite the changes wrought by modern times.
So what is putting you off coming to Ireland on a fishing trip? You have probably heard it is expensive. Well it is! Yes, the cost of living is very high here, nothing is cheap. Living here you become used to it and don’t bat an eyelid at the ridiculous prices charged for everything. Hotel accommodation is very pricy. B&B’s offer slightly better value. Camping has never been a big thing in Ireland so there are only a few campsites around. Eating out is expensive too so you need to budget for that as well. I can’t gloss over it, you will have to pay a fair bit to holiday here but the experience is so unique I think you will find it worthwhile.
Bring good waterproofs with you. It does tend to rain a lot here so pack accordingly. Make sure your travel insurance is up to date as the cost of healthcare should anything go wrong while you are here is incredible expensive. This especially applies to UK visitors who are so used to the wonderful NHS they find it a terrible shock to be presented with a huge bill after an unplanned visit to an Irish hospital. The question of hiring a ghillie needs to be discussed. It is a considerable expense to hire a ghillie for a whole week. Normally a ghillie can be had for around €100/€120 per dayplus a tip. He/she will know the water you are fishing like the back of their hand, will help with setting up your tackle, control the boat on the drift and selecting the right flies. They handle the boat and help out at lunchtime. It does not sound like much maybe but as someone who ghillies from time to time I can assure you it is a hard days work. My personal recommendation is you hire a ghillie for one or maybe two days, you will learn a lot and be more confident if you go out on your after that. Over the years I have seen time and time again days when the boat with a competent ghillie catches fish while the other boats (with excellent anglers on board) come in dry. I think I need to add that the picture of old fashioned ghillies has receded into the mists of time. Gone are the days of a curmudgeonly old man in tweeds who tells you what to do and woe betide if you don’t do his bidding! All the ghillies I know are knowledgeable, friendly, helpful and, above all, expert anglers.
There are good tackle shops in most towns and cities so please avail of them. Spending a few Euro in them helps to keep them going (we have lost many over the last few years). Prices are maybe a tad higher then you are used to paying but it is nice to have a piece of tackle to take home from your trip here.
These days it is easy to do all the research necessary to find the right place to come. Blogs like this one, YouTube videos, endless publications all contain valuable information which will allow you to plan your trip. Take your time and plan so you have some alternatives if your chosen fishery(s) are not doing well. I used to make sure I had at least one day off from the fishing during a holiday, time to re-charge the batteries and have a look around the locality.
My apologies if I am sounding like I work for the tourist board! The lockdown has deprived us all of things we took for granted and it seemed to me that losing our annual influx of anglers from abroad has been a major loss. When travel restrictions are lifted, and they surely will be eventually, I urge you to consider a trip to Ireland. A warm welcome awaits you here.
I am busy topping up my river fly boxes and it has got me thinking about why I habitually tie wings on some patterns and not on others. Do a couple of slips from a starling really make all that difference to a fly? Do the fish even notice if the neatly paired wings are present? In my humble opinion some fly are better catchers when winged while other it seems will tempt the trout in either winged or hackled versions.
Like most fly tyers I hated wings when I was starting out at the vice. They were so fiddly and no matter how much I tried I could never get them right. Different lengths, lop-sided, too wide or too narrow – the list of problems felt endless and just handling the damn things was torture. So most of my earliest creations were spiders or palmers. Gradually though I became better at handling the tricky little slips and could tied a reasonably good wing. It then became a matter of choice if I applied wings or not. Dry flies in particular vexed me, could the fish even see an upright wing from below I mused? Nowadays I suspect they can as they rarely take a fly from precisely below and at any other angle I think they see something of the wing, be that just a vague outline. Honestly, who knows? None of us will ever really know what a fish sees and all of this is pure conjecture.
I’m sitting surrounded by all my fishing gear and listening to some old progressive rock. So let’s think about which patterns benefit from being winged. This is purely my take on some old favourites but you may wildly disagree. Isn’t that one of the joys of fishing, there really is no right and wrong, we all have our own way of doing things.
Wickhams Fancy (and all its wonderful variants) – A definite ‘winged’ from me. I am convinced this great pattern is better with wings but am still none-the-wiser as to why they take it in the first place.
Greenwells Glory – I use both. I love a Greenwell spider on the river during the early months of the year. I also use a Greenwell with woodcock wings and a yellow floss tail on stillwaters where it does great execution.
Black spider vs black Gnat. I prefer a Black Gnat to a Black Spider but please don’t ask me to justify this point of view, it is just something that has grown with me over the years. I still use various black spiders but the gnat with a silver tip is a topper of a fly in my book.
Olive dun / Blue dun / Ginger quill – all winged most of the time. I suspect these patterns are taken for winged duns and as such I like to wing them. I tie blue dun spiders too though just to add confusion!
March Brown – Agh, I have to say I changed tune on this one. I used to prefer the winged one back in Scotland. We used to get hatches of the natural on the Aberdeenshire Don so a size 12 winged MB was a good fly. Here in Ireland we don’t get a hatch on March Browns so the spider version does fine and I am guessing it is taken as a LDO nymph.
Iron Blue – both winged and spider. The hackled lad for early in the day and a change to the winged version if/when the duns start to hatch. I have fished like that since I was a lad and it has caught me a lot of trout over the decades.
Yellow May Dun – Always winged for me
Adams – Sometimes I don’t bother with wings on my Adams dry flies and they catch me loads of trout. But I always carry a few Adams sporting grey poly wings and I love these during a hatch of olives.
Of course I frequently fish both winged and spider flies on the same cast when fishing wets. This covers all the bases. Indeed, I sometimes fish a beaded fly on the tail, a hackled pattern in the middle and a winged fly on the bob. That is a nice set up for searching the water when there is no signs of life.
So how do I sum up all of the above? There is no sane reason for deciding which of my river flies are better with wings, it has just grown organically over the years. I have found a black gnat to be a better fly than the black spider but I have no idea why that should be. By now I suspect that confidence in a pattern may be an important factor. Whatever you have most faith in personally will usually be the best bet.
Here is a question for all you coarse anglers out there. What is your decision process when deciding to opt for loose feeding or ground baiting? As a newbie I am still confused about which to use. Due to the lockdown last year there were no other anglers around to learn off of so I have been trying to puzzle all this out on my own.
My coarse angling was confined to natural stillwaters and canals last year and my planned trips to fish the rivers for winter roach this month are obviously on hold due to the pandemic. My target species are roach, bream, hybrids, rudd and perch but being of easy virtue I accept anything that is willing to bite. Bear in mind we don’t have crucians, chub, dace, carp, ruffe or catfish here (Ok so there are a tiny number of carp fisheries in Ireland but none near me). My methods are normally one rod on the waggler and the other either touch legering in the margins or a swimfeeder further out. I don’t fish with the pole. Looking back the float probably catches 60% of the fish, a worm legered in the margins about 30% and a measly 10% fall to the swimfeeder. Maggot tempts most of my fish but the worm is very good too. To date I have found sweetcorn useless and have not tried other baits such as bread, paste or even casters.
From the above is looks to me like I am very inefficient with the swimfeeder and too conservative with my bait choice. Watching videos by expert anglers has confused me more than anything. Do all these fancy groundbaits really make such a difference? Does some mush labelled ‘crab and coconut’ or whatever really drive the fish mad? I am deeply reluctant to fork out 6 or 7 Euro for such smelly delicacies on the off chance they will attract a few fish into a swim. But then again my brown crumb with some maggots approach is none too successful so far. I did reasonably well one day when I added some vanilla to the groundbait but have not had the opportunity to try that experiment again.
