Fishing in Ireland, Uncategorized

Musings

Leaving for work every Monday morning at the same time means I can see the days lengthening. Only a couple of weeks ago backed out of the driveway in pitch blackness which persisted until I was fully half way across Ireland. This Monday there was a paleness in the eastern sky as I crossed into Roscommon and by the time Athlone was behind me and I was speeding along the west bound lanes of the M6 the sky was light. Spring is coming; it is far in the distance yet but you can feel it edging closer.

The weather has been wet lately but no worse than we normally experience in the West of Ireland in January. All the rivers are full and some are slopping over their banks, oozing into the adjacent fields. Migratory swans are enjoying the wetlands, a welcome sight against an otherwise dreary background of dun-coloured earth and shimmering water. Crows seem to fill the sky at times, wheeling and cawing as if they enjoy this cold weather. And all the while, deep in turbid, boisterous flows, the fish wait for warmer conditions. Cold eyes, slowly rotating fins. Lethargic. Just waiting………….

Food supplies on the rivers must be tight but those fish who live in the loughs have an all-together easier passage through the wintertime. The great limestone lakes of the west are alkaline, and they support huge numbers of freshwater shrimps and hog louse. These highly nutritious snacks are hoovered up in immense quantities by the fish, allowing them to maintain condition through the short days of winter. Come the start of the season we fly fishers will reach for fiery browns and golden olives, both of which are good imitations of the louse and the shrimp. Our angling cousins in England and Scotland use excellent close copies of the crustaceans, but the style of fishing over there is very different to our lough style, plonking heavily weighted but perfect imitations in front of discerning rainbows is a different sport to short lining from a boat over wild brownies in a force six.

 

Sad news

It is sad to see Duffy’s of Headford have closed down after 60 years in business. I relied on them to keep my old Johnson motors running and the shop was always a hub of gossip for fishers, local and visitor alike. I popped in as I was passing last weekend but the shelves had been cleared and only a couple of local guys were picking over the bones of the stock before the front door slams shut for good. In this age of the internet I can only imagine how hard it must be to keep a small hardware shop open in a county town. It will be sorely missed.

 

 

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Cheeky Dabblers

There is always room in my box for a few more Dabblers. When I run out of ideas on the lough I often reach for an intermediate line, find some shallow water and tie on a couple of Dabblers. Over the years since Donal invented the original every fly tyer has meddled with the basic pattern and there is now a plethora of variants to choose from.

The claret dabbler is possibly the most effective all round pattern of the tribe. Early season, fished deep, it can winkle out trout in just about any conditions. Later,  during the mayfly it works well before the main hatch starts. In bigger sizes it is also effective for salmon on loughs like Carrowmore.

fire orange 8/0

Some claret dabblers can be a bit dull and lifeless, so I decided to add a couple of cheeks to this one. This is not a new idea and you can see similar patterns in shops everywhere these days. For the cheeks I used goose biots dyed sunburst. I got these particular ones from Cockshill

The rest of the dressing is pretty much bog-standard:

Tying silk: I used fire orange 8/0

Tails: Cock pheasant tail fibres, dyed claret

Body: Seal’s fur dyed bright claret

Rib: fine oval gold tinsel

Body Hackle: claret cock, palmered

Throat hackle: A long-fibred cock hackle dyed claret

Cloak: bronze mallard

Cheeks: one dyed goose biot each side of the fly

the finished fly

While I was at the vice I decided to make some olive dabblers too and give them the cheek treatment.

 

Tying silk: olive 8/0

Tails: cock pheasant tail fibres, dyed green

Body: Dubbed olive UV- ice dub (I used some made by Hends)

Rib: 1/0 fl. thread, yellow

Body hackle: Grizzle cock, dyed olive and palmered

Throat hackle: A long-fibred cock hackle dyed a bluey-green shade. This is a difficult shade to describe and the photo does not give you the right colour. Both the photos below are of the same cape, the shade varies so much in different light.

Cloak: bronze mallard

Cheeks: one dyed goose biot, dyed sunburst, on each side of the fly

I’ll post some more patterns soon.

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salmon fishing

Toby, Sinky and the net

Not really about fishing at all, but I thought this tale of modern life was worth the telling……….

