September on the western lakes can be an enigma, days when the trout seem to be suicidal are tempered with ones when they fail to respond in what appear to be perfect conditions. Years ago we could look forward to the last late hatches of olives in some bays and of course a fall of daddies or hoppers if there was a wind. The collapse of insect populations means it is unlikely we get those opportunities now. Undeterred, a day on Conn beckoned plans were laid and tackle dusted down once more time.
The summer was very quiet on Conn this year. Not much action meant local anglers stayed away while visitor numbers were curtailed due to Covid. Two periods of hot, bright weather drove water levels down and made for next to impossible angling conditions. So here we are in September with only a scant few days left of the trout season. Light winds were forecast for the day ahead, sapping my confidence before even setting off in the morning.
I would not be fishing today, instead I would ghillie for two good anglers. John and Bob have fished Conn for years and today I was on the oars as they tried for a late season trout or two. We met up at Gillaroo Bay which was busier than usual as there was a competition on and anglers were all preparing to go out. The fellas arrived and it was great to see them both again so there was a bit of catching up to be done as we loaded the boat.
The wind was coming out of the south, a good direction for Conn but it meant my initial plan to fish the Colman Shallows had to be changed. With only a light breeze the shallows, which lie in the lee of the land, would be too calm so instead I headed up to Massbrooke and we set up on the drift 80 yards out in a nice wave but driving rain. Wet flies were the order of the day and the lads began short lining in good style. I worked the oar, sometimes just to keep the line but also to manoeuvre around shallows and rocks. The forecast of light winds was incorrect, the actually wind rose and fell throughout the day and was quite strong in the afternoon.
The first couple of drifts were fishless but we saw a few trout rocketing out of the water. This behaviour is not well understood and various theories have been put forward about it. Shaking parasites, daphnia feeding, aggressive behaviour as spawning approaches – these and many other causes are all possibilities. Today though I figured the trout might still be chasing fry in the shallows so I tied on some tinsel bodied patterns for the lads. Soon John’s rod bent into a normal sized Conn brownie. It had taken the Pearly Invicta dressed on a size 12 hook. We fished on and John repeated the trick with a lovely butter-yellow trout, also on the Invicta. Bob decided to try and pull a trout up to a dry fly so he changed over. All this time the rain came and went but it had been a very wet morning and we were pretty damp already. The wind, which had been light to start with, had picked up and we now had a good wave of a couple of feet. I floated the idea of heading back down to the Colman Shallows and so we set off in a flurry of spray, crashing through the waves as we ploughed south and set up on a nice drift at the shallows.
The shallows are a popular drift and being so easily accessible from Gillaroo bay they receive a lot of attention. Today we drifted from the big island all the way to the western pins off the little island. This is perfect trout country with rocks and shallow water under the keel all the way. The fish were uncooperative though and by now it was well after 1pm so we called it time for lunch.
The twigs I rustled up for the kettle were damp (understatement – they were soaking wet) and it took a while to get the old Kelly fired up but we got there eventually and enjoyed the simple pleasure of a hot drink and a bite to eat while stretching our legs on the shore. Some visiting anglers find the Irish obsession with stopping for lunch a waste of good fishing time but in fact it is an integral part of lough fishing. Chatting over a cuppa amid the scenery of the Irish countryside is one of life’s great joys and it gives you a chance to unwind after the high levels of concentration when fishing. On days when the fishing is good, lunch can be prepared and consumed fairly quickly but on slow days the break is a much more leisurely affair. Thankfully, today the rain had eased off and we ate in comparative dryness. The wind fell away again as we ate so once again we took off for Massbrooke once lunch was over. Bob’s 8hp Tohatsu make short work of the trip. I’m not familiar with these engines but it ran faultlessly and they seem to be a strong motor. With a good wave up the lake I convinced Bob to change back to a team of wets.
The rain began to fall heavily just as we set up on the first drift after lunch. I dislike fishing in heavy rain simply because in all my years of angling I have never experienced good fishing in a downpour. In fairness to both anglers they stuck manfully to the cause, casting rhythmically, steady retrieves, clean lift-offs and no tangles despite the encroaching cold and wetness in their arms. John struck into his third trout of the day, a slightly smaller lad this time who once again had taken the pearly tail fly.
We had only drifted a few yards more when not one but two salmon showed in front of the boat. We had seen a few salmon pitching in the distance before but these fish were quite close so I rowed quickly over so the lads could cover them. The fish refused to come up again and we drifted harmlessly over the lies. I tied on a largish Green Peter to Johns cast and Bob did the same with his leader in case we came upon some more salar. It was not to be though and the last fish in the boat today was a small brownie for Bob which took that old reliable, a small Bibio on the dropper.
We called it a day around 5pm, steaming back though choppy waters and arriving back in the bay wet to the skin. Any day afloat on an Irish lough is a good day and it was a pleasure to be out with two good anglers who appreciate the beauty and ever changing moods of lough Conn. The catch was somewhat disappointing in what were essentially good fishing conditions. Once again, it was noticeable there was no fly life on the lough at all. We did not see a single caddis, mayfly or midge on the water or in the air. This has been the case all summer and it is deeply concerning that insect populations appear to be collapsing.
September is flying past us and the end of the season is almost here. Hard to believe the 2021 trout and salmon season ends in a few days, it feels like we have only just got going.
Surf n’ Turf – That is a meal where your plate is filled with both beef and fish isn’t it? Read on dear readers, read on…..
I expectantly had a day to myself so I took off for a few hours on a tench lake in Roscommon. Lowfield lies close to the Shannon and reputedly holds good sized tench along with a few roach and bream. Rising early, I had a few small chores to do before heading off down the familiar trail east with the back of the car full of gear. The roads got narrower the closer I got to the tiny grassy parking place where I left the car.
There is only one stand on Lowfield with space on it for a couple of anglers, the rest of the shoreline consisting of thick reeds. This is a shallow, weedy lough and I was unsure what to expect. I have grown to associate deep water with big tench but that could just be coincidence.
I had never been on this part of Roscommon before and once I crossed the river at the pretty little village of Drumsna it was a matter of guesswork finding the lough. Wrong turns made the last few miles a torture but at last I found the tiny parking space. As soon as I got out of the car I could see this was going to be a challenging day. The ‘path’ to the lough was completely overgrown and indeed was not visible at all. Shouldering all my gear, I headed off into the undergrowth like Livingstone in search of the Nile. Stumbling through the dense green undergrowth was hard work and I was soon lathered in sweat. Ahead of me was just more of the same, tall grass, reeds and stunted bushes. A cut to my right and the woods to my left meant I was heading in the right direction but the vegetation became even more dense as I progressed further on. A machete would have been pretty useful in this lot. At last, I saw a glimpse of water in front of me through the thick reeds and the ground underfoot became soft and uneven. Of the fabled fishing stand there was no sign though. The cut was far too deep to cross and the trees on the other side barred me from turning over in that direction. A small stand of old trees was slightly to my left but further out but even getting that far felt impossible. In my prime I would have battled on but by now I was tired and despondent. I turned and with difficulty retraced my steps through the wilderness. Regaining the car I found lots of spiders had infiltrated my gear as I was pushing through the undergrowth, big brown ones, smaller brightly colour ones with spindly legs and those fast little lads that scurry about in the grass. I cleared as many as I could out and loaded up the car before departing.
I will go back to Lowfield next spring when the path should be more clear and the plants have died back. This is a lough which needs a bit of development. A few signs on the roads to it are badly required, there are a lot of small roads in the area and none of them have a signpost. The car park is a simple grass area and in wet conditions would be hard to exit. A firm path through the undergrowth is obviously required. The word is that the lough is full of what we call ‘cabbage’ here, thick bright green underwater plants which make the fishing very difficult. Perhaps there could be some weed cutting undertaken?
Retracing my journey I crossed the Shannon and turned back on to the N4. There is a lough you can see from the road called Annaghduff and I have never fished it. Turning off, I found a parking spot and loaded up with all my gear again. Through a gate into a field of rough pasture, I plodded off through the rushes in the general direction of the lough. First impressions were this field has been left fallow but I came across the occasional fresh cow pat, making me very wary indeed. Lots of cow pats obviously means lots of cows, occasional cow pats means only one cow and we all know what sex of cow is left in a field on his own. The field rose slightly in front of me, blocking the view of the lake. I made for the far edge where a line of trees grew. Breasting the rise, I scanned the country in front of me – BULL! Sure enough, sitting in the long grass a hundred yards straight in front of me sat a huge black animal. I will confess at that range it was not possible to medically confirm the sex of the vast creature but I’d be fairly sure it was a he and not a she. Spinning through 180 degrees I made an undignified exit, looking over my shoulder to see if he was coming after me. A seatbox (full), buckets, bag of ground bait (also full) and quiver of rods tends to slow ones progress somewhat, especially when plunging through knee high rushes in wellies and waterproofs. I was sweating again. A glance behind showed a pair of black ears and, horror of horrors, a pair of horns, poking over the rise in the ground, he was following alright. By now I was closing in on the gate and with one final mighty effort I made the six bar and was through it to safety. Looking over it I could not see the bull, he must have turned back after all. Bent over, I caught my breath and took a picture of the gate which saved me then plodded off back to the car. That had been a bit too close for comfort.
Plan B had not been a success so I now decided to head off for Lough Rinn. Once back on the N4 and heading south it became clear that even that new plan was not going to be straight forward either. The road to Mohill which I wanted to take was closed for repairs meaning a long detour for me. About 20 minutes elapsed as I circumnavigated the detour before finally pulling into the amenity area on the west side of the lough. I knew there is a fine double stand behind the camping area so I set off for it only to find the stand fully occupied by a couple of other anglers. Toying with the idea of yet another move I instead decided to fish off of one of the large water sport piers. Being honest, I am not sure I was actually allowed to fish off them but as nobody else was around I took the chance and set up on the easterly floating pontoon. Spacious and stable, it proved to be a comfortable billet for the remainder of the day.
Reaching into my top pocket I pulled out my reading glasses, only to find them broken. The left lens was missing, no doubt I had done this when lugging the tackle around. A search in the bottom of my box revealed a long forgotten spare pair so all was not lost.
I fired a feeder 60 yards out towards the lanes and busied myself with the float rod. A solid bite halted that process and I wound in a descent bream of a couple of pounds. Plumbing up, I found only about three feet of water in front of me so I fished slightly over depth three rod lengths out. The feeder began to nod again and this time a roach came in, soon followed by some skimmers. The float rod was doing nothing so I broke it down and set up my little margin rod with a small open end feeder and cast it off to my right where it too began to take fish. Most of the fish were skimmers with the odd roach and hybrid to boot. A few pretty wee rudd were a welcome addition too.
Skimmers of various sizes came to hand and I had another good bream too, this one must have weighed about three pounds and I took some snaps of him before slipping him back. I then checked my phone and guess what? The photos of the bream had not come out! Bugger, I thought I had some good shots in the can but no, all I had was a slime covered phone but no pictures. The next skimmer I landed was held up for a photo but he struggled a bit in my hand as I posed the shot. I felt something on my arm but paid it no heed as I extracted the hook took the photo and released the fish. Casting out again I felt my left forearm was wet and investigation showed the fish had somehow managed to poop down the inside of my sleeve. Yes, I was covered in skimmer excrement and boy did it stink! I cleaned my self up as much as possible but the stench hung around all day until I could shower when I got home.
It is difficult to say how many fish I caught, a guess of about thirty sounds about right but it could have been more or less than that. This was my first time fishing Lough Rinn and to be honest it is a bit shallow for my liking. I prefer deeper water but on days like today beggars can’t be choosers. Being a larger lough it is open and while I had a nice peaceful day there it would be a different story in a wind. Maybe the fishing off the stand would have been into deeper water, it certainly looked ‘fishier’ than the pontoons.
I managed to snap off another swimfeeder when the line jammed around my reel as I was casting. I am very profligate with my end tackle when coarse fishing, losing or breaking feeders and floats almost every time I go out. My stock of feeders is now perilously low and I’ll need to buy some more soon. Floats are less of a problem as I own an inordinate quantity of them in all shapes and sizes. I like to keep a reserve of ground bait ingredients but this too has become sadly depleted owing to my frequent fishing trips lately. This summer has seen me catch an awful lot of fish but the price has been paid in lost or worn out tackle. This autumn I’ll make good the deficit though and restock as required.
Today had been a difficult one with a lot of setbacks. Access to the waters edge is often an issue here in Ireland and I just accept that sometimes it is not going to be possible to fish exactly where I want on any given day. When I got home I looked at a map and think there is another route into Lough Annaduff. I really wish the IFI would erect some more signs for us anglers. It would make life a whole lot easier for us and for very little expense.
You can feel the change in the seasons now, the air is different and the colours of the land are dimming. A few swallows were still hawing flies over Lough Rinn this afternoon but they will be gone shortly. The slight chill was not unpleasant today but in a few weeks time the cold will be here in force as we head towards winter. I have a summer of coarse fishing to look back on and those memories will keep me going through to the next season if I am spared that long. I hope to do some game fishing over the next few days. We will see what the weather brings.
13th September 2021. Not a breath of wind this morning. Dry brown leaves drop vertically to the ground in the still air. My planned fly fishing outing is a washout, sitting becalmed in a boat is not my idea of fun. Instead I don wellies, grab the fork and head down the garden to the muck heap where it is but a few minutes work to gather some worms. I’ll try Ballymote for bream.
I fished Bellanscarrig lough not so long ago and had a nice day catching roach, hybrids and bream so I figured another trip to that water would be a good test to see if that was just a fluke. Anyway, it would be a good way of using up the handful of maggots I had in the fridge.
The school run has reached epic proportions in Castlebar and it is gridlock until 9 am so I set off before the madness started. Why kids can’t just walk to school these days is beyond me. Do they completely lose the power of perambulation at rush hours? I head out on the old road to avoid the traffic and am soon humming along the tarmac to county Sligo. Past the limp green and red flags and those desolate looking signs urging on the Mayo football team who were playing in the final in Dublin at the weekend. They lost to a very good Tyrone team so the county is in mourning once again. Always next year lads, next year….
At the side of the lough I toy with the idea of using one of the other stands but the one I fished from last time is clear of weed so I set up there. A worm on the feeder rod is quickly accepted by a nice bream and I am off the mark before I have even set up the float rod. I miss another two bites on the feeder then connect with a perch. A roach and then a hybrid accept the maggots on the float rod. And so it goes on, most of the action on the float but the feeder chips in a few fish. It is a real mix of different species. Mainly skimmers and roach but with the odd hybrid and bream too. The fishing is hectic with bites coming fast and furious. The range of bites reflects the assortment of different species. Some are mere tremors, some spirited dives, a few are lovely sideways drifts and there are also exquisite lift bites when the float resembles Excalibur rising slowly from the lake.
A hard take on the feeder sees it jump and fall on the stand so I pick it up, strike and feel a heavy fish on the end of the line. This is a very good bream so I take my time and get the net ready. From where it was hooked, about fifty yards out, I have worked the fish about half way in when the most violent pull snaps the line and the fish is gone. What the hell happened there? While I did not catch sight of the fish it was certainly a heavy bream, I hazard a guess at about five pounds or so. I have not known a bream to turn and put such pressure on a rod before. Close inspection of the broken tippet reveals it did not part under pressure, nor did the knot slip (thank God) but was cleanly cut about three inches from the hook. A new, heavier, tippet is soon attached and I am back fishing in no time but my mind is on what has just happened and I try to figure out where I went wrong.
More furious float action follows with fish after fish coming to hand. A voice behind me enquires how I am doing and I spend the next ten minutes chatting with one of the local IFI guys who is a mine of angling information. It is always a pleasure to converse with someone who is passionate about angling. The IFI often comes under criticism but when you talk to these lads you get some idea of how difficult their job is and the great knowledge they possess. With a wave Kevin is gone and I realise that I am hungry so I eat my sandwiches and drink the flask of hot coffee. With my concentration levels back up to DEFCON1 the procession of skimmers continues.
The shoal seem to move around, one minute they are only one rod length out and then they are thirty yards away. If I go even one cast without a bite I cast to a slightly different spot to keep in touch with the fish. I’m fishing over depth on the float and that means I pick up some weed occasionally but in general any movement on the float is a fish. There are a lot of imature bream around and only a few hybrids. Winding in a skimmer as normal the water behind him breaks in a huge swirl. The rod jolts then the skimmer is on its side at the waters edge in front of me. Pike!
I unhooked the skimmer and find he has been wounded close to the anal fin and is bleeding. I returned him anyway as I have seen fish with much worse injuries survive. I didn’t see the pike, he just made the swirl so he must have been deep.
I spent the day fishing the same swim. At times the sport was hectic then it suddenly died off and all was quiet for perhaps fifteen minutes before they kicked off again. On three more occasions pike attacked fish I was reeling in. I saw two of those fish clearly and they were different pike. One, of about twelve pounds, made a spectacular leap in the air, turning a full somersault before crashing back onto the lough not 10 feet from where I was sitting. That one missed the skimmer altogether. The other was a smaller lad, about five pounds or so. He shot out of the water as he chased the hybrid I had been winding in, a wonderful leap like a fresh grilse. He too missed the skimmer he was after. The other pike grabbed the fish I was playing, a tug followed by a big splash and the poor skimmer was no more.
The more I think about it the more convinced I am that the large bream that I lost earlier in the day was eaten by a huge pike. How big that pike was I will never know but I had a good sized bream on and it had to be a large pike to attempt to eat it. The suddenness of the pull and the neatly cut line suggest to me a monster pike was responsible.
I have been coarse fishing on a number of different lakes for the past two years. During that time I have not seen a single pike attack on the fish I was winding in. Indeed, I can only recall one pike attack on a trout I was playing on lough Mask many years ago. Why then did I witness all these attacks in one session? Was this a learned response by the pike? Do they simply hang out around the fishing stands in the hope of a free meal? Or do they hear ground bait balls hitting the water, sounding some sort of dinner gong for the pike? To witness one attack is unusual but to see 5 in one day must be some kind of a record. Strange times indeed. Obviously the lough has a good stock of pike and the next time I go to fish there I will bring a spinning rod with me.
I’m afraid there will be a sharp reduction in my angling effort. I have accepted a new full time job so my happy summer of fishing has come to an end.
The rains came yesterday, heavy drenching showers under steely grey skies and lit by numerous flashes. They had been promised of course so there was no great surprise when the deluge started. What to do today? Chase salmon on the Moy maybe? September salmon fishing is always a chancy business here in the West of Ireland. No, I would head over to Leitrim again. The year is beginning to get old now, you can feel the autumn in your bones. The leaves are turning yellow or red and the swallows are gathering on the telephone wires before they head off to Africa. One last day at the tench beckoned me and I packed the gear for a few casts on Lough Corgar, just on the other side of the town of Ballinamore.
Ballinamore lies amid the rolling green hills of east Leitrim. A fabulous centre for coarse angler’s, it is ringed by loughs and rivers, each teaming with roach, bream and tench. The whole of this part of Ireland is a fisher’s paradise just waiting to be explored. Each year sees an influx of UK and continental anglers who have learned that the journey here is worth the effort and expense. Lots of fish, glorious scenery and of course the famous Irish welcome await those who make the trek to Leitrim.
Like virtually all the loughs around here, Corgar is surrounded by dense reed beds. I read on a website that there were some stands on the shores which is always a huge plus for a rickety old angler like me. According to the blurb there is a small car park too, somewhere safe to tackle up and leave the motor for the day. So often I have to park up on the verge of a road, worried about collision or the car sinking into the soft earth at the edge of the road.
My maggots in the fridge had pupated so I wanted some fresh ones and would pop into Carrick Angling on my way to the lough. The casters of course would not be wasted as I like to add them to my ground bait. I have tried them as hook bait but without success.
The thunder and lightning of yesterday has dissipated but it will be another wet day with heavy rain forecast. It would be easy to put the fishing off for another time but I sense the year slipping away from me so I will put up with the precipitation and hope the fish reward my stoic efforts in the mist and drizzle. I prefer to fish in dry conditions but there is something grounding about sitting by the water in the rain.
Foggy conditions across Mayo gave way to heavy rain as I crossed Roscommon. By the time I reached my destination this has eased off to occasional showers. Turning down the boreen I found the car park I was happy about was full of heavy machinery and vans. A brief chat with the workmen revealed another parking spot a few yards along the road so I dropped the VW off there. It rained heavily as I tackled up and trudged back down the road then into a field via a stile. A small bridge over a drain, another stile, yet another bridge and there behind a screen of tall reeds was the lough. The final few yards were through soft, squelchy bog but I made it to the old wooden stand dry shod. Now things got a bit interesting……………
Ireland has been subjected to bouts of heavy rain on and off for a fortnight now and water levels are high. In fact the water in lough Corgar as so high the fishing stand is almost submerged. The end nearest to the shore was about two inches above the surface of the water but further out this reduced and both stands at the end were level with the water. Worse, when I edged my way out to the end I could feel the whole structure sway and wobble in a most alarming fashion. I beat a hasty retreat to the middle of the walkway to consider my options. In the end I decided it was too dangerous to perch myself on the very end so I set up about fifteen feet back. This was far from ideal but having suffered a dunking earlier this year I had no desire to repeat the process. Better safe than sorry!
With very little space to manoeuvre I went about setting up the feeder rod with six pound line, a twizzled boom, maggot feeder and a four pound link to a size 10 hook. A pair of worms, held in place with a couple of maggots would be my bait and I cast the whole thing 50 yards out into the still, grey water. Next, the float rod which I rigged with a medium waggler, a six foot drop to a four pound tippet and a size 12 hook dressed with maggots. I was aiming for better sized fish today, hence the larger than normal hooks. I baited the swim three rod lengths out with a mix of casters, corn, black crumb, a handful of hemp and some liquidised biscuits. I was very conscious that any sideways movement on my part would probably see me slip off the walkway into the water, making for a nervous session. Another shower rattled through then all became very still.
The third cast with the float saw my first fish of the day come to hand. A lovely rudd of close to a pound no less! What a stunning fish this was. Next a good roach and then a nice hybrid of more than a pound. An even larger rudd fell for the maggots soon after. I had read there were rudd in Corgar but these were superb fish, much bigger than the run-of-the-mill rudd I normally encounter on Irish loughs.
Foreign voices off to my left grew louder then some splashing heralded the arrival of a pair of anglers in float tubes. Rods swished in the still air and the two lads set off around the lough, hunting for pike. Maybe they had some luck when out of my sight but while in my line of vision they saw no action.
With no bites at distance I changed tactics and dropped the swimfeeder hard into the edge of the reeds to my left. It still remained stubbornly quiet though. It was very different on the float rod though. The roach settled in and the fishing became hectic for a while. Some of the roach were the usual 6 ounce fish but there were some good fish sprinkled in among them, the best nudging a pound in weight. Loose feeding maggots and the odd ball of ground bait kept the fish in front of me and the fishing was excellent all morning.
I was reeling in another roach when the bait runner on the swimfeeder let out a high pitched screech and the line fairly melted off the spool. I literally threw the float rod down (almost losing it in the water) and grabbed the Shakespeare. This could only be one thing and sure enough a spirited scrap ensued before I subdued and netted a fine tench. I’d say it went about four pounds and this one fish had made the journey to Ballinamore worthwhile for me. You guys are fed up with me waxing lyrical about tench but they really are amazing creatures. Back in the water, he shot off as soon as I lowered him in, hopefully none the worse for our encounter. The tippet showed signs of fraying so I took the time to cut it off and tie on a new one. The fish on the float rod had wriggled off by now of course.
A couple of nice size skimmers fell for the charms of the maggots but these would be the only bream I would see all day. Then it was back to roach again, interspersed with the occasional rudd. Most of the fish fell to the float but some came to the feeder too. The rain had been reduced to a fine mist for most of the session but as the day wore on some heavier bursts made for uncomfortable fishing. By 3pm the swim was slowing up and I decided to call it a day. Dismantling and packing up all the gear on the narrow walkway was a challenge but I was soon heading back to the car. The bog was now even more saturated and a couple of times I got stuck and had to extricate my wellie clad feet from the mire.
Lough Corgar had provided me with a wonderful few hours and I feel I can heartily recommend it to you. The roach were larger than most other loughs I have fished and of course the good tench and rudd were the icing on the cake. If Corgar is not fishing there is another lough, Bolganard, is just across the road. This lake is famous for the one time record bream which was caught there. I think I am right in saying it weighed over twelve pounds.
My final tally for the day came to 43 roach, 9 rudd, some hybrids, a pair of skimmers and the one tench. All day the bites were positive and very few were missed or fish lost. Depth in front of the stand was about six feet, making it easy to fish with the waggler. They were taking confidently for once and I really enjoyed the fishing today. Interestingly, no perch showed up today which is unusual on loughs like this. Ballinamore is a bit of a trek for me but with excellent fishing like that who would mind the extra few miles?
It is mid-September now and the weather has been wet but unseasonably warm so far this month. That will change soon and the tench fishing will be over for another year with the upcoming drop in temperatures. I am already laying plans for fishing lough Corgar next year!
Thursday. I should be out on Conn or Mask at this time of the year but I wanted another crack at the coarse fish so I headed over to Roscommon and a largish lough called Na Blaithi in Irish or Nablahy in its anglicized form. I had read it was a well developed mixed fishery and so I plodded off in an easterly direction and found myself on the minor roads to it after passing through Elphin and Creeve. Yesterdays forecast foretold of gloomy grey skies but of course Mayo was roofed with cobalt blue instead. As I crossed into Roscommon though the clouds slowly thickened and it turned into nice day for fishing.
Na Blaithi is part of a complex of lakes, rivers and drains which lie to the north of Strokestown. All of these waters hold good stocks of most coarse fish species and are rightly popular with anglers. Some excellent development work has been carried out over the years to improve access and Na Blaithi in particular now sports a number of fishing stands. I have wondered if there is scope for the IFI to take a bold step and look at providing boats on some of the loughs. This would open up a lot of fishing as some loughs are currently unfished because there is no access. For example, Clooncraff Lough, which is connected to both Cloonahee and Na Blaithi, has no road access to it and thus is never fished despite being stuffed with roach and bream. Imagine hiring a small boat and setting off for the far corners of a big lough full of bream and roach or travelling up a small river to get to a reed fringed lake that has not been fished for years. I suspect a lot of anglers would be only to happy to give this sort of angling experience a try.
Parking the car at the end of the road I unloaded all the gear and went through a fine 5 bar gate into a rough field. I could see the lough through a stand of trees so headed off in that direction, head high rushes and nettles making the going a bit tough. Once at the trees there was another stretch of rough pasture to cross to a line of huge reeds. By now there was no sign of the water. I got to the reeds but try as I might I could not find a stand so I moved along to my right, crossing a stream via a wooden bridge of great age. Finally I found a stand, cloaked in tall reeds and close to an elderly rowan tree. This would do nicely. Once on that stand I could see another one to my right but elected to stay where I was.
My usual combination of one float and one feeder rod was employed. This was so I could target bream and tench on the feeder while I aimed for roach on the float. I went for six pound line on the reels as this is a bigger water and there is always the chance of bumping into a larger than normal fish. Bream especially can grow pretty large in Irish loughs. Tying up a new twizzled boom and clipping on a maggot feeder, I cast to my left and let the feeder sink. It seemed to take an age to hit the bottom. Next, I set up the float rod but plumbing the water two rod lengths out from the stand showed about fifteen feet of water. I toyed with the idea of changing to a sliding float but I only had a couple of big ones with me so I stuck to the waggler. For the rest of the day I got in all sorts of fankles and tangles as I wrestled with a set up which was too long for the rod. I should have cut my losses and re-rigged with a slider but I guess I was just too lazy. Balls of ground bait and then a steady stream of loose fed maggots hit the water. I settled down to see what would transpire.
I was soon into fish, the problem being they were tiny roach, no more 5 inches long. They loved my maggots and despite using a size 14 hook they made the float bob at virtually every cast. The feeder stayed resolutely quiet. A wind was blowing right in my face to start with but it gradually back off to a more easterly quarter which was more pleasant for me. More minute roach, more tangles. This was hard going!
Finally the feeder rod twitched and I wound in a small bream which was nice for a change. The roach went quiet for a while, I suspect the shoal had moved on because when the bites started again it was a much better stamp of roach which came to hand. These fish were not monsters now but I guess they were around 8 ounces. It was around this time that my faithful old Daiwa Harrier reel snapped the bail spring. I can have no complaints, this is an old reel which has served me well over the years. I guess I can try and hunt down a spare bail spring but it hardly seems worth it. I have plenty of other reels to use for now so I think the Harrier will simply be retired. I fished on with the wounded reel, flipping the bail over by hand at every cast.
