Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trout fishing

Reflections so far

We are in the last week of April and  I have been thinking about the season so far and any lessons I need to learn. By now I would normally have landed my first salmon of the year and brought some decent brown trout to hand. Neither of these things have come to pass and the 2015 spring fishing has been very poor for me. I don’t think that I am alone and from the reports I hear other anglers are experiencing a similarly difficult time. So what has gone wrong?

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Cold air and low water are not a good combination

To my mind there is more than one cause for the poor fishing. The weather has certainly played a part. We have had very low temperatures followed by a period of unusually fine, bright conditions then a return on Saturday to a bitingly cold northerly wind. Our prefered conditions of a steady south/south-westerly air flow bringing cloudy, mild and wet weather have been conspicuous by their absence. Normally good levels of fly life which are a feature of April have failed to materialise so far and we can only hope that this is a delay in the hatches rather than the loss of them in total. A few hardy olives and Iron Blues have hatched out and the small stoneflies have shown up as normal but I have yet to witness any significant numbers of flies on the surface so far. With not much to eat on the surface the brownies are hugging the bottom for now.

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Water levels were high during the month of March, something which usually provided good fishing. I like to think that the higher flows push food out into the open where the trout can prey on them. But March failed to meet expectations and April has been no better. With the water level on the Robe now down to summer heights the advantages of high flow have gone. Yesterday I fished two stretches of the river, both of which should be in good fettle at the end of  April. I gave up on the first stretch after only a 20 minute session. The runs I fished 2 weeks ago were now ankle-deep and weeding up fast. One half pounder fell to a PT but it was clear more rain was needed urgently for this part of the river. I decamped for a deeper section some miles downstream.

A change of flies and a reduction in leader thickness, based on the low clear water, and I was soon up and running again. The air was full of midges but the water was apparently devoid of ephemerides. A lot of wading and tramping and casting followed without any response. This has been the theme for the season, very little signs of life in the river. I genuinely don’t get too upset when I am not catching but a lifeless river is difficult to stomach. The bitterly cold Nor-Easter could be partially to blame but I believe it goes much deeper than that. I suspect that the numbers of trout in the river at much lower than normal. Pollution, poaching or natural selection are all possible reasons for the drop in the trout population. The river has an eerie quietness about it, bird life seems to be quiet and I have seen none of the animal tracks in the margins that I would expect.

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Clear water on the River Robe

In total I brought about a dozen trout to hand, but most of them were in the small to tiddler range. I managed one good fish of around the pound from a very skinny piece of water at the tail of a gravelly pool. I swear there was no more that 3 inches of water covering him when he took my Francolin Spider.

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The hot weather sandwiched in between the periods of cold gave has given the algae a head start this year and margins of pools are bedecked in rafts of green slime. Chunks of it break off and can be seen floating down the river and hooked fish usually manager to cover themselves and the flies in a coating of the stuff when fighting. In itself I am not aware that the algae is harmful but it is an indication of the nutrient levels in the system.

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So what will the rest of the season bring on the rivers? If I am right and stocks of trout are well below normal then there will obviously not be much of an improvement in the fishing this year. The rivers around here are all natural and there is no stocking carried out, so nature will have to come to the rescue if possible but that will take time. With (hopefully) milder weather in May and June the evening fishing should start and I am planning on fishing the sedge hatches through the summer in the hope that some of the better fish which have been hiding in the deepest pools will move out and feed under the cover of darkness.

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My salmon fishing so far has been both low level and unsuccessful. Very few salmon have been caught in the area this spring with poor angling conditions again largely being blamed. I fished Carrowmore Lake on saturday but we came back to the shore with clean boards. Seamus reported 4 fish boated on that day but there were 17 boats out in reasonably good conditions so the lake is still not fishing very well.

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I am reading reports from Scotland and the lack of fish over there seems to echo our woes on this side of the Irish Sea. All over it looks like a dramatic collapse in salmon stocks, the kind of doomsday scenario which environmentalists have been warning us about for years. In Ireland the spring salmon were decimated years ago by the government sponsored environmental vandalism of  drainage works on just about every river in the country, so we have been struggling to catch many early fish for a long, long time. How will this year pan out? I expect a few more springers to turn up with the next spate and the grilse will show up beginning in May and gradually building in numbers if we have a wet summer. A dry summer will spell an angling disaster for us though.

