coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, sea angling, trout fishing

Holidays to come

With time on my hands I have been thinking a lot about my fishing. Of course I am missing getting out with rod and line something terrible. I snuck out once in December but apart from that I have not fished for 3 months now. With lockdown set to continue well into the spring this year I am brooding over what I am missing. Which led me to contemplate, what exactly am I longing for so much? Today I thought I would write down what Irish angling is all about, hopefully to give you visitors, and potential visitors, an insight into what makes Ireland such a great place for us anglers. Being non-Irish and having fished here initially as a tourist before pitching up in a full time capacity I kinda have two very different perspectives on the subject.

Anglers have written whole books about fishing here so my paltry few words will not add greatly to the subject but one day this pandemic will ease and we will regain the ability to travel and I hope this post generates some interest in coming to Ireland.

Negatives

Let’s get the downsides out of the way first. Ireland should be the premier angling destination in the world. I honestly believe that! 100 years ago the rivers and loughs were full of fish and the seas teemed with everything from sprats to tuna. Destruction of habitat, pollution, over fishing and neglect have destroyed vast swathes of the aquatic habitat and fauna. Thousands of miles of rivers were dammed, dredged and straightened in the name of hydro-electric power, flood prevention and land reclamation.

I understand the need for electricity, huge parts of the country did not have mains electricity well into the 1960’s so there was some justification at that time but those days are long gone and the mighty dams like Ardnacrusha on the Shannon and the Erne barrage have outlived their usefulness and could be removed. Ardnacrusha was completed in 1929 so it is nearly 100 years old. The last Model T Ford rolled off the production line when this dam was being built. Would we be happy running about in a Model T these days? I think not and these dams on Irish rivers are similarly out dated. For comparison, could you imagine the River Tay in Scotland being dammed at Perth? Both rivers are of a similar size but the Tay has a healthy run of Atlantic salmon, whereas only a handful of fish evade the turbines on the Shannon and the once prolific upstream beats are now devoid of life.

Fish have never really been very high on the list of considerations in this country. Unlike many European countries there has never been a tradition of eating seafood and most of what is caught commercially goes for export to mainland Europe. Fish were just a resource to generate some money but beyond that nobody cared much about them. Poaching was always a part of rural life here. A salmon netted out of the local river was a welcome addition to meagre diets for the poor farmers back in the day and who could blame them when you lived close to starvation all the time. These days poaching is a much more sinister business involving organised gangs, sometimes armed, netting and poisoning rivers at night. Some river systems are notorious for the poaching effort and are not worth fishing as a result.

Apart from the dams, the huge expanses of bog across the country were destroyed by state agencies in the name of progress. Peat has a very low calorific value but in a country where there was no coal, apart from a very small coalfield in the north, the decision to build peat burning power stations seemed to make sense. A huge industry grew up around the collection, drying and burning of the peat which is only winding down now. Narrow gauge railways snaked across the bog for miles and huge machines ripped the sodden ground apart to remove the ancient turf. Rivers were damaged or re-directed and the spawning beds became unusable for the fish as the fine particles of peat clogged the gravel. It was environmental vandalism on a grand scale. No attempts were made to mitigate all this destruction. It was just bog and seen as little more than useless.

Arterial drainage. Those two words strike terror into the hearts of anyone who cares about the environment. Here in Ireland the government has a department called the Office of Public Works or OPW. Let me be very clear here – these people operate above the law. It doesn’t matter what EU legislation says, the OPW will just do what it wants with impunity, and what the OPW likes more than anything is to dig. Oh how they love digging things up! Show them a winding, natural watercourse and they will have that dredged, straightened and even encased in concrete at the drop of a hat. They have been at this for years and the level of wanton destruction is almost beyond belief.

I will end this litany of woes with fish farming. A disgusting, nasty business which has made a handful of Norwegians extremely rich and damaged the fauna of the west of Ireland beyond repair. A tiny number of poorly paid jobs was the bait and the government fell for it. The tortured and malformed creatures in the cages often escape and add further pressure on the already struggling rivers of the west. Sea lice in their billions ravage the native trout, eating them alive. We are stuck with the farms as nobody in government has any interest in closing them down.

On the bright side

OK, that is enough doom and gloom. I wanted you to see both the good and the bad to see that there are two sides to fishing here. Now we move on to the good stuff! Let’s start with brown trout fishing on the great loughs.

