Fishing in Ireland

Signing off, for now

I guess that is a bit ironic I suppose that I am taking a break from this blog just as the lockdown is slowly being lifted here in Ireland. From 8th June we will be allowed to travel a maximum of 20km from home meaning I could reach Loughs Conn and Cullin. The local fishers who live closer to the lakes than I do have been out trying their luck and the trout seem to have been responding in reasonable numbers on days when the weather was kind. Those days have been few and far between though as the fine, dry and bright days have dominated in the west for week now. Regardless, I will be out fishing from the 8th and, please God, some trout will be good enough to show some interest in my flies.

Messin’ about at the vice today

The mayfly will be all but over by then and the fishing will become progressively more challenging. If the weather breaks and we see some heavy rain there might be the odd salmon running the Moy and some of these fish may enter the Conn/Cullin system. It is really in the lap of the Gods so there is no use fretting unduly about the chances of a silver lad.

3 pound grilse

3 pound grilse from a few summers ago

I have come to terms with my decision to curtail the blog for  while. I admit the initial idea came like a blot out the blue but I have grown accustomed to the new found freedom now and am looking forward to taking a break. I will almost certainly jot down some observations from my fishing trips once I am back in the saddle so look out for new posts at some point int he future. When exactly that will be is not clear to me. I’ll know when the time is right! I have retained the domain name for the site to prevent someone else using it. The blog will still be accessible online but a lot of the features will disappear until I sign up again. I’m not 100% sure of exactly what is going to vanish but I expect a lot of the photographs in the posts will go. I have a FB page called claretbumbler which I drop the occasion post on so you can always get in touch with me there.

My boat in Muphy's field

All my tackle has been overhauled and is ready for action now. The boat got a lick of varnish too! While it has been bitterly disappointing to miss the best part of the season this year I am very mindful of those who have lost their lives during the pandemic and count my blessings that we are in good health so far. Here in Mayo we saw an unusually high number of cases, many more than in the far more populous neighbouring county of Galway. At least we are seeing a sustained drop in infection rates now. Social distancing has become the norm and the changes in how we interact with each other is still hard to comprehend. There are very real fears for the tourist and hospitality sectors here and many, many jobs are at risk. Difficult times lie ahead of us.

Unless something odd or particularly newsworthy happens over the coming few days this will be my last post for some time. I want to say a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to all of you who took the time and trouble to visit my blog and especially to those of you who got in touch with me to make a comment or add your views. It has been an immense pleasure to be in direct communication with you all. Please mind yourselves in these difficult times and hopefully we can all get back out fishing sooner rather than later.

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

minnow mounts

Spent some time this morning making up a few mounts for devon minnows. I used the monnow extensively when I lived in Scotland and it produced a lot of spring and autumn salmon for me back in the day. I still have boxes of devons lying around. Most of them are damaged or just worn due to use and abuse. Minnows had a hard life, sunk to the bottom of the river and allowed to bump their way around until they were right below you then that mad high speed retrieve to get it out of the water ready for the next cast.

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I used to love fishing with devons, there is something very relaxing about swinging them down-and-across a wide river. These days flying ‘C’ and plugs seem to be much more in favour than the lowly devon which is a shame. When it comes to colours I happily try any and every combination! Blue and silver has never really been that effective for me personally (apart from a spanking 21 pounder from the Aberdeenshire Don many moons ago). Black and gold is as good as any in my book but I have chucked just about every colour of minnow out and let it trundle round in the current.

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The Millionairs pool on the Lower Don

In Scotland we used big devons at the start of the year, 3 inchers were our standard size and the lads on the Tay went a full inch bigger than that I believe. Here in Ireland sizes vary from about an inch-and-a-half up to maybe two-and-a-half inches.

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I have now run out of treble hooks so it will be a while before I resume this job. Same goes for making up some Flying ‘C’ lures. I have loads of trebles, just not in the right sizes. Isn’t that always the case! There is no panic anyway, these minnows won’t see the water this season. It will be next spring before I am looking in boxes for a hand full of devons to bring with me to the river Moy. The Moy is far from classic salmon fly water but there are some excellent pools for spinning, nicely paced and deep enough without being too deep.

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The Gub on the EMAA beats. That is the the river Gweestion coming in at the right of this picture

Keep safe out there and have faith we will be back fishing in a few weeks, God willing.

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling

Painting

Deep in the furthest recesses of the fishing den there lay a small plastic box. It has been there for years and every now and then I opened it up either to add another item or wistfully shake my head at the waste of the contents. I kept promising myself that I would find the time and inclination to get around to sorting this mess out and this week I finally made the effort. I fished out the box and sorted though the contents – old spoons.

Mainly Toby’s, these were the lost souls of my tackle collection. The waifs and strays, the ugly ducklings if you will. I used to buy up old spoons whenever I saw them and along with the pristine gems there were the less fortunate ones. These had been left in the bottom of fishermens tackle boxes to go rusty, some looked like they had even been retrieved from the depths of a lake or river. Others had been used in salt water and never rinsed after use. In short, all of them were in extremely poor condition.

I removed all the rotten hooks, rings and swivels first. There were a couple of stick-on eyes to be scraped off too. Out came the fine sandpaper and they all were given a good rub down to remove any corrosion. Next, I cleaned them with warm soapy water and dried them off. Donning a pair of gloves I then cleaned them with nail polish remover to remove any traces of grease. To give me a good surface for the paint to adhere too I next gave them all a spray with some etch. Any that actually had a ‘good’ shiny side were only etched on the ‘bad’ side.

Spraying the etch

As a wee lad of 8 or 10 years old I used to love building model planes, you know, those ‘Airfix’ kits. Spitfires, Heinkels etc were carefully glued together and painted using those tiny tins of enamel paint sold under the trade name ‘Humbrol’. Hard as this is to believe, I still have a few of those old tins from my now very distant childhood and the paint inside is as good as ever! Once the etch had dried (it does not take very long at all) I got out the brushes and the wee tins and started painting. I didn’t have any red enamel (well, you didn’t see many red Spitfire’s did you?) so I had to use a water based acrylic instead. These ones will need to be epoxy coated. I’ll do another post on that process.

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My idea was just to give these old spoons a basic new colour scheme, nothing fancy you understand, just solid colours on one or both sides. I am firmly of the opinion that salmon react to the movement of the spoon rather than the colour, so a lick of red/black/green/yellow paint is not going to make a huge difference as far as I can see. Some of them I painted all black on both sides just to see if they will work. I have read that in coloured water an all black lure or fly is the easiest for the fish to see. Beyond catching the occasional grilse on a Black Pennel fly in a filthy brown spate I have no proof of this particular theory.

I am a bit short of hooks right now so the final assembly will need to wait but that will only be the work of  few minutes to dress each of the spoons with new split rings, barrel swivels and strong trebles (Owners for preference).

In amongst the Tobys there was a HUGE handmade spoon which was chromed on one side. I decided to give the concave side a lick of fl. yellow paint and it came out lovely. I’ll definitely give this one a try for the green fellas when the winter comes around again. You can see from the photos below this is a gigantic spoon.

A couple of days ago I unearthed a wee bag with three completely bald Kynoch’s in it. Needless to say they got the same treatment and they are now painted silver.

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The damned virus continues to take the lives of many good people and disrupt our daily routine for those of us who are spared. Messing about with some old lures and paints helps to occupy my mind during these dark days. I hope this post finds each and every one of you safe and well.

update, i found a few hooks so here is how some of Toby spoons turned out:

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scaled convex side

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Same spoons but this is the concave sides

I especially like the look of the all black ones, I have high hopes for them but it will be next year before they get a swim by the looks of thongs.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing

A dozen for the Robe

I will add a couple of final posts to this blog before it shuts down.

I had a request today for some help regarding what flies to use when fishing the river Robe in Mayo so here is a rough guide to twelve of the patterns I use on a regular basis. Other anglers will have faith in many other flies but these have all served me well over the years.

Beaded Pheasant tail.

I guess this is my ‘go to’ nymph pattern for the Robe in the early part of the season. It is a multi-functional fly that can be fished in the usual nymphing techniques or added to the tail of a wet fly leader and swung down-and-across. Some days a gold bead is better, on other days the duller, copper beaded version catches more.

Partridge and Orange.

I have used this fly since I was a boy back in Aberdeen and have probably caught more trout on it than any other pattern. During an early season hatch of olives it can be deadly. A great all-rounder it works best in streamy water early in the season. Don’t be without it if you are going to fish the Robe in springtime.

I like to add a peacock herl thorax to my Partridge spiders

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Olive Partridge Spider

This is one of my own patterns that does well from the start of the season through to the month of June. It has caught me many trout over the years and I still recall losing a huge wild trout at Hollymount a few years ago. I only got  brief look at it after it had emptied the reel twice; I got it close to me then it thrashed on the surface and threw the hook. How big? I reckon it was about eight pounds!

Olive Partridge spider

 

Adams

The Adams is by a long way my favourite dry fly for the Robe. I use different variations as circumstances dictate but the original with the grey fur body is hard to beat.

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standard dressing of the Adams

 

BWO spinner

The Robe gets good hatches of Blue wing olives, usually starting in early June and going on for the rest of the summer. When the spinners return to lay their eggs the trout feed hard on them and this simple dry fly has worked a treat during those hectic late evening rises.

Grey tippets, orange fur body and a small grizzled cock hackle, simple but effective BWO spinner

 

Rusty Spinner

When the Lark Dark Olives return to lay their eggs the Rusty Spinner comes into its own. Using the same design but changing the colour of the body you can produce a range of spinner patterns to cover most occasions. Claret, red and pale olive have all caught me trout.

Rusty spinner with a pink sighter to help in low light conditions

Iron Blue Dun

The Robe get small hatches of Iron Blue duns and I can’t say I have ever seen them in big numbers. The trout do seem to pick them out though when they do hatch so having a good copy can save the blank. Always tied on a small hook like a 16 or smaller. Sometimes you get a hatch of IBD in September too.

Standard dressing of the Iron Blue Dun

Wickhams Fancy

Summer evenings, the setting sun and fish slashing at sedges on an Irish river, the stuff dreams are made of! The Wickham’s Fancy is a poor copy of anything in the natural world but the trout love it. A brilliant fly you simply MUST have in your box.

 

Elk Hair Caddis

An American fly now, the Elk Hair Caddis. Again, you can fool around with the materials but I find a hare’s ear body is very good. Tied very small it is a great searching pattern on difficult days in the summer.

My Ginger Sedge

This is one for fishing into the dark on summer evenings. Either fished singly on a stout leader or on the tail of a two fly cast with a Wickham on the dropper this fly can often produce the best trout of the day. You can also grease it up and fish it dry.

Ginger sedge

 

Hawthorn

Falls of Hawthorn fly happen each May on the Robe, eliciting exciting rises from the fish. There are lots of patterns to pick from and they will no doubt all catch fish on their day. I like this one though.

Rubber legs on this Hawthorn.

 

Goldhead Hare’s Ear Nymph

Trout feed below the surface for 90% of the time so you need a good nymph pattern in your box. In different sizes this one will catch you trout on the Robe all season long.

Goldhead hares ear

As I say, this is just a dozen of my favourites, there are many other patterns which succeed on the river Robe. Size is important and a size 14 or 16 is usually about right.

Here is a very rough guide to when these 12 flies usually give their best:

pattern type size Mar April May June July August Sept
Beaded PT nymph 14 X X X
Partridge and orange wet 14 X X X X
Olive Partridge spider wet 14 X X X
Adams dry 14-18 X X X X X X
BWO dry 18 X X
Rusty spinner dry 14-18 X X X X
Iron Blue Dun wet 16 X X X
Wickhams Fancy wet 12, 14,16 X X X X X
Elk hair caddis dry 12, 14,16 X X X
Ginger sedge wet 12, 14 X X X X
Hawthorn dry 14 X
Hare’s Ear Goldhead nymph 12, 14,16 X X X X X X X
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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Day 6 – Peach Palmer

I have been fortunate enough to fish for trout in the Orkney islands a couple of times and can highly recommend them to any stillwater trout angler. The fish can be free rising and the islands are a delight to visit with so much to do and see there. The last time I was there was with my mate Chris and we caught loads of trout. The most successful fly for us was this one, the Peach Palmer.

A typical road sign on Orkney

Swinging a small brown trout into the boat. That’s Eddie smiling in the background and I think this was us on Boardhouse loch.

Leaving Stromness on the ferry back to Scrabster

Local anglers on the islands are very fussy about getting the exact shade of peach; too reddish or too yellow is not going to cut the mustard for these highly skilled anglers. We just happened to be lucky that the peach coloured flies we had with us met with the approval of the fish. Since those far off days I have tried the Peach Palmer and its cousin the Peach Muddler here in Ireland and it works here too! It has caught me trout on Mask and Carra on bright days.

I use a size 10 or 12 wet fly hook and fl. yellow tying silk. Start the silk at the eye of the hook and leaving enough space tie in a cock hackle dyed sunburst. Now tie in another cock hackle, this time a bit shorter in fibre and dyed peach. Run the tying silk to the bend of the hook and catch in a piece of fl. yellow wool to make a tail. Trim the tail off square and tie in a length of fine gold wire.

ready to dub the fur body

Dub the tying silk with seals fur dyed peach (I actually have some dyed fl. peach and it works well). Form a tapered body with the seal’s fur then wind the peach hackle down to the bend in open spirals.

Tie in the hackle with the fine gold wire and wind it up through the hackle. Tie in and cut off the waste end of the hackle and the gold wire. Wind plenty of turns of the sunburst hackle at the head, whip finish and varnish to complete the fly.

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To make the Peach Muddler simply swap the sunburst hackle for a a muddler head made of natural deer hair.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Palamino midge

This is a pattern I used very successfully on Lough Corrib for many years when I kept a boat at Salthouse Bay. Early in the season there were great hatches of Duckfly in the bay and the trout would feed avidly on them. This fly caught me some great brown trout so here is how you make it.