I don’t have any answers to our lack of fish, the problems are complex and we humans seem to be adding more every year. Fish farming is a horrible business and it has added to the loss of wild fish here. More farms are at planning stage and if they are successful (which I have no doubt they will be) it could be the final nail in the salmon’s coffin. I plan to try hard to catch a few this year – there may be none to catch in 2016.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, salmon fishing

The Goat’s Toe

One of the great joys of salmon angling is the sight of a fly in the scissors of a fresh fish you have just landed. The hours/days/weeks and months of abject failure melt away when you see your fly in the corner of the king of fishes mouth. We all love the scenery, the company of fellow fishers and the hundreds of other facets to our sport, but those fleeting moments when your prize is in your hands and that scrap of fur and feather is lodged in his mouth makes all the effort and expense worthwhile. I am going to discuss a fly with you today which can make that wonderful vista a reality for you – the Goat’s Toe

The Goat’s Toe is very much a fly for the North and West of Scotland and Ireland. It is an excellent pattern for Carrowmore Lake in Erris. I read many years ago that it could be used as an adult damsel imitation on lowland waters but I have serious doubts if that is the case. It might well catch a fish or two in those types of waters but even the most short sighted of us would mistake it for a damsel! No, this is one for wild waters and wild fish.

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A very old one I found in my fly box (the red wool rib has been chewed off)

The basic pattern is very easy to tie and the Peacock provides most of the materials. A tail fashioned from red wool, a peacock bronze tail herl body ribbed with a single strand of the red wool and a hackle from the neck of the peacock. As it stands this is still a good pattern but as with all good flies we fishers have played around with it to make it even better.

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Basic materials for the Goat’s Toe

The red wool was the first thing to be substituted and Globrite no.4 fl. floss was introduced as a direct replacement for the red wool in both tail and rib. I am aware that other colours of floss have also been tried but to my mind no.4 is the most deadly. One of the most commonly seen variants replaces the red wool with chartreuse and has a further refinement in that the head is formed with red silk.

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Note the red head on this Chartreuse version

Next came the addition of a second hackle. A black cock hackle was wound behind the peacock neck feather and this is a feature which gives the fly more life in the water. The Peacock hackle is very soft and went wet it clings to the body. The stiffer cock hackle reduces this tendency and I think it is a valuable addition. Some tiers have gone further and palmered the cock hack the full length of the body. Around the same time some bright spark thought it would be a good idea to stick a couple of Jungle Cock eyes on the fly and I have to admit these do seem to look right.

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A JC Goat

By now most of you will be aware of my addiction to deer hair (my name is Colin and I am a dyed deer belly hair addict). A black deer hair head on a Goat’s Toe turns a very good salmon fly into a real killer. Unlike some of my monstrosities, I keep the head reasonably small and retain only a few strands of full length hair so that the all important iridescent blue peacock hackle is not covered up.

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My favourite on a number 6 iron

I’m also experimenting with a new version for brighter conditions. i have changed the body from Peacock herl to mirage tinsel and added a body hackle of grizzle cock dyed bright blue. It looks nice but it is untried as yet.

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Looks OK!

Hook sizes for all of the above range from a whopping great size 6 right down to a size 12 and I use heavy wire hooks at all times for the GT as you never know when a salmon will grab it.

Proof of this fly’s effectiveness can be seen below!

10 pounder from Carrowmore lake

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trout fishing

Rummaging and repairs

I came across an old cardboard box in the shed with some fishing related odds and ends inside. There was my father’s old tackle bag for a start. I washed and dried it and it will give me some more years of service even if it is a little faded. A filleting knife from an Aberdeen fish house was in there too and I can bring it back to good condition with a little elbow grease. These knives were wonderfully flexible and easy to sharpen so it will come in useful later this year when the sea fishing picks up and I have some Mackerel and Pollock to fillet.

Then there was a small bag containing my long lost repair kit for rods. A spare reel seat, lots of whipping threads, hot melt glue, some rings and a few corks. Now I have been looking for these corks on and off for a year or more as I have a Hardy fly rod which is out of commission due to a broken handle. So this morning I set about using my newly rediscovered goodies to repair said Hardy. The rod in question is a ten foot six, 3 piece Sirrus which I used for grilse fishing. It had accounted for many, many fish but was in good condition until the third cork from the top of the handle gave way. Any other cork would have been only a cosmetic issue, but this one is directly where my thumb sits when fishing so the rod effectively became useless. It has been gathering dust for 2 seasons now and its replacement (a meaty Diawa 11’3) is now my preferred rod.