I don’t have any figures but I would suspect that the majority of anglers who come here do so to fish the great lakes. Corrib and Mask are the obvious ones with some anglers trying their luck on Sheelin, Conn, Cullin or Carra. Maybe some venture to Ennel or Owel in the midlands or the huge Erne system which straddles the border. What is all the fuss about then?

looking across lough Mask to Mamtasna

There are so many facets to fishing these hallowed waters it is difficult to know where to start. I suppose the biggest attraction is you are fishing for completely wild trout. The fish spawn in all the small rivers and streams which flow into these loughs and are direct descendants of the fish which colonised the loughs after the last ice age. They are truly beautiful creatures and it is a joy to catch even the smallest of them. Not that they are all small! Every season double figure trout are caught on the fly from the Corrib and Mask. A three pounder will not turn anyone’s head on those waters. Wet fly is the preferred method, a cast of three flies, flicked ten yards in front of a drifting boat. Some of the fishing is out in the deeps while at other times you can scrape the keel of the boat on the tops of jagged limestone rock as you search out fish in the shallows around the shore or the islands. Dry fly is good, especially during the mayfly season. Dapping is hugely popular on the Corrib, less so on Mask. Carra used to respond well to a dapped grasshopper in August. I rarely see a dapping rod on Conn or Cullin though.

Mask

So what is the big attraction? The fishing is technically simple after all. I think it is the ‘total package’ which makes trout fishing here so wonderful. The day starts at 9 or 10 o’clock typically. Visitors staying in a hotel or B&B will have no doubt availed of a huge breakfast (the full Irish) to ‘set you up for the day’. If you have hired the services of a ghillie there will be the usual chat about prospects as the boat is loaded to overflowing with all manner of angling gear and then you are off under wide skies and (hopefully) in the face of a good breeze. Depending on your ghillie, drifts will be in total silence or with a running commentary of every topic under the sun. Tales of great fish caught and lost, the latest gossip from around the village, world events – they are all covered from the unique perspective of an Irish boatman. Those of sensitive disposition need to know that here the use of curse words is an integral part of the language. Around 1 o’clock you will pull into an island or sheltered bay for the lunch. Out comes a Kelly kettle or similar device and some hot reviving tea or coffee is handed around. Time to stretch your legs after being cramped up in the boat all morning. More chat about the fishing and plans for the remainder of the day. Relieve your bladder behind some bushes. Tie up a new cast maybe. All of this at a leisurely, unhurried pace. Indeed, on a slow days fishing there is a tendency to linger on shore and just enjoy being outside in the fresh air. The afternoon may produce a few fish, then again it may not. Cast, retrieve, cast retrieve. The ghillie strokes the water with one oar out the back of the boat, correcting the drift as he sees fit. Tangles are sorted out, rainwater baler from the bottom of the boat, sudden excitement as a trout shows close to the boat, waving to other boats as they pass by. Any luck? A slow sweep of a hand indicates they have not met any fish. The glorious countryside provides a backdrop you will long recall. By the end of the day, usually between 5 and 6pm but it does vary, you motor back to the harbour and unload the gear. Back at your accommodation the tiredness sets in and a pint of Guinness in your hand feels heavy. Another huge dinner is greedily consumed. If you are in or close to a town or village there is always the option of heading to a local pub for some drinks and craik with the locals. It really is a fabulous way to spend your days.

Great conditions on Lough Beltra

How about salmon fishing on the loughs? The situation here is patchy and some of the best fisheries now struggle to provide good fishing. Others are still plugging away and a day on Inagh, Carrowmore or Beltra will live long in your memory. The format is very similar to the day outlined above but the fishing is harder.  Don’t expect to see fish jumping. Most days you won’t see any showing at all. This is a game of stoic determination and workmanship. On some loughs the ideal conditions are summed up as ‘a good wave’. To anyone but an Irish salmon fisher a ‘good wave’ is a terrifying ride in a small boat being tossed around in huge waves. You get soaked, no matter how good your expensive rain gear is. Waves top the sides of the boat and the ghillie battles with the oar to keep you broadside to the weather. Turning into the waves at the end of a drift he opens the throttle and the boat rises and plunges as you forge your way through the white tops. Just to be out on the water in this kind of a day is invigorating. The day-to-day existence which most of us live, commuting, the office, sitting in front of a television, all pale as you are tossed around in this maelstrom. You feel alive! Then, out of nowhere and in slow motion, a great silver fish ploughs through the waves, arrowing towards your flies. It seems to take forever to turn down and it takes all your experience not to strike immediately. The fish sinks down and the line tightens, you are into one! Those minutes as the fish runs, jumps, bores deep or simply sulks are priceless. The Ghillie’s deft swipe with the cavernous net and the fish is aboard. You hold him up for the obligatory photographs before slipping him back into the water. There is no other feeling like this. The rain pours down and the wind howls like the banshee but you care not a jot. As angling experiences go, a springer on the fly from an Irish lough is high up there as one of the best.

