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).
I doubt if there is an Irish wet fly that has spawned more variations than the Green Peter. To be told by an angler he or she has caught a fish on a Green peter really tells you very little as there are so many different dressings. I have to hold my hand up at this point as I am a serial offender when it comes to dodgy peter patterns. My fly boxes are overflowing with all sorts of different takes on the classic original.
The fly I am about to describe has seen a lot of action over the years and is one I fall back on during the early months of the season when the fishing can be tough. The trout seem to take this fly with great confidence though. Early on in the season I usually fish with a sinking line and this is a great fly for any position on a cast at that time.
Use black tying silk and start at the eye then run down a few millimetres, leaving room to tie in wings and head hackle later. Now catch in a red game cock hackle. Run the silk down the shank, tying in a length of fine oval gold tinsel as you do. At the bend dub a small pinch of black seals fur on to the silk and wind a short butt. Now dub some dark green seals fur on the silk and wind a body. Palmer the cock hackle down the body and tie it in with the gold tinsel which you rib through the hackle and tie in at the neck. Remove the waste end of the hackle and the oval tinsel.
I make the wing from a bunch of brown squirrel tail fibres. Tie the hair in on top of the hook and trim off the waste ends. A long fibred black hen hackle is tied in next and given at least 5 turns. I prefer a natural hackle for this fly but a dyed one will do. Form a neat head, whip finish and varnish to complete the fly.
I found my old hip flask yesterday. Nestling in the bottom of a bag of outdoor clothes, it required only a rudimentary clean to restore it to useable condition. I cannot for the life of me remember buying this flask and I suspect it was given to me as a present at some point. It had fallen out of favour when I moved to Ireland but before then it was a permanent fixture in my fishing kit. Many a fine salmon was toasted with the contents of this glass bottle over the years. Finding it again got me thinking about the relationship between angling and liquor.
As a child, my elders rarely drank. Devoted to us three kids there was no thought of going on the lash for my dad. My father was a seaman and rarely home but when he was on shore there were house parties and visits to my parent’s friends and relatives where drink was taken by the adults (not by my mother, she has been tea total all her life). Drinking was always associated with a good time in my young mind. Maybe I was just very lucky but I never once saw any hint of verbal or physical violence resulting from alcohol as I grew up. On the contrary, plenty of singing and laughing and general merriment seemed to be the order of the day when the beer or whisky was passed around. Later, in my teens when I started imbibing, I witnessed the other side of what drink can do. I myself have been very fortunate in that while I enjoy a wee dram I can take drink or leave it. A glass of wine with a meal, a cold lager on a hot summer’s day or a whisky on the riverbank are treats to be savoured in my book. Drinking until inebriated is not my idea of a good time.
My old hip flask has contained different beverages over the years. Usually it was filled with malt whisky, exactly which one depending on my particular whim at the time. Powerful Islay’s or sweet tasting highland malts, it could be either. Sometimes, not often but now and again, it would be dark rum. I hated the stuff for many years but found a liking for it in my 30’s. It is another drink that I think is best enjoyed in the open air. In the autumn I would switch to sloe gin sometimes. It somehow felt ‘right’ having a shot of sloe gin amid yellowing leaves on a cool autumn day on the river bank. I can’t forget the wonderful concoction called ‘Nelson’s Blood’ which I made after seeing a recipe somewhere back in the 80’s. Based on fermented plums, I made a couple of batches. The first batch was opened after a year and it was very good indeed! The second batch was forgotten about and was only discovered in a demijohn under the stairs of my old house in Fife when hunting for something or other three years later. Holy Moly, what a drink! Strong yet sweet, it had a depth and roundness which was awe inspiring. I swore I would make some more – but never did. Maybe next year……………………
Irish lough fishers don’t bring much in the way of drink with them. Food yes, but not much in the way of drink. I know many anglers here who come for a days fishing armed with a small stove and frying pan which they use to create full blown dinners in the middle of the day. Big fat steaks, diced potatoes, mushrooms etc are all cooked up and greedily consumed. A bottle of wine sometimes makes an appearance too but more often than not a simple mug of tea is the preferred drink to wash the meal down with. I think this is a shame. a glug of a robust red drank on a marl shore of the western loughs matches the finest wines in a posh restaurant in my book.
It must appear to you dear readers that I consume vast quantities of strong liquor but in fact the opposite is true. A single nip, maybe after landing a good fish or shared with a companion after a bite to eat was the norm. A small flourish, an addendum to the day. There was never any thought of going on the sauce. Not so with others.
I recall fishing one of the best beats on the Dee, this must have been in the late 1970’s. I had been asked to fish for the week, the intention being that I would catch as many salmon as possible to keep the beat numbers up. Back then I was very dedicated and very successful. A week on the Dee in May, what could possibly go wrong? Well everything went wrong that week. I rose fish, I hooked fish, I played fish to the net – every single one of them came off! The ghillie even hooked a salmon, handed the rod to me and that one fell off too! Then came the worst part. The estate stalker was sent down to the hut on my last day. This poor fellow had an unhealthy liking for the bottle and he spent the whole morning in the hut doing his best to make a bottle of whisky disappear. We broke for lunch and the ghillie shooed the stalker, who was by now very unsteady on his feet, out of the hut, thrust a 15 footer in his hand and helped him to the edge of the river. I was watching out of the window and can confirm the stalkers casts all fell in a glorious heap not 3 yards from the tip of the rod. That was where the fresh ten pounder grabbed his fly. Unable to do anything with the fish the ghillie dashed out to assist the stalker and played the salmon out in fine style. I fished on that afternoon but my heart was not in it anymore. It was nearly enough to turn me to drink!
I have shared a boat here in Ireland with someone who had the same love of the bottle. As we tackled upon the shores of Lough Carra I was impressed with the huge tackle bag this guy had brought along. We set off in a nice wind and started a drift from the twins back up to Moorehall. Soon my partner reached into the bowels of the cavernous bag and pulled out a tin of beer. I declined his offer of one and kept on casting. Soon the tin of beer was gone. He reached back into the back and pulled out another one. This continued for the whole morning and he was well into double figures by the time we stopped for lunch. By then he could barely cast at all so I figured the break might do him some good. Alas, the bottle of wine which he produced from that damn bag put paid to any thoughts he would sober up. I told him we would finish early as the fishing was poor and he seemed delighted with that idea. I have never fished with him again!