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Use a curved hook, something like the Kamasan B100. A size 12 is about right. For tying silk I use 8/0 black. Start the silk at the eye of the hook and run it down the shank a short way. Don’t go around the bend (see photo above for the right length). Tie is a length of fine black chenille. I tend to use Veniard materials I have some ‘Vernille’ from them which is just ideal for this job. Singe the end with a lighter to seal the end and also to give it a nice tapered look. Now tie the Vernille in as an extended body of about 6mm long. Secure the Vernille with tight turns of silk and remove the waste.

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The thorax is made from fine orange/red fur which is dubbed on and wound to make a ball shape. The wings are made from a pair of badger cock hackle tips, tied in on top of the hook in a ‘V’ shape.

Tie in a cock hackle which is normally black but you can use badger of a grizzle hackle as well. 2 or 3 turns is sufficient then form a head, whip finish and varnish.

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You can tie this pattern in different colours such as brown, red or olive. I’ll post another fly tomorrow.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Day 5 – the Olive Wulff

Wulff patterns are widely used here in Ireland during the mayfly hatch. Normally tied on size 10 hooks, a huge range of patterns sporting the signature split hair wings catch trout during the greendrake hatch and the falls of spinners every season. There can’t be many Irish lough anglers who don’t have a few Wulff flies in their box. Outside of mayfly season though they are virtually never used. I kinda buck that trend though!

Lough Carra, home to big hatches of olives in April

Lake olives are large upwinged flies which hatch out from April right through the season. The biggest hatches are in the spring with smaller and less well defined hatches occurring throughout the summer and early autumn. The naturals vary in shade so one day on a certain lough you can find quite yellowish coloured duns and the next day they can be quite dark. I believe this is part of the problem that anglers have when dealing with hatches of olives here on the big loughs. Many anglers really struggle despite good numbers of fly on the wing and fish taking them confidently. I vary the colour of my flies until I find the one which will work on any given day. For that reason I tie this Olive Wulff in a wide range of body and hackle colours.

Lake olives are quite large flies and I tie the Olive Wulff on a size 12 hook to imitate the duns as the drift on the surface drying their wings. I like the Kamasan B170 hook for this pattern but feel free to use the hook of your choice. Olive or brown tying silk works best for this fly. I don’t mention wax very often but you need to thoroughly wax the tying silk when making this pattern. Squirrel hair, which is used for the wings and tail, is very slippery stuff so waxed silk is needed to keep everything in place and stop it sliding about.

Start the tying silk at the bend of hook and run it up the shank to the eye then come back about a third of the hook length. You need to leave yourself plenty of space to work on the wings and hackle. Take a bunch of squirrel tail hair from a tail which has been dyed olive and use a hair stacker to even up the tips. Don’t use too much hair, I find that slim wings are better than heavy ones.

With the tips of the hair facing forward over the eye of the hook use the pinch and loop method of tying in the hair and then make a number of turns with the silk to firmly secure the hair on the top of the hook. Divide the bunch of hair in two with figure of eight turns and build up the silk in front of the wings to make them sit upright. Keeping a good tension on the silk at all times during this process is vital. It all seems very difficult the first time you tie a Wulff but with practice it becomes much easier. Remember to think about proportions – the wings should be the same length as the hook shank and so should the tail.

With the wings completed you then remove the waste ends of hair but do this in steps so you get a tapered body. Start to run the tying silk down towards the bend and tie in another slim bunch of olive squirrel hair which has been even up just as you did with the wings in the stacker. Remove the waste hair and catch in a length of fine gold wire then run the silk to a point opposite the barb of the hook.

Dub the silk with some olive seal’s fur and wind this back up the hook to form the body. Wind the gold wire up the body in open turns, tie in and remove the waste end.

For the hackle you can use either a plain olive cock or a grizzle cock dyed olive. Prepare the hackle in the normal way and tie it in just behind the wings. Make three or four turns of the hackle behind the wings and the same again in front before tying down and trimming the waste off. The head and whip finish are as normal and add some varnish to seal the head after the tying silk has been cut off.

Tie this basic pattern in a range of shades of olive , everything from pale to sooty. It will catch fish during the mayfly hatch too. I can’t decide if the trout take it then as a mayfly or are they picking out olives which often hatch at the same time. Have fun making these Wulff’s, there is great pleasure to be had making something as complex as these flies.

Look after yourselves out there!

 

 

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Day 4, my Olive Partridge

A nice simple fly for you all today but one which has caught me an inordinate amount of wild brownies over the last 50 years or so. Based on the ever popular Partridge and Orange this wee spider is a good fly on the river in springtime when large dark olives are hatching. I originally tied it for use on the Aberdeenshire Don but it has travelled well and works a treat here on the river Robe in co. Mayo.

I like to use a Kamasan B405 in size 14 for the hook. Tying silk is olive Pearsall Gossamer. I don’t use anything else for the tying silk, I have tried other silks but they don’t work so stick to the lovely greeny-olive Pearsall,s.

There are only three materials needed, the tying silk, some fine gold wire and a brown mottled feather from the back of an English Partridge.

Pick a hackle the right size, for a number 14 hook you need a feather from high up on the back of the bird where they are smaller.

Start the tying silk at the eye of the hook and catch in a prepared hackle which has all the grey fluff stripped away. You can tie it in by the tip or the butt, it does not seem to make a lot of difference to this fly.

Run the silk down to opposite the point of the hook in tight touching turns (don’t make the body too long) and tie in a length of finest gold wire. Take the tying silk back up in touching turns again to form the slim body. Now make 4 or 5 turns of the wire to make the rib of the fly. Tie the wire and trim off the waste.

Ready to rib the fly

Now wind the hackle making only one-and-half turns before tying it down and trimming the waste. The only mistake you can make when tying this fly is making too many turns of the hackle resulting in a bushy looking fly. It must be slim and dainty. Form a neat, small head and whip finish before varnishing.

the finished fly

Fished down-and-across as part of a team of wets this fly is a good provider in the early months of the season. You can vary the pattern by using partridge hackles dyed olive but the original still seems to be the most effective. Enjoy and stay safe.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Day 3, Bibio daddy

This one is simply a mish-mash of a couple of good flies so it really is no surprise that it works.I use it for trout tied on a size 10 hook but there is no reason why it wouldn’t work for salmon tied slightly bigger.

Start by mounting a size 10 wet fly hook in the vice and starting some fine black tying silk, 8/0 will be good.Run the silk towards the bend of the hook and tie in a length of Glo-brite no. 4 floss. Wind a small tag with the Glo-brite and tie it in. Now you need a length of fine oval silver tinsel which will be used for the rib. Once it is secured bub the body which consists of seals fur in the usual Bibio order of black/red/black. Rib the body with the oval silver, tie in and remove the waste.

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The fiddly part of this fly is knotting the pheasant tail fibres. I do them singly and tie two overhand knots in each one. Six legs will be in enough and they should be tied in three on each side of the fly and be about twice the length of the hook. Remove the waste ends and then tie in a pair of black cock hackle tips on top of the hook for wings.

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Finish off with about 6 turns of a black cock hackle, form a neat had, whip finish and then varnish the head of the fly.

Bibio Daddy

This is a variation of a normal Black Daddy which also does good work when tied on size 10 hook. The difference is the Black Daddy has a body made of dyed black pheasant herl ribbed with silver.

The Black Daddy

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Day 2 – The Captain

It was bright an cold outside when we went for our one daily walk this Sunday morning. The crisp air was refreshing on our faces as we trotted along the deserted roads on the edge of town. Already the press are reporting the lockdown could last into the summer so we had better all get used to this strange new life.

After a lunch of beetroot soup I settled down at the vice to tie some flies. Today I made one of my own patterns, a pretty little trout fly I call the Captain. I designed this fly many years ago and it caught me a few trout back in Scotland. Fished on a cast of wet flies it works best on hill lochs on summer evenings with maybe a Wickhams or a Green Peter as a companion.

You will need red and black hen hackles for this fly

I use a size 12 hook and some fine black tying silk. Start the silk at the eye of the hook, catching in a dyed red hen hackle before running the silk down the shank. Tie in a Golden Pheasant crest for a tail. I sometimes add a tiny touch of red to the tail too such as a snippet of red wool or a small Indian Crow feather if you still have one or two in your kit.

About 4 turns of red silk are right on a size 12 hook

The body is the hard part of this fly, it is made by winding two different coloured flosses. Tie in a length of dark red floss and one of golden yellow then take the tying silk back up to the eye. Now carefully wind the yellow floss up the hook shank in touching turns making a smooth body then rib this with the red floss in open turns creating a nice segmented look (hopefully).

Wind the red hackle, tied it in and trim of the waste. A couple of turns is sufficient.

The wings are made of black crow secondary but I guess you could use magpie tail if you want a glossier wing on the fly. Trim the waste and tie in a black hen hackle, giving it 3 turns in front of the wings. Tie off, remove the waste and make a neat head then whip finish and varnish.

the finished fly

When I first made this fly it was intended as an attractor rather than a copy of any natural fly but it takes fish when those little black sedges are hatching during the summer evenings so maybe the trout think that is what it is.

Lough Ben

Hill lochs like this are where the Captain is best used

Hope you have some fun tying this fly. I’ll post anther pattern tomorrow. Stay safe!

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Locked down, day 1

I was due to be fishing Carrowmore today but that got cancelled as this is the first day of lockdown here in Ireland. We all have to stay at home and only venture out for the bare necessities of life. The new rules are in force at least for the next two weeks and it seems highly likely they will stretch beyond that. One of the new rules is you are not allowed to be more than 2km from your home when exercising so that rules out all fishing for me.

Wakening this morning I decided to sort through my baits which have been scattered across a number of different boxes and bags for ages now. It took me a while but I finally sorted them out into some kind of order and I now have a box for trolling, one for the river Moy and a couple of boxes of spares. I thought I might have some ‘gaps’ that needed filled but to be honest I don’t need to buy another spoon or plug for the rest of my natural life.

For the next two weeks I’ll post a different fly pattern each day here on the blog. It will give me something constructive to do and hopefully the patterns will be of interest to you guys and gals. Let’s start off today with a twist on an old favourite, the Thunder and Lightening.

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Here is one tied on a slightly larger size 12

This is a salmon fly which hails from the hayday of scottish fly fishing. It still catches its fair share of salmon each season but I like to use it for trout on small lochs. Now here is the twist – I tie it on very small hooks, usually size 14s. Over the years I have caught a lot of small loch trout on this fly, usually fishing it on the tail of a three fly cast.

I use a heavy wet fly hook for this one, something like a Kamasan B175. Tying silk is black 8/0. Start the silk at the eye of the hook and catch in a cock hackle dyed hot orange. No need to go mad here with highest quality genetic hackles, Indian or Chinese hackles will do just fine. Run the silk to the bend of the hook catching in a golden pheasant topping for the tail, some fine oval gold tinsel which will be used for the rib and a length of black floss silk.

silk started and the hackle tied in

Take the tying silk back up to where the hackle is tied in then form a neat body with touching turns of black floss. Tie down the floss and remove the waste end. Form the body hackle by winding the orange feather in open turns down to the tail where it is tied in with the oval gold tinsel. Make 5 open turns in the opposite direction to the hackle, binding the hackle down as you go.

Body hackle tied in, now its time for the beard hackle

There is a small beard hackle composed of a few fibres of blue jay or guinea fowl dyed blue. I reverse the hook in the vice for this, offering up the blue fibres under the eye of the hook and whipping them in place with the tying silk. Remove the waste ends of the bread hackle and return the hook to the normal position.

Wings are made from matching left and right slips of bronze mallard. I know some tyers find these feathers torture to work with but I am afraid it is all a matter of practice. Tie in the wings and remove the waste ends. Now for the really tricky bit, the cheeks. These are made from the tiniest jungle cock feathers, the ones and the very end of the cape. Strip the fluff from the ends of each feather and tie them close to the wing, making sure they are the same size and length. Once you have calmed down doing the cheeks make a neat head, whip finish and varnish as normal.

This is a super wee fly and well worth the effort it takes to get the wings and cheeks just right. The small ones are great for loch trouting and bigger sizes suit the salmon.

Look after yourselves out there, I’ll post another fly pattern tomorrow.

 

 

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Fishing in Ireland

lockdown

So it has finally arrived here in Ireland, a total lockdown with no unnecessary travel more than 2km from home. That means no angling for us here which is a pity as a few salmon are running the rivers in this area now. Carrowmore has recorded its first fish of the season with a 9 pounder. I will have to leave them and the spotted trout well alone for at least the next two weeks and probably for much longer than that. More than 20 people have sadly lost their lives to date due to the virus and the numbers of infections continues to rise so the decision to lock the country down is a sensible one.

Large (size 4) Green Peter tied for salmon

To pass the time I will tie some more flies and post the patterns here on the blog. Of course my plans to catch a fish in each of the 32 counties is on hold for now but rest assured I will begin that epic journey as soon as the restrictions on travel are lifted.

Wishing each of you good health at this difficult time. Stay safe!

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

covid-19, welsh flies, boats and Mulranny

Please excuse my ramblings, this is a bit of a catch up over a few busy days.

All the pubs, clubs and restaurants are shut now and other amenities are closing daily either by instruction from the government or through lack of business or staff. Ireland has not yet been fully locked down but that event can’t be far away with more cases of the covid-19 virus being reported every day.  Going by the experience of other countries such as Italy and Spain we can expect that number to increase sharply over the coming weeks. So what is an angler to do during these difficult times?

