dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing

32 – Galway

If I am honest I should have really ticked Galway off right at the very beginning of the ’32’ project as I have caught numerous fish in this county over the years. Sea fishing out of Clifden, mackerel bashing off the rocks in Galway Bay, casting flies for brown trout on the Clare river – the list goes on and on. A fisher could spend his or her life in the county and still not fish all the available waters. Some of the angling greats fished in Galway and wrote extensively of their experiences so there is no shortage of literature to digest if you are researching the area. I used to come to Galway frequently when I lived in Scotland and loved the city (especially the nightlife), the surrounding countryside and the fishing. But for the sake of this project I wanted to catch a fish in the county this year so I made plans to try for some trout on mighty lough Corrib.

Anglers across the globe are familiar with the Corrib, it holds a special draw on fishermen’s imagination. Since the dawn of sport fishing the vast, wild waters of this lough have provided spectacular angling for those lucky enough to cast a line here. For many years I kept a boat on the upper part of the lough and got to know it reasonably well, catching (and losing) some terrific trout in the process. The days spent exploring the bays and islands, the offshore reefs and craggy shorelines were a joy and I learned a lot about my own abilities as well as the ways of the fish. Days of high expectation which came to naught were balanced by exciting sport amid glorious surroundings. Corrib is a special lough which captures your heart.

For those unfamiliar with Corrib let me give you a rough outline of the fishery. With a surface area of over 170 km2 it is the second largest freshwater lough on the island of Ireland (after lough Neagh). It lies to the north of Galway city and a small part of it is in county Mayo. Roughly divided into two parts, the northern basin tends to be deeper and rockier with the south basin shallow and open. The lough is narrow and full of reefs where the two basins join. Islands, large and small dot the lough and I have heard numbers for these island vary between 365 and over a thousand. I guess it all depends on your exact definition of when a reef becomes an island. While brown trout are the principle quarry species the lough is also home to pike, ferox, salmon, perch, bream and roach. Visiting anglers are well catered for by the local boatmen who can be hired from villages around the lough. This is no place for a beginner, you need to know exactly where you can motor and fish, keep a close watch on the weather, know how to handle a boat in all conditions and be prepared for every eventuality. Sadly, lives are lost too often when this lough is not shown the respect it deserves.

In terms of the fishing, the Corrib caters for every taste. Some people troll for large trout and salmon while many others prefer to dap. I much prefer to fly fish despite the knowledge a dapper will out-fish me most days both in terms of the number and the size of trout caught. It is late May and that of course means one thing and one thing only – the mayfly. My plan was simple, fish either wets or dries depending on the hatch, move until I found the fish and to enjoy my days out on the lough. I say ‘days’ as I was fortunate to be sharing a boat with that fine angler, Dr. John Connolly of Pontoon for four days on the Corrib.

John Connelly amid the chaos of our boat. Note the flat calm!

Sometimes I fish with a 6 or even a 5 weight outfit but here in the Corrib you can run into some seriously large fish so I brought along my 7 weight outfit. Wet fly usually catches average sized trout with the dappers picking up bigger fish but even still trout in the 5 to 10 pound range are caught by fly fishers each season so it pays to fish on the heavy side.

No wind. I looked out first thing in the morning, as all anglers do. The trees stood straight and tall, no signs of the slightest movement in their branches. I was not overly concerned though as the wind usually picks up as the day goes on. I had slung a pile of gear into the back of the car the night before so it only remained for me to sort out food and drink for the day. I would be ghillieing John for these 4 days but I hoped to pick up a rod for a while too, depending on how the days panned out. Due to Covid restrictions we met up on the edge of town but traveled separately, two cars in tandem as we drove down the long road to Doorus. Ballinrobe, Clonbur and Cornamona came and went then down the shrub fringed narrow road to the small private harbour where our hire boat was moored.

Doorus is a peninsular which juts out into the upper part of the western side of lough Corrib. It has long been associated with excellent trout fishing, in particular when the mayfly are hatching. Islands, reefs and shallows dot the waters around the peninsular and the whole area is a fishers heaven. Friends had been fishing there the day before and while they had lean pickings they saw the dappers pick up many good trout up to in excess of 5 pounds in weight.

