Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Sooty Olive

Picture the scene if you will; it’s early season on the Western lakes and the urge to fish has brought you to the shores of Lough Mask. Still too early for the gorse to bloom, everywhere in sight is coloured in sombre duns and greys. That joyous rush of prescient life, that hope and expectation of each new spring is still somewhere over the horizon. For now there is cold and rawness to battle, numb handed clumsiness on unfriendly waves to counter with layers of new-fangled, hi-tech clothing. No fish to be seen or flies hatching amid the acres of island strewn water to feed hopes of action. This is not fishing for the faint of heart but rather those of stoic resolution and sometimes just sheer bloody-mindedness.

Rod and reel assembled, line threaded with pale, unfeeling fingers and leader tied and tested, now you are faced with the big decision – what flies to tie on the end. Some fishers agonise over the choice of fly at this time of year but I am not one of them. Long ago I freed myself from the mental torture and physical handwringing when faced with the selection of flies for early season work. I stick to 4 patterns as a rule, swapping them around different positions on the leader if I want something to do but rarely, if ever, resorting to rummaging in the box for alternatives.

Today I am going to discuss that mainstay of early season trouting in Ireland, the Sooty Olive. For some inexplicable reason this pattern does not seem to have travelled well and is little used beyond Erin’s shores. Why? It is easy to tie and is effective at times when the fish can be hard to catch. It is probably taken for a number of different food items which scurry and crawl on or near the lake bottom but the general consensus is that the trout mistake it for a buzzer.

What colour is Sooty Olive? Ask a dozen different anglers that question and you will get a dozen different answers! To me it is a dark, brownish olive. Others will say it is a very dark olive while some avow it is the darkest shade of green olive. Some tyers mix some black fur in with dark olive to get the shade they require. If you want an easy way of solving this riddle then purchase some of Frankie McPhillips pre-mixed Sooty Olive fur. That narrows it down to just two shades and I prefer the darker one.

You can buy the pre-mixed dubbing in individual packs or as part of a dozen different Irish dubbing colours

As to the pattern itself, well here again there are a number of different claimants for the crown. For me the basic wet fly consists of sooty olive fur body ribbed with fine oval gold tinsel. The tail is formed of a few strands of Golden Pheasant tippet and the hackle is either a black hen hackle or one dyed sooty olive. Wings are always bronze mallard (probably the only thing our mythical 12 anglers would agree upon).

Adding a red fur section before the hackle is tied in makes a useful variant. Swapping the gold rib out for one of copper wire is also popular. I have seen a glo-brite no. 4 tag and rib added too.  Dying the tippets red or orange is favoured by some.

I carry Sooty’s in a wide range of sizes, all the way from 8’s right down to teeny weeny 14’s. Here is how to tie this great lough fly.

Use black tying silk

Tie in a hen hackle of the colour you want to use – here I am making the fly with a natural black one

catch in tippets and some fine gold wire as you run the silk to the bend

Dub the fur on to the silk and wind it back to where the hackle was tied in. Rib in open turns with the oval gold and snip off the waste end

Wind the hen hackle – about three turns. Tie in and remove the waste

The only tricky part is forming the wings with paired slips of bronze mallard. Form a neat head and whip finish

Dabbler versions of the Sooty are also in legion. I’ll save those for another day!

Anyone guess what my other 3 early season patterns are?

Fishing in Ireland, Pike, trolling

Remembering Bilberry Lake

Years ago I used to fish Bilberry Lake, half way between Castlebar and Westport. At the time this was a stocked trout fishery and the fishing is looked after by the Bilberry Angling Club. Membership was comprised mainly locals from Islandeady who did a small bit of fishing with a sprinkling of more experienced anglers. Having served on the committee of the club in the past I can vouch for the hard work and ‘never say die’ attitude of that angling club. Bilberry Lake has very limited spawning sites, just a few small streams, certainly not enough to support a viable head of trout in the lake. So the club used to get the fisheries board to stock it with brownies ever season. When this supply source of fish dried up due to the hatchery being closed Bilberry could no longer function as a trout fishery.

looking towards the reek

looking across Bilberry Lake towards the distant reek

The lake is shallow and surrounded by rich farmland, so the nutrient loaded waters rapidly weed up in the summer. Every summer the club put huge efforts into weed cutting, just to keep the lake fishable. A major competition for the McConnville Cup was organised every July which rivalled some of the bigger and more prestigious waters in terms of attendance and prizes. Fund raising, boats/engines, re-stocking, traffic management, prizes, and all the hundreds of other details were carefully worked out and every effort was made to make the three days a success. I understand the McConnville cup is still fished every July but it is held on Lough Mask these days

pumphouse shore

Autumn, trolling along the pumphouse shore

Bilberry was unlike the big lakes in almost every way and was much closer to an English stocked fishery in character. It was stocked solely with Brown Trout and they varied in size from 12 inches up to a couple of pounds with a small number overwintering and growing to a decent size. There are also a tiny number of native trout too.

reeds at the mouth of the river

reeds at the mouth of the river which links Bilberry to Lough Lannagh

Other scaly inhabitants are pike and perch. You would think that the pike would grow large in Bilberry, given that for years the angling club thoughtfully supplied them with free dinners by stocking the lake, but I haven’t seen any pike over 20 pounds caught there. What they lack in size they make up for in numbers and the lake simply teems with small pike in the 2 – 5 pound range.