A good fish in the net
A productive stretch of the river Robe

I think it is true to say that few visiting anglers come here to fish the rivers for wild trout and this is a great pity. For years I have fished my local rivers and have yet to meet a solitary visitor. I would dearly love to see some of the fine anglers from across the globe fishing my local Irish rivers. These little fished streams have a charm, and the fish, to make even the most jaded angler very happy indeed.

Unlike the loughs, there is little in the way of infrastructure for the river fishers. Access is notoriously difficult, often resembling hacking your way through a jungle rather than actually fishing, but there is some really great fly fishing to be had for those who persevere. I wear chest waders on the river so I can get into the water and wade upstream as required instead of negotiating the wild banks. Do not bring your expensive waders with you. Use a cheap pair you don’t mind about as the thorns, barbed wire and other hazards will almost certainly result in a tear in the fabric sooner rather than later. A wading stick is a necessity in my book, for wading obviously but also to help cross electric fences and a host of other obstacles.  The trout you encounter are of course completely wild, there is no stocking of the rivers here. A competent fly fisher will delight in the variety of water to fish, the range of tactics to be deployed and the number/size of the trout. Your typical day on a limestone river will throw up may be a dozen trout between 8 and 14 inches. Trout grow to 5 or 6 pounds and some even bigger! You will most likely have miles of river to yourself. I consider the limestone rivers of the west of Ireland to be a hidden gem and well worth the effort. Even for you dyed-in-the-wool lough lads and lasses, packing a set of river gear when you come over gives the option of a day on the streams if the loughs are ‘off’ or the weather is against you. Tackle wise, your favourite 4 or 5 weight set up will do just fine.

Killery Harbour

Sea anglers have been coming to Ireland for decades now. The surf beaches of Kerry drew them here as far back as the early ‘60’s. Sadly, our sea fishing is but a shadow of what it used to be. I don’t think I can in all honesty recommend you come here for a sea fishing holiday based solely on catches. By all means come for the experience. The craik after the day out, the hospitality and wonderful scenery are still the same as ever but there are less fish around than of old. I used to come to Ireland on holiday back in the ‘70s and ‘80s when catching 3 or 4 rays, dozens of wrasse, buckets full of mackerel and pollack were the norm. Now we rely on dogfish for most of our sport. The odd ray still puts in an appearance too. Until the overfishing off the west coast is addressed (don’t hold your breath) the situation is not going to change.

The English and European coarse anglers found Ireland to be a paradise many years ago and until the pandemic they made their way to the midlands every year. The small towns in the heart of Ireland rang with the voices of French, Italian and English visitors as they spent a couple of weeks in late spring or summer fishing the lakes for bream, roach, tench and pike. Please come back when you can! With only a handful of commercial coarse fisheries in the whole country this is primarily wild fishing and it can be exceptionally good. I am only a beginner at this branch of the sport but the experts make impressive catches. Regarding tackle, what you use at home will work here. Maggots and worms are by far the most popular baits. Once again though, it not just the fishing which makes it so attractive to come here. The soft Irish weather, the stunning greenery of the country, the friendliness of the locals. There is something unique about rural Ireland, something which endures despite the changes wrought by modern times.

So what is putting you off coming to Ireland on a fishing trip? You have probably heard it is expensive. Well it is! Yes, the cost of living is very high here, nothing is cheap. Living here you become used to it and don’t bat an eyelid at the ridiculous prices charged for everything. Hotel accommodation is very pricy. B&B’s offer slightly better value. Camping has never been a big thing in Ireland so there are only a few campsites around. Eating out is expensive too so you need to budget for that as well. I can’t gloss over it, you will have to pay a fair bit to holiday here but the experience is so unique I think you will find it worthwhile.

Bring good waterproofs with you. It does tend to rain a lot here so pack accordingly. Make sure your travel insurance is up to date as the cost of healthcare should anything go wrong while you are here is incredible expensive. This especially applies to UK visitors who are so used to the wonderful NHS they find it a terrible shock to be presented with a huge bill after an unplanned visit to an Irish hospital. The question of hiring a ghillie needs to be discussed. It is a considerable expense to hire a ghillie for a whole week. Normally a ghillie can be had for around €100/€120 per dayplus a tip. He/she will know the water you are fishing like the back of their hand, will help with setting up your tackle, control the boat on the drift and selecting the right flies. They handle the boat and help out at lunchtime. It does not sound like much maybe but as someone who ghillies from time to time I can assure you it is a hard days work. My personal recommendation is you hire a ghillie for one or maybe two days, you will learn a lot and be more confident if you go out on your after that. Over the years I have seen time and time again days when the boat with a competent ghillie catches fish while the other boats (with excellent anglers on board) come in dry. I think I need to add that the picture of old fashioned ghillies has receded into the mists of time. Gone are the days of a curmudgeonly old man in tweeds who tells you what to do and woe betide if you don’t do his bidding! All the ghillies I know are knowledgeable, friendly, helpful and, above all, expert anglers.