I started the repair by cutting off the broken cork. As soon as I had done that the source of the problem became evident, there was a layer of filler which only extended half way up the broken cork meaning it was not fully supported.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is very shoddy workmanship and it is so disappointing that Hardy have let their previously high standards slip since production was shifted to the Far East. Next I cleaned up the exposed area of the rod blank and wrapped the whole are with silk to provide an even base. This was an awkward job but it is vital that time was spent making sure I didn’t repeat the same mistake as before.

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Next it was time to get messy. Araldite was mixed up into a milky gloop and then spread on the new whippings and the exposed ends of the corks on either side of the gap.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn appropriately sized cork was split into 2 and the faces given a light coating of Araldite before being carefully positioned. I then secured them tightly in place using some more whippings.

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The excess glues was wiped off and the job set aside to dry before I shape the new cork to match the rest of the handle.

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At the very bottom of the old cardboard box I unearthed my fishing wallet. Dating from the early ’70s this cheap brown leather wallet accompanied me everywhere in my formative fishing years as it held that most precious of documents – my ADAA fishing licence. The Aberdeen and District Angling Association (ADAA) controlled most of the fishing in and around Aberdeen so when my application to join as a junior in 1974 was accepted my fishing setted into a new world of possibilities. No. 1328 made the maximum use of these opportunities and I learned how to fish on the hard pressed waters of the Don at Parkhill and the wonderful Machar Pool on the Ythan. When I became a full member on reaching the ripe old age of 18 I was issued with a photo ID card. Where oh where have all the years gone?

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Finally I came across numerous small tins of humbrol paint which I used to paint devon minnows. Unbelievably some of these are still usable after 35 years! I will give some of my baits a tidy up with this new found treasure during this spell of bright, hot weather when there is no fishing.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, salmon fishing

Deer Deer – muddled thoughts

I am a big fan of deer hair. It is versatile and hard-wearing and of course it is buoyant. I first became aware of it when I was given the first three volumes of Tom Stewart’s ‘Fifty popular flies’ by my uncle for Christmas one year. I consumed the contents avidly and can still remember being baffled how to make the ‘Muddler Minnow’. Deer hair was an exotic material back then and I had no access to it. Spinning deer hair would have to wait a while!

I had tied thousands of trout and salmon flies before I got to grips with the various deer hair techniques. I was making flies on a sort of semi-professional basis and was purchasing my materials directly from Veniards (as I still do). I bought some deer hair and sat down to figure out the methods required on my own (no step-by-step videos on Youtube back then). Working with deer hair is not difficult but it is messy and you need to be handy with the scissors to get a neat finish. The ‘loose loop’, tension control, packing and spinning were all mastered and I made up some muddlers for my own use. They went into the box along with some other ‘lures’ which I had read about like the Polystickle, Jack Frost and Appetiser. At a time when i was used to making size 16 winged dry flies these looked like monsters and I had my doubts whether they would work.

A club outing to Loch Fitty in Fife (now sadly gone due to pollution from mine workings) gave me a chance to try out these wondrous creations. Nothing worked until I tied on a Black Muddler. Low and behold I boated a rainbow on it! I think at that point I was as firmly hooked as the trout and muddler heads abound in my fly boxes to this day. I will stick deer hair heads on just about anything given the chance.

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The Dunkeld receives the muddler treatment

The beauty of a deer hair head is it adds bulk without weight so that even small flies can create a disturbance in the water. This can be vital for bob flies in particular. These days there are a range of synthetics with excellent floating properties which you can use to form a head but somehow deer hair looks better and I am sure they catch more fish.

Deer hair comes in all sorts of different types depending on the species of animal and where on the pelt the patch of hair is located. In my opinion the best hair for spinning is deer belly hair. The fibres are relatively thick so they flare well under tension. Belly hair also takes dye extremely well so you can play around to get just the right colour you need.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA Red and Copper Muddler Minnow

I still use the Muddler in various colours for rainbows. I like the tail and wings to be made of marabou with a hint of some flash like the Red and Copper one above. I still have a soft spot for the simple all black muddler with a silver rib though and it still catches its fair share and more. White ones do well at any time of the season too.

Salmon flies can be given a new lease of life by adding a deer hair head. I use a muddler Goat’s Toe a lot and had fish on it. It’s not the prettiest fly I grant you, but it is effective so that will do for me!

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A muddled Goat’s Toe

The ubiquitous Green Peter was an early convert to the muddler head and it is a useful addition to both the trout and salmon anglers armoury.