A perch was next on the list, not a bad one of just under a pound. He fell to the feeder and three others of his kin did the same but these were smaller lads than the first one. The roach tailed off for about 20 minutes then came back on the feed again. A couple of lovely roach/bream hybrids put up a good fight and they were the best fish of the day on the float rod. All day the bites had been nervous little trembles to the float, no lifts or sudden dives. Maybe the depth of water had something to do with this. By 4pm it was quiet again so I packed it in and headed off across the fields again. The final tally was 29 roach, two hybrids, four perch and a solitary bream.
Of bream the size of man hole covers or tench to double figures there was no sign today but that is not to say they are not swimming around in Na Blaithi. I fished very poorly today and should have switched to a slider early on instead of trying to fish the waggler with such a long drop. Lesson learned though and the next time I will know better. Will I return to Na Blaithi again? Yes, I would be keen to try it again next year. It has potential. A lough like this probably has good pike in it and if you could launch a boat on it I bet the trolling would be excellent.
We are promised wind and rain by Saturday here in the west and that will mean game fishing. One last hurrah before the season ends. For me that will mean Mask or Conn. I’ll return to the float rod later in the autumn and try my luck with the roach in the cold water.
PS. I fished Lough Mask on Sunday in poor conditions and, unsurprisingly, blanked.
So, there is this lake near Ballymote which purportedly contains bream/rudd hybrids. I have been hankering to catch some of these relatively rare fish since I took up coarse fishing and today I headed off to county Sligo to try my luck for them on Bellanascarrow. The lough also contains pure strains of both species but it was the mongrel ones I really wanted to hook. Reading up on these fish it seems their numbers fluctuate greatly and there can be plenty sometimes and then they all but disappear. They can grow quite big with the Irish record well in excess of seven pounds.
Having never fished specifically for them before I would to have to learn as I was going along. My normal approach of fishing two rods, one rigged for feeder and the other on the float would be my plan of attack using maggots and worms for bait. I suppose my thinking was the hybrids would behave more like bream than rudd, but that was not based on any facts so I could be wildly wrong. Perhaps they cruised high in the water just like rudd but I was hoping they grubbed about on the bottom more like bream. Noted as good fighters, they sounded like a great target species so I set of for Ballymote in high spirits.
The IFI site says there are true bream in the lough and they should be catchable. I have never really cracked fishing for bream, I catch them alright but never in the great numbers other anglers seem too. The big ones have eluded me so far as well, my best still being a measly 3 pounds or so. Maybe today I would do better with them and hopefully winkle out a hybrid or two. Anticipation and learning about a new venue are aspects of angling which really appeal to me. I know anglers who fish only one pool on a river and nowhere else. They catch huge numbers of fish because they know this pool so well but I simply would not bother to go fishing if limited to such a narrow choice of places to fish.
It is not too far from Castlebar to Ballymote, up to Tubbercurry then across the bog and marginal farmlands of the Mayo/Sligo border country to the small town with the big ruined keep. The lough itself is less than a mile from the town and after parking the car (handy wee car park and stile, thank you IFI), I was soon on the bank. It took me a while but I have now refined my coarse tackle and everything has its place in my old seat box. Over the course of this year I’ve cut down on a lot of things I thought I needed to take with me in an effort to try and reduce the weight of the box and so far this has not led to any problems. I know my old buckets are crude and maybe at some point in the future I will invest in some proper bait buckets but for now I am coping just fine with the gear I have.
The maggots from last week were very sluggish first thing this morning when I took them out of the fridge but they are wriggling nicely now they have warmed up. I dug some worms yesterday, only small lads but they will do. Buying worms is expensive here, you pay between four-fifty and seven Euro for a tub, so I am grateful for any I can grub up from the compost heap. While I find that maggots out fish worms on most occasions there are days when the humble worm if preferred by bream and tench. I like to have both with me. At some point I must try pellets. I know they are hugely popular on commercial fisheries in the UK but I wonder if they would be so effective on the ‘natural’ loughs here in Ireland. I guess I will just have to try them and see how I get on.
As you approach the lough down a lane there is a water treatment plant and once at the waters edge you are confronted with a long, ugly concrete pier which has something to do with said treatment plant. I guess this is the water supply to the good folks of Ballymote. There are a few stands along the shore of the lough, giving me the dilemma of picking the right one. I usually look for a stand which has some sort of fish holding potential within casting range such as lily pads, reeds, etc. To be honest, there doesn’t seem to be much to pick between all the stands so I wander along to the second one on the left and set up there, crossing a small stream by a little bridge. Happy with my choice I settle down and begin operations. Ground bait first, four balls to start with. I set up with six pound mono on both reels. Not knowing what size of fish are in here I don’t risk going too light, not yet anyway. I can always drop down to lighter line if required. The feeder is dropped 20 yards out with a worm on a size ten hook then I plumb up in the usual fashion and set the waggler float a few inches over depth before impaling three red maggots on the size 16 hook. I start to loose feed a few maggots too in an attempt to populate the swim.
Sure enough, the float shoots down and a small hybrid comes to hand on just the third cast. It is only a little lad but it is an encouraging start. Next a small roach comes in. Roach! There was no word of them when I was researching this place. Next up is a skimmer and then another hybrid, this time a good one of around a pound. The wind is blowing from left to right and I am sheltered from it by the high bank of reeds so it is nice and comfortable as I ply my trade of cast and a wind in a fish. It is pretty much a fish a chuck now and some lovely hybrids are putting up a hell of a scrap when they feel the hook. A bonus bream or two show up and then some small perch. The roach seem to be gathering off to my left and a cast near the lily pads on that side almost always produces a silvery eight incher. Bites are almost all the same, a sharp and sudden disappearance of the float. No messing.
The feeder remains untouched all this time. Changing from worm to maggot is tried but that makes no difference. I bait up the edge of the lilies to my right and plonk the feeder in there but that doesn’t work either. In the end the green plastic feeder I am using falls apart and so I pack up that rod for the day. Back to the drawing board again for my feeder fishing!
The sun tries unsuccessfully to break through but I barely notice as I am kept busy with bites each and every cast. The lovely hybrids have been replaced by a vast shoal of skimmers now and they are biting just as readily but my hooking ratio drops dramatically. I try using worm on the float rod but it doesn’t catch as many as the maggot and I soon swap back again. By one o’clock the bites begin to slow down and by two it has gone quiet. With things to do at home I decide to call it a day and quickly pack up the gear and retrace my steps to the car park. Past the unsightly water plant, through a couple of metal gates and along the lane. It feels like no time since I was heading in the opposite direction but I packing in a lot of action since then.
Back at home I am reflecting on the mornings events. I didn’t keep count of the fish I caught but I suppose it must have been in the order of about seventy in total. The bulk of them were skimmers but I had about 20 good sized hybrids, a few roach, a couple of bream, a sprinkling of perch and a few small rudd. I think of rudd as the Kylie Minogue of Irish angling: tiny and perfectly beautiful. What was very noticeable was the way all of the fish put up a fight. Even the bream gave a bit of a fight, something I have not seen before. Look, it was not like I was playing a marlin or anything like that but the fish in this particular lough do seem to fight more than in other places.
It just shows the importance of being in the right place at the right time. From ten until one the fishing could only be described as hectic. Fish after fish took the bait and only a few fell off. Yet if I had turned up to start fishing at 2pm when the lough seemed to be dead with no signs of fish at all I might have formed a totally different opinion of the venue. This kind of reinforces my theory that lunchtime until about 3pm is a time to be avoided if possible. I have now seen this lull in sport happening too often when coarse fishing for it to be a coincidence.
While I had an excellent session a competent pole fisher would have absolutely cleaned up! The fish were about 10 metres out so a lad with a pole could have simply whipped them in one after the other at a much faster rate than I could with a waggler. I am still not tempted to try the pole though. I enjoy my float fishing too much and assembling/disassembling lengths of tubing all day really does not a appeal to me.
As you can imagine, I thoroughly enjoyed the session this morning and will be back to fish Bellanascarrow lough in the future. The feisty hybrids are a lovely fish and the mix of other species in there means there is always something to keep you interested. Add to that it is relatively close to me and it makes a near perfect venue in my opinion. For those of you who might be visiting Ireland, Ballymote is in county Sligo and it has hotel and B&B accommodation. Apart from a couple of loughs there is some good bream fishing on the Owenmore river close by.
I had some maggots left over from the other day and when I turned over the compost heap in the garden there were lots of worms squirming around in the muck so I decided to have a couple of hours fishing Ardrea lough just outside Ballymote in County Sligo. A small lough with a couple of stands and apparently some roach in it sounded like a nice way to use up the bait and end the week.
On arrival at the lough I looked for a stile to get over the new barbed wire fence but none could be found. I finally hopped over the fence near where I had parked the car but there was a six foot drop the other side which made for a tricky entry into the field. I made it OK but was left wondering how I would get back again! The field was sodden and marshy but a fine wooden stand with a metal rail was waiting for me and I was soon tackling up amid the relentless rain. A swimfeeder full of maggots and a bunch of them on a size 10 hook sailed out 30 yards and nestled on the bottom while I set up the float rod. Tying on a size 16 hook to 3 pound, I fished hard on the bottom of about 6 feet of water. The small hook was laced with a couple of maggots. A wind was blowing strongly from right to left, dragging the float even though I had it shotted down so it was barely showing.
Balls of groundbait were lobbed in and I settled down, water running off my oilskins. It took about twenty minutes for the first bite to come but after that it was pretty steady for the rest of the session. Apart from one good rattle (which I missed), the swimfeeder remained stubbornly quiet but the float rod was busy. First, a couple of hybrids took the maggots, not big fish but game little fighters. Next the perch showed up and finally a shoal of roach took up residence in front of me. The wind was a pain and it made accurate casting very hard but I persevered and caught fish on a regular basis. About 1pm the float dipped and I lifted into a bream which was gratefully received. It turned out to be the only one though (so much for bream travelling in big shoals).
A commotion over to my right made me look round and there was a male sparrowhawk being mobbed by swallows. I have never seen swallows mobbing before and the poor hawk could do nothing about the assault. He dodged a few strikes and lazily flapped his way across the lake and into some trees in the distance where he found sanctuary. We are at the end of August and the swallows will be leaving us soon on their hazardous trip to Africa. It’s always sad to see them go, the year grows older once they are gone.
The rain got heavier if anything and I was just contemplating packing up when the swimfeeder burst into life and something ran off, taking line from the reel. I struck but somehow contrived to miss the fish altogether. A fresh worm was impaled on the hook and I cast again to the same spot. While messing about with another small fish on the float rod a similar hard bite shook the swimfeeder rod and baitrunner reel let out some line. I struck once again and this time there was resistance. Something put a curve in the rod and I could feel it pulsating in the deeps water. What was this then? It fought hard so it was not a bream but it didn’t feel like a tench either. I was thinking to myself ‘this reminds me of’……… when I saw it under the surface. An eel! Quite a good one too. The usual palaver ensued with slime everywhere and me cursing as the fish escaped my grip while being unhooked. Eventually the job was done and the eel swam off slowly. While I consider eel to be the finest eating fish I won’t kill them as they are so rare.
By now I was wet and covered in slime from the bream and the eel. It was time to call it a day and head home so I dismantled everything as the heavens did their best impression of an Indian monsoon. Crossing the field I now had to negotiate the vertical slope topped with the barbed wire fence. Catching the wire in my left hand I swung myself up and caught the wooden post in my right then hauled myself up. I made it but elderly or infirm anglers would really struggle at this obstacle. It is a pity as the lough is a nice little venue for a pleasant few hours fishing. It would not take much investment to install a good metal stile.
So all in all it was a damp but productive few hours in county Sligo. The final tally was 15 roach (none better than 8 ounces), 8 perch, including a couple of 10 ounces fish, 2 hybrids, one bream and, of course, one eel. I make that 27 fish in about 3 hours in miserable conditions and a new water for me, enough to keep me happy anyway. There is another lake close by called Ballinascarrow which is pretty good apparently. I am planning on giving that a try in the autumn.
Antrim occupies that far north eastern corner of the island of Ireland, an ancient kingdom with strong traditional links to my home country of Scotland. Indeed, I think I am right in saying there are but 12 scant miles of salt water at the closest point between the two countries. I recall being on holiday on the Scottish island of Islay many years ago, looking out from Port Ellen on a beautiful summer’s day and being amazed how clearly I could see Antrim on the horizon. A countryside of rugged coasts, hill farms and small towns, it has become famous as a result of it being some of the locations used in GoT. It was not dragons I would be searching for but a few much smaller and hopefully more obliging scaly creatures.
The northern part of Belfast city is in Antrim. The city sprawls across the lowlands on either side of the river Lagan with co. Down to the south and co. Antrim to the north. The river widens into a large bay and towns line both sides. Behind Carrickfergus on the Antrim side there are water supply reservoirs, some of which have been stocked with trout. Perhaps one of these could be a suitable venue? That was certainly my initial plan but I started reading up on trout fishing in Antrim and was surprised by just how much of it there is. Antrim’s rivers and loughs cater for a large and enthusiastic group of anglers who live in and around the county. I mulled the various options over but really found it hard to make a firm decision. In the end I hedged my bets in a quite unique way.
Up in the hills of northern Antrim there sits a lough called Dungonnell. It has been formed by a dam and holds some wild brown trout. This would be one of my target venues for the morning, up in the solitude of the glens with just the sheep and calling curlews for company. Hill lough trout are usually small creatures but fishing in lonely spots has a certain attraction for me. Having said that, I read that trout up to 5 pounds have been caught in this lough.
For me this was going to be one of the longest journeys in my 32 project. Being perfectly honest, I have been putting this one on ‘the long finger’ for most of this year, always finding an excuse not to tackle it. This was solely based on the distance I would have to drive there and back. It would entail a very long day with considerably more time spent driving than actually fishing. That in turn meant less time to find fish and figure out how to catch one or two. Tiredness was obviously going to be a factor on the day as well.
Initially planned for Tuesday, I felt ill that morning so postponed the trip 24 hours. The idea of a very long day behind the wheel when not feeling your best did not appeal so I drank plenty of fluids, got some rest and gathered my strength for the ‘morrow. Wednesday arrived, cloaked in grey and cool for the time of year. Feeling much improved, the bits and bobs required for the day were assembled and loaded in the half light. An early start was required as the trip to Dungonnell would take well over 4 hours behind the wheel. Through the never ending roadworks in Sligo just after 7 am, Enniskillen at 8 and then on to Dungannon. From there it was on to the long and winding road via flag bedecked Cookstown and Magherafelt to Toome. As I crossed the river Bann and an idea struck me, how about a few minutes fishing the Toome canal? This would only be a slight diversion and it was a piece of water I had heard of but never fished. I knew it was a famous pike fishery but I recalled reading somewhere it had roach, perch and bream in there too. I took an exit at the next roundabout and found a cark park right beside the canal. Quickly setting up a light spinning rod, I strolled along the path to a set of locks and was fishing a small jig within minutes. The water was very scummy further down but pretty clear at the locks. Some kids on paddleboards were having fun further up but they soon dropped down to close where I was fishing. Sure enough, the paddleboards were just the start and the jumping in to the water plus general mayhem quickly ensued. Changing to a float set up made not a whit of difference. I decamped to the canal above the locks for some peace and got plenty of it – not a bite did the float register. Loose feeding maggots failed to improve the situation and I finally admitted defeat. Returning to the car I was alarmed to find I had wasted two whole hours for no return. Tactically, my decision to try Toome had been a disaster. What would the rest of the day hold?
There is a ‘B’ road which leads from Toome to Ballymena via some twists and turns. From there, the A43 led me to the hamlet of Cargan then on to lesser roads until finally the dam hove into view. A small car park at the dam provided a safe spot to leave the car. The weather had deteriorated as I headed north and a thick mist cloaked the hills as I pulled up. Hungry, I indulged in a sandwich washed down with some coffee as the world turned grey and damp outside. Just as I finished my lunch the mist cleared slightly, time to crack on! Waterproof jacket, waistcoat and boots were donned, then I set up the old rod and reel with a peach line. A small daddy on the top, a size 14 Claret Bumble in the middle and a green-tailed Kate on the end.
I like to fish close in on hill loughs. They often deepen quite quickly as so the trout can usually be found near the edges. A slow and quiet approach is necessary though so as not to spook them. Short casts, show it to them then whip it away. Starting near the dam, I worked my way along the western shoreline with the wind coming over my right shoulder. It was immediately obvious the peach line I had taken to be a floater was in fact a sinker. No matter, I would fish just as happily with the wet line. The bank was rough so a neat ‘one step per cast’ fishing was not really feasible and instead I hopped from one rock or tussock to another, casting as wind and stance allowed. This is a lovely way to fish for trout, you have to concentrate on so many different factors to get it right.
Soon there was a sharp tug and a swirl but that trout did not stick. I cursed, took another step and cast again. Not long after that another fish tweaked one of the flies but he too was too quick for me. The mist returned. Flicking the flies out beyond an underwater rock brought an immediate response but no firm hook hold. I worked my way along the bank for perhaps two hundred yards, rising a dozen or more trout and not one of them did I manage to hook. By now it was raining properly and so I returned to the car. Time to get the thinking cap on!
I had noticed that every rise to my flies had happened within the first couple of pulls of my retrieve, and after that the fish had shown no interest. The sinking line had to go, I was convinced the trout wanted a fly high in the water. A search in the reel case soon produced a yellow floater the right size and in a few minutes I had a new leader tied on too. Next the flies came under scrutiny. The rises I had been able to see all seemed to be at the middle or tail positions. Maybe the claret bumble was a bit too small? I put a size 12 version in the middle of the new leader. The green-tailed Kate made way for a Bibio on the tail. Perhaps the green tail was too gaudy? What about the bob fly though? Scanning the contents of the box my eyes fell on a row of my much loved deer hair caddis. Grey ones, green bodied ones, black ones with a wee silver tip – all were good patterns but somehow not quite what I wanted today. Then I spotted it, a fiery brown DH caddis on a size 14 hook – perfect! Experienced anglers reading this will know that feeling you get sometimes, a knowing this fly is going to work today. Carefully I tied the little caddis fly on to the top dropper. The rain had eased a little again so I ventured back to the waters edge.
Casting the old yellow line was a joy, it fairly sailed out across wind and wave. Working my way along the same stretch of rocky as before but the water felt lifeless and of trout there was no sign. I plugged away, timing my casts to coincide with lulls in the gusty wind. A splash and sharp tug broke the rhythm of the casts, this one was hooked. It fought with dash and verve for a small trout but he came to hand without any drama and I had my prize, an Antrim brownie. Of course the Fiery Brown DH caddis nestled in the corner of his mouth. Dark, as most hill lough fish are, he was soon back in his watery abode none the worse for his mistake. The fish was no sooner released when the heavens opened and I made a bolt for the car. Waiting for a while, in the end I decided to change venue again so I packed up, happy with my solitary success.
Now for a trek along the byroads of northern Ireland and a complete change of angling experiences again. I was headed for the short Movanagher canal near the village of Kilrea to do a bit of float fishing. Here the River Bann is blocked by a weir and to allow boats to navigate it a canal was dug along the right bank and fitted with a set of lock gates. The coarse fish greatly appreciated this section of quiet flowing water and promptly took up residence. Roach, pike, perch and bream allegedly inhabit the canal now and it is a popular venue for matches. I thought that some maggots might tempt one or two of them so I set off down narrow roads bereft of signposts. I had a vague idea of where I was going but to be honest there was a lot of guesswork involved as I crawled along narrow country roads hemmed in by hedges and lacking in signs. One junction completely flummoxed me but I found an alternative road. It took me an hour but I finally made it to my destination.
After parking up I surveyed the canal and decided on one of the old concrete pegs as my swim for the remainder of the afternoon. Not that there is much to pick between them all but this one, number 4 as it turns out, would do for me. This being Northern Ireland I was only allowed to use one rod when coarse fishing so I had brought along the 12 foot rod and a small amount of coarse gear. Plumbing up I found the water was about ten feet deep in the middle. Different venues have different rules about the use of groundbait here in the north but you are allowed to use it on this wee canal. I mixed some up and tossed in three balls to try and attract in some fish then cast out my crystal waggler float with a pair of red maggots on a size 14 hook. The maggots which were left over from my last coarse fishing outing the previous week and had come from the bait fridge at home were turning to casters so I added them to the ground bait. I waited. In fact, I waited for the better part of an hour before anything happened.
Trickling in a steady stream of loose fed maggots is a favorite tactic of mine and today was no different. 6 or 8 maggots chucked in every second cast feels about right to me and I feel sure this helped to pull a few perch into the swim. My surroundings were lovely and the old concrete fishing pegs provided comfortable lodgings. After the rough terrain and soggy conditions of Dungonnell it felt like pure luxury to have a seat and a firm, level footing. The contrasts between the two angling genres can be stark sometimes but both fly and float exert a huge appeal on me. What is it they say? ‘A change is as good as a rest’. I’ll drink to that. Finally, the crystal gave a wobble then dived and I was in. A smallish perch was quickly reeled in, unhooked and released. More followed in a steady procession. The first one was small but the were some 8 ounce ones too. Bites varied between subtle little dips of the float to instant disappearances or sideways pulls. A tally of seven was reached before the sky darkened in the east and the rain came back again. It was half-past-four in the afternoon. Of roach and bream there was no sign and pulling out small perch had lost something of its appeal. It was time to head home again so I packed up and began the long journey west. Traffic was much lighter but but there were still a few late summer tractors on the road and it was nearly nine pm before I turned into the driveway at home in Mayo.
When I got home I mulled over the logistics of the day. I had been driving for a total of ten hours and had fished three venues for a total of five-and-a-half hours. I had driven a total of 675 kilometres, by far the longest journey of the 32 project to date. All for seven small perch and a solitary half pound brownie. BUT (and this is important), I had landed fish in county Antrim. Trying the canal at Toome had proved to be a mistake but that’s fishing and there no guarantees so I accept the blank and move on. Similarly, the trek across country to try and catch fish at Kilrea was a lot of effort for not much return in terms of fish caught but I saw a bit of the countryside and enjoyed fishing that venue. I recall reading somewhere that these canals fish better in high water conditions when the coarse species seek shelter from heavy flows in the main river. On another day I feel sure both canals would fish well. If Dungonnell lough was close to me I would have it haunted! It is a beautiful upland fishery and if the trout are all around the size of the one I landed it would be a great place for someone like me. Instead, it is literally at the other end of the country and as such I will probably never fish it again.
Seventeen down, fifteen to go. Realistically I am not going to complete all 32 counties by the end of this year. I could push it but trying to cram them all in over the next few weeks feels like too much. Many of the remaining ones will involve long distance trips much like Antrim and these are very time consuming. As of now I am thinking of tackling the last three northern counties next, Derry, Tyrone and Down. It was lovely to fish the fly again after a summer of coarse fishing so I think more fluff chucking could be on the cards. That could change as well of course but for now I will take a look at my options in those three counties.
I will buy some little stickers and mark the different lines on my reel spools. Although I have rationalised them into some sort of order I am still guessing when it comes to densities and profiles. That will be a nice little job for me one winter’s evening. Hard to believe we only have 6 weeks of the game angling season left. Where did 2021 go?
Some days everything goes according to plans but then there are other days………..
Researching possible coarse fishing venues near to me often threw up references to ‘Lakehill Pond’ but the exact location of this small lake could not be found. I knew it was between Ballyhaunis and Knock but no more detail than that could be gleaned from the internet. A couple of old photos of a very ‘tenchy’ looking pond turned up on a fishing website, just serving to add to my frustration. On and off for a year now I have been trying to find the place. Finally, I sussed it out and located it right next to a road outside of the village of Knock. It was very definitely worth a closer look. The weather is still very wet and windy here in Mayo, far from ideal conditions for tench fishing but the season is rapidly heading towards a close so I figured it was best to give the pond a try regardless. Anyway, I had some maggots and a couple of worms left over from my last session and it would be a sin to waste them.
After recent outings my tackle box was a right old mess with hastily removed end gear chucked in there along with all sorts of odds and ends. I took a bit of time to tidy up and tie a few new rigs the previous day so at least I was a little better organised. In particular, I wanted to try and break recent ducks using the feeder. I suspected the pond could be deep so feeders may offer the best chance of a fish. I really needed to up my game a few notches though.
Somewhat unusually, I wanted to make a late start to this session so I set off at 3 pm. Circumstances have forced me to fish during the middle part of the day lately and miss the prime times of ‘early and late’ but today I had the permission of ‘er indoors for an evening beside the water. The final few items were tucked into the car and then I was off on the road eastwards. Anticipation is always such a huge part of my fishing and I was looking forward to trying the pond for the the first time. From what I had read (and that was not much) there would only be tench in the pond so I could focus all my attention on them. I didn’t pick up any hint of large tench in my reading though so I suspected the fish would run to maybe three pounds. Even that size of a tench puts up a good fight so I’d be using six pound line today. Kiltimagh was busy as I took the Knock road out of the village, standing water in every dip of the tarmac. Untidy, rough fields and bog slipped past on either side of the narrow road until the spire of the Basilica hove into view and I threaded my way past the religious trinket shops and on to the old Ballyhaunis road, only 3 miles from my destination.
A small grassy parking space at the side of the road was greatly appreciated and I was soon through a gate held shut with baling wire and marching through the long damp grass looking for a fishing stand. The first stand I came to was in a shockingly dangerous condition so I passed that one and found what remained of the next stand. It was in bits and could not be used. What little wood remained was rotten. Scanning the rest of the pond it seemed there was another stand in the far corner but it too was badly damaged. I set up on the bank, more than a little dismayed at the state of the stands.
Tying on a new rig, I fired the swimfeeder out, the size 12 hook baited with a bunch of red maggots. Groundbait balls featuring some corn as particle bait were roughly formed then chucked in. A strong wind was blowing directly towards me so I settled down to fish with just the feeder. Barely had the bait settled on the bottom before I had my first bite, a tappy little affair which led to me connecting to the first fish of the session. A tiny, stunted roach came meekly to hand. Maybe a one off, I thought as I re-baited and cast out again. Another small bite and another minuscule roach. This scenario was repeated again and again. The pond seemed to be filled with tiny roach and nothing else.
I stuck it out for a while but in the end I packed up. That was when the next disaster unfolded. My red maggots were in a square two pint box and the lid had come off as I was fishing, allowing pretty much all of the bait to wriggle out. They were all around me and when I lifted the seatbox up the ground was crimson with grubs. Nothing else for it, I had to pick up as many as I could and pop them back in the box from whence they came. Let me assure that herding maggots is not one of life’s great pleasures and I spent the next ten minutes grabbing baby bluebottles from the muck. A lot of them escaped and will no doubt provide sustenance to the local critters but I corralled enough to see me through the next part of my evening. I trudged off in the direction of the car, stepping in the smelliest cow pat I have ever encountered on my way. I had to wash my wellies before I could get in the car.
Eaton’s Lake is just over the hill from Lakehill pond so I decamped there around 6 pm. The already muddy path was partially flooded after recent rain making just getting to the stands a bit tricky. I made it though and set up the swimfeeder again. While I was setting up the float rod the feeder produced a couple of fish, a roach and a perch. Once I got going with the float rod I started to catch a fish each cast but they were just tiny perch. At last the loaded crystal waggler took a more determined dive and out came a small hybrid after a bit of a scrap. I had started with a size 14 hook under the float but I dropped to a 16, tipped with a pair of maggots. At least I was out of the wind here and time slipped past as I caught perch after perch, interspersed with the odd roach and hybrid.
By about 8.40pm I had had enough, the midges were out in force now and the bites were drying up so I packed my gear and headed for the car. I stepped off the wooden fishing stand my right foot disappeared into a couple of feet of gooey mud. I tried to steady myself by taking a step with my left foot but it sank even deeper and I lost my balance, falling into the muck on my left side. I managed to extricate myself without any harm being done but I was filthy and a bit wet despite my waterproofs. It was not far to where the car was parked and I was just a bit dirty once I had removed my gear. It had been a fitting end to a poor day.
So, what great life lessons did I learn today? My optimism as I headed for Lakehill pond was dramatically deflated upon arrival. The pond is in awful condition and requires a huge amount of work to turn it into a decent fishery. I am going to write to the local IFI about it as I honestly believe the pond is dangerous and should either be closed to the public or remedial works urgently undertaken. That people have introduced roach to the pond verges on criminal and while there are probably tench still swimming around in there it is now nigh on impossible to catch them as the stunted roach grab the hook as soon as it hits the bottom.
Eaton’s has yet to give up a good fish for me. There is clearly a big head of small fish in it but just yanking out 4 inch perch is not really a terribly exciting prospect for me. This evening I landed 9 small hybrids, 6 small roach and a scatter of minute perch. How many perch? I was not counting but I’d hazard a guess at maybe 30 or more. At the end of the day, Eaton’s is only 30 minutes drive from home so I may try it again in the future but I would rather spend more time behind the wheel and fish better waters in Leitrim and Roscommon.
