Fishing in Ireland

After the rain

The weather Gods have pissed on us for more than a week now and the county of Mayo is sodden. Rivulets of water are still running across roads and the fields are flooded. Most of the rivers around here have burst their banks and spilled their contents across the landscape. And amidst this deluge we hoped and prayed the last boat still on the river would be safe. Miraculously it was and some baling (OK, quite a lot of baling actually) brought it into good shape for the trip back home for the winter. Today was the day for the task in hand.

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Down the boreen (a small Irish road) and across the bridge to the mooring point. The other boat which is normally moored at the same spot had been lifted and turned last week. The river was full to overflowing.

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The craik here is that the boat has to be driven across the lake to be taken out at the other side. At least today was a lovely day to be out and the trip over was a joy. Small groups of Whooper Swans have arrived from the far North this week and their constant honking made a perfect backdrop to this calm autumn day.

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Glassy smooth waters meant the trip was hassle free. In no time at all the boat grated on the shingle in Healy’s bay.

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The usual process of backing in the trailer, winding the boat on and fixing the belly band and tail board went like clockwork and she was soon safely onboard, ready for the journey home.

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Time for a last look around and to feel the sun on my hands and face for the last time here this year. Cullen had a bad year for the fishing but its natural beauty remained undiminished.

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One final check that everything was secured and it was time to hit the road. There is always a certain sadness at this time of the year, no more fishing for what feels like an age (in fact we will be gearing up to start again at the beginning of February). For now, it is back to town. there’s a promise of more rain tomorrow…………….

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fly tying

Connemara Black Dabbler

I admit to absolutely loving this fly. Over the years it has given me so many trout in all sorts of conditions that I reach for it when I have no real idea what else to try. I place huge faith in it and it very rarely let me down. The dressing is almost the standard one with a couple of tweaks which I think make it even better than the original.

I first came across the Connemara Black as a kid. My uncle gave me 3 paperback copies of Tom Stewart’s ‘How to tie flies’ one Christmas. I devoured the contents, noting every detail of patterns like Black Dose, Camasunary Killer, Mystery and of course the Connemara Black. I remember Tom writing how he made some up for a customer who fished the Aberdeenshire Don and thought is was a wonderful fly for that hallowed water. I can’t say I ever used it there but I regularly give it a swim these days on Conn, Cullen, Mask and the rest of the Mayo lakes. Here is my version of this timeless classic:

  1. Start the black tying silk behind the eye of the hook and catch in a black cock hackle, concave side up.

2. Next you want to run the tying silk down the shank towards the bend of the hook, catching in a length of fine oval silver tinsel and a piece of Glo.Brite no. 7 floss.

3. Now for the tail. I like to use fibres stripped from the longest Golden Pheasant topping feathers. This gives me a nice long tail, in keeping with the overall shape of a Dabber. Tie the fibres in and take the tying silk to a point where you want the tag to meet the body.

4. Wind the floss down to the start of the bend and back up again to where the silk is hanging to form the tag. Tie down and snip off the waste. The point of doing this is to give the floss a chance to look orange, if you wind it over a base of black tying silk it will lose some of the brightness.

5. Dub the tying silk with black seals fur after applying a good waxing.

6. Form the body by winding the dubbed silk back up to about 4mm short of the eye. You need to leave enough space for the hackle and cloak. Don’t worry if the body looks a bit rough – the rougher the better!

7. Palmer the cock hackle down the seals fur body (not over the tag). Counter rib with the oval silver tinsel and cut of the waste hackle tip and end of the oval tinsel. Invert the hook.

8. Pinch off some blue – dyed Guinea Fowl fibres from the feather and apply below the hook only as a beard hackle. Remove the waste ends.

10. It is starting to take shape now and the next step is the add the cloak of bronze mallard fibres all around the hook.

11. Aim to have slightly more mallard on the top and sides with less below the hook.

12. Cut away the waste ends of mallard, tidy up the head and whip finish. All that is left to do is to varnish the head.

I use this fly mainly as a middle dropper and dress it in sizes 14 to 6 with a size 12 being my favourite on the trout loughs. It works during buzzer time in the early spring for obvious reasons but it pulls fish just as well in a hatch of olives and mayfly.

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fly tying

My take on the Gold Butcher

Everyone knows this fly – right? Gold Butchers are just a ‘normal’ Butcher with a gold tinsel body instead of a silver one! Well I see this pattern very differently, and I would urge you to make up a few for yourselves. It is a versatile fly which works well for trout (brown and rainbow), seatrout and it will even tempt an occasional salmon. Here are the basic instructions for making them:

  1. Start the black tying silk behind the eye of the hook. Here I am using a size 12 Kamasan B170 and, keeping it traditional, some black Pearsall’s Gossamer silk.

