Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

Tactics for Lough Beltra

It is just over a month until Lough Beltra opens (20th March to be exact) so I thought I would share some thoughts about tactics and tackle for this wonderful fishery. I fish it from the Glenisland Coop side, so I will restrict my comments to fishing from that side of the lake but as far as I know the same will hold true for the other side too.


Heading out on to the Lough

Let’s start with the basics, when will there be fresh fish in the lough? Geography comes into play here and specifically the Newport River which drains the lough and up which all the salmon and sea trout have to pass. The Newport river is not big but it is relatively deep in most parts, meaning that the fish can move upstream more easily than is sometimes appreciated. A small rise in the water level usually encourages fish into the system and with only 8 miles to travel fresh salmon can be in the lough a few hours after the spate. Beltra acts as a buffer for fresh water after rain so the river is not as ‘spatey’ as you might expect. By the start of the season in late March there will have been a few spates and fresh salmon will be in the lough. Maybe they won’t be there in great numbers but there will be a few. Each successive rise in the water should bring a few more fish to top up the stock and this pattern will continue through the spring months. March, April and May are usually the best months of the whole season.


Grilse begin to arrive in June with the sea trout coming in from July onwards. While there are fish in the lough until the last day of the season it is lightly fished after July unless there is a big spate. So from this you can see that Beltra is primarily a spring fishery.


Beltra sunset

Non-anglers will never understand why us fishers need so many different rods. We do tend to go overboard I guess, but the huge range of different scenarios we face do provide a degree of mitigation for our excesses. Lough Beltra is going to provide you with a challenge because it has been my experience that to be consistently successful on the lough in Spring you will need to use a sinking line and a heavy one at that.To put his into perspective, most loch/lough angling for salmon is a top-of-the-water game with relatively light, floating lines and smallish flies. I am thinking about AFTM#6 or 7 floaters and size 8 to 12 flies dibbling and bobbed through the waves. A raw April day on Beltra is no place for such pretty fishing. Instead, we use AFTM 8 or 9 full sinkers and a cast of 2 or even 3 meaty irons in sizes 4 down to 8. Add in the best conditions are a strong South Westerly wind whipping up a 3 or 4 foot wave and you can see that delicate tackle is not going to be up to the task in hand.


The prize, a fine March springer in the net before returning

Having established that heavy sinking lines are de-rigour for Spring time on the lough you now need to consider the rod required to lift and cast it all day. Many Beltra regulars avail of the power of a double-handed rod, between 12 and 13 feet in length. Rods which would not look out of place on the banks of the Dee or Spey can be seen in action here and they certainly are great weapons when lifting a heavy sinker out of the water in front of a fast drifting boat. They also keep the flies that little bit further away from you too which is no bad thing as size 4 salmon irons are not nice when they are whizzing around your head in a semi-gale. I personally have tried both single and double handed rods on Beltra and have settled on using a heavy single-handed rod over a double handed one. This is purely a personal choice and I would encourage first time anglers on the lough to bring both types of rod with them until they find which one suits them the best. I find casting with the double-hander from a boat uncomfortable and instead use a 10 footer with ‘a bit of backbone’ and the power to cast a 9/10 line. Think of the type of rods used to hurl big lures on the English reservoirs and you get the idea.

Let’s turn to the lines themselves now. As I said earlier, full sinkers are widely used and are very successful. Some anglers opt for sink-tips and these catch fish too. Then again I have seen full floaters used with 9 foot fast sinking tips added, and I must admit I have one of these spooled and ready for use on a spare reel. I would be lying if I said I knew exactly what the difference in depth these different set-ups can achieve. I suspect they all get the flies down to roughly the right depth. Ah, but what is the right depth I hear you say? I believe it doesn’t matter too much beyond the need to get below the surface of the water. All the salmon I have seen hooked on this type of set up take without showing, meaning they are at least a foot or so beneath the surface. They could be three or four feet down but it is hard to be exact due to the ever-changing dynamics of angle of line to drift of the boat + speed of drifting boat + rate of retrieve + sink rate of the line + height of wave + depth the fish is at + upwards movement of the fish to intercept the fly (I could go on). My point is that the salmon will take the fly as long as it is below the surface in the cold water during Spring.

