Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Recommended flies for Mask

After a spell in England during the mid-noughties I returned to Ireland and came to live in Ballinrobe. During that time I kept a boat at Cushlough, learning a little bit about the trout fishing around that part of Lough Mask. Previously (we are talking the late ‘90’s) I kept a boat on the other side of the lough at Churchfield, a handy spot with good access to the whole of the western shoreline. It has been a few years since I seriously fished Mask but here are some of the flies I found useful in the early part of the season for that hallowed water.

I want to stress the importance of finding where the fish as the prerequisite for a successful day out on lough Mask. With 20,000 acres of water available to hide in the fish can take some finding. It won’t matter a jot what flies you tie on to your leader if you are fishing over barren drifts. On the vast expanse of a water like lough Mask it can be no easy matter finding the trout and this can be very disheartening for visiting anglers, especially if they are used to stocked fisheries where fish can usually be seen rising. If drifts are unsuccessful then move and try somewhere else. Always keep your eyes open for clues such as birds feeding or other boats congregating in a certain area. Be aware of changing conditions, especially the wind direction and strength.

When the season opens the fish will be on the bottom hoovering up shrimps. There will be very localised hatches of duckfly in some bays but the exact locations of these duckfly ‘holes’ are closely guarded secrets, known to the locals only. Around many parts of the lake you can often see large numbers of duckfly in the air in March and April but see very little surface activity. Given calm conditions normal buzzer tactics will take some fish. Otherwise, drifting over shallow reefs for the shrimp feeders will usually be your best bet.

Normal buzzer patterns on size 10 or 12 hooks will catch fish in calm conditions

‘Bits’ in black, claret, ginger and olive are handy for the times the fish are mopping hatching duckfly. Fish these in the surface film with a lick of floatant on the back of the fly

The Sooty olive. This is one of the staple flies for early season work. There must be dozens of different ties of the fly and all of them will work on their day. For me, size is important and I prefer a size 12 to the larger 10’s which seem to be more popular. Hackle colour is always up for debate with this fly but either a natural black or a red game dyed olive are your main choices.

Sooty Olive, this one is tied with a black hackle

Fiery Brown. Classic Irish wet fly which is a great producer in the early months of the season. It is just as effective when dressed dabbler style. While I have seen some anglers adding jungle cock to their Fiery Brown’s it is a pattern that does not need them in my humble opinion. Save those precious black and white feathers for other, more deserving flies! I do like to tie my Fiery Brown’s with an orange tag.

Fiery Brown

Bibio. It is hard to beat the original dressing but I do like the jungle bunny dressing earlier in the season. When the wind drops a skinnier version can be better than the bushy tying, something like the Bibio Snatcher .

Jungle Bibio

Bibio Snatcher

Some anglers like the Peter Ross but I can’t say I have had much luck with it on Mask. Having said that I have caught trout on a Silver Spider with a red thorax which is pretty similar.

Peter Ross Buzzer

The red/silver spider that I like

There are a seemingly endless array of buzzer patterns to pick from but these are a couple of fairly reliable ones:

Hatching Duckfly

Jennings Nymph

By April there will be olives hatching on lough Mask. What should be a period of excitement is frequently a lesson in frustration as trout rise in front of you but ignore your best flies. I have seen many of the best anglers defeated by a hatch of olives over the years. So what are your best options? In a very heavy hatch when the fish are sipping flies from the surface then dry the dry fly. A CDC dun or hatching pattern will sometimes work.

When there are flies on the wing but little in the way of surface activity the wet fly is your best option and there are a range of flies I would recommend.

Red tailed Invicta

Invicta. Yes I know, this is supposed to be a sedge pattern but nobody told the trout that and an Invicta tied with a red tail can be good medicine in a hatch of olives.

Claret Dabbler. It looks nothing like an olive but it has worked for me on many occasions in a hatch of olives.

Raymond. An old pattern but one which can do the job early in the season. The only change from the original dressing is that I wind claret and a light olive body hackles instead of the normal red one.

A small Green Peter

A small Green Peter fished on the bob has saved the day for me before now. A size 12, dressed lightly and cast to rising fish sometimes works. I like the RA version but one with a solid green body works too.