Obviously confinement to home means lots and lots of time for fly tying. Now I really do not need any more flies, the boxes are full to bursting as it is. However, I will try making some new patterns which I never seemed to have time to tie before. In particular I want to make some of the welsh patterns from a book called ‘Plu Stiniog’ which I picked up at the fly fair in Galway at the end of last year. Written by a gentleman by the name of Emrys Evans, there are some nice looking sedge patterns in it which could possibly work in Ireland.

Here are a few I have tied up so far.

Rhwyfwr Cochddu Bach (small red/black sedge)

Rhwyfwr Bach Tin Gwyrdd (small green-arsed sedge)

Egarych Felan (yellow corncrake

Rhwyfwr Robat Jos Shop

Rhwyfwr Mis Awst Pen-ffridd

Rhwyfwr Mawr Gwyrdd (large green sedge)

Egarych Gochddu

Apart from making a few flies and keeping away from everyone else the other day I took the opportunity to give the woodwork on my old boat a lick of varnish. The local paint shop were not allowing anyone into the actual shop when I went to get a pot of varnish. Instead, the staff came out to a cordoned off area at the front of the premises, took your order and brought the tins out to you. It was a nice morning so it was no hardship to wait patiently in the sunshine. The boat has suffered some damage over the last season but it will last for another season or two before in needs re-timbering. An hour saw a nice heavy coat of varnish applied, now I need to wait for it to dry.

Looking a bit tired and worn

Starting to varnish one of the seats

That’s better!

With Helen’s hours at work curtailed due to the virus we decided to go for a spin out to Mulranny and have a walk down at the beach there. It was a lovely sunny afternoon and we really enjoyed getting out in the fresh air and away from all the depressing news for a while. Just being dry and seeing the sun lifted our spirits. The views across Clew bay to the Reek on the south side were as impressive as always and we both felt blessed to be living in this part of the world. I for one can’t begin to imagine how it must feel to be living in a big city like London during these days of crisis. At least we have some escape here in rural Ireland.

The reek from Mulranny

Hopefully the rain will hold off for a few more days and let the land dry out a bit so I could get out on my own and do some fishing. All the lakes and rivers are still high but they are dropping slowly as the rain has eased off slightly this past week. High pressure is due to build from this week onward, bringing drier and more settled weather to the region. Trout will be close to the bottom and hard to tempt but just getting out in the fresh air will be a tonic in these difficult times. The moorings at Brown’s bay and Pike bay on lough Conn are both still well under water as of today but my boat should be on the lake by the end of next week if we get dry weather and the water levels drop. Stay safe!

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Mayo Bumble

The Mayo Bumble used to be a very popular fly during the mayfly season here in the west of Ireland but its popularity seems to have waned of recent years. I don’t understand why this is as it is a grand fly when the yellow drakes are hatching out in a good wave.

looking towards the canal

The mouth of the canal on Lough Mask, an area where the Mayo Bumble does good work

As Bumble patterns go it is fairly easy to tie but I throw in an extra hackle at the head which means you need to leave plenty of space there for winding all the feathers.

The body is formed form the tying silk dubbed with the brightest yellow fur you can lay your hands on. I personally used fl. yellow silk and think this helps a bit to keep the fly as bright as possible. Rib is fine oval silver tinsel and the tail is a golden pheasant crest feather. Body hackles are a red and a yellow cock hackle palmered together down the body. The ‘extra’ hackle I like to add is a french partridge dyed lemon and in front of that there is a guinea fowl feather dyed bright blue.

In use, cast to rising fish when possible but keep the fly moving briskly. Some days the trout will hammer this fly and yet on other days it will be completely ignored. Loughs Mask and Carra are the natural home for this pattern, I have never caught a fish on lough Conn on it!

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling, trout fishing, wetfly

Club waters

It’s that time of year again, angling AGM’s are in full swing here in Ireland. There is always a rush to hold the annual general meetings just before the serious fishing starts. I recall that back in Scotland these meetings generally took place at the end of the previous year so that all the agreed changes could be brought into force well ahead of the fishing starting again. Things are much more relaxed in Ireland and AGM’s pepper the months of February and March despite the season being open for weeks before that.

I have been thinking long and hard about which clubs to join this year. The Glenisland Coop is a certainty for me as I love fishing Lough Beltra and find the club to be well run and focused on improving the fishery. It is so handy for me, being only 15 minutes drive from home and while salmon numbers are low there are still a few fish to chuck flies at on Beltra.

setting off for a day on Beltra

After that though I need to think about where else I want to spend fishing time this season. Despite the disastrous fishing I have endured on Lough Conn over the past few years I will no doubt keep heading back to that lake again this season. Again, it is close to home and easy to access. One positive of the poor fishing is that anglers have voted with their feet and even the best drifts are only lightly fished these days. I will no doubt moan and groan about the lack of fish but I will be back drifting and trolling the shallows on Conn again this season, God willing.

pulled in on the shore of Lough Conn

What about the Moy? Here is where it gets a bit tricky for me. I have been lucky enough to fish some of the finest beats of the Dee and Tweed in my time and at the other end of the scale joined the queue to fish down pools on hard pressed association waters both in Scotland and Ireland. Not being a wealthy man I need to accept that club waters will be a big part of my angling experience these days. The East Mayo Anglers waters are a fairly typical angling association with access to a lot of the river Moy. I have been a member in the past and I need to make up my mind if I will join again this season. Although the river opened for salmon fishing last month it has been unfishable due to the continued high water levels this spring. Will there be some springers around when the water recede? Probably yes.Will there be a lot of them? Almost certainly no! And so here is the conundrum, lots of angling pressure from a large and very active membership chasing a small number of fish. Space is going to be at a premium when conditions are favourable. Last season I abandoned trying to fish on a couple of occasions not because it was so busy on the bank but because I couldn’t even find a parking spot! That was at the start of the grilse run, the time when you really have the best chance of contacting a salmon. Instead, I spent ages driving the length of the beats and still couldn’t even nose the car into a space. God knows what the best fishing spots were like on those days.

The river Moy, sept'08

A very quiet day on the Gub, EMAA

For me, fishing should be relaxing, almost meditative. I dislike any elements of competition in my angling and don’t really like crowds on the riverbank. Club waters are always going to be a challenge for me and I can accept that I need to be more flexible when on busy river banks. It is a question of just how crowded the beat is I suppose. Is a couple of hundred Euro money well spent on a very busy club membership? Last season I only landed one fish from the EMAA but that was entirely my own fault as I hardly fished the river. I managed some enjoyable high water spinning in March and April but largely missed the rest of the year when the fly is usually better. I see that a photo of that one fish is on the EMAA website: https://www.eastmayoanglers.com/gallery/2019-season

And there is the nub of the problem, staring me squarely in the face; I need to get out fishing more often! I body-swerved the Moy last year telling myself it was too crowded when I should have gone looking for quieter spots. While there were relatively few fish around there were still some there to be caught if I had applied myself more to the task in hand. Part of the problem is that I don’t know the upper part of the river at all and this could be the solution for me, at least when the grilse are running. Springers are rarely encountered in the streamier upper section of the EMAA beats and the fly only section sees very little pressure until May or June. So instead of joining the throngs at the bridge or the high bank I will target the fly only stretch further up the river in 2020. There, decision made!

This dislike of crowds has certainly increased over the years. I can recall fishing Newburgh and the Macher Pool on the lower Ythan in Aberdeenshire as a lad when you literally had to push your way into a line of anglers to have a cast for the sea trout. I don’t know what it is like now for ADAA anglers but you used to be able to fish the worm from the bridge down to a marker pole on the North Bank of the Macher but when the fishing was good there would be scores of anglers shoulder-to-shoulder there. Nobody used a net, fish were just unceremoniously dragged out as the lucky angler reeled in furiously while walking backwards out of the water and up the shingle. I suspect there are way fewer fish there these days.

Ythan estuary

A little bit of me is hankering to fish Lough Carra this season. To be brutally honest the fishing on that lovely lake has been poor for many years now but it is such a gorgeous place to fish I might be tempted to give it a try again. The huge mayfly hatches are a thing of the past but the summer evening fishing when the sedges are hatching might still be good. The Carra club AGM is to be held tonight in Castlebar so I might brave the risk of infection of Covid-19 and go along to see what is happening. As a club the Carra boys are usually very active and there is always something going on to try and improve the fishing there.

Wet mayflys for Carra

So, in summary, I will definitely join the Glenisland Coop and East Mayo Anglers. I may also join Carra too. I’ll go in search of quieter spots instead of braving the crowds and hopefully I’ll catch a few fish this year.

 

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

One of my Raymond variations

I mentioned the Raymond in a recent blog but my dressing of this old fly are a bit different to the ones you can buy in the shops. It has developed over the years and is a pretty successful fly for wild brownies in the big western lakes. There is a common acceptance that the original pattern was tied to imitate some kind of sedge fly and as such it was used from mid-season onward. My tying is much more impressionistic and is really just a pulling fly with bright colours to attract the trout. This is a fly you can get great satisfaction from tying, it looks great and it is one which always attracts comments from fellow anglers when they see it.

Hook sizes are 8’s or 10’s, heavy wet fly hooks. I use olive tying silk but any colour will do.

Tag is a couple of turns of silver tinsel and the tail is a golden pheasant topping.

Tie the body hackles in by their butts and take the silk down to the bend

The rib is fine oval silver tinsel (I use Veniard no. 14) and the body is made from pale olive fur dubbed on to the tying silk. I sometimes add a couple of turns of orange fur at the tail end of the body.

I like a long tail on my Raymonds

There are two body hackles, a crimson and a golden olive wound together. i sometimes use a claret hackle instead of red to give me  more subdued fly. The throat hackle is a pinch of fibres taken from a golden pheasant topping which is dyed red and tied in as a beard below the hook. In front of that wind a couple of turns of a bright green cock hackle. On smaller sizes it is easier to add the green as a second beard hackle instead of winding it (there is a lot going on at the head of this fly!)

The wings are a bit fiddly but worth the effort. Married strip of swan dyed yellow and red form the under wing and over that I tie in bronze mallard.

The head hackle is a grizzled cock hackle dyed bright blue. I give this many turns for a bushy effect.

claret body hackle mixed with golden olive makes a more subdued fly

 

This is a typical Irish style wet fly with many hackles to add the illusion of life. I can see no reason why it would not work on Scottish lochs too so maybe some of you Jocks might give it a try and let me know how you get on with it. I never seem to catch very many trout on this fly, but the ones which do take it usually seem to be bigger fish. Don’t ask me why that is!

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Fishing in Ireland, Nymphs, trout fishing, wetfly

First outing

It kind of crept up on me, the realisation that I could possibly go fishing this week. I had become so inured to floods and gales that the opening of the trout season had come and gone without really registering in my mind. This week though saw a change in the weather with cold, bright mornings and a merciful lack of precipitation. On Tuesday it occurred to me that there might be the chance of an hour or two on the river bank if this good weather held.

Wednesday had been largely given over to rummaging for lost tackle and repairing my broken wading staff. Rod and reel were easy to locate but fly boxes and tippet materials had snuck off into all sorts of odd corners and it took me a while to corral the various small items and repopulate my waistcoat pockets. That small boy’s excitement of an anticipated fishing trip grew stronger throughout the day, thoughts of bent rods and fish sliding into the net filled any quiet moments. I found myself smiling as thoughts of the pleasures of a few hours on the riverbank sunk in.

20200305_120635[1]Thursday came around at last. I hardly dare peek out of the window this morning when the alarm went off, would the day be fine? Yep, frosty but dry was the answer with some high thin cloud to boot. A fishing day of sorts! Some chores had to be completed quickly before the last odds and ends could be tossed unceremoniously into the back of the car and I was off down the road. The last couple of dry days had tempted me to try my luck on the River Robe.

Pulling up at a parking spot after a short detour because I had taken a wrong turning, I stepped out of the warmth of the car into a cool wind. Layers of clothing were hastily applied but it was much colder than I had anticipated and this was not going to improve my chances of success. Numb fingers took ages to knot on the flies but undaunted and dressed like Nanook of the North, I hopped the five bar gate and strode purposefully across the rough pasture. The drain at the edge of the field was chock-a-block with frog spawn, a sure sign that spring is on its way.

20200305_115627[1]

I had it in my head to try a short section of the river I had never fished before. It lay upstream of where I was parked but access immediately became a major issue. I huge drain, filled to the brim with stagnant water and mud barred any further approach. In something which would not have looked out of place in Passchendaele the far bank of the drain was topped with a high fence of vicious looking barbed wire. I worked my way along the drain for a while but it became obvious there was no easy way across. In the end I gave up and returned to the river. There must be a way across that drain and I will return to try again soon. I suspect any trout lying above that obstacle have not seen an anglers fly for many a long year.

Typical rough agricultural land here in Mayo

I began by flicking weighted nymphs into the roiling current and eventually persuaded one trout to nip, unconvincingly at the Hare’s Ear on the tail. He didn’t stick. I could only fish a short stretch as the river was too high for this section and below me looking like a raging torrent. Out of nowhere, a kingfisher sped downstream a couple of feet above the water, that glorious flash of azure lighting up an otherwise dull vista.  Time for a move.

tungsten beaded nymphs

I drove down river to a favourite piece of the river where there are a selection of pools to try. I changed the rig and switched on to wet flies for swinging in the current. On went a Pheasant tail goldhead on the tail, a Plover and Hare’s Ear in the middle and an ever reliable Partridge and Orange on the top dropper. By now the sun was breaking through the clouds but it was still cold. Gaining the river I started casting as tight to the far bank as I could. An olive floated by on the wind.

big water

The water is still very cold and the strong current pushed hard through each of the pools (do you sense some excuses?). I methodically worked my way downstream, casting into any likely looking spots but try as I might there was no response from the trout. The fields, normally so well-tended around this part of the river were in terrible condition, badly rutted and pock-marked with deep hoof prints and showing signs of agricultural run off. Some pools I completely bypassed as they were far too fast for trout to be feeding in them. Near the tail of one pool, just where the pace slowed slightly a trout rose. I covered it carefully a few times and sure enough up he came and took the fly with a confident swirl. I struck but he dropped off almost immediately. Damn! I knew I was not going to get too many chances today so losing that one was a blow. Next fishable pool down I had another knock but it too did not stick around. Ah well, at least I was getting some fresh air.