Up till now my typical approach is to fire in some balls of groundbait, usually brown crumb with a few maggots, while I am setting up. I will throw in some more balls for the first 20 minutes or so and if I start catching I will either loose feed a trickle of maggots or chuck in the odd ball of groundbait. I must admit this does not seem to work too well as I often catch in short bursts and can’t seem to hold a shoal in front of me. What am I doing wrong? It has crossed my mind that I am overfeeding but judging by the videos it doesn’t look like it. As a rough guide, half a pint of maggots and a small tub of worms will last me a 4 or 5 hour session, usually with some left over. I use a bag of brown crumb in that time too.
I like watching Greame Pullen’s ‘Totally awesome fishing show’, it is both entertaining and informative. He makes up a cheap groundbait based on bran and no.1 horse feed, something I might try this year. None of the tackle shops in the immediate area stock things like groundbait and I have no desire to buy that fancy stuff online. I want to make my own and the TAF recipe looks to be as good as any I have seen.
Watching all those videos I was struck by the fact they are often filmed on days when conditions are perfect. ‘It’s a lovely day on the such-and-such canal’ says the angler sitting on the banks of a picture perfect swim and the water is not the colour of oxtail soup or the wind blowing a hooley (my normal conditions). I am maybe just impatient and just need to stick to the basics and I’ll pick up the tricks of the trade. Any ideas from you guys would be deeply appreciated!
Just a quick update on what is happening here in Ireland. The level 5 lockdown is still in force and is being rigorously enforced by the guards. No travel beyond 5km unless you are travelling to work. That means for virtually all anglers there is no fishing. The death rate and rate of infection are both stubbornly high so it is unlikely the restrictions will be lifted any time soon. Here in Mayo we have some of the highest per capita rates in the country which is a bit scary. Areas like Belmullet have been particularly badly hit.
As an Interim Manager I lead an odd sort of life. I am either buried in work, often far from home, or I am unemployed and dossing about in Castlebar. The contract I am working on right now falls somewhere in between those states as I am working in Westport, just long the road. I get home every evening and even better, the hours I work mean I finish up at 1pm every Friday. So yesterday afternoon I left the old car in to Mick to get a small job done on it and came home to a warm house and an afternoon off. Bliss! Coffee in hand and Rory Gallagher on the turntable, I settled down at the vice to knock up a few flies.
I know I am going over very well worn territory here with this post but spiders are a major part of my river fly fishing armoury and yesterday I was busy at the vice topping up the early season boxes. While they catch fish at any time it is the first couple of months of the season that I rely on them most. Some are copies of naturals like the Iron Blue or the large dark olive while others are more general patterns. Here is what I was tying.
An old reliable, the P&O
I started out with the good old Partridge and Orange. A size 14 hook, orange Pearsall gossamer silk for the body and a fine gold rib. I like a thorax of a couple of turns of peacock herl and a hackle of brown partridge back feather. Very simple but very, very deadly. I have tried them on bigger and small hooks but nothing is as effective as a 14. I see many anglers waxing lyrical about the partridge and yellow but I have caught very few trout on that pattern. Orange is king in my book.
Then I moved on to Plover and Hares Lug. Yellow silk on 12 or 14 hook, hare’s ear body with either a narrow flat gold tinsel rib or fine oval gold and the hackle made from a golden plover feather. I am almost out of golden plover feathers and they are very hard to find these days.
my black spider
Black spiders now. Fl. orange tying silk and a flat holo black tinsel body with a silver wire rib for protection. A turn of a the small blueish feather from the upper side of a Jackdaw’s wing finishes this one off. The orange silk head gives a nice target for the fish.
olive partridge spider
My olive partridge spider was next on the list. As size 14 again and this time olive tying silk body ribbed with fine gold wire. I make a few variations of this pattern by changing the hackle, it can be a natural brown partridge feather or the same feather dyed different shades of olive. For some reason I seem to normally fish this pattern in the middle of the cast.
Whirling Blue Dun Spider
Whirling blue duns. Maybe not used that often these days but I like when olives are hatching out. Tails and hackle are ginger hen and the body is made for moles fur. I use yellow tying silk on a 14 or 16 hook. I tie then in both spider and winged versions, using starling for the wings.
Pheasant Tail (well sort of)
Pheasant tails. Where do you start with this fly, there are hundreds of variations. I like to use crimson tying silk and the body is made from the ubiquitous cock pheasant tail herls, but dyed yellow. the tail which is made from brown partridge fibres. The hackle is the same feather. One for May evenings……
Iron Blue Dun. Darkest Iron blue hackle and tails, crimson silk dubbed with moles fur on a size 16 or 18 hook. All too often I see Iron Blue Duns tied with hackles which are far too pale. When you see the natural on the water you will realise they are nearly black.
My Ginger Partridge is a handy pattern for searching streamy water. A yellow sik body with a fine gold wire rib on a size 14 hook. There are two hackles, one turn each of a brown partridge back feather with a ginger hen in front.
The blue dun I tie is very simple. Yellow silk on a size 16 hook. Heron herl, either natural or dyed olive for the body with a fine gold wire rib to give the herls some protection. A pale blue dun hen hackle at the neck. Of course you can add blae wings.
Red spider. This is one for summer evenings. Usually a size 14 but strangely I have had success with a size 12 too. Red gossamer silk body with a fine gold wire rib and a red game hen hackle. You can add a lime green butt if you like but to be honest I can say that has proved any more effective.
Partridge and hare. Yellow silk, fine flat gold tinsel to rib a body of dubbed hare’s ear fur. A brown partridge hackle to finish. Not a million miles away from a March Brown pattern but we are not blessed with MB’s here in the west of Ireland. A general nymph like spider that does well early on.
Grey dun. Two versions here, the light and dark. Hackle is the same for both, from the knuckle of a coot’s wing. Body is pale straw coloured tying silk for the light version and black silk for the dark one.
Hook lengths have been a bit of a concern for me in my new found drive to learn about all things coarse fishing. I am maybe just being hyper critical, but my game angling background taught me that the final connection between main line and hook was often the difference between success and abject failure. Choice of hook, thickness/colour/ length of line and knots used all had to be correct if I was to fool a fish and hang on to it when fly fishing. I imagine the same is true of the final few inches when chasing roach.
Not being a competition angler I don’t require a vast armoury of gear so a few pre-tied rigs does me fine for a day on the canal bank. I have seen anglers with those plastic hook length boxes which are then filled with rows of perfectly tied hook lengths of exactly the same dimensions. I greatly admire the guys who populate those boxes and keep them topped up. I am not that accurate when tying my hook lengths and don’t trust bought ones so instead I acquired a couple of foam lined rig wallets and use them for my hook lengths. That works well enough for me and it means I can store a few hair rigs in there too. Not being a carp angler per say the world of hair rigs, bolt rigs, helicopter rigs or ronnies don’t really concern me too often. My interest in hair rigs simply extends as far as bigger baits for tench or using a pop up in weedy conditions.
I think I have mentioned in a previous post how much I detest snelling tiny spade end hooks. For someone who makes small trout flies it seems a bit weird that I struggle with a simple knot on a size 20. In the end I decided to cut my losses and invest in a hook tyer. These can be purchased for a very small amount. A simple little gadget, this has greatly speeded up my creation of hook lengths. The particular one I bought is a ‘Matchman tyer’ but there are lots of different ones made by other manufacturers out there. The added bonus of using the tyer is that you can easily use the tag end loop to make a hair rig.