So now that the trout have gone where do you fish on Bilberry Lake for Pike? The fish seem to hold in specific areas so it pays to give these particular attention. Looking out from the slipway near the graveyard the opposite shore is a great spot for a pike. A wind which favours that short section of shore will often produce some action. I find the main body of open water is a bit hit and miss but anywhere close to the reeds can give up a pike by quietly working your lure as close to the vegetation as you dare. Hayes’s Bay is a small, shallow bay which always holds a stock of small jacks. Again, a quiet approach pays dividends.

There is deep water just outside Hayes’s Bay but working around the corner brings you to ‘the pins’ a line of marker rods in a line which warn of a very shallow reef. This is a reliable area in any wind.

From the pins the lake stretches off into the distance and trolling plugs or spoons can give you a chance of a fish anywhere here. The shore then turns sharply round a point and into MacDonald’s Bay. I found the pike scarce in this bay but any I met were usually of a good size. Coming back out of MacDonald’s bay the shore runs down to the Pumphouse, a handy place to fish if nothing much is happening elsewhere.

For me, the hotspot for pike was all the way along from the German shore right up to the graveyard. I have seen large numbers of pike boated here, nothing too big mind, but the smaller fish seem to like lying between 5 and 50 yards right along that shoreline.

German shore

German shore

Near the pumphouse the river leaves Bilberry and flows down to Lough Lannagh. You can drive a boat along the short river and down into Lannagh where an even bigger population of small Pike can be found.

small pike nearly ready

small pike nearly ready for the net

The spoon that worked

…..and the spoon he took

I have never enjoyed deadbaiting for pike so I only use artificial lures or flies. Any of your favourite lures will catch fish but I found silver spoons very effective in the winter.

these Solvkroken were particularly good on Bilberry


Fishing in Ireland, Pike, trolling

Split-ring the Atom!

Edinburgh Angling Centre – worth a visit if you are in Auld Reekie

During my recent visit to Scotland I dropped in by the Edinburgh Angling Centre. Just like its counterpart in Glasgow, this is a jaw-dropping cornucopia of everything any angler could every want or need. While I loved every minute of browsing the aisles I did feel a bit of a dinosaur amid all the new-fangled gear. The Pike baits in particular left me feeling distinctly elderly. Spoons and plugs make up the vast majority of my pike baits but these days you can buy the most amazingly accurate artificial fish (if you have deep enough pockets that is). I bought the bits and pieces I required but exited the building like a man who had seen a vision of the future, one he did not really fit into. I only dabble in Pike fishing as something to do during the close season for game fish. I can’t for the life of me see my wallet opening and £30 or £40 being exchanged for one of these super-duper glide baits.

I used to like the old ABU Atom for pike fishing and I recently had to re-arm one which I had picked up cheap somewhere. It was one of the 2 hook design so I thought I’d show you how to re-equip this bait (without sticking a dirty great treble into yourself). These Atoms with two hooks were buggers for casting as the top treble would catch on the line with infuriating frequency, but they are fine for trolling.

All the old hooks and other gear were rotten so the first job was to remove and safely dispose of them. That left me with a bare spoon to work on.

all the rusty old fittings have been removed

The originals sported one split ring to hold the top hook but I prefer to fit two smaller split rings so the hook has freedom of movement. This is the most awkward job so I do this first.

2 small split rings for the top hook

Next you add the new split rings to the top and to the bottom of the spoon. Here I use slightly larger rings.

A barrel swivel goes on to the top split ring.

I like my Pike spoons to have a dash of red on them so I fit a small plastic Vee to the bottom split ring before adding the treble, in this case a size 4.

I keep a few of the red Vee’s in my box just for jobs like this

Fitting on the same split ring that the treble will go on to

Finally, add the top treble (same size or one size smaller than the tail treble). I cover the bottom treble with a plastic hook guard when putting on the top hook to save any accidents!

top treble added

There you go, a finished spoon. In a world of fancy thru-line, holographic printed 10 inch glide baits this old school spoon looks to be a very poor relation but it still catches Pike for me.

Ready for action


Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trout fishing

The wall

This is nothing to do with Trump’s madness.

Athletes talk of hitting ‘the wall’ and we anglers face a much less physical, but none the less real challenge too. It is not that our body’s become exhausted, rather it is our reasoning which reaches a limit and we simply can’t figure out what to do next. Here are some examples and possible strategies which just might help you.

  1. River fly fishing for wild brown trout

River trouting can be a challenge when no fish are showing

Confronted with a river apparently devoid of life we tend to adopt well defined processes to find fish. Firstly we gravitate to spots where we have had success before. Next we fish deep because we can’t see any fish near the surface. We swap nymphs and methods of presentation. If none of this works we hit a wall. We are doing everything right and yet the fish do not cooperate. What do you do next?

Firstly, I would try Klink and dink for a while. A large dry with a small nymph fished New Zealand style below it. This has worked for me in the past on days which were otherwise fishless. I look for streamy or pocket water and use a sedge pattern for the dry fly. Short drifts with constant casting to show the flies briefly then whip them away seems to work best.

