First things first, you need to get the pronunciation correct. ‘Purteen’ is said ‘Purcheen’.
Purteen lies on the south coast of Achill Island, a small fishing harbour, home to a few small boats that ply the near waters on the fringe of the Atlantic. It is usually busy with tourists during the summer but of course this year there were none so life was very quiet out there in 2020. Achill is very beautiful in a desolate sort of way. It has known many hard times and life there has never been easy. Scraping a meagre living from the hill or sea was the lot of the islanders for countless generations but these days it is the natural beauty of the place which draws visitors and their money. I guess that I very lucky in that even in lockdown I can remain within my county and still visit such a magical place.
A spell of calm weather tempted me to try my luck, even though it is very late in the season. I hoped there might be a few stray Mackerel hanging around or maybe a few small flat fish. It has been many years since I last cast a line from the harbour but I remember two salient points, the horribly rough ground off the end of the pier which swallows tackle and the huge shoals of mullet that came in with the rising tide. Regardless, it was a chance to get some fresh, salty air and admire the views. I looked out a couple of rods and packed a bag.
Bait, the never-ending problems of procuring the damn stuff. I had some Mackerel in the freezer as well as some very old and fragile sardines so they came with me on the journey west. I would have preferred worms as bait for the flatties but digging them around here is the devil’s own work. Slivers of fish it would have to be.
The harbour itself has a skinny outer wall which is difficult to fish from because it is so narrow. In anything but a flat calm it is too dangerous to walk out on. There are three inner piers, short, stubby affairs which dry out at low water. This is very much a high water mark so I planned on getting there to fish up the rising tide and down the first hour or two of the ebb. The rocks to the west of the harbour can be fished too but again, the bottom is incredibly rough and tackle losses will be high.
I was a bit early in leaving but thought the slow drive would ensure I arrived about the right state of tide. No, I was to early and the water was still very low in the harbour so I took my time and had some coffee before tackling up. There was a stiff wind blowing so I parked the car in such a way that I could get some shelter from it and this worked out really well for me. Frequent showers throughout the morning caused me no undue stress as I simply ducked under the open tailgate of the motor. I baited up and cast out but each throw had the same result, stuck in thick weed. I kept at it as the tide rose but all I landed was one minute Pollock.
A small boat left soon after I arrived and I greeted the fisherman with a wave. He returned after a couple of hours and after tying up he hailed me over and gave me some fresh mackerel and a pair of coalies. We chatted for a while about the state of the fishing and life in general then I let him get on with his work of sorting out the catch which consisted mainly of Huss from what I could see. More casting, more weeds, no bites.
The day was not going according to plan at all so I decided to change venues. Packing up I drove back the way I had come and then turned off on to the narrow road to Cloughmore. It was nearing high water by the time I was set up and the bait was in the water. I could see lots of sandeels shoaling in the water at the foot of the pier so I set up a spinning rod with a set of tiny feathers and proceeded to catch about a dozen. These will be frozen for bait.
I hooked a much bigger fish on the feathers but it shot straight under the pilings of the pier and stuck me fast there. I snapped the main line trying to free the hooks. My guess it was a mullet which I had accidently foul hooked because I have had them pull the same trick of shooting under the pier at this mark before. A shoal of small Pollock arrived and made life interesting for a short while but they soon moved on again.
The beachcaster was getting constant nibbles but I am sure they were just crabs, a persistent nuisance at this mark. Eventually I had a good solid bite and lifted into a small fish which turned out to be a lovely small female Corkwing Wrasse. She was only lightly hooked so I slipped her back into the water with the minimum of fuss after a quick snap. Heavy showers came and went with warm sunshine between them but the fishing was slow to say the least. In the end I packed up and headed home.
The fishing around Achill used to be some of the best in Europe but today it is a shadow of what it was. I first fished here nearly 40 years ago and the marks were alive with fish back then. Descent sized Pollock were a nuisance and any bait left on the bottom for more than a few minutes would be snaffled by a dogfish. Big wrasse, huss and coalies were easy to catch. The beaches were home to rafts of flounder and dabs. Making the effort to reach deep water rock marks could result in huge fish. Now there is very little left for the angler. I read some of the advertising blurb from IFI and the tourism people about the wonderful fishing on the island but to be blunt they are telling lies. Achill is beautiful and sad but there are hardly any fish left for the angler.
Some of you may be wondering what I would do with the coalies? I make fish cakes with them, the strong flavour they have fits well with the potato. Don’t be put off by the grey-ish flesh, it turns pure white when cooked. Remove the flesh from the bones and skin. Place in a saucepan and cook in milk with salt, pepper and bay leaves. Remove the bay leaves, drain and mix with an equal quantity of mashed potato. Divide into balls and flatten them into thick patties. Coat in egg them breadcrumbs and shallow fry until golden.
Close to mighty Lough Conn there sits another, much smaller body of water. Pretty well unknown except to the locals, lough Levally is home to a stock of pike. I’ve known about this lough since I moved to the area 23 years ago but have never fished it. Pike have never excited me as a quarry so why would I fish for them when the delights of trouting on Conn was but a short distance away? There are some trout in it but they are few and far between. I also strongly suspected that a few salmon run into the lough, swimming up the small river that flows into Conn at Addergoole cemetery. There certainly is not a big stock of salmonoids in Levally. No, Levally is a pike fishery and it is now pike fishing season. With level 3 lockdown firmly in place Ben and I decided that piking was better than sitting at home twiddling our thumbs so we made arrangements to try Levally this Saturday.
The lough is roughly a mile long and half a mile wide, big enough to keep us gainfully occupied for the day. I don’t know how deep it is but given the local geography I doubt if it is more than 30 feet deep. I stand to be corrected on this though so if any of you have fished Levally and used a sounder I’d like to know if there are deeps there. Regarding the size of the fish in the lough, that has long been the source of much speculation in the area. I reckon most pike waters harbour the occasional larger than normal fish but there were tales of monstrous Pike in Levally. Dragging smallish lures behind a boat is definitely not the best way of hooking the biggest pike though and we were not anticipating anything we could not handle. I brought along some big soft baits to try and tempt a leviathan just in case.
Not being expert pike anglers we just planned a sedate day trolling lures. I like silver spoons for pike at this time of the year and although I chop and change lures frequently throughout the day it is usually a silver spoon which produces the best fishing for me. I brought along my trusty old ABU Atlantic 443S rod with a 6000C on it filled with 30lb braid. ‘Old Yellar’ is ideal for this job and has just the right combination of suppleness and backbone for heavy trolling. As an alternative I took an old 11 footer with me too. On a slow day it gives you something else to fiddle about with (on a busy day it can be a curse).
I know there are pike experts who take their fishing very seriously and are equipped to cover every inch of water effectively. We are less scientific and sort of motor slowly along over spots we think look likely. Some days we catch loads but on others our haphazard methods reap little in the way of fishy rewards. C’est la vie.
Ben’s 17 foot boat was already on the trailer when we met in the yard at 10am. We packed our gear in to his jeep and motored off down the Pontoon Road under grey skies that foretold of rain to come. At the side of the lough it was but a few minutes work to launch the boat, lock up the trailer and head out into the unknown. I started off with my favourite spoon, a silver Solvkroken Storauren. These Norwegian lures have a great action in the water and at 45grams swim that bit deeper than some of the other spoons I use. The copper coloured version can be good some days too. It says on the packaging the spoon is good for pike (obviously) and trout. Trout! The damn thing is bigger than some of the trout I catch!
We had barely motored 200 yards when my rod bucked and the reel screamed, very good pike tore line off the reel somewhere behind the boat. I only had him on for a few seconds before there was a sickening slackening of the line and I forlornly wound in my line, the shop bought trace had snapped at the swivel and the fish was gone with my silver spoon. I have no idea how big that pike was but he certainly pulled like a big one.
Gathering myself I tied on a new trace, this time one I had made myself. I clipped on another spoon and we set off again, aiming to circumnavigate the lake just to look for any likely spots. The end of the lake farthest from the car park was shallow and weedy but both of us hooked and lost pike in that area. As we passed an old wall that ran into the lake I had a firm take and after a good fight boated a nice pike of about 6 pounds. Further on a small Jack grabbed the same silver spoon and was quickly wound in. Then it was Ben’s turn and he boated a five pounder on an old Atom spoon in green and gold. By now it was time to break out the sandwiches and coffee which we hungrily consumed amid heavy showers. I tried a couple of other lures including a massive pink plastic squid. Another pike took a fancy to a rainbow trout softbait and once again this fish was in the 5-6 pound class. Ben picked up another similar sized fish around the same time. The action was steady if not hectic.
Heavy rain returned, drenching us in the downpour. We motored on through a pewter coloured world. I had changed lures again and was now using a huge handmade chrome spoon which I had painted fl. lime on the reverse side. I lost one fish before boating another 2, each very lightly hooked in the front of the mouth.
On our last section before we packed up we both hook pike at exactly the same time. Both were around 6 pounds and they fought very well. My one managed to take a chunk out of my left thumb as I was unhooking it and I bled profusely for the next hour or so.
We headed back to the shore, damp and getting cold now. The day had been enjoyable and Levally had given us some sport with a total of eight pike to the boat. Once again the weather had been a mix of sunshine and heavy showers, maybe on a better day the lake would have given up more of its residents.
One week later……………
We decided to try another local lake the following Saturday. This time we fished Carrowmore lake (not to be confused with the famous salmon and seatrout fishery in Erris). This body of water lies near Manulla and has a reputation of being dour but holding a few good sized pike.
We dragged the 17 footer to the ramp and launched her with little fuss. This is a nice lake to troll and we circles the reed beds and tree lined shores for the next few hours. Ben lost one and I managed to boat a couple of pie, one lad of around 4 pounds and a much better one which we both reckoned was a twenty pounder. The photo does not do this magnificent fish justice!
Longford posed some difficult questions for me. There is a lot of fishing in the county but from what I could see most of it was going to be very challenging. The Shannon forms the western border but I have been shying away from this river simply due to its size. The fish could be anywhere and me fishing one spot on the bank seems to be inviting disaster. So instead I found a lake in the north of the county which appeared to be a more likely spot to actually hook something. Lough Sallagh. This body of water straddles the Longford/Leitrim border so I would have to be careful not to stray across the county line as I have caught fish in Leitrim before. The IFI website said the lake contained bream, perch and roach, in other words the usual suspects. Parking was very, very limited as the road on the side of the lake was single track. It also said the lake was very shallow and very weedy so there could be some issues with that. In the event that Sallagh was unfishable or I could not find a parking spot I would pluck up my courage and drive down to Lanesborough and try the mighty Shannon. Was the famous hot water section there still fishing now that the ESB flusher is not working? Did the huge Tench of yesteryear still haunt the area? What about the vast shoals of specimen sized Bream – did they still move up the river from lough Ree? Or maybe there would be shoals of silvery roach cruising around in the deep waters. I had no idea but it seemed to be worth a shot if Sallagh was out of ply.
Once again, the most direct route for me coming from Mayo would be to drive to Longford then strike north but I required fresh bait and that would mean a visit to Carrick-on-Shannon. This would add some time to the drive but nothing too disastrous. My plan was to leave Castlebar around 8.30am which should, if the traffic gods were on my side, get me to the side of the lough around 11 o’clock.
I had spent some time since my last trip tidying out the tackle box and cleaning the coarse rods and reels so everything tackle wise was in reasonably good order. I really could do with buying a couple of boxes for all the smaller items of tackle though. Just now there are too many individual tins, each holding one or more bits. Hooks are in an old tobacco tine for example, swimfeeders in a disused washing powder box. In particular I would like to invest in a rig box so that I could have hook lengths made up and ready to go. I reckon that would save me a fair bit of time and hassle. I could also use up the spade end hooks which I seem to have accumulated and are too much trouble to tie when actually fishing. My hope was that the shallow water would lend itself to float fishing and I would be blessed with fine, calm weather so I could spent the day watching the tip of my float and hopefully see it slide beneath the surface a few times. It is hard to know which form of fishing for coarse species I like best, both float and leger have their attractions. I simply adore using my light leger rod and seeing the quiver tip rattle when there is a bite. Then again, focusing on that little speck of red or orange as it sits there in the surface is hypnotic too.
I checked the weather forecast before going to bed – ‘a mix of sunny spells and widespread showers. Some of the showers will be heavy with hail and possibly thundery too. Any mist, fog and frost will clear during the morning but the day will be rather cool with highs of just 10 or 11 Celsius in light southeast or variable breezes’. I threw an extra fleece into the bag.
Even though I wasn’t leaving until 8.30 I rose early on Thursday morning. It’s cool now and I put on the gas to warm the house up a little. Cats fed, I set about loading the tackle in the car. For some reason my thoughts wandered back to the days of my youth and how I would set off every Saturday armed with one fly rod and a small bag containing my only fly box and my sandwiches. Now I go fishing with half-a-dozen rods and enough gear to fill the back of the car yet I don’t catch any more fish than I did as a lad. Maybe that will be the next challenge for me once I have completed the 32 counties – fish all year with only one rod. That could be interesting!
I stowed the ABU 234 heavy leger rod in the car this time, just in case I found myself down in Lanesborough. It is capable of casting up to 40gms which would be useful on the Shannon. A lovely rod to fish with, I planned to pair it up with an old silver Daiwa Regal reel filled with 8 pound line. That should be man enough to handle the strong currents and heavy fish there. Ferreting around in the tackle room I had unearthed some 40gm feeders to bring along too. The big guns were out. I admit to feeling a lot of trepidation about this trip, Longford felt like a big challenge. Lough Sallagh would shallow and weedy with poor access and the alternative of the Shannon at Lanesborough looked to be huge and daunting.
That well-travelled road east along the N5 was not overly busy but thick banks of fog required a lot of concentration. At Frenchpark I cut off and drove north by east to the now familiar town of Carrick where I parked up beside the river. Carrick Angling Centre is conveniently located near the bridge. Unfortunately it was closed and I fear it may be for good. So I hit the road again, down the N4 then off through Mohill and on to Carrigallen where I got some worms before retracing my journey to the junction at the Cloone GAA pitch on that terrible bend. The minor roads to the lake were not signposted but I managed to guess correctly and peeled off first to the left and then down a boreen to the right. The trees were turning red and gold, making the last stages of the drive very pleasant. At last the lake hove into view on the right.
To say there was a shortage of parking spots would be a gross understatement. First appearances were of a potentially productive water but access is appalling, especially considering the road runs right alongside the lake. A couple of days work with a digger to clear parking places and a few shots of concrete to make some fishing stands would create a lovely facility for visiting and local anglers. Instead, I located only two possible fishing spots. Both were very shallow but one seemed to be a little deeper so I set up there.
By now the sun was out and it felt like a summer’s day. I waded out to see if there was any deeper water but even 30 yards from the shore I was only in 18 inches of water. The combination of shallows and bright light did not inspire confidence but I tackled up and fished for an hour without a bite. Time for some drastic action. I packed up and hit the road again, bound for Lanesborough.
For those who have never heard of it let me explain what the flusher at Lanesborough is all about. The surrounding flat bogland was for years stripped by huge machines and the peat which was extracted used to fuel a number of power stations. The one at Lanesborough sits right on the banks of the Shannon. Excess hot water was pumped directly into the river and this attracted the fish to the area immediately downstream of the flusher. For many years this was possibly the main spot in the whole country for visiting coarse anglers to congregate. Now the power station is closing down meaning no hot water is being pumped. The question for me was are there still some fish hanging around?
A fine carpark is situated right next to the fishing stands on the Shannon in the town. I opted to start just below the road bridge with a swimfeeder on the heavy rod and touch legering on the light rod. It had clouded over by the time I was set up and fishing and a breeze was beginning to build from the south so conditions were at least a improving for me. The river was very low and the anticipated heavy flow was just a sedate one instead. A thick bed of reeds splits the river here and I was fishing on the Longford side, the Roscommon side is the one used by the boat traffic (not that there was much of that). Small hooks and a single worm failed to get any response so I scaled up on the heavy rod and ended up with a size 10 and a bunch of worms. With no bites on the leger rod I decided to change over and set up a float on it (being too lazy to go back to the car for a float rod). I trotted the 17 foot deep water with the float for another hour or more before at last it pulled under and I landed a small perch. Soon after that the heavens opened and a heavy squall hit, making it very uncomfortable for a while. In the middle of the downpour I had another take and I lifted into a nice roach. With one last twist he shed the hook as I was about to swing him in. A murder of crows wheeled in the air above me, mocking my misfortune with loud cawing.
All the while I had been steadily moving downstream to cover as much water as I could. I’d cast in the swimfeeder and leave it where I could see it, then trot the float down and come back to the heavy rod every few minutes. I came back to the swimfeeder just in time to see the smallest of twitches which I struck firmly. Fish on and this one held down deep. The net was soon under him though and I gazed upon my first Hybrid! I was unfeasibly happy with this fish as I was not expecting to bump into a Hybrid here at all. A couple of quick snaps and the fish swam off strongly.
I fished on for a while longer but more heavy rain made the job unpleasant so I called it a day just after 4pm and made my way back to the car. Everything was sopping wet as I broke down the rods and loaded up all the gear. Time to reflect on what had been a difficult day.