In an effort to try and regulate my stock of hook lengths for use here in Ireland I settled on the following standard set ups made up in my (roughly) 4 and 6 inch lengths:
line breaking strain
I realise this is a crude and unsophisticated arrangement but hear me out. Irish coarse fishing consists of relatively straight forward methods. Yes, a competition angler would need to be able to make many small adjustments to maximise their catch but a pleasure angler like me will do just fine with the above range of hook lengths. The smallest sizes are used for single maggot, usually for fishing on a canal. I use size 14 and 16 hooks for two/three maggots, a section of worm or sweetcorn and the bigger hooks are for larger worm baits or bread flake. For bigger fish like tench or carp I make up special rigs on eight pound line. These I keep in another rig wallet but given the rare occasions I might fish for carp it sees little action. If, for some reason I feel the need for a hook length which is different from my ‘standard’ ones I make them up with eyed hooks when fishing. I carry some packets of eyed hooks in my waistcoat pocket for this purpose.
As for attaching the hook length to the main line I use two methods. For the lighter lines I tie a simple surgeon’s loop on the hook length and make a loop-to-loop connection. On heavier lines I sometimes use a tiny swivel. I guess there is a reason why swivels are not used by most coarse anglers but they make perfect sense to me. The tiniest ones add only a small amount of weight.
When fishing, I change hook lengths fairly regularly, usually to change hook size or if I suspect it has been abraded on the bottom. I cut the old hook length off and put it into a box I carry just for this purpose. The same happens if I change my whole rig, I snip it off and put it in the box to be dealt with later. When I get home (or more usually the next day) I go through the contents of the box and chop up all the line into tiny sections for disposal. I salvage all the useful hooks, shot, floats etc. and put them back into their respective tackle boxes. The whole point is not to be messing about on the bank and to get the baited hook in front of the fish as much as possible.
Expert coarse fishers are no doubt appalled at my lack of sophistication here but look, we all had to start somewhere. I have tried to apply a degree of logical thinking into organising my hook lengths and it seems to be working for me so far. A potential fly in the ointment is my growing interest in method feeders. Would they offer me an advantage when trying for tench? If so, I might need shorter hook lengths. A conundrum for another day…………
One of the reasons it took me so long to take up coarse fishing was my perception that you required a huge amount of tackle. In particular, the sight of anglers with barrows loaded to the gunnels with bivvys, beds, chairs, multi-sectioned poles, fancy cooking and lighting gear, bite alarms and myriad of other hi-tech accessories left me cold. Hell, the complex seats sprouting all manner of trays, umbrellas, pole roller systems et al made me feel totally inadequate. It was only when I broke down what I absolutely needed that the shopping list became manageable. Even still, I am slowly buying little bits which, while not essential, are making my angling more enjoyable. These are not ‘big ticket’ items. For the fishing that I do a €500 seat with all the bells and whistles would be overkill. I admit I am considering an umbrella but it will only be a very basic model. The reason for taking my time in deciding whether to buy a brolly is the fact wet weather here in Ireland often coincides with high winds. The jury is still out…..
It is the smaller items which I have bought which are bringing the greatest rewards. The hook tyer mentioned above is typical of the kind of thing I am talking about. I also got a multi-purpose needle which is great for attaching bait on to hair rigs for example. A nice woolly hat with a built in rechargeable LED light is another, great for setting up or packing up in the dark. Artificial maggots were a welcome discovery. They float and don’t easily fall off the hook so they are ideal for tipping natural baits, preventing them from falling off and at the same time lifting them above the debris on the bottom. None of these thing cost much money but they all added to the experiences of a day with float and leger.
If I had some money (I don’t so this is purely a day dream) I know what I would invest in – a boat! ‘You have a boat you bloody fool’ I hear you say. Correct, but my 19 foot fibreglass boat is intended for lough fishing and is a devil to tow/launch/retrieve. No, what I would buy is an inflatable dory and an electric engine. Easy to transport and inflate, a 2.3m or 2.5m dory would be ideal for accessing rarely fished parts of loughs. Here in some parts of Ireland we have whole systems of loughs which are full of fish but you cannot access them from the shore. A small inflatable would provide me with a huge range of opportunities. And I just love messing about in boats. So the answer to the question ‘what would you do if you won the lottery’ would surely elicit an unusual reply from me.
I am rabbiting on a bit now. I wanted to talk about hook lengths and here I am going on about inflatable boats! I guess that is a reflection of my mind now, with no fishing my thoughts are wandering down all sorts of avenues. Mind yourselves out there and I will write again when I am less scattered.
It’s a Friday evening in January and I am in front of the fire. For the last hour I have been practising on the guitar and dreaming about angling. I am feeling particularly happy because my ancient car (20 years old, 317,000 miles on the clock) sailed through the NCT test this week. I had been anticipating the usual handful of expensive repairs but instead it passed with flying colours. It was a welcome break from the unremittingly bad news that seems to surround us and is hard to take every day. Infection and fatality numbers continue to rise and the pandemic feels like it is out of control in Ireland. For me, it feels like it is largely self-inflicted. I know of so many people who flouted the most basic of rules over the festive period, gathering in groups for house parties, not wearing a mask or washing their hands (especially after a few drinks) and even passing bottles or glasses between each other. This was only going to end one way and sure enough we are all paying the price now with new restrictions on our freedoms being enacted by the government most days. In an effort to try to give you something more optimistic to think about I thought you might like to hear what my plans are for the 2021 season.
I am going to write off the spring. At best we may get some easing of travel restrictions in March but I doubt even that will happen so I am assuming it will be April before we are allowed out to fish again. For me personally that is not a huge issue as I will be very busy with work until the start of April.
For a start, I am aiming on ticking off a few more counties in my grand plan to catch a fish in every Irish county. April will hopefully see me heading for counties Down to fish for trout and then roach fishing in Dublin and Kildare. I love April and can’t wait to be out in the fresh air again.
April will also see me on Carrowmore Lake chasing salmon. It has always been a good month to me there and fingers crossed there will be a good run of fish this year. Beltra is also high on my agenda. There is a brown tag system in place on the lough this year and I think I am right in saying the whole Newport river/Beltra lough system is only getting 40 tags. All in all, April will be a busy month. Just think lads and lasses, that is only 12 weeks away!
Come May it is my intention to concentrate on lough Conn. It fished well last year for the first time in many years and if the weather is good I can see another bumper year there. Just the thought of drifting along the shallow shoreline of that great lake is enough to bring a smile to the face of any seasoned angler.
Apart from Conn I am looking at driving down to Kilkenny and Carlow to chalk those two counties off my list. These are going to be tough and I am anticipating possible blanks.
June, and I am planning on heading off on a couple of long distance trips to Cork or Kerry and maybe Waterford and Wexford. It kind off depends what is happening work-wise and how much free time I have. Oh, and I want to try Lough Keeaghan up in Fermanagh. It looks like a lovely fishery with plenty of brownies in it.
July is the height of the sea fishing around these parts and so I will almost certainly try for the usual mackerel and pollack to fill the freezer. I’ll keep an ear to the ground in case the evening hatches on Carra start again. I miss the excitement of those summer evenings when the trout went mad feasting on buzzers and sedges as the light turned to darkness. I would end up casting in the pitch black, trying to figure out where that noisy splashes were by sound alone. Those heart-stopping takes when a good trout engulfed your fly were simply magical.
August rolls around and the grilse will be running the Moy. There were plenty around last year so fingers crossed we see more of the same this year. With any luck we will be able to travel more freely and I am pencilling in a trip to Scotland to see my family and fit in a day’s fishing somewhere over there. Maybe a day on the river Dee fishing for grilse? That would be nice!
There are plenty of other ideas floating around too. I have found so many venues in Leitrim and Cavan to fish for roach and bream it would take a lifetime to try them all. Getting to grips with trotting maggots on deep Irish rivers for roach is something I want to try out for example. Then there are the shy tench which I have yet to crack. Early morning summer sessions look very exciting and I want to try hard for them this year.