I could regale you with tales of monumental drinking sessions of past years when laws were not so rigidly enforced here in Ireland. The days when boat fishing trips from Achill were cancelled due to bad weather so the lads would go on a pub crawl home, stopping off at each watering hole on the way. Those days are, thankfully, behind us.
On reflection, I think I might refill my hipflask and start bringing with me again. There is some whisky in the house to be used up. The notion of a snifter to warm me on a cold day or to toast a heafty trout after he has been released appeals to me. A wee dram is after all one of life’s pleasures. Slan!
At the vice again this morning with the record player getting a spin to keep my spirits up. Maybe a bit of Nils Lofgren to start with. I should explain that I spent yesterday sorting out the mind-numbing jumble of old vinyl and CDs that littered the spare room and got them into some sort of order. It turned into a bit of a marathon what with over 500 albums to put into the right sleeves/boxes and then store them neatly. I unearthed a Bonnie Rait CD which had been missing for years and a Rory Gallagher album I didn’t even know I had! Anyway, I pop Nils on the turntable and sit down to ties some old patterns for the salmon fly box.
So what will I tie today? Let’s take a look at the Quack, a salmon fly for my local water, Lough Beltra. Can’t say I have caught anything on this pattern but it looks like it should produce a springer in a big south-westerly wind. It is fun to tie regardless so here is how to make this colourful pattern.
For a hook I use a single salmon iron in sizes 4 down to 10. Tying silk is black. Start the silk at the eye and run it down to the bend where a tip of oval silver tinsel and a couple of turns of golden yellow floss silk are tied in. The tail is a Golden Pheasant topping feather with a slip of red (or Indian Crow if you have some) on top. Now you make a butt from ostrich herl or some coarse wool. I tend to leave out the butt and the fish don’t seem to mind. The body is black floss ribbed with silver tinsel and I add a body hackle of black cock palmered the full length of the floss. The throat hackle is a nice bright orange cock hackle. I use one long in fibre to provide movement. the wings on this type of fly are static so I rely on the hackles to give some life.
Make an under wing of tippet strands or on bigger hooks tie in a pair of tippet feathers back-to-back. Married slips of yellow, red and blue swan come next and veiling them is bronze mallard. Jungle cock cheeks and a topping over the wing are added. Now form a neat head and whip finish before colouring the head with black varnish. I think the original had a red head but again, the salmon don’t seem to give two hoots about details like that.
It is nice to tie these old patterns and then give them a swim in the lough. Plenty of very talented fly tyers make beautiful married wing salmon flies but these are usually for show purposes and not for actually fishing with. I use the old flies so they don’t just fade away into show cases but get a wetting occasionally. I don’t think they are any better or any worse at attracting salmon that minimalist modern hairwings.
Enough guitar gymnastics from Mr.Lofgren, it’s time to for go a bit of good old prog rock with some Jethro Tull. ‘Thick as a brick’ will do nicely I think….
Imagine it is a bright April day on an Irish lough, a few high, wispy clouds dot the sky. It is far from warm but there are the first hints of spring in the air and a few Lake Olives are hatching. What do you tie on to the middle of your wet fly leader? Here is an option for you to try in these conditions.
I call this the Opal Olive but I strongly suspect many west of Ireland fly dressers have their own name for it. It looks something like an olive coloured Wickhams fancy I suppose.
I use fl. chartreus tying silk. Starting at the head I catch in a brown olive cock hackle then continue towards the bend of the hook, tying in some tails made of olive cock hackle fibres, some thin silver wire and a piece of opal tinsel. Return the silk to where the hackle is waiting then wind a smooth body with the opal tinsel. Now palmer the brown olive hackle down to the bend in open turns and tie it in with the wire. Rib through the hackle back up to the neck where you tie down the wire. Remove all waste.
The wings can be made from paired slips of starling. I use a different, unobtainable feather for the wings but I doubt if it makes much difference. One day a few years ago one of the cats brought in a very dead mistle thrush. The poor bird did not have a mark on it so I remain to this day convinced the cat simply picked it up off the ground instead of actively catching it. Rather than waste such a beautiful bird I removed and cured the wings and it is slips from the secondary feathers I use on this fly.
Now for a head hackle and for this I use a grey partridge hackle dyed golden olive. Tie it in, make three turns and bind it down before removing the waste. Now form a head with the tying silk, whip finish and varnish.
A cold start to the day so I am in the spare room which is filled with my fishing gear, sorting out some tackle for pike fishing which I hope to indulge in next week. Hot mug of coffee steaming in my hand, loosely organised chaos around me. School run traffic snarls along outside, the big white buses bringing the children in from the countryside. A normal late autumn day, well what passes for normal during lockdown. I had been tying some flies earlier in the week so there are packets of feathers and fur to be tidied away before I can pack a bag with the smaller items for piking. That got me thinking about the ancillary items we all bring along on a day’s fishing and how much of that we really need. My wide ranging angling exploits mean I am worse than most when it comes to carting a selection of bits and bobs around, usually on the basis that I ‘might’ need them.
We all carry too much gear with us when we go fishing. It is just a hazard of the sport. Here are some of the small items I have secreted about my person when I head off with rod and line. As you may have read before in other posts, I wear 4 different waistcoats for various types of fishing. One is for river trouting, another for salmon fly fishing. Then there is one for coarse angling and yet another for shore fishing. The smaller items listed below lurk in one or other of these waistcoats. The bigger items are in the different bags or boxes which I bring along.
1. Tools. As someone who fished the big Irish loughs with old outboard engines I routinely set off with a tool kit in a bag just in case of a breakdown. Over the years this got me out of a few scrapes and also allowed me to help other anglers who had broken down. Now the proud owner of a decent engine, I still bring with me the small tool kit which came with the Honda. These basic tools all live in a small pocket in my lough fishing bag. I know where to put my hand on them in an emergency but I hope to never need them in anger. In the same pocket live a spare spark plug and a couple of spare shear pins.