A less than successful evening for me but look, that is how life is. There are plenty of people lying in hospital beds who would have given anything just to be out in the fresh air messing about beside a lake in Ireland. Maybe I will have better luck on my next outing with the rods.
My new found love of coarse fishing has made a right old mess of my normally straight forward season. It is usually a case of no fishing in January or February then a gradual build up during the spring months as I fish for trout and salmon. Some sea trouting in the summer then another burst of activity with the fly rods through the months of August and September before a bit of piking and sea fishing during the autumn months. Now I have to shoe-horn in my sessions with float and feeder so the past two days were spent practicing these methods before the trout fishing explodes on me again. Here is how two similar days on two different waters panned out.
The weather forecast was gloomy, expect heavy rain and possible thunder and lightening. Regardless, I set off for a small lake in Leitrim with tench on my mind. Light rain accompanied me along the road there but nothing too serious. I set up a swimfeeder on one rod and a waggler on the other and waited to see what would transpire. The rain got heavier and the world descended into shades of silver and grey as the downpour gathered strength. I sat it out, my oilskin coat keeping the worst of the water off me. Balls of groundbait sailed in perfect arcs through the rain to plop into the swims in more or less the right places. The float never budged and the feeder rod failed to register even a nibble. The rain was fairly hammering down by now. The maggots on both rigs were not doing the business today so I wound in the waggler and changed hooks. On went a size 10 and I broke a worm in half, adding both sections to the hook and tipping it off with a couple of maggots. This would hopefully prevent the worm pieces from wriggling free. The rain seemed to be easing off a little for now as I re-cast close to the lilypads.
The worm sections had been in the water for a while and I decided to reel in and check they were still wriggling. Lifting the rod to wind in I immediately felt a strong fish on the end. I swear there was no bite, no dip of the float prior to me lifting the rod. A nice tench fought well but was soon netted, about 2.5 pounds in weight so quite small for this lough. It swam off strongly once free from the barbless hook.
Busying myself re-baiting and casting both rods I hardly noticed the rain had returned. Big, fat drops were falling now and grew in intensity over the next few minutes. I hunkered down once again. Luckily the wind was blowing from behind me so I stayed relatively dry as the monsoon lashed down. Although I continued fishing it was impossible to see the float in these conditions. The minutes passed and at last the rain eased off a little. All my gear was thoroughly soaked by now though.
Gradually the downpour eased off completely and the lough was still and calm in front of me. The air was cooler and fresher after the rain and I could actually see what I was doing again. I fished on, concentrating hard on the details of casting and baiting. The second bite when it came was typical for this venue, the float ever-so-slowly dipped and finally slid below the surface and I struck into another solid fish. This one fought really hard, powerful, surging runs towards the reeds and then a dash to try and get under the stand. I got him in the end, a fine tench of about five pounds or so. I wish I had taken more time photographing this one as the snaps I have do not do this magnificent fish justice.
Back came the rain again! I suppose I had about 20 minutes of dry weather then the deluge commenced once more. The sky turned a menacing dark blue/grey colour and the pale clouds scurried across the countryside. It cleared to the north and the same pattern of bites when the rain stopped was repeated, this time by another fine tench but he shot straight into the lilypads and no amount of pulling on my part could free him. The line eventually snapped and the fish was gone. I got a very brief look at him as he rolled in the lilies and I thought he was another five pounder. Oh well, you can’t win them all.
A twitchy little bite brought me a good sized skimmer and the very next cast I hooked but lost a second one. Then the small bream were gone as quickly as they had arrived. The sky seemed to be so low it was touching the ground and there was a heat and ‘tension’ in the air which I did not like. It felt to me like there could be lightening so I hastily packed everything up and slogged back through the sodden fields to the car. I had no sooner reached the motor when there was an ominous rumble of thunder close by. I didn’t see any flashes of lightening but I felt vindicated in my decision to call it a day. The drive home to Mayo was punctuated with heavy showers and minor floods on the roads.
So Thursday gave me two nice tench and a skimmer which I felt was not too bad in the conditions. What I find interesting is that the feeder did not get a single bite, all the action was on the float set up. More research is needed by me on swimfeeders as I suspect I should be catching more fish on the feeder.
Consulting the forecast it seemed that Friday was going to be a very similar type of day weather-wise. I dried out my gear as best I could and hatched a plan for the ‘morrow.
I could hear the rain hammering on the window as soon as I woke. I will admit I wavered a little, another day out in the rain seemed to be madness when tucked up in a warm bed but the lure of fishing is too strong for mere mortal anglers like me. Anyway, where as yesterday had been a fishery well known to me this time I was going to try a completely new water.
Unusually, this was a coarse trip in Mayo. According to the IFI website ‘Eatons Lake also holds good stocks of coarse fish’. A bit short on detail, I took this to mean rudd, roach and bream were likely candidates with possibly the outside chance of a tench. I had heard of this small lough a while ago but could not find it. Looking on various maps proved to be fruitless as Eaton’s was not shown on any of them. That it was situated between Ballyhaunis and Knock was beyond dispute but there are a few small loughs in that area and it was only when I used Google maps that I eventually found it. Peering intently at the screen I could make out a couple of fishing stands and even a small space on the road where I could park so today I’d pay this reed-fringed lough a visit.
This would be a short session, I had to be back home for mid-afternoon meaning I could only spend about 4 hours fishing. I had some left over maggots and even a couple of worms from Thursday so there would be enough bait for the half day. Only 30 minutes from home I pulled over on to a wide grass verge opposite the small lake. This was the place all right. It was the work of a few minutes to get gowned up and ready to go. The lake is just across a small field and through a stand of trees but the reeds and grass were above head height. It looked like the scene from a Vietnam war movie, I could imagine Charley was going to open up on me at any time! Along the wet track through the trees I went until I could make out the metal rail on a fishing stand. I was here!
I was soon fishing and took time to take in my surroundings. There were three stands, I was on the middle one simply because it was the first one I saw. The lake was a nice size and the water clear. Reeds and lily pads fringed the edges all the way around the lake, making a pretty sight. Plumbing the depth I found ten feet of water close in and three rod lengths out was too deep for normal float fishing. A feeder seemed to be the best option for the deep water and I rigged a light float from the margins.
The first hour passed with no signs of action but I kept feeding the swims with balls of groundbait and some loose fed maggots. Finally, the float gave a wee dip and I wound in a small roach, saving the blank for me. Next, a perch showed up, soon followed by a very small brother of the first one. The next hour was pretty steady with bites and fish landed but none of them were any size. All the fish fell to the float, there only being one half-hearted bite on the feeder which came to nothing. Then the rain started. It absolutely poured down for about 30 minutes, drenching me and all my gear. It eased off to a heavy mist eventually and the fish started to bite again. Some small roach, small perch and a nice small hybrid came to hand before it was time to call it a day. Counting up, 4 roach, 4 perch and two hybrids was the tally.
So what to make of Eaton’s Lake? I failed to catch anything of any size today but I suppose just catching 10 fish on a new water can’t be sniffed at. The lack of fish on the feeder is worrying me and I need to find out where I am going wrong. There was deep water three rod lengths out, too deep for the float (unless I rigged up a slider). It shouted ‘Bream’ to me and I had confidence that a worm on a feeder rig would work but it didn’t. On the plus side the lake is close to home by my standards, only half-an-hour’s drive is less than half my normal travel time to Carrick-on-Shannon for example. That alone makes it worth further exploration in my book. There is another lake close by which could also be worth a try but I need to find out how to access that one as it would entail crossing someone’s land.
So there you have it, two consecutive days on two different lakes with two different outcomes. As I write this post the heavens have opened and the street outside is under water. The local rivers will rise this weekend and the salmon will be running. The coarse rods will be tucked away for the next while…………………..
Where do you even begin with county Monaghan? Seriously, was there ever a place so well endowed with coarse fishing venues? A hell of a lot of head scratching went into deciding where to fish to tick this Ulster county off my list but in the end I made a decision, well sort of…….
Monaghan is in the Republic, another one of the border counties which butts up against the UK. Cavan, Meath and Louth encircle it from west to east and it pokes up into the UK like a big, jagged tooth. Characterised by the rolling drumlin landscape, this is a fertile farming area of small fields and hedgerows. There are no large centres of population here, Monaghan Town and Carrickmacross being the two main towns.
I scoured the internet for information about the angling opportunities in Monaghan and was not disappointed by the range of venues available to anglers. I know I am critical of the IFI (often justified) but they seem to be on top of things in this county and there is a wealth of information for anyone who wants to fish here. In addition, and slightly unusually for Ireland, there has been a lot of development work carried out to improve access for anglers. Car parks, footpaths and fishing stands are common on the lakes in this part of the country. This is hugely appreciated and the IFI should be congratulated for this excellent work.
I looked at Ballybay and around Clones, both very tempting centres with a lot of lakes to try. In the end though I opted for Carrickmacross. I liked the look of some of the surrounding lakes and felt I would have a good chance of landing some fish there. Truth be told I have actually caught fish in Monaghan before. Many years ago I worked in a papermill in Aberdeen and the product was sent to various plants in Britain and Ireland for further processing. One of those plants was in Kingscourt, co. Cavan. I got to know some of the lads in that plant and visited them in 1979 for a bit of fishing. I stayed with Pat at his house in Carrickmacross and we fished for trout in some of the local lakes. There were some great nights drinking porter till the wee hours after successful days with the rods. Happy days indeed. For the purposes of this ‘32’ project I would disregard those triumphs of long ago and pit my wits against the fishes of Monaghan once again.
My plan was a simple one. On the outskirts of Carrickmacross there are three lakes in particular which are grouped within a few miles of each other so if I was struggling on one water it would be easy to switch venue. Here is what the IFI have to say about all three lakes:
1. Monalty Lake is located approximately 3.25km S.E. of Carrickmacross on the R178 Dundalk road on the right hand side of the road. Turn right after approximately 3.25kms and this roadway runs right beside the lake. There are a number of swims on this eastern shoreline and parking and access is also located in this area. Some local fishermen fish from small punts moored to platforms in the lake and boat fishing can produce the best results as the mobility allows the angler to locate the feeding shoals. This lake covers an area of 16 hectares with depths to 6m. This lake holds good stocks of fish including roach, rudd, bream, hybrids, tench, pike and eels. Bream, hybrids and tench to specimen size are to be found in this water and annually it records many specimen bream over 9 and 10 lbs in weight and the Specimen Fish Committee certifies these fish. Maggots, sweetcorn and bread are all effective baits. Anglers fishing in the early months of March and April and the later months of August, September and October produce best results.
2. Lisanisk is located on the R178 Dundalk road on the outskirts of Carrickmacross and is well developed. A spacious off road car park is provided and there are a number of angling stands on the road side of the lake. This 5-hectare lake has a maximum depth of 2.5m and produces great tench fishing. A number of large carp have also been taken in recent times. As well as tench and carp this lake holds good stocks of bream, roach, hybrids perch and some pike. This lake has a very weedy bottom as is best fished by float or pole.
3. Capragh Lake is located on the Crossmaglen road 4.5km N.E. of Carrickmacross. This lake has a good off road car park beside the lakeshore and there are many fishing stands around the lake. This lake which covers an area of approximately 12 hectares has depths ranging from 3m to 12m. This lake contains bream to specimen size and good stocks of roach, rudd, tench, perch and pike. Pike anglers will also find it possible to launch a boat on this lake’.
I think you will agree these are good, concise appraisals of all three lakes. I planned to start on Lisanisk and if that was no good make a move to Monalty with Capragh as a final back up should I still be fishless by mid-afternoon. I like having back up plans on these trips, it gives me a way out if one venue is not fishing well. I guess there is an argument that I dilute my attention to one venue by holding one or more in reserve. That is certainly a possibility but I find the peace of mind knowing there is a ‘plan B’ more of a benefit than a hindrance. The drawback with all of this was with three water to fish it was turning in to a very long day.
Another plus point for me in Carrickmacross was the tackle shop there. Anglers Choice have a huge range of gear and bait so I planned to hit the shop first when I arrived in the town. The guys there would also have up to date information about where the fish were being caught. https://anglerschoice.ie
It is the night before and it is Bank holiday Monday and so Helen and I go for a bite to eat for the first time in a year or so. We have to dine outside the restaurant but its a warm evening and we enjoy a lovely meal and some wine. Probably too much wine as we return home and sit outside in the garden talking till the wee hours. Eventually we retire for what is left of the night and at 5am my alarm sounds. Time to get up and go fishing but boy am I tired! As a youngster a scant 3 hours in my bed was more than sufficient but at my advanced age I need much longer to be able to function properly the next day. Bleary eyed, I shuffle around the house gathering up my gear. It takes me ages to load up the car and make something to eat.
With all this talk of big fish I pack my heavy leger rod and a reel with eight pound line on it. I have no plans to directly target the carp that were in Lisanisk but the heavy line would give me a fighting chance of landing one if it picked up my bait accidentally. I have tangled with carp before and they are doughty fighters but the old ABU rod would be a match for all but the biggest of the species. Lisanisk held tench apparently and they would be my target species if I fished on that lake but carp could very well snaffle a bait intended for Tinca Tinca. A look in the bait fridge reveals half a pint of red maggots which were still in good condition and also a few worms so I brought them along for the ride. I could add them to the groundbait if nothing else. One last check that I have everything with me then I switch on the engine and hit the road.
Monaghan is another one of those awkward journeys for me with a trek through the middle of Ireland. Three hours behind the wheel should see me there I figured but slow traffic, especially tractors, can stretch that out when on some of the lesser roads I would be travelling. I wanted to arrive in Carrickmacross at 9am but I am late in leaving.
Longford, Ballyjamesduff and Kingscourt were negotiated as I ploughed on ever eastwards. I am getting used to the roads in this neck of the woods now. With the old car and no sat nav. I rely on map reading and memory to find my way around the highways and byways of Ireland. There are occasional lapses but I possess and good sense of direction and generally manage to find my way around pretty easily. Road signs are much better than they were when I first came to Ireland but there are still many smaller roads which are unmarked. While the road was quiet for the first few miles the plague of summertime tractors soon slowed me down.
I arrived in Carrickmacross after rush hour and the streets were not too busy as I tried to find my way to the tackle shop. Angler’s choice is just to the north of the town centre, pretty easy to find. Once inside I buy some fresh maggots and a bag of groundbait. It would be easy to part with some serious cash here, it is a cornucopia of coarse angling tackle and I have to steel myself not to but some goodies. Back in the car I need to make a decision on where to start and I plump for Lisanisk. It is the closest and from what I have read it might be the easiest. I am low on energy this morning and not looking for any major challenges, Lisanisk will do to begin with. Back through the town and it is only a short journey to the small car park which serves the lake. Once I have got all the gear I need out of the back of the car I slowly make my way to the bank and find some fishing stands. With no local knowledge I simply pick one at random and proceed to tackle up.
I decide to leave the heavy leger rod in the car and instead bring the 13 foot float rod and the 12 foot swimfeeder. I tie on a helicopter rig and a maggot feeder on the 12 footer and bait up with a bunch of maggots on a size 10 hook. Groundbait is mixed and balls tossed in and then I cast out, just a couple of rod lengths out, hard up against the lily pads. I turn my attention to setting up the float rod but this takes me ages as the swimfeeder get bites right from the off. I miss the first couple before setting the hook in the third one. A small skimmer comes to hand, is snapped and quickly popped back into the green water.
More skimmers are lost and landed before I finally get the float rod into action. A size 12 baited with 4 maggots doesn’t even get time to settle on the bottom before the float dips and a tiny rudd is hooked. The water seems to be filled with rudd feeding close to the surface but every cast sees the float dip and the little rascals have either robbed the maggots or they are wound in. It is all action as both rods are constantly getting bites. In the end I give up with the float, the hook is sinking too slowly, giving the rudd the opportunity to nip the baited hook on every cast. I concentrate on the swimfeeder instead. This lake must support a huge head of fish because virtually every cast receives the attention of the rudd or skimmers.
After a couple of hours I consider a move but a combination of lethargy on my part (induced by last nights frivolities) and a belief that something bigger must come into the swim sooner or later due to the heavy feeding I am giving it means I sit tight in the same spot for the whole session. Of course nothing bigger does show up and instead I swing a steady flow of pewter coloured skimmers and tiny golden rudd to my hand. I tried chopped worm but the rudd found them easy to strip from the hook even as it was sinking quickly past them. By 2.30pm I have had enough and decide to call it a day. By then I have landed 31 skimmers and 17 rudd. The biggest of the skimmers would not even reach a pound in weight and everything is covered in snot. My rods and reels, the lines and end tackle are all caked in slime from the skimmers. My clothes and skin are liberally dosed with the stuff too so there will be a big clean up when I get home. Taking down the rods and the short trudge back to the car seem to sap the final vestiges of energy from me and the long road home feels like impending torture. Once I am moving though the journey back home passes quickly enough and I turn into the driveway before 6pm.
A postmortem of the day would reveal the previous nights revelries meant I was barely fit for an arduous journey and a lot of fishing. I should have moved after the first hour and tried to find better quality fish but I was just too tired. I know I am going to regret not fishing the other lakes as I had originally planned. There is a hell of a lot of coarse fishing around Carrickmacross and I will make plans to visit there again. Any coarse anglers contemplating a trip to fish in Ireland could do a lot worse than basing themselves in Carrickmacross. It’s a busy town with all the facilities you could want on a fishing holiday and there are plenty of lakes to pick from within a few miles.
Today was something of a milestone. I have now landed fish in 16 of the 32 Irish counties, exactly half way to my goal. While disappointed in my performance today I am pretty chuffed with progress to date.
Awake in the early morning I twitch the curtains open a fraction to check the weather. Bright and calm, well that’s no use! I turn over and close my eyes again for another hour of fitful sleep. The alarm jolts me out of slumber and I pull on some clothes before opening the curtains. Lo and behold! The sky is a patchwork of fluffy grey clouds, it is going to be a fishing day after all. Sandwiches are made and coffee brewed, double check I have everything I need then set off on the road. I am Leitim bound again.
There is no wind in town today, meaning it will be poor conditions on the big loughs so instead I will go hunting tench and bream in a small lake. The maggots in the ‘fridge have morphed into casters so I bring them along to add to ground bait but I need to pick up some fresh maggots and maybe a few worms. I have been losing tench on a regular basis lately so I had previously filled my reels with heavier line and made up some new heavy rigs. Feeling much better prepared there is a feeling of confidence in me (never a good sign). The road is quiet as I plough ever east by north through Mayo and Roscommon till I finally cross the Shannon into Leitrim at Carrick. Coin is exchanged for a pint of red maggots at the shop then I hit the road again on the final leg of the journey.
There is nobody fishing when I arrive there so I set up and have two rods on feeders. A wind is blowing from left to right, ruffling the surface a bit. The stink of slurry spreading fills the air and I can hear the farmer at work with tractor and muck spreader nearby. The clouds have thickened but it does not look like we will have rain today. I have a waterproof coat on, just in case.
In an attempt to attract some fish into the swim I feed heavily, balls catapulted in on a regular basis for 4 hours or so. During that time I have a couple of very half-hearted little bites which come to nothing. Bees buzz around me and gorgeous damselflies in azure and deep ruby red flit among the reeds. I dip my net in a few time to see if the weeds are harbouring any wildlife and find huge waterboatmen, snails and various other grubs in abundance. Although quite small this lough is extremely rich.
I mull over what is (not) happening and decide to persevere with the feeder on one rod but change the other on to the float. An antenna, heavily shotted, a six pound hook link to a size 12 baited with a bunch of maggots was soon rigged. I placed the bulk shot immediately below the float with a single swan shot to lie on the bottom and the 6 inch hook length over depth. I was really hedging my bets by doing this. There are roach on this lough and I thought maybe the small bites were coming from them. The bunch of maggots would attract bream or tench too. I loose fed some maggots and started fishing the float.
Sure enough, the bites started to come, slowly at first but increasing in frequency over the next hour. I kept feeding balls of groundbait and some maggots to keep the fish in my swim. The roach were mainly small but a couple of them were decent fish. A solitary perch showed up, the first one I have every caught from this lake. The hook was snagging on weeds frequently as I was fishing over depth so when the tip of the float slowly sank out of view I thought nothing of it and lifted the rod to free the hook. The old rod heaved over into a serious curve and the reel sang, that was not weeds or even a 6 ounce roach! The fight went on for a while, the tench darting for the lily pads and reeds and me applying side strain to stop it in its tracks. I tested the six pound hook length to its limit but everything held and I slipped the net under my prize. A fine fish of between three and four pounds I guessed. A couple of quick photos and the fish was safely released.
Re-baited, the rig was sent back out again and after only a few more casts the float did the same slow sinking trick and I lifted into a second tench which could have been the big brother of the first one. The fight was similarly dogged and the feeling of relief when the fish hit the meshes was real. This one had a scar on his right flank but otherwise was in great condition. I find tench such beautiful creatures, the olive colour, that paddle of a tail, those teeny-tiny red eyes all make for an iconic freshwater fish.
I fished on, catching some more roach but in the end it went a bit quiet so I packed up and headed off homewards. It was a 90 minute drive in increasingly heavy traffic but I made it home safely. Sorting through my tackle I made a quite alarming discovery. I use differently coloured pins in my rig wallets to identify different strengths of line. Yellow ones are 6 pound breaking strain and I had tied on a hook length to the float rig which had been held in place by a yellow pin. Alas, I had somehow used the wrong coloured pin when tying the hook lengths and on examination the one I was using this afternoon was in fact four pound breaking strain! I had been piling on the pressure full sure I was connected to the fish with 6 pound. My job for tomorrow is to go through the rig wallets with a fine tooth comb and make sure everything is in order.
At least I have ended that run of losing tench. With no rain forecast for the coming week I may have another tench session soon.
‘And that auld triangle went jingle-jangle All along the banks of the Royal Canal’
Dublin. The Irish sea to the east, the mountains of Wicklow to the south and the rich farmlands of the pale to west and north. The depressingly inevitable scatter of commuter belt towns encircling it. Capital of the republic and home to more than a quarter of the entire population, here was an angling challenge for me! I know parts of the city quite well having worked there for a brief period but most of it is outwith my ken. The sprawling housing estates and business parks are a mystery to me and will always remain so. Dubliners (‘Dubs’ to the rest of the population) are a mixed lot, some of the nicest people I have ever met hail from the fair city but it has a nasty side too but then again I expect you can say the same for every large conurbation. Tourists flock to Dublin and are well catered for by all manner of paddywhackery but the attractions and blandishments of the city centre were not for me. I had fish on my mind.
It was not too easy finding a spot to try and catch a fish in Dublin. The county boundaries basically just encompass the city itself with very little rural ground. I thought long and hard about sea fishing from the piers at the harbour of Dun Laorghaire, the transient home of the ferries to England, as I have read they get lots of mackerel there in the summer. The thing is, mackerel are either there in numbers or they are not, so there was a high risk of driving all the way to south county Dublin only to find there were no fish present. I needed somewhere a little less risky. That was when I started to think about the canals. Both the Royal and the Grand canals flow through the city and they both have reasonable stocks of coarse fish. Just knowing perch, bream and roach were definitely present gave me a bit of confidence. The internet is full of video footage of guys catching pike in the very heart of the city with traffic a few feet away and commuters watching as they haul out an essox. I am too private for that level of publicity so I settled on a stretch of the royal canal far from the madding crowd and right on the county border.
Better stretches of the royal canal are to be found further west but the whole point was to catch a fish in Dublin county so I nailed my colours to the mast and made my plans for this section of the Royal Canal to the east of Leixlip. The stretch between Collins and Cope bridges has seen some decent fishing over the last few years so I figured it was worth a try. Normally I bring everything possible with me when coarse fishing but this time it would be different. I needed to be able to roam the canal to find feeding fish and that meant travelling light. I’d bring the old 13 foot float rod and a reel full of 4 pound line then the rest of my tackle and bait would have to fit in the pockets of my waistcoat or the small rucksack on my back. The plan was to float fish but with some feeders and weights in the bag I could swap to bottom fishing if necessary. In the car I would have a spinning rod in case I failed to catch any bream or roach. I figured that small spinners might tempt a jack pike if all else failed. I must confess all this sounded decidedly sketchy and fairly major doubts cruised the backwaters of my mind. Lacking a better plan I decided to go with this one.
The Royal Canal stretches from the centre of Dublin to the Camlin River at Cloondara, just before it meets the Shannon near Tarmonbarry in county Longford. There is also a connecting stretch which runs all the way to Longford town but this has not been repaired (yet). Begun in the dying years of the 18th century, it took many decades to complete and like so many other canals was soon overtaken by the new-fangled railways. It fell into disuse and was only resurrected again in 2010. Now it is used for recreation instead of commerce and there are plans for the tow path to form part of the ambitious cycleway which links Moscow to Galway. I was not planning anything remotely as taxing!
Although I had read that the canal basically fished all year round I wanted to go there early in the season before the weeds became too overgrown. Once the water starts to warm up in late April and May the canals here in Ireland rapidly fill with all manner of vegetation. Good for the fish as this provides habitat for their food but a right royal pain in the derriere for us anglers. Lockdown and then family commitments knocked those plans on the head and instead it would be the tail end of June before I made the trip east. My weed rake was most definitely going to be required regardless of the time of year so it was checked and carefully packed in the small rucksack/stool I was taking along.
Work has taken me to the fair city many, many times so the journey there would hold few surprises. Setting off very early on a Sunday morning was deliberate for a couple of reasons. During the week traffic at peak times can be horrendous and I wanted to avoid the worst of the jams so planned to be there before it peaked. Parking near where I wanted to fish was going to be very limited so I wanted to find a safe spot before anyone else. A supplementary reason was the afore mentioned tench in the canal and early mornings are traditionally the prime time for those fish.
I felt uncommonly excited about the upcoming trip to Dublin. This new found enthusiasm for a day on the water has been pent up due to the covid. Looking back, for a number of years I have been very jaded and at times even not enjoyed my fishing. I suspect I had fallen victim to a self-inflicted malaise. We all fish for different reasons, some want to win competitions, others to test their skill. For some it is the social interaction with fellow anglers and others it is catching the biggest/most fish. I most enjoy the mental conundrums faced when starting out a day, solving the problems which end in a bite/rise/take. Where are the fish, what are they eating, how can I attract them? These and a thousand other challenges are what I love about fishing and it was a dereliction of my mental approach to the questions which sucked the enjoyment out of my angling. It had all become very similar and to a degree predictable for me. The small amount of fishing I was able to do during 2020 changed all of that mainly due to the coarse fishing I began to learn about. Turning up at a new venue, using gear I was unfamiliar with and trying to catch species I’d not captured previously proved to be invigorating and mentally challenging. This also had an unexpected side benefit in that I appreciated my game fishing so much more, possibly because my fishing consciousness had been reawakened. Now the idea of a day on the canal trying to catch a roach or skimmer has me genuinely excited.
So off down the long road I went. Leaving the motorway just as it enters the city I found my way to a spot near the canal and parked up. I had been ruthless when packing the rucksack the night before and only the bare essentials had made the final cut. For bait I had some worms and maggots and there was some sweetcorn hiding in the bottom of the rucksack too. My plan was simple, if necessary I would clear a swim with the rake and then fish single maggot below a small waggler. Loose feed a few maggots to try and attract and then hold some fish. If that didn’t work then move along and try another swim. Repeat this until I found some fish. Other than a gentle bend there were no obvious features on this part of the canal to attract fish, they could be anywhere.
Stringing up the old float rod with the Daiwa reel and 4 pound line I took in my surroundings. The railway track on the other side of the canal follows it closely for many miles. The rumble of traffic on the motorways could still be heard too. While not exactly urban fishing it was still much more noisy than I am used to. No harm, the whole point of the ’32’ project was to sample as many different angling experiences as possible while catching fish in each county. Canal fishing in an urban environment was every bit as valid as fly fishing for trout in the wilds of Connemara.
I found a likely looking swim and gave it a rake to clear some of the weeds and stir up the bottom a bit. Plumbing the depth I found only 3 feet of water in the middle. A small crystal waggler was my first choice. Setting the float so the hook would be on the bottom I tied on a two pound hook length with a size 20 attached. Bait would be a single red maggot and I tossed in a few others as loose feed. I was fishing at last! The reason for fishing so light was the clarity of the water, it really was gin clear. I figured my usual 3/4 maggots on a size 12 was going to be too much.
Sunday morning joggers and dog walkers were out in numbers and among them that most heinous of the great unwashed – the passer-by who thinks they know all about fishing. What starts off as a casual ‘caught anything yet?’ quickly degenerates into a full blown instructional lecture, based on this person’s encyclopedic angling knowledge gleaned from that one time they went fishing on holiday.