I skipped the fast section of water below the weir. It fishes well on summer evenings when the fish lie there to get some oxygen across their gills and feast on the flies which gather there. But in a flood the waters rage through the rapids making them unfishable.

Down towards the bottom of this part of the river there are a couple of good pools. At the first one it was obvious the top of the pool was too fast but near the tail it looked a bit more likely. I worked my way down, one step per cast, planting the flies as close to the far bank as I could then mending two or three times as the cast fished out. Sure enough, a solid pull soon had me in business and a small trout came to hand, my first fish of the new season. A quick snap and then he was released, all 8 inches of him! It turned out to be the last offer I would get. He had taken the P&O.

I fished on but lost the full cast of flies when an over ambitious cast tangled on a bush on the far bank. Setting up again I fished my way back upstream to the car.

not the biggest trout but a very welcome one never-the-less

Early season trouting is always a precarious affair. Conditions can vary so much and fly life is sparse to non-existent. In a few weeks there will be more flies around and the water will be both lower and warmer. By April I would expect much better fishing but for today a single small trout was the meagre return for my efforts. That is fine with me, today was more about just getting out to blow away the cobwebs and to get a feel for the river again. The trout was a bonus.

 

That pipe was not there last season! Looks like there is a site being cleared for a new house on the other bank.

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, sea angling, trolling

Power handles

I took a few minutes to swap the standard handle on my old Ambassadeur 6000C for a shiny new power handle. I really like these bigger handles, they are so much nicer to use in the cold and wet which are so common here, especially early in the season.

The task itself is very easy, just take off the old handle and the new one should fit straight back on. I say ‘should’ because there are some power handles out there on the market which claim to fit Ambassadeurs but they don’t. It is a case of buyer beware.

The advantages for me are the bigger and more comfortable knob which sits in my hand perfectly and the greater cranking power you can get because the handle is longer. Winding seems to me to be smoother as well, I am guessing because of the counterweight on these handles.

The job went perfectly today and the reel is now ready for the new season (whenever the water recedes enough!)

New power handle fitted

This isn’t the first power handle conversion I have done, I have also fitted them to my 10000CA and the 7000C. I am now thinking of swapping the standard size double paddle handle on my 6500C as well.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Recommended flies for Mask

After a spell in England during the mid-noughties I returned to Ireland and came to live in Ballinrobe. During that time I kept a boat at Cushlough, learning a little bit about the trout fishing around that part of Lough Mask. Previously (we are talking the late ‘90’s) I kept a boat on the other side of the lough at Churchfield, a handy spot with good access to the whole of the western shoreline. It has been a few years since I seriously fished Mask but here are some of the flies I found useful in the early part of the season for that hallowed water.

I want to stress the importance of finding where the fish as the prerequisite for a successful day out on lough Mask. With 20,000 acres of water available to hide in the fish can take some finding. It won’t matter a jot what flies you tie on to your leader if you are fishing over barren drifts. On the vast expanse of a water like lough Mask it can be no easy matter finding the trout and this can be very disheartening for visiting anglers, especially if they are used to stocked fisheries where fish can usually be seen rising. If drifts are unsuccessful then move and try somewhere else. Always keep your eyes open for clues such as birds feeding or other boats congregating in a certain area. Be aware of changing conditions, especially the wind direction and strength.

When the season opens the fish will be on the bottom hoovering up shrimps. There will be very localised hatches of duckfly in some bays but the exact locations of these duckfly ‘holes’ are closely guarded secrets, known to the locals only. Around many parts of the lake you can often see large numbers of duckfly in the air in March and April but see very little surface activity. Given calm conditions normal buzzer tactics will take some fish. Otherwise, drifting over shallow reefs for the shrimp feeders will usually be your best bet.

Normal buzzer patterns on size 10 or 12 hooks will catch fish in calm conditions

‘Bits’ in black, claret, ginger and olive are handy for the times the fish are mopping hatching duckfly. Fish these in the surface film with a lick of floatant on the back of the fly

The Sooty olive. This is one of the staple flies for early season work. There must be dozens of different ties of the fly and all of them will work on their day. For me, size is important and I prefer a size 12 to the larger 10’s which seem to be more popular. Hackle colour is always up for debate with this fly but either a natural black or a red game dyed olive are your main choices.

Sooty Olive, this one is tied with a black hackle

Fiery Brown. Classic Irish wet fly which is a great producer in the early months of the season. It is just as effective when dressed dabbler style. While I have seen some anglers adding jungle cock to their Fiery Brown’s it is a pattern that does not need them in my humble opinion. Save those precious black and white feathers for other, more deserving flies! I do like to tie my Fiery Brown’s with an orange tag.

Fiery Brown

Bibio. It is hard to beat the original dressing but I do like the jungle bunny dressing earlier in the season. When the wind drops a skinnier version can be better than the bushy tying, something like the Bibio Snatcher .

Jungle Bibio

Bibio Snatcher

Some anglers like the Peter Ross but I can’t say I have had much luck with it on Mask. Having said that I have caught trout on a Silver Spider with a red thorax which is pretty similar.

Peter Ross Buzzer

The red/silver spider that I like

There are a seemingly endless array of buzzer patterns to pick from but these are a couple of fairly reliable ones:

Hatching Duckfly

Jennings Nymph

By April there will be olives hatching on lough Mask. What should be a period of excitement is frequently a lesson in frustration as trout rise in front of you but ignore your best flies. I have seen many of the best anglers defeated by a hatch of olives over the years. So what are your best options? In a very heavy hatch when the fish are sipping flies from the surface then dry the dry fly. A CDC dun or hatching pattern will sometimes work.

When there are flies on the wing but little in the way of surface activity the wet fly is your best option and there are a range of flies I would recommend.

Red tailed Invicta

Invicta. Yes I know, this is supposed to be a sedge pattern but nobody told the trout that and an Invicta tied with a red tail can be good medicine in a hatch of olives.

Claret Dabbler. It looks nothing like an olive but it has worked for me on many occasions in a hatch of olives.

Raymond. An old pattern but one which can do the job early in the season. The only change from the original dressing is that I wind claret and a light olive body hackles instead of the normal red one.

A small Green Peter

A small Green Peter fished on the bob has saved the day for me before now. A size 12, dressed lightly and cast to rising fish sometimes works. I like the RA version but one with a solid green body works too.

As the days lengthen and the water warms up the iconic mayfly start to make their annual appearance on lough Mask. Years ago these hatches were heavy and the fish could be seen mopping the duns from the surface across the shallows of the eastern side of the lough. These days the hatches are sparse and surface activity much less than of yester year. There are hundreds of mayfly patterns to pick from and rather than fill page after page here I suggest you read one of the best books on the subject, Irish Mayflys by Patsy Deery.

While mayfly patterns catch the bulk of the trout in May there are a number of other useful flies which also succeed.

Connemara Black

I love a small Connemara Black in the middle when mayflies are hatching. Don’t ask me why it works, all I know is that the ‘CB’ has caught me lots of fish over the years.

Colin’s Ginger Sedge

My own Ginger Sedge is a good fly at this time of the year too. I tied this fly initially after seeing trout selectively taking sedges in the middle of a mayfly hatch one year.

Cock Robin

The Cock Robin variant comes into its own around about now. Don’t be frightened to try it on a size 8 hook.

Fishing in the deeps really picks up in late spring and the use of flashy pulling patterns comes into its own. Gorgeous George, Octopus and other similar highly coloured flies will take fish on those long drifts over the deep water when the shallows are quiet. I will hold my hand up and say that I am no expert on fishing the deeps, I find it a very boring way of fishing and tend to keep to the shallows even when the fishing there is poor. Let’s run through a couple typical scenarios and think about how to deal with them.

Imagine you are fishing lough Mask and turn up to find a big wind blowing from the north. It’s April and the day feels raw with thick clouds scudding across the sky. White horses on the lough suggest a rough day on the water. Where do you start? I would possibly head for some shelter either at the north end of the lough or around the islands. I’d leave the deeps alone as the wind will push you along at a high speed and a drogue is out of the question on Mask (never be tempted to try a drogue here even out in the deeps, there are hidden pinnacles of limestone which will snag the drogue and swamp the boat). A team of wets on a slow sinking line is a good place to start and flies like Fiery Brown, Sooty Olive and Bibio are worth a swim. I would be more concerned about getting the depth and speed of the flies right ahead of any particular pattern.

On a day of little wind at the same time of year you can go searching for a duckfly hole and fish buzzers just like you would on an English reservoir. If that is not your style of fishing then keep looking for signs of wind rippling the surface. There is rarely a day when there is a dead flat calm in this part of the world so be prepared to move to find the ripple and the wet flies can be used again. If there is a bright sky with a bitter east wind then I’d prefer to be sitting in a warm pub rather than fishing in such poor conditions!

Books could be written on the tactics and flies for use on Lough Mask and similar tomes produced for the other great western lakes. It often comes down to local knowledge so take my advice and talk to the anglers you meet. Advice is willingly given and can often be the difference between a successful day and miserable failure.

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Fishing in Ireland

Safety and security

Always think of safety when you are going fishing on the big loughs. Every year people lose their life on these dangerous waters, often due to not taking the proper precautions.

  • Check the weather forecast before heading out and make your plans accordingly.
  • Wear a lifejacket at all times when on or near the water. Bring a small torch, it is handy for signalling if you get in trouble.
  • If you are unfamiliar with the lake I strongly recommend hiring a local ghillie to take you out. Lough Mask and parts of Lough Corrib are particularly dangerous places with ragged limestone reefs rising to within inches of the surface in many places. It is easy to hit an unseen reef and either hole or tip over the boat with dire consequences. If you are unfamiliar with the lough don’t venture out in bad weather. Some bays offer good shelter so these can be tried on very windy days.
  • Tell people where you are going before you set off and let them know when you plan to return.
  • Take extra care getting in and out of the boat, Docks can be slippery. In many places boats are simply hauled up on to a shelving bank so watch out for holes or rocks to trip over.
  • Keep your engine well maintained, a breakdown in a big wave can have serious consequences. Make sure you have enough fuel in the tank before setting off. Tightly secure the engine to the boat and always have a pair of oars with you. A small tool kit with screwdriver, spanners, spark plug spanner and a spare spark plug and a shear pin is handy to bring with you. Some boats have tholl pins built in but others do not, so carry a spare pair of pins with you.
  • Always have a bucket with you to bail the boat. You will probably need this to empty the boat at the start of the day but it will be a lifesaver if you hit a sharp rock and puncture the hull. If you do hole the boat make for the nearest land right away even if that is just an island. Get ashore and jam something in the hole to reduce the volume of water coming in. If the damage is severe then get help and don’t risk a long drive over open water with water pouring in.
  • Make sure you mobile phone is charged before you set off in case you need it but be aware that coverage out on the water is very poor and you may not get a signal.
  • If you do need help the recognised signal is to raise one oar vertically and hold it there. Anyone seeing this will come to your assistance if they can. I carry a length of rope with me when out in the boat so that in emergency I can be towed or tow another boat in trouble.
  • If you break down and some kind soul offers to tow your boat back to shore sit in the front of your boat when under tow (otherwise the boat will be next to impossible to tow).
  • If you do run aground do not get out of the boat. There is every chance it could float off leaving you stranded in the middle of thousands of acres of deep water! Stay onboard, move all weight to the other end of the boat and rock/push the boat off. If you are stuck fast then raise an oar and attract some help to pull you off.

I am not trying to put anyone off of visiting the great western loughs but please plan your trips carefully, keep an eye on conditions at all times and be prepared to deal with any emergencies.

needing a lick of varnish

Chained up, oars secured and old tyres underneath to support her, this boat is safe and sound

When I started fishing in Ireland all these years ago it was normal for everyone to haul their boat ashore after a day on the lough and just leave it there with the outboard engine still on the stern. Boats were secured to a block of concrete or some similar device to stop it floating away if the lake rose but nobody would think of any more security than that. We live in changed days now though and security is a real concern all across Ireland.

Not very hi-tech but this is the kind of concrete block that most boats are chained up to to stop them drifting off if the water rises

Boats are sometime stolen but it is usually the engines that the thieves are after. I understand there is a ready market for them in Europe and gangs now target angler’s boats for easy pickings. For a while there were various devices on the market for bolting your engine to the boat so it could not be removed but the thieve got around that by simply taking a saw to the back of the boat and cutting the arse of the boat off. So, regardless of how tired you are at the end of the days fishing always remove the outboard engine and take it with you. Remember to take the fuel tank too. Pull the boat up on to solid ground and chain it to something solid. I run the chain though the oars too so they do not go missing. A couple of tyres placed under the boat will stop her rocking in the waves and working herself loose. Please be considerate of other boat when picking somewhere to park up. If someone else has gone to the trouble of heaving a big concrete block into position for their own use and parked their boat there for the season do not nick their spot! I have seen this happen so often and it is infuriating to say the least when it happens to you. I have seen boats squeezed into impossibly tight spaces between two other boats, causing damage to then all. A bit of consideration goes a long way!

Cushlough

Cushlough on Lough Mask. Boats safely tied up and excellent security here. Trust me, it is not always so perfect at other spots around the lough!

There are an increasing number security cameras being installed at docks and marinas across the country to help reduce boat and engine theft/damage but ‘wild’ berths where boats are simple hauled up on a convenient piece of the shoreline are unguarded. I am afraid that every year we hear of angler’s cars being broken into and valuables taken. Don’t leave anything in sight in your car when you go fishing and take any valuables with you. Always report any suspicious behaviour such as strangers checking out boats or cars cruising the lanes and boreens. The locals have a good idea who is an innocent fisherman and who is up to no good.