Or you could try a streamer. We are pretty conservative here in Ireland when it comes to using streamers on rivers but they have a place in our armoury. Pretty much anything that looks like it could be a small fish will do the trick. Look for structures of some kind where trout can hide and work the streamer by casting across and down. An erratic retrieve is best in my opinion but try different methods till you find what the fish will respond to.

2. Evening rise, fish showing everywhere on the river but you can’t even get one of them!

The sun dips below the horizon and the trout are feeding, but what if you can’t get them to take?

We have all been there – the river is alive with rising trout but you can’t hook a single one of them. Time is always against you as the light fades. It can be incredibly hard to find out what the fish are taking. The chances are they are feeding on spinners but it could just as easily be small sedges, caenis, smuts or even midges.

If your favourite spinner imitations are not doing the business then change to a small sedge (size 14 at the most). If you still don’t move anything then consider going very small with something like a Griffiths Gnat on a size 18 or 20 hook. These wee flies are a fair representation of a number of the smaller insects and in the semi-darkness they can be really good – as long as you can see them! Short casts are the order of the day.

Still no joy? Swap to a biggish wet sedge and fish it down and across. This could easily bring you the biggest trout of the day.

3. Blank day on the lough with no trout in the boat

Out in the deeps on Lough Mask

Perceived wisdom these days is that you motor off into the deeps and fish a team of wets on a sinking line until you bump into a shoal of trout. It is hard to argue with the logic of doing exactly that, but the deeps can be just as frustrating as anywhere else on a dour day. Try different sinking line speeds to search different levels.

I have had success by carefully fishing the shallows, changing on to dries and fishing blind on difficult days. A mayfly and a sedge cast close to the shore, especially in the vicinity of some trees if possible, has worked for me before now.

4. Salmon fishing on the river, great conditions but no takers

Good water, why are they taking?

It happens. A perfect day, fresh fish showing but you can’t tempt one. What to try next? I suggest that if you have been flogging the water for a long time that you take a break and just take some time to simply watch what is going on. Think about how your fly is fishing and perhaps consider changing the depth you are fishing at by changing line or adding a sinking tip. Try to resit the temptation of swapping flies too often, select one or two patterns which you have confidence in and stick to them. Try backing up the pools instead of ‘normal’ casting. Fish until it gets dark – the last 30 minutes of light are usually the best period of the day

5. Dead low water

The Owenduff showing its bones

Low water daunts some fishers. With little flow to move the flies they struggle to find ways of moving grilse. Here are some possible strategies to consider when faced with summer lows.

We all accept that low water means small flies but how small can you go? The answer is very small indeed. Trout flies catch a lot of salmon every season so I carry some trout size 10’s and 12’s with me and tucked away in a corner a couple of tiny size 14 and 16 trout doubles. Use them carefully.

On the other hand salmon are funny creatures and something totally outrageous may bring a strike. A deep pool can be searched with a fierce big fly, something like a 2 inch tube for example. Don’t waste a lot of time with this tactic, if it is going to work it will happen quickly!

The main chances of a fish in very low water will occur at daybreak and again at sunset. try to arrange your fishing around these two times and it will pay of handsomely.

There you go, a few ideas to try out when all else fails and you hit the angling wall. Hope that helps a little!


Fishing in Ireland, Nymphs, trout fishing, wetfly

Rainy day on the Robe

Rain fell from the battleship grey skies, the day had been damp since early this morning. Leaden clouds poured pewter drops on me as I tackled up at the bridge across the river. Wet and cold before I even started, the day took a definite turn for the worse when I found there were no thick socks in the car. I normally have lots of pairs lurking in the back of the motor but I must have tidied them up at some point and now I was going to pay the price with cold feet while fishing. Note to self: Chaos is the natural order, DON’T tidy the car!

New sign, that wasn’t here last season!

A new sign has been erected by the Fisheries board at the bridge, giving some very basic information about catch limits, seasons etc.

General angling regs. for the river Robe

Across the way I spotted another new addition – a nice set of steps for access to the upstream part of the river. I have not fished this side of the river above the bridge as it used to be home to a particularly large black bull. Warning signs gave you notice not to enter the field but now the big lad was gone, perhaps to a new home or maybe he is now sausages on your breakfast plate. Anyway, the new ladder makes entry to the field and the river much easier and I look forward to giving that stretch a try out in May/June when good spinner fishing can be had on the weedy, slow-moving water there.

A grand new set of steps

Slow water above the bridge but it holds fish during the summer

The farmer’s gate was in poor condition and held together with a piece of blue rope, delaying me as I squeezed through and then had to re-tie the rope to close the gate. Finally, I was at the waterside and ready to go!

holding water below the bridge

With a pair of wets tied on I fished my way down the first pool without a touch. I was dismayed at the low water, at least a couple of feet below what I would expect at this time of year. Although it was raining today it will take a solid week of wet weather to bring the level back up to where it should be.

The fisheries board had also been busy on the banks too. The trees on both banks have been either trimmed back or even removed altogether. This is a very welcome change for the better as many parts of this particular stretch had become virtually unfishable due to overhanging branches. Well done to the board for all the hard work they have done to bring this piece of water back into full use.

A very short line, hanging the flies in the fast water at the neck of the next pool brought the first action of the session, a fiesty WBT ran and danced across the surface before shedding the hook just as he came to hand. Ah well………………..