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Green Peter Muddler

Some patterns work better with a big, bushy head while others require a smaller, neater head.

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A Sunburst Bumble with a small deer hair head

I think the muddler head also has the advantage of creating a lifelike shape to a fly. Look at sedges and chironomids – they both have slim abdomens but bulbous thorax/heads. A spun and clipped deer hair head looks just like that shape and that may be at least part of the attraction for the fish.

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Blue Zulu Muddler

The deer hair which has been clipped is pretty static but any training fibres which remain provide good movement as well as adding to the shape and colour of the fly. Hackle fibres and legs are given extra movement due to the turbulence created by the clipped head.

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A Clan Chief tied on a size 6 iron and sporting a deer hair head. A mouthful for any salmon!

This brings me to the question of the shape of the head. Should it be spherical, a cone a wild straggly thing? The answer is all of these – it depends on the fly and the look you want for it. A small,neatly clipped ball shaped head may look fine and dandy or then again a shaggy shapeless one could be more in keeping with pattern so it pays to experiment a bit. I generally like to leave a few fibres as an extra hackle. This works very well when using blue deer hair and a blue Guinea Fowl hackle together.

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A round head on this Claret Bumble

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A tapered head with a cone added on this Yellow Muddler

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The untrimmed black deer hair fibres add to the hackles on this Willie Gunn Bumble

Experimentation with mixed colours and other ‘additions’ to the deer hair have not proved successful for me so far, the only exception being mixed colours in a G&H sedge wing (but that is a different thing altogether).

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A daddy with a large muddler head

When you need to create the maximum disturbance on top of the water a large deer hair head is the way forward. Look at the Daddy above. Without the muddler head the fly would be ok but the brown deer gives the fly the ability to push water away from in front of it as it pulled through the waves, leaving a big wake which the fish find so attractive. Takes to these flies can be savage on those wild days of scudding clouds and white horses.

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The Peach Muddler

I will end this post with a small muddler which I rarely see used in Ireland but can do great execution with the brown trout here – the Peach Muddler. The lads in Orkney are very fussy about the correct shade of peach to use but I can vouch for this fly’s effectiveness when tied with seal’s fur dyed in Veniard peach dye. This is a great wee fly and a size 12 is about right for most conditions.

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trout fishing

Lough Cullin

Many of you are familiar with the great western lakes. Conn, set below the heights of mighty Nephin, the wild Mask with shallows and reefs rising from the depths, beautiful Carra with the near tropical look of the green water and Corrib, huge and daunting too the newcomer. Less well known is Lough Cullin, the little sister to Conn and a pleasant place for a few hours fishing.

IMG_1809[1]Pulled in near the bridge on Lough Cullin

Cullin lies to the North of Castlebar, close to the village of Foxford in County Mayo. It is part of the River Moy system and it is joined to Lough Conn by a short channel at Pontoon Bridge where the R310 road crosses. I am no expert on celtic mythology but I think I am right in saying that loughs Conn and Cullin were named after Fionn MacCoul’s hunting dogs who both drowned while chasing a wildboar.

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Pontoon Bridge from Lough Cullin

In addition to the waters pouring in from Lough Conn at Pontoon the lough also receives the flow from the Cashel River, itself an amalgamation of the Castlebar and Manulla rivers. This can lead to the strange phenomenon of the flow at Pontoon changing direction when there is high water on the Cashel. Most anglers will agree that when this happens the fishing will be useless.

Ballyvary river

The Cashel River which flows into Cullin

Cullin is a shallow water with a high pH due to the underlying limestone bed. In the past the lough has suffered from pollution both from the agricultural run off of fertilisers and muck spreading as well as sewage from the towns and villages in the area. It is only recently that some improvements have been made in waste water treatment in the county and this will take time to be reflected in the quality of water in Cullin. The eutrophication of the lough has harmed the trout fishing and at the same time improved the environment for coarse fish such as roach and pike. These two species are now present in huge numbers and grow to a good size. Many pike are caught by accident when fishing for salmon and I have seen huge roach caught on the fly by trout anglers (I have only managed very small specimens though)

16lb+ from Cullen

A pike from Cullin. They grow much, much bigger than this!

So what is the fishing like on Cullin? It is a shadow of the former fishery with a greatly reduced stocks of both trout and salmon now present. Salmon numbers have declined alarmingly in the whole Moy system over the recent past and this has been obvious on Cullin with very few springers landed. Cullin was never much good for grilse as the lough weeds up in the warm months of the season making vast tracks of the lake unfishable. Some early grilse are boated each year and they seem to favour the same lies as their larger brethren.