Does this mean that you will never, ever catch a salmon during the Spring on Lough Beltra on a floater? No! Maybe you can. I just trust in my experience that sinkers are better. Look, once the water warms and we get into May/June a floater and smaller flies are both nicer to fish with and more productive, meaning you can scale down the rod and reel to match. But for the Springtime think big and strong and down below the surface. You wont go far wrong that way.


Golden Olive Shrimp

I have written before about fly patterns for the lough so I won’t bore you all by going over that again. As regards to lies, there are well-known spots where the salmon take up  residence and these are marked on the map. For those new to the lough I strongly suggest using the services of one of the excellent boatmen who will put you over fish. If you out on your own then simply stick to within 50 yards of the shore. Some spots you drift over hold fish and others don’t but the ‘hot spots’ are all close to each other so don’t waste time motoring around looking for fish, just drift along the shore as best you can in the prevailing winds. Beltra is a safe lough to fish with no hidden rocks to worry about. There is shallow water as you come out of the river mouth at the boathouse but no sharp rocks to damage the boat. Don’t drift too far out into the main body of the lough as it deepens quickly and the salmon prefer the shallows to the inky depths.


Heading home as the light fades. Ben Baines is at the helm.

The weather here in west changes very quickly so if the wind rises to gale force or drops to a zephyr leaving the surface glassy calm just motor ashore and take a break. The chances are the wind will change soon and fishing can resume. My final advice is to enjoy your day. Too often I see anglers becoming frustrated with a lack of success. Try to relax and soak up the amazing sights a day on Lough Beltra provide. A spring day spent fishing for salmon is something to enjoy, even if salar is uncooperative!

In summary:

  1. Fish the shallow water within 50 or 60 yards of the shore
  2. Use a heavy sinking line for spring fishing and switch to a floater from May onwards
  3. Flies in size 4 down to 8 tend to be productive but use whatever you are happy with
  4. Don’t waste time motoring around the lough, fish steadily and concentrate at all times
  5. Use a local boatman if possible
  6. Relax and enjoy you day


I will write a bit about boat handling and drifts on Lough Beltra in my next post.

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

Cure for a slipping drag

You know what I am like with reels. Of all my fishing gear it is the fly reels that I love the most. I own far too many and most of them see little use but I am still a sucker for a bargain reel. That’s why I bought a second hand System 2 a while back. I especially like the old System 2’s, made by Scientific Anglers, they are solid and dependable with excellent drags. I own a few of them and they have never let me down. Those of you who practice SWFF should think about hunting one down as they are salt water proof.



There was a problem with this 89M that I bought. Nothing serious, just a moment’s thoughtlessness by the previous owner which led to a useless drag. The System 2 sports a disc and caliper drag just like one you have on your car. Turning the screw on the back of the reel tightens the brake pads against the disc, providing wonderful fish-stopping drag. Except nothing much was happening when I turned the screw on this one. I left the reel out meaning to get to the bottom of the issue and it has been sitting on the sideboard since then. Until this afternoon.

I checked out reel today to see what the problem was. The drag mechanism is not overly complex and it quickly became apparent that everything was there and in good condition. Sometimes on hard used examples the drag pads can be worn out but they were like new on this one. In fact the whole reel looks like it was hardly used. Why was the drag so useless then?


The disc and caliper

The previous owner had taken care to lubricate his or her reel with oil. Very good, except he/she had also put oil on the disc and pads! No wonder the drag didn’t work (I guess on the upside it wasn’t going to rust!). Now, there are two ways of dealing with this problem. You can dismantle the drag and replace the pads with nice new ones and clean all traces of grease or oil from the disc. That works fine and if the pads are worn it is the best course of action. But in cases like this where the pads are in otherwise good condition there is another way to fix the reel.


The pads are like new

Let me be clear, this is not an instant fix, it takes a few applications but it does the job in the end. All you need is some lighter fuel (petrol, not gas) which you can pick up at any hardware store for a few cents.