Not long after that I had a solid pull and a nice trout came to hand. A quick picture and then he was back in the river again.

a 10 incher

A solitary Large Dark Olive fluttered by but there was no hatch as such. I meandered down the river, casting into likely spots but there was no response from the trout. Flies were changed and different presentation methods given an airing but the fish showed no appreciation of my efforts. The rain eased of for a few minutes only to turn heavier than ever by the time I had reached the next pool. I was, to use a good Scottish phrase, ‘drookit’.

where the second fish came out of

A small trout grabbed the passing fly just where the calm patch in the photo above merged into the faster flow. Again, very short casts allied to reaching with the rod to hold the fly line off the surface while leading the flies round was the successful method. A bit smaller than the first fella, I slipped home back int the water and he shot off, none the worse for our brief encounter.

Looking back upstream to the water I have just fished down – notice how clear the banks are!

Doesn’t look much but this is a great spot

I eventually reached the pool I wanted to fish most, an odd-shaped piece of water with a number of conflicting flows to contend with. It is not easy to fish but I have taken some good fish out of this area. Today was no exception.

Not a monster but very welcome of a miserable day

A partridge and orange fished on a dropper fooled this one. The take was confident and he was well hooked. I could not repeat the feat though so I changed back to a pair of hare’s ear weighted nymphs and fished my way back upriver, retracing my steps to the parked car.

a pair of nymphs

Today was fairly typical of early fishing on the river, with hardly any fly life the fish were dour and holding close to the bottom. I bit more water and higher air temperatures will bring an improvement in the fishing. It was just good to be out again today, rain or no rain!

Fishing in Ireland, Pike, salmon fishing, sea angling, shore fishing, trolling


1970’s ABU ambassadeurs (from a tightlines catalogue)

Why on earth do I own 7 different ABU multipliers you may well ask? Surely just one of these venerable old multiplying reels is enough for any fisher? Two of them may seem overkill and any more is simply rampant hedonism. The answer is that I don’t need them all but I use them for slightly different roles. So today I thought you might like to see what I use these old wonders of Scandinavian mechanical engineering for. Let’s start with the big lad, the 10000.

ABU Ambassadeur 10000CA


A beautiful black boat reel with huge line capacity. I use this reel for my sea fishing and it is more than capable of handling the fish I target in Clew Bay and other areas around the Irish coast. The 10000 is fitted with the ABU two speed retrieve system which automatically drops to a lower gear when under pressure such as when winding in a fish. Good examples of this reel are hard to find as they were used in salt water and unless carefully looked after they would be prone to corrosion.

You could argue that an 8000 or 9000 would be better suited to the depths of water I usually fish but when I was looking around for a boat reel this was the best one I saw. All sea fishing reels come in for a lot of punishment and the 8000/9000 I looked at all had issues of corrosion or worn out drag systems. My 10000 is a gem and will give me many years of service as long as I clean and lubricate it.

ABU Ambassadeur 7000 and 7000C

a pair of very grubby looking 7000’s.

They built them tough in Sweden! This pair are my heavy beachcasting reels. Both date from the early ‘80’s and continue to serve me well despite horrific abuse over the intervening decades. Purchased new (from Somer’s in Aberdeen when they were still in the tiny shop in Thistle Street if my memory serves me correctly), these monsters were at the time regarded as the very best reels for surf casting. The competition has improved over the years and at the same time I feel the modern ABU Garcia’s are not as strong as the old reels.

my red 7000, showing a few battle scars

These pairs are certainly no match for modern multipliers but these days my fishing does not require gargantuan casts to the far horizon. Although they look beat up I’m hopeful they will see me out as, despite outward appearances, I have maintained and lubricated them regularly. The red 7000 in particular carries many battle scars, the result of long forgotten finger-tip scrambles down steep rocks to get to remote marks. I used to take just my 6 ounce beachcaster and the 7000 with me when attacking the more extreme marks, meaning scrapes and scratches for both rod and reel as I slithered down granite and basalt outcrops. This reel is built like a tank and soaked up the punishment, no matter how extreme the mark was.

Rock marks like this one in Donegal were tough on my gear

Black 7000C

So what is the difference between a 7000 and a 7000C? Ball bearings is the answer. The old original 7000 came with brass bushings on the spool while the 7000C sports stainless steel roller bearings. These super-duper bearings should give much better performance but in practice I found that there was not much to pick between the two reels. The numbers stamped on the reel foot tells me the red 7000 dates from 1980 and the black ‘C’ from just two years later, so they are both knocking on for 40 years old!

The level wind on a 7000. Removing this improves casting performance markedly

Size and line capacity of the 7000’s is identical and they are both beasts of reels, strong and reliable in even the most extreme conditions. I have two 7000’s because I often fish with a pair of beachcasters. This allows me to push one bait out a long way and drop the other bait closer to the shore. I can also try different baits and rigs by using both rods/reels. On a slow day this keeps me ticking along, just reeling to check the baits, making small changes or trying out different rigs. On a day when the fish are biting it can lead to high excitement as both rods go off at the same time!