Firstly, I had caught fish in county Longford. I have now caught fish from the mighty Shannon and I had landed my first Hybrid. Lough Sallagh was way too shallow in my opinion and I am sure I would have blanked had I stayed there. So the move to a different venue was a wise one. Lanesborough is but a shadow of what it used to be now the power station in no longer pumping millions of gallons of hot water into the river. The vast shoals of dustbin lid sized bream and enormous tench have found another billet. Still, it is a nice section to fish and it might be better earlier in the year, say around May or June. I really enjoyed fishing there, it was comfortable and a constant stream of (socially distancing) passers-by and dog walkers provided bits of chit-chat throughout the afternoon.
‘Bridies’, the tackle shop in Lanesborough has closed down and it looks like the tackle shop in Carrick-on-Shannon has also closed. The shop in Mohill shutdown some time ago. It must be incredibly hard to keep a small tackle shop open during these hard times. Finding bait is becoming increasingly difficult for me and it remains to be seen just how many tackle shops are still open next spring. The last time I spoke to Frank here in Castlebar he seemed to be doing OK, long may that continue.
The bait question is so serious I am now thinking about breeding my own maggots next year. It seems to be a simple enough process, if a bit smelly. Apparently the quality of home reared maggots is much superior to shop bought ones which could be another plus. Obviously Helen must never know about this particular project!
Realistically I should switch from coarse fishing to the pike from now on. The weather is getting colder and getting bait is proving to be really difficult. I will tidy up the coarse gear and put it away for the winter. My next outing may well be to chase the toothy green fellas!
PS. The car decided to play up a bit. There was a discernible loss of power for some reason when I was driving home. It has gone off to my mate’s for some repairs now and I have asked him to fix the knocking rear suspension while he is at it. Always something……………..
PPS. Prognosis on the car is a failed air mass flowmeter, €350 for a replacement. Looking around for a secondhand one now.
7th October: We are locked down again, initially for a period of three weeks but who knows what will happen after that. With no travel outside your own county the ’32 project’ is now firmly on hold with 7 counties successfully fished to date. Here is a summary of where I am as of this week:
Offaly sits in the very heart of Ireland, bounded by no less than 7 other counties. It is another one of those places which I have driven through so many times while commuting to jobs but have never stopped in, let along fished. In my mind Offaly was all bog which was being systematically stripped by the huge machines of Bord na Mona to feed the hungry power stations. I required a spot of re-education. The most obvious angling opportunities were on the river Shannon which formed the border between Offaly and Galway. The river is wide and strong here, it sounded like too much for a novice coarse angler like me to tackle with any degree of confidence. What I required somewhere more sedate and intimate. The river Brosna flows across the county but I could not find out too much on exactly where was best to fish so I discounted that river too. How about the canal? The Grand Canal could just be the place to try.
The Grand Canal links Dublin in the east to the river Shannon in the west. By the time it was fully open in 1804 it had taken nearly 50 years to build. After a brief period of success it fell into disrepair for many years. Nowadays, restored to its former glory, it is full of pleasure boats and is home to a good few coarse fish. I read the canal held Pike, Perch, Bream, Eels and some Roach. Pike ran to 5 or 6 pounds in weight but the perch were wee lads with a half-pounder being a good one. I began to hatch a plan to fish for perch on the canal and found a nice looking stretch at Shannon Harbour, right at the very western end of the canal. It looked like it would normally be extremely busy with boats but this year there are few people holidaying on the canal and anyway this is the end of the season. One of the big attractions for this spot was the abundance of parking places at the edge of the canal.
Looking at various maps it appeared there would be an interesting area to fish where the 36th lock (the last one on the canal), the river Brosna and the river Shannon all converged. Surely there would be some fish hanging around such a piece of water. If not, between the lock and the hump-backed bridge in the village there were moorings and some wide basins which would also be worth investigating. All in all, it looked as if there was going to be more than enough water to keep me busy.
The weather forecast was not great. The day was promised to be cool and windy with heavy showers, your typical autumn day in Ireland. I packed some rain gear in the car and a few spare clothes in case I got very wet.
This would be another first for me as I have never fished a canal before. From my very limited knowledge of canal fishing you need to find the fish first and this can be difficult. The advice was to look for places where the canal either narrows or widens as this seems to attract the perch. Under bridges are also good holding spots apparently. Perch are very accommodating little fish that can be caught on a wide variety of baits and lures so I figured on trying small jigs to start with. As there were small Pike also present there was a good chance one of them might grab a soft bait too. In addition to jigs I also packed some spinners too. Lacking the new fandangled drop-shotting gear I packed a couple of 6 foot baitcasting rods and reels. I planned to give some small jigs a whirl and see if the perch liked them. That would entail moving around a bit to cover as much water as possible and I would need to travel light. As a back-up plan I would bring along my coarse fishing tackle in case the perch were unresponsive and I could try for roach and bream on the maggot or worm. As usual, I would bring some bread and sweetcorn with me too in case of emergency.
My route there was straightforward, M17/M6/R357 then cut off for Shannon Harbour. There should be none of the twisty roads of my last couple of forays into Leitrim and Cavan, just good straight road and motorways. I reckoned that a bit more than a couple of hours should see me at my destination and as I wanted to be back at home for 5pm that would give me somewhat less than four hours actual fishing. Would that be long enough for me to catch something (anything!)? I stepped out into the garden to check the weather before I went to bed, a cold, clear night full of twinkling stars. What would the morrow hold?
Sure enough, the day broke amid squally showers driven by a wind which didn’t seem to know which direction it wanted to blow from. Whatever the direction it was strong! Eating my porridge I consulted the weather forecast again, they were now talking about gale force winds and heavy rain with possible spot flooding today. Looks like it is going to be a rough one!
The trip down to Offaly was uneventful and the roads were pretty quiet. The small bridge over the canal in the village was supposed to be closed so I diverted through Cloghans and came into the village from the south, a fair bit of a detour. On reaching the village it was obvious the bridge was in fact open so my detour had been for nothing. I bounced along the rough track on the south side of the canal and reached a parking spot next to the last lock on the canal. I quickly surveyed my surroundings and decided to try the jig first to try and temp some perch from the likely looking water above the lock. Problems immediately became obvious in the shape of weed, lots and lots of weed. It grew thickly on the bottom and maddeningly floated in great clumps on the surface too. Each cast resulted in a fouled hook. The weed on the bottom came away easily enough so I was not losing any gear but nor was I catching any fish. This wasn’t working at all so I needed a plan B.
The weather now degenerated and a troublesome wind sprang up closely followed by a very heavy shower. I got a good soaking but used this time to grab my coarse gear and leg it down to the end of the canal, only about 100 yards from the Shannon itself. There was a steady flow here as the river Brosna came in just up from where I was on the opposite side. Plumbing the depth I found there was about 12 feet of water in front of me. Given the weed situation above the lock I opted to try red maggots on the float tackle with the worm on my light leger rod close in to the reeds at my side.
I trotted the float through the run for an hour or so without success before the float ever so slowly slid under. I was equally slow in lifting the rod, thinking this was just a bit of weed again but no! A nice wee roach came to hand, sparkling silver flanks and red fins. I had photographed him and popped him back in the water before it struck me, I had done it, caught a fish in Offaly! I repeated the exercise again with another, slightly bigger roach on the float fished maggot about 20 minutes later but by then the weather had taken a turn for the worse. A veritable monsoon broke and driving rain penetrated every leak in my old waterproofs. Fishing was extremely difficult as you could hardly see or feel anything in the deluge. I packed up as quickly as I could and started to plod back to the car through the downpour.
Nearing the carpark it became clear the rain was easing off somewhat so I decided to try a few casts from a floating pontoon. I was soaked through anyway so a few more minutes in the rain wasn’t going to make a hell of a lot of difference. In normal days I am sure this spot was a hive of activity as boats queued there to ascend the lock. Today there was a solitary empty boat tied forlornly to the pontoon leaving tons of room for me to fish. This looked like the ideal spot for perch so I dropped a worm over the edge of the pontoon while I sorted out the float rod. I turned to see the tip of the leger rod rattle but when I picked it up and wound in the perch had scoffed my worm and got away scot free. The rain renewed it venomous downpour, horizontal now in a howling wind. I turned my back to it and kept on fishing but it was very tough to see any twitches on the rod tip. Thankfully, the torrents of rain eased off a bit and I was able to see and feel again. Soon the tip of the wee leger rod give a rattle and I set the hook in a small perch. I repeated this trick another couple of times with similar sized perch then added another nice roach, also on the worm, before the next belt of weather came rolling in.
By now even I had to admit defeat so I packed up and made tracks to the car and some welcome respite from the elements. A drop of hot coffee and a sandwich revived me a bit and I sat there watching the teeming rain on the windscreen. It was nearing three o’clock and I lacked the will to tackle up again so I called it a day. Once more I braved the rain to throw the rods and gear into the back of the car then I turned the key in the ignition and set a course for home, this time driving over the bridge and cutting a big chunk off the journey back north. Strangely, the bad weather abated as I neared Ballinasloe and I completed the rest of the journey home in sunshine and light showers.
At home the sopping wet clothes were bundled up and fired into the washing machine. The left over bait was frozen for use as ground bait in future. The rest of the gear can wait until the next day to get cleaned/dried/sorted out. Reviewing the day’s events, I had found a really nice place to fish and it is clear that in better conditions and a bit earlier in the year the canal at Shannon Harbour could produce some great fishing. I was reasonably pleased to have managed to winkle out a few fish in truly horrendous conditions. I know they were small but I was far from disappointed. Once again I had fish to both float and leger tactics. The only real downside is my inability to catch anything other than roach and perch. I need to think out what to do when there is a lot of weed growth. I figured that the float was the answer but would a swimfeeder with a popped-up hook bait been a better option? It did cross my mind to change to that set up but the rain was so heavy the idea of making any changes was just too much effort. All I wanted to do was try to keep as little water as possible from getting through my jacket and trousers.
The next day I dried out all my gear and tidied up my tackle box. Items which were not being used were removed and a few small bits were added. Rods and reels were wiped down and checked over. The old Cardinal 444A was running a bit stiff so I opened it up and lubricated the innards. Groundbait is running low now so a visit to a good tackle shop is required. I need to look at new waterproofs, my old ones are past their best now and I got very wet in the heavy rain. I’m also going to start bringing my heavy leger rod with me when I go coarse fishing. It can handle heavier/larger swimfeeders and this might help me to add more groundbait into swims and thus attract and hold some bream.
Counties Dublin and Donegal are locked down again due to spikes in Covid-19 with other counties looking like they will go the same way. At least I have ticked off another county before it becomes out of bounds. After this burst of activity over that past month I will be slowing down a bit over the winter and, if the gods are good to me, I will go at it hell for leather from next spring. I am plotting some local pike fishing next month, watch this space…………………
It started a couple of weeks ago. You had to listen hard to hear it to start with but it quickly increased in volume and frequency. Now it is a robust ‘clunk’ emanating from the region of the rear suspension whenever I drive over a bump in the road (not an infrequent occurrence here in Ireland). On good roads it disappears but as soon as the surface returns to the normal level of inconsistency it comes back. I strongly suspect that a bushing on the suspension has given up the ghost and it will need to be changed. I have added it to the list of jobs the car needs done. Until I get around to fixing it I just turn up the volume on the radio to drown out the disconcerting noise. I thought before setting off on the next leg of my odyssey that the car might be a problem for me but no, it ran faultlessly while all sorts of other disasters befell me on Monday.
The next target county on my quest to catch fish in every one was Cavan. While I have passed through bits of Cavan on lot of different occasions I have not spent any time there so it is all a bit of a mystery to me. Cavan is one of the border counties, its northern boundary forming part of the border with Northern Ireland. When driving to/from Scotland on my annual trips I pass through a tiny piece of Cavan at Blacklion and I have been in Cavan Town and Ballyconnell on business before now. It is another one of those counties blessed with endless opportunities for the coarse fishing enthusiast so I planned to try for Bream (again) on one of the smaller loughs. Cavan really has an awful lot of loughs to pick from.
While researching possible venues I hit on a daring plan. I found a lough which straddled the border between Cavan and Longford. With a bit of luck I could catch a fish on Cavan side of the lough then wander over to the other side and catch another fish on the Longford side, thus ticking off two counties in one day. The idea really appealed, so I laid plans to attempt just that.
The lough in question is called Guinikin and it lies close to the village of Arvagh. The village itself nestles in Cavan but three counties meet on the edge of the town. Leitrim and Longford are all a short walk from the middle of the village. Probably the most direct route for me would be to drive to Longford along the N5 then hang a left up go up the R198. Instead, I decided to go via Carrick-on-Shannon so I could pick up some maggots at the tackle shop there. That would entail driving through the other popular coarse fishing centres of Mohill and Carrigallen. It probably was much the same in terms of kilometres driven but the roads would be poorer and therefor slower.
The weather has been fine, warm and dry for the past few days, allowing water levels across the country to drop to something approaching normal for the time of year after a long wet spell. I was hoping that Guinikin was not too high as I wanted to be able to walk around a fair old chunk of the shoreline. In case of bad conditions I packed a pair of thigh waders. If nothing else the banks were likely to be muddy even if they were not under water. Information about the lake was sparse, there was a small carpark nearby which is always a big plus for me. On Google maps it looked like there was a lane which led to the edge of the lough. The IFI website stated there were stands to fish from which would be nice if they were there. In terms of fish the IFI said there were Bream, Roach, Tench, Hybrids, Pike and perch present. A nice spread of species to have a go at if the Bream failed to appear (as is normal for me). I planned around starting operations with one rod on feeder and the other on waggler. I’d bring a spinning rod with me in case I wanted to try for a Pike.
The previous day I spent some time sorting out the coarse fishing tackle which had degenerated into chaos after the last few outings. I find that I chop and change methods a lot when coarse fishing and that leads to a host of little bits of used tackle congregating in the box. Discarded hook lengths, floats still attached to bits of shotted line, empty bait boxes and other detritus all had to be gathered up, cleaned/sorted/discarded safely and necessities like clean towels and spare tins of sweetcorn replenished. I had read somewhere that Bream like sweet flavours in groundbait so I went ferreting around in the cupboards to see if I could find something suitable. Right at the back I came across a suspicious looking wee bottle which proved to be vanilla essence. The best before date suggested to me this was not going to fit for human consumption so I added it to my tackle box.
The tackle shop in Carrick opens and 9.30am so an 8.30 departure from Castlebar would put in the parish around the right time. Traffic in the town was heavy but once I was on the main road it eased off and the dry, dull weather made the journey pleasant enough. The knocking from the suspension came and went at intervals but there were no dramas with the car. I rolled into Carrick at twenty-to-ten and after parking strode manfully up to the tackle shop – it was closed! Bugger, there goes my plans to use maggots today. I was really unhappy about this as I continue to hold no faith in sweetcorn despite lugging a couple of tins along with me. Back in the car I pressed on, passing through Mohill and then to Carigallen. I was almost through the town when it occurred to me there was a small tackle shop attached to a B&B. Sure enough, there it was just as you are leaving on the left hand side so I pulled over and, clutching an empty bait box, strode up to the wee shop. ‘Closed due to Covid’ said the sign on the door. Before I could start cursing properly someone inside the house knocked on the window and signalled to me. Anne, the owner came out and said she happened to have some bait and after an exchange of coin a pint of bright red maggots were mine. I nearly skipped back to the car, my mood completely changed due to my good fortune. Not far now and I was in Arvagh, a bustling village with a one way system.
My chosen lough was on the other edge of the town and easily found. I parked up and got all my gear sorted but of a lane there was no sign. Instead, a deep and foul looking drain led from under the road to the lake and the ground was swampy all around it. Electric cattle fences barred my path and I could already see swathes of dense reed beds around the water. More cursing ensued as I battled my way to the nearest point of the water but there were still many yards of reeds between me and open water. I tried hacking some reeds down but it would have taken me hours to clear a spot to fish from. In the end I gave up and trudged through the muck and across the fences back to the car. I had wasted a good hour and had still not even set up a rod. I needed a new plan.
The gear was hastily bundled back into the car and I headed back into the town then found a sign for Rockfield lough. I followed the road and guessed the lake was a body of water in a hollow to the right. It was also surrounded by a thick belt of reeds so I beat a retreat, not fancying another battle with more vegetation. Back into the town again and I found a big lough which I later found out was called Garty Lough. There was space to park and even a pontoon to fish from. This would have to do.
Finally, I set up the gear. One feeder rod and one on the float, both baited with maggots. Plumbing the depth I found there was about eight feet of water three rod lengths out from the pontoon. Groundbait was made up and balls thrown in, then I settled down with some coffee to see what would transpire. An hour passed and I bent to pick up the feeder rod to check the bait. There was a muffle ‘crack’ and the old rod sagged just above the bottom joint. I had managed to strike a big cleat on the pontoon and snapped the rod. Let’s just say I was not having the best of days so far!