First, remove the spool. I give the whole drag a rub with a brush to remove any grit in the area (an old toothbush does the job well). Simply squirt the lighter fuel on to the disc and pad and rotate the disc by hand to spread the fuel over the surface. Now rub off the fuel with a soft cloth. Repeat often. Any oil or grease will be embedded in the open structure of the brake pad and it takes time for it to be flushed out by the fuel, so it will take a few attempts to be rid of the lubricant. Be careful when applying the fuel so that it doesn’t get anywhere else other than on the pad and disc.


You will know when you have cleaned out the last of the oil by putting the spool back on and trying the drag. Even after the first cleaning it will probably be a bit better but keep going until the drag is functioning properly. This cure works for other similar reel drags too.

Just before I close, if you are hunting for a System 2 on the secondhand market remember that they came in two sizes. The ‘M’ models were smaller than the regular ones so make sure you are buying the want you want! Here are examples of two 89’s, the one on the left is the ‘M’ model.


I hope this has been helpful.


Fishing in Ireland, sea trout fishing

Worth a read

I found this online and think you should take a read. Sea trout are still under huge pressure due to the filthy business of salmon farming and these wonderful sporting fish are now extremely rare in most west coast rivers.

A great pool on the Bunowen

I fish the Bunowen sometimes, a classic spate river which should provide good sport after a spell of rain. I didn’t bother fishing it last season though as stocks of both salmon and sea trout were at an all time low. Locals who know every stone on the bottom of the river saw few fish and despite some perfect spates the fish simply did not appear. Until the fish farms are removed our sea trout will continue to suffer from sea lice attack. Eaten alive at sea they die before reaching the river. Those that do make it back to fresh water are lean and scarred, dreadfully weakened and susceptible to disease. The Irish government don’t want to hear about this, big business is never challenged in this country.

Looking dowmstream from below the weir'at carr's pool

I don’t know if I will bother fishing the Bunowen this coming season. I suspect there will be no sea trout again this year and it is depressing swinging flies through the runs and pools when they are devoid of life. only when the accursed cages with their filth and poison and lice are consigned to history will the silvery trout come back. We are a long, long way from that happy day……………….




Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trout fishing

Mayo game angling guide


a drift on Beltra

For those of you who are considering a trip to Co. Mayo for a bit of game fishing later this year there is a handy guide published by IFI. See this link:

Some of the information regarding which rivers are open for salmon angling is out of date so check before making final plans, but in general this is a useful guide for those not familiar with the area. Living here it is easy to forget just how fortunate we are with some much game angling on our doorstep. The quality of the fishing is a shadow of what it was 20 years ago but even still there are wonderful places to cast a line for trout and salmon.

4 lb grilse

With so much different game angling available it is a shame that many visitors tend to stick to fishing the big loughs, even when they are not producing good sport. Rivers around here are under-fished and those who enjoy dry fly and nymphing for wild browns on small waters will find excellent sport in Mayo.


I hope you find the IFI guide useful.

Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, salmon fishing, trout fishing

4 for the new season

I have been busy at the fly tying table again. With a bit of time on my hands this week I was able to spend some time immersed in fur and feather. Ever the optimist, I am hoping this year will be kinder to me and days on the water will be more frequent than in 2016. With that in mind I have been examining the fly boxes and filling the obvious gaps. You and I both know that I have too many flies as it is, but I always seem to find an excuse for some new patterns to try out on the unsuspecting fish. Let’s start with a very easy one.

  1. Plover and Peacock


I have not come across this pattern anywhere else but surely others have tied something very similar. Plover feathers are hard to come by these days as the poor wee birds are now quite scarce. Gone are the days when you came across them frequently on any upland moor. I am down to my last pair of wings now so I am only using the feathers sparingly. The combination of stripped peacock quill body and a couple of turns of one of those marvellously spangled Golden Plover hackles makes for a lovely subdued combination. Keep the dressing light, not more than a couple of turns of hackle. Untried as yet, this is one early in the season for river brownies. It will get a wetting on the Robe in April, swung gently down and across or flicked upstream into the tight wee pockets around the stones and limestone outcrops.