There are good tackle shops in most towns and cities so please avail of them. Spending a few Euro in them helps to keep them going (we have lost many over the last few years). Prices are maybe a tad higher then you are used to paying but it is nice to have a piece of tackle to take home from your trip here.

These days it is easy to do all the research necessary to find the right place to come. Blogs like this one, YouTube videos, endless publications all contain valuable information which will allow you to plan your trip. Take your time and plan so you have some alternatives if your chosen fishery(s) are not doing well. I used to make sure I had at least one day off from the fishing during a holiday, time to re-charge the batteries and have a look around the locality.

My apologies if I am sounding like I work for the tourist board! The lockdown has deprived us all of things we took for granted and it seemed to me that losing our annual influx of anglers from abroad has been a major loss. When travel restrictions are lifted, and they surely will be eventually, I urge you to consider a trip to Ireland. A warm welcome awaits you here.

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dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, wetfly

To wing or not to wing

I am busy topping up my river fly boxes and it has got me thinking about why I habitually tie wings on some patterns and not on others. Do a couple of slips from a starling really make all that difference to a fly? Do the fish even notice if the neatly paired wings are present? In my humble opinion some fly are better catchers when winged while other it seems will tempt the trout in either winged or hackled versions.

Like most fly tyers I hated wings when I was starting out at the vice. They were so fiddly and no matter how much I tried I could never get them right. Different lengths, lop-sided, too wide or too narrow – the list of problems felt endless and just handling the damn things was torture. So most of my earliest creations were spiders or palmers. Gradually though I became better at handling the tricky little slips and could tied a reasonably good wing. It then became a matter of choice if I applied wings or not. Dry flies in particular vexed me, could the fish even see an upright wing from below I mused? Nowadays I suspect they can as they rarely take a fly from precisely below and at any other angle I think they see something of the wing, be that just a vague outline. Honestly, who knows? None of us will ever really know what a fish sees and all of this is pure conjecture.

I’m sitting surrounded by all my fishing gear and listening to some old progressive rock. So let’s think about which patterns benefit from being winged. This is purely my take on some old favourites but you may wildly disagree. Isn’t that one of the joys of fishing, there really is no right and wrong, we all have our own way of doing things.

Wickhams Fancy (and all its wonderful variants) – A definite ‘winged’ from me. I am convinced this great pattern is better with wings but am still none-the-wiser as to why they take it in the first place.

Greenwells Glory – I use both. I love a Greenwell spider on the river during the early months of the year. I also use a Greenwell with woodcock wings and a yellow floss tail on stillwaters where it does great execution.

A simple Greenwell spider
Another winged variant, the Greenwell Quill. Another one I like to put wings on.

Black spider vs black Gnat. I prefer a Black Gnat to a Black Spider but please don’t ask me to justify this point of view, it is just something that has grown with me over the years. I still use various black spiders but the gnat with a silver tip is a topper of a fly in my book.

Olive dun / Blue dun / Ginger quill – all winged most of the time. I suspect these patterns are taken for winged duns and as such I like to wing them. I tie blue dun spiders too though just to add confusion!

Blue Dun
Olive Dun with wings

March Brown – Agh, I have to say I changed tune on this one. I used to prefer the winged one back in Scotland. We used to get hatches of the natural on the Aberdeenshire Don so a size 12 winged MB was a good fly. Here in Ireland we don’t get a hatch on March Browns so the spider version does fine and I am guessing it is taken as a LDO nymph.

Iron Blue – both winged and spider. The hackled lad for early in the day and a change to the winged version if/when the duns start to hatch. I have fished like that since I was a lad and it has caught me a lot of trout over the decades.

A winged Iron Blue. This is a big one on a size 16 hook.
A hackled version.

Yellow May Dun – Always winged for me

Adams – Sometimes I don’t bother with wings on my Adams dry flies and they catch me loads of trout. But I always carry a few Adams sporting grey poly wings and I love these during a hatch of olives.

Poly wing dry Adams

Of course I frequently fish both winged and spider flies on the same cast when fishing wets. This covers all the bases. Indeed, I sometimes fish a beaded fly on the tail, a hackled pattern in the middle and a winged fly on the bob. That is a nice set up for searching the water when there is no signs of life.

So how do I sum up all of the above? There is no sane reason for deciding which of my river flies are better with wings, it has just grown organically over the years. I have found a black gnat to be a better fly than the black spider but I have no idea why that should be. By now I suspect that confidence in a pattern may be an important factor. Whatever you have most faith in personally will usually be the best bet.

