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.
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.