I packed away the broken rod and set up my wonderful old light leger rod and mulled over the day’s events. My plans were in tatters as was one of my rods. It was 1pm and I had not even had a bite yet. Things were looking bleak. On the plus side I was settled into a nice swim and I had confidence in my tactics and bait. I would add some more groundbait for a start and this time a mixed in some of the prehistoric vanilla essence. Mushing it into the mix I could smell the vanilla, very appealing to me if not the fish. Balls of the sweet-smelling goo were chucked into the swim, each laced with some maggots for good measure. I re-cast and very soon the float dipped. I struck – nothing. I re-baited and cast again. Once again, the float dipped and I struck into thin air. This was repeated a few more times. I needed to make a change. I was fishing a single maggot on a size 18 hook on the float rod so I changed the leger rod to a bigger size 14 tipped with 3 maggots. First cast with the leger brought a strong bite and a fish on the end. A nice roach of about 8 ounces came to hand and I’m sure I smiled. The float was now being ignored but the leger produced three roach and a perch over the next hour, none big but all welcome. The last swallows of summer hawked flies above me in the gentlest of breezes, life was good.
It went quiet again so I took the opportunity to change the hook on the float rod to a 14 and put 3 maggots on it. From then on the leger rod was ignored by the fish but I landed another 3 roach and 3 more perch on the float. That was 10 fish for the session, not too bad for a day which had started so unpromisingly. The fish went quiet again about 3.30pm so I packed up and hit the road home.
A post mortem of the day revealed a number of mistakes on my part. I should have checked the bait shop in Carrick was open on Mondays (it appears it is not). Guinikin Lough was a disaster because I was overly optimistic there would be somewhere relatively easy to fish there. I need to be certain about venues before hiking half way across the country to fish them. Maybe a younger man, equipped with a heavy rake, might have cleared a swim there but it was torture for me just getting across those 7 electric cattle fences. Not managing to tick off two counties in one day was a shame but that was always going to be a big ask. Breaking the rod was pure carelessness on my part. It was an old rod that I had bought second-hand for a pound or two so it was not great loss. I won’t rush to replace it, I have enough rods to see me through the winter and I can think about a new dedicated feeder rod next spring. Bream continue to elude me but I am getting used to that by now. I understand that not pre-baiting is a major drawback but there is nothing I can do about it.
On the plus side I caught fish in County Cavan! That is a big success for me and I am pretty happy about that. I’ve discovered a huge affection for roach, they are such a pretty fish and I’m enjoying learning how to catch them. Did adding the vanilla essence to the groundbait make a difference? I honestly don’t know but it sure smelled good to me so I will definitely try it again. Getting fish on both float and leger was fun and I am feeling more confident with the coarse gear with each outing.
I saw a few heavy splashes out in the lake today which I could not identify as they were too far away. Then a large, silver fish jumped clear of the water not 30 yards from me. Later, another large, silver fish rose at my feet and I saw both very clearly. They were salmon. How salmon got into this lake in the heart of Cavan I do not know. The stream exiting the lake is little more than a drain. I can only imagine this drain links to Lough Gowna which is close by and is part of the massive Erne system.
I now need to think about which county to target next. 5 down, 27 still to go. For obvious reasons I have been fishing those counties closest to me, so from now on the journeys are going to get longer and more arduous. The more distant counties are 4 hours drive or more from home, so at least eight hours will be spent getting there and back. Fishing time will be at a premium and these long range trips will require much more careful planning than I have put into my jaunts so far. With the winter fast approaching and some counties being in lockdown it makes sense to keep my powder dry for next year once September is past. A fine spell of weather in October/November might tempt me out to fish for Pike but other than that I will hunker down and make preparations for 2021 once September is over.
The next county I would target in my project the catch fish in every Irish county would be Clare. Once again I was busy online researching possible venues and plumped for this one, Cloondorney Lough. This lake, near the town of Tulla in the east of the county seemed to be the best option to me. It sounded like the fishing was easily accessible and the lough held Bream (my target species), Roach, some Hybrids and lots of Rudd. The Rudd apparently run up to about a pound in weight, a great size for the species. Tench, Eels and Perch also inhabited this water but in small numbers.
My plan was to use two rods, setting one up with a feeder to search for Bream and the other with a waggler set high in the water to try for Rudd. In case that didn’t work out I took along plenty of other rods, reels and gear so I could switch around if desired. For bait I had some worms, dead maggots, sweetcorn and bread. So really I was armed to the teeth and ready for anything.
Monday and the alarm goes off in the cool darkness of the early morning. The car had been packed the night before so all I had to do was eat my breakfast and sort out some food to bring with me. It would be a long day so I needed sustenance. Six-thirty saw me pulling out of the driveway and off into the darkness. Light was just creeping into the eastern sky as I motored through the villages of south Mayo, crossing into Galway at Ballindine on-route for Tuam. There the new motorway bypasses the town and led me ever southwards. Traffic built up approaching Galway city but it eased again once passed the M6 junction. In two hours I was passing through Tulla and looking for the brown signpost for the lake. The narrow road was under some sort of repair by the looks of it, consisting of untarred gravel but I found the lough and reversed into a neat little space by a small concrete stand.
I inspected my new surroundings and was a bit taken aback by the colour of the water – it was like strong tea. I can only presume this was due to heavy rain but it did not inspire me to see such a filthy lough. As I was contemplating the water two locals arrived and occupied the swim next to me. We had a brief chat and it was clear they knew the lough well and fished it often. What should have been a peaceful spot was ruined by a heavy digger which decided to work right behind my swim all morning. It looked like he was clearing a site for a new house and the clanking of the 360 went on for most of the day.
Following my plan the feeder rod was set up with the Cardinal 444A and 6 pound line. A cage feeder and a hook link of 4 pound b/s completed the set up. A lively worm was my bait on this rod. For ground bait I mixed brown crumb and added a few dead red maggots. The float rod with the Daiwa Harrier reel and 2 pound running line was set up with a small float and a foot of 1.5 pound hook length to a size 18 carrying a single red maggot. Lots of balls of ground bait were hurled into the swim in an effort to attract some fish nearer. Right from the start the float dipped every cast but hooking the Rudd was proving to be difficult. Eventually I hit one and swung in a typical tiny Rudd. Another couple followed but I was missing 90% of the bites. In between the action on the float I was continually winding in the swimfeeder and refilling the cage.
Time for a cuppa. I had brought along a flask of hot water and a plastic box full of tea bags of indeterminate age. All I know is that they had nestled peacefully in that box of a long, long time. I pulled out the first one that came to hand, dropped it into the cup and filled up with the hot water. Then I had a rough sandwich with a tomato I had brought and let the tea brew. The first sip of the tea was a surprise, it was impossible to tell what tea I had just brewed. It tasted of pepperminty/cranberryish/orangy with a hint of ginger (or maybe lemon). Obviously all the different flavours of tea had intermingled over the time the tea bags were in the box and now the all tasted the same. Ah well, at least it was drinkable.
The float dipped again and I struck into another small silvery fish but this time it was a wee skimmer. Growing tired of the small stuff I changed the float rod for my light leger rod and tried worms in the margins as close to the reeds as I dare. Starting with a single worm (nothing), I moved to two worms (nothing) then put on a bigger hook and tried a bunch of worms (yes, you have guessed it, nothing).
Since bait had failed to produce any fish I broke down the leger rod and set up a pike rod. Half-an-hour of flinging a large spoon proved to be unsuccessful. The rain which had started about midday grew heavier as the afternoon advanced, warm but never-the-less wetting mist. With little happening I decided to call it a day at 3pm and packed the soggy gear away in the car. The trusty VW engine burst into life at the first turn of the key and I bounced down the gravel road, retracing my outward journey to Tulla. Unfortunately the junction of the lakeside road with the main road was blocked and I had to reverse back a hundred yards then carry out a 29 point turn to go off in the opposite direct down some more minor roads to get back to Tulla. It rained the whole way home.
So what did I learn from today? I caught some (tiny) Rudd, a species new to me so I was happy about that. The skimmer was very welcome too but it would have been nice to catch something a bit more substantial. The colour of the water looked odd to me and when I mentioned it to the other fishermen they said the lake was never normally that colour. Was it due to the heavy rains we have had of late? Or maybe all those road works had allowed silt to enter the lough. Either way, I am sure the fish were upset by the change and this did not help my cause any today. It was a long way to travel for a few tiddlers but that is fishing for you! I didn’t catch anything on the swimfeeders, all the small stuff were caught on the float. Maybe if I had stuck with the float some bigger Rudd may have showed up, who knows?
Bream continue to elude me. OK, I had a skimmer today but catching the full grown lads is still beyond my ken. I have read that pre-baiting is the secret to catching Bream but that is not practical for me. To drive for at least an hour or two just to chuck a load of groundbait into a lake then drive home is not an option for me. Instead I need to find smaller waters which hold bream, small enough that I can cover them all in a day. That way I know the fish will be seeing my bait at some point and I can try to hold them in the swim by chucking in groundbait and loose feed. I am also tempted to try a flavoured ground bait and I’ll do some more research on this before I venture out again.
The lough itself was a nice place to fish and it was an example of how so many other lakes could be opened up for coarse angling in Ireland. The concrete stands were very simple affairs which would have cost very little and been easy to make. The two biggest issues for anglers here are car parking and access. There are literally thousands of lakes in the Republic which are full of coarse fish but anglers can’t get near them. Narrow roads with nowhere to park is the norm. Having to cross fields, often full of stock, is a problem (have you tried hopping a few barbed wire or electric fences with all your coarse gear?) only to be confronted with 20 or 30 yards of reeds before open water. Over the years IFI has carried out some excellent work to try and open up more waters but so much more could be done if there was real government will to do so. This being Ireland, nothing is simple or straight forward. Land ownership is a huge issue here and it is often very complicated with multiple owners of small parcels of land. These would all need to be dealt with and compensation for the loss of small bits of land on lake shores or to create access paths will work out to be very expensive. With ever dwindling game and sea fish stocks I can see an upswing in coarse anglers over the coming years in Ireland. It would be great if IFI could find the funds to increase safe access to more loughs and rivers for coarse fishers.
So anyway, I have now caught fish in county Clare, not big ones I grant you but fish never-the-less. I knew at the outset of this project that there would be many days when settling for one or two tiddlers will constitute success. That was very much the case today in the Banner County.
It is the 10th September 2020 and yesterday I decided to tackle another county, this time our near neighbour Leitrim. In one sense this should be a very easy place to catch a few fish as Leitrim is full of lakes brimming with fish. My issues are around exactly what kind of fish. You see Leitrim is a coarse fishers paradise but I am no expert at coarse angling, hence my reticence. An awful lot of online study had gone into today’s trip, venues abound but finding the right one was hard work. It had to hold plenty of fish (obviously) be easy to find, have adequate parking nearby and some structures to fish from. Irish banks tend to be wild and overgrown and as a novice I want to be standing on something stable. Those criteria narrowed down the choice considerably as many of the loughs in the area are pretty wild and poorly served with infrastructure.
I eventually hatched a plan to fish a small lough called Drumgorman Lake, about 3 km to the south of Drumshanbo. According to the IFI website it held Bream, Roach, Perch and Pike. There were some stands to fish from and a carpark right next to the water. The main road from Carrick-on-Shannon to Drumshanbo ran next to the shoreline. It sounded perfect.
Thursday morning was dry and the winds were light but forecast to pick up through the day. All the relevant gear was chucked in the back of the motor and I hit the road, bound for lovely Leitrim. For a change the N5 was pretty quiet and I trundled happily on, heading east and listening to the usual gloom on the radio. Brexit this, Covid that, the latest depressing updates on the total mismanagement of global issues. At least the fishing would take my mind off all of this crap for a while. Somewhere between Frenchpark and Carrick the road had been dug up and I had to divert through Boyle, a town I had never been in before. Negotiating the strange one-way system in the town, I emerged on the N4 road and turned towards Carrick. There is a canal only a few yards along the road which looked pretty fishy to me (one for another day). The green and pleasant scenery rushed by as I ploughed on eastwards.
If you have been following my early exploits in coarse fishing you will recall that I have lost faith in sweetcorn as bait. This time I was determined to get some maggots so I stopped off at the Carrick Angling Centre to pick up a pint. I opted for red ones and invested in some brown crumb for ground bait while I was at it. Next, some brown bread from the local Gala store on the corner of Bridge Street (for me to make myself a sandwich) and I was off on the final, short leg of the journey up the R280 and through Leitrim Village. I very nearly drove past the small carpark at the side of the lake as it is not signposted! Gear was hastily unpacked, rods pushed together and I set up on a fine new-ish looking disabled stand. With nobody else around I elected to fish from the stand. A handful of maggots were tossed in while I set up two rods, the 12 foot Shakespeare with a Daiwa Harrier and my lovely little ABU Legerlite with the old Cardinal 444A. Both had 6 pound nylon on them. I put a small swimfeeder on the 12 footer, loaded it with maggots and put 3 maggots on a size 12 then cast it out. A couple of swan shot is all the weight the Legerlite needs and I added a link of pound and a half nylon to a size 14 crystal bend, tipped with a pair of maggots. This rod was cast to the left.
I started mixing up some ground bait and fired a few balls of it into the coloured water but almost right away I started to get bites. The steady wind blowing from left to right was making bite detection a bit hit and miss but soon enough I connected with a fish on the Legerlite. Winding in, I found what has to be the smallest Perch in the world hanging on to my hook. Ah well, at least it was a start.
More ground bait mixing and throwing and more small bites followed but I wasn’t connecting with them. Changing the swimfeeder size 12 for a size 14 seemed to help and when I struck a solid bite there was some weight on the end. A lovely Roach of about 8 ounces came to hand, was photographed and quickly released. Happy days!
More missed bites followed and I changed down in hook size again, this time to an 18 and a single maggot. Bites promptly stopped altogether on that rod but I picked up another good Roach on the Legerlite. Clouds had been building and sure enough the rain started and the wind picked up, making conditions less than favourable. Hunkering down I surveyed my swim and thought the tree roots next to me looked like the perfect spot for a Perch to set up home. Re-baiting, I literally lowered my rig down at my feet into the roots and waited. I didn’t have long to wait as a lively bite resulted in a firm hook up and a nice perch as soon in my hand.
All the time a somewhat scruffy Robin kept me company, darting down to grab any stray maggots that had crawled out of the bait box. He was obviously well used to this trick.
Time flew by as the rain first eased off then returned with a vengeance. Bites dried up so I tried to liven things up with even more ground bait. Trying some casts to my right brought a flurry of bites and a few small Roach but I was soaked through by now so I decided to call it a day. Sheltering under the trees, I broke down the rods and tucked all the bits and pieces away before turning the key in the ignition and heading off homeward. Everything was sopping wet and will need to be dried out thoroughly before I venture out again. Note to self – must buy a new waterproof ¾ length jacket. The one I am using belonged to my father and is worn out.
So, what to make of the day and what lessons were learned? Firstly, and probably most importantly, I caught some fish in County Leitrim. I has set out to try and catch Bream, Roach or Perch and had landed 2 out of the 3. Shame I didn’t connect with any Bream but I was absolutely delighted to catch the Roach. The first couple were really pretty fish and I now get why some anglers fish so hard for this species. My choice of bait was vindicated and I will make a lot of effort to get maggots when I am going coarse fishing. Not wasting time trying to float fish in the wind was a good move (I think). Dropping the bait into the tree roots looking for Perch was a success too.
On the negative side I failed to catch a Bream (again) and I badly want to land a few of these fish. I read that they should be easy to catch but they are eluding me right now. OK so they are slimy and don’t really fight but I still want to catch some! I will persevere and read up some more on the species, then target them specifically on my next outing. I also need to figure out my choice of hooks because I missed a large percentage of the bites I got. Dropping down in size reduced bite numbers but increased hook ups until I went to a size 18, then all action on that rod ceased. Why? And my hooking ratio was terrible so maybe I need to think about different styles of hook? My ground baiting was a bit haphazard and I need to think about the quantity and frequency of groundbait. I could not hold the shoal of roach in front of me and this means I was doing something wrong. I don’t know did I over feed or not put enough in. I need to look into hair rigs as they could help me to convert bites into solid hook ups. I’ll do some research first before buying the bits and bobs.
Swimfeeders break! I started by tying on a nice little maggot feeder but after a few casts I noticed there was something wrong with it and a little crack had turned into chunks of the plastic body falling off. I changed it for a sturdier one but I will buy some new feeders so I have a good stock. On the subject of tackle, my tackle box badly needs to better organised. I seemed to be constantly rummaging around for hooks/line and could never just put my hand on what I wanted. The list of potential improvements goes on and on but today was a step in the right direction for me. Will I ever give up my game and sea fishing to concentrate on coarse? Not a chance! Having said that, I am fascinated by this branch of the sport and can’t wait to get back out there chasing Bream and Roach again.
So that is Leitrim ticked off the list, making it the third county out of the 32. It is a largely unspoilt county with a huge amount of coarse fishing. If I was a visiting angler the idea of holidaying in Carrick-on-Shannon would be very appealing. It is a nice wee town with lots of accommodation options, plenty of bars and restaurants. The river Shannon flows through the town and there are dozens of good fishing lakes within easy reach. For me, it is just over an hour’s drive from home so I will be coming back to the area from now on.
The day dawned fine and fair as promised by the forecasters. An easterly breeze blew across the garden as I surveyed the flowers and pulled out the odd weed. Where shall I fish today? The eternal question needed a swift answer and looking at the thin clouds I plumped for lough Conn. Out came the outboard engine and fuel tank, the fishing bag and rods to be stowed in the car. But wait! The thin cloud cover had broken already and blue sky was filling the heavens above me. That wind seemed to have dropped to a mere zephyr too. Conn would be terribly hard work in a flat calm and brilliant sunshine. Maybe I needed to re-think my plans. It was a few minutes work to empty the car again and fill it with coarse gear. I would go to County Roscommon for the day and try to chalk off another of the 32 counties.