The time honored rituals of loading the mountain of gear into the boat ensued. We met up with Jim and Brian who were also fishing today and we made loose arrangements to meet up at lunchtime. An aggressive swan got a bit too close for comfort as we pulled away from the shore and headed out for our first drift. The westerly wind was fitful and only 30 minutes in to the day that small breeze died completely, leaving us becalmed. Motoring around we hunted for a ripple, however small. This went on for a while until a faint zephyr from the north gradually built up sufficiently to ruffle the surface slightly. It wasn’t much but it was just enough to allow us to fish. John fished a team of wets while I opted for a pair of dries. We were equally unsuccessful for the next two hours. Mayfly were hatching in reasonable numbers but very few trout had shown. Time for a spot of lunch!

L to R: Brian, Jim, Paul and Liam

Pulling into an island we decamped and started to walk over to a table in the trees where two fellow anglers were sitting. A string of profanities greeted me and I recognised Liam and Paul, lads from town. I had not clapped eyes on Liam for years so we had some catching up to do. Firing up my kettle, I was horrified to find I had left my mug at home and had to beg a loan of one from the lads. We spent a while recalling our various fishing experiences and there was the familiar raid on my fly box by the boys. Parting on the shore, we all headed off in different directions. It had been great to see the lads, especially on an island in the middle of the Corrib.

I set us up on one lovely drift after another, ghosting over reefs and pale submerged stones or hugging the edges of tree covered islands. Close to a rocky island shore John lifted into a fish but it turned out to be a lightly hooked 6 incher. Back it went and we resumed the drift. Just enough of a wind was blowing to create a small wave and a trickle of mayflies were still hatching so we had some hope. Fishing with one hand on the oar and flicking out casts with my other hand we tried to cover as much water as possible. Fixed intently on the pair of dries I got a perfect view as a trout head-and-tailed as it inhaled my Yellow Wulff. A delayed strike found purchase and I was in at last. After a good fight which featured a blistering run, I netted a fine trout of about a pound-and-three-quarters. The lads wanted some fish to cook so this one went into the bag. Relief was writ large on my face, the day had been slipping away without me moving a fish until then.

Dried and treated, once more the flies were sent back out again but that was all the sport we had for the day. Given the time of year this was a poor return but conditions had been tough and all the other boats we met had similar catches of just one or two trout.

So I had achieved my goal and landed a fish in Co. Galway. Under the circumstances I suppose I should be happy I caught one but I honestly feel I should have done better. Mayfly were hatching a few trout were moving to them. Ah well, there is always the next time.

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

32 – Mayo

I blanked on my last visit to Carrowmore so I was hoping for better luck this time around. The lake has been a bit hit and miss so far this year with some anglers catching regularly while others are struggling to meet fish. A storm is forecast for the end of this week which will churn the bottom of the lake so this trip was aimed to put in a few hours before the lake became unfishable. I had been thinking about where to fish as part of my ’32’ project and plumped for Carrowmore, so this was going to be a big day for me.

The usual preparations were made and I arranged to meet Ben in Bangor as we still have to travel separately. I drove up under bright sunshine and with hardly any wind to shake the roadside trees and bushes. In the end, we met up in the car park at the harbour and nattered about the fishing as we tackled up. A few other cars were there too which is normally a good sign. I tied on a 3 fly leader with a Goats Toe Muddler, Claret Bumble and a Golden Olive hairwing creation of mine to start with. Clouds began to roll in from the west and the there was enough of a wind to give a ripple as we motored up the lake in improving conditions.

By judicious use of the oar Ben guided us along the mouth of the Glencullin river over prime lies but there were no takers apart from a few small brownies. We repeated the exercise then moved over to the Barney Shore as the wind was favorable for that drift. I had a small sea trout and a brownie and Ben added another pair of small trout but the salmon were still eluding us. We could see other boats around us and none of them were meeting fish either. With the fishing quiet we adjourned for lunch, wolfed down as we sat on the shore with sky larks serenading us from on high. Why do sandwiches and tea taste so good when eaten on the edge of the water? I took the opportunity to change all the flies on the cast, going for a Green Peter on the bob, a Wilkinson in the middle and a Beltra Badger on the tail. I figured the bright flies suited the day that was in it.