Rainbows – I have not fished for rainbow trout for maybe a decade and have a hankering to go out on a stocked lake one more time.
I could go on and on. Whether I actually manage to fish or any of the above is in the lap of the Gods right now but I believe it is important to keep your spirits up in these dark and terrible days. If you are struggling a bit then take some time to do what I am doing – look forward and make some plans to go fishing. We anglers thrive on the challenge of not knowing much. We like to think we are good at catching fish but how much does chance play its part? We don’t know when or where we will be fishing again but it does us good to at least begin to form some plans. Beyond looking after ourselves and loved ones we have little control over what else is going on around us. At least we can think forward to a time when we can travel, can fish and can be ourselves again. So make some rough plans, tie a few flies or make up some rigs. You will need them in the not too distant future.
In a world of ever more complex fly patterns there are a few easy to tie old favourites which still catch fish. The Deer Hair Caddis has been around for a lot of years now but is remains as effective as ever. The real beauty of this fly is its adaptability, it can produce a trout in almost any circumstance. A dark variation has caught me trout on lough Mask and one tied with a green fur body worked treat on the Keel a few summers ago. For fishing the hill loughs in summer a brown one is very hard to beat. Ginked up they are good dry flies or left unadorned they work as wets.
Tying is simplicity itself. I use size 12 – 16 hooks but you may decide to go bigger or smaller to match your local hatches. Dark 8/0 silk (black, brown or olive all work) is started at the neck of the hook and run down to the bend. Dub a fur body and run this back 2/3 of the way to the eye. Now prepare a thin noodle of deer hair, either natural or dyed as required. Align the tips of the hair using a stacker and position the hair on top of the hook with the tips in line with the bend. A couple of loose turns with the silk are taken first then more, tighter wraps to firmly secure the deer. Now remove the waste ends of the hair. You can use the fly like this or you can add a hackle. A cock hackle can be tied in front of the wing, a couple of turns is usually sufficient. Form a head and whip finish before varnishing.
I have deliberately avoided giving colours here. This pattern is a template for you to use and you match colours depending on the local requirements. For Irish hill loughs I like a brown fur body, natural deer hair wing and a ginger or furnace hackle. A darker version with a chocolate colour scheme is good on Mask in late summer. One with a black wing is good for fishing into the darkness.
This is my last post of 2020 so let me wish all of you kind people a healthy and prosperous New Year. I hope 2021 is better for us all!
I almost forget to send in my DAERA annual catch return. In all honesty this was an easy mistake to make as I never made it north of the border to do any fishing this year what with Covid-19 lockdown travel restrictions. Just thought I would clarify for you guys what you must do regarding Northern Ireland catch returns. You do this online and it only takes a few seconds if you have been diligent in recording your catches through the year. Simply go to the website and follow the instructions:
You need to record all your fishing trips and what you caught. By far the easiest way of doing this is to add each trip at the time instead of waiting until the end of the year. Trying to remember dates and exactly what you caught is a real pain so do yourself a favour and get into the habit of filling in the form promptly. Once you have completed the form you will receive an email from DAERA like this –
We wanted to inform you that we received your fish catch submission made on the DAERA license/endorsement/permit number.
Have a nice day and enjoy your fishing!
This year I wasted good money because I bought the annual licence and permit in early January, before the pandemic had struck. I will wait until the situation improves before purchasing the paperwork in 2021! The same goes for my annual salmon licence here in the republic, who knows what restrictions we will be living under in the months ahead. It’s a shame as I enjoy the ritual of popping in to buy my licence. It feels like the year is getting started and the winter is coming to an end.
While I am at it let me remind you that in the Republic you can fish for coarse fish with a maximum of two rods. In the north you but a licence for one rod. If you want to fish with more than one rod you need to buy another licence.
There is a tiny window of opportunity to sneak out for a day’s fishing between lockdowns. The government have lowered travel restrictions for Christmas so I am taking this chance to attempt to catch a fish in another one of the 32 counties. I won’t be meeting anyone so I pose no threat of spreading the contagion.
It’s the night before and I am sipping a whisky in front of a fire. The thoughts flow through my mind about what I am going to do come the morning. It will involve coarse fishing and this alone is enough to peak my interest. My increased enjoyment in all forms of angling has been driven by my new found love of all things roach and perch. That alone would be fine, just fine. The thing is my mind is now buzzing with all kinds of ideas about other forms of angling. It is like someone has strapped me up to a couple of jump leads and tuned the key in the ignition. I am energised and have found a clarity of thought which I have not seen for many a long year. Learning new techniques and methods, experiencing new waters and catching different fish have stretched me and this in turn has opened me up to new ideas for my game and sea angling. Suddenly I am back to being this wide-eyed and open minded being of my youth, wanting to find out the things I didn’t know and to bring my own slant to the fishing. Esoteric? Possibly. But it is how I feel these days and I don’t believe that is a bad thing. So the whisky may be opening up my mind but there is an underlying and ultimately fundamental change going on in me. I am really enjoying my fishing now, much more than I did even last year. And now I am going to county Westmeath in the morning.
The obvious venue to fish in this midlands county is Lough Sheelin. Sheelin is home to a stock of large brown trout and is a mecca for dedicated fly anglers. The thing is, for my purposes tackling a difficult water like Sheelin was a chancy option with a high probability of failure. Sure, if I boated a good trout it would be great but I have blanked on Sheelin too often to take it lightly. The other great trout loughs of Ennell and Owel are very demanding waters too, so instead of waiting for the trout loughs to open again next spring I decided to fish the Royal Canal now and try to tempt some coarse species. Closer to Dublin there are some very productive stretches of the canal but in Westmeath info was a bit patchy regarding hotspots. There is good access just off the M4 motorway near Mullingar which was tempting but in the end I settled on a stretch at Ballynacargy. At this point I have to confess I had pencilled this trip in for late spring next year and not the week before Christmas. Only the temporary easing of lockdown has tempted me out.
The Royal Canal apparently holds bream, roach, hybrids, perch, tench and pike. Not sure if there any rudd if there too. I read that local anglers were deeply concerned about plummeting stocks of fish due to poaching but it sounded like there were still some fish there to be caught. I packed a float rod, a leger rod and a spinning rod in the car, hoping that would cover any possible eventualities. The rough plan in my head was to travel light and keep moving with just the float rod, hoping to run into some bream or roach. If that did not work then I’d switch to the feeder and if that failed to produce the goods I’d try the spinning rod for pike and perch.
As usual, I had a back-up plan in case Ballynacargy was a failure. Along the road to the east lies the town of Mullingar and the canal passes through there too. It has fished very well in the past so I planned to head over there if Ballynacargy was blank. To be honest, I was expecting a tough trip this time. I am still very much a beginner at canal fishing and I would be guessing where the fish might be at either location. Added to that the time of year and I was certainly going to be stretched this time around.
Yesterday I poked around in my relatively new compost heap to see if there were any worms to be had. I was none too hopeful as it still looked woody on top but as I got near to the bottom of the pile I found some lovely worms. I gathered about 30 of them and left the rest in peace (for now). All the worms were the same size, around 3 – 4 inches long meaning I would get two baits out of each by simply cutting them in half. Enough to last me for the duration of this session I figured. There is always a tin of sweetcorn in the bag in case of emergencies.
The new rucksack/stool would get its first airing. This exactly what I bought it for, roving along a towpath with the minimum of gear. My trepidation at fishing canals, while still very real, has abated somewhat on the back of success in Offaly last autumn. There is nothing like catching a few small fish to settle the nerves and the snippets of knowledge I am gradually picking up have given me a sort of platform to work from. Just having the basics to set up and know broadly what to do is comforting. I am no expert, nor will I become one anytime soon, but I am learning as I go and thoroughly enjoying every minute of it. I have planned as much as I can so I head off to bed.
