Fishing in Ireland

Prospects for Beltra

The angling season on Lough Beltra opens on 20th March as always, so what are the chances of an early springer? So with only 3 days to go I thought I’d give you an update on the conditions here. With no counter on the Newport river there is no sure way of knowing but I am pretty confident a few salmon will be in Beltra now. I say this as the last few days have brought high winds and heavy rain to Mayo, pushing up water levels across the catchment. For me this is the vital piece of the jigsaw and the fish generally find their way up the river as long as there is a decent flow. There are no temperature barriers, and the main physical challenge (the weir above Newport) seems to be easily negotiated in a spate by the fish.

clouds over Nephin

It has rained each day and often for lengthy periods for over a week now so I will be very surprised if I hear no fish are boated on the opening day. Sadly, I won’t be able to fish as I am away on business this coming week but I know many who are itching to get out and flex the big 12 footers in search of a shining spring fish.

preparing a Co-op boat for a day on Beltra

If you are lucky enough to have some fishing booked on the lough remember to stick to fairly big flies with size 4-6 usually about right for this time of year. Fish a sinking line and hug the shoreline.

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Fishing in Ireland

Salmon spinning

In these days of reduced salmon runs there seems to be an understandable move away from spinning in favour of fly fishing. While I am personally primarily a fly fisher I do still enjoy using the spinning rod when conditions dictate it would be more effective. This season i will be fishing the River Moy and the long, deep, slow stretches of that river demand proficiency with spinning gear. For what it’s worth here are a few of my ideas on this form of salmon angling. I need to stress that I am no expert with the spinning rod, just an enthusiastic amateur.

In my opinion spinning is both a useful and productive way of fishing when the fly is not an option or simply when you want a change from fly casting. So for example small, heavily overgrown parts of rivers that are impossible with the fly can fished effectively with a short spinning rod. For those anglers (like me) with physical limitations, spinning can offer a viable option to wielding a big fly rod all day. Sometimes just a change does you good and an hour spent fishing water which is not really suited to the fly can be a welcome break.

In terms of gear, in general I prefer a powerful rod, one that can handle big fish if required. As for reels I fluctuate between multipliers and good sized fixed spools. They both see action, the multipliers for the heaviest work. For reel line I favour 18 – 20 pound with a trace of 15 pound breaking strain. My traces consist of a BB swivel at the reel end and a snap link at the other so I can swap baits easily. Overall trace length is two and a half feet. In deeper pools or faster flows I add a hillman or Wye weight above the BB. In low water conditions I suppose there is an argument for a lighter spinning set up but I would much prefer to fish the fly at that sort of water level.

My earliest encounters with salmon on a spinning rod involved the use of the devon minnow, a bait normally overlooked by modern day anglers. This is a shame as fishing a minnow is a lovely way to cover the water and it can still be very effective in certain conditions. Think of a river which has been high but it dropping back now, still too high for comfortable fly fishing but clearing up nicely. I would happily get out the spinning rod and those old devons in conditions like that. The technique is to cast at an angle downstream of straight across. The actual angle will vary on the speed of flow and the depth, so the skill and enjoyment comes from working out where each cast needs to land so the devon reaches the correct depth. The rod held high, the bait is allowed to fish around in an arc with minimal interference from the angler. Just keep in touch with the bait and if required wind in slowly through any slower flows. When the minnow is directly below you wind in rapidly in preparation for the next cast. A step per cast downstream is the normal rate of progression through the pools. I like the minnow to fish deep and find the occasional bump on the bottom reassuring that I’m not too high in the water column. Think of fishing a deeply sunk fly, long casts, the lure slowly sweeping around in the current below you and try to emulate that with the minnow and you won’t go far wrong. I have a twist of lead wire in my pocket for ‘fine tuning’ devons by adding some wraps of the wire to the mount.

Keeping the rod tip up is crucial otherwise the line will belly in the current, dragging the minnow across the river too fast. Aim to have the minimum amount of line in the water. While I am talking about line I better nail my colours to the mast and say that I like to use old fashioned nylon when spinning for salmon on the river. Yes, I know all about the benefits of modern braids but I want the springiness of nylon when casting with a fixed spool reel. If you prefer braid go right on ahead, this is another case of personal preference and you can make a perfectly good case for either material.

Size and colour of minnows is a matter of personal choice. I have caught fish on just about any colour over the years but I’d hazard a guess that Black /Gold has possibly been the most effective for me in 2 to 3 inch sizes. Yellow bellies and ruby red ones are also good. Having said that anglers on big rivers use 4 inch minnows and I have landed fish on tiny one inch baits before now.