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Any of these spoons will work on Cullin

There are a few noted salmon lies in the lough and these are hard fished by locals trolling spoons and plugs. In the shallow water it is easy to get hung up on the bottom and in weeds, so some losses are to be expected. Dangerous underwater rocks are generally marked with pins but take care when the water is high as it is easy to run into shallows which are normally visible. Salmon like to lie in shallow water, so time spent trolling around rocks and reefs is time well spent.

sea lice near the vent

A small springer taken on the troll on Cullin, note the sea lice near the ventral fin

The lies are pretty well defined on Cullin so there is a lot of boat handling to keep the baits working over the fish, making this a less boring day out than some other trolling venues. Tobies, Swinford Spoons and Rapalas are all widely used here. Salmon can also be fished for off the shore at Pontoon Bridge but this has been the site of a number of unsavoury incidents over the years when ‘anglers’ dispute who has the right to fish from certain spots. I can’t say I recommend any visitors to try try and fish at the bridge.

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Looking out on to Cullin

The trout fishing is at best patchy. The huge numbers of chironomids which live in the lake now mean there is ample feeding for the fish on the bottom or in mid-water. That means they have little interest in coming to the surface for a meal and the traditional wet fly is largely unproductive. There are some exceptions and the mayfly gives us the best chance of surface sport on Cullin. April and May are by far the best months for trouting on this lough. I am sure there are great hatches of sedges during the summer but we never see them as Carra and Mask hold our attention at that time of year. Fighting the weeds on Cullin is not a great option compared to the other lakes.

The size of trout was always smaller than those encountered in neighbouring Lough Conn and a trout of a pound is a good one for Cullin. That said, there are much bigger trout in the water but they cruize the bottom and are very difficult to find. Fishing a buzzer from an anchored boat can provide sport but I find this a tedious way of fishing on the big lakes so I tend to stick to wet or dry fly most days.

I don’t think that the trout on Cullin are particularly fussy when it comes to flies. Claret Bumble, Connemara Black and Green Peter are usually on my cast here and they seem to do as well as anything else. I prefer smaller sizes on Cullin though with a size 12 used in favour of the normal size 10s. Mayfly patterns are in legion, so pick one or two favorites and don’t be tempted to change too often when the greendrakes appear.

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A Mirage Gosling will work on bright days on Cullin

I concentrate my efforts for trout in Healys bay and the rocky north shore. Even when there is a good hatch on the trout are slow to show on top so don’t expect too much in the way of casting to rising fish on Cullin. Takes when they do come are fast, very different to Carra fish who take with a degree of leisure. I use a light 11 foot rod throwing a number 6 line on Cullin to get the best of the smaller fish you are most likely to encounter. The length gives me better control of the bob fly which I consider useful in attractive the fish up to the cast.

No day out on Cullin would be complete without a pint in Healys. The bar is full of old fishing relics and there are some rods and stuff on the walls too! The beer is grand and there is always a bit of fishing chat in the bar.

So there you have it, Cullin is a nice lough to fish, especially for those not familiar with the big waters. It is less demanding of boat handling skills than Mask or Corrib and can often produce a nice trout early on in the season. Give it a lash if you are in the area in April or May and bring a trolling rod in case the salmon are running.

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Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing

Hail, drains and trees

The weather is all over the place. After a couple of days of unseasonably warm, dry weather the rains came back yesterday evening. Temperatures dropped overnight and today dawned cool and breezy. Showers, some of them of hail, added to the feeling that winter was sneaking back again and I had to push myself to go down to the Robe for a few casts. The gear was chucked into the car and I headed south by east to my ‘new’ spot.

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This is a very deceptive photo – it was bloody freezing!

My plan was to run down the pools below the bridge quickly with the wet fly then switch to the dry and fish back upstream again before prospecting above the bridge for the last hour or so. As it turned out I stuck fairly closely to this plan but it could have worked out better I think.

The most notable feature of the day was the very strong, gusting wind. At its worst the near gale force wind ripped and tugged at everything and fired hail at me like shotgun pellets. The cold during the squalls was intense and it really felt more like February than mid-April. This did not deter the Large Dark Olives from hatching and they appeared in good numbers for the 3 hours I was fishing. The trout showed their appreciation by rising occasionally to the duns. I can’t say it was a good rise today but it was the best surface action I have witnessed so far this season. If we had not suffered the cold wind I suspect today could have been a wonderful day’s fishing.