As the days lengthen and the water warms up the iconic mayfly start to make their annual appearance on lough Mask. Years ago these hatches were heavy and the fish could be seen mopping the duns from the surface across the shallows of the eastern side of the lough. These days the hatches are sparse and surface activity much less than of yester year. There are hundreds of mayfly patterns to pick from and rather than fill page after page here I suggest you read one of the best books on the subject, Irish Mayflys by Patsy Deery.

While mayfly patterns catch the bulk of the trout in May there are a number of other useful flies which also succeed.

Connemara Black

I love a small Connemara Black in the middle when mayflies are hatching. Don’t ask me why it works, all I know is that the ‘CB’ has caught me lots of fish over the years.

Colin’s Ginger Sedge

My own Ginger Sedge is a good fly at this time of the year too. I tied this fly initially after seeing trout selectively taking sedges in the middle of a mayfly hatch one year.

Cock Robin

The Cock Robin variant comes into its own around about now. Don’t be frightened to try it on a size 8 hook.

Fishing in the deeps really picks up in late spring and the use of flashy pulling patterns comes into its own. Gorgeous George, Octopus and other similar highly coloured flies will take fish on those long drifts over the deep water when the shallows are quiet. I will hold my hand up and say that I am no expert on fishing the deeps, I find it a very boring way of fishing and tend to keep to the shallows even when the fishing there is poor. Let’s run through a couple typical scenarios and think about how to deal with them.

Imagine you are fishing lough Mask and turn up to find a big wind blowing from the north. It’s April and the day feels raw with thick clouds scudding across the sky. White horses on the lough suggest a rough day on the water. Where do you start? I would possibly head for some shelter either at the north end of the lough or around the islands. I’d leave the deeps alone as the wind will push you along at a high speed and a drogue is out of the question on Mask (never be tempted to try a drogue here even out in the deeps, there are hidden pinnacles of limestone which will snag the drogue and swamp the boat). A team of wets on a slow sinking line is a good place to start and flies like Fiery Brown, Sooty Olive and Bibio are worth a swim. I would be more concerned about getting the depth and speed of the flies right ahead of any particular pattern.

On a day of little wind at the same time of year you can go searching for a duckfly hole and fish buzzers just like you would on an English reservoir. If that is not your style of fishing then keep looking for signs of wind rippling the surface. There is rarely a day when there is a dead flat calm in this part of the world so be prepared to move to find the ripple and the wet flies can be used again. If there is a bright sky with a bitter east wind then I’d prefer to be sitting in a warm pub rather than fishing in such poor conditions!

Books could be written on the tactics and flies for use on Lough Mask and similar tomes produced for the other great western lakes. It often comes down to local knowledge so take my advice and talk to the anglers you meet. Advice is willingly given and can often be the difference between a successful day and miserable failure.

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Fishing in Ireland

Safety and security

Always think of safety when you are going fishing on the big loughs. Every year people lose their life on these dangerous waters, often due to not taking the proper precautions.