Of course you can substitute other baits in place of the devon and fish in the same manner. The reliable Swedish Toby is effective too. Sizes vary from the elephantine ‘Salmo’ pattern which weigh in at a hefty 30 grams down to 7 gram ones for lower, warmer water. Again, colours are a source of rich debate. What one angler swears by another swears at! If you limited me to only one it would have to be a silver and gold in 12 gram size (Swedish original of course!).

good spinning water

The Toby had an interesting minor tactic which used to be very successful but I believe is now frowned upon – the upstream cast in fast water. A big Toby was cast directly upstream and wound back as fast as possible. Tiring work but it used to produce fish. The trouble was that unscrupulous fishers would snatch fish using this technique so it lost favour.

a nice gold Toby

Here in Ireland spinning for salmon means one bait above all others – the Flying C. If you spot an angler on a salmon river the chances are that they will be using one of these spinners. Fishing them is very simple, pick a spot and cast into it, then wind back. Upstream, right across the current, downstream – it doesn’t matter. Just cast and wind back. Colours are in legion but black, red and yellow are probably the most favoured. The same trace you use for the minnow will do just grand for the Flying C. While I admire the sheer fish catching ability of the Flying C its ease of use rather takes away the enjoyment for me. Yes, I do own and occasionally use the Flying C but it gets a bit boring for my liking. I much prefer the leisurely down-and-across slowly moving devon to all the haste and effort of the rapid retrieve of the Flying C.

Although not commonly used in these parts I like the Rapala in 7cm and 9cm sizes. The range of designs and colour combinations takes my breath away and I guess they all catch fish on their day. I stick to silver, gold and orange/gold in floating and countdown models and find they are dependable fish catchers. The Rapala is fished in the same way as the flying C, the only difference being you may have to add a weight above the bait to get it to sink to the right depth.

Rapalas, always worth a try

I have caught salmon of large Mepps in the past too, size 4 and 5 work well after summer spates. These can be fished in the same manner as the Flying C. There are some big old ABU Droppens lurking in a tackle box which I might try out later this year on the Moy. You would imagine these would work just as well as a Mepp of similar size.

When it comes to hooking the salmon on the spinner I adhere to the old adage, let the fish pull first. There is usually nothing more to be done than tightening into the fish when it grabs the bait. Hook ups in scissors or front of the mouth are normal and this helps to facilitate the quick release of the fish. De-barbing the hooks will make the process of release even easier.

If all of the above makes spinning for salmon sound very simple I guess it is. What sets a good spin fisherman apart is his/her ability to read the water and employ the right bait, in the right way. You can chuck out a flying C and wind it back to your heart’s content and you will catch fish. The good fisher will usually catch more though as they think more about what they are doing. I still believe that the fly is more a enjoyable way to catch salmon and in lower flows it tends to be more productive. However I will keep spinning in high water or in places where my long fly rods are useless. Give it a try sometime, it is not as bad as you might think!

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Fishing in Ireland

Will Cullin come good?

Lough Cullin has been fishing very poorly for many years now which is a great pity as it has a character all of its own and used to be a favourite venue for me. Will it’s fortunes change for the better this season?

dark skies over Cullin from a few years ago

The whole area around Pontoon has fallen on hard times with both of the local hotels now shut down and the fishing on Loughs Conn and Cullin hitting an all time low. The may be a flicker of hope for lough Cullin though in the shape of an ugly concrete and steel construction a few miles away.

I quote directly from ‘A Review of Changes in the Fish Stocks of Loughs’ Conn and Cullin over time (1978 – 2001)’

Cultural eutrophication problems have been evident in Lough Cullin in recent years (McCarthy et al, 2001). While the enrichment of Lough Cullin may have contributed to the demise of the trout population there is another very obvious reason for the collapse of this stock. A baseline fishery survey of the Moy Catchment (O’Grady, 1994) illustrated that three particular sub-catchments were likely to be of significance as spawning and nursery areas for the Lough Cullin trout population – the Castlebar, Manulla and Clydagh River systems. Further investigation of fish stock in these sub-catchments indicated that, of the three systems involved, the Castlebar River was, by far, potentially, the most important spawning and nursery area for the L. Cullin trout population. Recognising this fact the Nw.R.F.B. expended significant monies in enhancing the capacity of the Castlebar River to optimise trout production. This programme failed because of declining water quality problems in the river to-date (2001) (Appendix II). Currently (2001) the river supports a very poor trout stock – several substantial fish kills have also been noted in this river in recent years (Nw.R.F.B., pers comm). A failure of trout to recruit, in significant numbers, from the Castlebar River to Lough Cullin is undoubtedly a major factor in the demise of the lake trout population – a small number of trout were tagged in the Castlebar River in 2000 while carrying out fish population estimates. It is noteworthy of the total catch of 15 trout in the 2001 L. Cullin survey three fish were individuals which had been tagged in the Castlebar River the previous year.