A pair of heavy pliers lurk in the bottom of my bag too, handy for pulling out a stuck thole pin or other heavy jobs.
2. Knives. I carry around a small blue Swiss army type knife in my pocket all the time. Then there is a pocket knife in the bag. When I am sea fishing I bring a filleting knife too so I can deal with the catch at the water side.
3. Lighters. For obvious reasons. There is a wee metal tin with a couple of firelighters too for firing up the Kelly kettle.
4. Hook removal. All sorts of disgorgers depending on what I’m fishing for. Cheap plastic ones for removing tiny hooks from the mouths of roach and perch. Forceps for fetching flies from trout or salmon. A hefty ‘T’ bar for when I am out at sea and a proper disgorger for the pike.
5. Priests. It is rare for me to retain fresh water fish but I keep anything edible from salt water. An ancient chair leg with some lead in the business end lives in my sea fishing box. A small metal priest fashioned from a length of stainless bar by a papermill engineer 40 years ago comes with me when shore fishing.
6. First aid. When messing around with hooks and knives it is inevitable you are going to break the skin on your hands at some point so I carry a few plasters with me.
7. Towels. Discarded dish towels are handy to tuck away in the bag. Game angling is not too dirty but sea fishing is a filthy business and I am forever washing and wiping my hands after cutting up bait or handling slimy fish. Mixing ground bait when I am coarse fishing means I am constantly cleaning up afterwards too. Helen has commented on the impossible task of finding a dish cloth in the house, there may just be a correlation with my fishing!
8. I mentioned thole pins earlier, I always have a couple of spares in the bottom of my bag. My own boat has fixed pins but I sometimes borrow a boat from friends and they may or may not have pins. To be at the side of the lough, the boat fully loaded and engine fixed on only to find you don’t have any pins is the very height of frustration. I know because it has happened to me not once but twice! Lesson learned the hard way.
9. The small boxes of ‘bits’. Spare hooks, swivels etc. live in a wee plastic box which in turn lives in my waistcoat. In fact, I have two of these wee boxes, one for game fishing (link and barrel swivels, treble hooks etc) and another one for coarse fishing (shot, pop up beads, float caps, leger links etc).
10. Clippers, nippers and scissors. I like those retracting zingers and they festoon my waistcoats. On them are various nippers and other implements for cutting line.
11. Hook sharpeners. A small stone comes with me when I am fly fishing in case a killing fly loses its sharpness. In other forms of fishing I simply change any hook which becomes dull or gets damaged but I am loathe to change a fly that is working. A few strikes with the stone soon returns the point to full use again.
12. A roll of electrical tape, a couple of safety pins, a needle or two, some cable ties. At different times and for different reasons all of these have proved useful and for the small amount of space they take up I always have them stowed away in a bag or waistcoat pocket. I once used a safety pin to replace a tip ring on a rod which I broke while fishing. It was not pretty but it allowed me to keep fishing for the rest of the day. Likewise, I cable-tied my reel on to a beachcaster when an old Fuji reel seat broke one night years ago. Just recently I used a cable tie to attach a thin rope to a winch on someone’s trailer. They take up very little space and weigh next to nothing so I will keep a few tucked away, ‘just in case’.
13. A bucket. Yep, a cheap and nasty plastic bucket which used to contain paint. Battered and bruised it has served me well for years and while it lacks in any atheistic beauty it performs numerous functions for me. Primarily it is for baling water out of the boat. Then I chuck any loose odds and ends into it while afloat. When coarse fishing I use it to hold water scooped from the lake or canal which in turn is used to wet ground bait and to wash my hands in. When shore fishing it is used to transport smelly bait to the mark and then take the catch home with me. Maybe I should invest in one of those branded buckets but I can’t bring myself to agree it would do these jobs any better than my old 10 litre job.
14. A spring balance. Here is where I have to hold my hand up and say this piece of kit is literally NEVER used. I hear you cynics out there saying that is because I never catch anything worth weighing and there is a modicum of truth in that observation. Be that as it may, even when I do land a good fish the exact weight is of absolutely no interest to me what-so-ever. Records, PB’s and all that stuff are for others. I am happy just to see a good fish then pop it back in the water with as little fuss as possible. It is a very nice brass spring balance mind you, a lovely thing to own even if it is redundant.
Written down, this is an extensive list and I am sure I have missed out other things. The big question is do I need all of this junk? There is no clear cut answer in my book. Some things, such as the tools for the outboard engine are really safety items and as such are a necessity for me. Others are less clear. ‘Needing’ an item is too general and to me it more a question of does the tool add to my angling pleasure? I can just about bite through lighter lines for example but a pair of clippers is much neater and easier for me. Do I need clippers and scissors – probably not but I find the scissors are better for dealing with heavier lines.
I am a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde I suppose. When fly fishing rivers I only take what I can carry in my waistcoat pockets. But when boat fishing I take the bloody kitchen sink with me!
The school run has eased off and it is quiet outside now. Chaffinches are squabbling in the garden. No sign yet of the winter visitors like redwings or fieldfares. Today is the say we learn if the lockdown restrictions will reduce to level 3 or not. Fingers crossed they will and that I can get out pike fishing next week. As you can see, I am all prepared!
A very simple fly. This is just a standard black pennel with just one difference. The body is made from blue floss instead of black. You can use fur instead of floss if you prefer.
A good fly for me for both browns and sea trout here in Ireland but I guess it will do the business back in the UK too. I fish it on the tail with a bushier pattern above it. Sizes ranges from 8 down to 14 and I use heavy gauge hooks in case a salmon takes a fancy to it. For me it is a fly for a dull day and I sometimes pair it with a Bruiser Bumble.
While I an on about Pennels, I remember years ago making up a variation of the standard fly by adding a hot orange cock hackle behind the black one. This made a great looking fly, a sure fire winner I thought. Wrong! Despite giving it a try a few times it failed to rise a single fish. Just goes to show how picky the trout can be.
