As the winter gives way to springtime us fishermen turn our thoughts to the early season fisheries and prime amongst the Irish loughs is Beltra. There are more prolific loughs and rivers but for sheer beauty it is hard to beat lovely lough Beltra. Since it is one of my local waters and one which I fish regularly I thought I would share some information on the best drifts on the Glenisland side of the lough. It may just help a visiting angler to locate a springer. Opening day is 20th March and one or two locals who live on the shores of the lough will no doubt be out to try their luck on that day.
Beltra lies to the west of the town of Castlebar in the townland of Glenisland. This is marginal farming country of rough pastures and hill sheep. The lough collects water from the Crumpaun river which flows into the northern end of the lough and the Newport river discharges from the opposite southern end. The Newport river is a good salmon fishery in its own right but I have only rarely fished it and am no expert on that water. In addition there are a few small streams which drain the immediate area and find their way into the lough.
Roughly two miles long by a mile or so wide, the lough is set on a northeast – south west axis and this is very important to know when planning a day on the lake. The predominant wind direction here in Mayo is an Atlantic breeze from the south west. This is pretty much a perfect direction for Beltra as it allows you to set up a drift from the southern end of the lake and be blown up the full length of the lough to the north. In practice the wind is rarely spot on and the drifts need to be adjusted as you proceed down the lough but either a south west or a north east wind suits the Glenisland Coop side of the lough.
While there are islands and bays on the Newport side of the lough there is an open shoreline on the Coop side. Fishing is carried out close to the shore, if you are more than 50 yards from the bank you are too far out in most places (I will come to exceptions to that rule later on). The reason for this is the depth falls away rapidly and the salmon (and sea trout) much prefer to lie in shallow water when they get into the lough. So keep close to the bank and adjust your drift with strokes on an oar out the back of the boat. Unlike most of the big loughs, there are no rocks or reefs to worry about on this side of Beltra. There are a few well marked rocks on the Newport House side but none on Glenisland. For some anglers this is a blessing. I know not a few very good anglers who hate dodging in around rocks and reefs for fear of grounding of smashing a hole in the boat. Others, myself included, find that where there are reefs or rocks there will often be fish so put up with the occasional scratch on the keel from barely visible obstructions.
Let’s take a look at some of the well known drifts on the Glenisland side. We will presume there is a good force 4 or 5 south-westerly blowing. The mouth of the river where the stream at the harbour enters the lough is a good spot. Silt from the river has built up over the years and the water is shallow (mind your propeller!). Start your drift well to the south so you have time to get your line lengthened and everything in the boat settled. It will depend on the height of water in the lough but roughly 20 – 40 yards out is about right. Drift past the mouth of the river then guide the boat towards the shore. Fish on down the length of the shoreline, keeping inside the 50 yard line. This a good drift for sea trout too.
Moving down the lough, Morrisons is a grand lie for a salmon. Drifting up to it from the south you come to a small point of gravel; fish can take you either before or immediately after this point. After this there are sometimes a fish or two sitting 50-100 yards further down.
Next as we drift along the shore we come to the Wall. The reason for the name is obvious as there is a wall practically on the edge of the water where the road runs close by. No major features here bar a small stream which enters the lough via a culvert under the road.
The red shed is now a bit of a misnomer after the owner painted it grey a few years ago! We still refer to it as the red shed though. Another good salmon lie, they can come to you from right along this piece of shoreline. There is a tiny little bay where a small stream comes in and fish lie all around here. The slightly featureless shore stretching northwards from the small bay is all good salmon water. This leads you down to the northern harbour which is known as ‘the dock’.
So what do you do if the wind is not blowing conveniently from the south west. Your best bet is going to be the northern end of the lough where the shallows at the mouth of the Crumpaun river can be tackled in just about any wind direction. You are sort of trapped in a small area but it is always a good spot for a salmon and I have seen many fish caught there in winds which meant the rest of the lough was almost unfishable. The bottom here is sandy and the fish seem to like lying in the shallow water. By late spring there will be some weed growth on the bottom here, especially as you get closer to the shore so watch out for vegetation fouling your flies. The shallows outside the dock are one of the prime drifts for sea trout on the lough. It is worth noting that when the Crumpaun river is in flood this end of the lough can become very dirty with sediment from the river, making it unfishable at times. The limit of the beat is marked by a buoy so you often here locals referring to catching a fish ‘at the buoy’. It is good fishing water right across from the buoy to the dock. Keep a careful eye on the depth of water when drifting into the mouth of the river, it shallows up and you can ground the boat which could be tricky to re-float in a good wind.
I am not saying it is impossible to fish the main lies along the east shore in any wind except a south westerly, it is just much harder work. A westerly pushes the boat fast on to the shore and drifts consist of a few hasty casts before starting the engine and going back out a hundred yards or so. This is tiring work for little return. An easterly wind is blocked by the hills meaning calm water on the Glenisland shore (who likes an east wind anyway!)
In a North Easterly wind Walsh’s Bay at the south of the lough is a good lie. Here the fish lie very close to the shore so cast your flies as close as you dare to the rocks and rushes and be ready for a pull within inches of dry land. This is a lovely wee bay to fish, very intimate and calming.
Fishing on your own can be hard work as casting a heavy line and pulling on an oar to keep on the drift demands a degree of physicality. The services of a ghillie can really be a boon and there are some excellent ones on the lough, including some real characters (you know who you are!). If you are not used to handling a boat in big waves and high winds then I strongly recommend you hire a ghillie for the day. He will take care of the hard work on the oar and let you concentrate on your casting in the challenging conditions. The ghillie will also have the advantage of intimate knowledge and experience which can be crucial, especially on marginal days.
I could go on and on about this lough but the best thing is for you to come and experience it for yourself. The fishing is not easy and blank days are common but few places finer for spending a day.