A chilly wind is scattering the last of the leaves in the garden and the daylight rapidly fades to an inky blackness. Winter nights can be so depressing, can’t they? To cheer myself up I’ve been thinking about the coming trout season and places where I will ply the gentle art. One place where I am seriously considering is the rarely fished Manulla River here in Mayo.
The Manulla is a small stream but one which holds a good head of wild brownies. Access is pretty good with entry points at the usual bridges. Why then is it so rarely fished? The answer can be summed up in one word – trees. Big, tightly spaced hardwoods line both banks of the river making casting an impossibility for much of its course. Alders, willows and whitethorn make up the bulk of the cover but there are oaks and sycamore plus a full range of smaller species to fill in any gaps. Fishing the Manulla is more like jungle warfare than a peaceful pastime. So why am I even contemplating risking my sanity by attempting to fly fish this water? Let me explain…………
Due to the extreme difficulty in accessing the river the angling pressure on the Manulla has been virtually nil over the years. The meetings pool where it joins the Castlebar river gets a few wormers and I have seen some kids chucking spinners in at the N60 bridge, but apart from that the river is largely ignored by anglers. To me that spells the opportunity for trout to grow unmolested to a reasonable size and worthy of some effort to winkle them out. Of course there are going to be huge challenges but I firmly believe there are good trout to be caught with some perseverance.
Timing is going to be important as I will need low water to be able to fish. Low levels will allow me to get into the river and wade. This alone will be exciting as the river is narrow but deep and I can foresee some mishaps and wet feet as I explore the various pools under the canopy. Some stretches are just too deep to wade and so I may have to resort to poking the rod through the vegetation and ‘dibbling’ the fly over the fish.
Further up river, beyond Belcarra, there are some open stretches of water where the OPW in their thoughtfulness dredged the river back in the 1960’s. Here it looks more like a canal and the numbers of trout are much lower than downstream. As with all of this type of water the fishing is tough. High banks (10 to 20 feet above the surface of the water) and no cover for the fish in the river mean they are well nigh impossible to approach from the bank. Once again, chest waders and an iron nerve are required as you slither into the deep water and work your way upstream, casting ahead with nymph or dry fly.
The usual array of heavily weighted nymphs are going to be my mainstay when it comes to fly selection during the day, but the evenings will present the best chance of a fish and that’s when I will turn to the dry fly. The Manulla gets impressive hatches of sedges and a well placed G&H dragged over a riser will be my preferred tactic as the sun sets. there are other, similar streams in the immediate area. The Gweestion. Pollagh, Glore and a handful of others can all produce a trout or two to the persistent angler but I am going to persevere on the Manulla in 2017.