I fished hard, raking out swims, baiting them up, fixing the float in an icy glaze for hours. I tried different spots, went down to one pound hook length, used chopped worm then tried worm and maggot. Floats were changed for ever lighter ones, shotting patterns adjusted to change the rate of fall and I loose fed maggots into swims all day. All of this failed to produce even a nibble. The hot sun beat down on me as the insects buzzed around in the heat. Nothing at all stirred though until a tiny perch fell for a single red maggot. Only slightly longer than my thumb, this fish was barely out of the cradle. I am sure it is the smallest perch I have every caught in my long angling career. That was it, that was the total for a whole day fishing the Royal Canal in Dublin. At 5pm I packed up and headed for the car and the long road back to Mayo. I was gutted.
I drove home crest fallen, not even I could count the tiny perch as being an acceptable fish. I would have to try again at a later date. I knew when I started this odyssey I was bound to blank sometimes but failing so spectacularly in Dublin was hard to swallow. The long road west seemed to take an age to negotiate and all the while I was asking myself what I could have done differently. I saw no signs of a good fish all day, bar a few minnows in the margins the place looked dead. No tiny bubbles rising to indicate fish grubbing about on the bottom or dark shapes drifting slowly through the weeds. I had fished fine all day and I really didn’t think I was scaring fish off. I need to learn lessons on days like this but I don’t know where to start with this one. The fact I saw no other anglers is perhaps an indication that the fishing was poor.
It was very much a case of back to the drawing board for me. I spent a significant amount of time searching for another venue. I didn’t fancy returning to the Royal canal after the abject failure in June so I had to find somewhere else, but where?
Part two, the end of July 2021
‘In Dublin’s fair city, where the girls are so pretty……………….’
The wounds of my last foray to the capital have healed so it is time to return to the scene of the crime. In the end I decided to try the other canal in the city, the Grand Canal. It too has stocks of pike, perch and roach, is of a similar depth and construction as the Royal but links Dublin harbour with the Shannon in Offaly via a more southerly route. My idea was to fish it with jigs, looking for perch and jacks around the lock gates where there should be less weeds. I’d bring some maggots with me too so I had options if the jigs failed to produce. This would be ‘urban’ fishing, a backpack with some small bits and a rod, not much else. The section of the canal I was targeting passes through a landscape of industrial and commercial sites with some housing mixed in. Busy roads and even a motorway crossed the waterway and the towpath is heavily used by everyone from friendly dog walkers to drug addicts and criminals. It would be far removed from my usual gentle days of solitude in a small boat on a western lough!
I don’t own any specific jigging or drop shotting rods or reels so I would just make do with an old spinning rod and a small fixed spool filled with light fluorocarbon line. I was not anticipating hooking anything large so I did not bother with a net. The whole idea was that I could quickly move between different spots until I found a few fish. The majority of the canal would be shallow and weedy but I hoped to find deeper, clearer water at the locks which were strung out along my chosen stretch.
I eschewed another early start, to beat the rush hour traffic on a weekday I would need to be on the road at 3am so instead I opted for a more leisurely mid-morning start and departed Castlebar at 9 o’clock on a slightly misty summers day. The M50 was not too busy when I got there and I turned off at the Red Cow then found a parking spot near to the canal. Would this be another disaster or could I wangle out a few decent fish today? I admit to being nervous about leaving the car parked in such a dodgy area but I figured nobody would want to steal such an old wreck and made sure not to leave anything of any value inside. From my research I figured I could reach a total of six locks if I pushed it and my hope was they would be less weedy than the open stretches of canal.
My chosen rod for the day was a light 7 foot ABU spinning rod of great vintage. I had bought it in Aberdeen in the 1970’s but to be honest it had hardly been used since then. The brown fibreglass is still in great condition. Rated for 2 – 10 grams it should be OK for what I demanded of it. I matched it with my elderly Daiwa Harrier fixed spool reel, a cheap and cheerful set up which should see me through the day. In my small rucksack I had stowed some soft baits, a few small spinners and plugs, a plastic box of hooks/weights/swivels/floats and a couple of small bait boxes containing the live bait. No net, weed rake or other essentials. I set off for the closest lock, feeling full of trepidation. With one failure already under my belt I was under pressure to do much better this time. Beyond watching some very entertaining videos on dropshotting I know nothing about this method, adding considerably to the challenge. The guys on YouTube made all look so easy, just jiggle the wee lure up and down and perch or pike magically appear on the hook. I treated the videos with a healthy dose of Scottish skepticism.
I started off with a basic drop shot set up of a 3.5 gram weight and one of those swivel/hook thingys which I stuck a small plastic grub on (you can tell already that I am out of my depth here). The maggots in my bucket were the back up but I needed to feel I was ‘doing something’ this time rather than waiting for a float to dip. I manfully strode up to the nearest lock, a steely glint in my eye. ‘Make my day suckers’ I muttered in my best Clint Eastwood voice as I dropped the grub into the dirty water by the lock gate. I jiggled it up and just like I had seen in the videos. Nothing. I must have the wrong colour – I changed to a yellowish one and tried again. Nope, no good. I moved the weight a bit closer to the lure so it would fish closer to the bottom. Nothing. I tried casting and then bumping the weight along the bottom. That didn’t work either. I tried both sides of the lock gates but with a similar lack of success.
‘Yer’s not goin’ ta catch any bleedin’ fish there mister’. The broad Dublin accent from a child’s mouth is always a shock to me and here were a pair of ankle-biters behind me. ‘Ders fishes up der’ said the other one pointing to nowhere in particular. ‘We seen a fella fishin’ der before’. I thanked them for their advice and walked off up the path. An hour had gone and I was still to see a fish let alone hook one. The next lock was further away than I thought but I sauntered up there under the grey clouds, trying to figure out what to try next. I settled on sticking with the drop shot for now.
The next set of locks were much more promising. A deep, clear pool below the gates was fishable but try as hard as I might I could see no fish swimming in it. The flow from over the top of the gates created a fast flow immediately below and it screamed ‘perch’ to me. I checked the terminal tackle was in order and lowered it into the water. With the clarity of the water I could watch the jig as it descended into the depths and didn’t a pair of good sized perch rush out of nowhere and try to grab the plastic grub. They missed it and I wound in to try to repeat the exercise. A solitary perch came to investigate this time but he too declined to bite. To cut a long story short I drop-shotted this spot for the next 20 minutes and most drops I had a follow but not one fish actually swallowed the lure. Time for a re-think.
I only had the spinning rod with me but it would have to do. I rigged a small crystal waggler float, plumbed up and added a 2.5 pound tail with a size 16 hook. A pair of red maggots where sent wriggling into the water. After only the second or third drop (it was not even a cast) the float bobbed and I struck into a roach which promptly fell off the hook as I was swinging it in. Damn! I couldn’t count that one. A few minutes later the float disappeared and I lifted into a modestly proportioned perch which made it safely to my sweaty paw.
I fished on and landed one more perch and a roach. The fast current and back eddy was making bite detection tricky. The float slowly sank and I lifted to free the hook from the weeds only to see a huge perch surface with my hook in his mouth. He gave a slow roll and was gone. He hadn’t been far of a couple of pounds in weight that lad! I could see what was happening here, the currents were strong and very variable so I was losing contact with the hook as it was washed in different directions deep below (there was about 10-12 feet of water). I took off the crystal float and in its place went a hefty pellet waggler, rated for 3 grams. I then put my bulk shot just above the hook and changed up to a size 12 holding a bunch of maggots. Some loose feed then I dropped in the new set up. It took a while but eventually the float dipped and I lifted into a nice perch. It wasn’t the big lad I had lost but it was still an OK fish. I caught another roach, no great size but very pretty. For some reason I decided to take another look at the pool below the run I was fishing. Laying the rod down I watched intently for a while, my eyes slowly adjusting to the water. Sure enough, I could make out a dark shape on the bottom, then another and many more. There were perch in there and what was probably roach too. I slung the big blue float out and the maggots settled on the bottom. Minutes passed but then the float trembled and I struck into a nice perch.
Some kids, under the supervision of 3 adults stopped at the lock above me. I paid then no heed as I was considering another change of tackle to fish lighter in the gin-clear pool. There was the usual noise you associate with a gang of kids then a resounding splash as one of them jumped in to the water above the lock. The others soon followed and they were having great fun. I was concentrating very hard on my float when out of the blue a wet-suited child hurled herself directly into the swim, not 2 yards from my float! Letting out a howl of delight as she surfaced, a broad grin on her face. She next extolled the virtues of the water and encouraged her pals to join her. But now every self-respecting fish was in the next parish so I wound in. One of the accompanying adults came over to me and said the kids would not be there long and they would be out of the water in a hour or so. I thought about it for a while but decided to head back to the car. On the way I dropped the float into the dark water under a bridge and in three casts pulled out a small roach and two small perch.
Back at the car I took down the rod and slung all the gear in the back. Some random lad tried to cadge a cigarette from me and wouldn’t take no for an answer. I slammed the car door shut and locked them before speeding off, leaving him shouting something unprintable towards me.
So, what to make of all that? I had landed 6 perch and 3 roach so I was reasonably happy with the result. Only that I had found the fish below the lock I fear I would have returned to Mayo with another blank. It was very irritating that the kids showed up just as I had found a shoal of fish but that is life and we just need to move on when stuff like that happens. The little spinning rod was a poor tool for fishing the float but the alternative of dragging more than one rod with me today was just not an option for me. Drop-shotting still needs further investigation. It certainly got a response from the perch but they would not actually take the plastic. I will do some more research and maybe even invest in some of those dinky little ‘creature’ baits.
Dublin has been very firmly crossed off my ‘to do’ list. Two trips across the full width of Ireland it had taken but I had done what I had set out to achieve. It looked to me as if the stretch I was fishing used to be good. There were concrete pegs all along the towpath but they were all badly overgrown and had not been used for years. I’ll be honest, I won’t be in a rush to fish there again but it was an experience and I learned a bit more about fishing.
The silver daddy is an iconic west of Ireland pattern that can be used for salmon, sea trout or brownies. Of course, this being Ireland there are dozens of variations of the fly and it feels like every tyer has his or her twist on the pattern. The basics of a silver tinsel body and some legs made from knotted pheasant herls are pretty much standard but after that – anything goes! Here are a few different tinsel bodied daddies for you to pick from.
Let’s start with the basic pattern as described in Peter O’Reilly’s wonderful book ‘Irish trout and salmon flies’. The tail is the interesting feature here with a bunch of knotted pheasant tail fibres tied in to stick out of the back of the fly. These add lots of movement and can be further improved with just a couple of strands of krinkle flash in pearl or silver. A flat silver tinsel body, ribbed with oval silver, wings of red game hackle tips and plenty of knotted pheasant tail legs tied all around. Finish off with a red game cock hackle giving it plenty of turns. Some tyers prefer to use short fibred hackles on their daddies but I favour longer ones. I think these add movement to the fly in the water and also give an even more ‘leggy’ appearance.
That is a lot of materials to tie on to a smaller hook so a slimmed down version is easier to tie and looks better on hooks of size 12 and smaller. Omit the tail, tie a silver tinsel body and add the legs but tie them in on top of the hook. A few turns of a red game hackle finishes this pattern. If you want, you can add a short tag of red floss at the end of the body.
The red daddy is a popular pattern on some fisheries but I have to confess I have had little success with it. The only time it works for me is when I add a claret muddler head. The sea trout seem to like this one. The body of the red daddy can be made from either normal red mylar or holographic tinsel, the choice is yours.
Let’s talk about the legs for a minute. The normal pheasant tail herl legs for a daddy pattern are a single strand knotted twice. This is perfect for most flies but on very large hooks they can look a bit ‘thin’ so I use two strands, double knotted on size 6 or 8 flies. Just my personal preference.
I tie a black daddy which has done very well, just substitute black materials on the original pattern but keep the silver body and add a head made from dyed black deer hair spun on muddler style.
I like a blue bodied version too, something akin to the one used on lough Inagh. I use blue tying silk for this one.A blue tinsel body is ribbed with fine silver wire. Wings are ginger cock hackle tips and the hackle is a long fibred red game.
Now for a couple of (so far) untried patterns. I made up these patterns during the lockdown but they have yet to see the water. The first tying is a standard daddy but the body is made from green tinsel. Then there is a pink tinsel bodied one. Both of these flies sport small muddler heads. I like the look of both of these and hope to give them a swim before the end of this season.
Another experimental daddy has an opal tinsel body, black legs and hackle with a prominent head of fluorescent fire orange silk.
From now until the end of the season the silver daddy can be a very useful addition to a wet fly cast in these parts. A windy day, when naturals could be blowing on to the water are the best time to try it but to be honest I have caught fish on a silver daddy in most conditions.
The hot sun continues to beat down on Ireland so all game angling is on hold for now. With a bit of time on my hands today I decided to head for Acre’s Lake near Drumshanbo in county Leitrim to fish the deep water there in the hope of catching a few bream. Acre’s used to have a couple of fishing stands but the water around them was shallow and the lake gets very weedy in the summer. A large floating pontoon was built for the boats who cruise the Shannon and even a boardwalk has been constructed. Fishing is allowed from both of these structures but today I was going to try my luck from the pontoon.
As usual, I stopped of in Carrick-on-Shannon to pick up some bait from Carrick Angling Centre. The lads are always helpful and it is a great place for good tackle and advice. If you are in the area pop in and see them.
It is only a few kilometers from Carrick to Drumshanbo where I turned off the road. The pontoon has a number of berths with a long ‘T’ section on the end for temporary tie ups. It’s high summer and the Shannon is busy so there was bound to be a high volume of traffic today.
There is a car park at the pontoon which was packed with cars when I arrived and I was lucky to find a space. It was but a short walk out to the end with all my gear. I decided to set up on the third ‘finger’ of the ‘T’, roughly in line with a drop off to about 16 feet of water. Every berth was full of cruisers of all shapes and sizes. I began by ground baiting, balls were hurled into the depths and I would keep this up for the whole session in an attempt to lure a few bream into the swim and hold them there. I am not a good bream angler. I live far from the venues I fish so pre-baiting is not an option for me. I have a lot to learn about ground baiting and in particular keeping a shoal in the swim. I catch bream in ones and twos then they seem to drift off again. I suspect this is because I don’t feed enough but to be honest I am not sure. With that depth of water under the pontoon I was hoping the bream would still be relatively comfortable despite the all pervading heat. I could have tried a sliding float but instead I opted for the easier option of using swimfeeders.
Acre’s holds other species too. Roach, tench, rudd, perch and pike also live there meaning I could potentially turn up pretty much anything. Given the awful weather for angling I would be happy to settle for just about any fish that happen along. I had read that the bream can get up to 4 or 5 pounds in weight and the tench can be impressively large too so I opted for 4 pound hook links to begin with. Although there was barely sufficient space I managed to fish with two rods, a swim feeder on each one.
Almost from the first cast I was getting tappy little bites. I missed all of them from the first half hour, the hook coming back still with the maggots on it. I took this to mean it was tiddlers trying to eat the bait but unable to get a size 10 hook in their mouths. I toyed with dropping hook size but decide to persevere with the rigs as they were. Eventually I struck into a small fish and out came a skimmer of a few ounces. The bites continued unabated for a couple of hours with me missing most of them and winding in skimmers when I did connect.
It all went quiet around noon. The heat was crippling and only for a faint cooling breeze I would have packed up. I decided to swap the cage feeder for a maggot feeder on the leger rod to see if this would help but to be honest I saw little difference. Tiny rudd were everywhere but I didn’t see any good ones so was not tempted to try a free-lined maggot. It would be nearly two o’clock before a shoal of roach moved into the swim and I landed three of them and lost a few more besides.
The baby bream returned just before I packed up and I landed a few more of them, the best one might have reached a pound in weight. By 4pm I was well cooked and had had enough so I tidied up and departed. Counting up as I drove home, I had landed 12 skimmers and 3 roach. Most anglers would consider this a very poor return but given the appalling conditions I was not too displeased. Time constrains meant I could only fish during the hottest part of the day and my expectations were low to start with. The bigger fish will have sought deeper, cooler water and only the little fellas were hanging around. I am sure a change in hook size would have resulted me converting a higher proportion of the bites into fish in the hand but it was just too damn hot to be bothered fiddling around. I was happy just to take in the scenery and reel in the occasional tiddler today.
So what do I make of Acre’s Lake? It has potential but fishing it at this time of the year is difficult as the lake is so busy with boat traffic. I might try it again in the autumn when there are much less tourists on the go. The pontoon is certainly very handy for putting you right over deep water without the need for a long cast.
Good god, what was I going to do about Laois? As far back as the end of last year I had been looking for a suitable venue there. No major loughs, no coastline, little in the way of rivers either. No canals for me to gently float some maggot down. No hill loughs or rushing streams. Maybe there was a small tench lake or a stream with a few roach? Or perhaps a farm pond with a host of small rudd in it? I kept pumping ‘Laois, fishing’ and similar search terms into Google but I was not finding much in the way of quality angling. So Laois was very firmly put ‘on the long finger’. I planned other angling escapades but forgot about the O’Moore county for now.
Fast forward to today, July 2021. This had been going on for too long and I had to make some real effort to find a spot to fish down there. In the intervening period I had made occasional desultory efforts to research Laois but they had come to nought. Now I sat down and spent some time refining the search and studying maps. Coffee was drunk, the cats did their best to distract me but I stuck to my task for once. I had been sure it would be some coarse fishing that I’d find and so it proved.
Before we get into the fishing let’s take a look at Laois. Firstly, for those of you not from Ireland the name must present some problems. Spelt ‘Laois’ it is pronounced ‘Leash’ There are some complications to that but we will skip over the finer points of Gaelic pronunciation and just settle for ‘Leash’. Formally know as ‘poor and proud’, it is now a prosperous county, it lies to the west and south of Dublin and shares a border with most of the midland counties. Home to a lot of beef and dairy farms, there are a scattering of towns and villages and the main road from Dublin to Cork and Limerick bisects the county. I have traveled across it many times but until today I’ve never stopped the car, switched off the engine and pulled on the handbrake.
A typical summer’s morning, warm air filled with the scent of blossoms in the garden as I slurp coffee to waken me up. The sparrows and starlings are making an unholy racket in the trees, not helped by the cats who are on the prowl. I am looking forward to the day ahead, the change of scene and prospect of fishing somewhere new is always appealing to me. The recent hot, bright weather is continuing and for this reason I will be targeting Rudd today with the outside chance of a tench.
Laois is easy to get too from Mayo, there is a good road that goes all the way there. The easiest way there for me was to go to Athlone then to Abbyeliex via Tullamore and Portlaoise. I left it late to set off, planning a leisurely drive there, a peaceful days fishing and maybe stay on until the evening if the fishing was slow through the day to try and tempt a tench as darkness fell. All in all this would mean a very long day for me.
I had a few maggots left over from my last outing and I took some frozen dead casters out of the freezer to add to my ground bait. Stopping off along the way I picked up a loaf of bread in a Centra shop and some fresh maggots at Mountrath Tackle Shop (nice little shop with lots in it and great advice from Fran). So where was I heading?
I had decided to try a small lake called Gill’s Pond in the small village of Ballinakill. According to my research it held rudd, roach, bream and a few tench plus some bonus carp. Surely even I could catch something there? I called one of the club members when I arrived and Connor kindly gave me some good information about the lake and what to try. Setting up on peg 1, I commenced operations at around 2pm under a cloudless blue sky and 27 degree temperature. OK, so conditions were rubbish but I was hoping the fish might come on the take as the sun dropped below the horizon. I had carefully read the rules which are posted on the door of the hut. Unfortunately, you are only allowed to use one rod so my idea of setting up the leger rod for bottom species while I float fished for rudd went out the window immediately. Reduced to only the one rod I opted for my old Shakespeare which is a bit of an all-rounder. I was no sooner standing at the peg when a family of swans appeared and spent the next 20 minutes in the swim. Eventually they headed off again but this visitation was repeated numerous times over the course of the session, each time requiring me to stop fishing and the swim to be dirty with weeds the birds had pulled up.
I started off with a helicopter rig fished as close as I could to the lily pads on my right but other than a couple of half-hearted taps the maggots were ignored. It was blistering hot and I decided to try for rudd. The swans were always close by and I reckoned that trying bread would simply attract the birds back into the swim. I rigged up a light float to fish on the drop and baited the size 18 hook with a single maggot. The very first cast saw the float dip and I wound in a small rudd. A few casts later a roach accepted the maggot. I missed lots of bites but I was catching pretty steadily. I would get maybe 20 minutes of fishing before the dreaded swans came back into the swim and I had to halt for a while. I loose fed maggots and kept a steady stream of balls of groundbait going into the very edge of the lily pads in the hope of getting some tench to start feeding.
A skimmer put in an appearance and then it was back to the rudd again. By 6pm I decided to go back to the feeder so setting up a new rig I threaded a piece of artificial corn on to a hair rig to pop up the bait from the bottom slightly. Tappy little bites bothered me for a while (rudd) but I did manage a good bream on this set up plus some other small stuff. In the end I decided the noise of the swimfeeder hitting the water was too invasive so I went back to the float, this time a waggler shotted over depth and a size 10 hook baited with a bunch of maggots. Another skimmer, some roach and a solitary perch fell for this tactic. I lift bite saw me strike into a small tench but this lad managed to throw the hook. What is it about me and tench just now? I can’t seem to land one for love nor money.
Fishing ends at 9pm on Gills lake so I packed up just as the place seemed to be coming alive. Lots of bubbles in the margins suggested the tench were finally coming on the feed but I had to leave. I was getting tired by then anyway and I had a three hour drive home ahead of me. The final tally was 15 rudd (mostly small but there was one good one), 4 roach, two skimmers, one decent bream and one small perch. 23 fish on a day when nobody in their right senses would be out with a fishing rod was an acceptable return I think.
At 12.20am I pulled into the driveway at home. A quick brew then off the bed, contemplating the day. Gill’s pond is well run and a very pretty place to fish. It has a big head of coarse fish in it and it is a pity it is so far away from me as I would definitely fish there again if it was closer. Given the terrible conditions of extreme heat and brilliant sunshine I was more than happy with my catch for the day and my choice of a pond stuffed with rudd had been fully vindicated. The swans had been a royal pain in the posterior all day but it was their home so I just had to suck it up. When all is said and done that is one more county successfully fished in my quest to do all 32.
By hot weather I mean hot by Irish standards. Anything above 20 degrees is classed as ‘hot’ here in Ireland which is pretty laughable in many parts of the world. We usually get a few days of hot, dry weather at some point during the summer and we are basking in the mid-twenties right now. So what effect does that have on our fishing?
The answer is pretty terrible I am afraid. Trout simply hide in the shade all day, venturing out in the relative cool of the evening to feed. Dedicated trout men will fish the last vestiges of light and into the total darkness. A fall of spinners will bring the fish on and sport can be fast and furious for a short spell. Later on a sedge can fool one or two trout. Sea trout in the rivers can be caught of course during the hours of darkness but that branch of the sport is not very popular here in the west coast.
Salmon anglers will flog away during high temperatures but to be honest I think they should leave the fish alone. Salmon become very stressed in warm water and catching them adds to this and can easily kill them no matter how carefully they are handled. If you are salmon fishing and catch one do not lift the fish out of the water, unhook it in the net and release it as quickly as possible. Grilse will continue to run even in very low water conditions and the fishing can be quite good but very hot weather does tend to put them off.
That beautiful little fish, the rudd, loves hot, calm conditions and they are plentiful here in the midland lakes and slow rivers. Float fishing for them is a lovely way to while away a sunny afternoon. Bread or sweetcorn are the favourite baits but I still like to use a single maggot. Rudd in some lakes grow to a good size but catching the bigger lads is tricky. Other coarse fish can be caught if you fish ‘early and late’ but as soon as the sun is up the fish tend to go off. Night fishing for tench can be good mind you.
For me, hot weather means a spot of sea fishing. With any luck there may be a few mackerel around to give some sport. General bottom fishing will turn up rays and dogfish while deep water rocky marks should produce pollock to either bait or lures. The fishing might not be brilliant but you may catch something. Sea angling into the darkness or during the night will increase your chances of success greatly at any time but during a heatwave this is even more true.
I like the Ballinamore canal. It is stuffed with fish for one thing and due to the wrecked tourist season it is pretty quiet meaning I can fish with relatively little disturbance from passing boats. Today I tried a new spot for me at lock 13 about half way between Leitrim Village and Keshcarrigan. Thursdays are a good day for me to head off to the canal as I can drop Helen at her work and mosey on up to the canal via Carrick-on-Shannon where I can buy some bait.
I routinely refer to this canal as the ‘Ballinamore’ but it has various names. Probably the right one is ‘the Ballinamore, Ballyconnel canal. Part of it could rightly be referred to as the Woodford river as this river was straightened and canalised to form part of the waterway. In common with most Irish canals, this one was an economic disaster, fell into ruin and has been repaired and is now used for pleasure craft. It links the Erne catchment in the north to the Shannon. What interests us anglers is the good stocks of roach, bream, hybrids, perch and pike. Some rudd and tench are also present
So why Lock 13? It is reasonably close for me and it looks like a spot where the roach will shoal up. As I explore the different parts of the canal I am slowly building up a picture of where to fish and where to avoid so this was going to be another one of those sessions where I was planning on doing more learning than fishing. My usual canal set up of the light leger rod for fishing in the margins and a float rod for the main channel were in the back of the car.
A car park beside the locks was a huge benefit for me and I parked up and unloaded all the gear. It’s mid-summer now and the air is warm. We have had some rain recently so the salmon and sea trout are running but I want to avoid the crowds and just do some gentle canal fishing instead. I find the lock and park up. Only a few people around and a boat is passing through the lock as I tackle up. Immediately below the lock there is a flat concrete structure where I can fish from with ease. The canal is very dirty due to recent rain.
A few balls of groundbait plop into the swim and I start to fish. Another boat uses the lock and operations are suspended while the brown water rushes past, churning up twigs and rubbish from the bottom. My ground bait has been washed away so I feed the swim again and re-start. This would be the nature of the session as there is an unexpectedly high volume of boat traffic today.
The leger rod gives a nod and I wind in a tiny perch. Next the float disappears slowly and another small perch wriggles on the end. I have to wrestle a small branch out on the float rod after my hook catches on it in the murky water. I loose feed a few maggots and am soon rewarded with the first of a string of roach. None of them are any great size but I do love catching these pretty fish.
The hours pass and a pattern can be observed. Every time the lock gates are opened and the swim is disturbed it takes about 20 minutes for the fish to come back on the feed. I move further downstream to see if this is any better but apart from one good roach which falls off at the net I hook nothing there. I pack up and head home in time for a nice dinner.
I guess this is a fairly typical angling day on the canal, a few smallish fish on light tackle amid calming surroundings. On a day like today with no wind to speak of the loughs would be dreadfully hard work where as a short session on the canal is very relaxing. What is interesting is my growing confidence as I ever-so-slowly amass snippets of knowledge with every trip here. It is easy to dismiss a few tiddlers as a waste of time but I see it very differently. Angling means different things to different people. The pressure of the competitions attracts some, trying to catch their PB is the goal for others. I happen to fall into the category of those anglers who use angling as an escape from everyday life and just enjoy being out by the water messing about and hopefully catching a few fish but not becoming overly stressed if I blank. Lock 13 provided me with a lovely few hours of solitary relaxation.
Leitrim is fast becoming my ‘go to’ place for coarse fishing. The range of venues is breath-taking and the opportunities seem to be almost endless. In these difficult times I don’t like to plan too far in advance so instead I watch the weather and decide if each day is a game fishing day or one for coarse fishing. I am well aware of how blessed I am to live here and have so much angling on my doorstep.
Next week is forecast to be one of light winds and overcast skies – looks like I will be heading for Leitrim again!
Warning! Those of a sensitive nature are advised to skip this post.
I found this place by searching maps of the backcountry of Leitrim. Narrow roads twist through lush green fields and every now and then a small lake can be found, tucked out of sight from the road. This was one of those lakes, an unruly piece of water bounded by wide belts of rushes. It was down a boreen which led to nowhere in particular close to the Leitrim/Longford border. I seriously doubted it had been fished in years.
Rain lashed against the windscreen as I pushed through Roscommon and cut off to Carrick-on-Shannon. By the time I stopped there to pick up some maggots the rain had stopped and the sun was threatening to peep through the veil of grey clouds. Off again, this time south on the N4 before turning off into the maze of back roads. I had done my homework though and found the spot with ease. Parking up, I looked for the water but none was anywhere to be seen. It was only after I had crossed two fields that I came to the lough, exactly as I had hoped it would be, resplendent with an old fishing stand.