Some people are inveterate hoarders and I very definitely fall into that category. I seem to view items which are commonly regarded as rubbish as if they are imbued with some sort of magical properties. In my head I can hear the little voice trotting out the well-worn phrase ‘this will be really useful one day’. That alone is bad enough when it is simply left overs or freely available bits of tat but I even buy bits and pieces which I imagine will meet some yet to be defined requirement. Cupboards and drawers overflow with cogs/gears/switches rescued from long defunked machines. Empty coffee jars filled to the brim with rusty screws line shelves in the shed, jostling for room with the half-empty tins of paint. It is all very disorganised and probably says a lot about my state of mind. And yet there are occasional victories in this war against waste, as my rotary lure drier testifies!
I wanted to make a small device which would keep lures turning when newly coated with two-part epoxy until the coating had set. YouTube provided me with videos of some examples of similar wonderful homemade machines. Some were too big for my requirements, others were far beyond my skills (like the guy who made his own wooden gear wheels). I gleaned a sufficient understanding of the principles involved to give me the confidence to try to create my own version, so parting with the pricely sum of £8 I invested in the main item – the disco ball motor. I suspect that few, if any of us, have spent time contemplating the finer points of revolving glitter balls, so beloved of the 1970’s disco scene. Fewer still are probably aware that for such a small sum you can purchase a tiny motor built specifically for that role. Somewhere, in the vastness of the Peoples Republic of China, there is a factory churning out these things to meet the insatiable global demand for slowly revolving mirrored balls. Anyway, I bought one.
Resplendent with a three pin plug – the disco ball motor in all its glory
The basic concept of these lure drying contraptions is simple enough. The freshly coated lures are attached to a revolving frame of some sort which is driven by the motor. Various options for holding the lures on the carrier frame exist such as small crocodile clips, springs and elastic bands. It was the stand for holding the frame which was giving me a headache – what should that be made from and how big should it be. I rummaged around in my hoard of treasures and was rewarded with a find which justified my addiction (well in my mind anyway). Tucked away at the back of a shelf in a cupboard in the spare room I unearthed some bits of polycarbonate sheet. Exactly where or when these came into my possession is beyond my rapidly receding memory, but judging by the thick layer of dust on them it looks like they have been in there for a very long time indeed. Odd shapes with scratched surfaces, they were clearly off-cuts which had been binned. Among the various flat pieces there were lurking two which had been folded on one end to make an ‘L’ shape. Eureka! These might do for mounting my wee disco ball motor. (It has just occurred to me that I need to explain why the specific disco ball motor is so necessary. You see it has to do with the speed of rotation, too fast or too slow and the epoxy will run. Like a lure making Goldilocks, disco ball motors are neither too fast nor too slow – they revolve at exactly the right speed. Now, where was I……?)
Using the pair of L pieces also solved another issue for me – how big should the whole machine be. I only want to occasionally paint up a few lures so this dryer only needs to hold a handful of them at any one time. The epoxy I will use is 5 minute, meaning that is how long it remains workable, again, roughly enough time to coat a handful of lures. I decided I wanted the frame to be sized to accommodate 4 lures at a time. The two ‘L’ pieces would meet that requirement for the end stands perfectly. Along with the bent pieces I had found a heavy rectangular slab of the same material which would serve as a base. Once I dusted that down it looked to be about the right size too.
The motor had to be attached to the carrier frame somehow and this looked a bit tricky. A split ring with a length of chain had been fitted to the motor when it arrived, obviously to make life easier for any budding John Travolta’s so they could maximise their time on the illuminated dance floor. I removed the chain but was left with a short, smooth 7mm diameter spigot with a small hole in it. Various drilling/tapping options floated through my mind but in the end I settled for a pin arrangement to link the motor to a central wooden bar.
Timber ‘arms’ then had to be cut and screwed to the central bar. These would sport small hooks for the elastic bands and wires which hold the lures while curing.
Putting the whole shebang together was done using various small nuts and bolts (remember the contents those glass jars?). Holes were drilled, nuts and bolts tightened and fittings screwed into place. Rubber ‘feet’ stuck on to the underside of the base to give a degree of grip seemed like a useful addition.
Eventually I had the contraption assembled and I gave it a test spin. It rotated just fine and did exactly what I wanted of it. It lacks a switch to turn it on and off but considering how often I will use this thing I am not going to bother with one, I’ll just turn it on or off at the mains. It sticks a little bit sometimes but as I will only be using this tool for a few minutes at a time I will not get overly stressed about it.
There were some lures lying around which required epoxy so I mixed some up and gave the new dryer its first trial. I had to fiddle about to get the hooks and wires just right but once I had that sorted the new contraption worked just dandy. It was quite satisfying to see it in action. I know it will only be used very occasionally and it was a lot of fuss and bother to go to but hey, what else would I be doing on a wet November day during lockdown?
I’m not going to suggest this is the most professional lure dryer out there, nor is it likely to induce any sort of a fever of a Saturday night but it does the job for me and there is great satisfaction in making something useful from my stash of junk. Now, where did I put my white suit with the high-waisted flared trousers?
All this hanging around at home during lockdown leaves a man with too much time to think. Not being able to fish just means I spend hours dreaming up new methods to try, new rigs to make up, new venues to research and, of course, new gear to purchase.
I wanted to scale down the sheer volume of gear I bring coarse fishing, specifically when I tackle canals here in Ireland. I know that in England most of the canal fishing is done with poles and all the gear that requires but I have no wish to go down the path of pole fishing. Instead, I am planning on using a single float rod and the minimum of gear so I can move around as required to find the fish. I also wanted to bring something to sit on too. It sounded like I was wanting my fishing cake and eating it but there are solutions out there for the roving angler.