Again, I hope this post doesn’t scare off some anglers who are thinking of visiting the West of Ireland. It is generally a safe and friendly part of the world and the fishers here will go out of their way to help any visiting angler. Please follow these simple points and stay safe.

Pier, high water

Cahir pier, lough Mask

Boats at Moorehall

Moorehall, Lough Carra. I used to keep a boat here but there have been too many boats damaged or let loose there recently by party-goers.

Bens boat on Mask

Boats pulled up on the west shore of Lough Mask

 

 

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Fishing in Ireland

Between Ciara and Dennis

This craik of ‘naming’ windy days is a nonsense to me. I live in the west of Ireland and guess what? It gets wet and windy during the winter. The near constant weather warnings and maps with shaded areas where it is going to rain are over the top in my opinion. Anyway, Ciara soaked us all and blew a hooley last weekend and we are facing storm Dennis this coming weekend with yet more rain to be dumped on us from the heavens. Today though it was a quiet and dry morning so I decided to check on the boats in the harbour on Lough Beltra. We put 4 boats out a couple of weeks ago and they need to be checked periodically to make sure they do not come to any harm.

The car park was under a foot or so of water when I got there but the floating pontoon dock was doing its job perfectly and all 4 boats were safe but half full of water. Time to get the bucket out!

half full but safely secured to the dock

Gerry Hoban (fisheries officer) saw my car parked and came over for a chat. Seems a few early springers are nosing into Carrowmore which is a good sign and Delphi has turned up a couple of fish so far. I explained to Gerry that I will be doing some coarse fishing this year and he told me of a lake nearby with Tench in it. I’ll be giving that a try during the summer alright!

It didn’t take too long to empty all four boats and check the securing ropes were all OK. With another 4 boats to be launched soon I will be back on the shores of this wonderful lake very soon. Fishing opens on 20th March.

the carpark!!!

 

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, salmon fishing, trolling

Baits

Spent an hour this afternoon sorting out the bait boxes. Some unsuccessful ones have been relegated while others were given new split rings or hooks. All set for the new season now!

Always plenty of old Swedish Toby spoons in my box!

18 gram tigers

Salmo Toby. These don’t get much use here in Ireland but I like having them in the box just in case

Hi-Lo. Never caught a salmon on one of these but they are good for Pike

These are pure deadly for Pike

Another Pike spoon. I’m not a lover of Pike fishing but some days they are the only action available

Old ABU Glimmy spoons, lovely action in the water

ABU Plankton

ABU Salar. Very slow, rolling action in the water. As you can see I like the copper ones.

Small Rapalas and ABU Killer. When absolutely nothing is moving and the weather is against you these can sometimes produce a perch or trout

Rapalas. Always worth a try

one of the boxes before it was cleaned out. All the smaller baits have a new billet now.

Now all neatly stowed away in the bag.

We have had days of high winds and heavy rain here in the west. All the rivers are huge and there is some localised flooding. No fishing for a while to come as there is more bad weather forecast for the coming week.

 

 

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, sea trout fishing

Irish salmon licence

I bought my 2020 salmon licence today from Pat Quinn’s shop in Castlebar. €100 for the licence to fish for salmon and sea trout across the whole of the Republic. Wonder what this season will bring? Three tags looks very optimistic to me!

For visitors the whole question of angling licences and permits can be very confusing. If you are going to be fishing in the Republic check out https://store.fishinginireland.info where you can buy a salmon licence on line. Licences can be bought for specific areas and for shorter duration so it is worthwhile looking at your options before buying the licence.

For Northern Ireland things are  little bit more complicated. I suggest the starting point for you will be https://www.gov.uk/fishing-licence-northern-ireland  You will need separate licences for the loughs agency areas and again, these are available to purchase online.

Depending on where you are fishing you may also need a permit. These can be bought locally and prices/conditions vary greatly.

I have to say that there is little optimism that 2020 is going to see an improvement in the numbers of salmon in Irish rivers. Each season sees fewer and fewer fish making it back to the spawning beds and a similar reduction in anglers catches. But we anglers will keep casting and hoping for the best. Catch-and-return is near mandatory across the island these days but it seems to have little effect and another lean year is anticipated. Let’s hope we are wrong.

 

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

Cardinal 66

Pulled out my old cardinal 66 spinning reel to give it a good clean and lub.

Looks like I need to invest in some new braid as the spool is looking decidedly low.

The old girl still runs smoothly and I get great pleasure from using it. It is heavy and the retrieve rate is slow compared to modern reels but I like the solid feel I get when using it. By spending a bit of money you can still pick up very good, clean cardinals on the secondhand market but the scuffs and abrasions on my example don’t bother me as this is purely a fishing reel and not for display purposes.

 

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Pearly Claret Bumble

My unbridled enthusiasm for the Claret Bumble is well known to you all, it has been one of the most consistent flies for me over the years in all sorts of places and for all kinds of game fish. I was rummaging in a fly box the other day and came across a variant of the bumble which I thought you might like to see. I think it is called the Pearly Claret Bumble in some quarters and here is the dressing.

I like to use red tying silk when constructing this pattern and I make it on hook sizes from size 6 right down to 16. The bigger hooks are for salmon fishing and the smaller sizes work for wild brownies and rainbow trout.

this is Fire orange silk but it will work just as well as red

Start the silk at the eye of the hook and catch in a guinea fowl body feather dyed bright blue. It winds easier and looks better if you tie it in by the tip of the feather. If you like you can use some blue barred Jay but I think the guinea fowl is a better choice. Next, catch in a black and a dark claret cock hackle by the butts and run the silk towards the bend of the hook, tightly binding down the ends of the hackles. Cut off any waste.

Now you don’t really need the next item, I have landed many fish on this fly without the tag but I do like to see a few turns of red at the end of the body. I like to think it goes well with the pearl tinsel of the main body of the fly. Some Glo-brite no. 4 is the colour I tend to use for the tag. The tail is next and it is made with some strands taken from a golden pheasant tippet feather.

tippet collar

Fib is fine silver tinsel and the body is made from flat pearl tinsel. Catch both of these materials in at the point where the tag and tail are tied in and then run the tying silk back up to where the hackles are sitting. Form a nice even body with touching turns of the pearl tinsel, tie down and remove the waste. Now for the slightly tricky bit, grab both cock hackles in your pliers and wind them down the hook shank on open spirals. This is not too difficult on the larger sizes of hooks but it is tricky on the smallest sizes. The hackles are secured with the silver rib which is wound in the opposite direction to the hackles in open spirals. Aim for 4 or 5 turns.

GP tail feather dyed claret

Take 6 knotted strands of pheasant tail which have been stripped from a feather dyed claret and add them on top of the hook. Trim off the waste ends.

Nearly there, now grab the guinea fowl hackle and give it 3 or 4 turns while stroking the fibres backward. Secure the end and trim away the waste. Make a small neat head with the tying silk and whip finish before giving the head a couple of coats of clear varnish. Viola! This is a really useful variation which I can highly recommend to you. It is a very good pattern for Lough Conn early in the season.

the finished Pearly Claret Bumble

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Sunburst Octopus

A few years ago nobody had heard of the colour ‘sunburst’ but now it is widely used in pulling patterns. I tie a version of the Octopus using sunburst colours so I thought I would share it with you.

I like to tie this pattern on a size 10 heavyweight hook. That is because I want the fly to settle in the water quickly and fish well below the surface. Silk is usually red but I have used other colours and I don’t think it is really going to make a huge difference if you fancy a different shade of tying silk. Begin by starting the tying silk at the eye,remove the waste end and then catch in two golden pheasant yellow body feathers. I like to use two hackles as  single one looks a bit mean to me.

chinese cock cape dyed sunburst

Now strip the fluff from the butt of a cock hackle dyed sunburst and tie it in before running the silk in touching turns to the bend of the hook. Here you tie in a length of no.4 fl. silk and wind a small tag. For a tail I use a golden pheasant topping. Now catch in a length of no.14 oval silver tinsel which will be used for the rib.

tying in the tag

Dub the tying silk with your preferred sunburst dubbing and wind a nice, tapered body back up to where the hackles are tied in.

Taking the cock hackle in the pliers wind about five open turns of the hackle down to the tail where it is secured with the ribbing tinsel. Wind the rib in the opposite direction through the body hackle and tie it in at the neck before removing the waste end.

Grab both pheasant hackles with the pliers and wind them together. This can be a bit tricky as these feathers are slippery customers. Stroke the fibres back as you wind the feathers then tie the ends down with the tying silk and trim the waste ends off. Form a neat head and whip finish to complete the fly then apply a drop of varnish to finish off.

If you want, you can add some knotted cock pheasant tail fibres before you wind the head hackles. These can either be natural, dyed claret or dyed red. I can’t in all honest say the addition of a few legs will make a huge improvement to the fly but they certainly look nice to our eye.

With legs……………

or without

This is a fly for fishing as part of a team in the deeps, searching for daphnia feeders in the middle to late season on waters like lough Mask.

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

Messing about at the vice

So I was poking around in a drawer full of feathers and came across a packet containing the breast of a pheasant. I seem to recall buying this two or three years ago but the cellophane wrapping was unopened. The breast feathers are beautifully marked, a mix of dark brown and black barring with creamy coloured tips. In size they could make a good hackle on hook sizes ranging from 10’s up to 6’s, ideal for salmon lough flies. An idea for a Katie variation sprang to mind so I set about messing at the vice for  wee while.

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Using black tying silk I tied in one of the breast feathers and a black cock hackle then ran the thread down to the bend of a size 6 B175. Here I tied in a short silver tag and a tail made of a golden pheasant topping with a tuft of glo-brite no.4 floss. A rib of oval silver tinsel was caught before I dubbed a black fur body.

20200118_145901[1]

Palmering the cock hackle and tying it in with the rib was bog standard but I wanted to add a couple of features. A short beard hackle consisting of some blue dyed guinea fowl was whipped in under the hook then half-a-dozen cock pheasant tail fibres dyed black went on top of the hook. Now I could wind the head hackle, giving it five full turns. I’m pretty happy with the result and pretty confident it will take a salmon or two on Carrowmore this season.

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Fishing in Ireland, trolling

Goodbye old friend

Since I bought my shiny new Honda outboard last spring my venerable 9.9 Johnson has lain unused in the shed. With a brand new engine it seemed highly unlikely the old one would ever be used by me again so I decided to sell it. Better someone else getting some good from it than leaving it to rust in a corner.

‘Done Deal’ is an online website here in Ireland where you can sell just about anything as long as it is legal. Up until today I have never used its services but I wrote up an ad and posted it at 3.30pm. Within the hour I had my first call about the engine and the deal was done by 6pm. Hands were shaken and cash changed hands. So the old girl has gone but I feel strangely nostalgic about that old motor.

How do we humans become attached to things like cars and boat engines? It is not rational but never-the-less the memories of days spent out on the lake with the faithful Johnson came flooding back. It was on the back of my boat when I caught first salmon on the troll on Lough Conn all those years ago. The bright silver salmon was the reward for many days trolling and I felt I had earned that one. It snaffled silver Toby pulled across a well know lie and the engine performed faultlessly during all the previous days mooching up and down Conn’s western shoreline.

corrib, lisloughrey bay in May

on lough Corrib

It wasn’t all plain sailing though. There was the day on Lough Mask when Mick and I were out in the deeps beyond the islands when it refused to start after a drift. Pull as hard as I might the damn thing would not start and so, with one oar each, Mick and I pulled and strained all the way back to Cushlough under a blazing sun. It turned out a small linkage had broken but we were not to know that out there in the middle of the lake. My arms ached for days after that incident!

Shintalla Beag

Mask in a flat calm, Shintalla Beag with another boat off the northern tip of the island

The Johnson was a long shift and this could be a blessing or a pain in the rear end. In a big wind when the waves reached 5 or 6 feet in height the Johnson’s propeller stayed under the water at all times, very comforting when driving in such extreme conditions. But the dense weeds on Lough Cullin reach close to the surface and I spent many days constantly pulling up the motor to clear the prop fouled with raft of weeds there. It also meant I had to be very careful, especially on the Mask as it was easy to strike the bottom, as the well chipped propeller testified. I went through three props in my time with that engine, all damaged by the stones on the bottom of Lough Mask. My preference for fishing the shallows was most definitely at odds with the length of the outboard. Please note my new engine is a short shaft model – I may have learned something in my old age.

Ooops!

No more will I sweat and curse the sheer weight of the old white engine while dragging it out of the car and on to the boat. I’ll miss the throaty roar as she sprang into life after a few pulls of the cord (she was always a good starter). That healthy kick as I opened the throttle used to bring a smile to my face, she was nippy enough for one so ancient. The smell of the two stroke oil and the little patch glistening on the surface of the lough when she kicked into life are things of the past now. It is the end of an era for me but in a way I am happy the engine has gone. It was too heavy for me now and the pollution from a two stroke is hard to justify these days. Her time had come and I had to move on. The new Honda shimmers under the light in the shed, basking in her beauty and reliability while the Johnson was carted off ignominiously to an uncertain future. I don’t know if the buyer plans to use the engine or if she will be stripped for parts. Either way, our paths have diverged and there is a patch of free space in the shed now that wasn’t there this morning. Goodbye old friend, I caught many fish as saw wondrous things thanks to you.

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coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

Into the light

Let me say straight away that I am a dyed-in-the-wool game fisher. Brought up on river fishing with fly and spinner I missed out on coarse fishing completely all my life, up until now. I’m on solid ground when it comes to chasing trout and salmon and have a reasonably firm grasp of the basics when angling for those species. To a degree I have kept up with the technical and tactical advances in game fishing over the years as well. Of poles, groundbait and keepnets I know not a jot, at least I didn’t up until very recently.