2. A small slip of swan or goose feather dyed blood red is tied in to form the tail.

3. Continue to wind the silk towards the bend in touching turns, catching in a length of fine gold wire as you do so. Snip off the waste end of the tail material.

4. At the bend tie in a piece of flat gold tinsel of a strip or a narrow strip of Crunchie wrapper.5. Wind the tying silk back up to a point about 3 mm behind the hook eye. Now wind the flat gold tinsel up in touching turns a secure with the tying silk. Rib the body with the fine gold wire to give the tinsel some protection from the fishes teeth. 

6. Cut two matching slips form opposite secondary flight feathers from the wings of Crow or Jackdaw. Tied them in on top of the shank, taking care to align them properly. When tying this pattern it pays to concentrate on getting the proportions just right, especially if you decide to use the crow feathers for wings. It is very easy to end up with a fly that looks ‘wrong’ if the wings are too short or the hackles are too sparse.

7. Select two cock hackles, one dyed blood red and the other dyed black. Trim the excess ends of the wings and tie in the butt of the red hackle.

8. Wind one turn of the red hackle and tie off before removing the waste. Repeat with the black hackle.
    

9. Whip finish to make a neat head and varnish.

10. As an alternative you can make the wings from a bunch of Squirrel hair dyed black.

Hook sizes range from miniscule size 16’s all the way up to wolloping great size 6’s. I love this fly for those small bog lakes and sizes 12  – 14 would be my favourite when fishing these smaller waters. It does its best work as a tail fly on those overcast days with something claret as a partner on the cast. Those of you who know me will not be in the least surprised to hear that I often add a small black muddler head to the larger sizes. Happy tying!

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, SWFF, trout fishing

Pass my hammer, it is getting cold

It’s mid-November and the year is showing its age. Leaves clog the drains around the house now and the heating boiler had to be coaxed into life again with some deft hammer blows to the pump housing and a liberal stream of expletives. We were blessed with an unusually calm period of high pressure during October but now the wind has veered westerly and the rain has started to fall in earnest. Just like people, years grow cantankerous as they age.

It’s the same every year, we moan about the terrible weather like it is some great surprise. I regard this is as more evidence of our disconnect with nature as western society leans ever more heavily on technology and less on grounding with the earth. Here in Ireland we live in a blessed corner of the planet where extremes of weather, significant geological events and the effects of global change are just items on the news. We pay more attention to what the female weather forecasters wear than the complexities of the weather they report. Our ancestors could read the patterns of weather and planned their lives around the changes. The cycles of crop planting, growth, harvesting and storage could decide if you had food to eat or you and your family went hungry. The migration of fish and animals and the climatic triggers for these annual movements were necessary skills for hunters. We modern humans have largely lost these skills which took countless years to learn.

The strong winds (by Irish standards) have stripped the dying foliage from the trees, giving the land a stark, lonely appearance. Fields are waterlogged and the drains which were dry only last week are now filled with running water. The rivers foam and from as the brown surge heads seawards. Our hopes are now pinned on the salmon who have made it to the spawning beds. High water is good in terms of allowing the fish to travel upstream more easily but continued high water can wash out new redds, destroying the eggs inside.

The Dee at Cairnton

The Dee at Cairnton

I have read with interest the final river reports for 2015 from the major Scottish rivers. In general it made for pretty depressing reading with the beautiful River Dee having suffered an especially awful year (catches were roughly 75% below the 5 year average). Every beat complained about the lack of fish. None were seen, let alone caught, so the presumption was there would be very little spawning activity. However, before the water rose, making redd counting impossible, there seemed to be a healthy number of spawning stock in the headwaters. It is hard to reconcile this difference but let’s hope the river can stage a recovery.

The Tay had a good enough season but the same cannot be said for the Tweed. Although it is still open, the numbers of fish landed is well below expected levels and the excuse of low water which blighted the 2015 season is only a small factor. The huge, deep pools of the lower Tweed can hold a big stock of salmon if they are there but the lower beats did not reap the reward you would expect in low water.

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The Tay at Catholes

On a more positive note, the River Spey had a wonderful year. That boisterous, challenging and technically difficult river produced the best season for some years. It just goes to show that salmon will forever confound us mere humans.

The rain is lashing down outside again. Nessie looks up at me in a clear attempt to persuade me to take her for a walk but she knows we will both have to wait for a gap in the showers before venturing out. There is a cycle to most things, and walking the dog is no different. For now, I am going to spend an hour at the vice making some trout flies for the next season.

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fly tying

Fly tying season

Now the angling is over for another year I will start to post some fly patterns and tying instructions on this blog. Here in Ireland we are quite conservative when it comes to different styles of fly but I use a wide range of different flies to meet the conditions so don’t expect just Dabblers and Bumbles.