In the townland of Creeve, some miles to the North of Strokestown, there is a lake with excellent access, Lough Cloonahee. It apparently is home to Bream, Rudd and Hybrids so it sounded like a good place for a novice like me. My local filling station provided a shot of diesel for the car and a couple of loaves of bread for bait then I hit the road. As always, actually finding the lough was harder than it should be. The brown signposts pointing out the fishing lakes were either missing or pointing in the wrong directions but I managed to figure it out and found the lough without too much hassle. In the small, rough carpark I got chatting to the local farmer about this and that, as you do. What with the Covid he had seen virtually no anglers this year so he had no idea how the lake was fishing. A quick look at the water revealed the good folks of Roscommon had seen a lot of rain recently as the fine wooden walkway which stretches for 30 metres along the shore was partially submerged. I tackled up and found a dry spot off to the right to commence operations.
Plumbing the depth I found 15 feet of water close in so I set up the float rod with 3 pound straight through and a size 14 hook adorned with a single ear of sweetcorn. My feeder rod and old Cardinal reel full of 6 pound mono was rigged with an open cage feeder and a size 10 hook tied to 9 inches of 3 pound. 3 ears of sweetcorn were pushed on to this hook and I lobbed it out a few yards. This process was repeated a few times so the feeder full of bread and corn could unload in the same area to try and attract the fish to me. I also loose fed corn into the swim as I fished.
Time flew by as I made small adjustments to the rigs and re-baited frequently. About an hour into the session I lifted the feeder rod to recast and felt a sharp tug. Striking, I met fierce resistance and I was into a good fish. What was this now? It felt heavy so it might be a bream and images of slab-sided bronze fish filled my head. Off on another run went the fish, so it definitely was not a bream! Still unseen she hugged the bottom shaking her head and making lunges in different directions. Maybe it was a huge Rudd, there were supposed to be some big ‘uns in here. No, Rudd would be higher up in the water column. What about a Hybrid? After all they are supposed to be great scrappers. I applied as much pressure as I dare with the 3 pound breaking strain tippet foremost in my thoughts. Up came the beast and she broke the surface – it was a blooming Pike! The battle raged for a while longer but I admit I could scarcely care less if the fish broke free. She didn’t and at the second attempt she slipped into the meshes and was lifted out. I thought it must surely be foul hooked but no, the pike had taken the sweetcorn fair and square with the hook nicely placed in the scissors.
Quickly unhooked, I slid her back into the water. It was only later when I had cleaned off the slime, changed the hook link, re-baited and got the rod back in the water that it dawned on me – I had managed to catch a fish in Roscommon!
More groundbait, more waiting and re-casting, more nothing happening. I tried a bigger hook with numerous ears of corn on it but that didn’t work. I tried moving to the other end of the walkway and setting up there in a nice looking swim. That was a similar failure. In the end I gave up and packed away the gear. It was mid-afternoon so I would get back home in good time. If it hadn’t been for that suicidal pike I would have blanked. I know I caught a nice fish and I should be happy about that but it felt like cheating somehow. I was not fishing for pike and had set up to catch roach or bream. Beggars can’t be choosers I suppose.
While the lake was very high it was not too coloured and I am not going to blame conditions for my lack of success. According to the IFI website Cloonahee holds Bream, Roach, Perch, Hybrids and even some Tench but none of them distained to take my bait. I am of the opinion that using sweetcorn was the problem. In future I will make sure I have a range of baits with me so I can swap as required. For now, I am just happy to have captured a fish in Roscommon.
Those of you who followed my blog will know that I have a madcap plan to catch a fish in every county in on the island of Ireland. Covid-19 blew a huge great hole in that venture but I made a start to this odyssey today by visiting Lough Talt in neighbouring county Sligo.
Lough Talt sits in a glen amid the Ox Mountains just inside the Sligo border. Those of you unfamiliar with the west of Ireland will be amused to know the Ox Mountains are a range of low hills a few hundred feet high. There are no towering crags, steep slopes of loose scree or hanging corries, only mist shrouded rounded hills clad in heather and sheep nibbled grass. It may lack alpine grandeur but it is a very scenic area much loved by walkers and hikers. Indeed, today the path was busy with family groups and dog walkers out enjoying the fresh air. I had trout on my mind though!
Weather today was just about ideal for fishing this lake, a good strong south wind was whipping up the length of the lake and cloud cover was not too low, at least when I was fishing. I reached the lough after a quiet drive via Ballina and the little village of Buniconlon. The road twists and turns as it gains height then drops again as the lake comes into view. There is good parking at the south end of the lake with room for a dozen cars. Tackling up with a three fly cast of a Bibio on the bob, a Jungle Wickhams in the middle and a small claret Bumble on the tail I set off on the track around the lough. The stretch of shoreline near the car park was uninspiring so I plodded on in my thigh waders. I was not sure what the shore would be like so I had donned the waders to cope with any stream crossings or to get out past any weed beds. The waders proved to be a bit of overkill and my hiking boots would have been a better option as the banks were firm and the path along the shore was well maintained (I will know for the next time).
Eventually I reached a spot which looked fishy so I set about my business in the strong cross wind. Casting up to about 15 yards was fairly comfortable, after that the wind gave me some issues so I stuck to the medium length of line all day. No offers for the first while but then I lightly hooked a small trout which promptly fell off. Bugger! Only a few casts later I rose another trout but felt no contact. Was I going to have one of those days? I eyed the flies on the leader with some doubt, especially that Claret Bumble on the tail. Tied on a size 14, it might be a bit too small for today I pondered. What the hell, I will leave it there for now. I marched up the path a bit further and found another likely looking spot.
Out shot the line, steady retrieve back to about 5 yards out then lift off and cast again. I was getting into the rhythm now and concentrating hard so I was diligently covering the water. A splash followed by a tug and I was into a trout at last. Not the biggest fish I have ever hooked but he was very welcome indeed. Of course he had taken the wee Claret Bumble I had so little faith in! A quick pic then he was popped back into the water. Two cast later and the exercise was repeated with a slightly larger specimen. Then it went quiet again.
I moved once more and picked up another trout and lost one too. That pattern was repeated often with only one or two offers at any one place. The trout seemed to be spread out with nothing of any note to keep them in one spot. I did find a large sunken rock about ten yards out from the shore and by carefully placing my flies just in front of it I lured the best trout of the session. I had removed the Bibio which had unusually failed to register a single offer. In its place a tied on a Welsh Partridge, a fly that I have not used in many a long year. The Wickham also failed to attract any interest so I substituted it with a small Soldier Palmer. In the end, the Welsh Partridge, Claret Bumble and Soldier Palmer shared the honours with each of them catching about the same number of trout.
The water looked ‘fishier’ further towards the north end the lough. Occasional large rocks jutted out of the water and fish were to be found near to them. I ended up with about a dozen brownies ranging in size from tiddlers to respectable three-quarter pounders. I guess I fished for about three hours before turning and retracing my steps. I got the car and stowed the gear way just minutes before the heavens opened and a heavy mist descended. Perfect timing for once!
I can heartily recommend Lough Talt to you for a few hours gentle fishing in lovely scenery. The trout may not be large but that to me is insignificant. Flies tied in small sizes seemed to do best and claret or red were the colours which got a reaction today. Anything small and dark should do the job though. There was a wind there today and that was a bonus both for the ripple on the water which is always a help and, probably more importantly, it kept the midges at bay. It looks like a place where you would be eaten alive on a calm day. Don’t expect solitude on this water, there were many walkers on the path all the time I was there. I can tick Sligo off my list of counties now. One down, thirty one to go!
Hi everyone, after that short break I have decided to resume writing the blog. I have been doing a fair bit of fishing since May when I last posted anything and I have notes and photos so I will bombard you all with a host of new posts over the coming weeks. I’ve made a start on my mission to catch fish in every Irish county so you can see how that has been progressing.
Hope you are all well and coping with the new realities of Covid-19. We have been very lucky here in Mayo with relatively few cases locally but the numbers are rising again so there still remains the possibility of further lockdown measures.
I’ll start posting again over the weekend so look out for more inane drivel from me very soon.
It is a bit ironic I suppose that I am taking a break from this blog just as the lockdown is slowly being lifted here in Ireland. From 8th June we will be allowed to travel a maximum of 20km from home meaning I could reach Loughs Conn and Cullin. The local fishers who live closer to the lakes than I do have been out trying their luck and the trout seem to have been responding in reasonable numbers on days when the weather was kind. Those days have been few and far between though as the fine, dry and bright days have dominated in the west for week now. Regardless, I will be out fishing from the 8th and, please God, some trout will be good enough to show some interest in my flies.
Messin’ about at the vice today
The mayfly will be all but over by then and the fishing will become progressively more challenging. If the weather breaks and we see some heavy rain there might be the odd salmon running the Moy and some of these fish may enter the Conn/Cullin system. It is really in the lap of the Gods so there is no use fretting unduly about the chances of a silver lad.
3 pound grilse from a few summers ago
I have come to terms with my decision to curtail the blog for while. I admit the initial idea came like a bolt out the blue but I have grown accustomed to the new found freedom now and am looking forward to taking a break. I will almost certainly jot down some observations from my fishing trips once I am back in the saddle so look out for new posts at some point in the future. When exactly that will be is not clear to me. I’ll know when the time is right! I have retained the domain name for the site to prevent someone else using it. The blog will still be accessible online but a lot of the features will disappear until I sign up again. I’m not 100% sure of exactly what is going to vanish but I expect a lot of the photographs in the posts will go. I have a FB page called claretbumbler which I drop the occasion post on so you can always get in touch with me there.
All my tackle has been overhauled and is ready for action now. The boat got a lick of varnish too! While it has been bitterly disappointing to miss the best part of the season this year I am very mindful of those who have lost their lives during the pandemic and count my blessings that we are in good health so far. Here in Mayo we saw an unusually high number of cases, many more than in the far more populous neighbouring county of Galway. At least we are seeing a sustained drop in infection rates now. Social distancing has become the norm and the changes in how we interact with each other is still hard to comprehend. There are very real fears for the tourist and hospitality sectors here and many, many jobs are at risk. Difficult times lie ahead of us.
Unless something odd or particularly newsworthy happens over the coming few days this will be my last post for some time. I want to say a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to all of you who took the time and trouble to visit my blog and especially to those of you who got in touch with me to make a comment or add your views. It has been an immense pleasure to be in direct communication with you all. Please mind yourselves in these difficult times and hopefully we can all get back out fishing sooner rather than later.
Spent some time this morning making up a few mounts for devon minnows. I used the monnow extensively when I lived in Scotland and it produced a lot of spring and autumn salmon for me back in the day. I still have boxes of devons lying around. Most of them are damaged or just worn due to use and abuse. Minnows had a hard life, sunk to the bottom of the river and allowed to bump their way around until they were right below you then that mad high speed retrieve to get it out of the water ready for the next cast.
I used to love fishing with devons, there is something very relaxing about swinging them down-and-across a wide river. These days flying ‘C’ and plugs seem to be much more in favour than the lowly devon which is a shame. When it comes to colours I happily try any and every combination! Blue and silver has never really been that effective for me personally (apart from a spanking 21 pounder from the Aberdeenshire Don many moons ago). Black and gold is as good as any in my book but I have chucked just about every colour of minnow out and let it trundle round in the current.
The Millionairs pool on the Lower Don
In Scotland we used big devons at the start of the year, 3 inchers were our standard size and the lads on the Tay went a full inch bigger than that I believe. Here in Ireland sizes vary from about an inch-and-a-half up to maybe two-and-a-half inches.
I have now run out of treble hooks so it will be a while before I resume this job. Same goes for making up some Flying ‘C’ lures. I have loads of trebles, just not in the right sizes. Isn’t that always the case! There is no panic anyway, these minnows won’t see the water this season. It will be next spring before I am looking in boxes for a hand full of devons to bring with me to the river Moy. The Moy is far from classic salmon fly water but there are some excellent pools for spinning, nicely paced and deep enough without being too deep.
The Gub on the EMAA beats. That is the the river Gweestion coming in at the right of this picture
Keep safe out there and have faith we will be back fishing in a few weeks, God willing.
Deep in the furthest recesses of the fishing den there lay a small plastic box. It has been there for years and every now and then I opened it up either to add another item or wistfully shake my head at the waste of the contents. I kept promising myself that I would find the time and inclination to get around to sorting this mess out and this week I finally made the effort. I fished out the box and sorted though the contents – old spoons.
Mainly Toby’s, these were the lost souls of my tackle collection. The waifs and strays, the ugly ducklings if you will. I used to buy up old spoons whenever I saw them and along with the pristine gems there were the less fortunate ones. These had been left in the bottom of fishermens tackle boxes to go rusty, some looked like they had even been retrieved from the depths of a lake or river. Others had been used in salt water and never rinsed after use. In short, all of them were in extremely poor condition.
I removed all the rotten hooks, rings and swivels first. There were a couple of stick-on eyes to be scraped off too. Out came the fine sandpaper and they all were given a good rub down to remove any corrosion. Next, I cleaned them with warm soapy water and dried them off. Donning a pair of gloves I then cleaned them with nail polish remover to remove any traces of grease. To give me a good surface for the paint to adhere too I next gave them all a spray with some etch. Any that actually had a ‘good’ shiny side were only etched on the ‘bad’ side.
Spraying the etch
As a wee lad of 8 or 10 years old I used to love building model planes, you know, those ‘Airfix’ kits. Spitfires, Heinkels etc were carefully glued together and painted using those tiny tins of enamel paint sold under the trade name ‘Humbrol’. Hard as this is to believe, I still have a few of those old tins from my now very distant childhood and the paint inside is as good as ever! Once the etch had dried (it does not take very long at all) I got out the brushes and the wee tins and started painting. I didn’t have any red enamel (well, you didn’t see many red Spitfire’s did you?) so I had to use a water based acrylic instead. These ones will need to be epoxy coated. I’ll do another post on that process.
My idea was just to give these old spoons a basic new colour scheme, nothing fancy you understand, just solid colours on one or both sides. I am firmly of the opinion that salmon react to the movement of the spoon rather than the colour, so a lick of red/black/green/yellow paint is not going to make a huge difference as far as I can see. Some of them I painted all black on both sides just to see if they will work. I have read that in coloured water an all black lure or fly is the easiest for the fish to see. Beyond catching the occasional grilse on a Black Pennel fly in a filthy brown spate I have no proof of this particular theory.
I am a bit short of hooks right now so the final assembly will need to wait but that will only be the work of few minutes to dress each of the spoons with new split rings, barrel swivels and strong trebles (Owners for preference).
In amongst the Tobys there was a HUGE handmade spoon which was chromed on one side. I decided to give the concave side a lick of fl. yellow paint and it came out lovely. I’ll definitely give this one a try for the green fellas when the winter comes around again. You can see from the photos below this is a gigantic spoon.
A couple of days ago I unearthed a wee bag with three completely bald Kynoch’s in it. Needless to say they got the same treatment and they are now painted silver.
The damned virus continues to take the lives of many good people and disrupt our daily routine for those of us who are spared. Messing about with some old lures and paints helps to occupy my mind during these dark days. I hope this post finds each and every one of you safe and well.
update, i found a few hooks so here is how some of Toby spoons turned out:
scaled convex side
Same spoons but this is the concave sides
I especially like the look of the all black ones, I have high hopes for them but it will be next year before they get a swim by the looks of thongs.
I will add a couple of final posts to this blog before it shuts down.
I had a request today for some help regarding what flies to use when fishing the river Robe in Mayo so here is a rough guide to twelve of the patterns I use on a regular basis. Other anglers will have faith in many other flies but these have all served me well over the years.
Beaded Pheasant tail.
I guess this is my ‘go to’ nymph pattern for the Robe in the early part of the season. It is a multi-functional fly that can be fished in the usual nymphing techniques or added to the tail of a wet fly leader and swung down-and-across. Some days a gold bead is better, on other days the duller, copper beaded version catches more.
Partridge and Orange.
I have used this fly since I was a boy back in Aberdeen and have probably caught more trout on it than any other pattern. During an early season hatch of olives it can be deadly. A great all-rounder it works best in streamy water early in the season. Don’t be without it if you are going to fish the Robe in springtime.
I like to add a peacock herl thorax to my Partridge spiders
Olive Partridge Spider
This is one of my own patterns that does well from the start of the season through to the month of June. It has caught me many trout over the years and I still recall losing a huge wild trout at Hollymount a few years ago. I only got brief look at it after it had emptied the reel twice; I got it close to me then it thrashed on the surface and threw the hook. How big? I reckon it was about eight pounds!
Olive Partridge spider
The Adams is by a long way my favourite dry fly for the Robe. I use different variations as circumstances dictate but the original with the grey fur body is hard to beat.
standard dressing of the Adams
The Robe gets good hatches of Blue wing olives, usually starting in early June and going on for the rest of the summer. When the spinners return to lay their eggs the trout feed hard on them and this simple dry fly has worked a treat during those hectic late evening rises.