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coarse fishing

Loose feed vs groundbait

Here is a question for all you coarse anglers out there. What is your decision process when deciding to opt for loose feeding or ground baiting? As a newbie I am still confused about which to use. Due to the lockdown last year there were no other anglers around to learn off of so I have been trying to puzzle all this out on my own.

My coarse angling was confined to natural stillwaters and canals last year and my planned trips to fish the rivers for winter roach this month are obviously on hold due to the pandemic. My target species are roach, bream, hybrids, rudd and perch but being of easy virtue I accept anything that is willing to bite. Bear in mind we don’t have crucians, chub, dace, carp, ruffe or catfish here (Ok so there are a tiny number of carp fisheries in Ireland but none near me). My methods are normally one rod on the waggler and the other either touch legering in the margins or a swimfeeder further out. I don’t fish with the pole. Looking back the float probably catches 60% of the fish, a worm legered in the margins about 30% and a measly 10% fall to the swimfeeder. Maggot tempts most of my fish but the worm is very good too. To date I have found sweetcorn useless and have not tried other baits such as bread, paste or even casters.

Sweetcorn, the only thing I have caught on this was a bloody pike!

From the above is looks to me like I am very inefficient with the swimfeeder and too conservative with my bait choice. Watching videos by expert anglers has confused me more than anything. Do all these fancy groundbaits really make such a difference? Does some mush labelled ‘crab and coconut’ or whatever really drive the fish mad? I am deeply reluctant to fork out 6 or 7 Euro for such smelly delicacies on the off chance they will attract a few fish into a swim. But then again my brown crumb with some maggots approach is none too successful so far. I did reasonably well one day when I added some vanilla to the groundbait but have not had the opportunity to try that experiment again.

Up till now my typical approach is to fire in some balls of groundbait, usually brown crumb with a few maggots, while I am setting up. I will throw in some more balls for the first 20 minutes or so and if I start catching I will either loose feed a trickle of maggots or chuck in the odd ball of groundbait. I must admit this does not seem to work too well as I often catch in short bursts and can’t seem to hold a shoal in front of me. What am I doing wrong? It has crossed my mind that I am overfeeding but judging by the videos it doesn’t look like it. As a rough guide, half a pint of maggots and a small tub of worms will last me a 4 or 5 hour session, usually with some left over. I use a bag of brown crumb in that time too.

I like watching Greame Pullen’s ‘Totally awesome fishing show’, it is both entertaining and informative. He makes up a cheap groundbait based on bran and no.1 horse feed, something I might try this year. None of the tackle shops in the immediate area stock things like groundbait and I have no desire to buy that fancy stuff online. I want to make my own and the TAF recipe looks to be as good as any I have seen.

Watching all those videos I was struck by the fact they are often filmed on days when conditions are perfect. ‘It’s a lovely day on the such-and-such canal’ says the angler sitting on the banks of a picture perfect swim and the water is not the colour of oxtail soup or the wind blowing a hooley (my normal conditions). I am maybe just impatient and just need to stick to the basics and I’ll pick up the tricks of the trade. Any ideas from you guys would be deeply appreciated!

Just a quick update on what is happening here in Ireland. The level 5 lockdown is still in force and is being rigorously enforced by the guards. No travel beyond 5km unless you are travelling to work. That means for virtually all anglers there is no fishing. The death rate and rate of infection are both stubbornly high so it is unlikely the restrictions will be lifted any time soon. Here in Mayo we have some of the highest per capita rates in the country which is a bit scary. Areas like Belmullet have been particularly badly hit.

Stay safe out there!

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, wetfly

Spiders and more spiders

As an Interim Manager I lead an odd sort of life. I am either buried in work, often far from home, or I am unemployed and dossing about in Castlebar. The contract I am working on right now falls somewhere in between those states as I am working in Westport, just long the road. I get home every evening and even better, the hours I work mean I finish up at 1pm every Friday. So yesterday afternoon I left the old car in to Mick to get a small job done on it and came home to a warm house and an afternoon off. Bliss! Coffee in hand and Rory Gallagher on the turntable, I settled down at the vice to knock up a few flies. I know I am going over very well worn territory here with this post but spiders are a major part of my river fly fishing armoury and yesterday I was busy at the vice topping up the early season boxes. While they catch fish at any time it is the first couple of months of the season that I rely on them most. Some are copies of naturals like the Iron Blue or the large dark olive while others are more general patterns. Here is what I was tying.
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An old reliable, the P&O