ABU Toby, this one is the copper K version

eBay is great, isn’t it! Any old tat turns up on it and if you are like me then simply trolling through the various categories is entertaining enough without even making a purchase. There are bargains galore and rip offs in equal quantity. While I have personally never made any large purchases on eBay, I do enjoy perusing it for old lures. Not your collectable stuff now (way too expensive for a poverty-stricken angler like me), just old fashioned work-a-day lures that I have used for all my angling life.

I have this theory which may or may not hold water. Old ABU lures are better at catching fish than the new ones (sorry ABU Garcia). The exact reasoning for my long and dearly held suspicions lacks any scientific basis, so this remains very firmly in the realm of theoretical hypothesis. The modern lures don’t feel right to me somehow. They appear to me to be manufactured from cheap alloys and their action in the water does not seem to me to be so energetic. I am not alone is this view and I know other anglers who share my ill-defined beliefs when it comes to comparing Scandinavian and far eastern metalwork. Of course, a happy hunting ground on the net for original Swedish ABU lures is eBay. That is where this modern day tale starts………

18gm Gold Toby in good condition. I don’t like the silver hook though so I will change that

I was at it again you see. In a hotel room after work with time on my hands and a good internet connection. eBay beckoned and I started clicking through the fishing lures on offer. Rare! Vintage! Very Scarce!!! All the usual sales techniques were being fully deployed to ensnare the unwary. Toby’s which on closer inspection turned out to be Shanny’s (a copy made in the Far East for Woolworths), ‘Vintage’ devons at eye-watering prices which you can still buy new online for a few bob,  Rapalas with wonky diving vanes and a host of boxes containing varying amounts of angling rubbish. In amongst this piscatorial flotsam and jetsam there were some gems and I latched on to a box of old lures which were reasonably priced. A few clicks with the mouse and I was done. I would have forgotten about the old box I had bid on but eBay kindly sends you reminders to keep old duffers like me to keep me on the ball. To cut to the chase, I won the auction!

My prize consisted of a grand total of 16 old ABU spoons contained in a neat little bronze coloured plastic box with a clear lid and internal divisions. Most were Toby’s but there were also a couple of old ‘Salar’ spoons too. I must confess that I was pretty chuffed at acquiring this bargain, even if a couple of the spoons were ones I already had in my box. For whatever reason there is a glut of Zebra coloured Toby’s out there and I have enough of that pattern to last me several lifetimes. Then again, that grand old angler, George Gordon swore by an 18 gram Zebra Toby and did great execution with it back in the day on the Mugiemoss beat of the Don. Here is a photo of George with his best ever salmon, a whopping great 35 pounder!

And here is where this everyday tale of modern shopping takes a funny turn. When paying for my newly purchased trove I noticed the name of the seller ‘denisthefish’ and his address – Aberdeen. A couple of emails soon established the truth, ‘denisthefish’ was none other than Sinky Sinclair! Long, long ago I used to work and fish with Denis ‘Sinky’ Sinclair. I left Aberdeen in my twenties, never to return and lost touch with most of my friends and workmates up there. Yet, after all these years here I was, back in touch with the bold Sinky. Denis, now in his seventies, still fishes the lower Don but he tells me the fishing is but a shadow of what it used to be. He only managed to catch two salmon last season on beats where we would have previously classed two fish in a day as a reasonable outing.

The lower beats of the river Don in Aberdeenshire have waxed and wained as salmon fisheries over the years. The waters of the Don were harnessed to provide power and process water for a large number of mills, leaving the river scarred and altered to meet the needs of the industrialists. The salmon dwindled in numbers to the point where the only way fish could survive was to run through the lower beats during high water. The river became little more than an open sewer for many years. Yet, somehow the fish kept returning to spawn and by the seventies new environmental legislation began to force the mills and utilities to add better waste treatment plants. Amazingly, the river healed itself, spates scoured the filth accumulated over centuries from the bottom. Weed growth returned and with it the invertebrate life to support trout and young salmon. Salmon numbers surged and the seventies saw some spectacular angling on the lower beats. As I worked in the papermills during that time I had access to a couple of beats which produced memorable days fishing. One of those beats was at the back of Donside, where Sinky and I searched the depths of the pools with minnows and spoons. The mills have gone now, replaced with smart new houses. All just a memory now.