The clouds had burned off by now and we were treated to blue skies and a fierce sun which reflected off the surface of the lough making it hard to watch the flies. Another drift over the Glencullin lies was fruitless so we fished the shallow further out which is marked with an orange buoy. Not a stir. This is typical of salmon fishing, long hours flogging the water with no signs of fish. It takes a strong will and a hefty dose of self belief to keep going some days.

Ben suggested the Barney Shore again and I did not object. We set up on the drift close to the shore. Stonechats were singing that familiar weird song of theirs and I was watching some Sand Martins swooping over the fields out of the corner of my eye. Then it happened………………………

Ten yards from the boat the water broke and the tail of a fish lashed the surface as it turned down. Simultaneously, the line tightened and I lifted into solid resistance. ‘Salmon’ said Ben but I was not so sure. ‘Feels small, maybe a sea trout’ I countered, reeling in the slack and watching what the fish was doing. She swam towards the boat at first, staying deep and shaking her head. I stamped on the wooden boards, our usual tactic to keep the fish away from the boat and potentially swimming right under it. She moved off to my left and very obligingly kept going round to the back of the boat. This is where you want a fish to be so that you have room to play it out. By now Ben had reeled in his line, stowed his rod and had grabbed an oar which he used to move the boat away from the shore. These actions as so well rehearsed that neither of us need to ask the other, we simply get on with the jobs while the lucky angler is concentrating on playing the fish.

The ratchet sang as the salmon went off on a short run but it did not go far, instead turning and coming back towards the boat under heavy pressure from me. I don’t like to see fish being allowed to run too far and possibly drowning the line so I play salmon quite hard. My rod was hooped over and the line disappeared into the water almost vertically as the fish swam near the bottom. Another short run ended with the fish rolling just under the surface and we both got our first good look at it. ‘Fresh fish’ said Ben, not wasting words unnecessarily. ‘Bigger than I thought’ I chipped in. Yet another short run, this time to my right then back down to the bottom she went again. My wrist was aching by now!

I heard the net being extended as I applied more pressure to bring the fish up to the top. There she thrashed, always a nerve-wreaking moment but the hook held. I could see she had taken the bob fly. Circling now, the fish was beginning to tire but she still managed to dive once more then head of to my right again. I checked Ben was ready and led the fish towards the net. She shied away at first but I maneuvered her back and with her head up she slid into the waiting meshes. The relief was palpable and grinning like a pair of lunatics, we shook hands and quickly dispatched the salmon. The whole battle had probably lasted less than ten minutes. Ten minutes of doubts, fears and anxiety. I have fished most of my life and landed hundreds of salmon but the thrill of the fight never leaves you.

I put the fish into a bass to keep it fresh after fitting both tags through the gills. Now we had to get the boat back in order to resume fishing. The net was stowed, my tackle checked after the rigors of the fight and the oar put back into the right position. We set up to fish the balance of the drift and started casting again as we discussed every minute detail of the battle. In salmon fishing, it is often the case a second fish can be lured soon after the first one so it pays to fish hard when one is in the boat. Today though the lough was not going to play that game and we fished out the long drift without any further action.

We did the same drift again, then back out to the buoy and over Glencullin once more too. Not a fish stirred so we decided to stop for another cuppa. We both felt the conditions, while very bright, meant there was the chance of another fish so we next headed off for Paradise Bay. A couple of drifts failed to produce anything and so I decided to call it a day. I was tired and my wrist was aching. Under an azure sky dotted with cotton wool clouds we drove back to the harbour, both deep in thought. Today it had been my turn but is could just as easily been Bens. Why that fish had taken my fly and not his we will never know but that is part of the attraction of salmon fishing.

Gerry, one of the local Fisheries Officers, was at the harbour when we pulled in and he checked my catch to see everything was in order. We chatted for a while about fish and fishing and Ben decided he would go back out to fish on a while longer. I got out of the fishing clothes and packed everything into the car. The wind was dropping now and the sun was starting to sink in the west. The long road home seems much shorter when there is a salmon in the back of the car!