I started out with the good old Partridge and Orange. A size 14 hook, orange Pearsall gossamer silk for the body and a fine gold rib. I like a thorax of a couple of turns of peacock herl and a hackle of brown partridge back feather. Very simple but very, very deadly. I have tried them on bigger and small hooks but nothing is as effective as a 14. I see many anglers waxing lyrical about the partridge and yellow but I have caught very few trout on that pattern. Orange is king in my book. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Then I moved on to Plover and Hares Lug. Yellow silk on 12 or 14 hook, hare’s ear body with either a narrow flat gold tinsel rib or fine oval gold and the hackle made from a golden plover feather. I am almost out of golden plover feathers and they are very hard to find these days.
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my black spider

Black spiders now. Fl. orange tying silk and a flat holo black tinsel body with a silver wire rib for protection. A turn of a the small blueish feather from the upper side of a Jackdaw’s wing finishes this one off. The orange silk head gives a nice target for the fish.
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olive partridge spider

My olive partridge spider was next on the list. As size 14 again and this time olive tying silk body ribbed with fine gold wire. I make a few variations of this pattern by changing the hackle, it can be a natural brown partridge feather or the same feather dyed different shades of olive. For some reason I seem to normally fish this pattern in the middle of the cast.
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Whirling Blue Dun Spider

Whirling blue duns. Maybe not used that often these days but I like when olives are hatching out. Tails and hackle are ginger hen and the body is made for moles fur. I use yellow tying silk on a 14 or 16 hook. I tie then in both spider and winged versions, using starling for the wings.
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Pheasant Tail (well sort of)

Pheasant tails. Where do you start with this fly, there are hundreds of variations. I like to use crimson tying silk and the body is made from the ubiquitous cock pheasant tail herls, but dyed yellow. the tail which is made from brown partridge fibres. The hackle is the same feather. One for May evenings……
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Iron Blue

Iron Blue Dun. Darkest Iron blue hackle and tails, crimson silk dubbed with moles fur on a size 16 or 18 hook. All too often I see Iron Blue Duns tied with hackles which are far too pale. When you see the natural on the water you will realise they are nearly black. My Ginger Partridge is a handy pattern for searching streamy water. A yellow sik body with a fine gold wire rib on a size 14 hook. There are two hackles, one turn each of a brown partridge back feather with a ginger hen in front. The blue dun I tie is very simple. Yellow silk on a size 16 hook. Heron herl, either natural or dyed olive for the body with a fine gold wire rib to give the herls some protection. A pale blue dun hen hackle at the neck. Of course you can add blae wings. Red spider. This is one for summer evenings. Usually a size 14 but strangely I have had success with a size 12 too. Red gossamer silk body with a fine gold wire rib and a red game hen hackle. You can add a lime green butt if you like but to be honest I can say that has proved any more effective. Partridge and hare. Yellow silk, fine flat gold tinsel to rib a body of dubbed hare’s ear fur. A brown partridge hackle to finish. Not a million miles away from a March Brown pattern but we are not blessed with MB’s here in the west of Ireland. A general nymph like spider that does well early on. IMG_20210123_135453[1] Grey dun. Two versions here, the light and dark. Hackle is the same for both, from the knuckle of a coot’s wing. Body is pale straw coloured tying silk for the light version and black silk for the dark one.

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coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

Hook lengths

Hook lengths have been a bit of a concern for me in my new found drive to learn about all things coarse fishing. I am maybe just being hyper critical, but my game angling background taught me that the final connection between main line and hook was often the difference between success and abject failure. Choice of hook, thickness/colour/ length of line and knots used all had to be correct if I was to fool a fish and hang on to it when fly fishing. I imagine the same is true of the final few inches when chasing roach.

spools of line for making hook lengths

Not being a competition angler I don’t require a vast armoury of gear so a few pre-tied rigs does me fine for a day on the canal bank. I have seen anglers with those plastic hook length boxes which are then filled with rows of perfectly tied hook lengths of exactly the same dimensions. I greatly admire the guys who populate those boxes and keep them topped up. I am not that accurate when tying my hook lengths and don’t trust bought ones so instead I acquired a couple of foam lined rig wallets and use them for my hook lengths. That works well enough for me and it means I can store a few hair rigs in there too. Not being a carp angler per say the world of hair rigs, bolt rigs, helicopter rigs or ronnies don’t really concern me too often. My interest in hair rigs simply extends as far as bigger baits for tench or using a pop up in weedy conditions.

I think I have mentioned in a previous post how much I detest snelling tiny spade end hooks. For someone who makes small trout flies it seems a bit weird that I struggle with a simple knot on a size 20. In the end I decided to cut my losses and invest in a hook tyer. These can be purchased for a very small amount. A simple little gadget, this has greatly speeded up my creation of hook lengths. The particular one I bought is a ‘Matchman tyer’ but there are lots of different ones made by other manufacturers out there. The added bonus of using the tyer is that you can easily use the tag end loop to make a hair rig.