ABU Ambassadeur 6500C3

Next in line I possess an elderly 6500C3. I have seen beautiful examples of this type of reel; the chrome rockets in particular are pure fishing porn! My one is a somewhat shabby model dating from 1999 which I picked up second-hand. It is more Nora Batty than Marilyn Munro I am afraid. 6500’s are among the most popular beach reels and the various versions can been seen in action across the globe wherever distance casting is required. If you are in the market for a 6500 you need to decide if you are going to plump for one with or without the level wind. The sports mags and ultracast’s were superb reels with no level wind to slow them down. My old C3 has a level wind but is still a fine casting machine. I’ve tweaked my one a little by replacing the spool bearings with semi-ceramics.

The all important ‘made in Sweden’ logo

Smaller and neater than their big cousins, the 6500 range are lovely reels in use. They somehow just feel ‘right’. This is important to me. When I’m fishing I like my gear to be an extension of myself, both physically and emotionally. The sense of ‘oneness’ adds hugely to my enjoyment of a day on the water. Over the years I have owned some rods and reels which I never really felt were right, despite hefty price tags and well-known brand names.

In case you are wondering, the difference between a 6500 and a 6000 reel is the 6500 has higher gearing and therefore a faster retrieve speed.

I use the 6500C3 for lighter beach and rock work in saltwater. Spool capacity is one hundred and fifty yards of 20 pound mono, not nearly as good as the 7000 but then again it is not so agricultural as the big old 7000’s. Paired with my 4 ounce beachcaster it can chuck a lead a fair old distance.

This one needs a good clean!

The topic of handles always inspires a lively debate among Ambassadeur owners. To some it is sacrilege to change any part of the hallowed reels. To others , and I fall into this category, upgrading your reel can be a good thing if it is done well. 6500’s came with a small double paddle handle which were fiddly on the beach in the cold and wet. Power handles for retro-fitting became widely available and these are a useful upgrade in my opinion. I am thinking of changing the double paddle handle on this reel for a power handle.

ABU Ambassadeur 6000C

This is the latest addition to the stable, a fine 1973 example of probably ABU’s biggest selling Ambassadeur. It was pretty much seized up when I bought it but once I had it stripped down and re-built it turned out to be in good condition. A great all purpose reel, indeed I pair this reel up with a nine foot rod and use it for trolling for salmon. The 6000 in various forms were universally popular and it is easy to find good examples on the market.

the handsome 6000C


ABU Ambassadeur 5500C

Boys oh boys, this is a dream of a reel! I use it for casting and trolling for salmon (I know, what a waste using a 5500C for dragging metal behind a boat!!!). Everything about the 5500C oozes class; smooth and light yet strong and aesthetically gorgeous. Of all my ABU multipliers this is my favourite. ABU made a range of different 5500’s over a long production run and you can see why these little beauties were so popular. Essentially a narrower 6500, the 5500 series are favoured by salmon and pike anglers. I think those who pursue catfish in the States use them too.

The free spool control is sensitive on this reel

My example dates from 1973 but there is hardly a mark on it and it fishes perfectly. The only downside of this reel is that it does not have a clicker (the 5000D had a clicker fitted). I’d like that refinement for those all too rare occasions when a salmon grabs the bait and that wonderful sound of the clicker screaming fills the air!

not mine, but examples like this pristine 5000 cost thousands to buy


ABU Ambassadeur 4500CB

Finally, we come to a bit of an oddball – a 1980’s 4500CB. These reels would not be very common here in Ireland as they were designed for the USA market where small baitcasting reels were developed for use by bass fishermen. Flipping jerk baits for large mouths required a reel with specific characteristics and the small ABU’s were hugely popular across the pond. From what I can gather, they have been largely replaced by those fancy new baitcasting reels that look like something out of a Batman movie!

I picked my one up on ebay for a smallish sum as it had some ‘issues’ to be sorted out. It is in good condition now but cannot be described as pretty. It’s functional but not eye-catching. I have seen some lovely examples out there, gorgeous wee reels in lustrous dark green, silver or Florida orange hues. Again, the pretty ones command high prices in the marketplace.

The ‘CB’ denotes that this reel has an unusual sophistication – a self-centring level-wind no less! I must confess that exactly how this is an advantage in every day fishing escapes me, but it is a sweet little reel which I bought specifically for trolling. These reels were designed to hold 10 pound breaking strain nylon but I reckoned that was close enough in diameter to modern 30 pound b/s braid. Trolling for salmon here-abouts does not require massive line capacity of a reel, one hundred yards is more than sufficient as you can turn the boat and follow even the mightiest fish out to deeper water. As the reel for my ‘poker’ – the short middle rod when trolling – it only has about  15 yards of line out when fishing. The 4500CB accepts 120 yards of heavy braid, meeting all my requirements in a neat little package. This reel also has a level-wind which does seem to be overkill considering the narrow spool, but hey, why not flaunt it if you got it!

The decision to buy an old 4500C was deliberately taken to give me a reel purely for matching up with the poker rod and 30 pound braid. Then I mixed things up a bit! A fella in New Jersey was selling off some spools for my reel at a very, very low price so I simply had to buy all three of them. Now I am in the happy position of being able to switch the wee reel between different uses as required.

spare spools for the 4500 CB

If under extreme duress, you were to restrict me to only one of the above reels I would have to plump for the 6500C. It can easily do everything the others can do. I bought the 7000’s at a time when I was rock fishing (frequently in the dark) for winter cod on Scotland’s North East coast. Heavy leads, slung into the teeth of a gale amid mountainous seas needed tough reels and the big 7000’s could handle the stresses and strains with aplomb. They have easier lives now, gently lobbing baits into summer seas for doggies and rays. The 6500C is build for this type of shore fishing and would work just fine when casting or trolling for salmon too.