Grey tippets, orange fur body and a small grizzled cock hackle, simple but effective BWO spinner
When the Lark Dark Olives return to lay their eggs the Rusty Spinner comes into its own. Using the same design but changing the colour of the body you can produce a range of spinner patterns to cover most occasions. Claret, red and pale olive have all caught me trout.
Rusty spinner with a pink sighter to help in low light conditions
Iron Blue Dun
The Robe get small hatches of Iron Blue duns and I can’t say I have ever seen them in big numbers. The trout do seem to pick them out though when they do hatch so having a good copy can save the blank. Always tied on a small hook like a 16 or smaller. Sometimes you get a hatch of IBD in September too.
Standard dressing of the Iron Blue Dun
Summer evenings, the setting sun and fish slashing at sedges on an Irish river, the stuff dreams are made of! The Wickham’s Fancy is a poor copy of anything in the natural world but the trout love it. A brilliant fly you simply MUST have in your box.
Elk Hair Caddis
An American fly now, the Elk Hair Caddis. Again, you can fool around with the materials but I find a hare’s ear body is very good. Tied very small it is a great searching pattern on difficult days in the summer.
My Ginger Sedge
This is one for fishing into the dark on summer evenings. Either fished singly on a stout leader or on the tail of a two fly cast with a Wickham on the dropper this fly can often produce the best trout of the day. You can also grease it up and fish it dry.
Falls of Hawthorn fly happen each May on the Robe, eliciting exciting rises from the fish. There are lots of patterns to pick from and they will no doubt all catch fish on their day. I like this one though.
Rubber legs on this Hawthorn.
Goldhead Hare’s Ear Nymph
Trout feed below the surface for 90% of the time so you need a good nymph pattern in your box. In different sizes this one will catch you trout on the Robe all season long.
Goldhead hares ear
As I say, this is just a dozen of my favourites, there are many other patterns which succeed on the river Robe. Size is important and a size 14 or 16 is usually about right.
Here is a very rough guide to when these 12 flies usually give their best:
I have been fortunate enough to fish for trout in the Orkney islands a couple of times and can highly recommend them to any stillwater trout angler. The fish can be free rising and the islands are a delight to visit with so much to do and see there. The last time I was there was with my mate Chris and we caught loads of trout. The most successful fly for us was this one, the Peach Palmer.
A typical road sign on Orkney
Swinging a small brown trout into the boat. That’s Eddie smiling in the background and I think this was us on Boardhouse loch.
Leaving Stromness on the ferry back to Scrabster
Local anglers on the islands are very fussy about getting the exact shade of peach; too reddish or too yellow is not going to cut the mustard for these highly skilled anglers. We just happened to be lucky that the peach coloured flies we had with us met with the approval of the fish. Since those far off days I have tried the Peach Palmer and its cousin the Peach Muddler here in Ireland and it works here too! It has caught me trout on Mask and Carra on bright days.
I use a size 10 or 12 wet fly hook and fl. yellow tying silk. Start the silk at the eye of the hook and leaving enough space tie in a cock hackle dyed sunburst. Now tie in another cock hackle, this time a bit shorter in fibre and dyed peach. Run the tying silk to the bend of the hook and catch in a piece of fl. yellow wool to make a tail. Trim the tail off square and tie in a length of fine gold wire.
ready to dub the fur body
Dub the tying silk with seals fur dyed peach (I actually have some dyed fl. peach and it works well). Form a tapered body with the seal’s fur then wind the peach hackle down to the bend in open spirals.
Tie in the hackle with the fine gold wire and wind it up through the hackle. Tie in and cut off the waste end of the hackle and the gold wire. Wind plenty of turns of the sunburst hackle at the head, whip finish and varnish to complete the fly.
To make the Peach Muddler simply swap the sunburst hackle for a a muddler head made of natural deer hair.
This is a pattern I used very successfully on Lough Corrib for many years when I kept a boat at Salthouse Bay. Early in the season there were great hatches of Duckfly in the bay and the trout would feed avidly on them. This fly caught me some great brown trout so here is how you make it.
Use a curved hook, something like the Kamasan B100. A size 12 is about right. For tying silk I use 8/0 black. Start the silk at the eye of the hook and run it down the shank a short way. Don’t go around the bend (see photo above for the right length). Tie is a length of fine black chenille. I tend to use Veniard materials I have some ‘Vernille’ from them which is just ideal for this job. Singe the end with a lighter to seal the end and also to give it a nice tapered look. Now tie the Vernille in as an extended body of about 6mm long. Secure the Vernille with tight turns of silk and remove the waste.
The thorax is made from fine orange/red fur which is dubbed on and wound to make a ball shape. The wings are made from a pair of badger cock hackle tips, tied in on top of the hook in a ‘V’ shape.
Tie in a cock hackle which is normally black but you can use badger of a grizzle hackle as well. 2 or 3 turns is sufficient then form a head, whip finish and varnish.
You can tie this pattern in different colours such as brown, red or olive. I’ll post another fly tomorrow.
Wulff patterns are widely used here in Ireland during the mayfly hatch. Normally tied on size 10 hooks, a huge range of patterns sporting the signature split hair wings catch trout during the greendrake hatch and the falls of spinners every season. There can’t be many Irish lough anglers who don’t have a few Wulff flies in their box. Outside of mayfly season though they are virtually never used. I kinda buck that trend though!
Lough Carra, home to big hatches of olives in April
Lake olives are large upwinged flies which hatch out from April right through the season. The biggest hatches are in the spring with smaller and less well defined hatches occurring throughout the summer and early autumn. The naturals vary in shade so one day on a certain lough you can find quite yellowish coloured duns and the next day they can be quite dark. I believe this is part of the problem that anglers have when dealing with hatches of olives here on the big loughs. Many anglers really struggle despite good numbers of fly on the wing and fish taking them confidently. I vary the colour of my flies until I find the one which will work on any given day. For that reason I tie this Olive Wulff in a wide range of body and hackle colours.
Lake olives are quite large flies and I tie the Olive Wulff on a size 12 hook to imitate the duns as the drift on the surface drying their wings. I like the Kamasan B170 hook for this pattern but feel free to use the hook of your choice. Olive or brown tying silk works best for this fly. I don’t mention wax very often but you need to thoroughly wax the tying silk when making this pattern. Squirrel hair, which is used for the wings and tail, is very slippery stuff so waxed silk is needed to keep everything in place and stop it sliding about.
Start the tying silk at the bend of hook and run it up the shank to the eye then come back about a third of the hook length. You need to leave yourself plenty of space to work on the wings and hackle. Take a bunch of squirrel tail hair from a tail which has been dyed olive and use a hair stacker to even up the tips. Don’t use too much hair, I find that slim wings are better than heavy ones.
With the tips of the hair facing forward over the eye of the hook use the pinch and loop method of tying in the hair and then make a number of turns with the silk to firmly secure the hair on the top of the hook. Divide the bunch of hair in two with figure of eight turns and build up the silk in front of the wings to make them sit upright. Keeping a good tension on the silk at all times during this process is vital. It all seems very difficult the first time you tie a Wulff but with practice it becomes much easier. Remember to think about proportions – the wings should be the same length as the hook shank and so should the tail.
With the wings completed you then remove the waste ends of hair but do this in steps so you get a tapered body. Start to run the tying silk down towards the bend and tie in another slim bunch of olive squirrel hair which has been even up just as you did with the wings in the stacker. Remove the waste hair and catch in a length of fine gold wire then run the silk to a point opposite the barb of the hook.
Dub the silk with some olive seal’s fur and wind this back up the hook to form the body. Wind the gold wire up the body in open turns, tie in and remove the waste end.
For the hackle you can use either a plain olive cock or a grizzle cock dyed olive. Prepare the hackle in the normal way and tie it in just behind the wings. Make three or four turns of the hackle behind the wings and the same again in front before tying down and trimming the waste off. The head and whip finish are as normal and add some varnish to seal the head after the tying silk has been cut off.
Tie this basic pattern in a range of shades of olive , everything from pale to sooty. It will catch fish during the mayfly hatch too. I can’t decide if the trout take it then as a mayfly or are they picking out olives which often hatch at the same time. Have fun making these Wulff’s, there is great pleasure to be had making something as complex as these flies.
A nice simple fly for you all today but one which has caught me an inordinate amount of wild brownies over the last 50 years or so. Based on the ever popular Partridge and Orange this wee spider is a good fly on the river in springtime when large dark olives are hatching. I originally tied it for use on the Aberdeenshire Don but it has travelled well and works a treat here on the river Robe in co. Mayo.
I like to use a Kamasan B405 in size 14 for the hook. Tying silk is olive Pearsall Gossamer. I don’t use anything else for the tying silk, I have tried other silks but they don’t work so stick to the lovely greeny-olive Pearsall,s.
There are only three materials needed, the tying silk, some fine gold wire and a brown mottled feather from the back of an English Partridge.
Pick a hackle the right size, for a number 14 hook you need a feather from high up on the back of the bird where they are smaller.
Start the tying silk at the eye of the hook and catch in a prepared hackle which has all the grey fluff stripped away. You can tie it in by the tip or the butt, it does not seem to make a lot of difference to this fly.
Run the silk down to opposite the point of the hook in tight touching turns (don’t make the body too long) and tie in a length of finest gold wire. Take the tying silk back up in touching turns again to form the slim body. Now make 4 or 5 turns of the wire to make the rib of the fly. Tie the wire and trim off the waste.
Ready to rib the fly
Now wind the hackle making only one-and-half turns before tying it down and trimming the waste. The only mistake you can make when tying this fly is making too many turns of the hackle resulting in a bushy looking fly. It must be slim and dainty. Form a neat, small head and whip finish before varnishing.
the finished fly
Fished down-and-across as part of a team of wets this fly is a good provider in the early months of the season. You can vary the pattern by using partridge hackles dyed olive but the original still seems to be the most effective. Enjoy and stay safe.
This one is simply a mish-mash of a couple of good flies so it really is no surprise that it works.I use it for trout tied on a size 10 hook but there is no reason why it wouldn’t work for salmon tied slightly bigger.
Start by mounting a size 10 wet fly hook in the vice and starting some fine black tying silk, 8/0 will be good.Run the silk towards the bend of the hook and tie in a length of Glo-brite no. 4 floss. Wind a small tag with the Glo-brite and tie it in. Now you need a length of fine oval silver tinsel which will be used for the rib. Once it is secured bub the body which consists of seals fur in the usual Bibio order of black/red/black. Rib the body with the oval silver, tie in and remove the waste.
The fiddly part of this fly is knotting the pheasant tail fibres. I do them singly and tie two overhand knots in each one. Six legs will be in enough and they should be tied in three on each side of the fly and be about twice the length of the hook. Remove the waste ends and then tie in a pair of black cock hackle tips on top of the hook for wings.
Finish off with about 6 turns of a black cock hackle, form a neat had, whip finish and then varnish the head of the fly.
This is a variation of a normal Black Daddy which also does good work when tied on size 10 hook. The difference is the Black Daddy has a body made of dyed black pheasant herl ribbed with silver.
It was bright an cold outside when we went for our one daily walk this Sunday morning. The crisp air was refreshing on our faces as we trotted along the deserted roads on the edge of town. Already the press are reporting the lockdown could last into the summer so we had better all get used to this strange new life.
After a lunch of beetroot soup I settled down at the vice to tie some flies. Today I made one of my own patterns, a pretty little trout fly I call the Captain. I designed this fly many years ago and it caught me a few trout back in Scotland. Fished on a cast of wet flies it works best on hill lochs on summer evenings with maybe a Wickhams or a Green Peter as a companion.
You will need red and black hen hackles for this fly
I use a size 12 hook and some fine black tying silk. Start the silk at the eye of the hook, catching in a dyed red hen hackle before running the silk down the shank. Tie in a Golden Pheasant crest for a tail. I sometimes add a tiny touch of red to the tail too such as a snippet of red wool or a small Indian Crow feather if you still have one or two in your kit.
About 4 turns of red silk are right on a size 12 hook
The body is the hard part of this fly, it is made by winding two different coloured flosses. Tie in a length of dark red floss and one of golden yellow then take the tying silk back up to the eye. Now carefully wind the yellow floss up the hook shank in touching turns making a smooth body then rib this with the red floss in open turns creating a nice segmented look (hopefully).
Wind the red hackle, tied it in and trim of the waste. A couple of turns is sufficient.
The wings are made of black crow secondary but I guess you could use magpie tail if you want a glossier wing on the fly. Trim the waste and tie in a black hen hackle, giving it 3 turns in front of the wings. Tie off, remove the waste and make a neat head then whip finish and varnish.
the finished fly
When I first made this fly it was intended as an attractor rather than a copy of any natural fly but it takes fish when those little black sedges are hatching during the summer evenings so maybe the trout think that is what it is.
Hill lochs like this are where the Captain is best used
Hope you have some fun tying this fly. I’ll post anther pattern tomorrow. Stay safe!
I was due to be fishing Carrowmore today but that got cancelled as this is the first day of lockdown here in Ireland. We all have to stay at home and only venture out for the bare necessities of life. The new rules are in force at least for the next two weeks and it seems highly likely they will stretch beyond that. One of the new rules is you are not allowed to be more than 2km from your home when exercising so that rules out all fishing for me.
Wakening this morning I decided to sort through my baits which have been scattered across a number of different boxes and bags for ages now. It took me a while but I finally sorted them out into some kind of order and I now have a box for trolling, one for the river Moy and a couple of boxes of spares. I thought I might have some ‘gaps’ that needed filled but to be honest I don’t need to buy another spoon or plug for the rest of my natural life.
For the next two weeks I’ll post a different fly pattern each day here on the blog. It will give me something constructive to do and hopefully the patterns will be of interest to you guys and gals. Let’s start off today with a twist on an old favourite, the Thunder and Lightening.
Here is one tied on a slightly larger size 12
This is a salmon fly which hails from the hayday of scottish fly fishing. It still catches its fair share of salmon each season but I like to use it for trout on small lochs. Now here is the twist – I tie it on very small hooks, usually size 14s. Over the years I have caught a lot of small loch trout on this fly, usually fishing it on the tail of a three fly cast.
I use a heavy wet fly hook for this one, something like a Kamasan B175. Tying silk is black 8/0. Start the silk at the eye of the hook and catch in a cock hackle dyed hot orange. No need to go mad here with highest quality genetic hackles, Indian or Chinese hackles will do just fine. Run the silk to the bend of the hook catching in a golden pheasant topping for the tail, some fine oval gold tinsel which will be used for the rib and a length of black floss silk.
silk started and the hackle tied in
Take the tying silk back up to where the hackle is tied in then form a neat body with touching turns of black floss. Tie down the floss and remove the waste end. Form the body hackle by winding the orange feather in open turns down to the tail where it is tied in with the oval gold tinsel. Make 5 open turns in the opposite direction to the hackle, binding the hackle down as you go.
Body hackle tied in, now its time for the beard hackle
There is a small beard hackle composed of a few fibres of blue jay or guinea fowl dyed blue. I reverse the hook in the vice for this, offering up the blue fibres under the eye of the hook and whipping them in place with the tying silk. Remove the waste ends of the bread hackle and return the hook to the normal position.
Wings are made from matching left and right slips of bronze mallard. I know some tyers find these feathers torture to work with but I am afraid it is all a matter of practice. Tie in the wings and remove the waste ends. Now for the really tricky bit, the cheeks. These are made from the tiniest jungle cock feathers, the ones and the very end of the cape. Strip the fluff from the ends of each feather and tie them close to the wing, making sure they are the same size and length. Once you have calmed down doing the cheeks make a neat head, whip finish and varnish as normal.
This is a super wee fly and well worth the effort it takes to get the wings and cheeks just right. The small ones are great for loch trouting and bigger sizes suit the salmon.
Look after yourselves out there, I’ll post another fly pattern tomorrow.
So it has finally arrived here in Ireland, a total lockdown with no unnecessary travel more than 2km from home. That means no angling for us here which is a pity as a few salmon are running the rivers in this area now. Carrowmore has recorded its first fish of the season with a 9 pounder. I will have to leave them and the spotted trout well alone for at least the next two weeks and probably for much longer than that. More than 20 people have sadly lost their lives to date due to the virus and the numbers of infections continues to rise so the decision to lock the country down is a sensible one.
Large (size 4) Green Peter tied for salmon
To pass the time I will tie some more flies and post the patterns here on the blog. Of course my plans to catch a fish in each of the 32 counties is on hold for now but rest assured I will begin that epic journey as soon as the restrictions on travel are lifted.
Wishing each of you good health at this difficult time. Stay safe!
Please excuse my ramblings, this is a bit of a catch up over a few busy days.
All the pubs, clubs and restaurants are shut now and other amenities are closing daily either by instruction from the government or through lack of business or staff. Ireland has not yet been fully locked down but that event can’t be far away with more cases of the covid-19 virus being reported every day. Going by the experience of other countries such as Italy and Spain we can expect that number to increase sharply over the coming weeks. So what is an angler to do during these difficult times?
Obviously confinement to home means lots and lots of time for fly tying. Now I really do not need any more flies, the boxes are full to bursting as it is. However, I will try making some new patterns which I never seemed to have time to tie before. In particular I want to make some of the welsh patterns from a book called ‘Plu Stiniog’ which I picked up at the fly fair in Galway at the end of last year. Written by a gentleman by the name of Emrys Evans, there are some nice looking sedge patterns in it which could possibly work in Ireland.