In an effort to try and regulate my stock of hook lengths for use here in Ireland I settled on the following standard set ups made up in my (roughly) 4 and 6 inch lengths:

hook sizeline breaking strain
221.5
201.5
182
162.5
143.2
124
104

I realise this is a crude and unsophisticated arrangement but hear me out. Irish coarse fishing consists of relatively straight forward methods. Yes, a competition angler would need to be able to make many small adjustments to maximise their catch but a pleasure angler like me will do just fine with the above range of hook lengths. The smallest sizes are used for single maggot, usually for fishing on a canal. I use size 14 and 16 hooks for two/three maggots, a section of worm or sweetcorn and the bigger hooks are for larger worm baits or bread flake. For bigger fish like tench or carp I make up special rigs on eight pound line. These I keep in another rig wallet but given the rare occasions I might fish for carp it sees little action. If, for some reason I feel the need for a hook length which is different from my ‘standard’ ones I make them up with eyed hooks when fishing. I carry some packets of eyed hooks in my waistcoat pocket for this purpose.

One of my rig wallets

As for attaching the hook length to the main line I use two methods. For the lighter lines I tie a simple surgeon’s loop on the hook length and make a loop-to-loop connection. On heavier lines I sometimes use a tiny swivel. I guess there is a reason why swivels are not used by most coarse anglers but they make perfect sense to me. The tiniest ones add only a small amount of weight.

When fishing, I change hook lengths fairly regularly, usually to change hook size or if I suspect it has been abraded on the bottom. I cut the old hook length off and put it into a box I carry just for this purpose. The same happens if I change my whole rig, I snip it off and put it in the box to be dealt with later. When I get home (or more usually the next day) I go through the contents of the box and chop up all the line into tiny sections for disposal. I salvage all the useful hooks, shot, floats etc. and put them back into their respective tackle boxes. The whole point is not to be messing about on the bank and to get the baited hook in front of the fish as much as possible.

After a day’s fishing

Expert coarse fishers are no doubt appalled at my lack of sophistication here but look, we all had to start somewhere. I have tried to apply a degree of logical thinking into organising my hook lengths and it seems to be working for me so far. A potential fly in the ointment is my growing interest in method feeders. Would they offer me an advantage when trying for tench? If so, I might need shorter hook lengths. A conundrum for another day…………

One of the reasons it took me so long to take up coarse fishing was my perception that you required a huge amount of tackle. In particular, the sight of anglers with barrows loaded to the gunnels with bivvys, beds, chairs, multi-sectioned poles, fancy cooking and lighting gear, bite alarms and myriad of other hi-tech accessories left me cold. Hell, the complex seats sprouting all manner of trays, umbrellas, pole roller systems et al made me feel totally inadequate. It was only when I broke down what I absolutely needed that the shopping list became manageable. Even still, I am slowly buying little bits which, while not essential, are making my angling more enjoyable. These are not ‘big ticket’ items. For the fishing that I do a €500 seat with all the bells and whistles would be overkill. I admit I am considering an umbrella but it will only be a very basic model. The reason for taking my time in deciding whether to buy a brolly is the fact wet weather here in Ireland often coincides with high winds. The jury is still out…..

It is the smaller items which I have bought which are bringing the greatest rewards. The hook tyer mentioned above is typical of the kind of thing I am talking about. I also got a multi-purpose needle which is great for attaching bait on to hair rigs for example. A nice woolly hat with a built in rechargeable LED light is another, great for setting up or packing up in the dark. Artificial maggots were a welcome discovery. They float and don’t easily fall off the hook so they are ideal for tipping natural baits, preventing them from falling off and at the same time lifting them above the debris on the bottom. None of these thing cost much money but they all added to the experiences of a day with float and leger.

If I had some money (I don’t so this is purely a day dream) I know what I would invest in – a boat! ‘You have a boat you bloody fool’ I hear you say. Correct, but my 19 foot fibreglass boat is intended for lough fishing and is a devil to tow/launch/retrieve. No, what I would buy is an inflatable dory and an electric engine. Easy to transport and inflate, a 2.3m or 2.5m dory would be ideal for accessing rarely fished parts of loughs. Here in some parts of Ireland we have whole systems of loughs which are full of fish but you cannot access them from the shore. A small inflatable would provide me with a huge range of opportunities. And I just love messing about in boats. So the answer to the question ‘what would you do if you won the lottery’ would surely elicit an unusual reply from me.