My new project of aiming to catch at least one fish from each county in Ireland has inadvertently led me down a very different path though, one which is proving to be bewildering but at the same time an interesting challenge. I need to learn how to catch coarse fish from scratch, so the last few weeks have been an education for me. To be perfectly honest I have caught way more coarse fish either by accident or design on fly tackle than I have on floats and legers.

A small roach caught on the fly

My fishing den has shelves groaning under the weight of books on fishing from skinny little booklets on individual rivers to mighty tomes encompassing the minutest details of game and sea fishing. What you won’t find there are books on coarse fishing. I scanned the dustcovers for any stray coarse angling books which I might have forgotten about but could only find one slim volume which gave some brief details of the different species but nothing on angling methods. From the pages of this book I gleaned that Bream were common in Ireland along with Perch but that other mainstays of English coarse fishing such as chub and barbel were absent completely and carp were scarce. Of course we have countless millions of tiny roach in virtually all our Irish waterways these days and I have been told in the past about some lakes which are full of that most handsome of fish, the rudd. At least this narrowed things down a bit for me.

The internet can be viewed as one of the great evils of our times but it certainly came to my rescue when researching coarse fishing methods these last few weeks. YouTube is jam packed with useful instructional videos on how to catch just about anything that swims and there were hours spent watching experts haul out impressively large bags of bream and roach using methods and baits which could have been developed on the moon for all I know. I admit to being fascinated by pole fishing, the concept that you take your rod apart every time you hook a fish seems so alien to me! I very quickly dismissed poles and whips (whips are shorter poles apparently) from my potential armoury as being too cumbersome and expensive for my needs. I want to be able to spent short sessions at new waters meaning I will probably have to move a fair bit to find good spots, setting up all the equipment for pole fishing looks like it takes the organisational ability and heaving lifting of a military regiment.

A Common Cary I caught a few years ago in England on freelined bread

I already owned a float rod, a cheap Shakespeare jobbie that landed me some roach and carp back in England many moons ago. I can clearly recall the alarming bend in that rod when a good sized carp took off for the other side of the lake but it was only ever used a few times and remains in good nick. It will do nicely for float fishing for roach and rudd and anything else that can be tempted on the stick or waggler. Ferreting around in various tackle boxes yielded some old floats and a box of mixed split shot but no line that was light enough for making hook lengths. And so the shopping list began. I guess I knew it would come to this and that some excuse to spend money on fishing tackle would be found. My research on the internet was raising lots of questions and there were obvious gaps in my equipment just as there was in my knowledge. Bottom fishing was a case in point.

Carp fighting

A carp breaks the surface as he feels to hook

Watching the experts on YouTube it became obvious that feeders are a major form of fishing for bottom dwelling species such as bream and tench. The concept of a small device which carries ground bait close to your baited hook is the mainstay of much bottom fishing and this appears to have now flourished into a cornucopia of tackle to cope with every possible variable within the basic method. The rods to hurl the rigs prodigious distances, the details of the rigs themselves and the baits used all held me in close attention and I soaked in all this new-fangled knowledge like a sponge.

I needed a rod for feeder fishing but I was not going to go mad on one of the new specialist feeder rods which are eye-wateringly expensive. It seems that fishing big Irish lakes for bream often involves long, accurate casting of the feeder on large beds of ground bait. Add in the wind which is a feature of this part of the world and you can see that long rods for distance casting in difficult conditions are a real bonus. But I am not planning on jumping into the extreme end of coarse fishing. I want easy venues (to start with at least) where casts are going to be of more normal proportions, depth of water won’t be excessive and the stresses and strains on tackle will be commensurately less. Those of you who follow this blog will recognise where this is all heading – I needed an old ABU rod!

When ABU where still making all their gear in Sweden back in the seventies and eighties they produced a range of coarse fishing rods in both fibreglass and carbon. I quickly found a couple of old leger rods, one light and one medium, which were going for a song and duly snapped them up. An old Cardinal 444A seemed to be a good reel to match up with these rods and filling it with 6 pound line gave me a pretty balanced outfit for basic feeder fishing. OK, so these rods are heavy by todays standards but look, I will be fishing short sessions so fatigue won’t be an issue.

I have also been picking up different types and weights of feeders. Each have their own niche and it looks like I need different ones for different scenarios. I can see a lot of experimentation is going to be required but that is a large part of the fun from my perspective. I remain unsure if I need to expand into method feeders as they seem to be more specialised and the carp fishing lads love them. For now I will stick to simple cage, block and open end feeders for a start anyway. I might be wrong but feeders look like the kind of thing which will get stuck on the bottom easily and so I am anticipating losses. My 6 pound breaking strain running line is hardly going to be fit for much pulling and dragging if the gets snagged in weeds or rocks.

The whole issue of groundbait is another minefield. The experts all agree that Irish bream require huge volumes of groundbait to attract the fish to your swim and to hold them there. Hugely expensive bags of prepared groundbait in an amazing array of flavours and textures seemed to be used by the top fishers but I am unconvinced as yet that I need to go down this road. For a start I will be avoiding the big, deep loughs with their shoals of specimen sized ‘dustbin lids’. I get that you need copious amounts of ground bait to pull the shoals in to casting range on these challenging venues and that little old me with a handful of bread or sweetcorn would likely be fishing barren water most of the time on the big loughs. But I want to cut my teeth on much smaller venues where I already have a good chance of covering fish. Big bags of huge fish simply don’t excite me and a modest catch from an intimate lough are much more appealing to this newbe. I was thinking of making a simple groundbait out of a mix of bread and bran but most of the research I have done suggests your groundbait for Irish waters needs to be dark in colour. Brown flake may be the way to go but I will figure something out.

Hook baits opens up another can of worms (sorry). My small amount of previous coarse angling involved bread paste on a size 14 hook dangling below a stick float and I saw no reason to doubt this would work here in Ireland too. While bread is used it looks like maggots, coloured red preferably, are a better bet for most fish. That presents a slight problem as nobody in my area stocks maggots and I will have to buy them locally when I go coarse fishing. The humble worm is also used a lot and they will be easier to lay my hands on. Even easier again is that old reliable sweetcorn. I am hoping sweetcorn does work as I can have a few tins stowed in the car ready for use at any time.

Roach

Small roach, probably one of the species I will target

When to go coarse fishing is all a bit of a mystery too. With no close season here in Ireland I can in theory go fishing every day of the year but obviously some times are much better than others. I had always imagined coarse fishing was a summer sport, lazy days watching the tip of the float under blue sky. It turns out hardy coarse anglers go about their business in winter too. Tench seem to be a summer only fish but the others can be caught all year round. This very interesting for me as the option of fishing outside the game angling season has great appeal. Then again, sitting hunched up against the lashing rain in a howling gales does not sound too great! The jury is out on winter fishing for now.

So after all my hours of research it looks like I will be targeting Bream, Roach, Rudd and Tench this summer. I will float fish or use feeders and have all the gear I now require bar a landing net which I will pick up sometime soon. Venues will be carefully chosen for size, ease of access and species present rather than looking for specimen sized fish or heavy bags. Over the course of the past few months my perception of coarse fishing has completely altered. Previously I had no interest in the sport at all. It looked difficult and far too technical for me with the outcome not worth the effort and expense. Now, I am looking forward to learning new techniques and catching new species in the heart of the Irish countryside. From a fog of confusion back in the autumn I can now see some glimmers of light. Whether this new found insight into coarse fishing will translate into fish on the bank remains to be seen but it has been fun just learning more about this fascinating branch of our sport.

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Fishing in Ireland

IFI

An interesting piece in the local rag (the Mayo Advertiser) by Cllr Michael Burke who sits on Mayo County Council. In a half page piece he discusses the huge changes in the structure of the old IFT which has over the years become Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI). He rightly points out that angling tourism which is so vital to the local economy is down and the poor catches of recent years is a major contributing factor. He goes on to point out that a lot of the important work such as maintaining the spawning beds does not appear to be happening as they used to. He says that IFI staff numbers are now down to ‘about 300’.

I can’t disagree with anything in Michael’s article but I would add some additional reasons for the slump in catches. The whole ecology of the western lakes has radically altered over the past 30 years and invasive species are now thriving at the expense of our native trout and salmon. There is no control of the huge shoals of roach and increasingly bream in our lakes. Just imagine the biomass consumed by there fish which would have otherwise fed trout and young salmon.

Mink are present in large numbers across the country and these creatures do immense damage, not just to fisheries but all forms of wildlife. Virtually no controls are in place bar the odd trap here and there.

Agricultural run off is a problem nobody wants to talk about for fear of upsetting the farmers (read voters). Intensive cattle production in a huge local employer so the slurry produced and then sprayed on the land is not going to tackled by government.

The number of dwellings on or near the banks of lakes and tributaries has exploded and these feed phosphates into watercourses, further upsetting the balance of nutrients.

I love fishing the peaceful lakes and rivers here in Ireland but the days of good catches and pristine waterways is long gone. I applaud Michael Burke’s piece in the local paper but it is actions we need if there is going to be any sort of an improvement in angling here in Ireland.

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32, Fishing in Ireland, sea angling, shore fishing

32 – Part 1. Where to start

Having decided that I will tackle trying to catch a fish in each of Ireland’s 32 counties I now need to sit down a begin planning the whole thing. This is going to be a large part of the fun, just researching various places to fish a figuring out what I need to use, how to get there etc. The good old internet is a wonderful tool for searching out potential fishing spots There may not be a huge amount of detail on most websites but there is often enough to whet the appetite and encourage some deeper inspection via phone calls or emails. Perhaps in pre-internet days it was more fun just turning up somewhere and hoping the fishing was going to be vaguely like what you expected. Nowadays we can be much better prepared and forearmed by a few quick taps on the keyboard.

I started by listing all 32 counties so I could get a feel for where my travels are going to take me. I was a bit taken aback my my near complete lack of knowledge of so many of them! I honestly thought I knew more about Ireland than it appears I do. Here is how I summed each county up in one line:

County Province short description
Antrim Northern Ireland (Ulster) Far north, rocky coastline. Looks out on Scotland
Armagh Northern Ireland (Ulster) virtually landlocked
Carlow Leinster Small, landlocked
Cavan Ulster Hundreds of lakes, pike fishing paradise
Clare Munster Long coastline, Cliffs of Moher
Cork Munster Huge, famous for the sea angling
Derry Northern Ireland (Ulster) Unknown to me
Donegal Ulster Rugged
Down Northern Ireland (Ulster) Belfast, Mountains of Mourne
Dublin Leinster City, industrial, canals
Fermanagh Northern Ireland (Ulster) Rural, lots of lakes
Galway Connaught The Corrib, shallow coastal waters
Kerry Munster Sea angling
Kildare Leinster Landlocked, commuter towns
Kilkenny Leinster Known for its hurling not its fishing
Laois Leinster No coast, not much fishing as far as I know
Leitrim Connaught Coarse fishing around Carrick upon Shannon
Limerick Munster The Shannon
Longford Leinster Heart of the midlands, lots of coarse fishing
Louth Leinster Border county, river Fane
Mayo Connaught Western lakes, river Moy
Meath Leinster The grand canal
Monghan Ulster Rural, also lots of lakes
Offaly Leinster Central location, no salmon
Roscommon Connaught Mainly coarse fishing
Sligo Connaught Lough Arrow
Tipperary Munster Lough Derg
Tyrone Northern Ireland (Ulster) Lough Neagh
Waterford Munster Munster Blackwater
Westmeath Leinster Sheelin
Wexford Leinster Bass
Wicklow Leinster Mountains

Suddenly, the enormity of my task is laid out before me. Gaps in my understanding the size of the grand canyon have opened up before my eyes and completion of the 32 seems unattainable. Where do I even begin. My embarrassingly skimpy knowledge of some (most) parts of the island needed to be addressed if I was going to achieve my goal. I couldn’t set off for the far flung corners of the Ireland without some better understanding of the different places I hoped to visit. I have now given myself a target to read up about each county before I visit it.

West Cork landscape, i save this for later in the year

Getting the first one under my belt is going to be tough. March is usually the beginning of my angling year but it would be nice to have bagged one or two counties before then to set the ball rolling. Some possibilities include trying for whiting and coalfish from Glassilleun beach in Co. Galway or maybe a pike from one of the lakes in Leitrim or Monaghan. There used to be great bass fishing in Kerry in January but I think that fishery has all but collapsed these days, so the huge journey there and back would be a very risky objective.

I’ve never fished Glassilleun beach despite its close proximity to the mark on Little Killery which I fish regularly. That’s because the beach itself is a very popular spot for tourists, walkers and others during the summer. The small car park is normally thronged and romantic couples, boisterous dogs while Japanese tourists roam the golden crescent of sand in all weathers. I don’t blame them, it is a lovely spot with grand views out to sea. Night time during the winter is the time to fish here, in biting winds with a sea running. Then the whiting come close to the shore looking for food which has been loosened from the sand. Importantly, it also the best time to avoid the holidaymakers and dog walkers.

Glassilleun beach, Co. Galway

So unless a better idea pops into my head I am planning on targeting Glassilleun beach in January next year to kick off the 32 project. In between now and then I’ll keep my ear to the ground in case I hear of anywhere else that happens to be fishing well.

 

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32, Fishing in Ireland

32

Ideas churn around in my mind as stirred in some kind of witch’s cauldron. Most are flights of fancy which never get off the ground but sometimes, just occasionally, an idea grows roots and turns into actions. 32 is one of those few notions which is becoming a reality. I want to take a bit of time to describe to you this bold new idea and how exactly I plan to turn the thoughts into reality. I am painfully aware that my blog has long ago degenerated into a litany of blank days and moans about the lack of fish, so I want to head off in a new direction and take readers on a bit of a voyage of discovery.