This is interesting because a fine new sewage treatment plant was built for the town of Castlebar a couple of years ago, right on the bank of the Castlebar river. From the above you can gather that this unimposing stream was in fact the main spawning river for the trout in lough Cullin. Water quality in the river has improved markedly and it now holds a fine head of resident brown trout as far up as the outskirts of the town itself. Could it be that the trout in lough Cullin are also benefiting from this long awaited piece of infrastructure?

The Castlebar river is now much improved

The other big problem for Cullin is the immense shoals of Roach which now pollute the lough, competing with the native trout for food. The direct descendants of live bait which Pike anglers released into the system 20 years ago, the roach outnumber the trout by a huge amount. Good news for the Pike who swallow up the Roach but make little or no impression on their numbers. Bad news for the trout though.

Roach

It is hard to tell if the trout will make a comeback or not. I fear there are just too many factors against them but nature usually finds a way of reaching a balance so there is hope yet.

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Fishing in Ireland

Too much?

I think I am working in the wrong industry. My background is in manufacturing and business development but I have finally come to realise that I should have taken an altogether easier path and built a career in sales instead. Not any old ‘sales’ you understand. No, I should have been flogging fishing gear all my life. How did I arrive at this conclusion so late in life you may well ask? The epiphany occurred when I counted the number of rods and reels I possess. Surely the easiest job in the world is selling fishing tackle to anglers.

This all started when I ‘found’ a rod I did not even know I owned. It is only a cheap double hander which was probably bought on a whim many moons ago but it got me thinking. Amongst my angling peers I am not that unusual in terms of the amount of angling gear I own, indeed I could legitimately argue that I spend less than many anglers on rods and reels.

So what is the extent of my ‘problem’? Confession time – I own 33 fishing rods and a ridiculous 55 reels. Spinners, spoons, minnows and the like number in the hundreds and flies in the thousands. Now can you see why I am suspicious that my tackle collection is out of hand? And that is why I’m convinced I should have worked as a purveyor of rods and reels.

Some of you reading this are no doubt agast at my wastefulness, but before you judge me too harshly I would invite you to perform a similar exercise in basic arithmetic with your own collection of rods. If you had asked me before I did the count how many rods I owned I would have been confident it was somewhere between 10 and 20. Out of sight, out of mind should have been my mantra! There was that telescopic 17 foot dapping rod which I have not used in 30 years for example, hiding away in a press as it was. Or the 12 foot match rod which I used to tame smallish carp when I worked in England. With not much call for carp gear here in Mayo that rod gathers dust in a quiet corner, the glories of my first carp on it now a long distant memory.

A carp on the 12 foot match rod

I counted every rod I own, including some old greenheart and cane rods which are fit only to be displayed on the walls. Also counted were any rods which are currently out of service but that I plan to repair and use again. There are other small crumbs of comfort; I fish in both freshwater and salt so that alone demands a range of rods to cater for widely diverse branches of angling. I could probably justify a dozen rods on that basis.

the 4500CB

The reels on the other hand are pure, unashamed folly. I just love fishing reels and that is the long and the short of it. Fly reels, fixed spools, baitcasters and multipliers fill drawers and storage boxes or hang out in tightly knit communities in specially designed cases. I have what could probably be described and a ‘reel hospital’ where life or death surgery is performed on damaged or elderly line winding contraptions.

The question I am now asking of myself is does owning all this gear make my fishing any more enjoyable? Or is this quantity of rods and reels simply too much. Have I just continued to fall for the salesman’s patter? Looking back to my youth I fished with the best gear I could afford but usually only had around 8 rods in total. Do the additional 25 really make my angling that better better? In all honesty I doubt if all these rods make me a better fisherman or add hugely to the pleasures of fishing. I admit there is a nice feeling when handling top of the range gear and the appreciation of the workmanship is certainly very real. The number of rods/reels though does not in itself make the sport more enjoyable.

Pedlars of piscatorial hardware don’t actually sell us graphite rods or shiny reels. Oh no! They sell us dreams my friends, dreams of bigger fish, of catching them from hallowed waters or in exotic locations. They understand what makes an angler tick, what gets us excited, what (dare I say it) floats our fishing boat. I could have been that man, I could have sold you suckers some dreams! Instead I made widgets in factories and gave a fair old chunk of my hard earned cash to the purveyors of the fishing dreams.

I’m too old to change now, too set in my ways and happy with my little life as it is. As the owner of 33 rods though I remain sure and certain I would have been a bloody good salesman back in the day. By the way, have you seen that new fly reel by Hardy………………………….

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