I am rabbiting on a bit now. I wanted to talk about hook lengths and here I am going on about inflatable boats! I guess that is a reflection of my mind now, with no fishing my thoughts are wandering down all sorts of avenues. Mind yourselves out there and I will write again when I am less scattered.

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Fishing in Ireland

Looking forward

It’s a Friday evening in January and I am in front of the fire. For the last hour I have been practising on the guitar and dreaming about angling. I am feeling particularly happy because my ancient car (20 years old, 317,000 miles on the clock) sailed through the NCT test this week. I had been anticipating the usual handful of expensive repairs but instead it passed with flying colours. It was a welcome break from the unremittingly bad news that seems to surround us and is hard to take every day. Infection and fatality numbers continue to rise and the pandemic feels like it is out of control in Ireland. For me, it feels like it is largely self-inflicted. I know of so many people who flouted the most basic of rules over the festive period, gathering in groups for house parties, not wearing a mask or washing their hands (especially after a few drinks) and even passing bottles or glasses between each other. This was only going to end one way and sure enough we are all paying the price now with new restrictions on our freedoms being enacted by the government most days. In an effort to try to give you something more optimistic to think about I thought you might like to hear what my plans are for the 2021 season.

I came to music very late but love messing around on this CBG.

I am going to write off the spring. At best we may get some easing of travel restrictions in March but I doubt even that will happen so I am assuming it will be April before we are allowed out to fish again. For me personally that is not a huge issue as I will be very busy with work until the start of April.

For a start, I am aiming on ticking off a few more counties in my grand plan to catch a fish in every Irish county. April will hopefully see me heading for counties Down to fish for trout and then roach fishing in Dublin and Kildare. I love April and can’t wait to be out in the fresh air again.

A Carrowmore springer from a few years ago.

April will also see me on Carrowmore Lake chasing salmon. It has always been a good month to me there and fingers crossed there will be a good run of fish this year. Beltra is also high on my agenda. There is a brown tag system in place on the lough this year and I think I am right in saying the whole Newport river/Beltra lough system is only getting 40 tags. All in all, April will be a busy month. Just think lads and lasses, that is only 12 weeks away!

Come May it is my intention to concentrate on lough Conn. It fished well last year for the first time in many years and if the weather is good I can see another bumper year there. Just the thought of drifting along the shallow shoreline of that great lake is enough to bring a smile to the face of any seasoned angler.

Castlehill Bay on Lough Conn

Apart from Conn I am looking at driving down to Kilkenny and Carlow to chalk those two counties off my list. These are going to be tough and I am anticipating possible blanks.

June, and I am planning on heading off on a couple of long distance trips to Cork or Kerry and maybe Waterford and Wexford. It kind off depends what is happening work-wise and how much free time I have. Oh, and I want to try Lough Keeaghan up in Fermanagh. It looks like a lovely fishery with plenty of brownies in it.

July is the height of the sea fishing around these parts and so I will almost certainly try for the usual mackerel and pollack to fill the freezer. I’ll keep an ear to the ground in case the evening hatches on Carra start again. I miss the excitement of those summer evenings when the trout went mad feasting on buzzers and sedges as the light turned to darkness. I would end up casting in the pitch black, trying to figure out where that noisy splashes were by sound alone. Those heart-stopping takes when a good trout engulfed your fly were simply magical.

pollack, another favourite of mine.

August rolls around and the grilse will be running the Moy. There were plenty around last year so fingers crossed we see more of the same this year. With any luck we will be able to travel more freely and I am pencilling in a trip to Scotland to see my family and fit in a day’s fishing somewhere over there. Maybe a day on the river Dee fishing for grilse? That would be nice!

There are plenty of other ideas floating around too. I have found so many venues in Leitrim and Cavan to fish for roach and bream it would take a lifetime to try them all. Getting to grips with trotting maggots on deep Irish rivers for roach is something I want to try out for example. Then there are the shy tench which I have yet to crack. Early morning summer sessions look very exciting and I want to try hard for them this year.

Rainbows – I have not fished for rainbow trout for maybe a decade and have a hankering to go out on a stocked lake one more time.

I could go on and on. Whether I actually manage to fish or any of the above is in the lap of the Gods right now but I believe it is important to keep your spirits up in these dark and terrible days. If you are struggling a bit then take some time to do what I am doing – look forward and make some plans to go fishing. We anglers thrive on the challenge of not knowing much. We like to think we are good at catching fish but how much does chance play its part? We don’t know when or where we will be fishing again but it does us good to at least begin to form some plans. Beyond looking after ourselves and loved ones we have little control over what else is going on around us. At least we can think forward to a time when we can travel, can fish and can be ourselves again. So make some rough plans, tie a few flies or make up some rigs. You will need them in the not too distant future.

Spring is not far off now
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