I found a combined rucksack/stool for twenty quid in Argos and it looked like it should do the job so I bought one. Don’t ask me how Argos are still open when most other shops are closed, it is yet another of the lockdown mysteries. Green coloured, it weighs in at about a couple of kilos and is pretty sturdy with steel frames. The rucksack appears to be water resistant if not waterproof (what do you expect for twenty Euro) and a front pocket in addition to the main sack. It could improved with the addition of a couple of ‘D’ rings but we won’t lose any sleep over that omission. I’d love to be heading out soon to try it out but it will be next spring at the earliest before I am free to go canal fishing.
So what will this new bag hold? Some food and a small flask for sustenance are at the top of the list. A small tin of sweetcorn in case of emergencies. A float tube containing a small selection of canal floats. Weed rake. My camera. A small towel. Maybe a small hooklength wallet. A one pint bait box fits neatly in the front pocket for easy access. That’s about it really. The small items like hooks, spools of line, shot etc. all live in my waistcoat anyway. By limiting my fishing to very basic float set ups there is no requirement for feeders, leads or any other bottom fishing gear.
I may have got this wildly wrong and end up lugging all my gear with me, but for now the idea of travelling light really appeals to me. With a rod in one hand and the net in the other I can try one spot and if that does not produce fish I simply sling the rucksack on to my back a saunter off down the towpath until I find another likely spot. Being able to sit down is a big benefit for me as it will ease the pressure on my arthritic ankles. I harbour images of warm summer days spent on the towpath, watching the float slide gently under as I sit on my new stool. I will ignore the potential harsh reality of horizontal rain on a biting wind drenching me as I curse that I didn’t bring this-that-or-the-other.
The lockdown continues. Confined to within 5km of home I am unable to go fishing. I despise the 5km rule; I pose no threat to anyone when I am fishing alone on the pike lakes 20km from town but the idiot politicians in Dublin have dreamt up this insane rule so I must abide by it. There is no guarantee the lockdown will be eased on 2nd December and it could be next year before I am out with the rods again. That is a sickening thought.
Since there is no fishing now I thought some of you might like a quick look around my adopted home town of Castlebar here in county Mayo. How I came to end up here would require a large book on its own but suffice to say it involved a potent mix of fishing, pretty Irish girls, a disaffection with my then circumstances and the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Anyway, I moved to Castlebar initially in November 1997. I left again in late 2004, went to university in England and ended up in London only to return to Ireland again in 2008 and I have been here ever since. It is home to me and I have no wish to leave this small Irish conurbation.
Castlebar is one of the main towns in county Mayo the others being Westport, Claremorris and Ballina. Westport is a very attractive town and its economy is based on the huge numbers of tourist who flock there every year. Ballina was always a popular town for anglers as the river Moy flows through the middle of it. Castlebar on the other hand had a reputation as the business heart of the county but sadly this has changed over the last couple of decades with the loss of many employers. It it the administrative centre for the county and the headquarters of the county council is situated in the town. Both Castlebar and Ballina have populations of around 10,000 people, Westport and Claremorris are a bit smaller.
From an angling perspective, Castlebar is ideally placed in the middle of the great western lakes. The northern end of the Corrib, loughs Mask and Carra are all within 40 minutes drive to the south of the town, while roughly the same distance to the north lie loughs Conn and Cullin and the river Moy. My beloved River Robe flows quietly to the south of me within easy striking distance. Lough Beltra is near at hand to the west and Carrowmore Lake and the Owenmore river are about 45 minutes away by car to the north-west. Add to that a large number of small lakes and rivers, most of which I have yet to explore. There is even some coarse fishing around Claremorris. For sea angling the delights of Clew Bay and Achill Island are nearby. I am pretty sure I could fish a different place every day of the year if I wanted. I really am very, very lucky to live here.
So what is it like living in a small Irish town? I am sure for many of you this sound like an idyllic existence and to a large extent it is. Having said that, life here does not suit everyone and there are some limitations which need to be considered. The main one is work. There are limited opportunities unless you work in the hospitality or medical devices manufacturing industries. There are a few factories in the area but they are almost all involved in pharma or life sciences. Construction has its peaks and troughs but it is a big local employer. Being a largely rural county many people work the land with beef and sheep farming being by far the most common use of the land. Working from home is growing here just like everywhere else but high speed broadband coverage is poor. Personally, I have at different times worked in local factories, run my own business and (most often) worked away from home.
You also need to get to know what it takes to fit in to a society which is quite insular and self-aware. People here want to know who you are, who you are related to, where you work, who your friends are etc. It can come across as being nosy but in truth this is just the most obvious facet of the ‘glue’ which binds this society together. Up until relatively recently this part of the world suffered from war, hunger, foreign ownership and all the panoply of hardships these things bring. The potato famine, the black and tans, emigration, you name it the chances are the Irish were on the wrong end of it. It all combined to leave its mark on the people and while they themselves don’t see it I can, as an outsider, traces the hurt in them all. The need to know who you are is born of this background. My guess is that the younger generation, who have known much more affluent times, will be more open to new experiences. Ireland has changed enormously even in the twenty years I have lived here, some of it for the better but in some ways for the worse.
Ireland as a country is a very expensive place to live. Taxes are high and basics such as housing and transport are eye-wateringly pricey. After a while you sort of get used to it but visitors are frequently shocked by huge price tags. Again, living in the rural west has some benefits and the cost of living is cheaper here than in Dublin. My biggest gripe is the cost of running a car here. You pay VRT (a tax on every imported car) and an annual motor vehicle tax (commonly referred to as road tax). My ancient and basically worthless VW is taxed at €760/annum! Healthcare is another area where the bills soon rack up and most people have health insurance but this too is very expensive.
What about the weather, doesn’t it rain all the time? No it does not, but we do see a a fair bit of rain compared to lots of other places. Today for example is very wet and windy but dry weather is promised for the end of this week. We tend not to get extremes of any weather in Ireland because it benefits from being on the edge of the Atlantic and the warming effects of the gulf stream. Temperatures are generally between 10 and 20 degrees with a mixture of sunshine and rain. We do get prolonged periods of precipitation, usually in autumn and again in the spring but to be honest we just get on with it here. You can buy good waterproof clothes now to keep you dry. Winters are variable, some being open and mild while some are very cold if high pressure from the continent gets ‘stuck’ over the country. I have seen -20 degrees a couple of times but that is rare.
