Still dark. Awake, I decide to go online and check out the news in the hope my brain will tire and sleep becomes feasible again. One of the disadvantages of advancing years is sleep becomes erratic so these nocturnal forays into cyberspace feature more frequently now. Chaos in Iraq, a building collapse in Nairobi – the usual mix of death and fear. Maybe this constant bombardment of negativity is one reason I love angling so much. The total immersion in casting and the countryside leaves no space for the nasty things in this life. For a few short hours immersed in natures timeless cycles calms the savage breast. The natural world envelops me, draws me in and opens my eyes to a different, soothing and familiar place.
The first day of May should be a fishing day. Here we are on the very cusp of the highlight of the Irish anglers year so I simply have to fish. April will not be mourned; she was a cold mistress, largely barren and cloaked in dull, grey disappointment. She has handed Spring’s baton over to what I hope will be an altogether more virile and fruitful partner. May sometimes defines the whole season for me. A good month can be exciting, setting the mood for the rest of the year. Memories of good fishing are a well we draw from. We anglers revisit these memories of the good spring days regularly when low water reduces our sport in high summer.
9am. There is a loose arrangement to fish ‘somewhere’ today. A sprinkling of salmon have entered the river systems, enough to engender that rarest of qualities – hope. Sandwiches are carefully prepared and stowed safely away in a waterproof container. Recently tied flies are added to the flybox and a new leader tied on the end of the fly line. The minutest of tasks are undertaken with forensic attention to detail. At the allotted hour we set off through the quiet streets and out into the countryside. The decision has been made – Lough Cullin today.
A steady Southerly wind and overcast skies bode well and the real possibility of meeting a salmon looms large in our thoughts and conversation as we tackle up and load the boat. With the wind from this quarter we can drift across the best lies in comfort with little work on the oar.
We fish steadily, methodically casting and retrieving tick-tock, tick-tock. To the untrained eye we are repeating the same cast again and again but in reality each cast varies slightly from the last. The boat never drifts in an absolutely straight line so casts are directed to take advantage of the sideways slip so as to impart a curve in the retrieve. Eyes are glued to the surface looking for signs of movement, tell tale swirls left by fish as the turn below the waves. At the end of each drift we wind in and start the engine to motor back up wind, usually to drift a slightly different line so we cover new water. We are largely silent, wrapped up in our own world of concentration.
On Cullin our drifts are easily recognisable as we find the fish lie in shallows dotted with marker poles. These metal rods, topped with orange floats, mark dangerous submerged rocks so unwary boaters don’t run into them. As we motor upwind I spot a small salmon rolling on top of the water. That flash of silver transforms the mood in the boat and we redouble our efforts, expecting that electrifying pull on the line with every cast now. Close to the outermost pole another fresh fish shows, this one is a bigger fish of maybe 8 or 9 pounds by the look of her. Our flies comb the water around that spot but to no avail. Drift completed, we head back up and repeat the whole process once again. As we are closing in the the shore Ben lifts to re-cast for the umteenth time. His flies are out of the water and in mid-air when the salmon boils but a yard from the boat. She was following but didn’t take and the boil was her turning sharply as the flies disappeared. Sometimes, dropping the cast back into the boil results in a positive take, but not today. We drift one more time then head to the shore for a cuppa.
My apple and cinnamon tea, coupled with the cheese and tomato sandwiches revive me after what has been a solid few hours of fishing. As we entered the small bay I noticed a solitary Mayfly so I scoured the shore and sure enough came across another greendrake.
A local angler was walking his dog along the shore and he stopped to chat with us. Notes were compared and the news of fish caught or lost swapped. The dog seemed to be totally unimpressed with all this talk.
Lunch over we pushed back out on to the water once more. I changed the tail fly, substituting the Connemara Black for a Willie Gunn. Cast and retrieve, cast and retrieve….
When he came to the fly it was a carbon copy of Ben’s chance that morning. I lifted the line out of the water and was well into the back cast when the water boiled very close to the bow of the boat. It wasn’t a large salmon judging by the disturbance he left. Soon after we lost the wind and the lake surface became flat and useless for fishing. We fished on but the day petered out without further excitement.
So we had moved two fish to the flies between us. On another day one or both of them could have stuck and we would have repaired to Johnnies to celebrate, but not today. Salmon fishing is a tough sport on the mind. Confidence is everything, much more important than fly choice or the make of rod you use. Steely self-belief is you armour against misfortune. The first day of May reinforced this truth, testing our resolve. We will be back again soon.