The 5500C is probably slightly under-gunned for rock fishing. It is perfect for salmon fishing though. It is a pure joy to fish with when casting heavy baits (20 – 40 grams). It is hard to put into words but this reel somehow just feels ‘right’.

The baby of the pack, the 4500CB is very much a specialist piece of equipment for Irish fishing, too small by far for most ‘normal’ angling situations here. But it does exactly what I require of it so it has earned its place in my tackle bag. Now that I have spare spools for it I can also use it for other situations where light lines are required.

So that is the reason I have acquired all these different reels over the years; I don’t really need them all but each one is a delight to use and they add to my enjoyment each time I use them. The small differences between then give them individual characters. The doughty, world worn heftiness of the old 7000’s is a million miles removed from the genteel, silken feel of the 5000C or the dinky wee 4500CB. I get huge enjoyment out of using these old reels, the workmanship and design are timeless and fit well with my values when it comes to fishing gear.

If you hanker after an old, Swedish manufactured Ambassadeur yourself they are easy to find secondhand. Expect to pay big money for rare models in mint (or even unused) condition. There are many collectors who track down the finest examples for their display cabinets. Reels with minor surface wear can be had for a lot less. Of course there are some extremely dodgy reels floating around the secondhand market and it is very much a case of ‘buyer beware’.  Look out for reel which exhibit heavy corrosion (especially on the cage), cracked side plates or grinding gears and avoid these like the plague. Spare parts are easily available but if you have a lot of work to do to a reel it soon becomes quite expensive. Oh, and a word of caution – owning old Ambassadeurs can quickly become an addiction (see above!). Don’t go buying gear you can’t afford.

Please don’t run away with the notion that I am an expert on these old Ambassadeurs – I assure that I am anything but that! Check out youtube for lots of videos on cleaning, strip down and upgrades for these reels. There is a wealth of information out there. Then there are the specialist collectors who have websites you can visit to drool over their immaculate reels. If you really want to get into collecting these reels in a serious way then the bibles written by Simon Shimomura, author of not one, but three books on collectable Ambassadeur reels. I will leave you with multiple photos!

Clockwise from the left: 4500CB, 6500C and 5500C




Cleaning baits

I had a pile of old spoons to clean up, including ones which looked to be beyond redemption. I don’t get too stressed about metal spoons which have lost their shine, some times the fish seem to actually prefer dull ones. Indeed, that fine fisher and endlessly entertaining raconteur the late Eamonn Miliffe used to toss some of his baits into the embers of an open fire to deliberately dull the surfaces of them. However, today I decided this lot of lures could use a spruce up so I turned to the well known expedient of soaking them in coke for a few hours to loosen the grim and bring back some shine.

I’d never drink this stuff but it does have its uses…………..

A soak in Coke, then a wash in warm water before a gentle rub with a normal disused brush followed by a good rinse under a hot tap was all that was required to finish them off. Some had lost the plated finish and would remain dull but others made a spectacular recovery and look good to catch me some more salmon.

Immerse the lure(s) in a bath of coke and leave them for a few hours. Overnight is good if you have the time

There is no mention of this liquid’s cleaning properties, but trust me, this works

That’s better! After a few hours remove from the liquid, clean in warm soapy water and rub the surface with a soft scrubbing brush. An old toothbrush is ideal.

Nice and shiny again, these spoons now need the hardware checked and changed where necessary before they go back into the box


salmon fishing, trout fishing

Going to my hometown

I eventually made it back to Aberdeen to visit my family last week. It had been a full year since I was last in Scotland so I was long overdue in the land of my birth. It was great to see everyone again and to catch up on all the news, including meeting my grand-nephew for the first time. Vague plans had floated around my grey matter concerning a possible day fishing the Dee and a couple of salmon rods nestled in the back of the car as a result. However the weather deteriorated and I had no inclination to cast a line. Instead, last Friday I decided to take a jaunt around some of the old places I used to fish. Temperatures were struggling to get above freezing and snow was blowing in the strong easterly wind. Maybe long ago in the first flush of youth I might have ventured out in these awful conditions, but these days the thought of a long day on the water in Siberian conditions fails to attract me. So I settled for a drive around some of my old haunts, knowing full well they had completely changed since the 70’s.

Driving alongside the River Don it was obvious how the expansion of the city had encroached on what used to be agricultural land. Oil service companies, fast food outlets and new housing dominated the scene around Mugiemoss and Stoneywood. The papermill where I started work has gone, the only reminder is a disused chimney amid the new builds with their smart 4 wheel drive cars sitting smugly on driveways where giant machines used to rumble 24/7. Progress.

I crossed Persley bridge and turned left on to the minor road which winds along the north bank of the Don. Pulling over, I walked down the overgrown path which leads to the Grandholm House stretch of the river and the Saugh pool. I used to fish from the other side, but from the north bank I get a better view of the pool and surrounding environs.

the old chimney, all that remains of the mill

The Don was in spate after all the recent snow and rain, the heavy flow charging over the two weirs immediately above the Saugh. The south bank is still a construction site and it looks ugly and scarred for now. The old fishing hut has long gone and both banks look damaged by floods. For all of this I am willing to bet some salmon are running the river now, the high water tempting them in to lie in the lower reaches until the spring turns milder. The two weirs seemed to be a temperature barrier for the salmon and in cold weather the Saugh could fill with fish. We used to catch big springers in this height of water from the back eddy which formed over the sandbank on the south bank of the Saugh pool. Nobody was fishing there on Friday though.