Many years ago this small lake must have had some development work done on it and a fine wooden walkway led to a double fishing stand well out in the water. Reeds and lily pads almost surrounded the stand but there was a little open water immediately in front of it. Busying myself with all the details of setting up I barely noticed the condition of the stand but the wood looked to be free of rot and was stable, well sort of anyway. It wobbled a bit when I moved around but nothing too alarming.
Ground baiting with a mix of crumb, oats and corn with a few maggots was soon completed and I fired in four balls in quick succession. My aim with the catapult is getting a bit better now! A steady wind blew directly into my face and my hopes of fishing the float were dashed so I set up both rods with feeders and commenced operations. I kept feeding the swim to my right as it looked as fishy as hell, those lily pads must be home to some good fish. An hour passed before the leger rod gave a rattle and a small roach came to hand. I was not expecting roach here but it was a welcome start. Only a few casts later a more solid take resulted in a smallish bream. Another soon followed. This was turning into a good day!
More balls of groundbait flew through the air to land exactly where I wanted them. Two more roach obliged then a couple more bream. A small but very pretty rudd ate my bunch of maggots too. I was having fun but that wind was making me cold so I popped back to the car for more clothes. I threw on a fleece and my oilskin coat then returned to the swim and continued fishing. A very solid bite on was met with a solid strike from me and I was into something much more substantial. I knew right away this was a tench and a good one at that. He bored deep, ran for the reeds twice only for me to turn him at the last second. For five minutes it was anyones game but my pressure was beginning to tell and he came up and rolled on the surface. I am sure I let out a gasp – he was all of six pounds and maybe more! More boring and darting off but he was tired now and I reached for the net. I lifted and tightened the drag a smidgin, with that he turned and ran off on a searing run. SNAP! In an instant he was gone, the six pound breaking strain nylon had parted like cotton thread under the power of his last dash. It was my fault, I should not have tightened the drag. What a fish to lose!
I wound in the line and set up a new feeder. I had time to fish on for a while and who knows, maybe there was another good tench in there?
What follows happened in a few seconds in real time but, as in so many dramatic occasions it felt like ages.
I cast out the leger rod, tightened up to the feeder, put the rod down and sat back on my seatbox. I instantly found myself moving backwards and the seatbox began to tip. With nothing to grab on to, both my arms were extended and flailing in thin air. The angle increased and I was past the point of no return.
‘OK, I am going to fall on my back, mind I don’t bump my head’ I thought
‘I will land on the walkway’ Wrong! In fact as the seatbox fell I was sort of catapulted backwards, my right shoulder striking the edge of the walkway with such force it threw me around and I entered the water head first facing away from the stand.
‘I’m going in, don’t panic’. I have fallen into water many times over the years so I knew what was coming. A strong swimmer with no fear of water and the bonus of offshore safety training I was expecting the rush of cold. I held my breath.
Something is wrong, where is the bottom? Fully immersed, I was heading down quickly. Eyes open, the world was a yellowy green colour and weeds were all around me.
Hang on, I could drown here! That very clear thought came to mind. There was no panic, just a realisation I was in danger. Instead of just getting wet I was in deep water and facing the wrong way. I flipped myself around in the water and kicked out with my legs, full sure I would push myself back towards the surface but of the bottom there was no trace. I started swimming, the weeds hindering me a little.
‘Eyes open, hold your breath, strong strokes’. Your clothes trap air when you fall in and this helps to give you buoyancy but my wellies felt very heavy indeed. More strokes. This seemed to be taking ages!
I broke the surface and at the second attempt grabbed the walkway.
‘Catch your breath first. Assess the best way of getting out’. Don’t exhaust yourself. Still no panic, just running through what I have been trained to do. It was a long way through thick reeds to the bank so I decided to haul myself out on to the walkway. It was actually easier than I thought it would be and soon I was standing on the timbers, water running out of me. Time to take stock. Apart from hitting my shoulder of the walkway I had no other injuries. It was a warm day so I was not in immediate danger from hypothermia. I was thinking clearly and so moved to the end of the stand to figure out what to do.
As you can imagine, I was soaked to the skin. A quick check showed that all I could see was missing was my glasses and my hat. The glasses have gone for good but the hat surfaced in the reeds and was recovered in my landing net.
So there I was, stood there like the creature from the black lagoon. There really was only one course of action so I carefully reeled in and packed up. Shouldering the offending seatbox, I squelched my way back across the fields to the waiting car. Scrounging around inside I found a black fleece, a pair of waterproof over trousers and my hiking boots. I was in the middle of nowhere so I stripped off completely and dressed in this odd assortment of (dry) clothes. The gear and all the wet clothes were unceremoniously hurled in the rear of the car. Luckily, my mobile had been in my tackle box when I received my ducking.
With my driving glasses now firmly on the bottom of the lough I needed another pair for the drive home. Ferreting around in various nooks and crannies in the car I found an old pair of well dodgy glasses that Helen had. Remarkably I could see perfectly with them, the only drawback being I looked like a bedraggled Dame Edna Everage wearing them.
The drive home was uneventful and I had time to think about what had just happened. The seatbox has never been the steadiest due to the carrying arrangement I had fitted and there has been the odd wobble over the years. The problem today was the old stand was not level, it slanted backwards and I suspect what had happened was it shifted slightly as I sat down, increasing that angle and causing the box to start to tip. My shocking lack of balance meant I was unable to correct the backward motion so I went hurtling base over apex. My right shoulder started to ache as I drove (it is bloody sore as I write this) and I must have hit the walkway very hard. I believe that high divers refer to my entry as a ‘reverse somersault with twist’. It only attracts a very low score in competitions but then again I think I should be awarded extra points as few, if any, professional divers have carried out this particular dive clad in a three-quarter-length oilskin coat and wellington boots.
It has been a long time since I last fell in. It used to be a regular occurrence when I was young because I loved wading deep and getting into places other anglers could not. Many times I slipped or misjudged the depth and got a soaking for my troubles but I was young and didn’t care a jot about a bit of water. These days I am usually more careful.
The soaking was one thing, losing that big tench was a real tragedy. I thought it was beaten but he found some strength and tore off on an unstoppable run. Apart from the (now obvious) issues with the stand this lough has great potential and I will head back there again soon. The next time I will bring a better chair and a change of clothes!
Update: It’s the next morning and my shoulder is very painful and stiff to move but otherwise I am no worse the wear. I am already plotting a return visit to the forgotten lough! I am re-spooling my reels with 10 pound line and making up some heavy rigs.
I needed a break from the long distance ‘32’ fishing trips. Between them and the recent trip to Scotland I had been clocking up some serious miles lately and I wanted something a little less strenuous for a change. A few grilse are being caught in my local rivers but not in huge numbers despite heavy angling pressure. The thought of shouldering my way through throngs of fly fishers on the off chance of bumping into a grilse did not really appeal, so instead I headed off for the neighbouring county of Leitrim for a bit of coarse fishing.
Leitrim really does live up to the hype of the marketing guys. Very rural and off the beaten track, it sports innumerable lakes, rivers, ponds and canals, all teeming with roach and bream. Coarse anglers come here from across Europe to sample the delights of Carrick, Ballinamore and Carrigallen every year (well, they did until Covid-19). I fervently hope these anglers will return soon, the local economy really needs as much help as it can get these days.
I decided to fish a small lake called Lough McHugh, close to Mohill and not that awfully far from Carrick-on-Shannon. I have never fished it before but the blurb on the IFI website suggested there were stocks of the ubiquitous roach and bream, maybe some rudd and possibly a few tench too. The staples of perch and pike were also present of course. Some gear was jumbled into the back of the car yesterday evening, my recently acquired tackle box hopefully containing all the bits and bobs I was likely to need. In the fridge there was half a pint of maggots left over from my last outing. I will admit I have seen livelier lads but I figured they would suffice. All I had to do was remember to take them with me (I had forgotten my worms the last time I ventured out)! I ground up some old rich tea biscuits to add to my ground bait by way of an experiment. Maybe the touch of sweetness might attract a few fish into my swim.
The weather has been warm and settled lately and that was the forecast for Thursday. If anything it sounded like it would be too nice a day but heigh-ho, what harm lazing in the sunshine beside an Irish lake? Seemingly there were a couple of fishing stands on the east side of the lough and it was here I would pitch up for the day. An early night beckoned so I would be fresh for the morning.
I dropped Helen at work and then drove over to Carrick-on-Shannon. The roads were not too busy as the schools are on holidays here at the moment, making for a pleasant enough trip. Weather wise it was a dull, still sort of a day but with the promise of the sun breaking through as the day progressed. I knew where I was going as I have been fishing around that area before, just never on this particular lough. An old sign at the road end proclaimed I had arrived.
The track down to the edge of the lough was barred due to a locked gate so I had to haul all my gear on my back for the last few hundred yards. With my dodgy knees that made for a painful start to the day but I got to the stand OK and set up. Lobbing in some groundbait I set up with a cage swimfeeder and a worm on a size 12 before stringing the float rod with a waggler shotted over depth and a size 14 baited with maggots. Settling down, I took in my surroundings.
HcHugh is a beautiful lake with a couple of small islands near the eastern shore. Thick beds of reeds and lilies reach out from the bank making it difficult to fish from most places but there is a fine stand near the car park. A pair of swans with five cygnets cruised the lough, unperturbed by my presence. All was serene and wonderfully peaceful.
In fact, it was almost too peaceful as the fish did not want to play at all. I continued to throw in occasional balls of groundbait laced with maggots. I changed to small hooks and loose fed some maggots. I changed the cage feeder, opting instead for a maggot feeder. Eventually the float dipped and I lifted into a nice 8 ounce roach. Any thoughts I might have harboured that this was the start of something were cruelly disabused as it all went dead again.
Taking stock of the situation I decided to cut my losses and try another venue. The day was still young and by the time I had packed up and made my way back to the car it was only 1pm. For a while now I have been wanting to try the Ballinamore canal so this was the perfect opportunity. I made shapes for Leitrim village, a little way past Carrick-on-Shannon. Here the canal meets the river amid a plethora of pleasure boats. In a normal year it is far too busy for serious angling but these are not normal times and I hoped it would be fairly quiet.
My plan was to fish downstream of Killarcan lock on a nice grassy bank but a ‘private, no entry’ sign on the gate put an end to that idea. Instead, I crossed the canal and set up on a floating pontoon well below the lock gates. Plumbing up I found about 5 feet of water in the middle, more than enough to fish in. The sun came out as I tackled up. This time I tried the light leger rod and popped a worm into the corner at the end of the pontoon while I set up the float rod. Immediately I had a bite which I missed by a country mile. A fresh worm was sent out and sure enough a firm rattle indicated another prospective customer. This time I set the hook and out came a small perch.
Finally, the float rod was ready and I fired some balls of groundbait into the swim. I started with a bunch of maggots on a size 14 hook. Nothing happened for a while but I was enjoying just being out in the fresh air on such a lovely day. At last the float gave a waggle, then a lift before diving and I struck into a nice roach. Four more followed in quick succession before it went quiet again. The leger was totally ignored during this time. I loose fed some maggots to try and keep the fish in front of me but they seemed to wander off for a while before returning. By then I had dropped to a size 16 and reduced the bait to a pair of maggots. This worked a treat and fish after fish dragged the light float under. I had a busy afternoon!
A large boat appeared around 5pm and I gave them a hand to tie up. We chatted for a while and by the time I returned to my rods I felt I had caught enough and wanted to head home. In total 17 roach had fallen for the maggot and that lonesome perch was the only lad to eat my carefully presented worm. A couple of the roach would have weighed around 12 ounces but most were a lot smaller.
All in all I had a great day, catching a few fish amid gorgeous scenery. There were no monsters I know, but a day when the small fellas are biting can still be very satisfying. A couple of odd things happened while fishing Lough McHugh. A lesser black back gull swooped out of the sky and lifted off with a baby pike in its beak. I can only surmise the fish was already dead and the gull spotted it floating on the surface. Then something small swam out from the bank near me. At first I thought it was a frog but the swimming action was all wrong so I watched as the tiny creature circled my float then made its way back to the shore. Incredibly it was a mouse. I got a good look at it and it was not a bank vole or a young rat, it was definitely a mouse.
It looks like there will be no fishing for me for the next while as other commitments are crowding in on me. At least I made it out today. Every day fishing is a blessing. The only downside is I stepped on my landing net handle and broke it. I will pick up a new one sometime soon.
My research into finding somewhere to catch a fish in Meath threw up lots of options but none of them really ‘sang’ to me. No gasps of excitement when reading about possibilities, no heart-fluttering watery discoveries. Meath is a large county situated in the east of Ireland stretching all the way from Westmeath in the heart of the midlands to close to Dublin city. The Irish Sea marks the extreme eastern edge of the county around the town of Drogheda. Mainly flat agricultural land, it also hosts many commuter towns. The marketing guys sell Meath to tourists as the heart of ‘Ireland’s ancient east’ which is fair enough I suppose. Kells and Newgrange are both in Meath for example. The rivers Boyne and Dee were spectacular salmon fisheries in days gone by but they have both faded to a shadow of their fomer selves and it would not be the silvery salmon I would be after this time.
Coarse fishing is cropping up a lot in my ramblings across the country, more often than had expected to be honest. This is the result of naivety on my part and also a reflection on the poor game fishing we see these days here in Ireland. Years ago the loughs and rivers of Ireland were full of trout and salmon but that simply isn’t the case anymore. Abstraction, pollution, dredging, overfishing, invasive species and the rest of modern day ‘progress’ have reduced our game fish populations greatly across vast swathes of old Ireland. In their place we see huge shoals of roach, dace in some southern rivers and even chub in the river Inny. Anyway, it soon became apparent that my foray to Meath would in all probability entail a spot of float or leger fishing. And what harm? I have grown to love dabbling in the black arts of maggot drowning. I lack any degree of sophistication or expertise in the genre but I learning process is proving enjoyable and fulfilling.
The Mentrim loughs up near to Ardee sounded very good but it is a long auld trip from here to Ardee and I was hoping to find a spot nearer to home. I looked at the path of the royal canal as it cut across the county and found a place called Boyne Dock just inside the Meath border not too far from the town of Kinnegad. I settled on there and planned accordingly. I hold my hands up and confess there was a large element of laziness on my part here, Kinnegad is just off the motorway and is easy to get too without a long, complex journey down winding country roads. Would this lack of effort on my my part come back to haunt me?
I am attracted to spots on the canals where the shape of the waterway changes, either narrowing or widening, or where locks interrupt the long miles of straight, featureless towpath. I surmise that places like this must be attractive to the fish so I hunt out basins, bends, locks and harbours. That is how I came to select Boyne Dock. Here, a small basin had been excavated, a widening where I hoped the fish might congregate. On the map it does not look like much but any slight change in shape inspires my confidence. I have read nothing about the dock and it seems to have either slipped under the radar of anglers or, heaven forbid, is utterly useless. I was about to find out.
I was planning for roach but hoping for bream and praying for tench. The usual coarse gear came with me including the never used pike rod. It is always along for the ride but somehow never sees action. Maybe today that would change, if there are no signs of roach or bream the spinning gear will be given an airing. A light rod for drop shotting also made the cut so the option of targeting perch was also available to me. Yes, I know, this is far too much gear to bring with me but I have a dread of missing out on an opportunity when doing this 32 project. The thought of driving home fishless just because I didn’t bring this or that bit of tackle plagues me.
The usual process of loading up the car and setting off on the road to the east has been well rehearsed at this stage. Not for the first time I was off down the Dublin road. I stopped off in Longford to pick up some bait from Denniston’s shop. To be honest the timing of this trip was based around the opening time of the bait shop. At 9.30 am Denniston’s fling their doors open to the world and I could avail of their finest grubs. My complete and unshakable faith in maggots shows no signs of abating so I bought some red ones and white ones. I thought I had brought along a few worms for good measure too. These were dug from the compost heap the previous evening, a mixture of small reds and brandlings. None of them were any great size but they would be good enough to tempt a perch I reckoned as I popped them into a small white container. It was only when I stopped in Longford that I realised the hard won worms were not in the car – I had left them at home! I bought a few more at the shop.
Back behind the wheel and the miles slipped by as I mulled over the prospects for the day. If the dock did not fish I would be forced to try walking along the towpath, searching for a shoal of roach or a stray perch. There are worse ways of spending a day I guess. My decision not to make the longer trip to Ardee prayed upon my mind though, doubts swirling about in my head as I cruised along at a steady, if unexciting, 55mph. An uneventful journey saw me turn off at Kinnegad and only a few miles further on I turned into a car park near to the dock. A number of cars were already parked there but as it turned out none of them belonged to fishermen.
The canal here is raised above the surrounding countryside. Indeed, when approaching the dock the R160 road passes right under the canal as well as the railway. Kildare was but two fields away to the south. So it was here, amid the verdant fields on the very edge of the royal county that I would try my luck. It is quite ironic that I have taken to canal fishing at this stage of my life. Many years ago I lived in Kirkintilloch, just north of Glasgow. Formally an industrial centre for heavy engineering, the town had slid into depression and decay over the years but one major part of infrastructure remained, the Forth Clyde canal. Every day I walked my faithful collie for miles along the towpath and it never once crossed my mind to try fishing there. At the time I simply had no interest in coarse fishing so passed up some great opportunities. I now understand the canal there is full of roach, perch and pike. Ah well……
It was wet while I was driving from the west but the forecast was for a dry afternoon. By the time I had reached my destination there was some blue sky showing amid the fluffly white clouds. I unloaded all the tackle and set up two rods, one for the float and the other with a simple link leger. My thinking was to target roach with float fished maggot and aim for perch by legering a worm on the bottom. The old 13 foot ABU float rod, Daiwa Harrier reel and 4 pound line and a small float was soon set up and I used the 10 foot margin rod with a wee red Firebird reel that I found in the bottom of a cupboard filled with 6 pound main line for the running leger.
The basin was small but it gave the appearance it could be home to a few fish. Weeds looked like they might be a problem though and my decision to delay this trip until late June looked like a mistake. Before commencing fishing I raked out a swim and baited it. Small balls of brown crumb with a little hemp mixed in and flavoured with vanilla provided the ground bait, my aim being to attract fish into my chosen swim and then try to keep them in front of me with a trickle of loose feed. Opting for a size 14 with a couple of maggots on it I fished over depth on the float rod. A worm on a size 12 was my chosen end gear for the leger. One of the big issues when fishing Irish canals is the clarity of the shallow water. This leads the fish to be very easily spooked both by unwary movements on the bank or by overly thick line. For that reason I was using 2.6 pound breaking strain hook lengths. I realise this was taking a chance because if I hooked a decent sized fish it could easily break me off in the weeds. The internet had informed me that there were good tench and even carp in this canal but I was pretty sure the best I could hope for was a 6 ounce roach or a minuscule perch.
The towpath was a hive of activity with a constant stream of dog walkers, hikers and cyclists making the best of the nice weather. I cast in the light leger first then set up the float rod. The canal is shallow, only two-and-a-half feet deep in the middle so a small waggler was all that was required. Settling into a rhythm, I fished steadily for an hour or more, occasional balls of groundbait interspersed with some loose fed maggots decorating the swim. Some small rudd could be seen messing about near the surface a few yards away but otherwise all was quiet. The water was gin clear and weeds grew right to the surface outwith the small area I had raked. This was proving to be a tough gig.
At last the float gave a slight tremor then dived but I missed the bite. By now I had dropped to a size 20 hook hoping to match the single maggots that I was feeding in. I fished on, glued to the float and wishing it would register a bite. I ate a sandwich, drank some coffee and scowled at the stationary float. I had to try something different. Taking the float off I changed it for a lighter one and re-shotted the line. I also swapped the tiny size 20, a huge looking size 16 taking its place. Two red maggots adorned the new hook and off into the cool water they sailed. Almost immediately there was a tap at the float but it came to nothing. I loose fed a handful of maggots and re-cast. This time there was a positive take and a small perch came to hand. A few casts later a slightly larger perch repeated the exercise. OK, so I was not breaking any records here but at least I had not blanked.
It went quiet again for a while but a cast to the very edge of the raked area produced a solid bite and I lifted as the float slid off to my left. This was a better fish which required netting. A lovely hybrid fought well and was quickly snapped and then released.
The small rudd had been knocking at the maggots all afternoon and one was unfortunate enough to get himself hooked and landed. They are such pretty little fish! It all went dead after that and try as I might I could not get any more offers. In the end I packed up and headed off home.
So what to make of all that? In the bright conditions in very clear water I suspect I actually did OK landing one good fish. Early morning or late evening would definitely have given me a better chance but beggars can’t be choosers. My normally reliable method of a legered worm in the margins failed to register a single offer even though there were some perch knocking about. Raking the swim took me ages and I think I need a bigger rake. Weed growth is luxuriant in the canals at this time of year and effective raking is a must if you want to contact fish.
So Meath is crossed off the list. After the shenanigans up in Fermanagh during my last outing this was a return to reality with a bump. I am beginning to suspect I need to be more flexible with my times on these longer trips so I can fish early or late rather than during the middle of the day. It’s all a learning curve for me!
On the subject of new coarse fishing equipment, I have been considering the issues of access to loughs and how to tackle weed infested margins.
Weeds, reeds and other vegetation are a constant problem for me when searching out likely swims on my coarse fishing trips. I think in general this is more of a problems for anglers here in Ireland than it usually is in England where commercial fisheries are well tended. Here, wild loughs are pretty much left to themselves and access can be very difficult, sometimes to the point where I have looked at many loughs and decided it was just too difficult to clear a swim for me to waste time on them. Even on loughs where I do find somewhere to fish there are often lots of reeds and other growth which hamper me and their removal would make life much easier. I suspect here in the west the lakes are left to their own devices because there are so few coarse anglers. I know some waters which are teeming with roach but never see a rod and line.
I had already bought a weed rake for clearing underwater foliage but heavy growth of bankside reeds reaching many yards out into the lake had previously defeated me. Attempts at cutting down the offending reeds with a pen knife understandably came to nought. I was seriously under-gunned. So I bought myself a wee gadget (we all love a good gadget, don’t we?) for trimming aquatic reeds. It regales in the wonderful name of ‘the grim reaper’ and on the face of it this could be a huge step forward for me. It is basically a slash hook but one fitted with a screw thread to attach to a bank stick or a landing net handle. It’s a vicious looking brute of a thing but clearing vegetation is going to require a no-nonsense approach.
It came with a protective cover which was a good thing as it is very sharp. I am sure that regular use will dull the edge but brand new it is uncommonly sharp. In operation it appears to be straightforward to use. The beauty of the cutting head is that it has a 3/8 BSF thread welded on to it so that it screws into my landing net handle, something I will be carrying with me anyway. Once screwed safely into place I simply hook the blade around the reeds and pull towards me, chopping them down and creating space for me to cast through. I can imagine that in use the hook will work loose easily so a length of electrical tape might need to be wound over the joint but I always have a roll of tape in my bag anyway to bind it on tightly.
It has yet to be used in anger but I am hopeful this tool will make my angling life that little bit easier and let me catch a few more fish. Who knows, it might help me to access parts of loughs which have never been fished before! There are plenty of this kind of water, small lakes and ponds over here which are quite literally never fished. There could be anything swimming around in them but it is just too much trouble to clear a swim so anglers pass them by. I’m already plotting on clearing a swim on a small, reed choked lake here in Mayo this summer which was rumoured to have been stocked with tench many long years ago by an elderly priest who loved his coarse fishing. I heard this story years ago but only lately I was talking to a fisheries officer and he told me they once netted the lake in question to check on stocks of trout. Low and behold, lots of tench came up in the nets! There were no big ones in the haul but even small tench are very tempting targets for me and to have some virtually on my doorstep is quite exciting.
So the ‘Grim Reaper’ now resides in my coarse fishing seatbox, ready for action. It joins an ever expanding collection of gear in there. Lately, I have added some additional floats (like I need any more), a larger landing net (optimistic in the extreme) and rig wallets so I can carry more made up hook lengths with me. So far I have resisted the temptation of trying hair rigs, pellets or in-line feeders. Maybe they will feature further down the line but for now finding good places to fish, gaining access to the water and learning to use basic gear are my main aims. All in all, I am now better prepared than I was this time last year and as a result am feeling just a tad more confident.
One of Kingsmill Moore’s lesser known patterns, this is a capital fly for all game fish on a dark, scoury day. It is a fly I place a lot of faith in and it has repaid me with many fine fish over the years. Like the rest of the bumble series it is pretty easy to tie, the only slightly challenging part is winding both body hackles together but you soon get the hang of that with a little practice. I must confess that this is another classic pattern which I can’t help but play around with.
Start by placing a hook in the vice. Sizes range from 14 up to 6 heavy wet fly hook, depending on the fish you are after. It pays to have a few of these tied in different sizes. If limited to just one size I guess a ten would be the most popular here in Ireland. Start the black tying silk near the bend of the hook and run it up the shank, leaving a few millimeters space just behind the eye. Now catch in a long fibred black hen hackle. Next, a black and a royal blue cock hackles are tied in together. Take a few turns to lock everything in place then tie in the tail materials. This is made from two pieces of floss, black on top and blue underneath. I like to use globrite blue but you may want to use a different shade. Run the tying silk down the shank catching in a length of fine oval silver tinsel as you do.
At the bend, bud the tying silk with black fur. I use seal but you may have your own favourite. Form the body by winding the dubbed silk back up to where the hackles are tied in, taking a turn around them to make them sit up. Now grab both cock hackle tips with pliers and wind them in open turns down to the bend where you tie them in securely with the silver tinsel. About 5 turns of tinsel will bring you back to the end of the body where the oval tinsel is tied in using your tying silk and the waste hackle tips and tinsel can be removed.
Wind the black hen hackle now, giving it many turns. Tie in and remove the waste before forming a neat head and whip finishing before applying the varnish. Check the length of the tail and trim it as necessary.
Now while this is a great pattern I like to change the body colour sometimes and use dark blue fur instead of black. The piece of black floss on top of the tail is a bit unnecessary I think so I often don’t bother with it. I have even been known to add a strand or two of flash to the tail.
I have caught fish on the Bruiser fished in every position on the cast. Sea trout in particular seem to love it but brownies fall for its charms too. Despite being written about in the book this is a pattern which I rarely see on other anglers lines which is a pity because it is so effective. The colour of royal blue is important so look out for a deep blue shade.
I sometimes add a few legs made out of knotted pheasant tail fibres dyed black. The jury is out on whether the fish appreciate the extra effort that entails!
I have been quiet on here for a wee while as I was preparing for and then travelling to Scotland last week. It was wonderful to be able to see my family again after so long and we had a great catch up of what has been happening in both countries. Sadly, we had deaths on both sides of the sea and the sense of loss is still very real but we are all looking forward to happier times.
While at my mother’s house she produced a small photo of me from many years ago. It had been roughly trimmed to fit a tiny oval shaped frame but it was a picture of me holding my biggest ever salmon, a brute of 24 pounds. The head of the fish had been unceremoniously cut off so the photo would fit the frame which was a great pity.
Those of you who follow this blog will understandably be dubious that chap in this photo is me, but yes, I used to have hair. I would much rather have had a pic of the whole fish than of my ugly mug! It was September 1996 this was taken and little did I think then that only a little over a year later I would leave Scotland for good and relocate to the west of Ireland.
I can vividly recall the battle with this leviathan. I hooked him on a 11cm Rapala in a pool on the lower Don in Aberdeen. A powerful upstream run left me in no doubt this was a big fish and the following 20 minutes were spent countering his head-shaking and runs. At no time did he show, staying deep all the time instead. One last run took him 30 yards below me and I could not follow due to trees on my bank. With no other option I piled on the pressure, sure the hooks would give way as I doubled the rod into him. Slowly, very slowly, I gained some line and I prepared the net. Inches were retrieved and still the fish did not show. I could have used some help but there was nobody else fishing that morning. Level with me now, I peered into the coloured water to catch my first glimpse of him but he kept me waiting right to the end. I sank the net into the water, tightened down the drag and heaved with all my might to pull the fish towards me. At last it showed just under the surface and I slackened off the drag again. I had thought I was battling a fish in the teens of pounds but it was clear I was into a much more impressive specimen. He made a short, stabbing run but by then I had him beaten and this time I led him into the net without any fuss.
These days, that fish would have been photographed and swiftly returned, but back then there was no thought of C&R. Dispatched, I lost all interest in carrying on so I headed for the car park with my prize. I was living in Fife back then but stayed in a flat in Aberdeen while at work in the mill there. Before returning to the flat I popped in to my parents to show them the fish. That is when the above photograph was taken. The fish was cut up and distributed to friends and neighbours.
All too soon the trip to Scotland was over and it was time to head back across the Irish Sea. The old VW burst a cooling pipe on the way home, necessitating a stop every 30 miles to top the old girl up with some H2O but I made it home none the worse for wear. Who knows when I will get back over there, but at least I saw my family for the first time in a year-and-a-half.