Light. It is light. I waken slowly and am disorientated. Why didn’t my alarm go off? Probably because I forgot to set it! OK, so I am starting later than planned but that is alright, there is no great panic. While it is a fair distance to Westmeath it is not the longest of my trips. I’m hoping against hope the roads will be quiet for a Monday. It’s very wet and the temperature is hovering around freezing as I set off into the grey gloom.
The usual road east along the N5/N4 brought me to the long straight between Rathowen and Ballinaleck. Here I turned off on to the L1902 and followed this road, across the river Inny, down to the village of Ballynacargy which is right on the Grand Canal. This part of the country is rarely visited by tourists. It is prime agricultural land but it lacks the grandeur and romance of the west, the history of Ulster or the city life in Dublin. Here there are cattle chewing the cud, lazy rivers and canals winding amid low lying green fields. Large tracks of the land around here were devastated by Bord na Mona as they ripped the peat bogs apart to fuel power stations in the last century. This practice has largely stopped and there is a degree of remedial work being carried out on the damaged bogland. It will take generations for that effort to come to fruition but at least a start is being made. Hamlets and small villages dot the middle of Ireland, places where the pace of life has barely altered for a hundred years. Those within commuting distance of the city can tell a very different tale though as thousands of people flocked to live within striking distance of the well paid jobs in Dublin. Today I was beyond that belt of blighted towns, out in the silage scented air of Westmeath on the banks of the Royal Canal.
Truth be told there is not much too the neat little village of Ballynacargy. It consists of two streets, a fine church, one shop, a petrol station and a few pubs. I ducked down a lane beside the church and parked near a small stone bridge over channel which fed the canal. Mallards were noisily poking around in the shallow water, untroubled by the rain. Beyond, the wide basin looked pretty desolate in the watery vista. I am afraid I know little about canal construction but I am guessing basins like this one were built so boats can turn around. To think that these canals were dug by men with just a pick and shovel amazes me. An hour digging for worms exhausts me so how men could keep it up hour after hour, day after day seems to be superhuman. Working the barges which used the canals was dangerous, low paid work too and many men died transporting goods across the country. This article gives some insight into the conditions at the time:
The mist was drenching from the moment I stepped out of the car. This was going to be far removed from my day dreams of balmy summer days on the towpath. There is a lock at one end of the basin so I decide to start proceedings immediately below it. First I put the light leger rod together and cast half a worm out. Setting up the float rod next I plumbed the depth. I mucked up this process by putting on shot which were too heavy and it took me a while to cotton on to my mistake. Split shot sizes and weights utterly confuse me but I need to learn about them to avoid wasting time again. There is a steady flow here and the float trots nice and slowly down into the basin before I wind in and recast. A small rivulet feeds into the basin at my feet, the muddy water gradually discolouring the canal. Will this put the fish off? I nip back to the car for something or other and as I return I see a mink on my bank. He is too quick for me and he escapes before I can reach for my camera (a gun would have been better). Taking a look around me I see the pike anglers have been a bit careless with their casting. I feel very safe as there is nobody around here. The small village behind me is quietly going about its business but nobody comes near me at the canal.
I have been fishing for about half-an-hour when the leger rod gives a slight rattle. Letting it develop, I finally lift into a small fish which quickly comes to hand. A nice 6 ounce roach to start with and he is released after a snap. It doesn’t matter what else happens today, I have my fish from county Westmeath and I am delighted.
It goes quiet again so I start casting in different directions. I flick the float ‘upstream’ towards the locks and almost immediately it disappears. I miss that one but the very next cast produces another firm take and this time I set the hook. This is a much better fish and it fights really well all the way to the net. Out of the water I am unsure of exactly what I have just caught. Initially I figure it is a good roach but the colour is golden, like a rudd. I check the mouth (up for rudd, down for roach) but this just adds to the confusion, both mandibles are the same length. I invite you experts who read this blog to put me right but I think this fish is a roach/rudd hybrid? I am happy to hold up my hand and say I don’t know and I look forward to you guys enlightening me. I popped the fish back and it swam off strongly. I reckon it weighed around a pound.
Now the perch show up and I land a couple of small lads. Perch in Irish canals don’t seem to grow large, unlike some in English canals. I don’t care, it is always lovely to see these aggressive little fish in their brilliant colours.
It all goes quiet for a long time and I try searching along the bank but without success. Returning to where I started I pick up another three roach over the next hour, hardly scintillating fishing but hey, I am out in the fresh air so I don’t mind. All the time the mist gets heavier and heavier, soaking everything. In the end I decided that the return for getting so wet is not worth it and I pack up. Four roach, one roach/rudd hybrid and two perch for the session. I have had a lot worse days!
I toss the sopping wet gear in to the car and head off on the long road west. Back at home I returned the unused worms to the compost heap where they can do what worms do for the next few months. The wet tackle is given a rudimentary drying but I will sort it out properly in the morning. For now I want nothing more than a bite to eat and to unwind after the drive home. Oh, and there is the little matter of writing this post to be taken care of.
We can expect a severe lockdown to come into force almost immediately after Christmas Day and not the 6th of January as previously stated. My take on it is that this next lockdown will go on for many weeks so there will be no fishing for me in the near future. Added to the lockdown, I have taken another interim management role which will last for the first 3 months of 2021, meaning I will be kept busy making some money instead of angling.
Taking stock of where I am on the 32 journey I see that I have caught 49 fish in 8 counties to date, exactly a quarter of the total. I am well pleased with this, given the horrible year we have all had. Here is how it looks so far:
Garty Lough, Arvagh
6 x Roach, 4 x Perch
5 on touch leger, 5 on waggler
Cloondorney Lough, Tulla
3 x small Rudd, 1 x skimmer
float, fished shallow
5 Roach, 2 x Perch
feeder and ledger
1 x perch, 1 x hybrid
trotted float and feeder
Grand Canal at Shannon Harbour
3 x roach, 3 x perch
trotted maggot and legered worm
a dozen Brown trout
4 x roach, 2 x perch, 1 x roach/rudd hybrid
float fished worm
A few fish landed on the solstice felt like a fitting end to 2020. From now on the days will very slowly lengthen, the darkness gradually retreating as it has for the millennium. Maybe the strange times we are living in heighten our appreciation of the simple things in life we all took for granted before the lexicon of new words ruled our every day – covid, pandemic, lockdown, furloughed and all the others. I know I am grateful for every outing with the rods now and cherish the sights and sounds of a day on the bank.
As 2020 ages and withers I want to say ‘thank you’ to all of you who have taken the time to read my rambling here on this blog. I hope you found something to entertain, inform or amuse you. Stay safe out there.
Every winter it is the same, I promise myself I will do a bit of sea trout fishing next year and by the end of the season I find I have not been out nearly enough to angle for these fabulous wee fish. A large part of that is because here in the west most anglers have lost interest in the sea trout as a sporting species. They are now so rare that people just want to leave the ever dwindling stocks alone. None of my boat partners fish for sea trout now. I can fully accept this point of view but on one or two systems there are still a small run of sea trout, enough to make it worthwhile throwing a fly at them. Lough Beltra gets a small run of trout, nothing remotely like what it used to get before the fish farms came along of course. A few swim up the Owenmore river while others turn off into Carrowmore Lake.