The Saugh pool with a good push of water

The double weir, hardly discernible at this height of water

The north bank is in poor condition

I took some snaps, blowing my hands to keep them warm between each photograph. The path to the river was overgrown, its lack of use indicating little serious angling has taken place recently.

the path down to the pool

Back in the car I headed further away from the city, the twisting road partially flooded in places. Gaining the Newmacher road I entered a world that looked more like Mordor than the gently rolling fields I knew in my youth. The long awaited Aberdeen bypass has sliced across the land here, meaning huge disruption and the inevitable environmental damage.

Taking the back road out to Blackburn gave me a better view of the new Don crossing which is under construction. The actual bridge crosses over the river at a stretch we used to know as the trout streams. Where soaring concrete now spans the water I learned to fish dry fly in my teens. The shallows had a gravelly bottom with thick flowing beds of weed, home to countless nymphs and shrimp. I still recall watching trout in that spot shaking the weeks, presumably to loosen the grip of the invertebrates which could then be grabbed. I found that by carefully wading in from the bottom of the fast water I could sneak up on the fish and flick small dry flies over any rising trout. Many happy hours were spent honing my casting and fly selection as I waded the clear water rushing between those weed beds.

It was there that I landed a two-and-half pound sea trout late one May evening. My father had planned to pick me up and of course, as always I was late. The great fish had taken a size 0 gold Mepp, spun fast across the flow as the sun dipped below the horizon. The power and speed which that fish displayed still lives on in my memory even though I was only a school boy at the time. When I finally landed him it turned out to be a fin perfect, sea liced sea trout, at the time the largest fish I had ever caught. The wrath of my dad who waited, fretting in the dark for his errant son was worth it just for that one fish. I can’t help wondering if the new concrete and steel structure overhead will adversely affect the fishing in the trout streams.

Back in the car I nosed along the pot-holed tarmac, over the railway bridge and past an old pill box before turning on to the cul-de-sac which leads to the top end of the Upper Parkhill beat.

The ADAA have a couple of car parks up there, spots where my motor bike or beat up Ford Cortina were left while I fished these waters when flared trousers were all the rage. The streamy water between the top of the beat and the Cothal Pool were known as the Top Streams and I loved fishing this short stretch on summer evenings. I knew the bottom of the river intimately, where I could wade and where it was just too deep for me in my thigh waders. The trout lies were numerous and each one required a stealthy approach and delicate casting – one poorly timed cast was enough to put your target fish down. I don’t recall ever catching a huge number of trout here, one or two was considered a good evening’s fishing. The skill required to hook even one of these wild fish made ever success a triumph, another lesson learned.

The Top Streams from the car park

The wee road dips and turns and final ends at the tiny ruined church of old Dyce. The cold was biting as I walked around the graveyard, taking in the rows of headstones of those departed. Four ancient Pictish stones are on display inside the roofless building, artefacts from a lost civilisation who once ruled this part of Scotland.

A small commonwealth graveyard is attached to the church yard, a solemn reminder of the young people who gave everything in two world wars. Looking at those cold grey stones marking lost lives it is hard to believe we have moved on from the hatred and carnage of those desperate times. The appalling images currently coming from Syria suggest humankind has learned nothing in the intervening years.

Too cold to stay outside any longer I hopped back into the car and drove out the road. I stopped only briefly to look out over the Fintry and Caskiben beats from the road. More water with memories of happy days trying to tempt big, wily Don trout. The rivers I fish in Ireland these days are easier to fish but the size of trout can’t compare with the monsters which swim in the Aberdeenshire Don.

Barely visible through the snow shower, the Don snakes through the heart of Aberdeenshire

Flurries of snow filled the sky by now so I pushed as far as Blackburn where I re-joined the busy A96 and from there back into Aberdeen. I left north east Scotland 30 years ago and it has changed almost beyond recognition since then. Oil, money, downturns, progress, the list of reasons goes on and on. Places change, sometimes for the better and often for the worse, but nothing stays the same. The mills where I worked have all gone and it is easy to look back with nostalgia on those days but in truth the paper mills were dangerous and tough places to earn a living. Like every other UK city Aberdeen is ringed by new retail parks, industrial estates and commuter housing. The river where I learned to fish has been irreparably scarred by the new infrastructure and it will never again be the place I so vividly recall. All we can do is work towards educating the upcoming generations about the natural world and hope they find the joy my fellow anglers and I gain from our pastime.


Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

Tips for Beltra


Ben bending into a springer

Ben Baynes bends into a springer on Beltra a few seasons ago

March 20th marks the start of the salmon season on Ireland’s Lough Beltra. If you are one of the lucky few who will be fishing the lough this spring here are a few pointers which may help you to connect with one of those shiny springers.