So there you have it, Mayo has been crossed off my list of the 32 counties. I had fished hard all day, kept persevering in marginal conditions and never gave up hope. This does not always work but I believe persistence is critical to being a successful salmon angler. I will sleep soundly tonight, trust me!

The successful fly

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Fishing in Ireland

Conn

After such an enjoyable day on Mask last Saturday I decided to head out on lough Conn for a few hours today. I rose early and checked the tall trees for movement – nothing, it was dead calm. Looking at the sky though it seemed to promise a little wind so I got myself ready and headed of about 10am. Neil Young on the CD player, giving it socks with ‘Ragged Glory’ as I cruised along the R310 once again. I sang along with Neil and the lads, distortion turned up to maximum, as the greening land slipped by.

The boat was in fine fettle apart from the 4 inches of water inside her, so I bailed that lot out and loaded up. Pike Bay was calm but there seemed to be a small ripple out in the main body of the lake. 3 tugs on the cord then the engine burst into life and out into the lough I headed. Rounding the point I found a small wave was coming out of Castlehill bay so I drove in there. All of my biggest trout from Conn have come from this bay but the past few seasons it has fished very poorly for me. Mayflies were hatching, not in huge numbers but there was a steady trickle of them. No signs of any fish rising though. I set up on a drift and kept an eye on the other three boats who were already fishing. The first drift was blank, as was the next one. Next drift took me nearer the shore and the line stopped abruptly and a weight on the end moved off a little. I knew immediately what this was – a perch. Sure enough, in came a lovely stripy lad with blood red fins. We are a funny crowd us fishermen, if I had landed this perch on worm under a float on a canal I would have been over the moon. Here, fishing for trout it was a disappointment. I unhooked him and slid him back into the water after a quick photo.

Fly life was good with lots of buzzers and some small sedges on the water but not a single trout did I see. None of the other boats appeared to be catching either so I decided to make a move. Motoring down the lake I stopped a Massbrook but here there was no wind, making fishing extremely difficult. I waited and watched for a while, hoping to see some mayflies hatching and the trout rising to eat the duns. Nothing stirred. I ate a sandwich, washing down with some luke warm tea. What to do next?

I was tempted to return to Castlehill again, simply because I knew there was a hatch of mayfly there. In the end though I opted to cross the lough and fish Bracawansha. The wind picked up a little on my way over, just enough for a wave of a foot or so. In fact, I had really good conditions now with a steady wind, thick cloud cover and when I arrived at my next spot I was greeted by a few mayfly on the surface. Three wet flies were chucked out and pulled back in again as I dodged among the boulders, some marked with poles but others unmarked and dangerous.

Mayflies were now hatching in good numbers and I expected to see fish rising but they kept their heads down in the main. A heavy tug indicated a fish had at last shown some interest and I duly boated a fine fish of about a pound and a quarter. He took the Golden Olive Bumble on the top and I admired his gorgeous colouring before slipping him over the side. The wind would not settle at all, moving from north to west them back again in the space of a few minutes. Setting up on a drift was a challenge even though the wind was not strong. Working the oar constantly was the only way to keep on anything approaching a steady drift.

A typical lough Conn trout

Another trout splashed as he took the fly and after a lively tussle he came to hand, maybe a little smaller than the first lad. This time it was the wee Silver Drake that worked and this one too was released. Drifts were typically two or three hundred yards long and each time one ended close to the shore I backed up a little and came over new ground. The water here is shallow and wonderful for trout fishing so each cast could be the one to produce another take. I missed two rises, feeling no resistance to either of them.

My casting seems to be a shoddy and I suffered frequent tangles. As I ended a drift I could see all three flies were in a bunch so I motored far out into the deep water where I would have time to make up a new leader. By the time the job was completed I was near enough the shallows to start fishing. Lengthening the line on the first cast a trout grabbed the tail fly as it hit the surface. This one was a bit smaller but it put up a good scrap. He too was let back into the water, none the worse for his encounter. Showers had come and gone throughout the afternoon and I was a bit wet by 3.30pm so I decided to call it a day. Across the wide expanse of the lough I motored, the Honda buzzing happily along as I mulled over the past few hours.