Here are a few I have tied up so far.
Rhwyfwr Cochddu Bach (small red/black sedge)
Rhwyfwr Bach Tin Gwyrdd (small green-arsed sedge)
Egarych Felan (yellow corncrake
Rhwyfwr Robat Jos Shop
Rhwyfwr Mis Awst Pen-ffridd
Rhwyfwr Mawr Gwyrdd (large green sedge)
Apart from making a few flies and keeping away from everyone else the other day I took the opportunity to give the woodwork on my old boat a lick of varnish. The local paint shop were not allowing anyone into the actual shop when I went to get a pot of varnish. Instead, the staff came out to a cordoned off area at the front of the premises, took your order and brought the tins out to you. It was a nice morning so it was no hardship to wait patiently in the sunshine. The boat has suffered some damage over the last season but it will last for another season or two before in needs re-timbering. An hour saw a nice heavy coat of varnish applied, now I need to wait for it to dry.
Looking a bit tired and worn
Starting to varnish one of the seats
With Helen’s hours at work curtailed due to the virus we decided to go for a spin out to Mulranny and have a walk down at the beach there. It was a lovely sunny afternoon and we really enjoyed getting out in the fresh air and away from all the depressing news for a while. Just being dry and seeing the sun lifted our spirits. The views across Clew bay to the Reek on the south side were as impressive as always and we both felt blessed to be living in this part of the world. I for one can’t begin to imagine how it must feel to be living in a big city like London during these days of crisis. At least we have some escape here in rural Ireland.
The reek from Mulranny
Hopefully the rain will hold off for a few more days and let the land dry out a bit so I could get out on my own and do some fishing. All the lakes and rivers are still high but they are dropping slowly as the rain has eased off slightly this past week. High pressure is due to build from this week onward, bringing drier and more settled weather to the region. Trout will be close to the bottom and hard to tempt but just getting out in the fresh air will be a tonic in these difficult times. The moorings at Brown’s bay and Pike bay on lough Conn are both still well under water as of today but my boat should be on the lake by the end of next week if we get dry weather and the water levels drop. Stay safe!
The Mayo Bumble used to be a very popular fly during the mayfly season here in the west of Ireland but its popularity seems to have waned of recent years. I don’t understand why this is as it is a grand fly when the yellow drakes are hatching out in a good wave.
The mouth of the canal on Lough Mask, an area where the Mayo Bumble does good work
As Bumble patterns go it is fairly easy to tie but I throw in an extra hackle at the head which means you need to leave plenty of space there for winding all the feathers.
The body is formed form the tying silk dubbed with the brightest yellow fur you can lay your hands on. I personally used fl. yellow silk and think this helps a bit to keep the fly as bright as possible. Rib is fine oval silver tinsel and the tail is a golden pheasant crest feather. Body hackles are a red and a yellow cock hackle palmered together down the body. The ‘extra’ hackle I like to add is a french partridge dyed lemon and in front of that there is a guinea fowl feather dyed bright blue.
In use, cast to rising fish when possible but keep the fly moving briskly. Some days the trout will hammer this fly and yet on other days it will be completely ignored. Loughs Mask and Carra are the natural home for this pattern, I have never caught a fish on lough Conn on it!
It’s that time of year again, angling AGM’s are in full swing here in Ireland. There is always a rush to hold the annual general meetings just before the serious fishing starts. I recall that back in Scotland these meetings generally took place at the end of the previous year so that all the agreed changes could be brought into force well ahead of the fishing starting again. Things are much more relaxed in Ireland and AGM’s pepper the months of February and March despite the season being open for weeks before that.
I have been thinking long and hard about which clubs to join this year. The Glenisland Coop is a certainty for me as I love fishing Lough Beltra and find the club to be well run and focused on improving the fishery. It is so handy for me, being only 15 minutes drive from home and while salmon numbers are low there are still a few fish to chuck flies at on Beltra.
setting off for a day on Beltra
After that though I need to think about where else I want to spend fishing time this season. Despite the disastrous fishing I have endured on Lough Conn over the past few years I will no doubt keep heading back to that lake again this season. Again, it is close to home and easy to access. One positive of the poor fishing is that anglers have voted with their feet and even the best drifts are only lightly fished these days. I will no doubt moan and groan about the lack of fish but I will be back drifting and trolling the shallows on Conn again this season, God willing.
pulled in on the shore of Lough Conn
What about the Moy? Here is where it gets a bit tricky for me. I have been lucky enough to fish some of the finest beats of the Dee and Tweed in my time and at the other end of the scale joined the queue to fish down pools on hard pressed association waters both in Scotland and Ireland. Not being a wealthy man I need to accept that club waters will be a big part of my angling experience these days. The East Mayo Anglers waters are a fairly typical angling association with access to a lot of the river Moy. I have been a member in the past and I need to make up my mind if I will join again this season. Although the river opened for salmon fishing last month it has been unfishable due to the continued high water levels this spring. Will there be some springers around when the water recede? Probably yes.Will there be a lot of them? Almost certainly no! And so here is the conundrum, lots of angling pressure from a large and very active membership chasing a small number of fish. Space is going to be at a premium when conditions are favourable. Last season I abandoned trying to fish on a couple of occasions not because it was so busy on the bank but because I couldn’t even find a parking spot! That was at the start of the grilse run, the time when you really have the best chance of contacting a salmon. Instead, I spent ages driving the length of the beats and still couldn’t even nose the car into a space. God knows what the best fishing spots were like on those days.
A very quiet day on the Gub, EMAA
For me, fishing should be relaxing, almost meditative. I dislike any elements of competition in my angling and don’t really like crowds on the riverbank. Club waters are always going to be a challenge for me and I can accept that I need to be more flexible when on busy river banks. It is a question of just how crowded the beat is I suppose. Is a couple of hundred Euro money well spent on a very busy club membership? Last season I only landed one fish from the EMAA but that was entirely my own fault as I hardly fished the river. I managed some enjoyable high water spinning in March and April but largely missed the rest of the year when the fly is usually better. I see that a photo of that one fish is on the EMAA website: https://www.eastmayoanglers.com/gallery/2019-season
And there is the nub of the problem, staring me squarely in the face; I need to get out fishing more often! I body-swerved the Moy last year telling myself it was too crowded when I should have gone looking for quieter spots. While there were relatively few fish around there were still some there to be caught if I had applied myself more to the task in hand. Part of the problem is that I don’t know the upper part of the river at all and this could be the solution for me, at least when the grilse are running. Springers are rarely encountered in the streamier upper section of the EMAA beats and the fly only section sees very little pressure until May or June. So instead of joining the throngs at the bridge or the high bank I will target the fly only stretch further up the river in 2020. There, decision made!
This dislike of crowds has certainly increased over the years. I can recall fishing Newburgh and the Macher Pool on the lower Ythan in Aberdeenshire as a lad when you literally had to push your way into a line of anglers to have a cast for the sea trout. I don’t know what it is like now for ADAA anglers but you used to be able to fish the worm from the bridge down to a marker pole on the North Bank of the Macher but when the fishing was good there would be scores of anglers shoulder-to-shoulder there. Nobody used a net, fish were just unceremoniously dragged out as the lucky angler reeled in furiously while walking backwards out of the water and up the shingle. I suspect there are way fewer fish there these days.
A little bit of me is hankering to fish Lough Carra this season. To be brutally honest the fishing on that lovely lake has been poor for many years now but it is such a gorgeous place to fish I might be tempted to give it a try again. The huge mayfly hatches are a thing of the past but the summer evening fishing when the sedges are hatching might still be good. The Carra club AGM is to be held tonight in Castlebar so I might brave the risk of infection of Covid-19 and go along to see what is happening. As a club the Carra boys are usually very active and there is always something going on to try and improve the fishing there.
Wet mayflys for Carra
So, in summary, I will definitely join the Glenisland Coop and East Mayo Anglers. I may also join Carra too. I’ll go in search of quieter spots instead of braving the crowds and hopefully I’ll catch a few fish this year.
I mentioned the Raymond in a recent blog but my dressing of this old fly are a bit different to the ones you can buy in the shops. It has developed over the years and is a pretty successful fly for wild brownies in the big western lakes. There is a common acceptance that the original pattern was tied to imitate some kind of sedge fly and as such it was used from mid-season onward. My tying is much more impressionistic and is really just a pulling fly with bright colours to attract the trout. This is a fly you can get great satisfaction from tying, it looks great and it is one which always attracts comments from fellow anglers when they see it.
Hook sizes are 8’s or 10’s, heavy wet fly hooks. I use olive tying silk but any colour will do.
Tag is a couple of turns of silver tinsel and the tail is a golden pheasant topping.
Tie the body hackles in by their butts and take the silk down to the bend
The rib is fine oval silver tinsel (I use Veniard no. 14) and the body is made from pale olive fur dubbed on to the tying silk. I sometimes add a couple of turns of orange fur at the tail end of the body.
I like a long tail on my Raymonds
There are two body hackles, a crimson and a golden olive wound together. i sometimes use a claret hackle instead of red to give me more subdued fly. The throat hackle is a pinch of fibres taken from a golden pheasant topping which is dyed red and tied in as a beard below the hook. In front of that wind a couple of turns of a bright green cock hackle. On smaller sizes it is easier to add the green as a second beard hackle instead of winding it (there is a lot going on at the head of this fly!)
The wings are a bit fiddly but worth the effort. Married strip of swan dyed yellow and red form the under wing and over that I tie in bronze mallard.
The head hackle is a grizzled cock hackle dyed bright blue. I give this many turns for a bushy effect.
claret body hackle mixed with golden olive makes a more subdued fly
This is a typical Irish style wet fly with many hackles to add the illusion of life. I can see no reason why it would not work on Scottish lochs too so maybe some of you Jocks might give it a try and let me know how you get on with it. I never seem to catch very many trout on this fly, but the ones which do take it usually seem to be bigger fish. Don’t ask me why that is!
It kind of crept up on me, the realisation that I could possibly go fishing this week. I had become so inured to floods and gales that the opening of the trout season had come and gone without really registering in my mind. This week though saw a change in the weather with cold, bright mornings and a merciful lack of precipitation. On Tuesday it occurred to me that there might be the chance of an hour or two on the river bank if this good weather held.
Wednesday had been largely given over to rummaging for lost tackle and repairing my broken wading staff. Rod and reel were easy to locate but fly boxes and tippet materials had snuck off into all sorts of odd corners and it took me a while to corral the various small items and repopulate my waistcoat pockets. That small boy’s excitement of an anticipated fishing trip grew stronger throughout the day, thoughts of bent rods and fish sliding into the net filled any quiet moments. I found myself smiling as thoughts of the pleasures of a few hours on the riverbank sunk in.
Thursday came around at last. I hardly dare peek out of the window this morning when the alarm went off, would the day be fine? Yep, frosty but dry was the answer with some high thin cloud to boot. A fishing day of sorts! Some chores had to be completed quickly before the last odds and ends could be tossed unceremoniously into the back of the car and I was off down the road. The last couple of dry days had tempted me to try my luck on the River Robe.
Pulling up at a parking spot after a short detour because I had taken a wrong turning, I stepped out of the warmth of the car into a cool wind. Layers of clothing were hastily applied but it was much colder than I had anticipated and this was not going to improve my chances of success. Numb fingers took ages to knot on the flies but undaunted and dressed like Nanook of the North, I hopped the five bar gate and strode purposefully across the rough pasture. The drain at the edge of the field was chock-a-block with frog spawn, a sure sign that spring is on its way.
I had it in my head to try a short section of the river I had never fished before. It lay upstream of where I was parked but access immediately became a major issue. I huge drain, filled to the brim with stagnant water and mud barred any further approach. In something which would not have looked out of place in Passchendaele the far bank of the drain was topped with a high fence of vicious looking barbed wire. I worked my way along the drain for a while but it became obvious there was no easy way across. In the end I gave up and returned to the river. There must be a way across that drain and I will return to try again soon. I suspect any trout lying above that obstacle have not seen an anglers fly for many a long year.
Typical rough agricultural land here in Mayo
I began by flicking weighted nymphs into the roiling current and eventually persuaded one trout to nip, unconvincingly at the Hare’s Ear on the tail. He didn’t stick. I could only fish a short stretch as the river was too high for this section and below me looking like a raging torrent. Out of nowhere, a kingfisher sped downstream a couple of feet above the water, that glorious flash of azure lighting up an otherwise dull vista. Time for a move.
tungsten beaded nymphs
I drove down river to a favourite piece of the river where there are a selection of pools to try. I changed the rig and switched on to wet flies for swinging in the current. On went a Pheasant tail goldhead on the tail, a Plover and Hare’s Ear in the middle and an ever reliable Partridge and Orange on the top dropper. By now the sun was breaking through the clouds but it was still cold. Gaining the river I started casting as tight to the far bank as I could. An olive floated by on the wind.
The water is still very cold and the strong current pushed hard through each of the pools (do you sense some excuses?). I methodically worked my way downstream, casting into any likely looking spots but try as I might there was no response from the trout. The fields, normally so well-tended around this part of the river were in terrible condition, badly rutted and pock-marked with deep hoof prints and showing signs of agricultural run off. Some pools I completely bypassed as they were far too fast for trout to be feeding in them. Near the tail of one pool, just where the pace slowed slightly a trout rose. I covered it carefully a few times and sure enough up he came and took the fly with a confident swirl. I struck but he dropped off almost immediately. Damn! I knew I was not going to get too many chances today so losing that one was a blow. Next fishable pool down I had another knock but it too did not stick around. Ah well, at least I was getting some fresh air.
I skipped the fast section of water below the weir. It fishes well on summer evenings when the fish lie there to get some oxygen across their gills and feast on the flies which gather there. But in a flood the waters rage through the rapids making them unfishable.
Down towards the bottom of this part of the river there are a couple of good pools. At the first one it was obvious the top of the pool was too fast but near the tail it looked a bit more likely. I worked my way down, one step per cast, planting the flies as close to the far bank as I could then mending two or three times as the cast fished out. Sure enough, a solid pull soon had me in business and a small trout came to hand, my first fish of the new season. A quick snap and then he was released, all 8 inches of him! It turned out to be the last offer I would get. He had taken the P&O.
I fished on but lost the full cast of flies when an over ambitious cast tangled on a bush on the far bank. Setting up again I fished my way back upstream to the car.
not the biggest trout but a very welcome one never-the-less
Early season trouting is always a precarious affair. Conditions can vary so much and fly life is sparse to non-existent. In a few weeks there will be more flies around and the water will be both lower and warmer. By April I would expect much better fishing but for today a single small trout was the meagre return for my efforts. That is fine with me, today was more about just getting out to blow away the cobwebs and to get a feel for the river again. The trout was a bonus.
That pipe was not there last season! Looks like there is a site being cleared for a new house on the other bank.
I took a few minutes to swap the standard handle on my old Ambassadeur 6000C for a shiny new power handle. I really like these bigger handles, they are so much nicer to use in the cold and wet which are so common here, especially early in the season.
The task itself is very easy, just take off the old handle and the new one should fit straight back on. I say ‘should’ because there are some power handles out there on the market which claim to fit Ambassadeurs but they don’t. It is a case of buyer beware.
The advantages for me are the bigger and more comfortable knob which sits in my hand perfectly and the greater cranking power you can get because the handle is longer. Winding seems to me to be smoother as well, I am guessing because of the counterweight on these handles.
The job went perfectly today and the reel is now ready for the new season (whenever the water recedes enough!)
New power handle fitted
This isn’t the first power handle conversion I have done, I have also fitted them to my 10000CA and the 7000C. I am now thinking of swapping the standard size double paddle handle on my 6500C as well.
After a spell in England during the mid-noughties I returned to Ireland and came to live in Ballinrobe. During that time I kept a boat at Cushlough, learning a little bit about the trout fishing around that part of Lough Mask. Previously (we are talking the late ‘90’s) I kept a boat on the other side of the lough at Churchfield, a handy spot with good access to the whole of the western shoreline. It has been a few years since I seriously fished Mask but here are some of the flies I found useful in the early part of the season for that hallowed water.
I want to stress the importance of finding where the fish as the prerequisite for a successful day out on lough Mask. With 20,000 acres of water available to hide in the fish can take some finding. It won’t matter a jot what flies you tie on to your leader if you are fishing over barren drifts. On the vast expanse of a water like lough Mask it can be no easy matter finding the trout and this can be very disheartening for visiting anglers, especially if they are used to stocked fisheries where fish can usually be seen rising. If drifts are unsuccessful then move and try somewhere else. Always keep your eyes open for clues such as birds feeding or other boats congregating in a certain area. Be aware of changing conditions, especially the wind direction and strength.
When the season opens the fish will be on the bottom hoovering up shrimps. There will be very localised hatches of duckfly in some bays but the exact locations of these duckfly ‘holes’ are closely guarded secrets, known to the locals only. Around many parts of the lake you can often see large numbers of duckfly in the air in March and April but see very little surface activity. Given calm conditions normal buzzer tactics will take some fish. Otherwise, drifting over shallow reefs for the shrimp feeders will usually be your best bet.