Let’s take a look around, here are a few photos from around the town.
The main street has the same mix of banks, small shops and businesses as any other similar sized town in the country. Sadly, we have more than our fair share of derelict buildings even here on the busiest street. I can remember when the main street was bustling and vibrant but these days things are different. The big nationwide supermarkets are largely grouped around a redeveloped part of town off of Market Square. Tesco, Aldi, Argos, Boots etc. are all here.
Socialising is a big part of life in Ireland and Castlebar has its fair share of pubs and restaurants to pick from. There are not as many pubs as there used to be and those that are left have often changed to include serving food as well as drink. Being of a certain age(!) Helen and I enjoy a meal out and maybe a couple of drinks in one or two of the pubs in town of a Friday night but that is about our limit. Big drinking sessions are a thing of the past for us! Here in the west we speak about going ‘out’ for a night which means a few drinks then home at a reasonable hour, or going ‘out out’ when all bets are off and you have no plans to return home until the early hours (if at all). Younger people must find small town Ireland difficult and many move away for employment but also to enjoy greater freedom and entertainment in the cities. Galway city has always had a huge draw for Mayo people and many leave to work there and never return.
The big sport in Mayo is football. GAA football that is! The county team evoke huge passion and the supporters are known across the country for their fierce loyalty and willingness to travel anywhere to watch their heroes in action. McHale park is where the big games takes place and although I take only a passing interest in the game the town is always buzzing when Mayo are playing at home. Unlike soccer in the UK football fans here revel in the bonhomie when rival teams meet.
A popular walk is around Lough Lannagh on the outskirts of the town. It was developed a few years ago and has proved to be exceedingly popular with walkers, joggers and cyclists. You often see fishermen trying their luck for the small pike which infest this shallow lake. There are shoals of tiny roach in there too. The best part for me is the view out west to the reek, it is magical as the sun is setting.
The town river flows from Lough Lannagh and winds its way to a confluence with the Manulla river east of the town. Both rivers have healthy stocks of brown trout. Salmon run the Moy and up the system as far as the meetings of both rivers but don’t make it to the town. A path was created recently which stretches from the town to the National Museum of Ireland out at Turlough, most of it hugging the river. It is a lovely walk on a nice day.
The mall is situated at the end of the main street. It was originally laid out as Lord Lucan’s cricket pitch. The Lucan family owned large tracts of western Ireland and made their money from the rents paid by the crofters. Nowadays the mall is a pleasant open space for a stroll and in the winter an ice rink is erected here.
The courthouse is on the Mall, scene of much drama over the years. I was only ever in it once, to get divorced (another long story). Just along from the courthouse is the Garda barracks. An Garda Siochana are the Irish police force.
Mayo University Hospital is always busy and even more so during the pandemic. Those whom are too ill to be treated here are moved to Galway or to specialist hospitals in Dublin.
The rebellion of 1798 was partially played out in and around Castlebar. French troops disembarked at Killala and they marched to confront the English garrison in Castlebar. Here they fought a running battle with the redcoats who were driven from the town. The English departed in such haste and with the French on their heels it became known as the Castlebar races. Much of the fighting took place on this small hill called Knockthomas. There are monuments all across the area to the rebellion which was really just an extension of the wider European wars of that time. The French had no real interest in Ireland breaking away from the British Empire, they simply saw an opportunity to tie up significant numbers of English troops in Ireland. As is the way in all wars, many innocent people lost their lives while the leaders played out their games.
When I fancy a pint of porter I usually head here, to Johnnie McHale’s pub. A lot of work has gone into expanding this fine old establishment and the back of the pub is now a popular spot for the younger set. The front of the pub though remains unchanged and you could say the same for the ‘mature’ clientele who frequent it. If you ever find yourself in Castlebar you simply must visit Johnnies for a pint of Guinness, it is as good as any I have tried in Ireland (and I have tried a few let me tell you).
The biggest pub in town is Rocky’s, owned by that great fisherman Rocky Moran. A larger than life character, Rocky owns a few businesses in the town including a Funeral Director’s. This was a very common combination in rural Ireland for many years and Rocky is carrying on the tradition set by his father. Rocky’s is hugely popular and always busy what with sports on the telly or live music in the evenings. When he is not making lots of money in the pub you can usually find him on the banks of a river or out on a lough.
As I said earlier, we do enjoy an occasional meal out and out favourite restaurant is Al Muretto. Great food, lovely staff and a relaxed atmosphere add up to a lovely spot for a night out. Café Rua do some lovely food and they have two outlets in the town. Of course there are plenty of cafes and coffee shops scattered around too so there is always somewhere to stop for a coffee.
While a number of different faiths have places of worship in the town the catholic congregation are served by the impressive church.
I am no expert but I am told that Castlebar has the best shopping in the county. The usual suspects have shops here for those who enjoy that sort of thing.
The only shops I have any real interest in are tackle shops. Pat Quin on the main street has some tackle downstairs and this is where you can buy the salmon licence. Frank Baynes presides over the most eclectic tackle shop I know of there on New Antrim Street. It always looks as if he has three times as much gear as the shop can hold with stacks or rods, piles of boots and shelves overflowing with reels, hooks and lures. Frank himself is a mine of local angling knowledge, always helpful to visiting anglers.
Transport to and from Castlebar is hugely reliant on roads. The N5 stretches from Longford to Westport and it passes the edge of town. There is a railway connection on the line between Dublin and Westport but as with the rest of the country many of the old railway lines were ripped up many years ago.
Of course, St. Patrick’s Day (17th March) is an excuse for a parade and some serious revelry. It is all very professional in the cities like Dublin and Galway but it is a wee bit more homespun in Castlebar. The parade consists largely of a few tractors, some floats put together by local businesses and a couple of young marching bands from the schools and youth clubs in town. here are a few snaps from the parade a few years ago.