The point of today had been to reconnoiter the lough and see if I could locate mayflies hatching and trout feeding so in both respects it had been a successful trip. Perhaps I should have stayed in Castlehill and the trout may have come on the feed but I strongly suspect that did not happen. Massbrook had no signs of fly life but then the wind was wrong for that shore and it may fish well in a more favorable breeze. A good hatch at Bracawansha had definitely got the fish feeding and I should have probably done better than the three fish I boated. The bottom line is that the mayfly season has started and the next couple of weeks, if the weather is good, should see a steady improvement in catches on lough Conn. I shall return!

Three trout on three different flies
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Fishing in Ireland

Mouth of the canal

This trip had been planned for a while but had to be put off for various reasons. Mike works at the plant in Westport where I had been on contract and we talked often about our fishing exploits, eventually agreeing we would fish Lough mask one day. After numerous false starts we finally made it out on the water yesterday.

Mike keeps his boat on the western shore of the lough and we arrived there just around 10.30 this morning. The weather forecast was for light winds and we were concerned we would be greeted with a flat calm, but no, there was a nice wave and a wind from the south-west as we tackled up. Both setting up on wet flys, we headed off for the Schintellas where Mike had been very successfull a couple of weeks ago. Since then though the water level has dropped and it seemd like the fish which had been there in numbers had moved out now.

On the first drift Mike saw a fish rise and casting to it, he set the hook in a small trout but it quickly fell off. A promising start, but 3 or 4 drifts went by we had not seen any other fish let alone hook anything. Low cloud and rain squalls did little to encourage us so we pulled into an island for a reviving cuppa and to figure out a new strategy. The lack of fly life was my biggest concern and we felt we should move to try and locate a hatch. Mike had heard reports from other fishers that the mayfly were up but the hatches were very localised. With no signs of life here we would need to go looking elsewhere. Back in the boat we headed east and then south to the well known waters off the mouth of the canal.

For those unfamiliar with Lough Mask let me explain a little about this area of the lake. During the mid-nineteenth century a plan was hatched to link Lough Mask to the sea via a canal to join it to Lough Corrib. The two loughs are separated by a thin strip of land so this did not look to be too big a problem. Unfortunately the engineers had not bargained for the porous nature of the limestone rocks around here and while they dug out a channel in the normal fashion they simply could not keep the water in it. Fractures and chasms in the rock allowed the water in the canal to drain out and no matter how often the engineers tried to staunch the flow their efforts were all unsuccessful. The canal was abandoned and left alone except for the fish which used it for a breeding area. Where the disused canal joins lough Mask is known as the mouth of the canal and it is a very popular fishing area with a reputation for holding big trout.

We set up on a drift and I soon turned a fish which stayed on only for a few seconds before shaking the fly free. The wind dropped and we set up on the next drift, a tad closer to the canal mouth. Mike had by now switched on to dry fly as the conditions were ideal. There were even a few mayfly hatching out so we both felt much more confident. I managed to put a knot in my leader and as I was sorting it out I looked at my middle dropper and thought it was not right for today (it was a red-tailed Invicta). My Golden Olive Bumble variant might be a better option, so I ferreted about in the fly box and found one on a size 10 hook.

I had only made about 20 casts when the line tightened and I was into a fish which fought really well before sliding into the net. A fine fish of a pound and three-quarters with wonderful markings was my prize. It had taken the newly added bumble. It was great to land a fish but even more satisfying that it took the newly tied on fly.

look at the markings on this one

We drifted on, both fishing hard now on the back of the success. Once again my line tightened and a good trout took to the air, ran to the right, turned around and shot off to my left, leaped again and finally threw the hook. Who could grudge such a doughty fighter his freedom? The brief encounter was huge fun and I felt no sense of loss at the fishes escape. On down the shore we drifted and yet another fish took me. The rod bent hard over as he powered off on a run but this one stayed deep, trying to snag the line on the jumble of limestone boulders on the bottom. Safely in the boat he turned the scales at two pounds and was the most glorious bronze hue. In the space of 20 minutes I had hooked three good trout and boated two of them. Lough Mask was being very kind today.