As an aside, it has always been a mystery to me where the sea trout in the Moy estuary go. Reasonable numbers of them can be found in the spring and summer hunting sandeels in the shallow bays at the mouth of the river but I personally have only ever once caught a sea trout in the Moy system, a small one on Lough Conn one May day twenty odd years ago. Do these trout run the main stem of the Moy or are they bound for other rivers in the area. The Palmerstown River used to have a great reputation for sea trout but these days they are extremely scarce there. Lord only knows where these sea trout go to, it would be nice to find out.
The loss of the sea trout to the pollution and lice of the fish farmers is one of the great Irish eco crimes in my book. Fish farming is a horrible business which only benefits the rich business owners while it wrecks delicate marine environments. I can recall my earliest visits to the west of Ireland back in the late ’70s when every stream which flowed into salt water held big populations of small sea going trout. Irish sea trout were small compared to the ones I fished for on the Scottish east coast but there were so many of them it made for great fishing. Alas they have all but been wiped out for sake of lining Norwegian millionaires pockets.
A glance in my fly box showed it was already stuffed with flies but maybe I could squeeze a few more in. I sat down at the vice and got tying. All of the patterns below are usually tied on size 10 hooks but you can go a size bigger or smaller.
The Silver Doctor. I have captured only a small number of fish on this pattern but it is great fun to tie. A bright blue cock or hen hackle is tied in by the butt at the neck of the hook with red tying silk. A tip of fine oval silver tinsel is followed by a tag made from a few turns of yellow floss. Now add a tail consisting of a topping, with or without some Indian Crow or red feather substitute. I like to add a butt made of red ostrich herl or rough red wool. Now tie in the body materials of flat and oval silver tinsel and take the tying silk up to the eye. Wind the flat tinsel in touching turns to make a smooth body before ribbing it with the fine oval. Wind the blue hackle and tie it in then make a wing from GP tippets with some bronze mallard over them. Sometimes I like to fit a GP topping over the wing but most anglers don’t bother with this refinement. A nice neat red head finishes off the fly.
The Silver Badger used to be a widely used fly here in Mayo but I never see it fished these days. It still catches fish so here is how to tie this one. Black silk is used and a blue hackle is tied in by the butt at the neck before running the silk to the bend where some fine oval silver tinsel is used to form a tag. A GP topping is used for the tail and the body materials of flat silver tinsel with a fine oval silver rib is tied in and wound. Wind the blue hackle. Make a wing from a slim bunch of badger hair taken from the neck of the creature in the springtime. We are talking road kill here ladies and gentlemen, so if you come across a dead badger at the side of the road in springtime stop and cut off some hair from the neck. It is finer and softer than the body hairs. No smelly dead badger bodies to raid? Use some grey squirrel tail hair instead. Make a head, whip finish and varnish.
Claret Wickhams. One of my own patterns (I always sneak a few in!). Dress a normal Wickhams but make the wings from mottled secondary feathers dyed red. Any mottled feather will do, hen pheasant is fine for example. Then wind a claret hackle in front of the wings. A really good fly this one. The one below is sporting GP tippets for a tail but I seriously doubt this makes a whole pile of a difference to the fish.
Teal and Black. Normally when I want a black coloured fly for the sea trout I reach for a Black Pennel but this fly is a good one on the tail of the cast. The tying I prefer is the old standard one but with a little bottle green seal’s fur mixed in with the black, a rib of fine flat silver tinsel and a pair of jungle cock eyes added as cheeks. This pattern works well for early season brownies too.
A Golden Olive Butcher has been a constantly good fly for me for sea trout ever since I started using it more years ago than I care to remember. Tie a normal butcher but replace the black hackle with a golden olive one.
Christmas is fast approaching and the shortest day of the year is almost upon us. I guess most of us want to forget 2020 but there are many more tough days ahead until the pandemic recedes. Until then we here in Ireland face more lock down restrictions and I anticipate missing the early part of the season next season. Hopefully though, late spring will see an improvement and these flies I am tying at the vice today may get a swim next summer.
I am in negotiations for a short work contract which would tie me up for the first three months of next year, severely restricting my fishing. Thus is the life of an Interim Manager, periods of no work followed by intense efforts over a short time frame to achieve business goals (often away from home). I have been leading this life for many years now and am used to it but it makes planning your life pretty difficult. I’m not complaining, a lot of people are significantly worse off than I am these days.
This is not a pattern I guess many of you will be aware of but it has caught me a few trout over the years so here is my take on an old fly dating from the 1930’s. It masquerades under a few different names and has been the subject of numerous variations over the years. I believe it may be better known as a Carey Special in some quarters. This is not the original nor is it intended to be, it’s just my take on it. I like to use it on a slow sinking or intermediate line for Rainbows in the spring and early summer.
I use black or brown tying silk for this fly and dress it on a size 10 long shank hook. Start the silk and catch in cock pheasant rump feather. Now run the silk down to the bend catching in some fibres of the same feather to make a tail and a length of fine gold wire.
Dub the silk with some brown olive seal’s fur or a suitable substitute and form an abdomen to cover about 2/3 of the hook, leaving space for a thorax. I mix my own seals fur by using olive and fiery brown dyed fur with just a pinch of orange and blue added. Don’t fall into the trap of making the abdomen too thick, keep it nice and slim. Now the original didn’t have a thorax but I think this adds something to the fly, giving a bit of flash and an aiming point for the fish. In this case the thorax is made from glister or any similar material in a dark olive colour. Once you have made the thorax run the gold wire up the body in open turns. Tie down and remove the waste end.
Wind the hackle a full three turns then tie down and cut off the waste before forming a neat wee head. Varnish as normal and there you are!
I know of one variation which sports a body made out of fine olive chenille.
Shallow water, along the margins and around reeds or weedbeds are where this fly does its best work. Fish this fly by giving it vigorous twitches as you retrieve. Takes can be quite vicious!
I buy a lot of fishing gear on line just like many of you do. It is convenient and you can find pretty much anything you want out there in internet land. At the same time I make a conscious effort to support my local tackle dealers as without them we anglers are going to be a lot worse off. So for me at any rate there is a mix of online and local fishing tackle suppliers. It was not always so and during my early years all my tackle was bought from the fishing shops in Aberdeen where I grew up.
Sharpes had a fancy shop in Belmont Street but it was way too expensive for the likes of me so I hardly ever crossed the threshold. Rows of ‘Scottie’ spit cane fly rods and trays of beautifully tied salmon flies shared the hallowed spaces with tweed jackets and sturdy leather boots. It was all very refined and posh. I was like a fish out of water in there.
That shop closed down sometime in the late 70’s or early 80’s and one of the guys who worked there, Richard Walker, set up his own shop down on King Street. A large, bearded and lugubrious fellow, he presided over an eclectic mix of tackle. If Richard wasn’t there his mum covered for him. My heart sank any time I went in and found Mrs Walker behind the counter, the poor thing had no idea where anything was, leading to a lengthy hunt in all the cupboards and drawers for the right swivels, hooks or whatever. That shop shut down after a few years but I have no idea what became of the big man.
Most of my time (and money) was spent in Thistle Street where the small Somers shop was positioned. The old man only rarely popped his head into the shop by the time I was on the go but his son, Jim, ably assisted by Horace helped me enormously as I grappled with learning the arts of angling. I still own and use some of the gear I bought from them back in the late ‘70s. The shop was later sold and the new owner moved to bigger premises in Bon Accord Street.