  • Check the weather forecast before heading out and make your plans accordingly.
  • Wear a lifejacket at all times when on or near the water. Bring a small torch, it is handy for signalling if you get in trouble.
  • If you are unfamiliar with the lake I strongly recommend hiring a local ghillie to take you out. Lough Mask and parts of Lough Corrib are particularly dangerous places with ragged limestone reefs rising to within inches of the surface in many places. It is easy to hit an unseen reef and either hole or tip over the boat with dire consequences. If you are unfamiliar with the lough don’t venture out in bad weather. Some bays offer good shelter so these can be tried on very windy days.
  • Tell people where you are going before you set off and let them know when you plan to return.
  • Take extra care getting in and out of the boat, Docks can be slippery. In many places boats are simply hauled up on to a shelving bank so watch out for holes or rocks to trip over.
  • Keep your engine well maintained, a breakdown in a big wave can have serious consequences. Make sure you have enough fuel in the tank before setting off. Tightly secure the engine to the boat and always have a pair of oars with you. A small tool kit with screwdriver, spanners, spark plug spanner and a spare spark plug and a shear pin is handy to bring with you. Some boats have tholl pins built in but others do not, so carry a spare pair of pins with you.
  • Always have a bucket with you to bail the boat. You will probably need this to empty the boat at the start of the day but it will be a lifesaver if you hit a sharp rock and puncture the hull. If you do hole the boat make for the nearest land right away even if that is just an island. Get ashore and jam something in the hole to reduce the volume of water coming in. If the damage is severe then get help and don’t risk a long drive over open water with water pouring in.
  • Make sure you mobile phone is charged before you set off in case you need it but be aware that coverage out on the water is very poor and you may not get a signal.
  • If you do need help the recognised signal is to raise one oar vertically and hold it there. Anyone seeing this will come to your assistance if they can. I carry a length of rope with me when out in the boat so that in emergency I can be towed or tow another boat in trouble.
  • If you break down and some kind soul offers to tow your boat back to shore sit in the front of your boat when under tow (otherwise the boat will be next to impossible to tow).
  • If you do run aground do not get out of the boat. There is every chance it could float off leaving you stranded in the middle of thousands of acres of deep water! Stay onboard, move all weight to the other end of the boat and rock/push the boat off. If you are stuck fast then raise an oar and attract some help to pull you off.

I am not trying to put anyone off of visiting the great western loughs but please plan your trips carefully, keep an eye on conditions at all times and be prepared to deal with any emergencies.

needing a lick of varnish

Chained up, oars secured and old tyres underneath to support her, this boat is safe and sound

When I started fishing in Ireland all these years ago it was normal for everyone to haul their boat ashore after a day on the lough and just leave it there with the outboard engine still on the stern. Boats were secured to a block of concrete or some similar device to stop it floating away if the lake rose but nobody would think of any more security than that. We live in changed days now though and security is a real concern all across Ireland.

Not very hi-tech but this is the kind of concrete block that most boats are chained up to to stop them drifting off if the water rises

Boats are sometime stolen but it is usually the engines that the thieves are after. I understand there is a ready market for them in Europe and gangs now target angler’s boats for easy pickings. For a while there were various devices on the market for bolting your engine to the boat so it could not be removed but the thieve got around that by simply taking a saw to the back of the boat and cutting the arse of the boat off. So, regardless of how tired you are at the end of the days fishing always remove the outboard engine and take it with you. Remember to take the fuel tank too. Pull the boat up on to solid ground and chain it to something solid. I run the chain though the oars too so they do not go missing. A couple of tyres placed under the boat will stop her rocking in the waves and working herself loose. Please be considerate of other boat when picking somewhere to park up. If someone else has gone to the trouble of heaving a big concrete block into position for their own use and parked their boat there for the season do not nick their spot! I have seen this happen so often and it is infuriating to say the least when it happens to you. I have seen boats squeezed into impossibly tight spaces between two other boats, causing damage to then all. A bit of consideration goes a long way!

Cushlough

Cushlough on Lough Mask. Boats safely tied up and excellent security here. Trust me, it is not always so perfect at other spots around the lough!

There are an increasing number security cameras being installed at docks and marinas across the country to help reduce boat and engine theft/damage but ‘wild’ berths where boats are simple hauled up on a convenient piece of the shoreline are unguarded. I am afraid that every year we hear of angler’s cars being broken into and valuables taken. Don’t leave anything in sight in your car when you go fishing and take any valuables with you. Always report any suspicious behaviour such as strangers checking out boats or cars cruising the lanes and boreens. The locals have a good idea who is an innocent fisherman and who is up to no good.

Again, I hope this post doesn’t scare off some anglers who are thinking of visiting the West of Ireland. It is generally a safe and friendly part of the world and the fishers here will go out of their way to help any visiting angler. Please follow these simple points and stay safe.

Pier, high water

Cahir pier, lough Mask

Boats at Moorehall

Moorehall, Lough Carra. I used to keep a boat here but there have been too many boats damaged or let loose there recently by party-goers.