Normal buzzer patterns on size 10 or 12 hooks will catch fish in calm conditions
‘Bits’ in black, claret, ginger and olive are handy for the times the fish are mopping hatching duckfly. Fish these in the surface film with a lick of floatant on the back of the fly
The Sooty olive. This is one of the staple flies for early season work. There must be dozens of different ties of the fly and all of them will work on their day. For me, size is important and I prefer a size 12 to the larger 10’s which seem to be more popular. Hackle colour is always up for debate with this fly but either a natural black or a red game dyed olive are your main choices.
Sooty Olive, this one is tied with a black hackle
Fiery Brown. Classic Irish wet fly which is a great producer in the early months of the season. It is just as effective when dressed dabbler style. While I have seen some anglers adding jungle cock to their Fiery Brown’s it is a pattern that does not need them in my humble opinion. Save those precious black and white feathers for other, more deserving flies! I do like to tie my Fiery Brown’s with an orange tag.
Bibio. It is hard to beat the original dressing but I do like the jungle bunny dressing earlier in the season. When the wind drops a skinnier version can be better than the bushy tying, something like the Bibio Snatcher .
Some anglers like the Peter Ross but I can’t say I have had much luck with it on Mask. Having said that I have caught trout on a Silver Spider with a red thorax which is pretty similar.
Peter Ross Buzzer
The red/silver spider that I like
There are a seemingly endless array of buzzer patterns to pick from but these are a couple of fairly reliable ones:
By April there will be olives hatching on lough Mask. What should be a period of excitement is frequently a lesson in frustration as trout rise in front of you but ignore your best flies. I have seen many of the best anglers defeated by a hatch of olives over the years. So what are your best options? In a very heavy hatch when the fish are sipping flies from the surface then dry the dry fly. A CDC dun or hatching pattern will sometimes work.
When there are flies on the wing but little in the way of surface activity the wet fly is your best option and there are a range of flies I would recommend.
Red tailed Invicta
Invicta. Yes I know, this is supposed to be a sedge pattern but nobody told the trout that and an Invicta tied with a red tail can be good medicine in a hatch of olives.
Claret Dabbler. It looks nothing like an olive but it has worked for me on many occasions in a hatch of olives.
Raymond. An old pattern but one which can do the job early in the season. The only change from the original dressing is that I wind claret and a light olive body hackles instead of the normal red one.
A small Green Peter
A small Green Peter fished on the bob has saved the day for me before now. A size 12, dressed lightly and cast to rising fish sometimes works. I like the RA version but one with a solid green body works too.
As the days lengthen and the water warms up the iconic mayfly start to make their annual appearance on lough Mask. Years ago these hatches were heavy and the fish could be seen mopping the duns from the surface across the shallows of the eastern side of the lough. These days the hatches are sparse and surface activity much less than of yester year. There are hundreds of mayfly patterns to pick from and rather than fill page after page here I suggest you read one of the best books on the subject, Irish Mayflys by Patsy Deery.
While mayfly patterns catch the bulk of the trout in May there are a number of other useful flies which also succeed.
I love a small Connemara Black in the middle when mayflies are hatching. Don’t ask me why it works, all I know is that the ‘CB’ has caught me lots of fish over the years.
Colin’s Ginger Sedge
My own Ginger Sedge is a good fly at this time of the year too. I tied this fly initially after seeing trout selectively taking sedges in the middle of a mayfly hatch one year.
The Cock Robin variant comes into its own around about now. Don’t be frightened to try it on a size 8 hook.
Fishing in the deeps really picks up in late spring and the use of flashy pulling patterns comes into its own. Gorgeous George, Octopus and other similar highly coloured flies will take fish on those long drifts over the deep water when the shallows are quiet. I will hold my hand up and say that I am no expert on fishing the deeps, I find it a very boring way of fishing and tend to keep to the shallows even when the fishing there is poor. Let’s run through a couple typical scenarios and think about how to deal with them.
Imagine you are fishing lough Mask and turn up to find a big wind blowing from the north. It’s April and the day feels raw with thick clouds scudding across the sky. White horses on the lough suggest a rough day on the water. Where do you start? I would possibly head for some shelter either at the north end of the lough or around the islands. I’d leave the deeps alone as the wind will push you along at a high speed and a drogue is out of the question on Mask (never be tempted to try a drogue here even out in the deeps, there are hidden pinnacles of limestone which will snag the drogue and swamp the boat). A team of wets on a slow sinking line is a good place to start and flies like Fiery Brown, Sooty Olive and Bibio are worth a swim. I would be more concerned about getting the depth and speed of the flies right ahead of any particular pattern.
On a day of little wind at the same time of year you can go searching for a duckfly hole and fish buzzers just like you would on an English reservoir. If that is not your style of fishing then keep looking for signs of wind rippling the surface. There is rarely a day when there is a dead flat calm in this part of the world so be prepared to move to find the ripple and the wet flies can be used again. If there is a bright sky with a bitter east wind then I’d prefer to be sitting in a warm pub rather than fishing in such poor conditions!
Books could be written on the tactics and flies for use on Lough Mask and similar tomes produced for the other great western lakes. It often comes down to local knowledge so take my advice and talk to the anglers you meet. Advice is willingly given and can often be the difference between a successful day and miserable failure.
Always think of safety when you are going fishing on the big loughs. Every year people lose their life on these dangerous waters, often due to not taking the proper precautions.
Check the weather forecast before heading out and make your plans accordingly.
Wear a lifejacket at all times when on or near the water. Bring a small torch, it is handy for signalling if you get in trouble.
If you are unfamiliar with the lake I strongly recommend hiring a local ghillie to take you out. Lough Mask and parts of Lough Corrib are particularly dangerous places with ragged limestone reefs rising to within inches of the surface in many places. It is easy to hit an unseen reef and either hole or tip over the boat with dire consequences. If you are unfamiliar with the lough don’t venture out in bad weather. Some bays offer good shelter so these can be tried on very windy days.
Tell people where you are going before you set off and let them know when you plan to return.
Take extra care getting in and out of the boat, Docks can be slippery. In many places boats are simply hauled up on to a shelving bank so watch out for holes or rocks to trip over.
Keep your engine well maintained, a breakdown in a big wave can have serious consequences. Make sure you have enough fuel in the tank before setting off. Tightly secure the engine to the boat and always have a pair of oars with you. A small tool kit with screwdriver, spanners, spark plug spanner and a spare spark plug and a shear pin is handy to bring with you. Some boats have tholl pins built in but others do not, so carry a spare pair of pins with you.
Always have a bucket with you to bail the boat. You will probably need this to empty the boat at the start of the day but it will be a lifesaver if you hit a sharp rock and puncture the hull. If you do hole the boat make for the nearest land right away even if that is just an island. Get ashore and jam something in the hole to reduce the volume of water coming in. If the damage is severe then get help and don’t risk a long drive over open water with water pouring in.
Make sure you mobile phone is charged before you set off in case you need it but be aware that coverage out on the water is very poor and you may not get a signal.
If you do need help the recognised signal is to raise one oar vertically and hold it there. Anyone seeing this will come to your assistance if they can. I carry a length of rope with me when out in the boat so that in emergency I can be towed or tow another boat in trouble.
If you break down and some kind soul offers to tow your boat back to shore sit in the front of your boat when under tow (otherwise the boat will be next to impossible to tow).
If you do run aground do not get out of the boat. There is every chance it could float off leaving you stranded in the middle of thousands of acres of deep water! Stay onboard, move all weight to the other end of the boat and rock/push the boat off. If you are stuck fast then raise an oar and attract some help to pull you off.
I am not trying to put anyone off of visiting the great western loughs but please plan your trips carefully, keep an eye on conditions at all times and be prepared to deal with any emergencies.
Chained up, oars secured and old tyres underneath to support her, this boat is safe and sound
When I started fishing in Ireland all these years ago it was normal for everyone to haul their boat ashore after a day on the lough and just leave it there with the outboard engine still on the stern. Boats were secured to a block of concrete or some similar device to stop it floating away if the lake rose but nobody would think of any more security than that. We live in changed days now though and security is a real concern all across Ireland.
Not very hi-tech but this is the kind of concrete block that most boats are chained up to to stop them drifting off if the water rises
Boats are sometime stolen but it is usually the engines that the thieves are after. I understand there is a ready market for them in Europe and gangs now target angler’s boats for easy pickings. For a while there were various devices on the market for bolting your engine to the boat so it could not be removed but the thieve got around that by simply taking a saw to the back of the boat and cutting the arse of the boat off. So, regardless of how tired you are at the end of the days fishing always remove the outboard engine and take it with you. Remember to take the fuel tank too. Pull the boat up on to solid ground and chain it to something solid. I run the chain though the oars too so they do not go missing. A couple of tyres placed under the boat will stop her rocking in the waves and working herself loose. Please be considerate of other boat when picking somewhere to park up. If someone else has gone to the trouble of heaving a big concrete block into position for their own use and parked their boat there for the season do not nick their spot! I have seen this happen so often and it is infuriating to say the least when it happens to you. I have seen boats squeezed into impossibly tight spaces between two other boats, causing damage to then all. A bit of consideration goes a long way!
Cushlough on Lough Mask. Boats safely tied up and excellent security here. Trust me, it is not always so perfect at other spots around the lough!
There are an increasing number security cameras being installed at docks and marinas across the country to help reduce boat and engine theft/damage but ‘wild’ berths where boats are simple hauled up on a convenient piece of the shoreline are unguarded. I am afraid that every year we hear of angler’s cars being broken into and valuables taken. Don’t leave anything in sight in your car when you go fishing and take any valuables with you. Always report any suspicious behaviour such as strangers checking out boats or cars cruising the lanes and boreens. The locals have a good idea who is an innocent fisherman and who is up to no good.
Again, I hope this post doesn’t scare off some anglers who are thinking of visiting the West of Ireland. It is generally a safe and friendly part of the world and the fishers here will go out of their way to help any visiting angler. Please follow these simple points and stay safe.
Cahir pier, lough Mask
Moorehall, Lough Carra. I used to keep a boat here but there have been too many boats damaged or let loose there recently by party-goers.
This craik of ‘naming’ windy days is a nonsense to me. I live in the west of Ireland and guess what? It gets wet and windy during the winter. The near constant weather warnings and maps with shaded areas where it is going to rain are over the top in my opinion. Anyway, Ciara soaked us all and blew a hooley last weekend and we are facing storm Dennis this coming weekend with yet more rain to be dumped on us from the heavens. Today though it was a quiet and dry morning so I decided to check on the boats in the harbour on Lough Beltra. We put 4 boats out a couple of weeks ago and they need to be checked periodically to make sure they do not come to any harm.
The car park was under a foot or so of water when I got there but the floating pontoon dock was doing its job perfectly and all 4 boats were safe but half full of water. Time to get the bucket out!
half full but safely secured to the dock
Gerry Hoban (fisheries officer) saw my car parked and came over for a chat. Seems a few early springers are nosing into Carrowmore which is a good sign and Delphi has turned up a couple of fish so far. I explained to Gerry that I will be doing some coarse fishing this year and he told me of a lake nearby with Tench in it. I’ll be giving that a try during the summer alright!
It didn’t take too long to empty all four boats and check the securing ropes were all OK. With another 4 boats to be launched soon I will be back on the shores of this wonderful lake very soon. Fishing opens on 20th March.
Spent an hour this afternoon sorting out the bait boxes. Some unsuccessful ones have been relegated while others were given new split rings or hooks. All set for the new season now!
Always plenty of old Swedish Toby spoons in my box!
18 gram tigers
Salmo Toby. These don’t get much use here in Ireland but I like having them in the box just in case
Hi-Lo. Never caught a salmon on one of these but they are good for Pike
These are pure deadly for Pike
Another Pike spoon. I’m not a lover of Pike fishing but some days they are the only action available
Old ABU Glimmy spoons, lovely action in the water
ABU Salar. Very slow, rolling action in the water. As you can see I like the copper ones.
Small Rapalas and ABU Killer. When absolutely nothing is moving and the weather is against you these can sometimes produce a perch or trout
Rapalas. Always worth a try
one of the boxes before it was cleaned out. All the smaller baits have a new billet now.
Now all neatly stowed away in the bag.
We have had days of high winds and heavy rain here in the west. All the rivers are huge and there is some localised flooding. No fishing for a while to come as there is more bad weather forecast for the coming week.
I bought my 2020 salmon licence today from Pat Quinn’s shop in Castlebar. €100 for the licence to fish for salmon and sea trout across the whole of the Republic. Wonder what this season will bring? Three tags looks very optimistic to me!
For visitors the whole question of angling licences and permits can be very confusing. If you are going to be fishing in the Republic check out https://store.fishinginireland.info where you can buy a salmon licence on line. Licences can be bought for specific areas and for shorter duration so it is worthwhile looking at your options before buying the licence.
For Northern Ireland things are little bit more complicated. I suggest the starting point for you will be https://www.gov.uk/fishing-licence-northern-ireland You will need separate licences for the loughs agency areas and again, these are available to purchase online.
Depending on where you are fishing you may also need a permit. These can be bought locally and prices/conditions vary greatly.
I have to say that there is little optimism that 2020 is going to see an improvement in the numbers of salmon in Irish rivers. Each season sees fewer and fewer fish making it back to the spawning beds and a similar reduction in anglers catches. But we anglers will keep casting and hoping for the best. Catch-and-return is near mandatory across the island these days but it seems to have little effect and another lean year is anticipated. Let’s hope we are wrong.
Pulled out my old cardinal 66 spinning reel to give it a good clean and lub.
Looks like I need to invest in some new braid as the spool is looking decidedly low.
The old girl still runs smoothly and I get great pleasure from using it. It is heavy and the retrieve rate is slow compared to modern reels but I like the solid feel I get when using it. By spending a bit of money you can still pick up very good, clean cardinals on the secondhand market but the scuffs and abrasions on my example don’t bother me as this is purely a fishing reel and not for display purposes.
My unbridled enthusiasm for the Claret Bumble is well known to you all, it has been one of the most consistent flies for me over the years in all sorts of places and for all kinds of game fish. I was rummaging in a fly box the other day and came across a variant of the bumble which I thought you might like to see. I think it is called the Pearly Claret Bumble in some quarters and here is the dressing.
I like to use red tying silk when constructing this pattern and I make it on hook sizes from size 6 right down to 16. The bigger hooks are for salmon fishing and the smaller sizes work for wild brownies and rainbow trout.
this is Fire orange silk but it will work just as well as red
Start the silk at the eye of the hook and catch in a guinea fowl body feather dyed bright blue. It winds easier and looks better if you tie it in by the tip of the feather. If you like you can use some blue barred Jay but I think the guinea fowl is a better choice. Next, catch in a black and a dark claret cock hackle by the butts and run the silk towards the bend of the hook, tightly binding down the ends of the hackles. Cut off any waste.
Now you don’t really need the next item, I have landed many fish on this fly without the tag but I do like to see a few turns of red at the end of the body. I like to think it goes well with the pearl tinsel of the main body of the fly. Some Glo-brite no. 4 is the colour I tend to use for the tag. The tail is next and it is made with some strands taken from a golden pheasant tippet feather.
Rib is fine silver tinsel and the body is made from flat pearl tinsel. Catch both of these materials in at the point where the tag and tail are tied in and then run the tying silk back up to where the hackles are sitting. Form a nice even body with touching turns of the pearl tinsel, tie down and remove the waste. Now for the slightly tricky bit, grab both cock hackles in your pliers and wind them down the hook shank on open spirals. This is not too difficult on the larger sizes of hooks but it is tricky on the smallest sizes. The hackles are secured with the silver rib which is wound in the opposite direction to the hackles in open spirals. Aim for 4 or 5 turns.
GP tail feather dyed claret
Take 6 knotted strands of pheasant tail which have been stripped from a feather dyed claret and add them on top of the hook. Trim off the waste ends.
Nearly there, now grab the guinea fowl hackle and give it 3 or 4 turns while stroking the fibres backward. Secure the end and trim away the waste. Make a small neat head with the tying silk and whip finish before giving the head a couple of coats of clear varnish. Viola! This is a really useful variation which I can highly recommend to you. It is a very good pattern for Lough Conn early in the season.
A few years ago nobody had heard of the colour ‘sunburst’ but now it is widely used in pulling patterns. I tie a version of the Octopus using sunburst colours so I thought I would share it with you.
I like to tie this pattern on a size 10 heavyweight hook. That is because I want the fly to settle in the water quickly and fish well below the surface. Silk is usually red but I have used other colours and I don’t think it is really going to make a huge difference if you fancy a different shade of tying silk. Begin by starting the tying silk at the eye,remove the waste end and then catch in two golden pheasant yellow body feathers. I like to use two hackles as single one looks a bit mean to me.
chinese cock cape dyed sunburst
Now strip the fluff from the butt of a cock hackle dyed sunburst and tie it in before running the silk in touching turns to the bend of the hook. Here you tie in a length of no.4 fl. silk and wind a small tag. For a tail I use a golden pheasant topping. Now catch in a length of no.14 oval silver tinsel which will be used for the rib.
tying in the tag
Dub the tying silk with your preferred sunburst dubbing and wind a nice, tapered body back up to where the hackles are tied in.
Taking the cock hackle in the pliers wind about five open turns of the hackle down to the tail where it is secured with the ribbing tinsel. Wind the rib in the opposite direction through the body hackle and tie it in at the neck before removing the waste end.