So what is 32? It is not the answer to all life’s questions nor is it indeed anything to do with maths or arithmetic. Those of you who are familiar with Ireland will instantly recognise it as the number of counties on the island of Ireland. A small history lesson may help to make things a bit clearer for those not well versed in the machinations of Irish history. When the Irish Free State was formed the English government wanted to hang on to the 6 counties which make up modern day Northern Ireland (please note this is not Ulster as it comprises of 9 counties, 6 in the North and 3 in the South). That left 26 counties in what would become the Republic of Ireland. So 26 counties in the south, 6 counties in the north makes a total of 32 counties. Are you with me so far? The 6 counties in Northern Ireland are part of the United Kingdom and the other 26 all form the Republic of Ireland.

My great idea is to set out to catch a fish in each of the 32 counties on the island of Ireland and document the highs and lows in my blog. Why bother you may well ask? Firstly, the last few seasons have been a disappointment for me on the angling front with repeated blanks and poor catches from my local waters. At the same time I can recall some brilliant fishing in other parts of the country from the past. Spinning for Bass in Kerry as the sun rose in the East, catching feisty little Brown Trout from a tiny lochan on a hillside Donegal, Rainbows leaping as they felt the hook on a put-and-take in Tyrone – the list goes on and on. It all seems in such sharp contrast to the endless blank days on Conn this past 2 seasons. Since the end of the 2019 season I have mulled over these past successes and recent failures and come to the conclusion that I need to spread my piscatorial wings somewhat and try new venues. From there, it was but a short hop to the need to give these wanderings some structure. That was when the concept of the 32 counties hit me.

the light fading over the hills of Donegal

Refining this structure has taken me a bit of time. Exactly what was I trying to achieve? What were the self-imposed rules of this venture going to be? My initial thoughts were to aim to catch a trout (any species of trout) in each of the counties but upon further examination this seemed to be a bit restrictive. This blog deliberately covers all legal forms of angling as I enjoy a wide variety of fishing experiences. Limiting myself to trout only felt like a betrayal of why I started to blog in the first place.

Then I thought about stretching it out and including salmon as well as trout but that would have meant leaving out sea angling. That didn’t appeal to me either so in the end I have settled on a rather broad based structure, ‘to catch at least one of any species of fish from each of the 32 counties in Ireland in a 24 month period’. Thus it shall remain and I now need to do some detailed planning and figure out where and when I shall tackle this herculean task.

My next hurdle was to negotiate the tricky question of C&R. I habitually return most of the fish I catch, keeping a few for the pot. I decided that I would be pragmatic and judge each fish as they came to the net. Coarse fish will all go back and I don’t eat brown trout so they will be returned. Rainbows may be kept I suppose and sea fish such as Mackerel and Pollock will be probably retained too providing I am heading home immediately after the fishing. I abhor waste, especially wasting fish which could otherwise have been released.

What about my carbon footprint? All these miles trekking across the countryside in a diesel engine car cannot be good for the environment. I can’t say that I am a big fan of offsetting and instead am actively working to reduce my own personal carbon footprint by reducing power and fuel usage at home.

This little venture does throw up a whole series of challenges for me. The most obvious is going to be a lack of local knowledge for the vast majority of the venues I will be fishing. I know my own ‘patch’ around Mayo reasonably well but beyond that I am pretty much in the lap of the gods. Other variables include:

  • Time is going to be limited as I have recently started my own business and this is going to curtail my available free time.
  • As for the timescale I feel it is important to set a firm start and end date. The obvious choice is 1st January to 31st December 2020 but I won’t be able to commit to cramming all 32 into one calendar year. So, I am stretching the project over a two year time frame, starting on the first day of 2020 and aiming to complete by the last day of 2021.
  • Weather is always an issue in Ireland! A planned day on the shore can easily be blown off with high winds or a river trip washed out by a flood. To some degree this can be mitigated by having a back-up venue planned but realistically there will be days when it simply not safe to fish.
  • Access could be another issue for me as I may not always be able to fish exactly where I intended. When planning these forays I will carry out as much research as possible beforehand but there are bound to be a few hitches along the way. The internet is such a wonderful tool and I hope by doing thorough research I will avoid most of the pitfalls but I won’t always get it right and plans will need tweaking if access is denied to some spots.
  • My old VW lacks reliability shall we say. Breakdowns are a very real threat when the odometer already reads well over 300k miles. The car gets serviced regularly but who knows what bits will break or fall off on the road. For me it is part of the charm of the whole project, setting off in an old car with ancient gear to try and catch a few fish in far flung places. I am under no illusions that the car will give trouble and there will be breakdowns but I am not overly concerned about it.
  • Financial constraints. I need to be honest here, I’m not planning on spending a small fortune on this project. Cheap and cheerful is going to be my approach. Expensive beats on salmon rivers are out for a start. I will make do with day-ticket waters when chasing silver. In Ireland we are blessed with lots of inexpensive fishing so there should not be any need to overspend.
  • Family commitments need to be taken into consideration too of course. I am toying with the idea of dedicating some weekends away to the more distant counties and that will be a strain. Stretching the project out over two years will make the balance of family life and the fishing more manageable.
  • A lack of technical knowledge. I am OK when fly fishing, spinning or shore fishing from rocks but all forms of coarse fishing are black arts to me right now. Using feeders, the art of groundbaiting, float selection and shotting patterns, where and how to fish for the different species of coarse fish are all going to have to be learned and learned quickly. I don’t have the luxury of an extended apprenticeship in coarse angling. Beach fishing is something I have practiced only occasionally and distance casting is not my forte. I have a lot to learn!
  • Exhaustion, both mental and physical. There will be blanks and days when nothing seems to go as planned and I need to be able to get through the bad times and keep going. Plain old tiredness will come into it too as some parts of the country are 5 hours’ drive from Mayo. I am planning on combining some short fishing sessions with days I am working in far flung corners of the island which are bound to be exhausting.
  • On a similar note there is the question of health. I suffer from arthritis in my feet, ankles and knees which curtails much of my fishing. I also have vertigo and take medication to keep it under control. A flare up of either condition will be a big problem. The arthritis is there more or less constantly, giving me a lot of pain in my feet and ankles and reducing my mobility considerably. I have learned to live with it and put up with the pain. The Vertigo is a different beast and an attack in 2018 left my sense of balance severely compromised and the need for daily medication. There is always a niggling worry I will suffer another attack someday but my poor balance has curtailed much of my fishing. Until you lose your balance it is impossible to realise just how important it is to your everyday life. Tackling the 32 counties will have to be done without fishing some spectacular but difficult to access rock marks.
  • Recording it all on the blog. I know the scant few words you read here don’t look like much but time and effort is required to add content to any blog. I find that I need to write posts soon after the fact, certainly within the next 24 hours. I have never timed how long it takes me to write a post and publish it but I would guess an hour or more is about right. Finding an hour going spare after I have been fishing will be an interesting challenge.

the old car

Another aspect of recording it all is going to be my dodgy photographic skills. I have a reasonable camera but using it to full effect is something I am still wrestling with. I will try my best to conquer the intricacies of a DSLR but bear with me if some of my shots are not the best – we all have to learn! This learning new skills is going to be a challenge but at the same time part of the reason for undertaking the 32 counties in the first place. We all need to face up to new challenges and learning new skills, be they using a camera or learning to fish for Tench stretch us in ways we will benefit from. So photography is another area where my interest needs to be turned into knowledge. I’m looking forward to that too.

  • There is little serious angling between the end of October and the beginning of March in Ireland. Yes, I know about the early salmon rivers which open on the 1st January but to have a respectable chance of catching something I regard March as the starting point of my fishing year. That concentrates the opportunities to fish into only 8 months. That rather neatly translates into one county every two weeks. To me that is a heck of a lot of angling to fit in! I am avidly reading up on the forms of fishing and species of fish which are new to me and it seems there is some coarse fishing during the winter months which may just give me a few extra days fishing but I have a lot more research to do before committing to long drives on bad roads to try and extract an odd Roach or Perch. The jury is out on that one for now……..
  • As I write this we are still unclear what the actual effect on crossing the border between the Republic and UK is going to be like. With 6 counties to fish in Northern Ireland it looks like I will be gaining some first-hand experience.
  • Licences, permits etc. Permission will be required and angling licences purchased too. So there will be some expenses in addition to all the travel.
  • Tackle should not be an issue for the game and sea angling as I have a huge range of rods and reels in good condition. Apart for small bits and bobs of end gear I don’t anticipate buying any new tackle for those arms of the sport. Coarse fishing is a different story and I am shocked at the volume and expense of coarse angling equipment which the top anglers use on a regular basis. I am not going to go the whole hog on kitting myself out with poles, those fancy tackle boxes and the other paraphernalia. I own a pair of float rods, a couple of leger rods and an as yet unused feeder rod with some old reels to match. These will have to do for now. A selection of end gear and some new lines will need to be bought though as well as bait and ground bait. I’ll go into details of my gear later on as it is largely unconventional.

The range of different fish is equally extensive and I am excited to think about the new species I could encounter. I have never caught Bream, Tench, Rudd or Hybrids but they will definitely be target species for me when I fish in some counties. I have never caught a Roach of more than 6 inches long nor a perch of greater than a pound and a half, maybe I’ll break one or both of those PB’s. Hopefully there will be a few oddities along the way too, such as Shad which is a fish I will specifically target down in Carlow.

If you draw an imaginary line diagonally through Ireland from Belfast to Cork the lands to the North and west contain most of the game angling while to the South and East of the line is mainly coarse angling water. In saltwater there is a huge mix of different coastlines around this island. One of the great attractions of this venture is the sheer variety of locations out there for me to sample. Sleepy urban canals, fast flowing hillside torrents, heady clifftops and miles of salty, golden beaches all await me. I’ve always enjoyed the challenges of fishing new places and the mix of previously untried locations, methods of angling new to me and the backdrop of the Irish countryside seem like a heady brew to this tired and jaded angler.

Reaching the furthest corner of the Emerald Isle can be a bit of a trek from my base in Mayo. Antrim and Derry are 4 – 5 hours from home and the same goes for Wexford/Waterford area in the South-east. That is a ten hour round trip without even wetting a line. Although traffic can be heavy in the cities, rural driving is largely a pleasurable experience once you have grown used to the Irish style of driving. Anyone using indicators is seen as an oddity, letting someone out in front of you at an opening is a sign of madness, reducing speed in poor conditions such as snow is unheard of – the list is lengthy. My pet hate is supermarket car parks which everyone seems to regard as their own private race track. Despite living in Ireland for all these year I still find it hard to accept the truly awful driving of my fellow road users but railing against the majority is a waste of time and emotional effort. I need to learn to just put up with it and hope I avoid contact with the worst of the drivers out there.

The car. So what does my transport consist of? For many years now I have been running round in a 2001 VW Golf estate car, so many years in fact that it now boasts over 300k miles (not kilometres mind you) on the clock. While there have been occasional temptations to upgrade to a new car the old gal keeps on chugging along so I stick with her. These days there are a few dents and scrapes in the bodywork which somehow adds to the warm fuzzy feeling I have towards this old automobile. Driving down narrow boreens inevitably adds further scars to the paintwork every season but it really does not matter at all with an old car like this. I guess it has been reasonably reliable over the years. The diesel engine still returns nearly 50 miles to the gallon on the open road and all the controls and switches (with the notable exception of the air conditioning) are still working. In short, for this type of project it should fit the bill nicely. Repairs, when required are effected by a good mate who is a wizard when it comes to good old fashioned automobile repairs. He would rather fix something rather than chuck it out and buy a new replacement. Without him the old VW would have long ago been consigned to a scrapyard.

Let me explain a little bit about the gear I propose to use for doing the 32 counties. After a lifetime of angling I have amassed a huge amount of tackle but none of it is your ‘top end’ expensive rods and reels. I take particular pleasure in using old tackle and in particular I am a huge fan of vintage ABU kit. Growing up in the sixties and seventies I lived through the age when ABU were producing the finest tackle available and I still believe some of their reels are the finest ever produced. When I started working in the mid-seventies I immediately began to purchase ABU rods and reels and that habit, though it has waned at times, has persisted with me right up to the present day. In common with most others of a like mind I believe that the quality of ABU products diminished greatly when production was switched to the Far East so I buy up only the gear which was made in Sweden. A lot of this is still available on the second-hand market at reasonable prices and the quality of the engineering is such that these old reels (and to a certain extent the rods) is still better than modern equivalents.

I won’t bore you with a long list of my rods and reels, suffice to say I have a pretty extensive collection running to well over 30 rods and about 50 reels. I only buy tackle I intend to use so none of this lot is in pristine showroom condition, rather they are well maintained everyday rods and reels for use on the water. I love the silky smooth feel of the Ambassadeur multipliers and Cardinal fixed spool reels. Using them really adds another dimension to a day’s fishing for me. A good glass fibre rod, although heavy, is a joy to use and I can’t help thinking it is the best material for some types of rod. So if you see an old bloke on a riverbank in Ireland chucking out lures or bait on some ancient ABU gear there is a good chance it is yours truly.

I especially enjoy using the heavier ABU rods such as the Atlantic 423 spinning rod and the Legerlite 234. These are beautiful rods with bags of power when required. They inspire confidence and the trade off in weight is a small price to pay in my book. I also have some of the short baitcasting rods and they are great fun to use for smaller species. That is not to say I only possess ABU kit, I have a range of rods and reels made by other manufacturers such as Daiwa and Shakespeare. All my flies are tied by myself and the challenge here is to cut down the sheer number of flies I bring with me. Talking of flies I will add any unusual patterns or variations of standard ties in the main blog so that the 32 pages don’t become overly complicated. There will be enough going on in them without adding things like fly patterns.