If anyone would like information on a specific pattern please just drop me a line and I will add your request in my next post.

My brown Cat – a damsel imitation which works in small loughs (it would probably work for rainbows too)

Madam X, a popular fly in the States but not used much here. It works well when the Murroughs are hatching on the loughs.

Bugs and beetles in one of my boxes.

Spiders.

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, trolling

Back to the rain

A couple of windy, rainy days this week seem to herald the onset of winter properly and the forecast is depressingly ominous with high winds and even some snow promised before the week is out. I went out on the Cashel River one more time today, more in homage to the past season than with any real expectation of fish. Only one small jack took the baits and the river seemed lifeless besides. Warm sunshine was interspersed with squalls of stunning malevolence, leaving hands cold and stiff and that horrible sensation of cold water dripping down my neck where it had sneaked inside the hood of my jacket. We can’t appreciate the good days unless the bad ones are endured. Here are some photos of the day.

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, sea angling, sea trout fishing, trout fishing

Apres fishing

Angling in Ireland has many facets, some challenging but most pleasant and convivial. I want to talk about one of these additional joyous addendums to our sport today, the Irish pub.

I expect most (if not all) of you have visited a so called Irish pub close to you. They have, after all, polluted the whole world. Huge money making temples to poor quality beer and fakery of the highest order in my opinion. I dare say there are some excellent establishments in places like London and Boston, but the vast majority are but shadows of the real thing. So when anglers come to fish here in the West of Ireland they can partake of their favourite tipple in REAL Irish public houses and the ones whom I meet seem to thoroughly enjoy the special atmosphere. Here are some of my own favourite watering holes.

The Key West, Derrycoosh

As you know, I fish Lough Beltra a lot and a day on Beltra just isn’t complete without a pint in The Key West. Situated in Derrycoosh, just off the road between Castlebar and the lough this lively wee pub serves a grand pint of porter and there are always a few of the local worthies on hand to keep you entertained with stories and craik. After one of those typically hard spring days on Beltra when the lake holds on tightly to its silver fish a pint in the Key West is both a balm to weary bodies and a lift to deflated spirits. Creaking joints and frozen extremities are soon forgotten once you get your belly to the bar in the Key West. I used to live out the Newport Road close to the Key West and can vouch for the wonderful atmosphere in the pub of a weekend night.

Matt Molloys, Westport

Heading further west we come to Westport, one of the prettiest and liveliest towns in the whole country. There is always a great buzz in Westport and it is worth visiting even if you are not fishing. If we do happen to be fishing near the town then a swift glass in Matt Molloy’s is just the job (note: there is no such thing as a ‘half-pint’ in Ireland, you order a glass instead and it just happens to hold half a pint). I’ve never stepped over the threshold of Matt’s and found it anything less than busy. It is of course famous for the traditional music played in the back of the bar and this alone attracts numerous visitors. We tend to loiter near the front door, nursing bruised egos sustained during another blank session or else regaling each other with every twist, turn and leap of fish hooked and (hopefully) landed. If it is too busy in Matt’s there are numerous other watering holes in the town of Westport so you won’t go thirsty.

Stauntons, Lecanvey

Still further out the western road you will come to Staunton’s bar in the small village of Lecanvy. The small front bar is a lovely spot to nestle in front of the open fire with a pint in your hand. There is not much fishing in Lecanvey itself. The pier is strangely devoid of fish, despite rumours of conger eels holed up there. So don’t waste your time unpacking the fishing gear, just stop off at Stauntons for a relaxed glass or pint when you are passing.

an Bhun Abhainn, Louisburg

Louisburg is not short of pubs. There are plenty to go round and so making the choice of which one to frequent can be a challenge all of its own. If you are fishing out west then I can recommend dropping into Mrs. Duffy’s place for a quite one. Then there is an Bhun Abhainn which always seems to have a trad session filling the place any time I step over the threshold. Look, you can spend a lot of time (and Euros) visiting all the pubs in Louisburg and each one is as friendly as the last. A great wee town to visit, even for non-anglers.

West End bar, Bangor Erris

Carrowmore Lake in Erris demands you visit a pub before you even set foot on the shore of the lake! Permits are dispensed from the West End Bar in Bangor Erris. We make a point of returning to the pub after the fishing, partly to give Seamus the high up and low down of our day on the water and also to have a pint and hear all the news from the other fishers. There are usually a few locals in the bar too, so if you need to know about how the turf cutting is progressing or the price of lambs or just the local gossip and scandal you can avail of that type of information as well. There are flies for sales as well as permits and licenses so The West End Bar really is a one stop shop for fishers.