I gowned up at the car and decided that a fleece hat was called for in the conditions instead of my usual baseball cap. I was glad that I sacrificed sartorial elegance for warmth as the hail showers came frequently and each one seemed to be more severe than its predecessor.  At times my hands were frozen and I had to break from fishing to rubs some warmth back into them. Ah, the joys of spring fishing!

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squally

In between the hail showers

I cut off the old leader which was on my line and built a new one with only one dropper instead of my normal two on a wet fly cast. The wild conditions would be challenging enough without the added problems of trying to stop 3 flies tangling. As it was, a number of flies became victims of bankside vegetation with around a dozen meeting their end on the far bank due to the gusting wind. I opted for a copper beaded PT on the tail and my experimental Iron Blue Dun on the bob, but Partridge and Olive Spiders, Beaded Endrick Spiders and P&O all made cameo appearances during the afternoon.

The first pool below the bridge gave me a flavour of just how difficult this session was going to be. After  dozen cast the line was whipped into the far bank by a big gust of wind and the flies lost on a branch. A new cast was tied up and a hail shower chucked frozen water down on me. I could see olives on the surface so I figured it was still worth the effort, so I fished down the pool. Sure enough, I started to rise fish but hooking them was a problem. I checked the hooks – all OK. I altered my casting so I was fishing more squarely to the current but that didn’t seem to make any difference. I swapped the tiny size 18 IBD and put an Olive Partridge Spider size 14 on the bob (thinking the small hook was maybe not getting a good hold). That still didn’t make a difference. Time to try another piece of water.

The pool broke into a fast, shallow run and off the far bank there was a rock under the surface. This chunk of limestone pushed the flow out and created a likely looking lie. The gale was proving to be tedious to fish in and more flies were left in reeds before I eventually got things together and made a good cast just ahead of the rocky lie. I wish I could say there was a powerful take and I struck it perfectly but the truth is the trout just ‘appeared’ on the end of the line. He fought well in the fast water and I was relieved to bring him to hand, a handsome fish of around a pound. The PT was wedged in his scissors. Leader and flies were checked and after a few more casts I rose, hooked and landed another fish of the same size.

around the pound

First fish of the day

By now the hatch was well under way and some fish were showing on the top of the water. I fished the wets down the river casting into likely spots and keeping moving the whole time. By the time I reached the bottom of the fishable water I had taken 5 trout, all between three-quarters and a pound. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself because the conditions were challenging. I switched to the dry fly as I had planned and fished my way back up the river. If fishing wet had been hard trying to fish the dry fly in the windy conditions proved to be next to impossible. Admittedly I did rise a few trout but none of them were hooked due to the large loop in the line between the rod and the fly caused by the wind. I regained the bridge and paused to consider the options.

Standing on the bridge the view upstream didn’t look overly impressive. The right bank was steep and topped with a barbed wire fence. Getting as far as the bank looked daunting as there was a big drop over the side of the bridge on that bank. The water looked deep and slow as far as the bend, far from ideal. On the left bank a large drain came in about 50 yards above the bridge.

drain

Your average Irish drain

Ireland is criss-crossed with drains like this. Without them much of the agricultural land would be bog, so I can see why they are so necessary. I do have misgivings about draining every square inch of land though and these drains funnel large volumes of water into river systems, creating problems further downstream. From an anglers point of view drains are a royal pain. While some of them have been bridged the vast majority have to be navigated by wading or in the case of the smaller ones, jumping. Some drains are death traps; deep and with soft, silty bottoms. This one would have been very hard to cross but luckily there was a good bridge over it so I decided to fish the left bank for an hour.

I negotiated some wire and electric fences and got into the water in a large, slow moving pool. I would have prefered to fish it from the throat of the pool but trees on my bank prevented access. I had changed back to the wet fly and was quickly into a lovely trout of better than a pound. A second one followed and then a third, the last one being a bit smaller.

nice one

The smallest of the three

I turned to face upstream and fished upstream wet for a while, landing 3 more fish in truly deplorable conditions of gusting wind and hail showers. Timing the strike fishing upstream is something I find hard to get used to this early in the season. Practice is the only answer to this deficiency and it is worth the effort as the upstream wet fly is so deadly.