Bens boat on Mask

Boats pulled up on the west shore of Lough Mask

 

 

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Fishing in Ireland

Between Ciara and Dennis

This craik of ‘naming’ windy days is a nonsense to me. I live in the west of Ireland and guess what? It gets wet and windy during the winter. The near constant weather warnings and maps with shaded areas where it is going to rain are over the top in my opinion. Anyway, Ciara soaked us all and blew a hooley last weekend and we are facing storm Dennis this coming weekend with yet more rain to be dumped on us from the heavens. Today though it was a quiet and dry morning so I decided to check on the boats in the harbour on Lough Beltra. We put 4 boats out a couple of weeks ago and they need to be checked periodically to make sure they do not come to any harm.

The car park was under a foot or so of water when I got there but the floating pontoon dock was doing its job perfectly and all 4 boats were safe but half full of water. Time to get the bucket out!

half full but safely secured to the dock

Gerry Hoban (fisheries officer) saw my car parked and came over for a chat. Seems a few early springers are nosing into Carrowmore which is a good sign and Delphi has turned up a couple of fish so far. I explained to Gerry that I will be doing some coarse fishing this year and he told me of a lake nearby with Tench in it. I’ll be giving that a try during the summer alright!

It didn’t take too long to empty all four boats and check the securing ropes were all OK. With another 4 boats to be launched soon I will be back on the shores of this wonderful lake very soon. Fishing opens on 20th March.

the carpark!!!

 

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, salmon fishing, trolling

Baits

Spent an hour this afternoon sorting out the bait boxes. Some unsuccessful ones have been relegated while others were given new split rings or hooks. All set for the new season now!

Always plenty of old Swedish Toby spoons in my box!

18 gram tigers

Salmo Toby. These don’t get much use here in Ireland but I like having them in the box just in case

Hi-Lo. Never caught a salmon on one of these but they are good for Pike

These are pure deadly for Pike

Another Pike spoon. I’m not a lover of Pike fishing but some days they are the only action available

Old ABU Glimmy spoons, lovely action in the water

ABU Plankton

ABU Salar. Very slow, rolling action in the water. As you can see I like the copper ones.

Small Rapalas and ABU Killer. When absolutely nothing is moving and the weather is against you these can sometimes produce a perch or trout

Rapalas. Always worth a try

one of the boxes before it was cleaned out. All the smaller baits have a new billet now.

Now all neatly stowed away in the bag.

We have had days of high winds and heavy rain here in the west. All the rivers are huge and there is some localised flooding. No fishing for a while to come as there is more bad weather forecast for the coming week.

 

 

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, sea trout fishing

Irish salmon licence

I bought my 2020 salmon licence today from Pat Quinn’s shop in Castlebar. €100 for the licence to fish for salmon and sea trout across the whole of the Republic. Wonder what this season will bring? Three tags looks very optimistic to me!

For visitors the whole question of angling licences and permits can be very confusing. If you are going to be fishing in the Republic check out https://store.fishinginireland.info where you can buy a salmon licence on line. Licences can be bought for specific areas and for shorter duration so it is worthwhile looking at your options before buying the licence.

For Northern Ireland things are  little bit more complicated. I suggest the starting point for you will be https://www.gov.uk/fishing-licence-northern-ireland  You will need separate licences for the loughs agency areas and again, these are available to purchase online.

Depending on where you are fishing you may also need a permit. These can be bought locally and prices/conditions vary greatly.

I have to say that there is little optimism that 2020 is going to see an improvement in the numbers of salmon in Irish rivers. Each season sees fewer and fewer fish making it back to the spawning beds and a similar reduction in anglers catches. But we anglers will keep casting and hoping for the best. Catch-and-return is near mandatory across the island these days but it seems to have little effect and another lean year is anticipated. Let’s hope we are wrong.

 

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

Cardinal 66

Pulled out my old cardinal 66 spinning reel to give it a good clean and lub.

Looks like I need to invest in some new braid as the spool is looking decidedly low.

The old girl still runs smoothly and I get great pleasure from using it. It is heavy and the retrieve rate is slow compared to modern reels but I like the solid feel I get when using it. By spending a bit of money you can still pick up very good, clean cardinals on the secondhand market but the scuffs and abrasions on my example don’t bother me as this is purely a fishing reel and not for display purposes.

 

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