Paddy’s, Tourmakeady

If Lough Mask is you venue the whole lake is ringed with pubs. Ballinrobe obviously has a scatter of hostelries, many of them well used to catering for thirsty fisherfolk. On the other side of the lake sits Paddys, a great place with a fine thatched roof on it. It is nice to pull the boat into Churchfield at the end of the day and pop into Paddys for a black one.

Johnnies, Castlebar

I could go on and on but instead I will leave you with one last pub to consider – Johnnie McHales. Maybe not a true ‘fishing pub’ if one is going to be pedantic about such things, but sufficient anglers frequent its hallowed inner sanctum to include it here. John is now at the helm in this well known establishment and recent additions to the pub have only enhanced it further. A deadly spot!

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, salmon fishing, trolling

Aberdonian spends Three Euro!!!!!!!

While mooching around in a small tackle shop down an alley in Athlone the other day I happened upon a basket full of odd and ends of tackle sporting the tempting sign ‘half price or less’. So I plunged into the task of sifting through the assorted rigs, floats, baits and sinkers. Luminous poppers, bouncing bettys, zoomer floats and myriad other angling oddities were closely examined and rejected. Then, right at the very bottom of the basket my eye fell on a huge shiney plug. Ah ha! Now this was interesting. I asked the shop owner ‘how much? ‘Three Euro for that – it is supposed to come with a special mount but it’s missing’ As this lure normally retails around €12 I had bagged myself a real bargain. All I had to do was make up a new trace and I was in business.

This is a an American version of what we Scots call a ‘Lucky Louis’, a much loved harling lure from the lower reaches of the mighty river Tay. Another version was called the ‘Kynoch Killer’. What makes these lures so successful is the incredible action when trolled behind a boat. They dart around with an extreme action which has to be seen to be believed.

Another advantage of this lure is that when you hook a fish on it the body slides up the line and out of the way so the fish can’t exert any leverage on the hooks. All I had to do now was make up a short trace for passing through the lure. There are different designs of trace, some featuring two lethal looking trebles linked with flexible braid. I much prefer a simple trace with just one treble.

When picking the swivels and beads for making this trace you need to be aware of the sizes required. The swivel needs to be small enough to pass through the hole in the plug (so the body can slide right through and up the main line). The beads however need to be bigger than the hole as they are going to act as ‘stops’. OK, here is what to do:

I use stainless steel wire for the trace and wrap it to the swivel. Now slide on two beads (I like red ones, but use whatever colour you prefer).

Measure the length of the trace by offering it up through the hole and marking the point where the eye of the hook needs to be. You want the swivel to poke out of the head end of the hole.

Now attach the hook by threading the wire through the eye, passing it around the bend of the hook and wrapping it back up the shank (see below). 

What you end up with is a short trace with a swivel at one end, two beads in the middle and a treble at the end.

Here is how the hook looks when it is in position:

Why two beads? I like to have the hook sitting a little bit away from the large body, I think it gives better hooking.

Now I am going to have to sit down in a dark room for a while after parting with THREE EURO.

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, trolling

Do Pike migrate?

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To kill some time and at the very least get out in the fresh air for a few hours I have been Pike fishing on three recent occasions. Results have been steadily declining from 10 fish down to 8 and then only 5 on my last outing. That is fair enough, but the really interesting part is where the pike were caught. On the first trip 3 weeks ago the fish were pretty evenly dispersed over a 2 mile stretch of river. Sure, the regular Pike ‘hot spots’ where good structure, in the shape of fallen trees providing shelter, gave up fish. Other than that the Pike were evenly distributed.

The second visit started off in the same vein with a couple of strikes at the baits early on before it went unusually quiet as I progressed up the river. I turned and came back downstream and began to pick up fish again in the lower third of the beat. This was despite frequent changes of baits and different speeds/depths.

Yesterday was even more well defined with only one fish hooked and a couple of half-hearted knocks all the way up river and back down again. I then tried the very lowest part of the beat, immediately above the lake.

Bingo! Fish after fish slashed at the bait and a lost as many as I boated. All that  action took place in about 300 yards of water, begging the question – have the Pike migrated to the bottom part of the river? Are they in the process of leaving the river completely and hunting in the lake? If so, what has caused them to move? I retired to Healy’s to mull this conundrum over a pint of porter…………………..

I was always under the impression that Pike were territorial and stuck pretty firmly to one spot. The better the position for ambushing prey the more likely it was that a good fish would live there. After this week I am not so sure and maybe Pike do migrate. My thoughts are that there must be a reason for the movement and that availability of food is likely to be the cause. With salmon and trout running up stream over the last few days maybe there is insufficient food for the Pike now in the river and they are dropping down to the lake to prey on the shoals of Rudd which live there. Does anyone have a better explanation ?

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