The trees were getting closer and closer together and it got to the point where is simply wasn’t possible to fish the fly any more from the left bank.

my bank

Now how do you cast in this little lot?

It was now obvious I had made a wrong move by electing to fish from the left bank. The trees lined this bank as far as I could see while the right bank was open and clear. Worse still was the sight of some lovely fly water just up river, water which was completely unfishable from the bank I was on. By now it was nearly 3pm and the hatch was slackening off, so hiking back to the bridge then up the far bank would be a lot of effort for little reward. Better to leave it for another day.

upriver

Can’t wait to try this stretch out

I went back to the deep pool and tied on a dry fly again. With still one or two trout showing I thought I could maybe winkle out a brace but it wasn’t to be. I rose a couple but the same old issue of slack line due to the wind beat me. Fishing wets meant I could tighten up on the flies once they were in the water and drag was not an issue. Fishing dry removed the option of tightening the line as it caused the fly to drag. I wound up and trudged back to the car. Eleven landed and a lot more trout risen, pricked or lost. Not too bad for 3 hours of hail, drains and trees I think.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

What you need in your box

The trout fishing on the rivers has taken off now and those of you who are lucky enough to be able to fish for wild Brownies in the West of Ireland should be on the river at every opportunity. A lot depends on the weather of course, but the next 6 weeks will provide us with the best fishing of the whole year. So what flies are the killers? Let’s take a look at a few of the old reliables which produce the goods every season.

The Wet Flies

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The Partridge and Orange

The P&O is a regular on my wet fly cast. It takes fish consistently during April and May when it is probably taken as a nymph rising through the water column and it does well during hatches of olives and stoneflies.

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Wickhams Fancy

Good on days when there is a bit of sunshine and the fish are feeding in fast water, the Wickhams catches trout despite looking like nothing in the natural world. I am constantly amazed by the ability of this gaudy creation to catch fish but it does so I don’t complain.

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The Connemara Gold

Some of you may not be familiar with the Connemara Gold but it is a really good spider to have in the box for the days when small dark flies are hatching out. A simple black hen hackle with a body of Pearsall’s gold silk covered with gold tinsel and then clear horsehair is all that is required. I fish this in small sizes, sizes 14 to 18.

Claret Partridge

Claret Partridge

On the days when claret duns are hatching this  fly will do the business for you. Claret Duns hatch out in small numbers in the slowest pools so they tend to be overlooked by many fishermen but the trout seem to like them and this fly is a good imitation of the nymph.

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Beaded Hare’s Ear

My ‘go to’ tail fly this is a hugely effective pattern. I add a touch of red seal’s fur to the Hare’s Ear body and vary the bead between copper and gold to meet the needs of the day. I guess I use a copper beaded one more often than the gold version.

The Dry Flies

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Adams

My favourite dry fly in either the normal tying or klinkhammer (both shown above). This one takes fish right through the whole season so make up plenty in a wide range of sizes. it even takes trout feeding on the mayfly so some size 10’s area good investment.

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Gold ribbed Hare’s Ear

A very old pattern, the GRHE still warrants a place in you dry fly box, especially when olives are hatching in the spring. You have probably noticed that I tie my dry flies with synthetic wings. This is so they are stronger and it also gives me the option of changing the wing colour to pink of lime to aid sighting in difficult light conditions. My days of tying double split wings are well and truly over!

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When the trout are feeding in fast water keeping your dry fly afloat becomes a nightmare. That is when I turn to the Irresistible. The one in the photo is tied as an Adams but you can turn many patterns into an Irresistible with a little thought. OK, so they are a bit tricky to tie on small hooks but I think the effort is well worthwhile.

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Black Bi-visible

Dressed very small (18 – 24) this can be a handy one to have on difficult days. Trout can become preoccupied with tiny dark Diptera and this is the pattern you need for those days. A small Griffiths Gnat also works well in those circumstances.

The fly is only as effective as the fisherman, so stealth, attention to tippet diameter and good water craft are every bit as important as the pattern. Take you time getting into the correct position to allow you covering the water correctly and keep watching out for the clues about what is happening around you. Don’t get too hung up on swapping flies – any of the flies on this post will catch you a trout this spring.