Today I want to tell you about unusual flies which tied for use on the rivers of the extreme north east of Scotland, the Ythan and Ugie. The patterns were not that odd but the hooks they were tied on were. I only ever saw these hooks for sale in that stalwart of Aberdeen tackle shops, William Brown and Co. of Belmont Street. ‘Broons’ as all and sundry knew it in the city was one of those old fashioned fishing shops, replete with the trappings of such fine old establishments. Ancient dark wood everywhere, glazed cabinets on one wall, racks of shot guns, a green topped counter like a bar and usually a couple of venerable old anglers sitting on stools talking about the good auld days. Glass cases of stuffed salmon hauled from the Dee or Don by lords and colonels adorned the walls. Behind the counter was the domain of two characters, old Tom and George Denholm. Lord only knows how old Tom actually was. By his bearing I marking him down as an ex-military chap who probably fought for king and country in the Great War. George was middle aged, fond of a dram and could put his hand on anything in the shop at the drop of a hat. He knew where to find those long-shank pennel hooks alright.
The Ythan and the Ugie are narrow rivers which flow through the lush green and gold pasturelands of North East Scotland. They both get runs of salmon but the main quarry was sea trout which used to be extremely prolific. On the slower, deeper sections of the rivers the humble worm ruled supreme but where the current speeds up or there is some broken water anglers used the fly to good effect. It has always surprised me that the angling on these rivers has never been fully covered in print despite a long lineage of sport fishing on these rivers. I don’t know the Ugie but I spent a big chunk of my early life fishing the Ythan. Hence my acquaintance with the pennel hooks from ‘Broons’.
The hooks I want to tell you about are roughly the same length as a size 8 long shank trout hook but they are made with an additional hook pointing upwards in the middle of the shank. I had purchased some of these odd hooks before, maybe 10 or 12 of them to make some Ugie Bugs for myself but there was a sale in Broons one time and I bought a box of them. The box was opened and it was not full but for a small sum I purchased what remained and I still have a few of them left. The box itself is sadly lost so I can’t tell you too much about the maker. I seem to recall they were made by Partridge but I could be wildly wrong about that.
Sadly Broons closed it doors many years ago. Tom and George have long since departed this world. The circle of life keeps turning and all things come to an end at some point. The bedazzling range of fishing tackle available online or from the angling hypermarkets are incomparable to the likes of Broons with their handful of split cane rods and rimfly reels. The competition was just too strong for them. It is a shame as those old tackle shops possessed a charm all of their own. Like many other anglers of my vintage I miss the sights and smells of the now defunct old tackle shops.
The Ugie Bug
Akin to a long skinny Alexandra, this was a very popular fly in the middle years of the last century. It will still tempt the odd fish so I keep one or two in my box. It is very easy to make, only the top hook getting in the way when winding materials is liable to cause you any distress. Use black tying silk and start it at the eye of the hook and wind towards the bend. Catch in a short length of red Ibis substitute such as a slip of dyed swan or duck. I piece of bright red wool works just as well. Now tie in a length of fine oval silver tinsel and some black floss silk before running the tying silk back to within a few millimetres of the eye. Wind the floss to make a tapered body, tie off and remove the waste. Now rib the floss with open turns of the oval silver tinsel. Tie in and remove the waste as usual.
Take a bunch of cock or hen hackle fibres dyed black and tie them in under the hook to form a beard hackle then remove the waste ends. Alternatively, you can tie in and wind a black hackle in the conventional manner. The wing is made from peacock sword and I like to take a few fibres each from opposing tail feathers. This is tricky stuff to work with so take your time and aim to get a wing which sits straight on top of the hook and is the same length as the tail. Remove the waste.
A pair of small jungle cock eyes are tied in, one on each side of the wing. Cut off the waste, wind a neat head with the tying silk and cut off the silk. Varnish the head to complete the fly. Fish this fly either on its own or on the tail of a wet fly cast. I prefer it on a sinking line as the light goes and on into the darkness. Could you simply tie this pattern on a normal long shank hook? Of course you can! I reckon you could pep this fly up a bit with a couple of strands of flash in the wing too.
These hooks are grand for tying another very old pattern, the Wormfly. I think this fly was originally tied on two separate hooks joined together with gut. That then progressed to either the pennel hooks I am discussing here or simple long shanked hooks. This is an old stalwart which works in poor light, in the dark or in a good wave on the hill loughs.
Start the black tying silk at the eye and tie in a red game hackle. I prefer hen hackle but use a cock hackle if you wish. Now run it down to the first bend where you tie in a second, slightly smaller red game hackle. Keep winding the silk to the bend and tie in a red tail. Select whatever material you fancy, feather, floss or wool spring to mind. I like to add in a length of fine copper wire but this is not in the original dressing. I just want to give the weak peacock some protection. Tie in about 6 herls of peacock and take the tying silk up to the hook in the middle of the shank. Now twist the herls into a rope and wind this up to the tying silk and tie it in. Remove the waste and rib the rear body with the copper wire. Wind that hackle which you tied in earlier and remove the waste. Repeat the same process for the front of the fly. Form a head with the tying silk, whip finish and tie off before varnishing.
The most common variation is simply to swap the natural red game hackles and replace them with black hen hackles.
I also tie the Alexandra on these hooks to give me a good imitation of a minnow.
Just about any hackled loch fly can be adapted for tying on these hooks. Flies like the Ke-He, Zulu or bumbles lend themselves perfectly to this simply by tying two of them on the one hook. I realise that getting your hands on these vintage hooks is going to be virtually impossible for everyone else, I was just lucky to buy some all those years ago. Use a normal long shank hook and you get the same effect.
I seriously doubt if the additional top hook makes a huge difference to the fly. Over the years I have caught a good few trout on flies tied on these hooks and not one of those fish was hooked solely on the middle hook. I just like using them for old time sake. I suspect old Tom would approve.
The cabal of fools who run Ireland in a poor approximation of a government have decided that travel outside of your own county will be permitted between 18th December 2020 and 6th January 2021. A lot will depend on the weather but if there is a dry spell I am plotting a couple of short fishing sessions. Initial thoughts are that I might try the Ballinamore canal in Leitrim which could throw up a few roach. The Rinn river, also in Leitrim, might also be worth a try as the roach move up into it seeking warmer water around this time of the year. Failing that, I will try a shore mark in Galway in case some whiting are in. It is all a bit sketchy right now but I need to give myself some hope of getting out with rod and line soon.
I have exhausted all the small tasks of cleaning, lubricating and repairs and badly require some time on the bank now. I will have to figure out where I can get some bait before next Friday though. Nobody around here stocks maggots or worms at this time of the year so I think it will mean me digging around in the garden to see if I can locate a few worms. I have not done that since I was a kid! I have read that bread can be an effective bait for roach but have never tried it. Maybe next weekend will see me slinging bits of loaf into a swim.
If, and this is a very big ‘if’, the weather is very good I might risk the long trip down to Athy in county Kildare to fish the marina there. During periods of high water the marina apparently fills with fish seeking shelter from the fast flowing river Barrow. It would certainly tick off another county from me in my rudely interrupted task of completing all 32 counties, if I could tempt a roach or a perch down there.
Talking about the 32 project, I have spent a fair chunk of the lockdown researching possible venues across the country and I now have a list of places I want to fish in every county. In most cases I have two or more options. During this process I also unearthed a lot of fisheries in counties I have already visited, giving me a useful database to work from even once I have completed all 32. Tapping the keyboard is little compensation for not actually fishing but it has provided me with some comfort knowing all this angling lies ahead of me over the coming years.
Let’s wait and see what the weather does but I am hopeful of managing a few casts soon.
Update- Out of all those ideas I only managed one outing, to Westmeath for some canal fishing. The lockdown was re-introduced early of course and level 5 restrictions are in place at least until the end of January.