So there you are, a wee look at the place I call home. It has its faults but then you can say that about anywhere. It is largely peaceful and quiet here, the people are friendly and the weather is mild. I have lived in so many places over the years and I could have settled down in any of them but somehow I gravitated to this small county town on the edge of Europe and don’t regret that decision. I recall popping over to Mayo while I was living in London, I was just taking a short break away from the city and the west was calling. It had been three years since I set foot in Castlebar. I parked the hire car and set off down the main street but every 20 or 30 yards I was stopped by someone for a chat or just to say hello. Coming from London where nobody makes eye contact let alone talks to you, this felt like an assault on the senses. But that is the west of Ireland for you, one of the nicest places I have been and the place I call home.
I am in the middle of lockdown now and I needed a break from tying flies. The boxes are slowly filling up and some new patterns are under development (more on these in later posts) but I wanted a bit of time away from the vice so I went through all my coarse fishing gear to see if there was anything I needed. You bet there was! I needed floats – lots and lots of floats.
When I took up coarse fishing last year I bought a few bits and pieces to get me going. I already had stuff like split shot and some very old floats so I concentrated on swimfeeders, hook length line and bits like that. I was confident I had enough to commence operations and indeed that is how it worked out for me. I caught a few fish, learned by my mistakes and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I became particularly endeared to float fishing, the joy of concentrating on the float tip in anticipation of the merest tremble or sudden dive is addictive. I got through to the second lockdown using the small amount of gear I had bought nearly a year ago despite a few losses along the way.
Now though, I have to address a blatant hole in my armoury. You see the old floats I had were bought back in Scotland when I used floats while chasing Grayling on the Tay and other rivers. I loved trotting worms and maggots for grayling, it was a beautiful way to fish and I miss that sport very much (there are no Grayling in Ireland). Most of my old floats though are large Avons and these are not in any way suitable for my coarse fishing these days on canals and stillwaters here in Ireland. I did have a couple of Crystal Wagglers which I had picked up somewhere along the line but other than those I was pretty much bereft of good floats.
One of my precious two wagglers came a cropper in some reeds this summer, leaving a solitary float for everyday use. So I got on to the internet and started looking for some nice floats but got a terrible shock when I saw the prices. That pushed me on to ebay and there I found some good secondhand floats at much more agreeable prices. I bought a few. Actually I bought a lot!
So what did I need, as opposed to what I wanted? The Crystal Wagglers had served me well but I needed them in a range of sizes to cope with different conditions. That was easy to fix as these floats are readily available at very low cost. To be honest these will form my first line of attack. Next up I needed some middys in a range of sizes so I could cast a bit further. I bought some in both weighted an unweighted types.
In the ‘nice to have’ column I splashed out a small sum on a few Peacock floats just because I like the look of them. In one batch of mixed floats there were a few pellet zoomers and while it looks like these won’t be used as I don’t fish for carp I have a notion they could be used for tench. I also invested in some big weighted wagglers. Not too sure yet if they are going to be an advantage but I’ll give them a try. As I was buying job lots of floats there were inevitably some which I will never use. Pole floats spring to mind and while there were not many like this in my purchases there were a handful which are of no use to me. They will probably end up in a drawer where they will gather dust for years.
I bought floats with inserts, ones with different coloured tips and others just because I liked the look of them. I now have a couple of reed stem floats, just to keep it traditional you understand. Floats have become my new obsession. Most are in either new or very good condition but a few are a bit beat up. I’ll enjoy doing any small repairs to the damaged floats as I love tinkering about on small jobs like that. I have divided my new purchases up so that I have a small selection in a tube to take with me when roving the canals next year. I plan on travelling light on those days so all the gear I take with me needs to fit into a small rucksack. The rest of the floats will find a home in a float box tucked into my Daiwa seat box.
I know I could have got away with a handful of wagglers and been done with it but this small weakness for floats is not the crime of the century. It will allow me to try different approaches and cope with varying weather conditions much better than before. Just being able to see the float tip was a challenge sometimes this year, so different coloured tips should help to address that issue. And if messing about with some bits of cane and cork keeps me happy, where is the harm? There are worse obsessions out there!
The more I read about coarse fishing and the more I actually practice it, the more I realise that I need to alter not just how I fish but how I think about the fish themselves. Only by doing that will I become more successful. 2020 has seen me starting a journey to be a coarse angler and the differences from that and when I learned how to fly fish for trout and salmon are stark.
Like many game anglers, as a kid I started out spinning small lures and worming to catch trout on my local river. I got my first fly rod at 12 years of age and took to it immediately. I found casting pretty simple and aside from some hard to understand drawings in old books I was largely self taught. The only books I could afford were those ‘Uncle Bill Davies’ paperbacks. Sadly, they were almost all lost along with a huge collection of other books during a house move many years ago. I only have one on my bookshelf now (priced at 4 shillings!). These books hammered home the need to be silent, to sneak up on the trout. A heavy footfall would be enough to spook a fish. I got it, these were wild creatures and they survived on their wits. From a young age I practiced stealth when fishing and in turn I landed some terrific fish. I learned by spending time on the water in all conditions. I learned from the mistakes I made as well as the successes.
Fast forward to 2019 when the first stirrings of an interest in coarse angling began to stir. The world has changed and now, with a few clicks or swipes, anyone can access tons of information. It is almost too easy, there is very little effort required. Over the winter of 2019/2020 I read books and blogs, watched videos and listened to podcasts about coarse fishing. I was taking in information all right but I’m not sure I was actually ‘learning’ in the true sense of the word. To me, there is an important distinction between information gathering and learning and while the internet can provide a basic level of knowledge it cannot teach as such. Regardless, this information gathering was the best I could do and when the lockdown came it just intensified my thirst for all things ciprid.
July 2020 saw me venturing forth with floats, feeders et al. I immediately felt out of my depth and that some of my deeply ingrained game fishing knowledge apparently did not apply. It all seemed incongruous fishing tiny size 18 hooks while at the same time lobbing in great lumps of groundbait which hit the water like Napoleonic cannonballs. Was stealth in or out? I was confused.