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Google maps and dead presidents

After another fruitless day trolling for salmon yesterday I was ready for some fly fishing today. I felt like a change of venue so I turned to technology and consulted Google maps. At the highest resolution you can discern water features such as bends, weirs and rapids and I use this to guide me to new spots on the local rivers. I spent some time this morning going over parts of the River Robe which I had not fished before looking for just these kind of features and I liked the look of a short stretch near Crossboyne. I’ve fished upstream of Crossboyne many times but between there and Robeen was virgin water to me. I knew a lot of this part of the river is deep, slow and canal-like, very poor water for trouting. But the maps seemed to show some weirs and bends around Curraghadooey. I planned to give them a try after a quick look further upstream at Castlemagarret.

IMG_1771[1] I know the Castlemagarret stretch in great detail and started at the first good pool. Water level was good and the river was obviously slowly dropping after the recent rains. I set up with a team of 3 wets to search the water. An experimental size 18 Iron Blue Dun pattern went on the bob, one of my own ‘Benjamin’ spiders occupied the middle position and a Beaded Endrick Spider was the point fly. After a handful of casts an 8 incher grabbed the Iron Blue, a good start! I fished a couple of pools and runs without any further offers so I legged it to a long pool further up river, bypassing less likely water.

The remains of a Pike were lying in the grass at the high water line. The Robe has a big population of these and I keep meaning to fish for them during the winter but somehow never quite get around to it.

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Remains of a Pike. I reckon this one was around 6 pounds when alive

I slowly fished downstream, flicking the flies into the little bays and around any rocks in the river. I missed 3 fish before finally landing another smallish lad, this time on the Endrick Spider. With no fly life and certainly no fish rising this was looking like it was a day for wet flies so I plugged away with the team of three, ending up with a tally of 7 trout only two of which would have been worth keeping.

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By now it was well after 1pm and I walked back to the car and set off to execute the second phase of my plan for today. Some dodgy map reading notwithstanding, I eventually discovered the tiny concrete bridge over the river I had identified on the computer and parked up nearby.

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I had planned on fishing my way upstream from the bridge as I had seen a weir and some fast water on the map up there, but when I looked over the bridge it was clear there was some good water immediately below the bridge. The only problem was going to be how to get to the water’s edge. The farmer had his fence as close to the river as possible and the bank was pretty much vertical and around 10 feet high. I decided to try fishing from inside the field, casting over the barbed wire fence and accompanying each cast with a prayer I wouldn’t hook anything too big. The water looked perfect with excellent flow and depth. Only a few casts in and the first trout snatched at the flies. I got him on the next cast, a shade under a pound in weight and a nightmare to swing up to my hand through 3 yards of thin air. He had fallen for the Benjamin. Within a few minutes I was in action again when first one and then a second fish took the flies but they both fell off during the fight (the Lord be praised). The fishing was hectic for the next half-an-hour with trout coming steadily to all three flies.

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Access  became worse as the bankside vegetation increased. I managed to slither under the barbed wire to get closer to the water which helped slightly but the going was tough and I nearly took a ducking when a fencepost I was using for support came away in my hand. Some Sandmartins appeared, the first of this seasons swallows and the fields were home to a number of very vocal larks.

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A bit of bank erosion

Time spent on the river always passes quickly and today was no exception. Sport slowed and finally died away just after 3pm so I trudged back to the car which had by now settled into the soft verge and was sitting at a somewhat alarming angle. Loaded up, I was able to extract it from the muck without too much drama but I will need to find another spot to park when I go back to this stretch again.

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Looking downstream

‘What has all this got to do with Dead President’s’ I hear you ask. Well, my Benjamin fly is named after Benjamin Franklin. The hackle is made from a body feather from an African Francolin, so ‘Francolin’ morphed into ‘Franklin’ in my head and fly got the forename of the great man. The full dressing of ‘Benjamin’ is:

Hook: 12, 14 or 16

Tying Silk: Pearsall’s no. 6

Body: the tying silk covered with touching turns of clear horse hair

Thorax: one strand of Bronze peacock herl

Hackle: the small body feather of an African Francolin.  These are pale tan with lovely dark barring.

I also tie a dark version of the Benjamin with claret tying silk and use both versions when small stoneflies are on the water.

Francolin (Crested) 9732a

A Francolin, the hackle feathers are on the chest of the bird

I will definitely be back to give this stretch another try soon. There is some excellent water and it fished very well despite the lack of a hatch today. And I have yet to venture upstream as was my original plan. My final count of trout for the day was 16 with 4 or 5 of them being in the 14 to 16 ounce class. All the flies I tied on produced fish, so they were not too fussy (for a change). I had better make up  a few more Benjamins this evening and I have an idea that a Hare’s Ear variant might be worth a try!

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