  • Be prepared for the weather! Being cold or wet is going to ruin your day on the lough, so make sure you wear plenty of layers of clothing and have a good hat on your head. A proper waterproof jacket and leggings are a must. Whilst not a dangerous lake, you still need to wear a lifejacket at all times.
  • If you are fishing the Lough for the first time then consider using a boatman for your first trip out on the water. A boatman will know the lies and be able to put you over all the likely spots. They will also control the boat, allowing you to concentrate on casting and fishing.
  • Sticking to it. Every successful salmon fisher I know has a tenacity which earns them fish. A dogged determination to keep casting and retrieving hour after hour. On Beltra this trait is particularly vital in my opinion. Beltra can be very dour for long periods then suddenly switch on. The angler who spends as much time as possible casting over the lies stands the best chance of meeting a fish.
  • Don’t waste time fishing deep water. I know there are always exceptions, but the fish in Beltra like to lie in shallow water. If you are casting over water any deeper than the length of an oar the chances are you are in water devoid of taking salmon.
  • Use a sinking line. Again, I know of exceptions when floating lines have worked in the springtime but in general you need to get down to the fish on Lough Beltra. A wetcell 2 or similar line is fine.
  • Fish a good sized fly. I love fishing small flies for summer salmon but March / April on Lough Beltra means size 4 or 6 hooks. I am less worried about pattern than getting the size right and I would not think of using a small fly until the water has warmed up in May.
  • Move around to find the fish. Salmon can be scattered all over the lough so even if you hear there are fish in one particular spot I still think it is better to keep searching all likely water.
  • Don’t cross the line! Newport House fish the North side of the lough and the Glenisland Coop fish the south side with an invisible line running roughly down the middle of the water. Please stick to the side of the lough you have permission to fish and don’t stray on to the other side.
  • Ask the locals for advice. We have some very experienced Beltra experts who fish the lough frequently and know the moods of the water. Ask them for advice you will find them forthcoming and happy to help out in any way.

Fishing in Ireland, Nymphs, trout fishing, wetfly

First day of 2018 season

We all love that feeling of expectation when planning our first fishing trip of the season. Work commitments this year have meant my own plans were constantly being re-jigged as my contract dragged on for much longer than expected. The hoped for early outing for salmon fell victim to the great lord of work. A necessary trip to London then got in the way and I only returned to Ireland from a well-earned holiday in Prague yesterday. But today  was ‘der tag’. Today I was going fishing.

Prague was beautiful, but there was no sign of any trout in the river!

The river Robe today

I mulled over the options as I drove down to Claremorris. Settling on a short stretch I know near the water works, I found a spot to park up just a field away from the river. The first challenge of the day soon became apparent when I pulled my leaky old waders from the bag instead of my nice new ones! This would mean no wading across the river as I usually do. Not to worry, the river is only 5 or 6 yards wide on this stretch so access would not be a huge issue for me. I tackled up and plodded off across the field.

A commotion in a drain caught my eye and further inspection revealed that the local frog population were being frisky.

Frog spawn in a drain

here are the wee critters responsible

Onward to the river and my first casts of the new season. I flicked the flies into the usual spots but there was a noticable lack of fishy interest. No flies were present and the cold air didn’t help matters any. I swapped flies a few times and changed from wets to nymphs. Still no joy.

The local farmer must have been busy as there were lots of new fences around each field. At the bottom of the stretch though I found some damaged fences so I guess he/she has just been making repairs. I spotted a Thrush’s anvil close to a gap in the fence, the end of the line for a lot of snails!

The far bank was pitted with the holes made by our local Crayfish. I’m not sure if these holes are still in use of if they are abandoned once the water level drops, leaving them high and dry.

With still no signs of any fish I took stock of the situation. It was 1.30pm and if there was going to be a hatch of any sort it would have started by now. The only insects I had seen were a couple of tiny midges on the wing. What I needed was some deeper water where I could trundle heavily weighted nymphs on or at least very close to the bottom. All around me were shallow, streamy runs. It was time to move.

Nice fly water but the water here is only a few inches deep

I walked up river until I reached the limit of the water I have previously fished. A deep, heavily fenced drain barred my path so I followed it away from the river to try to find a way across. A startled Snipe exploded from under my feet – they don’t normally let you get that close to them!

I reached an old metal gate which had been rudely lodged in position at a corner of the field. I could see a battery with wires too – were they connected up? Only one way to find out, so I braved touching the cold grey metal – no current thank God.

I hopped over and made my way back towrds the river holding tot he edge of the field all the while. I gained the river and was greeted by more of the accursed barbed wire blocking my way to the water’s edge.

OK, so maybe the wire was not as bad as this!

I changed to a Czech nymph set up (how appropriate) and set about my business. Bumping the bottom, extending the lift, rolling the set up back upstream and repeating again and again.

I worked my wy upstream as the few gaps in the bankside trees allowed me. I seriously doubt if anyone has fished this part of the river for years, it is so remote and hard to access. At the neck of the long pool I was fishing I finally had a take, the line gave a short, shap stabbing motion and I lifted smartly into a trout. Success at last!

I played the fish out, nothing dramatic happened and he was soon ready to be lifted out for a quick photo. A handsome lad, a bit over the pound in weight I’d guess.


I popped him back into the water and he rushed off, none the worse for our brief meeting. I decided I had enough for the day as there were chores to be done at home. At least I was off the mark and I felt I had done OK given the poor conditions on the day. Let’s hope the weather warms up and the flies begin to hatch.