Fermanagh is synonymous with coarse fishing, period. The Erne system and a wealth of other lakes set like jewels on a cloth of green are a coarse fisher’s paradise. Anglers come from all over to fish the pole or swimfeeder, heaving out impressive bags of roach and bream. Competitions around Enniskillen often feature weights in excess of 100 pounds. Fantastic piking is to be had in the county too. Obviously when tackling Fermanagh I would be coarse fishing, right? Au contraire! I had another plan in mind altogether.
Fermanagh, one of the northern counties, is landlocked. It shares a lengthy border with the Republic as well as co. Tyrone. Right at the extreme western edge of the county there lies a small lough called Keenaghan, so far to the west in fact that a small part of the lough is actually in Donegal. In this lough live a healthy population of brown trout and it was these little beauties I wanted to catch. In choosing Keenaghan I was making a strategic decision. You could make a very valid argument that Lough Erne is a more productive fishery and certainly holds larger trout. My issue with Lough Erne is I have absolutely no knowledge of the system and simply locating fish could be a nightmare for me. The same really applies to the coarse fishing. There are well known stretches all over the county but having never fished there trying to track down a shoal of bream or entice some roach from broad, deep waters felt like too big a challenge for me. I wanted somewhere more ’intimate’, somewhere that I could stand a reasonable chance of locating a few feeding fish. Plus I am so much more comfortable with a fly rod in my hand, despite my slowly improving coarse fishing skills. I felt confident on small loughs full of trout, it seems like half the battle has already been fought.
This lough is shaped like a letter ‘Y’ lying on its side. It is small by Irish standards but is still best fished from a boat. Rules allow only electric engines and since I don’t have one I decided to fish from the bank. The idea of trailering my boat all the way there then rowing for the day then manhandling the boat back on to the trailer on my own did not appeal, so I would tough it out from the periphery instead. I had no real idea of how good access was around the lough but I read that there a few stone fishing stands placed where necessary. I liked the sound of these! So waders would be required in case I needed to get past reeds or to reach deeper water. The other day my four year old neoprene chest waders gave up the ghost in spectacular fashion when they ripped at the seams while I was in deep. A new, cheap pair were acquired and these would do fine for this trip. Given my near total absence of a sense of balance these days my trusty wading staff was definitely going to be required.
A contact on social media told me he fished this lough and recommended it to me. He also said it got good hatches including some mayfly. I looked up the NIdirect website to get an idea of the stocking policy and they apparently put 5,000 brown trout into Keenaghan during 2020, the first 1,000 going in in January. More went in during March, May and June. Stocking was suspended during April due to Covid-19 restrictions. I was hoping they followed broadly the same pattern this season and when I looked it up on the NIdirect website I saw 3000 trout had gone in this year so far. Surely there would be a few of them still in there?
Dropping Helen off at work first, I hit the road amid rush hour traffic. Usually I plan trips to avoid the worst of the cars and trucks on our roads but today I had to put up with an excess of my fellow road users. I had grown used to the feelings of trepidation on these ’32’ trips but this time I was really looking forward to fishing a new lough. Many anglers here in Ireland despise stocked fisheries but I see them as an integral part of the angling scene. They make a pleasant change from the big loughs, a chance to try out new ideas and methods.
I had brought along my 5 weight Orvis with a floating line, hoping any action would be in the upper layers of the water. Recent warm weather should have encouraged the trout to look up for hatching insects at this time of the year. In case I was completely wrong a back up of the 7 weight with a range of reels holding various sinking lines nestled in the back of the car. As I would be wading and moving around I filled a couple of fly boxes with some likely patterns and stuffed them in a waistcoat. This lot, and more, were stowed in the back of the car as I motored along, the glorious countryside slipping by, a dull and windy day but warm. Ireland can be cold and grey in winter, but here in June it sparkles with new life.
This trip involved a direct route for me. Up the N17 to Sligo then along the N15 to that newish bypass at Ballyshannon (birthplace of one of my musical heroes, Rory Gallagher) before peeling off on to the tail end of the N3 to Beleek where I crossed into the UK. A mile beyond the town a left turn brought me down a narrow, tree lined track to a car park at the water’s edge. In total, it is about 135km from my home in Mayo. Given the length of some of my fishing journeys this felt like my back yard. One other reason for selecting Fermanagh this time was I am going to be heading over to Scotland next week and didn’t fancy another long drive. There is a car park right beside the edge of the water where I pulled up and shut off the engine. Stretching as I extricated myself from the front seat, I began to I tackle up and appraised my surroundings. the lough looked to a bit smaller than I had imagined but it looked ‘fishy’ enough.
The wind would be blowing in my face from the car park bank so I set up the 7 weight with a floating line and three flies. A car pulled up, soon followed by another. The drivers obviously knew each other but beyond a friendly ‘how are ye?’ in my direction it was hard to see why they were there. No fishing tackle appeared to be present. I toddled off to the first of the stone jetties and started to cast into the wind. Soon a white truck came bumping along the narrow track to the car park. What was a lorry like this doing here? A fish plucked at my flies but didn’t take properly. Damn! I turned to get a better look at the white truck and it was then that it dawned on me – it was a fisheries truck and it was here to stock the lough!
I fished on as the two lads in the cars greeted the truck driver and they planned the stocking. With regimental order the truck was positioned, a pipe fitted to the tanks and suddenly hundreds of trout were being sucked into the lough not 30 yards from me. Some banter from the lads then the truck was off again but by now the water in front of me was heaving with the new arrivals. My line tightened and I struck into a trout but it came off almost immediately. Before I had time to retrieve the slack and re-cast another fish had grabbed the tail fly and was safely landed. Quickly released, I cast out and this time two trout were hooked! Both fell off but a few chucks later I had another brownie. And so it went on, cast, fish, release, cast, fish, release, etc. Double hook ups were common, trebles happened three or four times. Casting to fish which showed almost always resulted in a hook up but fishing blind pulled them too. I photographed some but my mobile was getting all slimy so I stopped after a dozen or so.
Fish were all around me so I kept casting and catching. I thought about stopping when I had landed 20, but that came and went and I was still catching. The fish were typical stockies, about 14 ounces in weight and generally in good condition apart from some chewed tail fins and stunted pectorals. I swapped flies just to see if that would make any difference but to be honest I could have thrown in bare hooks and probably caught just as many! A black goldhead was probably the most effect fly but a peach muddler caught a few as well.
After an hour and a half of this madness I called it a day. I had landed 36 trout, lost twice that number and must have risen close to 100 or so. All fish were safely returned to fight another day. I plodded back to the car to think about what had just happened. The trout were still taking freely but I had had enough for one day.
Never before in my long angling life has this happened to me and I doubt it will ever happen again. Was it fun? Yes, for a while it was exciting but that soon wore off. There was no skill attached to catching the fish, no metal gymnastics we anglers normally associate with our fishing. It was too easy. Sure, like you I have spent so many days flogging the water for no return and would have given my first born child for an hour of non-stop action. When it actually happened the joy was short-lived and the mechanical actions of heaving in fish after fish soon pall. I am glad I stopped when I did, to keep on hauling out trout after trout would have been a pointless exercise. As it was, I had three dozen good trout in 90 minutes, a feat I will surely never repeat. It made for a memorable day right enough! Once in a lifetime you might say.
For the sake of the ’32’ project I can categorically cross Fermanagh off the list. The day turned out to be very different to what I had expected and I guess I did not really learn much about Lough Keneghan. It is a nice place with good facilities, including a disabled access platform. I’d like to fish it again on a more ‘normal’ day.
The drive home was uneventful and I was glad I had returned all the fish, the thought of gutting and filleting really did not appeal to me this evening! I got some more work done in the garden on my return and the tackle in the back of the car can wait there until the morning. I will never have another day like today and it was an incredible experience which I know many of you will be envious of. I was extremely lucky to be in the right place at the right time for once. It will keep me going through the many blanks which no doubt await me.
There is usually a spool of dapping floss lurking somewhere in my bag. I rarely dap but just in case I feel the need or someone else in the boat requires some, a reel of the light brown floss is on hand. As I was tidying up my gear today I unearthed the spool and took a good look at it. It occurred to me the floss might be a suitable material for a dry mayfly so I snipped a piece off and started tying.
Using a Kamasan B170 size 10 hook, I started the 8/0 chartreuse silk near the bend then ran it up to about 4mm from the eye. Here I secured the floss with figure-of-eight turns, creating two wings which I then trimmed to roughly the same length as the hook shank. Now I tied in a chocolate coloured genetic cock hackle. Next, I tied in a bunch of natural brown squirrel tail hair, cutting off the waste and binding it in as I ran the tying silk to the bend of the hook. Here I tied in a length of thick brown silk which would be used as a rib before dubbing the silk with natural seals fur. The body was formed by winding the dubbed silk up to near where the wing were tied in and I ribbed the body with the brown silk, then removed the waste. The hackle was given multiple turns both behind and in front of the wings before tying it off, removing the waste end and forming a neat head with the tying silk. Whip finish and varnish was all that was needed to complete the fly.
The mayfly is nearly over for this year now but I will save this new pattern for next spring. Over the years I have given away almost all of my dry mayflies. A few Wulff’s and my favourite CDC Emergers are just about all that I have left so this coming winter I will make the effort to tie a box full of dries.
‘Oh my mama told me there’ll be days like this’ (Van Morrison)
Not the most noted of Irish counties for angling but I still found a venue to try. This would be another coarse fishing trip for me and one that would be slightly different to my usual canal shenanigans.
Armagh is one of the northern counties, sandwiched in between Tyrone, Down and Antrim as well as Monaghan and Louth in the Republic. The vast expanse of Lough Neagh forms the northern boundary. I have only ever zoomed across this county on the motorway, often in the dark, so know little or nothing about it. When I worked in Belfast this was a weekly occurrence and trips over to Scotland to visit family and friends took me along the same route. Armagh was just another few miles of green lands beyond the tarmac to me. I did start to read up on Armagh prior to this trip but gave up after a few pages, it was just a litany of murder, religious war and plantation. I found it all too depressing when I was supposed to be planning a fishing trip so I abandoned the blood-soaked pages and instead read up on the finer points of stillwater float fishing, an altogether more relaxing pastime.
I had opted to try the lake at Loughgall. Set in a country park, it looked to be a nice spot surrounded by trees and with good access via a pathway all the way around it. Stocked with roach and carp, there were some tench, pike and perch also present according to the blurb on the ‘net. There seemed to be an abundance of stands to fish from too and it all sounded like the ingredients for a relaxing day were there. The only cloud on the horizon was a report that the fishing was now terrible after a zebra mussel infestation had caused the water to clear. This kind of mixed messages are a constant problem for me when planning trips and it adds to the uncertainty and worry. Fishing is never an exact science and blanks are part and parcel of the game but when you are travelling long distances to fish you want to give yourself the best of chances. The saving grace for me was the presence of perch, these little warriors are usually obliging and I was banking on tempting at least one of them. I had no intention of bothering the carp. In the north you are only allowed to use one rod (unless you buy another rod licence and permit) so there was no way I would be hunkering down with the heavy gear and boilies or any of that malarkey. No, I planned on keeping it simple and trying for the smaller stuff either on the float or maybe with a leger.
I figured I needed a ‘plan B’ so I looked at the river Bann which flows through the county. The upper Bann around Portadown has a good reputation for bream and roach so I decided it would be my back up water in the event of a blank at Loughgall. Some stretches of the river have been developed for angling and other pursuits so I looked it up on the internet and there were some glowing reports of good bags of bream and roach. As far as ‘plan B’s’ go this one was most definitely on shaky ground. I am useless at catching bream, have no experience of coarse fishing on rivers and the river looked to be devoid of any features to focus on. I was anticipating a difficult day………………….
Getting there seemed to be easy, just follow the usual road to the north via Sligo and Enniskillen. A fair chunk of my life has been spent travelling that road and I have seen it slowly improve over the years. The fine piece of duel carriageway between Dungannon and Ballygawley replaced a boring and badly worn road a few years ago and the twisting, winding, narrow stretch that links Enniskillen to Sligo is gradually being upgraded to remove the worst of the bends. Lord only knows how often I have chugged along this ribbon of tarmacadam, at least I was going fishing this time. Just add to the day I was bringing my outboard engine up to be services at Sands Marine on the shores of Lough Neagh. This involved a slight detour but it was worth doing while I was in the area.
One of the very few good things about growing old is the cheap angling permits in Northern Ireland. If you are a young pup aged 18 – 60 this costs you a whopping £77 for a season permit but oldies like me aged over 60 only pay £17.50 for the season. You need a rod licence on top of this but that only sets us ‘mature’ anglers back a fiver. I had bought mine on line and now I double checked that the printed copies were in my jacket pocket.
I timed my journey to coincide with the tackle shops in Enniskillen opening so I could procure some bait. Digging in the compost heap produced some worms to bring with me but I really wanted my preferred maggots. My deep and abiding love of maggots is founded on the fact they work. OK, it gets a bit self-fulfilling when I use maggots all the time but they are an astonishingly consistent bait. A new venue with some mixed reviews, limited time to fish and rustiness due to lack of any coarse angling for six months made it feel like I needed every possible aid on my side. The old familiar jumble of tackle was in the back of the car of course so I would be able to switch methods if I felt the need.
Gentle, melodic tones awoke me at 5am. I consider the invention of the ring tones on mobile phones to be one of life’s greatest dichotomies, an assault on the ears in most cases but the calming tones of my alarm make the transition from sleep to groggy wakefulness quite pleasant. Coffee, strong and dark, drunk as I make up some sandwiches for the day, one last check I have most things packed then I am off on the road once again. The open road, not much traffic for the first leg as far as Sligo, just the rhythm of the tyres on tar. Roadworks slowed me down a bit but I drew up outside the tackle shop in Enniskillen just as they were opening up. One pint of their finest red maggots were soon wriggling in my bait box and I hit the road again amid rush hour traffic. Just after 10 I dropped off the engine and doubled back through Portadown and on to Loughgall. The last part of the journey was through orchards which give the county its nick name.
My licence checked, I parked up and had to decide what to take with me to the waters edge. I had read the lake was very deep so I was planning on using a swim feeder and based my choice of rod around that. It felt odd not taking my light leger rod or the float rod this time. With a ‘clunk’ the car doors locked and I was off down the path to the lake, bathed in warm summer sunshine. Walking around the lake, I plumped for a stand which looked out on a small weedy bay. No. 78 would be my spot for a few hours.
Setting up a small maggot swimfeeder, I lobbed it out into the greenish water and settled down to see what would happen. I fed the swim often to try and attract some fish and also dropped a few maggots close in. I missed using two rods (you are only allowed to use one in Northern Ireland) and really felt handicapped without the options two rods gives me. The first hour passed pleasantly enough, the warm day making it thoroughly enjoyable just to be out in the fresh air, but there were no fishy responses to the feeder. I reeled in a switched to a sliding float but this was completely ignored too. Back to the feeder and this time I fished it at very short range, loose feeding heavily with maggots. Still nothing so I ate a sandwich and thought about what was going on. Three other anglers were in sight and I had not seen any of them bend a rod into a fish so I was not alone in the ignominy of blanking. A pair of swans swam nonchalantly past me with their 6 cygnets in tow. As I watched them I became aware of some small fish in the weeds on the bottom at my feet. It was impossible to tell what they were or indeed exactly how big they might be but I guessed they were silvers of some description. Here was a possible target for me.
The feeder set up was removed and I set up a small float with bulk shot on either side of it and no other shotting. My idea was to see if the small lads would take a maggot on the drop so I tied on a size 20 hook on two pound hook length and baited it with a single red maggot. Small handfuls of maggots were then trickled into the swim just under the tip of the rod. When dropped in (it was so close I didn’t need to cast), I could watch the wriggling red maggot slowly drop down through the water column, slowly spiraling down until it disappeared in the weeds. I kept this up for maybe 20 minutes until the float gave a tremble and when I struck out came a small perch. Success had come in the spiny shape of a 6 incher but they all count and I had landed a fish in county Armagh. A few minutes later an even smaller perch came to hand by the same method.
I shall refrain from regaling you dear readers with rest of the afternoons catch, whipping out small fish is difficult to relate as a page-turner! Suffice to say I ended up with 4 perch, 2 roach, one skimmer and one unidentified ‘something’ which looked like a tiny silver bream (but different to a skimmer). Eight tiddlers after driving all the way from Mayo but in truth I was pretty happy.
I knew when I started this odyssey that there would be days like this, days when the big fish were not biting or I was just not fishing properly. Or conditions were against me or Lady Luck was sitting drinking gin in a bar instead of watching over me. Days when I would struggle and need to find ways of catching something (anything) to save the blank. Today I had to resort to fishing for small stuff but at least I had figured out a way of tempting them and trickling the loose maggots into the swim worked a treat at holding the little lads at my feet.
By 4pm I had had enough and packed away the gear. The air felt heavy, as if thunder was not far off, as I loaded up the car and heading back to the motorway. Picking up the now serviced engine, I turned for home, the road now clogged with commuter traffic. By Dungannon the heavens opened and I crossed back into the Republic at Blacklion in a downpour. It was a long day but an enjoyable one. Armagh had always bothered me and I suspected if I was going to blank anywhere it would be here. Instead, I landed eight small fish, lost about the same number and missed dozens of bites in that busy final hour. If you had offered me that at the start of the day I would have gladly taken it!
If I am honest I should have really ticked Galway off right at the very beginning of the ’32’ project as I have caught numerous fish in this county over the years. Sea fishing out of Clifden, mackerel bashing off the rocks in Galway Bay, casting flies for brown trout on the Clare river – the list goes on and on. A fisher could spend his or her life in the county and still not fish all the available waters. Some of the angling greats fished in Galway and wrote extensively of their experiences so there is no shortage of literature to digest if you are researching the area. I used to come to Galway frequently when I lived in Scotland and loved the city (especially the nightlife), the surrounding countryside and the fishing. But for the sake of this project I wanted to catch a fish in the county this year so I made plans to try for some trout on mighty lough Corrib.
Anglers across the globe are familiar with the Corrib, it holds a special draw on fishermen’s imagination. Since the dawn of sport fishing the vast, wild waters of this lough have provided spectacular angling for those lucky enough to cast a line here. For many years I kept a boat on the upper part of the lough and got to know it reasonably well, catching (and losing) some terrific trout in the process. The days spent exploring the bays and islands, the offshore reefs and craggy shorelines were a joy and I learned a lot about my own abilities as well as the ways of the fish. Days of high expectation which came to naught were balanced by exciting sport amid glorious surroundings. Corrib is a special lough which captures your heart.
For those unfamiliar with Corrib let me give you a rough outline of the fishery. With a surface area of over 170 km2 it is the second largest freshwater lough on the island of Ireland (after lough Neagh). It lies to the north of Galway city and a small part of it is in county Mayo. Roughly divided into two parts, the northern basin tends to be deeper and rockier with the south basin shallow and open. The lough is narrow and full of reefs where the two basins join. Islands, large and small dot the lough and I have heard numbers for these island vary between 365 and over a thousand. I guess it all depends on your exact definition of when a reef becomes an island. While brown trout are the principle quarry species the lough is also home to pike, ferox, salmon, perch, bream and roach. Visiting anglers are well catered for by the local boatmen who can be hired from villages around the lough. This is no place for a beginner, you need to know exactly where you can motor and fish, keep a close watch on the weather, know how to handle a boat in all conditions and be prepared for every eventuality. Sadly, lives are lost too often when this lough is not shown the respect it deserves.
In terms of the fishing, the Corrib caters for every taste. Some people troll for large trout and salmon while many others prefer to dap. I much prefer to fly fish despite the knowledge a dapper will out-fish me most days both in terms of the number and the size of trout caught. It is late May and that of course means one thing and one thing only – the mayfly. My plan was simple, fish either wets or dries depending on the hatch, move until I found the fish and to enjoy my days out on the lough. I say ‘days’ as I was fortunate to be sharing a boat with that fine angler, Dr. John Connolly of Pontoon for four days on the Corrib.
Sometimes I fish with a 6 or even a 5 weight outfit but here in the Corrib you can run into some seriously large fish so I brought along my 7 weight outfit. Wet fly usually catches average sized trout with the dappers picking up bigger fish but even still trout in the 5 to 10 pound range are caught by fly fishers each season so it pays to fish on the heavy side.
No wind. I looked out first thing in the morning, as all anglers do. The trees stood straight and tall, no signs of the slightest movement in their branches. I was not overly concerned though as the wind usually picks up as the day goes on. I had slung a pile of gear into the back of the car the night before so it only remained for me to sort out food and drink for the day. I would be ghillieing John for these 4 days but I hoped to pick up a rod for a while too, depending on how the days panned out. Due to Covid restrictions we met up on the edge of town but traveled separately, two cars in tandem as we drove down the long road to Doorus. Ballinrobe, Clonbur and Cornamona came and went then down the shrub fringed narrow road to the small private harbour where our hire boat was moored.
Doorus is a peninsular which juts out into the upper part of the western side of lough Corrib. It has long been associated with excellent trout fishing, in particular when the mayfly are hatching. Islands, reefs and shallows dot the waters around the peninsular and the whole area is a fishers heaven. Friends had been fishing there the day before and while they had lean pickings they saw the dappers pick up many good trout up to in excess of 5 pounds in weight.
The time honored rituals of loading the mountain of gear into the boat ensued. We met up with Jim and Brian who were also fishing today and we made loose arrangements to meet up at lunchtime. An aggressive swan got a bit too close for comfort as we pulled away from the shore and headed out for our first drift. The westerly wind was fitful and only 30 minutes in to the day that small breeze died completely, leaving us becalmed. Motoring around we hunted for a ripple, however small. This went on for a while until a faint zephyr from the north gradually built up sufficiently to ruffle the surface slightly. It wasn’t much but it was just enough to allow us to fish. John fished a team of wets while I opted for a pair of dries. We were equally unsuccessful for the next two hours. Mayfly were hatching in reasonable numbers but very few trout had shown. Time for a spot of lunch!
Pulling into an island we decamped and started to walk over to a table in the trees where two fellow anglers were sitting. A string of profanities greeted me and I recognised Liam and Paul, lads from town. I had not clapped eyes on Liam for years so we had some catching up to do. Firing up my kettle, I was horrified to find I had left my mug at home and had to beg a loan of one from the lads. We spent a while recalling our various fishing experiences and there was the familiar raid on my fly box by the boys. Parting on the shore, we all headed off in different directions. It had been great to see the lads, especially on an island in the middle of the Corrib.
I set us up on one lovely drift after another, ghosting over reefs and pale submerged stones or hugging the edges of tree covered islands. Close to a rocky island shore John lifted into a fish but it turned out to be a lightly hooked 6 incher. Back it went and we resumed the drift. Just enough of a wind was blowing to create a small wave and a trickle of mayflies were still hatching so we had some hope. Fishing with one hand on the oar and flicking out casts with my other hand we tried to cover as much water as possible. Fixed intently on the pair of dries I got a perfect view as a trout head-and-tailed as it inhaled my Yellow Wulff. A delayed strike found purchase and I was in at last. After a good fight which featured a blistering run, I netted a fine trout of about a pound-and-three-quarters. The lads wanted some fish to cook so this one went into the bag. Relief was writ large on my face, the day had been slipping away without me moving a fish until then.
Dried and treated, once more the flies were sent back out again but that was all the sport we had for the day. Given the time of year this was a poor return but conditions had been tough and all the other boats we met had similar catches of just one or two trout.
So I had achieved my goal and landed a fish in Co. Galway. Under the circumstances I suppose I should be happy I caught one but I honestly feel I should have done better. Mayfly were hatching a few trout were moving to them. Ah well, there is always the next time.
I blanked on my last visit to Carrowmore so I was hoping for better luck this time around. The lake has been a bit hit and miss so far this year with some anglers catching regularly while others are struggling to meet fish. A storm is forecast for the end of this week which will churn the bottom of the lake so this trip was aimed to put in a few hours before the lake became unfishable. I had been thinking about where to fish as part of my ’32’ project and plumped for Carrowmore, so this was going to be a big day for me.
The usual preparations were made and I arranged to meet Ben in Bangor as we still have to travel separately. I drove up under bright sunshine and with hardly any wind to shake the roadside trees and bushes. In the end, we met up in the car park at the harbour and nattered about the fishing as we tackled up. A few other cars were there too which is normally a good sign. I tied on a 3 fly leader with a Goats Toe Muddler, Claret Bumble and a Golden Olive hairwing creation of mine to start with. Clouds began to roll in from the west and the there was enough of a wind to give a ripple as we motored up the lake in improving conditions.
By judicious use of the oar Ben guided us along the mouth of the Glencullin river over prime lies but there were no takers apart from a few small brownies. We repeated the exercise then moved over to the Barney Shore as the wind was favorable for that drift. I had a small sea trout and a brownie and Ben added another pair of small trout but the salmon were still eluding us. We could see other boats around us and none of them were meeting fish either. With the fishing quiet we adjourned for lunch, wolfed down as we sat on the shore with sky larks serenading us from on high. Why do sandwiches and tea taste so good when eaten on the edge of the water? I took the opportunity to change all the flies on the cast, going for a Green Peter on the bob, a Wilkinson in the middle and a Beltra Badger on the tail. I figured the bright flies suited the day that was in it.
The clouds had burned off by now and we were treated to blue skies and a fierce sun which reflected off the surface of the lough making it hard to watch the flies. Another drift over the Glencullin lies was fruitless so we fished the shallow further out which is marked with an orange buoy. Not a stir. This is typical of salmon fishing, long hours flogging the water with no signs of fish. It takes a strong will and a hefty dose of self belief to keep going some days.
Ben suggested the Barney Shore again and I did not object. We set up on the drift close to the shore. Stonechats were singing that familiar weird song of theirs and I was watching some Sand Martins swooping over the fields out of the corner of my eye. Then it happened………………………
Ten yards from the boat the water broke and the tail of a fish lashed the surface as it turned down. Simultaneously, the line tightened and I lifted into solid resistance. ‘Salmon’ said Ben but I was not so sure. ‘Feels small, maybe a sea trout’ I countered, reeling in the slack and watching what the fish was doing. She swam towards the boat at first, staying deep and shaking her head. I stamped on the wooden boards, our usual tactic to keep the fish away from the boat and potentially swimming right under it. She moved off to my left and very obligingly kept going round to the back of the boat. This is where you want a fish to be so that you have room to play it out. By now Ben had reeled in his line, stowed his rod and had grabbed an oar which he used to move the boat away from the shore. These actions as so well rehearsed that neither of us need to ask the other, we simply get on with the jobs while the lucky angler is concentrating on playing the fish.
The ratchet sang as the salmon went off on a short run but it did not go far, instead turning and coming back towards the boat under heavy pressure from me. I don’t like to see fish being allowed to run too far and possibly drowning the line so I play salmon quite hard. My rod was hooped over and the line disappeared into the water almost vertically as the fish swam near the bottom. Another short run ended with the fish rolling just under the surface and we both got our first good look at it. ‘Fresh fish’ said Ben, not wasting words unnecessarily. ‘Bigger than I thought’ I chipped in. Yet another short run, this time to my right then back down to the bottom she went again. My wrist was aching by now!
I heard the net being extended as I applied more pressure to bring the fish up to the top. There she thrashed, always a nerve-wreaking moment but the hook held. I could see she had taken the bob fly. Circling now, the fish was beginning to tire but she still managed to dive once more then head of to my right again. I checked Ben was ready and led the fish towards the net. She shied away at first but I maneuvered her back and with her head up she slid into the waiting meshes. The relief was palpable and grinning like a pair of lunatics, we shook hands and quickly dispatched the salmon. The whole battle had probably lasted less than ten minutes. Ten minutes of doubts, fears and anxiety. I have fished most of my life and landed hundreds of salmon but the thrill of the fight never leaves you.
I put the fish into a bass to keep it fresh after fitting both tags through the gills. Now we had to get the boat back in order to resume fishing. The net was stowed, my tackle checked after the rigors of the fight and the oar put back into the right position. We set up to fish the balance of the drift and started casting again as we discussed every minute detail of the battle. In salmon fishing, it is often the case a second fish can be lured soon after the first one so it pays to fish hard when one is in the boat. Today though the lough was not going to play that game and we fished out the long drift without any further action.
We did the same drift again, then back out to the buoy and over Glencullin once more too. Not a fish stirred so we decided to stop for another cuppa. We both felt the conditions, while very bright, meant there was the chance of another fish so we next headed off for Paradise Bay. A couple of drifts failed to produce anything and so I decided to call it a day. I was tired and my wrist was aching. Under an azure sky dotted with cotton wool clouds we drove back to the harbour, both deep in thought. Today it had been my turn but is could just as easily been Bens. Why that fish had taken my fly and not his we will never know but that is part of the attraction of salmon fishing.