It is often the case that you only understand something by actually participating in it. I had read and listened to advice but some important aspects had not penetrated my dense thinking processes. Some coarse fish congregate in shoals – I got that. They graze on the bottom, consuming large quantities of food – yep, I could understand that bit too. They can be attracted and held in a spot by effective groundbaiting – OK with that concept as well. The groundbait will attract them, usually regardless of the noise caused by introducing it to the swim. That is the bit I struggled with. Surely wild fish will scatter when foreign objects splash down into the water close to them? I now any self respecting trout would bolt if a hurled a ball of groundbait close to it.
Only through time on the water and learning how coarse fish respond was I able to make any sense of this new sport. Only when I actually did throw in balls of ground bait and catch fish was I able to accept the fact that coarse fish do not scare as easily as trout. I am fishing ‘wild’ waters not commercial fisheries but I read that fish in commercials are attracted by the commotion when groundbait is tossed in. They have learned that the noise is a sign that food is coming, like a dinner gong sounding!
The analogy of cyprids being like sheep is a good one. A shoal moves around, grazing on the bottom. They hoover up the small creatures and quickly denude the area of such organisms so they keep moving on. Sheep move in herds and grazed the grass but need to keep moving as they quickly eat all the herbage. The aim of the anglers groundbait is both to attract the shoal and then keep them occupied in front of you. I try to keep this thought in my mind when coarse fishing but judging how much groundbait and how often it should be introduced is the bit I am still learning. It feels like I over feed but maybe not, I’m really not too sure and have no idea how you can verify if your groundbiat is there in sufficient amounts.
The next step for me really is crossing the Rubicon, I have bought a rake. When I first read about raking a swim it seemed like utter madness, the fish must high-tail it to the next parish when someone lugs a dirty great lump of metal into their water and then drags it back covered in weeds. In case that was not enough tom-foolery the whole process is repeated until a clear space is formed on the bottom so the angler can cast into.
It was only when reflecting on the ‘grazing’ aspect of my quarry that raking a swim made any sense at all. If they didn’t mind the cannonballs of groundbait them they probably would not be too put out by the rake. The idea of the fish then entering the cleared swim to look for food also became less far fetched.
It will be spring 2021 before the new rake gets a chance to show its metal (sic) but I have high hopes it will be another arrow in my quiver, especially on the canals. Irish canals are notoriously weedy and my small experience of them leads me to think the rake might be at least part of the answer when seeking bream, tench and roach.
I am not an expert but from what I can gather you can cast the rake out with a rod and reel loaded with 30 pound breaking strain braid and slowly wind it back in again. Rather than mess about with a reel just to do that task I will try simply attaching a length of cord to the rake and lob it in by hand. A much bigger swivel needs to be fitted to handle the cord I plan on using. The rake itself is of very simple construction and looks like it is too small to be effective but I have read they are more than up to the job and are easier to lug around with you than the homemade efforts constructed out of a pair of garden rakes lashed back-to-back. My one won’t be able to stir up the bottom like the garden rakes do though so I might be missing out out that benefit.
My plan for the canals is to rake out a few swims as I walk along the towpath then fish my way back. This should allow time for the swim to settle down and for the fish to find their way there. I could also throw in some ground bait too I suppose. If this all sounds a bit vague that is because I need to experiment and learn as I go along.
If I am perfectly honest with myself the learning process is at least as much, if not more enjoyable than actually catching the roach and perch. It’s like being that wee boy again on the banks of the Don in Aberdeenshire learning the art of angling. The failures and occasional successes marking my slow progress. This lockdown is only increasing my passion for getting back out there to wield the old coarse gear again.
No, not the wheels on a plane. A quick look at some of the implements I used over the years for transferring my hard earned prizes from water to hand. This is a part of angling which has changed radically over the past few decades as our attitudes to the quarry have altered.
It is the late 1970’s and I have been introduced to the many delights of sea angling from small boats in the North Sea. I bought a cheap boat rod and a Mitchell 624 reel (remember them?). Days fishing out of Stonehaven (‘Stoney’ to us) were wondrously productive which big hauls of prime cod, the odd Coalfish and some flats. I saw a couple of 20 pounders boated but my biggest was sixteen and a half pounds. Catches were measured by the box full back then. Happy days! With so much action the skipper was often busy and you had to wait for him to come over to you and gaff the fish into the boat. I decided to cut out the middle man and fashioned a gaff of sorts myself. I still have it and a miracle of modern engineering it is!
I bought the 3 inch gaff head from Somers tackle shop in town and got my mate Allister, a mechanical engineer by trade, to weld a 3/8’BSF nut on the end of a steel shaft. To give me something to grip on to I wound a rough handle out of bright yellow ‘machine rope’, a heavy duty nylon rope used on papermaking machines. The gaff head simply screwed on to the nut on the end but in practice it often worked loose so I covered it with electrical tape. Over time, the whole lot rusted together and it would now take a small atomic explosion to separate the thing.
This thing of beauty has not been used for well over 30 years but I hang on to it as a reminder of those far off days; rods bent, banter flying across the deck and marled green cod rapidly filling the fish boxes. We caught so many one day that I was left on the pier in Stoney to fillet them because we could not fit them into the car. My late father had to come and collect me and he found his son surrounded by piles of cod fillets and boxes of fish guts.
I have a vague recollection of my first landing net, a small and weak affair which broke somewhere along the line. I saved hard, not easy when all the money I was making was from a weekend milk round and whatever flies I could sell. Eventually, I had amassed enough to buy a Sharpes extending net. It was a beauty, big enough to cope with sea trout which were then my main target. Pride swelled my teenage chest as I set off for Newburgh to fish the tidal waters for the first time with the new net. The day was a disaster, no fish, a rat ate my lunch out of my bag where I had hidden it beside the bridge and then the biggest tragedy – I lost the new net! It was hanging from a metal ring on my bag but somehow it became detached and was gone in the rising tide. I caught the bus home in total dejection. My father once more came to the rescue. The following morning he and I drove back to the bridge and we set off scouring the mud flats and mussel beds. Unbelievably I found the net lying there near the low water mark. I don’