Grab both pheasant hackles with the pliers and wind them together. This can be a bit tricky as these feathers are slippery customers. Stroke the fibres back as you wind the feathers then tie the ends down with the tying silk and trim the waste ends off. Form a neat head and whip finish to complete the fly then apply a drop of varnish to finish off.
If you want, you can add some knotted cock pheasant tail fibres before you wind the head hackles. These can either be natural, dyed claret or dyed red. I can’t in all honest say the addition of a few legs will make a huge improvement to the fly but they certainly look nice to our eye.
This is a fly for fishing as part of a team in the deeps, searching for daphnia feeders in the middle to late season on waters like lough Mask.
So I was poking around in a drawer full of feathers and came across a packet containing the breast of a pheasant. I seem to recall buying this two or three years ago but the cellophane wrapping was unopened. The breast feathers are beautifully marked, a mix of dark brown and black barring with creamy coloured tips. In size they could make a good hackle on hook sizes ranging from 10’s up to 6’s, ideal for salmon lough flies. An idea for a Katie variation sprang to mind so I set about messing at the vice for wee while.
Using black tying silk I tied in one of the breast feathers and a black cock hackle then ran the thread down to the bend of a size 6 B175. Here I tied in a short silver tag and a tail made of a golden pheasant topping with a tuft of glo-brite no.4 floss. A rib of oval silver tinsel was caught before I dubbed a black fur body.
Palmering the cock hackle and tying it in with the rib was bog standard but I wanted to add a couple of features. A short beard hackle consisting of some blue dyed guinea fowl was whipped in under the hook then half-a-dozen cock pheasant tail fibres dyed black went on top of the hook. Now I could wind the head hackle, giving it five full turns. I’m pretty happy with the result and pretty confident it will take a salmon or two on Carrowmore this season.
Since I bought my shiny new Honda outboard last spring my venerable 9.9 Johnson has lain unused in the shed. With a brand new engine it seemed highly unlikely the old one would ever be used by me again so I decided to sell it. Better someone else getting some good from it than leaving it to rust in a corner.
‘Done Deal’ is an online website here in Ireland where you can sell just about anything as long as it is legal. Up until today I have never used its services but I wrote up an ad and posted it at 3.30pm. Within the hour I had my first call about the engine and the deal was done by 6pm. Hands were shaken and cash changed hands. So the old girl has gone but I feel strangely nostalgic about that old motor.
How do we humans become attached to things like cars and boat engines? It is not rational but never-the-less the memories of days spent out on the lake with the faithful Johnson came flooding back. It was on the back of my boat when I caught first salmon on the troll on Lough Conn all those years ago. The bright silver salmon was the reward for many days trolling and I felt I had earned that one. It snaffled silver Toby pulled across a well know lie and the engine performed faultlessly during all the previous days mooching up and down Conn’s western shoreline.
on lough Corrib
It wasn’t all plain sailing though. There was the day on Lough Mask when Mick and I were out in the deeps beyond the islands when it refused to start after a drift. Pull as hard as I might the damn thing would not start and so, with one oar each, Mick and I pulled and strained all the way back to Cushlough under a blazing sun. It turned out a small linkage had broken but we were not to know that out there in the middle of the lake. My arms ached for days after that incident!
Mask in a flat calm, Shintalla Beag with another boat off the northern tip of the island
The Johnson was a long shift and this could be a blessing or a pain in the rear end. In a big wind when the waves reached 5 or 6 feet in height the Johnson’s propeller stayed under the water at all times, very comforting when driving in such extreme conditions. But the dense weeds on Lough Cullin reach close to the surface and I spent many days constantly pulling up the motor to clear the prop fouled with raft of weeds there. It also meant I had to be very careful, especially on the Mask as it was easy to strike the bottom, as the well chipped propeller testified. I went through three props in my time with that engine, all damaged by the stones on the bottom of Lough Mask. My preference for fishing the shallows was most definitely at odds with the length of the outboard. Please note my new engine is a short shaft model – I may have learned something in my old age.
No more will I sweat and curse the sheer weight of the old white engine while dragging it out of the car and on to the boat. I’ll miss the throaty roar as she sprang into life after a few pulls of the cord (she was always a good starter). That healthy kick as I opened the throttle used to bring a smile to my face, she was nippy enough for one so ancient. The smell of the two stroke oil and the little patch glistening on the surface of the lough when she kicked into life are things of the past now. It is the end of an era for me but in a way I am happy the engine has gone. It was too heavy for me now and the pollution from a two stroke is hard to justify these days. Her time had come and I had to move on. The new Honda shimmers under the light in the shed, basking in her beauty and reliability while the Johnson was carted off ignominiously to an uncertain future. I don’t know if the buyer plans to use the engine or if she will be stripped for parts. Either way, our paths have diverged and there is a patch of free space in the shed now that wasn’t there this morning. Goodbye old friend, I caught many fish as saw wondrous things thanks to you.
Let me say straight away that I am a dyed-in-the-wool game fisher. Brought up on river fishing with fly and spinner I missed out on coarse fishing completely all my life, up until now. I’m on solid ground when it comes to chasing trout and salmon and have a reasonably firm grasp of the basics when angling for those species. To a degree I have kept up with the technical and tactical advances in game fishing over the years as well. Of poles, groundbait and keepnets I know not a jot, at least I didn’t up until very recently.
My new project of aiming to catch at least one fish from each county in Ireland has inadvertently led me down a very different path though, one which is proving to be bewildering but at the same time an interesting challenge. I need to learn how to catch coarse fish from scratch, so the last few weeks have been an education for me. To be perfectly honest I have caught way more coarse fish either by accident or design on fly tackle than I have on floats and legers.
A small roach caught on the fly
My fishing den has shelves groaning under the weight of books on fishing from skinny little booklets on individual rivers to mighty tomes encompassing the minutest details of game and sea fishing. What you won’t find there are books on coarse fishing. I scanned the dustcovers for any stray coarse angling books which I might have forgotten about but could only find one slim volume which gave some brief details of the different species but nothing on angling methods. From the pages of this book I gleaned that Bream were common in Ireland along with Perch but that other mainstays of English coarse fishing such as chub and barbel were absent completely and carp were scarce. Of course we have countless millions of tiny roach in virtually all our Irish waterways these days and I have been told in the past about some lakes which are full of that most handsome of fish, the rudd. At least this narrowed things down a bit for me.
The internet can be viewed as one of the great evils of our times but it certainly came to my rescue when researching coarse fishing methods these last few weeks. YouTube is jam packed with useful instructional videos on how to catch just about anything that swims and there were hours spent watching experts haul out impressively large bags of bream and roach using methods and baits which could have been developed on the moon for all I know. I admit to being fascinated by pole fishing, the concept that you take your rod apart every time you hook a fish seems so alien to me! I very quickly dismissed poles and whips (whips are shorter poles apparently) from my potential armoury as being too cumbersome and expensive for my needs. I want to be able to spent short sessions at new waters meaning I will probably have to move a fair bit to find good spots, setting up all the equipment for pole fishing looks like it takes the organisational ability and heaving lifting of a military regiment.
A Common Cary I caught a few years ago in England on freelined bread
I already owned a float rod, a cheap Shakespeare jobbie that landed me some roach and carp back in England many moons ago. I can clearly recall the alarming bend in that rod when a good sized carp took off for the other side of the lake but it was only ever used a few times and remains in good nick. It will do nicely for float fishing for roach and rudd and anything else that can be tempted on the stick or waggler. Ferreting around in various tackle boxes yielded some old floats and a box of mixed split shot but no line that was light enough for making hook lengths. And so the shopping list began. I guess I knew it would come to this and that some excuse to spend money on fishing tackle would be found. My research on the internet was raising lots of questions and there were obvious gaps in my equipment just as there was in my knowledge. Bottom fishing was a case in point.
A carp breaks the surface as he feels to hook
Watching the experts on YouTube it became obvious that feeders are a major form of fishing for bottom dwelling species such as bream and tench. The concept of a small device which carries ground bait close to your baited hook is the mainstay of much bottom fishing and this appears to have now flourished into a cornucopia of tackle to cope with every possible variable within the basic method. The rods to hurl the rigs prodigious distances, the details of the rigs themselves and the baits used all held me in close attention and I soaked in all this new-fangled knowledge like a sponge.
I needed a rod for feeder fishing but I was not going to go mad on one of the new specialist feeder rods which are eye-wateringly expensive. It seems that fishing big Irish lakes for bream often involves long, accurate casting of the feeder on large beds of ground bait. Add in the wind which is a feature of this part of the world and you can see that long rods for distance casting in difficult conditions are a real bonus. But I am not planning on jumping into the extreme end of coarse fishing. I want easy venues (to start with at least) where casts are going to be of more normal proportions, depth of water won’t be excessive and the stresses and strains on tackle will be commensurately less. Those of you who follow this blog will recognise where this is all heading – I needed an old ABU rod!
When ABU where still making all their gear in Sweden back in the seventies and eighties they produced a range of coarse fishing rods in both fibreglass and carbon. I quickly found a couple of old leger rods, one light and one medium, which were going for a song and duly snapped them up. An old Cardinal 444A seemed to be a good reel to match up with these rods and filling it with 6 pound line gave me a pretty balanced outfit for basic feeder fishing. OK, so these rods are heavy by todays standards but look, I will be fishing short sessions so fatigue won’t be an issue.
I have also been picking up different types and weights of feeders. Each have their own niche and it looks like I need different ones for different scenarios. I can see a lot of experimentation is going to be required but that is a large part of the fun from my perspective. I remain unsure if I need to expand into method feeders as they seem to be more specialised and the carp fishing lads love them. For now I will stick to simple cage, block and open end feeders for a start anyway. I might be wrong but feeders look like the kind of thing which will get stuck on the bottom easily and so I am anticipating losses. My 6 pound breaking strain running line is hardly going to be fit for much pulling and dragging if the gets snagged in weeds or rocks.
The whole issue of groundbait is another minefield. The experts all agree that Irish bream require huge volumes of groundbait to attract the fish to your swim and to hold them there. Hugely expensive bags of prepared groundbait in an amazing array of flavours and textures seemed to be used by the top fishers but I am unconvinced as yet that I need to go down this road. For a start I will be avoiding the big, deep loughs with their shoals of specimen sized ‘dustbin lids’. I get that you need copious amounts of ground bait to pull the shoals in to casting range on these challenging venues and that little old me with a handful of bread or sweetcorn would likely be fishing barren water most of the time on the big loughs. But I want to cut my teeth on much smaller venues where I already have a good chance of covering fish. Big bags of huge fish simply don’t excite me and a modest catch from an intimate lough are much more appealing to this newbe. I was thinking of making a simple groundbait out of a mix of bread and bran but most of the research I have done suggests your groundbait for Irish waters needs to be dark in colour. Brown flake may be the way to go but I will figure something out.
Hook baits opens up another can of worms (sorry). My small amount of previous coarse angling involved bread paste on a size 14 hook dangling below a stick float and I saw no reason to doubt this would work here in Ireland too. While bread is used it looks like maggots, coloured red preferably, are a better bet for most fish. That presents a slight problem as nobody in my area stocks maggots and I will have to buy them locally when I go coarse fishing. The humble worm is also used a lot and they will be easier to lay my hands on. Even easier again is that old reliable sweetcorn. I am hoping sweetcorn does work as I can have a few tins stowed in the car ready for use at any time.
Small roach, probably one of the species I will target
When to go coarse fishing is all a bit of a mystery too. With no close season here in Ireland I can in theory go fishing every day of the year but obviously some times are much better than others. I had always imagined coarse fishing was a summer sport, lazy days watching the tip of the float under blue sky. It turns out hardy coarse anglers go about their business in winter too. Tench seem to be a summer only fish but the others can be caught all year round. This very interesting for me as the option of fishing outside the game angling season has great appeal. Then again, sitting hunched up against the lashing rain in a howling gales does not sound too great! The jury is out on winter fishing for now.
So after all my hours of research it looks like I will be targeting Bream, Roach, Rudd and Tench this summer. I will float fish or use feeders and have all the gear I now require bar a landing net which I will pick up sometime soon. Venues will be carefully chosen for size, ease of access and species present rather than looking for specimen sized fish or heavy bags. Over the course of the past few months my perception of coarse fishing has completely altered. Previously I had no interest in the sport at all. It looked difficult and far too technical for me with the outcome not worth the effort and expense. Now, I am looking forward to learning new techniques and catching new species in the heart of the Irish countryside. From a fog of confusion back in the autumn I can now see some glimmers of light. Whether this new found insight into coarse fishing will translate into fish on the bank remains to be seen but it has been fun just learning more about this fascinating branch of our sport.
An interesting piece in the local rag (the Mayo Advertiser) by Cllr Michael Burke who sits on Mayo County Council. In a half page piece he discusses the huge changes in the structure of the old IFT which has over the years become Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI). He rightly points out that angling tourism which is so vital to the local economy is down and the poor catches of recent years is a major contributing factor. He goes on to point out that a lot of the important work such as maintaining the spawning beds does not appear to be happening as they used to. He says that IFI staff numbers are now down to ‘about 300’.
I can’t disagree with anything in Michael’s article but I would add some additional reasons for the slump in catches. The whole ecology of the western lakes has radically altered over the past 30 years and invasive species are now thriving at the expense of our native trout and salmon. There is no control of the huge shoals of roach and increasingly bream in our lakes. Just imagine the biomass consumed by there fish which would have otherwise fed trout and young salmon.
Mink are present in large numbers across the country and these creatures do immense damage, not just to fisheries but all forms of wildlife. Virtually no controls are in place bar the odd trap here and there.
Agricultural run off is a problem nobody wants to talk about for fear of upsetting the farmers (read voters). Intensive cattle production in a huge local employer so the slurry produced and then sprayed on the land is not going to tackled by government.
The number of dwellings on or near the banks of lakes and tributaries has exploded and these feed phosphates into watercourses, further upsetting the balance of nutrients.
I love fishing the peaceful lakes and rivers here in Ireland but the days of good catches and pristine waterways is long gone. I applaud Michael Burke’s piece in the local paper but it is actions we need if there is going to be any sort of an improvement in angling here in Ireland.
Having decided that I will tackle trying to catch a fish in each of Ireland’s 32 counties I now need to sit down a begin planning the whole thing. This is going to be a large part of the fun, just researching various places to fish a figuring out what I need to use, how to get there etc. The good old internet is a wonderful tool for searching out potential fishing spots There may not be a huge amount of detail on most websites but there is often enough to whet the appetite and encourage some deeper inspection via phone calls or emails. Perhaps in pre-internet days it was more fun just turning up somewhere and hoping the fishing was going to be vaguely like what you expected. Nowadays we can be much better prepared and forearmed by a few quick taps on the keyboard.
I started by listing all 32 counties so I could get a feel for where my travels are going to take me. I was a bit taken aback my my near complete lack of knowledge of so many of them! I honestly thought I knew more about Ireland than it appears I do. Here is how I summed each county up in one line:
Northern Ireland (Ulster)
Far north, rocky coastline. Looks out on Scotland
Northern Ireland (Ulster)
Hundreds of lakes, pike fishing paradise
Long coastline, Cliffs of Moher
Huge, famous for the sea angling
Northern Ireland (Ulster)
Unknown to me
Northern Ireland (Ulster)
Belfast, Mountains of Mourne
City, industrial, canals
Northern Ireland (Ulster)
Rural, lots of lakes
The Corrib, shallow coastal waters
Landlocked, commuter towns
Known for its hurling not its fishing
No coast, not much fishing as far as I know
Coarse fishing around Carrick upon Shannon
Heart of the midlands, lots of coarse fishing
Border county, river Fane
Western lakes, river Moy
The grand canal
Rural, also lots of lakes
Central location, no salmon
Mainly coarse fishing
Northern Ireland (Ulster)
Suddenly, the enormity of my task is laid out before me. Gaps in my understanding the size of the grand canyon have opened up before my eyes and completion of the 32 seems unattainable. Where do I even begin. My embarrassingly skimpy knowledge of some (most) parts of the island needed to be addressed if I was going to achieve my goal. I couldn’t set off for the far flung corners of the Ireland without some better understanding of the different places I hoped to visit. I have now given myself a target to read up about each county before I visit it.
West Cork landscape, i save this for later in the year
Getting the first one under my belt is going to be tough. March is usually the beginning of my angling year but it would be nice to have bagged one or two counties before then to set the ball rolling. Some possibilities include trying for whiting and coalfish from Glassilleun beach in Co. Galway or maybe a pike from one of the lakes in Leitrim or Monaghan. There used to be great bass fishing in Kerry in January but I think that fishery has all but collapsed these days, so the huge journey there and back would be a very risky objective.
I’ve never fished Glassilleun beach despite its close proximity to the mark on Little Killery which I fish regularly. That’s because the beach itself is a very popular spot for tourists, walkers and others during the summer. The small car park is normally thronged and romantic couples, boisterous dogs while Japanese tourists roam the golden crescent of sand in all weathers. I don’t blame them, it is a lovely spot with grand views out to sea. Night time during the winter is the time to fish here, in biting winds with a sea running. Then the whiting come close to the shore looking for food which has been loosened from the sand. Importantly, it also the best time to avoid the holidaymakers and dog walkers.