Gerry, one of the local Fisheries Officers, was at the harbour when we pulled in and he checked my catch to see everything was in order. We chatted for a while about fish and fishing and Ben decided he would go back out to fish on a while longer. I got out of the fishing clothes and packed everything into the car. The wind was dropping now and the sun was starting to sink in the west. The long road home seems much shorter when there is a salmon in the back of the car!
So there you have it, Mayo has been crossed off my list of the 32 counties. I had fished hard all day, kept persevering in marginal conditions and never gave up hope. This does not always work but I believe persistence is critical to being a successful salmon angler. I will sleep soundly tonight, trust me!
After such an enjoyable day on Mask last Saturday I decided to head out on lough Conn for a few hours today. I rose early and checked the tall trees for movement – nothing, it was dead calm. Looking at the sky though it seemed to promise a little wind so I got myself ready and headed of about 10am. Neil Young on the CD player, giving it socks with ‘Ragged Glory’ as I cruised along the R310 once again. I sang along with Neil and the lads, distortion turned up to maximum, as the greening land slipped by.
The boat was in fine fettle apart from the 4 inches of water inside her, so I bailed that lot out and loaded up. Pike Bay was calm but there seemed to be a small ripple out in the main body of the lake. 3 tugs on the cord then the engine burst into life and out into the lough I headed. Rounding the point I found a small wave was coming out of Castlehill bay so I drove in there. All of my biggest trout from Conn have come from this bay but the past few seasons it has fished very poorly for me. Mayflies were hatching, not in huge numbers but there was a steady trickle of them. No signs of any fish rising though. I set up on a drift and kept an eye on the other three boats who were already fishing. The first drift was blank, as was the next one. Next drift took me nearer the shore and the line stopped abruptly and a weight on the end moved off a little. I knew immediately what this was – a perch. Sure enough, in came a lovely stripy lad with blood red fins. We are a funny crowd us fishermen, if I had landed this perch on worm under a float on a canal I would have been over the moon. Here, fishing for trout it was a disappointment. I unhooked him and slid him back into the water after a quick photo.
Fly life was good with lots of buzzers and some small sedges on the water but not a single trout did I see. None of the other boats appeared to be catching either so I decided to make a move. Motoring down the lake I stopped a Massbrook but here there was no wind, making fishing extremely difficult. I waited and watched for a while, hoping to see some mayflies hatching and the trout rising to eat the duns. Nothing stirred. I ate a sandwich, washing down with some luke warm tea. What to do next?
I was tempted to return to Castlehill again, simply because I knew there was a hatch of mayfly there. In the end though I opted to cross the lough and fish Bracawansha. The wind picked up a little on my way over, just enough for a wave of a foot or so. In fact, I had really good conditions now with a steady wind, thick cloud cover and when I arrived at my next spot I was greeted by a few mayfly on the surface. Three wet flies were chucked out and pulled back in again as I dodged among the boulders, some marked with poles but others unmarked and dangerous.
Mayflies were now hatching in good numbers and I expected to see fish rising but they kept their heads down in the main. A heavy tug indicated a fish had at last shown some interest and I duly boated a fine fish of about a pound and a quarter. He took the Golden Olive Bumble on the top and I admired his gorgeous colouring before slipping him over the side. The wind would not settle at all, moving from north to west them back again in the space of a few minutes. Setting up on a drift was a challenge even though the wind was not strong. Working the oar constantly was the only way to keep on anything approaching a steady drift.
Another trout splashed as he took the fly and after a lively tussle he came to hand, maybe a little smaller than the first lad. This time it was the wee Silver Drake that worked and this one too was released. Drifts were typically two or three hundred yards long and each time one ended close to the shore I backed up a little and came over new ground. The water here is shallow and wonderful for trout fishing so each cast could be the one to produce another take. I missed two rises, feeling no resistance to either of them.
My casting seems to be a shoddy and I suffered frequent tangles. As I ended a drift I could see all three flies were in a bunch so I motored far out into the deep water where I would have time to make up a new leader. By the time the job was completed I was near enough the shallows to start fishing. Lengthening the line on the first cast a trout grabbed the tail fly as it hit the surface. This one was a bit smaller but it put up a good scrap. He too was let back into the water, none the worse for his encounter. Showers had come and gone throughout the afternoon and I was a bit wet by 3.30pm so I decided to call it a day. Across the wide expanse of the lough I motored, the Honda buzzing happily along as I mulled over the past few hours.
The point of today had been to reconnoiter the lough and see if I could locate mayflies hatching and trout feeding so in both respects it had been a successful trip. Perhaps I should have stayed in Castlehill and the trout may have come on the feed but I strongly suspect that did not happen. Massbrook had no signs of fly life but then the wind was wrong for that shore and it may fish well in a more favorable breeze. A good hatch at Bracawansha had definitely got the fish feeding and I should have probably done better than the three fish I boated. The bottom line is that the mayfly season has started and the next couple of weeks, if the weather is good, should see a steady improvement in catches on lough Conn. I shall return!
This trip had been planned for a while but had to be put off for various reasons. Mike works at the plant in Westport where I had been on contract and we talked often about our fishing exploits, eventually agreeing we would fish Lough mask one day. After numerous false starts we finally made it out on the water yesterday.
Mike keeps his boat on the western shore of the lough and we arrived there just around 10.30 this morning. The weather forecast was for light winds and we were concerned we would be greeted with a flat calm, but no, there was a nice wave and a wind from the south-west as we tackled up. Both setting up on wet flys, we headed off for the Schintellas where Mike had been very successfull a couple of weeks ago. Since then though the water level has dropped and it seemd like the fish which had been there in numbers had moved out now.
On the first drift Mike saw a fish rise and casting to it, he set the hook in a small trout but it quickly fell off. A promising start, but 3 or 4 drifts went by we had not seen any other fish let alone hook anything. Low cloud and rain squalls did little to encourage us so we pulled into an island for a reviving cuppa and to figure out a new strategy. The lack of fly life was my biggest concern and we felt we should move to try and locate a hatch. Mike had heard reports from other fishers that the mayfly were up but the hatches were very localised. With no signs of life here we would need to go looking elsewhere. Back in the boat we headed east and then south to the well known waters off the mouth of the canal.
For those unfamiliar with Lough Mask let me explain a little about this area of the lake. During the mid-nineteenth century a plan was hatched to link Lough Mask to the sea via a canal to join it to Lough Corrib. The two loughs are separated by a thin strip of land so this did not look to be too big a problem. Unfortunately the engineers had not bargained for the porous nature of the limestone rocks around here and while they dug out a channel in the normal fashion they simply could not keep the water in it. Fractures and chasms in the rock allowed the water in the canal to drain out and no matter how often the engineers tried to staunch the flow their efforts were all unsuccessful. The canal was abandoned and left alone except for the fish which used it for a breeding area. Where the disused canal joins lough Mask is known as the mouth of the canal and it is a very popular fishing area with a reputation for holding big trout.
We set up on a drift and I soon turned a fish which stayed on only for a few seconds before shaking the fly free. The wind dropped and we set up on the next drift, a tad closer to the canal mouth. Mike had by now switched on to dry fly as the conditions were ideal. There were even a few mayfly hatching out so we both felt much more confident. I managed to put a knot in my leader and as I was sorting it out I looked at my middle dropper and thought it was not right for today (it was a red-tailed Invicta). My Golden Olive Bumble variant might be a better option, so I ferreted about in the fly box and found one on a size 10 hook.
I had only made about 20 casts when the line tightened and I was into a fish which fought really well before sliding into the net. A fine fish of a pound and three-quarters with wonderful markings was my prize. It had taken the newly added bumble. It was great to land a fish but even more satisfying that it took the newly tied on fly.
We drifted on, both fishing hard now on the back of the success. Once again my line tightened and a good trout took to the air, ran to the right, turned around and shot off to my left, leaped again and finally threw the hook. Who could grudge such a doughty fighter his freedom? The brief encounter was huge fun and I felt no sense of loss at the fishes escape. On down the shore we drifted and yet another fish took me. The rod bent hard over as he powered off on a run but this one stayed deep, trying to snag the line on the jumble of limestone boulders on the bottom. Safely in the boat he turned the scales at two pounds and was the most glorious bronze hue. In the space of 20 minutes I had hooked three good trout and boated two of them. Lough Mask was being very kind today.
Pulling in to the shore, Mike changed back to the wet fly and I gave him one of my bumbles to tie on. A quick cup of tea then we were back out again. Pretty soon Mike had a trout slash at the dropper but it failed to connect. Lifting off, he cast again and this time was rewarded with a firm take to the tail fly, a black dabbler. Played out, he slid the fish into the meshes and we both admired the third trout of the day. We fished hard on various drifts in the bay but the fish had gone quiet so we moved out to try new water.
The rest of the day was fishless but drifted over some fantastic reefs and were expecting a take on every cast. The noticable difference between the mouth of the canal and the other areas we covered was the fly life. It was almost totally absent on the other drifts but we found a few mays, lots of caddis, some lake olives, alders and midges near the canal. Even though we are in the middle of May the mayfly hatch has barely started. The recent cold weather must have played a part in this and we need to hope for rising temperatures before the end of the month.
About 6pm we decided to call it a day after fishing around the islands on our way back to base. The wind had been very good to us all day, falling away sometimes but always picking up again to keep a small wave on the surface.
OK, so three trout landed for a day out on Lough Mask is hardly scintillating fishing but we both enjoyed the day. Just to be out on the lake after lockdown is a great feeling. A large number of boats were out today, many I am sure having traveled from other counties now the restrictions have been lifted. I suppose some boats did very well today while others blanked but in the grand scheme of things I think we can be happy with three good trout for our efforts. The mayfly are starting to hatch but numbers where we were fishing are still low. If the weather is good we should see an increase in activity over the next two weeks.
We pulled into the shore at the end of the day just as the wind dropped away, leaving the face of the lough serene and peaceful. Gear was unloaded and lugged back to the car, rods dismantled and waterproof garments removed. The boat secured, we drove off and headed home, talking about the day as we went. The car was full of our gear, engine, fuel tank, bags, rods, nets and the rest. We marveled at the sheer quantity of accouterments required to catch three small fish but that is our chosen sport and we love it. Days like yesterday when the weather is kind and we catch a few fish in glorious surroundings are the stuff of dreams. It was our first time sharing a boat but I hope we can do so again in the future. Mike is a skillful and persistent angler and it was a pleasure to share the day with him.
I did not fish last week as we had a death in the family. Sadly Helen’s mam, Patricia, passed away at the age of 81 years. She will be sadly missed. A larger than life character, she was a kind and caring woman who battled great difficulties all her life. Rest in peace Pat.
Tuesday, and I am going to try lough Conn with Ben. The weather seems to have forgotten this is the month of May and is doing its best impression of February. When we should be expecting blossoming trees swaying in balmy breezes, we are instead in the chilling embrace of an arctic airflow. Extra clothing is chucked in the car before setting off.
We meet at the edge of the water and decide to put his engine on my boat, given the day that is in it. My 6ph is grand on a normal day but the beefier 8hp Yamaha that Ben uses will be useful in today’s conditions. Tackled up, we head out into the teeth of a northerly wind, heading for a well known salmon lie in Castlehill Bay. By the time we reach the spot, only a few minutes from where my boat was berthed, we are both soaked. A three foot wave means we are covered in spray as we travel. Worse, there seems to be a leak in my old jacket and a rivulet of icy water is running down the back of my neck. Set up on the drift, we cast and retrieve as the rain lashes down and the wind roars. We must be mad to go fishing in this! Short roll casts snake out across the waves and numb fingers pull the line back before lifting the rod for the next throw. The salmon are conspicuous by their absence. The wind eased off for a while only to pick up again within a few minutes.
A few drifts later, and with no signs of life, we decide to try trolling for a while. Out comes the ironmongery and a pair of old Toby spoons are sent flickering behind us. A course for Massbrook is set and we hunker down. The following wind drives us forward, the boat slithering over creamy wave tops. The waves must be near four feet high as we turn into the shelter of Victoria Bay. The waters calm and the sun actually comes out so we decide this is an opportune moment for a break and we pull into the shore. Hot coffee, a bite to eat and the chance to dry off a little are all gladly accepted. Discussions on the next step lead us to sticking to the troll so after a quick change of bait we head out again. One circuit of the bay later we exit Victoria and swing into the wind once again. Hail stings face and hands. We grit our teeth and plough on.
‘It’s like the Cape of Good Hope’ shouts Ben over the maelstrom. The boat bucks and the engine needs a bit more throttle to push us into the weather. All the way back up the lake we troll but the fish are simply not interested. The extensive shallows along the western shore should be alive with feeding trout now but we see no evidence of that in this weather. Olives, who hatch out in any weather, are nowhere to be seen. In the end we call it a day and head back to tie up the boat. We are both chilled to the bone by now and the task of emptying the boat and stowing the contents in the cars is painfully slow.
So what did we learn from today? Reports from Conn have suggested the fishing has been very slow so far and today has done nothing to change that. We had hoped to ambush a springer in the good wave but they seem to be few and far between. I saw a handful of mayfly hatch out in the sheltered bays so there is hope of better fishing in the near future if the weather improves. Freezing northerly winds are always going to be a huge challenge so we are not too disappointed. Days like today are part and parcel of Irish lough fishing and you have to accept them along with the good ones. There is always the next trip to look forward to.
Wednesday was spent catching up on chores and doing a bit of fly tying. The gear was dried out and I tidied out the back of the car which resembled an explosion in a tackle shop. The weather on Wednesday stayed stubbornly cold and windy. Thursday is the same and so I decide to make some flies for people who have been asking for them. Forecasters are sure the winds will swing southerly over the coming weekend, bringing rain but higher temperatures. I’ll keep my powder dry until then………………
Yesterday I opted for a day chasing silvery salmon; I was off to North Mayo and the holy grail of lough salmon fly fishers – Carrowmore Lake. Carrowmore sits to the north of the village of Bangor in the old Earldom of Erris. Wild lands of hill and bog, this is a sparsely populated part of the country where scratching a living from rough pasture or the stormy Atlantic has been the lot of generations. The famine decimated the area and many more left to try and build a new life across the oceans. Here, on the very edge of Europe, there used to be few opportunities for the locals but that has at least partly changed as technology has allowed people to work from home.
The village of Bangor consists of little more than two streets. A few pubs, a couple of shops and some small businesses make up the buildings and the place has a sleepy quality about it. The angling plays a big part in the local community and many of the locals fish the river and lake. The Bangor Erris Angling Club has the rights to the lower section of the Owenmore river and Carrowmore lake (the upper river is in private hands). Permits are freely available and are a reasonable cost. Any visitors who want to come and fish in the area will find excellent B&B accommodation in and around Bangor itself so it is well worth considering if you are thinking about an angling holiday once we are all free to travel again.
What can I say about Carrowmore that has not already been said? Anglers have been waxing lyrical about this piece of water since sport fishing started here in Ireland hundreds of years ago. It is very much a ‘one off’, I know of no other lake which has such unique characteristics. Over the years it sounds like it has changed from being predominately a sea trout fishery to a spring salmon lake and that alone is very unusual. Beltra has followed that route to a degree I suppose but those two lakes are completely different in almost every other way. Beltra is deep and the fishing is confined largely to the narrow shallow margins while Carrowmore is universally shallow with some areas even being too shallow for boats to drive through.
Then there is the question of the bottom of the lake. We salmon fishers normally appreciate a high wind. It seems to stir up the salmon and gets them chasing the flies. That is not the case on Carrowmore where the bottom is composed of fine peat silt which has washed off the land. A high wind whips up the shallow water, causing the peat silt to ‘churn’ turning the lake a filthy brown colour. This is useless for fishing. I don’t know is it the fish are blinded in the oxtail soup consistency of the churned water or if they find the taste of the silt unpleasant or if the silt chokes their gills and makes breathing hard. Anyway, a churned lake is the nemesis of Carrowmore angler’s and many days are lost each season to the phenomenon. It is worth noting that Carrowmore is a spring fishery, April and May are the prime months and the salmon fishing tails off after that. Sea trout are numerous during the summer months but realistically the fishing is over by August.
For me, a day on Carrowmore was always one of rituals. We have followed the same procedures for many years now and to break any of our self-imposed rules would feel like sacrilege. The drive up to Bangor, the first glimpse of the Owenmore river at Bellacorrick, parking up on the main street and the breakfast before chatting with Seamus and picking up our permits. From there we head off to the lake, usually to find other fishers tackling up and loading boats.
There are some boats moored on the west side of the lake but there is a fine harbour on the south eastern shore with ample parking spaces, a hut and toilets and floating pontoons. More tales of fish landed and lost are told and the conditions for the day examined in microscopic detail. But that was all pre-covid and now we are social distancing and the pub is shut.
Anyway, the day had arrived for Vincent and myself to chance a day on Carrowmore. Careful scrutiny of the weather, past, present and future, had led us to think today would be a good and we had heard recent stories of fresh salmon in the lake to boot. The previous night’s sleep had been punctuated with dreams of bent rods and large silver fish leaping on the end of my line. Were they a precursor to success?
Waking early I fed the cats and made myself a strong coffee. The sky is cloudless and the air is still. Dressed and packed, a last minute check I had everything then into the car. The engine wheezes into life and I hit the road. Motoring north along the shores of Lough Beltra, noting water levels Dead low) and the wind (none, flat calm). Snake past the foot of Nephin then across the flat boglands of Keenagh with the impressive Nephin Beg range off to the left. Across the infant river Deel and on to Bellacorick, the site of the old peat fired power station. White painted houses, small green fields amid the bog, old stone walls crumbling back into the turf, hawks and buzzards quartering the dun-coloured ground in the search of small furry prey. The wildness of the vistas is breathtakingly beautiful. Ever north by west l until I pass the statue by the river and rumble into Bangor pretty much on time.
Vincent rolls into town a few minutes later and we meet Seamus. The serious matters of the day are broached. A key on a large fob, the necessary paperwork and the exchange of coin. ‘How are ye all up here?’, Not so bad, and ye down there in Castlebar?’ ‘Any fish being caught?’ ‘A few’. The Irish way of saying a lot yet nothing at the same time. ‘Toby Gibbons had another fish’ and a photo on his phone of a smiling Toby is passed around. ‘Two fish caught yesterday’, not much for a Saturday. ‘Boat five lads’.
Back into our respective cars and off on the final leg of the journey and that first glimpse of the lake. There is the dreaded flat calm now but a wind is forecast to pick up later today. It is likely to be a challenging day with so little wind but we will give it a try anyway.
Tacking up, I make up a new leader out of ten pound nylon straight through. I don’t feel the need for anything fancy for this type of fishing. Casts will be 15 to 20 yards with the wind behind me so rolling out the flies is not really a problem. A Clan Chief catches my eye so he has the honour of filling the tail position. A Green Peter is next in the middle then a Muddler Claret Bumble on the bob. That will do to start with.
We fill the boat with all the gear and tug on the cord until the Honda bursts into life, and then we are off. We now needed to negotiate the narrow harbour to exit into the lake. Even for experienced anglers this is tricky in anything of a wind in the wrong direction. Once out in the lake you still face dangers as there is an extensive shallow just outside the harbour where many a propeller has come to grief. There are some marker poles but in low water the shallows extend beyond those poles so take great care. I personally would not use a long shaft engine on Carrowmore but a lot of angler do but they are very careful where they motor. There are also shallows which are unmarked in the middle of the lake. You have been warned!
The bay on your right is called Bog Bay, a spot that has been good to me over the years. A hooked fish can easily stick you on the dead tree roots which litter the bottom here so try to keep the pressure on and his head up if possible. I recall hooking a small springer in this bay and he led me a merry dance including attaching my dropper fly on a sunken stump for a while. In the end, just as I thought he was tiring, he dived to the bottom then launched himself into the air not a yard from the gunnel of the boat. My fly lost its hold and the fish gained his well-earned freedom. We laughed like lunatics at his escape, who could grudge such a doughty fighter? On another day, a fish in the same bay rose to Ben’s fly but didn’t take it. Instead, he swam on a couple of yards and engulfed my fly (a Goat’s Toe as I recall) and was duly landed. A fine fish of over ten pounds weight. I like Bog Bay!
Next bay on the right side is Paradise Bay. I have found this to be a moody spot but many fishers swear by it and every season there are some fine fish caught in here. It is a large bay and most of the fish lie close to the shores.
I tend to fish a lot around the mouth of the Glenicullen River, as do a lot of other anglers. This is probably the hotspot on the lake for salmon (for sea trout the Barney Shore is possibly a better bet). There are extensive shallows here and the salmon can congregate in large numbers. Don’t expect to see many fish showing. Unlike loughs like Furnace, the fish in Carrowmore tend to keep their heads down and it is unusual to see a fish show other than to rise to a fly.
We bypass the other spots and head straight for Glencullin. The merest ripple begins to form providing a little encouragement for us. I set up on the first drift but judge the light breeze badly and have to double back and start over again. The drifts are slow with so little wind and I have to work the oar to keep us moving. I saw a couple of salmon jump in the distance and Vincent saw a very large fish show far out.
The day would be punctuated with bands of cloud coming in from the west and when that happened the wind would pick up giving us good conditions. It was during one of these spells that Vincent turned a fish. The rise looked good but as the fish turned down he seemed to turn and thrash the water. Vincent felt nothing and I suspect the fish turned away before actually taking the fly. We fished on.
After a calm period the wind picked up and I suggested a change of drift. As I rounded the corner I thought the wind had changed direction slightly and it should favour the gravel bank I know as the spit. It turned out I was wrong and the boat headed straight for the shore in a reasonable chop. I was pulling hard on the oar to give us some sea room when Vincent shouted. ‘Another fish’! I turned just in time to see a large boil not 5 yards from the gunnel and the rod pulled hard over.
Vincent is an experienced angler but new to this fly fishing craik so I kept up a stream of advice while working the oar to keep us out of danger of grounding. The fish showed a few times so we could see it was your average sized springer. It tended to stay close to the boat, only making one run which took ten yards or of line. Vincent played him like he had been doing this all his life and after about ten minutes the fish had tired sufficiently for the net. I dipped my venerable old gye below the surface and the salmon slid into the meshes in text book style. The fish was swiftly dispatched, hand were shaken and the details of the take and fight discussed in minute detail. Weighting the fish later and he tipped the scales and exactly 8 pounds. A small Beltra Badger was the killing pattern.
The wind dropped to a zephyr again and we fished hard but for no further return. A late lunch was called for so we pulled in to the shallow, sandy bay at the mouth of the river and hungrily ate our sandwiches amid the glorious Mayo scenery. Bladders relieved, we set off again amid variable conditions and now joined by at least 4 other boats. We flogged hard, Vincent raising another two fish which were most likely trout. Late on I had a pull accompanied by a boil on the surface, my only chance of the day but the fish did not take properly.
On our way back to the harbour we tried Bog Bay but it was lifeless so we called it a day around 7pm. By then I was very tired and emptying the boat/packing the car seemed to take me an age. We rendezvoused with Seamus to hand over the brown tag I didn’t use and to update him on our day. He knew of one other fish caught and another lost.
Driving home slowly I reflected on the day. Obviously, the salmon was the highlight and for Vincent to be the successful angler was important. I am old and have caught plenty of fish, it really doesn’t matter if I get one. Vincent on the other hand is represents the future of game fishing here. Today the angling gods smiled on him and he took his opportunity with alacrity. I don’t think I could be any more happy if I had been the lucky one in the boat.
Dark rain clouds piled up on the western hills as I drove south, harbingers of a storm due to break overnight. Hopefully it will bring lots of rain as the rivers are all bone dry now. With my work assignment now completed, I have time to do a bit of fishing. Yesterday just whetted my appetite!
A couple of people have asked me recently if I have given up on my attempt to catch a fish in all 32 counties on the island of Ireland. The answer is an unequivocal ‘NO’, my pet project is still very much alive. It has just on hold due to the current Covi-19 travel restrictions. To be honest, work has been hectic since the start of this year and left little room for fishing even if I had been allowed to. I tried to make good use of any free time though.
My spare time has been used to research possible venues and tackle shops, studying maps and making up flies and end tackle for when the shackles finally come off and I can travel around the country again. I have been haunting the backwaters of the internet, poking my nose into other anglers blogs and podcasts, downloading screen shots from Google Earth and figuring out the best roads to take me to different destinations. If I put half as much effort into the actual fishing as I have into the planning stage I should do OK.
I now have a spreadsheet (I do like a bit of Excel you know), filled with venues for each of the 24 counties I still have to visit. As much detail as I can muster has been added to this sheet, items like directions, where to buy a permit, back up venues close by in case I don’t catch, best baits, species to target and the even nearest tackle shops have all been meticulously logged by yours truly. This has taken me far longer than I thought it would but the sheet is now complete and so I have a detailed plan to follow.
While I accept that the fish care not a jot for all this feverish activity on my part it has still been a useful exercise for me. A lot of times I thought about fishing one spot only to change my mind once I had carried out the research. This is angling so there are no guarantees, but by looking at the options and making decisions on the best information available I hope to increase my chances of success.
I have been able move around my home county of Mayo since 12th April so it makes sense to target Mayo soon and tick that one of the list. Look out for that post very soon. I am hoping that by the end of June I will be allowed to travel between counties and at that point the full weight of my angling energies will be deployed. The only delay will be a trip to Scotland once travel there is given the all clear. A week in Alba should be about right. From then right through to the autumn will see me traversing the country, fishing, photographing and blogging as I go.
Investment in some permits and licences will be required but I will wait until I am sure that I can travel before doing that. I don’t want to shell out money for licences and then find myself locked down again and unable to make use of them. Talking about money, I have also made a rough guess at the total cost of the project. I won’t divulge the actual number (it is just too depressing), suffice to say that permits and bait are minor items but the cost fuel accounts for 85% of total. With so many long journeys it is hard to reduce this significantly but I will temper my driving style and see if I the old VW will return any better than my current average of 48mpg.
Of necessity, there will be a mix of different fishing methods and styles. Eleven fisheries on my list will be fly only, trying to catch salmon, brownies or rainbows. Then there are eight coarse fishing venues, mainly targeting roach and perch but with a couple of other species thrown in for good measure. Only five are salt water marks but I am really looking forward to them. I have not managed to get out sea fishing for many, many months and the idea of casting into the sea again holds a huge attraction. The saltwater angling around Ireland does not really begin until June when the water starts to warm properly and peaks in August/September so it will be later in the year before I tackle those 5 venues.
I have concerns about the availability of bait. With the tackle shops all being closed for so long during lockdown it is hard to know who will be opening up again and if they will be stocking worms and maggots. Some may never open again while others will not bother to order bait until they see anglers at their doors looking to fill their pint boxes. I can always scratch around in the compost heap at home to find a few worms but I rely heavily on maggots when chasing roach. I’ll need to make a few phone calls nearer the time to see who is open and selling the precious grubs. Other options such as bread for roach or prawns for perch may be required.
The recent rioting in the north is a bit of a worry. Brexit was always going to stir up trouble and we may yet face a summer lit up with petrol bombs. That the UK government made so little effort to work out answers to the complex issues around the border and trade between Ireland and Britain was, to say the least, a disappointment. The tinderbox that is Northern Ireland requires only the smallest spark to ignite the flames and Brexit was more akin to a blazing oil tanker than a spark!
I have yet to fish any of the 6 counties so I will be picking my time to stray north of the border very carefully. For me, the month of July is out of the question. That is marching season and I will be avoiding it like the plague. Don’t get me wrong, I am not on one side of the divide or the other, I have friends on both sides. I just don’t want to be anywhere near trouble, meaning the flashpoints of the marching bands during July will be a strong deterrent for me. So much depends on the date when travel begins; if possible I will hit the Northern Ireland venues by the end of June. If that does not work out it will be September/October before I hop across the border.
All my gear is ready to go now after a winter and lockdown of tinkering and repairing. When I visit Scotland I always nip in by the Glasgow Angling Centre and purchase more stuff that I don’t need! I will try really hard not to buy a new rod or reel but I can’t promise I will be successful with that endeavour. While I was working on ‘32’ spreadsheet I also logged all my rods and reels. Much of my old salmon fishing gear from my days casting on the Dee and Tweed is never used these days and I really should sell it off. Lovely Hardy reels are just sitting there gathering dust as they are too big for my fishing here in Ireland. I have more trout fly reels than I can ever use too, but I’ll hang on to them for now. None of this will prevent me from perusing the aisles of the GAC and no doubt parting with some hard earned cash for yet more expensive tackle. I cannot justify buying even a single hook, let alone a new reel, but we anglers are a marketing guru’s delight and I will surely be suckered into buying even more shiny winding mechanisms.