The Millionair’s pool on the Mugiemoss beat

The Saugh pool with Mugiemoss mills on the opposite bank

The wee bronze coloured box and its contents duly arrived. I was delighted with them but even more pleased to have been in touch with Sinky again. It just shows how interconnected we in the western world are to each other. You can bet that when I tie on one of those spoons and drag it through the waters of Lough Conn this season my thoughts will drift back to those halcyon days when me and Sinky used to fish at the back of the mill.

Nether Don and St. Macher's cathedral

Nether Don and St. Macher’s cathedral

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Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing, wetfly

A beginner’s guide to trouting in Mayo

First I have to say a heart-felt ‘thank you’ to all of you who read my ramblings on this blog. I guess I must infuriate some of you as I roam across a vast swathe of different angling genres, never settling on just salmon fishing or fly tying. I jump around from topic to topic as the fancy takes me, perhaps an insight into my disturbed mind and legendary short attention span. Today I am wandering off down another path, this time to offer some thoughts to those of you who are new to fly fishing for trout and live or are planning on visiting County Mayo.

Nice, streamy water on the Robe at Hollymount

I can still recall my early attempts to catch trout on the fly. The sheer impossibility of hooking and landing one dwarfed all my efforts. There was so much to remember from the books I was reading. So much I had to learn about the fish, what they ate, how to cast, what gear to use. The list was endless and the job in hand assumed Herculean proportions. I honestly believe learning to do anything is so much easier these days, what with the internet and access to all manner of knowledge, but still catching those first trout can be tough for a newcomer. Let’s see if I can help you to cut some corners.

Here is a nice pool with some quicker water which can be accessed from the other bank

  1. This is the golden rule which you must always remember! You can only catch fish if they are there in the first place. Sounds very simple but there is more to this statement than meets the eye. You see wild brown trout inhabit most of the rivers loughs and streams in Mayo but some places have more than others. Let’s take the River Robe as an example. Books and websites galore will tell you that the River Robe is an excellent river for trout fishing. This is a true statement but for the beginner this is simply not precise enough. You could waste hours casting into parts of the Robe which hold very limited stocks of trout while a mile up river there are plenty of the spotty wonders. As a beginner to fly fishing you need to find some streamy water. Avoid smooth, flat water. Avoid very deep, slow moving water. Find some ‘runs’ or ‘riffles’ as we fishermen call them. Why? Because that is the kind of water trout like to feed in. As you gain experience and knowledge you can explore the deep, slow stretches with different methods but for a start stick to streamy runs. To be even more specific, the runs and pools around Hollymount offer some superb trout water for any new angler to hone their skills.

A succession of pools and runs on the Robe, perfect trout water for the beginner

2. Following on from step 1 (and closely related) is know when to go fishing. If I had to choose the best time to start learning to fly fish in Mayo I would plump for April or May, between the hours of 11am and 3pm. Sure, you can catch fish outside those times but here I am talking about giving yourself the best bet of connecting with some trout. The spring months see the water temperature rise which in turn triggers the small water bourn insects to be more active. This increase in food supply awakens the trout and they become much more active. As a general comment the trout are active in the middle of the day early in the season and again towards the end in September. During the summer months the best of the fishing is often in the evening just as the sun sets or again at sunrise. 

a small trout caught one spring day on the Robe

3. OK, so you have sold your soul to get a day off and you are now standing on the bank of the Robe around lunchtime one day in late April. What do you do now? Get you tackle sorted out, and assembled and then have a good look around you. Don’t rush into the river flailing around like a lunatic, take some time to absorb what is going on around you. A lot of people remark on how little time I actually spend fishing as opposed to watching the world around me. This is because I am looking for clues as to the particular dietary requirements of the fish at that time. Trust me, time spent observing the natural world is time well spent. Some things are obvious such a big, splashy rise of a fish or a few mayflys floating down the river. I note the wind direction, strength and its effects of the surface of the river. I look around the banks in case there are insects there which could fall into the river, I look at the level of the water and how that effects potential spots for fish to lie. Is the sun shining on the water, if so are there areas which are shaded? Just take a few minutes to look at the clues which are all around you and then decide what to try first.