2. Bibio variant


Yes, I know that the last thing I need is another Bibio pattern. I have pearly ones, copper ones, green ones, ones tied with legs, some with tails and god knows how many other blooming Bibios. Serried ranks of them line my fly boxes and they get frequent use throughout the season. So why add to the confusion by introducing another one? It was the yellow tag that hooked me; in my imagination I could just see that dot of yellow glowing in a peaty loch and turning a trout’s head. This is not my pattern; I spotted it on a Twitter in a post by Connor McLennan. Standard Bibio dressing but with a fl. yellow butt wound at the bend and a browm partridge hackle at the throat. Looks nice, doesn’t it?

3. The Sooty Bumble


Nothing new here eh? Just your normal Sooty Bumble. Well yes and no! I love using Sooties in the spring, they seem to have the ability to produce fish like magic, in even the most challenging conditions. A size 12 sooty with a red rib is a frequent addition to my cast from March right through until the greendrakes start hatching. The bumble version is a good fly too but I always had reservations about the head hackle and figured it was needing something different. Inspiration came to me at the vice a couple of years ago and I used a ‘Mexican blue’ feather from the rump of a cock pheasant as a head hackle on an otherwise normal tie. The result is a very useful pattern, even if it does not exactly jump out at you in the box. the next time you are on a lough with dark buzzers hatching in a stiff wind give this lad a try.

4. Hairy Mary. Just the mention of this lady’s name evokes memories of tea-coloured rivers, sparkling grilse, damp Irish summers and bent rods. It is with great trepidation that I tinker with this iconic pattern but you see the blue hackle is a bit of a problem for me. I think that blue works well for very fresh fish but they tend to to off it very quickly. I have read this in many books and it does seem to be generally true to me. So what to do with the redoubtable Hairy Mary then?

I decided to replace the blue throat hackle with one of Golden Olive. This is not a colour you see used too often on salmon flies but it looks fabulous in the water, seeming to glow in the peat stained waters of the west. The shade of golden olive I want is a rich, deep olive, not too pale and watery. And I’ve tied it long in fibre so there is plenty of movement. So far this one is untried and may be a complete disaster but I like the look of it and have high hopes. Oh for a wet summer!


Fishing in Ireland, trolling

End of the trail(er)

The boat came with a trailer you see. It was part of the deal when I bought it second-hand (or pre-loved or whatever they say these days) but it was far from ideal for the job. It was one of those boat trailers fashioned in someone’s shed buy an enthusiastic welder from bits of mild steel channel and box section. Over the years I only used it a couple of times to move the boat from one lough to another but otherwise it lay in splendid isolation in the yard. This week that peace was rudely broken. It was time to divest myself of the whole shebang, the trailer had to go.


Tools were gathered, gloves and eye protection dug out out the darkest recesses of the shed and copious quantities of WD40 unearthed then loaded into the car for the short journey to the yard. The idea was to cut the trailer up into three parts which could then be moved around with ease. A local scrap dealer would take the remains off my hands. All I had to do was chop the steel up.


An angle grinder made short work of the 25mm box sections but the heavy central channel was a tougher nut to crack. Discs burned out rapidly and new supplies were hastily purchased. Sweat dripped, curses flew and the grinder grew hotter and hotter. Eventually, the tail end was sufficiently weakened to bend it until it snapped off. Phew!


back part cut off


Getting there…………

Closer inspection of the winch showed that while there was some surface rust the unit was basically in good condition, so I unbolted it from the frame and took it away to be fully reconditioned. The same went for the hitch mechanism but it was well rusted in place and some mighty effort was required to shift it. The 19mm bolts had been there for years in all weathers and needed a lot of ‘persuasion’ before they could be unscrewed.


Hitch in pretty good shape.

Chopping off the front end was even harder than the last part. To stiffen the trailer additional box section had been welded underneath meaning even more cutting, swearing etc. I would hate to have to work as hard as this every day! At last the final cut was made and the main channel gave way under pressure, reducing the whole trailer to three roughly similar sized chunks.

I’m glad that job was finally carried out, it had been talked about for a few years now but somehow I never got around to doing it. There was no sentimentality attached to the trailer, I hardly ever used it. No memories of successful days or bitter disappointments were attached to its rusting hulk. It was just a sad looking old fossil of a trailer, like hundreds of others lying abandoned in backyards or on the shores of loughs across land. I am glad it is gone now, one less piece of clutter in my life.