In summary, the ‘32’ project is ready to be resumed this summer. At work, I am between contracts after this week and barring any sudden requirement for me to rush off on an assignment, I will be fishing hard on the rivers and loughs of Mayo soon and then right across the island from late June onwards.
The signs went up three years ago. Ugly, threatening signs plastered on gates and fences, warnings in red letters. Details of how you would be arrested if you dared to walk by this stretch of the river as it was now under new ownership. Of course, this was the prime stretch of the river and now it was out of bounds to me. I let it be and fished elsewhere but it rankled me that my harmless pursuit was now illegal. It appeared that the old building in the field and its grounds had been purchased and the new owners did not want anyone on their land.
Then, when driving past the gates and fences last summer (during the break in lockdown), I noticed the signs were no longer there. I took a mental note and promised myself I would return in 2021. I drove down there this morning only to find new warning signs have been erected along with miles of barbed wire! I toyed with the idea of hopping the fences anyway but decided against it. I would hate trying to fish while looking over my shoulder all the time. I drove on down to a nice looking stretch which I have fished a couple of times before but without any success.
Access is not easy. There used to be a stile at the bottom of the stretch, plus a very large and steep set of steps leading from the stile on the edge of the lane down to the riverbank 3 metres below. This wooden structure has rotted away and a set of ropes or the agility of a mountain goat are now prerequisites if you want to enter the river there. I walked upstream for a bit and found a place where I could slither down the steep bank between some trees. I commenced operations there amid budding branches, the air thick with bird song.
A pair of spiders on dropper and a weighted PT tied to a 3 pound leader fished off a floating line were my starting point. Changes to dry fly or nymph were all possibilities for the future but for now I would swing the wee soft hackles through the shallow runs. Short roll casts to start with, just flicking out the leader and a foot or two of fly line, searching the water at my feet. It always surprises me how many trout you can catch like this. The pools in this stretch are about 15 yards wide and a few inches deep. In high water it is too fast to fish and at summer levels it is too shallow for anything big, but today the height was just right. To get the flies to fish on the far side of the current I had to throw big mends in the line. Trees on my bank made for challenging castings, judging the right length and allowing for the mend were tricky and kept me on my toes. I worked my way downstream, rolling out the line as best I could but of a trout there was no sign. A few olives were hatching out but the fish showed absolutely no interest in them. Fishing as far down as the old bridge I climbed out to the path and had a think about things.
This stretch looks to be perfect trout water but it does not seem to fish at all. Rather than waste any more time here I decided to try another stretch at Hollymount. Off I went, winding along the narrow roads until I came to where I park for near an old 5 bar gate. What would this piece of water yield?
I fished the bridge pool diligently but without an offer. Olives and some stoneflies were in the air which was encouraging but a nasty, gusting wind was blowing directly upstream, making placing the flies close to the far bank a bit of a challenge. Half way down the next pool I rose a fish but failed to connect. A few paces further on I had a solid take and a 6 incher came to hand. A few casts later a gust of wind whipped my flies into a bush and I snapped off. A new leader and flies were soon tied up and I was back in action, only for the same thing to happen again! I re-tied the leader once more.
The next trout shook the hook but soon I had a second, then a third and a fourth. All the same stamp of trout, between 6 and 9 inches long and in great condition. The size 16 Iron Blue Dun on the top dropper was doing most of the damage and I saw one or two natural Iron Blues on the water. My guess is the trout are feeding on the nymphs as they ascend because I see no natural rises.
More trout are caught, a few threw the hook and some simply pluck at the flies as they swing in the current. I work my way downstream. Part of the reason for going to fish the river today was to test my dodgy right knee. It has never been right since a motorbike accident when I was 20 and since January I have been in a lot of pain with it. I suspect it is a damaged tendon and I have been resting it for months and now I am slowly trying to build up the surrounding muscles. I manage to cover about a mile or so before the pain returns but a bit of massaging works wonders and I carry on.
I have landed 9 trout by now and am working my way slowly down a good run. The line tightens and I bend into a better fish which fights hard before I slip the net under it. A quick photo and back it goes, about 13 inches and a pound or so in weight. The tail of this pool is now partially blocked with a tree which has been felled. There seems to have been a lot of branch trimming, presumably by the IFI. I am not a fan of this kind of thing, I prefer the banks to be left to grow wild.
Three more trout are landed as I reach the limit of where I will fish this afternoon. There is more water further down but I have had a good few hours and there is no need to push on any further. I about-turn and slowly plod across the fields back to where the car is parked. I am tired now, the winter of sitting on a couch watching Netflix followed by 4 months at work sitting at a computer screen/giving PowerPoint presentations have taken their toll on me. Today was about getting some fresh air and catching a few fish so I can head home well satisfied. The little Iron Blue was the star today, taking most of the fish I landed.
A couple of weeks ago the government announcement that some small easing of restrictions will commence on 12th April coincided with a spell of fine weather and the Easter bank holiday weekend. Ministers stressed the need to wait until the 12th before meeting in small groups or travelling outside 5km of your home. Being Ireland, this was roundly ignored and like children in a playground the population is currently running around in gay abandon defying the lockdown rules. Who can blame them? This lockdown has been the hardest for many and people need to have some small freedoms. The disease is still circulating strongly and we are looking at a third wave in the near future as vaccination levels are very low so far.
I had had enough of being cooped up at home and so decided to have a few hours on the water this morning. The gear was dusted down and with growing excitement I stowed it all in the car. At the filling station I bought some petrol, the smell of it filling the car as I drove slowly down the road to lough Conn. It had been a fine, bright spring morning but it was bitterly cold so I was in no great hurry. The troubles of the world seemed far away as the greening countryside slipped by. I played a CD (the Cowboy Junkies actually) instead of listening to the radio as I drove; I wanted a rest from bad news for once. Margo Timmins syrupy voice was the perfect backdrop to the day. I sang along to ‘Sweet Jane’, my flat Scottish brogue murdering the modern classic. Ah well, we can’t all be good singers (on the plus side, I have been playing this tune on my CBG and it sounds good).
With little in the way of wind I was armed mainly with a solitary trolling rod. That was fine, all I wanted to do was get out on the water, feel the boat slipping through the wavelets and seeing the lough once again. A fly rod was also along for the ride but I doubted it would be used in such poor conditions. There was only the slimmest of chances I would meet a fish but that really didn’t matter to me. The wind, although gentle, was blowing from the north, arctic air spilling over this part of Europe bringing us near winter temperatures at a time when we expect more pleasant conditions. April is always changeable here; normally we expect wet and relatively warm weather as spring picks up pace but this year it has been different.
The water level had dropped back only a little since I launched the boat two weekends ago and she was stuck fast by the stern when I got there. I bailed a few inches of water from her first then a bit of pushing and shoving was called for before I had her floating again. I didn’t park in my usual spot next to the boat, the boreen is in poor condition and I feared I would get stuck so I parked on the sandy space near the small beach. Seven months had passed since the Honda engine had been started so I was expecting she would need a few pulls on the cord to coax her into life again. As it was she burst into life at the second tug on the cord.
A silver and copper Toby, probably 50 years old now, was attached to the rod. As usual, I dropped the lure over the side so I could check it would swim correctly. The Toby flickered enticingly in the coloured water, flashes of silver in the murk. Eighteen grams of Swedish steel was sent off 30 yards behind the slowly moving boat and I relaxed into that meditative state all trollers know. Out of the bay and down the shoreline I slowly motored, breathing in the cold, fresh air.
My fly fishing mates find my liking for trolling strange. Uncouth, boring, lacking in any finesse, they fail to see the attraction in slowly dragging bits of metal through the water for hours on end. I harboured the same prejudices for most of my life and it has only been the last few years that I have grown to enjoy a bit of trolling. For me, it is perfect for a day like today. Too cold/bright/early for fly fishing, I would not bother venturing out if not for the trolling gear. I lack the determination to troll relentlessly for hours/days/weeks on end as some fishers do. For me it is a ‘fill in’, way of fishing marginal conditions or to take a rest from the fly. I find that wielding the heavy 11 foot salmon rod all day is too much, so an hour’s rest trolling over the lies gives my aching arm a chance to recover. As you have possibly read elsewhere on this blog, I love using the old ABU spoons. There is some connection with the past for me that I really get a kick out of. So the Toby and Tilly spoons get a regular swim and they still catch me fish.
One turn around the pin at the mouth of the bay then off down Massbrook with the sky full of hail showers. I dodged them on the way down but in Victoria bay the heavens opened and a rough squall hit me full in the face. Hunkering down, I headed back up the lough with water finding its way into every nook and cranny. These showers are cold and nasty but rarely last too long and by the time I had covered a mile or so the hail had eased off. Sand Martins, the first of the swallow tribe, were hawking flies over the surface as I regained the bay and called it a day.
The whole purpose of today was not to catch fish but just to get out on the water again. To see the sunlight play on the waves and the ever changing colours on Nephin’s heathery flanks. Simply to breathe some fresh air instead of through a mask, at least for a little while. I was home again by 3pm, a mug of hot coffee to heat me up and I felt better. There is time enough for the hard fishing, the long days of May and June are close at hand now. At least the fishing has now started!
I know what you are thinking – he is opening a can of worms here! Be that as it may, I want to discuss boat partners as they as such a vital part of the lough fishing experience. Let me say at the outset that I have been very lucky and fished with some of the finest anglers over the years and an awful lot of my knowledge has been gleaned from those fine fishermen.
So what makes a good boat partner? Anglers, like the rest of society, are a diverse bunch. Some are gregarious and voluble while others are introverted and quiet. Some are skilful and others bumblers of the highest order (I fall into the latter group). There is no magic formula and I find that while pretty much all boat anglers get along just fine there are some combinations which work better than others.
When fishing I tend to be quiet. I don’t say much and certainly don’t indulge in idle chit-chat when afloat. I like my boat partners to be similarly silent when on the drift. While that works for me others will find my quietness irksome. I know some boats that you can often hear before you see them! Loud laughter and constant chatter mark them out at a distance and good luck to them. It works for both parties and they thoroughly enjoy their days of constant banter on the waves.
Then there is the question of the division of work. Drifting an Irish lough seems to some like perfect peace but trust me, there are days when the oar is in constant use or short drifts mean the engine is often purring as you shift back to the start of a drift or work your way down a shoreline. Some boats share the load by swapping positions in the boat, usually at lunchtime. This is a very fair way of doing things as it also changes casting positions giving both anglers a chance of fishing from each end of the boat. Other boats never swap positions, perhaps due to the engine being the property of one of the anglers and he/she may not want anyone else operating their expensive outboard. In my book that is fair enough. It is all too easy to strike a hidden rock and seriously damage an engine. I for one would feel terrible if that happened to me.
Ability and physicality need to be considered too. As I get older I appreciate that I am not as agile or strong as I was in my youth and am not too proud to ask for help. Young fellas can row all day or stand up in the stern facing the weather as we beat upwind in a force 5 much better than I can!
Little things can make a difference, like what happens at lunchtime. For some boats this is a team effort where each party knows their job and indeed even who brings along what bit of grub. Some lads are deft with the frying pan while others are good at foraging for twigs to start a fire for example. Some enjoy a glass of wine while others a pioneers.
The vibrant competition scene here in Ireland fosters long-standing boat partnerships. At the same time, many competitions feature a draw at the start of the day when your name is in the hat with everyone else and whoever your are pulled out with is your partner for the day. I won’t get into that now as I am not a competition fisher but for many meeting other anglers is one of the joys of the competition scene.
Somehow all these variables shake down over time and anglers gravitate to each other and form strong bonds. Good boat partnerships last a lifetime and losing that partner can feel like a bereavement.
So where do I fit into this picture? I am afraid I am a bit of a tramp, I flit between boat partners. In my defence I have to say this is partly because I vary my fishing so much. Different venues, different species, different methods – they all play a part in this mosaic. Virtually all of my lough salmon fishing is with my mate Ben, a dyed-in-the-wool salmon fisher. Trout fishing on the other hand sees me partnered with a phalanx of other anglers depending on where and when I am fishing. Very often I fish alone, not because I am particularly anti-social but more that my outings are often unplanned. I see a window in the weather or have time on my hands and take advantage of those opportunities at short notice. I am also notorious for swapping between methods which some people don’t mind but others find a challenge. I may start the day fishing the fly but if the wind drops I will troll for a while until the breeze comes back up. Most of my acquaintances are fly-only men who would not be seen dead with a trolling rod in the boat. So you can frequently find me out on the water alone, trailing a lure behind the boat or doing that cast/pull the oar (repeat) thing.
There does not seem to be one magic rule which decides how a good partnership is formed, rather it is an amalgamation of a host of factors. The complexities of human interaction mean we will never fully understand it but sometimes you just ‘click’ with another angler and when that happens it adds enormously to the days afloat.
After 12th April we will be allowed to travel within our counties here in Ireland and I will be back out on the water, either alone or with a boat partner. The long wait is nearly over and I am hopeful of some good fishing this season. Part of the excitement of returning to the fishing is reaffirming those friendships forged over past seasons with like-minded fishers and I hope to meet and fish with many more of you this year.
A grey, damp day dawned. The gales force winds of yesterday had abated and all was still, just the constant drip, drip, drip of the water running off the roof as I threw some bits of gear into the car. It had taken me a few minutes to even find my old waders it has been so long since I needed them. The boat was on the trailer from yesterday when it was rudely awakened from its winter slumber at the back of the shed and hoisted onto the trailer. Today she was going back to the lake.
The roads were wet and pools of water, of indeterminate depth, blurred the edge of tarmac and grass. The world was painted in battleship grey. I chugged along, the car fresh from an oil change and a repair to mend a hole in the exhaust. It was nice not to sound like a Massey Ferguson anymore!
The boreen which had been levelled last spring was a mess of pot holes again and the lough had flooded it during the winter. A line of dead rushes and twigs showed how far the water had reached but now it was down a good foot on the high water mark. The bad dip in the track near where I launch was now a lethal hole filled with rank water so I did not chance driving through it. The launching itself went smoothly and I rowed the boat into my usual spot where I tied her up. Tyres forced under each side of her stern and a couple of extra lengths of twine to hold her straight until the level drops were all that remained to do. Then it was off with the boots and into the car for the quiet and reflective drive home.
The pandemic has changed so much already and no doubt there are more trials and tribulations to come. Vaccine roll out is painfully slow here in Ireland but it is happening and realistically, it is our only real hope. The guards are very busy fining people for breaking the 5km rule but more and more of the population are risking the financial penalty because they need some small glimmer of hope. The huge rise in suicide in the country is simply being ignored by the government but at some point there needs to be an easing of the lockdown for peoples mental health.
A number of other boats are on the lough already, fishers doing what I did this morning. Just get the boat in the water so nobody steals ‘your’ place. We are far from normality yet but just seeing that old, shabby grey boat in the water lifted my spirits. The fishing is not far away now lads!
The best thing about this assignment I am on just now is that I finish work for the week at 1pm on a Friday. It’s lovely to feel the morning flying by and suddenly it is time to leave and head off for what feels like a long weekend. Yesterday was no different and after a forenoon wrestling with PowerPoint and the aftermath of a particularly trying OH&S audit I departed the site amid a howling gale driving hail showers before it. I dropped the car off for a service and toddled around the local Tesco, picking up some bits for our weekend then walked home in the fresh wind. Only when I finally plonked myself down on the sofa with a coffee did I notice I was still wearing my ear plugs around my neck.
Such lapses in sartorial elegance are part and parcel of growing older. I never bother to look in a mirror these days, it is just too depressing to see the ravages of time writ large upon my face. So a length of string with a blob of foam on each end are not an unusual addition to my attire. These particular ones were orange and as I (belatedly) removed them from around my neck I had an idea……….
If you are new to fishing the mayfly hatch here in Ireland you will be forgiven for thinking we locals all have a colour vision problem. The natural fly ranges in colour from green, through yellow to pale cream. Virtually any inspection of a wet fly angler box of artificials will show we use reds, clarets and, yes, oranges in our mayfly patterns. The bit of ‘string’ on my ear plugs was a deep burnt orange hue which I felt could be used for a new fly.
I like burnt orange as a colour and have used it since I was a teenager in Aberdeen. Then I fished for sea trout in the brackish waters of the lower Dee and Ythan. My favourite fly was a bastardisation of the Dunkeld. I tied it with a wing made of teal instead of bronze mallard and the hackle was not the usual hot orange but a deep, burnt orange instead. My best day with that fly yielded 13 seatrout on the Pot & Ford water run by the ADAA. I have caught brownies here in Ireland on the same pattern too.
I messed around at the vice for a while and in the end I settled for the following tying.
Silk: Fire orange 8/0
Hook: a trusty Kamasan B175, size 10
Hackle 1: French Partridge dyed orange
Hackle 2: Badger cock dyed golden olive
Hackle 3: A large Brown Partridge hackle
Tails: Cock pheasant herls dyed yellow (they look pale olive) with a couple of strands of fine pearl flash
Rib: burnt orange ear plug string or something similar
Body: Pale olive, medium olive and dark olive dubbing either mixed or in three bands from light to dark
If you have read this blog before you will know the order I tie everything and this is a pretty simple fly to make despite all the materials. Leave plenty of space at the neck for all this hackles and don’t wind more than a couple of turns of each feather.
The acid test will of course come when the mayfly is hatching and I am drifting over the rocky shallows of Mask or Conn. There are stirrings that the government here may start to relax the ridiculous 5km travel limit next month and if that miracle does come to pass I will be able to fish Loughs Conn and Cullin.
This was a fly I dreamt up a couple of seasons ago but due to the pandemic it has not been tried. It should work but I am taking no responsibility if it is a lemon.
I wanted a black dabbler for early season work on lough Conn, something with a bit of bling in it to attract the trout who are notoriously hard to stir in cold water in the lough. Usually it is not until the water warms up in May before the fishing takes off there but the lough is quiet early on in March and April so I like to get out early if possible. This is the time for sinking lines and slow retrieves. Fiery Browns, Silver Dabblers and Bibios are my normal patterns for April but I wanted to ring the changes so I sat ant the vice and came up with this lad.
I used the original Sweeney Todd for rainbows back in Scotland after reading about it is a book by the inventor, the late Bob Church. All black apart from a dash of pink at the throat and a red hackle, it worked alright but I thought the ace of spades was a deadlier pattern. Fished deep for rainbows, it did enough to convince me that the combination of black and pink was a winner.
Like many anglers here I already use a pink-tailed black zulu for salmon. It was something of a cult fly on Carrowmore lake a few years ago and I still use it up there.
To make this fly 8/0 black tying silk is started at the eye of a size 10 heavy wet fly hook. Leave a bit of space at the head before tying in a short fibred black cock hackle and running the tying silk down to the bend. Catch in a tail made from some pheasant tail fibres dyed black, flanked with some pearl flash and a length of oval silver tinsel. Dub some black seals fur on to the silk and make a body to cover two thirds of the hook. Now tie in and wind a piece of fl. pink wool. You can chop and dub it if you prefer. Remove the waste and wind the cock hackle down to the bend in open turns. Bind the hackle in place with the oval silver tinsel, tie in and cut off the tag end. A cloak of bronze mallard finishes off the fly.
The dash of pink just might make the difference on a slow day. I will give it a try if/when we get to go fishing again.
As the winter gives way to springtime us fishermen turn our thoughts to the early season fisheries and prime amongst the Irish loughs is Beltra. There are more prolific loughs and rivers but for sheer beauty it is hard to beat lovely lough Beltra. Since it is one of my local waters and one which I fish regularly I thought I would share some information on the best drifts on the Glenisland side of the lough. It may just help a visiting angler to locate a springer. Opening day is 20th March and one or two locals who live on the shores of the lough will no doubt be out to try their luck on that day.
Beltra lies to the west of the town of Castlebar in the townland of Glenisland. This is marginal farming country of rough pastures and hill sheep. The lough collects water from the Crumpaun river which flows into the northern end of the lough and the Newport river discharges from the opposite southern end. The Newport river is a good salmon fishery in its own right but I have only rarely fished it and am no expert on that water. In addition there are a few small streams which drain the immediate area and find their way into the lough.
Roughly two miles long by a mile or so wide, the lough is set on a northeast – south west axis and this is very important to know when planning a day on the lake. The predominant wind direction here in Mayo is an Atlantic breeze from the south west. This is pretty much a perfect direction for Beltra as it allows you to set up a drift from the southern end of the lake and be blown up the full length of the lough to the north. In practice the wind is rarely spot on and the drifts need to be adjusted as you proceed down the lough but either a south west or a north east wind suits the Glenisland Coop side of the lough.
While there are islands and bays on the Newport side of the lough there is an open shoreline on the Coop side. Fishing is carried out close to the shore, if you are more than 50 yards from the bank you are too far out in most places (I will come to exceptions to that rule later on). The reason for this is the depth falls away rapidly and the salmon (and sea trout) much prefer to lie in shallow water when they get into the lough. So keep close to the bank and adjust your drift with strokes on an oar out the back of the boat. Unlike most of the big loughs, there are no rocks or reefs to worry about on this side of Beltra. There are a few well marked rocks on the Newport House side but none on Glenisland. For some anglers this is a blessing. I know not a few very good anglers who hate dodging in around rocks and reefs for fear of grounding of smashing a hole in the boat. Others, myself included, find that where there are reefs or rocks there will often be fish so put up with the occasional scratch on the keel from barely visible obstructions.
Let’s take a look at some of the well known drifts on the Glenisland side. We will presume there is a good force 4 or 5 south-westerly blowing. The mouth of the river where the stream at the harbour enters the lough is a good spot. Silt from the river has built up over the years and the water is shallow (mind your propeller!). Start your drift well to the south so you have time to get your line lengthened and everything in the boat settled. It will depend on the height of water in the lough but roughly 20 – 40 yards out is about right. Drift past the mouth of the river then guide the boat towards the shore. Fish on down the length of the shoreline, keeping inside the 50 yard line. This a good drift for sea trout too.
Moving down the lough, Morrisons is a grand lie for a salmon. Drifting up to it from the south you come to a small point of gravel; fish can take you either before or immediately after this point. After this there are sometimes a fish or two sitting 50-100 yards further down.
Next as we drift along the shore we come to the Wall. The reason for the name is obvious as there is a wall practically on the edge of the water where the road runs close by. No major features here bar a small stream which enters the lough via a culvert under the road.
The red shed is now a bit of a misnomer after the owner painted it grey a few years ago! We still refer to it as the red shed though. Another good salmon lie, they can come to you from right along this piece of shoreline. There is a tiny little bay where a small stream comes in and fish lie all around here. The slightly featureless shore stretching northwards from the small bay is all good salmon water. This leads you down to the northern harbour which is known as ‘the dock’.
So what do you do if the wind is not blowing conveniently from the south west. Your best bet is going to be the northern end of the lough where the shallows at the mouth of the Crumpaun river can be tackled in just about any wind direction. You are sort of trapped in a small area but it is always a good spot for a salmon and I have seen many fish caught there in winds which meant the rest of the lough was almost unfishable. The bottom here is sandy and the fish seem to like lying in the shallow water. By late spring there will be some weed growth on the bottom here, especially as you get closer to the shore so watch out for vegetation fouling your flies. The shallows outside the dock are one of the prime drifts for sea trout on the lough. It is worth noting that when the Crumpaun river is in flood this end of the lough can become very dirty with sediment from the river, making it unfishable at times. The limit of the beat is marked by a buoy so you often here locals referring to catching a fish ‘at the buoy’. It is good fishing water right across from the buoy to the dock. Keep a careful eye on the depth of water when drifting into the mouth of the river, it shallows up and you can ground the boat which could be tricky to re-float in a good wind.
I am not saying it is impossible to fish the main lies along the east shore in any wind except a south westerly, it is just much harder work. A westerly pushes the boat fast on to the shore and drifts consist of a few hasty casts before starting the engine and going back out a hundred yards or so. This is tiring work for little return. An easterly wind is blocked by the hills meaning calm water on the Glenisland shore (who likes an east wind anyway!)
In a North Easterly wind Walsh’s Bay at the south of the lough is a good lie. Here the fish lie very close to the shore so cast your flies as close as you dare to the rocks and rushes and be ready for a pull within inches of dry land. This is a lovely wee bay to fish, very intimate and calming.
Fishing on your own can be hard work as casting a heavy line and pulling on an oar to keep on the drift demands a degree of physicality. The services of a ghillie can really be a boon and there are some excellent ones on the lough, including some real characters (you know who you are!). If you are not used to handling a boat in big waves and high winds then I strongly recommend you hire a ghillie for the day. He will take care of the hard work on the oar and let you concentrate on your casting in the challenging conditions. The ghillie will also have the advantage of intimate knowledge and experience which can be crucial, especially on marginal days.
I could go on and on about this lough but the best thing is for you to come and experience it for yourself. The fishing is not easy and blank days are common but few places finer for spending a day.
I know I have written about salmon fishing on spate rivers before but with this season already slipping away I am planning on fishing a couple of small local rivers this summer. I have avoided them recently as the stocks were being hammered by poachers in small boats at the mouth of the rivers and I felt my fishing them was only adding to the difficulties of the poor salmon. But after last year I am hopeful the fish numbers might have increased a little so I will chance trying for some grilse come the summer months. With my early spring fishing already lost due to travel restrictions I want to maximise my summer angling so that means grilse fishing on spate streams for me.
The small spate rivers of the west of Ireland are very similar to their counterparts on the west coast of Scotland so pretty much all of what I am going to talk about applies to both countries. These are small, intimate fisheries, far removed from the classic ‘big four’ of Tweed, Tay, Dee and Spey. Each has its own character and a large part of the enjoyment is getting to know the moods and signals the water will give you if you look and learn. I confess it took me a while to key into small rivers, I was so used to fishing the big Scottish rivers that tiny streams seemed a huge challenge. No more 200 yard long pools where I could get into a rhythm casting or fishing over lies where I knew fish would hold for days on end. I learned slowly and now appreciate the beauty and excitement of the spate rivers.
In my previous posts I dealt with the basics but here I want to go into more detail of the methods I personally have found successful. I’ll start with tackle. Although the average width of the rivers I am taking about is from about 5 – 20 yards I prefer a rod of around 11 feet in length. Many local anglers go longer than that and 12 or 13 footers can often be seen in use around here. Partly this is simply using the same rod for boat fishing as for the river but the longer rod gives a couple of advantages over its shorter brethren. Anything which reduces the need for false casting is good, the banks of the river are wild and unkempt so keeping the fly in the water and not in the air too much is a good idea. I find a longer rod is an aid when landing fish too. Often you have to reach over bankside obstructions so that extra foot or two of rod length can be a godsend.
For me personally, chest waders are a must. I see other very successful anglers rocking up to the river wearing only a pair of wellies but I want the freedom of crossing the river as required and bridges are at a premium usually. The price I pay is being lathered in sweat but there you go.
For fishing big rivers I own a range of different line densities to cope with varying conditions but for spate rivers I just use a floater. If I want to get down a bit or combat a very heavy current I use a small brass tube fly rather than mess about with sinking lines. Keep your tackle simple, there is no need for anything fancy.
Some pools on small rivers look just like miniature ‘classic’ pools in shape and depth profile, a fast run into the pool at the neck then the deeper main body before the water shallows and smooths out at the tail. For an experienced angler this is easy to read and fish. A lot of ‘pools’ on the small rivers are not that obvious though. Winkling grilse out of odd corners is one of the great charms of this type of fishing and I have caught them in all sorts of places. Every sunken rock, surface disturbance, drop off or gravel bar should be fished diligently. Only experience will tell you when a particular lie will hold fish at any given height. And this is where the question of height becomes paramount.
Beginners are often caught out by the speed a river rises or drops. In these times of intensive farming, hill sheep, Sitka plantations and drainage systems our spate rivers swell with flood water and then empty at astonishing rates. Knowing the river you are fishing is a vital component of your armoury. The visiting angler who decides to fish on a certain day, starting at a given time will always be at a huge disadvantage compared to a local who can be flexible. For example, imagine a small spate river in July. A visiting angler books a days fishing for the Wednesday to fit in with other family commitments. The weather forecast is for rain on Tuesday so he is pretty confident of sport. Sure enough, it rains early on Tuesday morning and the river is a roaring flood by midday. It falls rapidly though and the locals are out in numbers by 3pm and fresh grilse are landed in prime conditions of falling and clearing water. By 9am on Tuesday the river is low and clear once again and our visitor is forced to fish either the sea pool or one or two deeper holes in the river. During the summer here in the west there is a constant flow of calls and texts between us salmon fishers. Every snippet of information regarding weather and water levels is passed on. ‘I was driving over the Party mountains an hour ago and the heavens opened, the Erriff will be up soon’, or ‘I was talking to a lad who said it’s lashing in Bangor, the grilse will be in the Owenmore’. Such juicy titbits are the lifeblood of summer fishing here and are the reason you see locals appear as if by magic when the rivers are in ply.