An Iron Blue Dun, easy to miss these on the water as they are so small but the trout love ’em!

4. We will continue with this mythical day and let’s presume there are no clues that you can see. The more experienced you become the easier it is to spot the smaller details but we will go along with the idea that there are no flies to be seen, the river is completely quiet with no signs of any fish and the wind/air/sun are all within normal parameters. Now what! No need for despair, you turn to a general pattern to search the water with.When I go trout fishing I bring hundreds of flies with me. I love making flies and then trying them out so I don’t mind my pockets bulging with boxes full of weird and wonderful tyings. As a beginner though this will lead to confusion and reduce your chances of catching trout. For Spring fishing on the Robe all you need for a start is:

Partridge and Orange

Plover and Hare’s ear

Beaded Pheasant tail

Buy (or better still learn to make) some of these three patterns. They will serve you well. All of these are fished wet. You can worry about dry fly fishing once you have mastered the basic with the wet fly.

  1. What about the gear I require? Pretty much any basic fly fishing outfit with a rod between 7 and 10 feet in length, a fly reel to match and a forward tapered floating fly line (the rod will be ‘rated’ for a given line size. Something around AFTM 5 or 6 is a good starting point for beginners). The leader is the fine line attached to the end of the heavy fly line and you want this to end in a piece of nylon of 3 or 4 pounds breaking strain. There are clearer, finer and stronger materials for making leaders out of but stick to nylon for a start, it is much more forgiving of bad casting and other general abuse.

6. How many flies do I tie on my leader? ONE. I will say this again ONE. ONLY FISH WITH ONE FLY UNTIL YOU HAVE GAINED SOME EXPERIENCE. One of the great frustrations of our sport is tangles. We all suffer them but when you are learning you tangle your line a lot. Trying to cast and fish with more than one fly when you are only learning invites a world of hurt. Stick to one fly and the whole process becomes that bit easier.

nice water on the Robe

A nice water on the Robe. I have caught dozens of trout from this run.

7. All ready? Now you can begin casting. Fishing by casting facing upstream is a magical way of catching trout, it is also damn hard to do! So, for the tyro it is better to cast across the current and let the fly swing across and down. You can add some movement to the fly if you want, gently jiggling of the rod may help to fool a fish some believe. Don’t try to cast long lines, on a river like the Robe a 5 yard cast will put your fly over trout. Move slowly downstream, covering the water with successive casts. Relax, enjoy the feeling of the water around your feet, the fresh spring air in your lungs, the birdsong, the gentle rhythm of your casting. Ease yourself into the natural world again.

A beautifully marked trout about to go back

8. Sooner or later it will happen, maybe on the first cast or on the one hundredth. That electrifying tug on the line that signals a trout has snapped at your fly! The chances are you will not hook it. Why am I so pessimistic? You see you fly is winging down the river and the trout is probably facing upstream. When it grabs the fly it normally turns back downstream again. A high proportion of trout hooked when fishing downstream simply tug on the fly without being hooked at all. Don’t be deflated by this minor irritation, keep casting and searching the water for the next lad.

9. Change the fly if you are not having any luck but avoid stopping every 5 minutes to tie on another pattern. Keep a look out for insects on the water, in springtime they can appear suddenly. Sometimes even a small hatch of flies can bring the trout on the feed.

10. When you do hook a trout try not to panic. Remain as calm as possible and guide the fish towards you. Most trout will be between 6 and 10 inches in length and so easy to bring to the hand but some very large trout live in the Robe so if you hook one of these monsters you need to let it run when it wants to start with and only when it begins to tire you can reel it towards you. While the rules and regulations allow you to keep some trout I urge you to release them again. A quick photo and then pop the fish gently back into the water.

The reason I am being so exact in my wording today is that I want you to catch some trout. Failure to catch a fish is common for us all but when you are new to the sport the feeling of that fish on the end of the line is what you yearn for. Success breeds success and you will learn to love your days on the river for more than just the catch, but catching is important at the outset. Spring days on the Robe in Mayo are a wonderful experience for all anglers, but it is a perfect place for beginners to take their first faltering steps towards joining the ranks of us afflicted souls – dedicated trout fishers.

They can’t all be monsters!

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