I also swear by some of the old Swedish ABU baits such as the Toby, Tylo and Krill. Again, I have used these all of my angling life and firmly believe they out fish newer baits stamped out on a press in China or Korea. Owning hundreds and hundreds of baits means I am forever switching them when on the river or lake but that just adds to my day out too. I am perfectly willing to accept that I could sell off 95% of my gear and not suffer any reduction in my catches but that is not the point. I get enjoyment from using different rods and reels or trying a different baits. Each to his or her own I say.

ABU Tylo

Having declared my love for all things ABU I must admit that I do like Rapala plugs as well (bit of a Nordic thing going on here!). The original floaters and countdown sinkers are excellent baits and I have started to trial the newer scatter raps now as well. The action in the water is excellent and I have great faith in their fish catching ability. I have some small ones which are yet untried but I suspect they might be good for Perch and jack Pike, time will tell.

Anyway, as I rove around Ireland you will see me use a host of various baits and lures, some of which may even catch the odd fish or two. I’ll try to keep note of the ones I use but I’m pretty sure I’ll miss some of them. Who knows, perhaps some new and otherwise untried baits may be successful for me in some far flung corners of the island. For instance, I hear that the best lure for Shad in the river Barrow is the Tasmanian Devil, a lure I have never even tried before now.

Talking of tackle, I am thinking about pulling together a small ‘kit’ of basic gear which I could keep in the car at all times in case I get an opportunity for an hours fishing as I travel the country. My new work will in all probability take me different parts of Ireland so having a couple of rods with me makes a lot of sense. Initial thoughts are this would consist of 4 rod/reel combinations and a bag of bits to cover very basic float, light spinning, heavy spinning and light fly fishing. Scenarios I can foresee would include an hour on a canal where the float rod could be used for Roach or Bream but I’d have the backup of the small spinning rod to try for a Perch if I did not have any bait. Or the heavy spinning rod could be used off a pier for Mackerel or to chuck a plug into a Pike lake. My Orvis fly rod throws a no.5 line and this is adequate for small river fishing as well as top of the water smaller lake fishing for browns and rainbows. If I am planning on a full day fishing I will be properly organised and take all appropriate gear with me but for those odd occasions when an opportunity presents itself for an hour on some stretch of water this ‘kit’ could be a godsend.

It’s just an idea at the moment but it seems to make sense. There should be space in the car for this limited amount of gear. With this lot I could fish for trout, pike, perch, roach, rudd, mackerel, Pollock and wrasse. Everything bar the rods would fit in a large box and I could take a bag along and just fill it with the bits I needed for that session and off down the bank I’d go.

Tackle shops are going to be a necessary evil for me during my travels. Why an evil you may ask? Well you see I am a sucker for the salesman patter and will inevitably end up buying stuff I don’t really need. Tackle shops will provide me with permits, bait and ground bait and hopefully some advice as well. But I am resigned to adding to my huge collection of tackle just for the sake of it. At this stage I am guessing the coarse fishing areas will be my biggest challenges and so the local tackle shops in those counties will be visited and consulted. Irish tackle dealers are the same as those the world over, only too keen to help out anglers with advice as well as selling them gear. I am looking forward to meeting some of these characters in far flung corners of the island.

Some days are going to be dedicated to fishing with early starts and long journeys but others will likely be short sessions snatched after work. This will be challenging angling with little time to get to know a piece of water and so sticking to basic methods will be the name of the game. The humble worm will likely feature as bait. Readily available and good to tempt most freshwater species it could well be my mainstay. Then again, a tin of sweetcorn tucked away in the tackle bag is a good standby for some species. Pre-baiting is a luxury I cannot afford which is a pity as it certainly seems to be key to good catches of some species such as Bream. But, if my goal is catch one fish from each county, one single solitary fish is all I need to achieve my target. Big bags are not going to be a feature of this venture.

What happens if, despite all my planning, I fail to catch a fish at my selected venue? I’m in no doubt that this is going to happen and probably happen quite often. A blank will entail me visiting that county again and again until I catch a fish. Blanks in Antrim or Wexford are going to be expensive and time consuming failures! I suppose the best approach is to give myself the maximum chances to catch fish at each venue, meaning I need to do a lot of research into each place beforehand. I also need backup plans for when things are going wrong. For example, finding a river in flood may rule out the chances of catching anything there but if I have a ‘plan B’ in the shape of a second or even third choice of venue it could negate the loss of the first venue. I can’t just turn on my heel and drive all the way back home just because one river is out of ply. I will need to think about varying locations and target species in light of any blanks, there is no point in going back to the same spot and hoping for a better result! There is a huge element of ‘suck it and see’ with the whole of this adventure and making adjustment and changes as I go along is part of the fabric.

I want to try to vary species and methods as much as possible without tying myself to impossible dreams. My disturbing lack of knowledge about all forms of coarse fishing means I will be taking some calculated risks but taking along a small spinning rod to cast worms or small spinners for perch should go some way to providing a back-up in many places. But I don’t want this to end up as me simply fishing for the lowest common denominator. It will make for dull reading indeed if all I do is worm for perch and bottom fish for dogfish (probably the easiest two species to catch in Ireland). Hence the different types of venues and methods of fishing.

I will need to provide photographic evidence of all catches too. Just writing a post saying that I caught a fish is not good enough, I need to show clear evidence that I caught the fish and, importantly, that I caught it where I said I did. To this end I will take liberal amounts of photos and add them to the posts. Pictures of the whole trip and not catch will be taken so you get a ‘feel’ for the whole trip as this is just as important to me as the actual landing the fish. Who knows, I may even play around with video!

I read somewhere recently that a ‘good’ days fishing happens to competent anglers on average every fourth trip. I know my own average of good days is well below that level, leading me to conclude that I am far from a competent angler! Then again, what actually constitutes a good day? Long ago I abandoned all hopes of catching lots of big fish on a regular basis. Too often I have blanked on good waters while those around me hauled out their share (and mine too). As long as there is some faint hope of catching something I am a happy angler. Once that hope dies I pack up and head for home or the pub. Flogging empty water is a thoroughly depressing business and one to be avoided at all costs in my book. Attempting to catch a fish in each county in this land will test my resolve and willingness to keep going even through tough situations. Any stretch of a trout river is going to be a joy to fish and I’m comfortable casting small flies for wild trout so these venues are going to be the jewels in the crown for me. What to do when Bream or Tench refuse my cunningly presented feeder will cause me much more difficulty. Density of loose feeding, castor versus maggots, boilies or minis? As a complete novice these and a hundred more coarse fishing conundrums await me. It will be a steep learning curve but one I am really looking forward too. I beg forgiveness in advance from those of you coarse experts who read this blog, all I can say is that we all had to start somewhere. My mentality is simply to catch one fish at each venue, not attempt to secure large bags. For me, one bream will constitute a good day’s bream fishing!

Planning with near military precision is going to be required and I have made a start. I have created an initial list of potential venues, listed by county. This is very much a ‘first stab’ in the dark and will require much refining over the coming months but it is a starting point. I intend being flexible and taking advantage of any opportunities which present themselves as the months pass. If I hear on the grapevine of good fishing in counties I have yet to tick off I’ll adjust my plans accordingly. A good run of grilse at the weir in Galway or heavy mayfly hatches on Sheelin could send me scuttling across the country to try my luck. Odd occasions like that will not be the norm and instead I will have to plan in some detail where, when and how to fish in each county. No point in turning up at the other end of the country to find my chosen spot has not fished for a month or that it produces good catches in August but I am stood there in my waders in December! In these days of the internet I should be able to glean sufficient information to make informed decisions but I have to accept sometimes I will simply get it wrong and be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Such is angling!

The Galway Weir

I am fairly familiar with some counties but others I have never even visited. I have never set foot in either Kilkenny or Wexford and only passed through Armagh, Down, Offaly, Laois and Tipperary. My knowledge of the fishing in many of the other counties has come from books or the net, not actual experience. The midland counties and the southeast are pretty much a mystery to me right now.  The challenges will be many and I am banking on good fortune along with tips and help from other anglers I encounter during my travels. Anglers the world over are a helpful bunch so I am hoping for some free information from my companions on the bank.

I know I have a tendency to fall back on tried and tested methods sometimes when the fishing gets tough (a size 12 Green Peter cast at wild brownies has saved the day many times, as has a silver spoon for Pike) but this may work against me on new venues. I must cultivate an open mind! I do like using two rods when shore fishing, sometimes even three. A ‘normal’ beachcaster hurled out a fair distance, a heavier rod fished very short with a large bait and often a spinning rod in my hand casting a lure or feathers looking to pick up Mackerel or Pollock. This certainly improves my chances not only in terms of numbers but it targets different species, always a good thing when you don’t know the mark well (or at all).

if in doubt, a small Green peter usually works!

So what do I hope to achieve by all this dashing across Ireland, waving rods at fish I have never caught before in places I have never even visited before? I guess I want to address my jaded approach to angling, to re-invigorate my fishing so that I get more enjoyment out of it. Isn’t a change as good as a rest? At the same time I hope to show you, the readers, some new and interesting places as I travel the highways and byways of this lovely country. Ireland has the capacity to confuse, irritate and disturb you at times but alongside that there is a beauty and charm which is hard to match. I hope you enjoy reading about my travels, the successes and inevitable failures, the people I meet and the stunning locations I fish.  Two years is a long time to ask you to stick with me but I will do my best to educate and entertain you all as I try my luck in all the odd corners of Eire.

Many of you either live in Ireland or have some knowledge of the fishing here so I am open to your suggestions and comments. Drop me a line if you have anything to say (positive or negative, it all helps).

I will preface my posts on the blog dedicated to the 32. This will keep them separate from my normal musings and make it easier to follow for the reader. As I said earlier, it is looking like I will be able to head off doing the 32 counties thing roughly once every fortnight leaving plenty of space for me to keep adding posts to my normal blog.

So, there you have it. I plan, over the next two years, to catch a fish in every county on the island of Ireland. I may succeed gloriously or fail miserably but I am looking forward to the challenge and invite you all to come on the journey with me. Starting date is the first day of January 2020.

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Fishing in Ireland

All over

This morning we went and retrieved my boat from the lake, the last act of a forgettable season Early rain and high winds had subsided by the time we rolled up to the shore and we were greeted by a lone otter playing in the shallows. A nice start to the day.

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I baled out the water inside her and took stock of the minor damage which has happened over the season. A cracked knee on one of the boards and some repairs needed to the timber on the bow but nothing too major. Everything else is in good order and it wont take much to ready her for the 2020 season.

peaceful scene at the slipway below the graveyard.

Water levels are up again so it was an easy task to manoeuvre the boat into position and winch her up on to the trailer. There is always a tinge of sadness when the boat comes off the lake for the last time, an underlining of the fact the fishing is over now for another year.

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Once safely on the trailer we busied ourselves with the belly band and lights. We are so used to this job there is little said as we each carry out our allotted tasks. Tyres are lobbed into the boat the heavy weight hoisted into the jeep, we leave nothing behind us. Then off down the narrow boreen, hoping we don’t meet anyone coming the other direction a reversing this lot is a pain.

Back in the yard we reverse the whole procedure and pull the boat off the trailer. Handling my boat is tough work, she is very heavy for her size which makes for tired muscles after even an hour of pulling and dragging at here like this morning. That weight, while a drag on dry land is a godsend on the water where she drifts straight and true in a wind.

Safely in the yard now, her home through the frosts and snows of winter until next March when we do it all again

Ans so we bid farewell to the rivers and loughs for 2019, a poor season for me personally but at least there were days when I was out on the water even if the fish were scarce. maybe 2020 will be better.

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

End of season boat lift

Today was a big day for the Glenisland Coop, we lifted all the boats out of the lake. As many members as we could muster gathered at 3pm and amid heavy showers we rowed the boats to the bank, dragged them to the shed or the space behind it and turned the boats over. Heavy, back breaking work but a job that has to be done. Being part of an angling club means that you enjoy access to the fishing but also you need to pull your weight when the hard work needs to be done. Today was made easier by the jovial atmosphere and the willingness of everyone to ‘muck in’ and get the job done. All the boats are safely ashore now and the ones for varnishing are in the boat shed. Thanks to everyone who helped out today, it was a great team effort. Here are some photos of the day.

the first two boats safely in the boathouse

turning a boat over so it can be power hosed

The hardy souls who braved the weather to fetch the boats in. Sartorial elegance was optional.

The harbour empty now, we leave the lough in peace for the winter.

 

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike

Time for reflection

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

the boat on a flat calm Bilberry lake

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

water receding on the slipway

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

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

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

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

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

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Fishing in Ireland

Tip ring

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

the broken tip ring

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

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

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

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

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

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Fishing in Ireland, sea angling

Dogfish traces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Muppet in the middle of the red beads

Yellow and white is a good combination

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Fl. Chartreuse is also a proven killer

Black and White bead – very popular and productive

red and white beads with a yellow blade

lime and black is often good

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

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

small red beads used on this shore trace

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

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

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

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Fishing in Ireland, sea angling

Jimmy Burke cup

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

boats at the quay ready for the off

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

it’s all in there somewhere!

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

Just one of the spectacular rainbows we saw

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

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

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

bag of frozen bait

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

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

Sully lifts up a Thorny

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

Mary’s crab

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

 

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

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

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

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling

Red Rapalas

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

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

5cm red rapala

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

9cm-red-rapala.jpg

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

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

magnum.jpg

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

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

gold-of-lapland-scatter-rap.jpg

Gold of Lapland Scatter Rap

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

Littlewood

Saturday

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

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

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

 

Monday

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Fishing in Ireland, sea angling

Inish Turk

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

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Some of the intrepid anglers

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

The ferry tied up to the quay on Inish Turk island

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

my old Plano box is about due for retirement!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fishing in Ireland, sea angling, shore fishing

Bank holiday action

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

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

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

Fellow anglers on the mark

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

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

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

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

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

Like a baby in his cradle……………

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

Killery looks almost tropical in the brief spell of sunshine

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