I have been asked to go into the detail of how I make mounts for devon minnows so here is a short post on the subject. Devons used to be hugely popular. 2 – 4 inch ones for salmon and tiny 1 – 1.5 inch ones for the trout. They came in metal, wood or plastic, some were weighted and others were floaters. These days you can pick minnows up very cheaply secondhand and they still catch their fair share of fish. The usual problem is finding mounts to fit the devons and it is often the case you need to either buy mounts (expensive) or make your own. Let’s run through the process I use to fashion devon minnow mounts.
Tools and materials
You will need only a couple of basic tools.
A small pair of fine nose pliers
Small side cutters or similar tool to cut the wire
For materials you require:
Wire. Use as strong, stiff wire. Anything too flexible will be very hard to work with. I use a thin stainless steel wire for my mounts. Avoid the supple multi-strand stuff used for making pike traces. Finding good wire is probably the hardest part of this job!
Small barrel swivels. These need to be small enough to pass through the hole in the middle of the bait. Check the swivels are small enough before making the mount!
Treble hooks. I use a size 4 treble for 3 inch devons and drop down in size for the small baits
Either beads or tulips. You can buy tulips online very cheaply and they hold the hook in position well so I recommend using them. They come in different colours so you can play around with them a bit.
1. Gather all the tools and materials together as well as the minnows you are going to making the mounts for.
2. Start by cutting a length of wire this needs to be 4 to 5 times the length of the minnow.
3. Thread a swivel on to the wire then fold the wire in half with the swivel at the bend in the wire. Now twist the wire a few times to keep the swivel in position.
4. Take a tulip and slip it up the twisted wires. The thin end of the tulip goes towards the swivel. Push it up to the swivel for now to keep it out of the way.
5. Select a treble hook of the right size. Feed one end of the wire through the eye from one side then the second wire from the other side.
6. Now for the tricky part. Lay the minnow in front of you and measure the wires so the hook is in the right position. Remember to allow for the tulip. With practice you get really good at judging this but to start with you will find this hard. You want the finished mount to have the body of the swivel at the end of the minnow.
7. Bend both ‘legs’ of wire around the hook and wind them up the shank. Use the pliers for this job. Try to be as neat as you can.
8. With the shank covered in the wound wire snip off the excess ends of the wire and dispose of safely.
9. Slide the tulip into position over the eye of the treble. Now twist the mount by holding the hook in one hand and the swivel in the other.
10. Finished! If the mount is very slightly too long give it a few more twists to shorten it by a few millimetres.
That is how I make my minnow mounts but there are plenty of other ways of doing it so look around if you don’t fancy my method. Key points are: choice of wire is critical, too soft or springy will make this method next to impossible and you will need to use whipping thread to keep everything in place. Use only good quality hooks, there are some very poor quality cheap trebles out there, avoid them like the plague. Treble hooks are fine for fishing but don’t mix with pets and smallies. Make mounts somewhere secure where little paws/hands can’t get at them.
I hope that helps a bit. Now is the time of year for doing these sorts of jobs. There is great satisfaction to be had mending/repairing/fixing bits of tackle in the winter so you are ready for the new season. Stay safe out there!
Here is my wee variation of a well-known and well-loved wet fly that hails from the beautiful Isle of Skye. The Camasunary Killer takes its name from the area at the foot of the Cullin mountains. I am afraid I know nothing about who invented it but it became a popular pattern for sea trout over in Scotland and from there it has grown to be used for brown trout and salmon too. I don’t see it used too often here in Ireland which is a pity as it catches fish on dull, windy days.
Hooks size can range from a meaty size 6 right down to 14 depending on your target quarry. I use black tying silk and catch in a long fibred black hen hackle at the neck of the hook. Now for my twist – I then tie in a fluorescent red hen hackle. Catch in a length of oval silver tinsel and wind the silk back to the tail, binding the tinsel down as you go. At the bend of the hook you tie in a length of blue wool. I have seen just about every conceivable shade of blue used for this pattern. The original I believe used royal blue but you may want to go lighter or darker. Personally, I like a lighter shade. I guess you could use globrite blue wool if you want a really bright fly. The end of the wool forms the tail so leave that sticking out over the end of the hook and bind the rest down on to the shank as you run the tying silk back up to the middle of the shank. Wind the blue wool up to the mid point, tie in and cut off the waste. Catch in a length of red wool now then return the tying silk to where the hackles are tied in. Wind tight turns of the red wool up to the neck. Cut off the waste end of the wool neatly. Cut the tail to the desired length, roughly about the same as the body is about right. Now it is time to wind the silver rib in open turns up the shank. Again, tie in and remove the waste.
Wind the red hackle, say about three turns. Tie and then wind the black hackle in front of the red one, again about three turns. Tie in and tidy up the head before whip finishing and varnishing the head. There you are, all done! I like this fly tied on smaller sizes for fishing hill loughs, a 14 can be deadly some days. The mystery is what the fish take it for. I know of nothing that lives in lakes which is blue and red!
Over my long and varied angling career I have caught lots and lots of game fish on copper coloured metal lures. In the long past days of my youth spinning a tiny copper Mepp or Droppen was a sure fire way of bagging brownies on the river. Copper Toby spoons in the 10grm size used to be a deadly bait for sea trout in the brackish waters of the Ythan estuary in Scotland years ago, often out-fishing the more usual silver ones. Larger copper Toby’s, the 12 and 18 gram sizes, are very effective when trolling for salmon here in the west of Ireland. So copper is an attractive colour to salmonoids, but we virtually never used copper when constructing flies. Why is this? Here are some old and new patterns, all of which incorporate some copper in their dressings.
Cinnamon and copper – I first tied this fly when I lived in Aberdeen and it caught a few sea trout on the Ythan. At the time the Cinnamon and Gold was probably the most popular fly in the area so it was not a huge effort to make a small change and tie the same fly with a copper tinsel body. I can remember that copper tinsel was very hard to come by back them and when I did find some it was very thin lurex. This material was incredibly fragile and the copper body did not last very long in use. GP tippet tails, copper tinsel body ribbed with fine copper wire, light red game hackle and cinnamon hen quills for the wings. These days I tie this pattern on size 12 hooks and make the body from copper Mylar which is much tougher. I also tie a variation with the wings made from matching slips of swan dyed claret.
2. Copper Bumble. Nobody is going to be greatly surprised that I have made a bumble using copper colours! A body formed of flat copper mylar and ribbed with red wire. A tail of GP tippets dyed orange over a globrite no. 4 tag. Body hackle is a natural chocolate genetic cock. I then added 2 or 3 strands of copper crinkle flash to pep things up a bit. The head hackle is guinea fowl dyed orange. Untried so far it looks like it should work for both trout and salmon in sizes 8 and 10.
3. I also tie a variation of the Claret Bumble by simply switching the normal claret fur body for one of flat copper mylar. You can go a step further and add some legs made from cock pheasant tail fibres dyed claret and knotted if you feel this will add to the attractiveness of the fly.
4. The Copper Ally’s is an old pattern now, a simple variation on the ever-popular shrimp pattern. I tie it with a tail made of orange, yellow and red bucktail plus a few strands of copper flash. The body is copper tinsel with a red wire rib and the wing is short brown squirrel hair. Some copper flash can be added to the wing if so desired. The hackle is hot orange, either cock or hen depending on what your personal taste is. Tied very small this can be a good fly for the grilse especially if there is a wee touch of colour in the river.
5. Now for a fly I would not use normally here in Ireland but is a good one for the big Scottish rivers. Like many other anglers I rate the Gold-bodied Willie Gunn as possibly the best all round pattern for spring salmon on rivers like the Dee and Spey. By changing the body to flat copper mylar with a silver rib you have a subtle variation which might just make the difference some days. Tied on a waddie or tubes or different weights this gives you a few more options in the box for those days when the fish are hard to tempt (ie most days).