It’s all over for 2017 and I am stuck in another hotel room a long way from home, thinking about next season already. It is a nice hotel, comfortable and warm with an excellent menu in the restaurant downstairs. However, it is not home and so it pales when measured against my abode in the west. I’m lucky in that I don’t suffer from loneliness or sink into morbid thoughts when separated from loved ones, instead I use my time to reflect and think about the future. I don’t usually overthink my fishing trips but, maybe on the back of a poor season, I have been contemplating my options for 2018 in an unusual level of detail. Everything will depend on how the gods of work treat me, too little and I will have lots of time but no money while too much work will keep me away from home and with no time to go fishing. I need to jot down where i want to go. I need to write a list!
I guess my train of thought is neatly divided along geographical lines. Irish angling will obviously be uppermost in any plans but I’m going to wet a line in Scotland too. So let’s take a look at the possibilities which I currently have under review.
Angling for salmon starts early over here with a handful of rivers opening on 1st January. The Drowes is close by, only a bit over an hour’s drive from home. The opening week sees large numbers of fishers descending on this river in an attempt to catch the first salmon of the season. Crowded banks are not my idea of fun but I may just venture up there for a change of scene. Much of the fishing is worming or spinning but there are some nice stretches for the fly and I like the idea of clearing away the cobwebs and casting an early line there.
The River Robe failed to produce the goods last Spring but horrendously low water levels ruined any chances of success. Undeterred, I will return to the banks around Claremorris in March and April when the stoneflies and olives should be hatching. Daffodils and bird song, the greening grass in the fields, the nip still in the air that turns your breath to silver in the early morning all combine to form the unmistakable feeling that winter is over and spring has arrived. The excitement of those initial casts, those first tugs of a small trout as the team of spiders swing in the current, sloshing though the shallows to cross at a ford, munching a sandwich with the sun on your face – all the immensely enjoyable minutia of a day on an Irish river. Happiness!
If time allows I want to go back to Scotland in April. The fourth month of the year was always a lucky one for me for both trout and salmon. I cannot recall the last time I cast a line in Scotland during the month of April, 1996 seems to be most likely but I can’t honestly say it was with any sense of certainty. It was a heck of a long time ago anyway! If there has been some rain there should be a few salmon in the middle beats of the Aberdeenshire Don and even if it has been dry the trout will be feeding hard in anything but an east wind. The beats around Alford offer some wonderful fly water and if time allows I’d love to squeeze in a long weekend tramping the banks of the river where I learned to fish.
I’ve not fished the mayfly properly for a couple of seasons now. I used to adore Lough Carra when the greendrakes were hatching but those days are firmly in the past now. Carra has not fished well for many seasons, despite some very good anglers giving a nostalgic try every year. The quantity of fly life has diminished alarmingly. Trout need to compete with the gulls for even hatching olives, let alone mayflies. Any trout still living in the lake keep their heads well down and those lovely, long rolling waves that you get on a windy day above on Carra still don’t attract the fish to the surface. I seriously doubt if I will bother with Carra next season unless the local ‘jungle drums’ tell me it has turned the corner.
Most anglers would plump for the mighty Corrib for mayfly fishing but for me that hallowed water is principally a dapper’s paradise. I used to keep a boat in Salthouse bay at the northern end of the Corrib and learned to find my way around that part of the lake. I caught some nice trout on wets and dries but the real leviathans succumbed to other anglers using dapped naturals. I can’t explain why I don’t dap. I know how to do it, where and when to do it and yet I don’t bother. The dapping rod, reel and thick, unruly floss line, the wooden live bait box and even the little scoop for netting live flies from the surface for bait all nestle in a corner of the room, unloved and unused. Barring some sort of ‘road to Damascus’ moment I doubt if I’ll dap this coming season.
So for me it will be lough Mask for the mayfly. It will feel as if I am being unfaithful to my first love, Lough Conn, but Mask is a terrific fishery and I have missed drifting the shallows in a brisk wind. I lived in Ballinrobe when I returned to Ireland and spent many happy hours getting to know where (and where not) you can motor and drift. The boat picked up a few scars after encounters with unseen rocks but the rewards were many. These days much of the fishing on Mask is carried out over the deeps, pulling a team of wets on sinking lines. I’m not a fan of this type of fishing, effective though it undoubtedly is. I find it very hard to justify this disinterest as it looks to the untrained eye very similar to salmon fishing – combing the water with sinking lines and a team of flies. No signs of fish, just the rolling waves and the rhythm of casting. I love days like that on the salmon loughs but quickly succumb to boredom if the speckled lads are my quarry. So I must make time in late May or early June to fish the Mask, drifting the craggy shallows of the Rocky Shore or around the islands.
At some point during the summer I want to take the road south and motor down to the Kingdom of Kerry. Many, many years ago I fished down that way and it would be nice to try my luck in the salty waters around Dingle again. The only trouble is the holidaymakers are there in droves during the summer months and accommodation is hard to find and damn expensive when you do locate a B&B. Who knows, maybe I’ll camp instead, just like I did all those years ago when I rode a motorbike from Aberdeen to Fenit, pitched the tent near the pier and caught a bass on the second cast! There used to be some good Wrasse fishing from the shore too as I recall. That sport has completely changed nowadays with the advent of LRF.
When I practised wrasse fishing it was with a sliding float and lugworm for bait. I tried all kinds of other baits, especially crab which seemed to be the most logical choice, but lugworm out-fished everything else for me and the sight of the float disappearing into the depths as another big Ballan swallowed the hook was always a huge thrill. Yes, Kerry would be nice for a change of scene.
I love the autumn. It is by far my favourite season. I am keen on returning to Scotland again to try for a late season salmon on one of the smaller back end rivers. Finding reasonable and affordable water on the Tweed or Tay is difficult but the Deveron used to see good autumn runs and rods were often available without having to win the lottery. So next October I am planning on a short trip to the Turriff area to try for a big back-ender. Many years ago I lost a huge salmon further upstream on the Huntly water. That brute turned and ran down through three pools before the hook pulled out. It was the last of three fish I had on in the space of a few hours and none of them made it to the bank. Sometimes it’s just not your day. I find the Deveron is a nice size, not too poky and yet not overly large and intimidating. Getting back to Scotland twice in one year is very definitely pushing my luck but this is a wish list so October on the Deveron has been pencilled in.
2017 was an unmitigated angling disaster for me, mainly because work got in the way of time off. It was a poor season for many and maybe I didn’t miss much but I would rather have a poor day on the riverbank than a good day at work. So there is my wish list, I will review it in 12 month’s time see what I did and did not manage to achieve.