Pulling in to the shore, Mike changed back to the wet fly and I gave him one of my bumbles to tie on. A quick cup of tea then we were back out again. Pretty soon Mike had a trout slash at the dropper but it failed to connect. Lifting off, he cast again and this time was rewarded with a firm take to the tail fly, a black dabbler. Played out, he slid the fish into the meshes and we both admired the third trout of the day. We fished hard on various drifts in the bay but the fish had gone quiet so we moved out to try new water.

The rest of the day was fishless but drifted over some fantastic reefs and were expecting a take on every cast. The noticable difference between the mouth of the canal and the other areas we covered was the fly life. It was almost totally absent on the other drifts but we found a few mays, lots of caddis, some lake olives, alders and midges near the canal. Even though we are in the middle of May the mayfly hatch has barely started. The recent cold weather must have played a part in this and we need to hope for rising temperatures before the end of the month.

About 6pm we decided to call it a day after fishing around the islands on our way back to base. The wind had been very good to us all day, falling away sometimes but always picking up again to keep a small wave on the surface.

OK, so three trout landed for a day out on Lough Mask is hardly scintillating fishing but we both enjoyed the day. Just to be out on the lake after lockdown is a great feeling. A large number of boats were out today, many I am sure having traveled from other counties now the restrictions have been lifted. I suppose some boats did very well today while others blanked but in the grand scheme of things I think we can be happy with three good trout for our efforts. The mayfly are starting to hatch but numbers where we were fishing are still low. If the weather is good we should see an increase in activity over the next two weeks.

We pulled into the shore at the end of the day just as the wind dropped away, leaving the face of the lough serene and peaceful. Gear was unloaded and lugged back to the car, rods dismantled and waterproof garments removed. The boat secured, we drove off and headed home, talking about the day as we went. The car was full of our gear, engine, fuel tank, bags, rods, nets and the rest. We marveled at the sheer quantity of accouterments required to catch three small fish but that is our chosen sport and we love it. Days like yesterday when the weather is kind and we catch a few fish in glorious surroundings are the stuff of dreams. It was our first time sharing a boat but I hope we can do so again in the future. Mike is a skillful and persistent angler and it was a pleasure to share the day with him.

I did not fish last week as we had a death in the family. Sadly Helen’s mam, Patricia, passed away at the age of 81 years. She will be sadly missed. A larger than life character, she was a kind and caring woman who battled great difficulties all her life. Rest in peace Pat.

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Fishing in Ireland

First week of May

Tuesday, and I am going to try lough Conn with Ben. The weather seems to have forgotten this is the month of May and is doing its best impression of February. When we should be expecting blossoming trees swaying in balmy breezes, we are instead in the chilling embrace of an arctic airflow. Extra clothing is chucked in the car before setting off.

We meet at the edge of the water and decide to put his engine on my boat, given the day that is in it. My 6ph is grand on a normal day but the beefier 8hp Yamaha that Ben uses will be useful in today’s conditions. Tackled up, we head out into the teeth of a northerly wind, heading for a well known salmon lie in Castlehill Bay. By the time we reach the spot, only a few minutes from where my boat was berthed, we are both soaked. A three foot wave means we are covered in spray as we travel. Worse, there seems to be a leak in my old jacket and a rivulet of icy water is running down the back of my neck. Set up on the drift, we cast and retrieve as the rain lashes down and the wind roars. We must be mad to go fishing in this! Short roll casts snake out across the waves and numb fingers pull the line back before lifting the rod for the next throw. The salmon are conspicuous by their absence. The wind eased off for a while only to pick up again within a few minutes.

the squall had passed when I took this, it doesn’t look too bad but trust me, it was freezing cold

A few drifts later, and with no signs of life, we decide to try trolling for a while. Out comes the ironmongery and a pair of old Toby spoons are sent flickering behind us. A course for Massbrook is set and we hunker down. The following wind drives us forward, the boat slithering over creamy wave tops. The waves must be near four feet high as we turn into the shelter of Victoria Bay. The waters calm and the sun actually comes out so we decide this is an opportune moment for a break and we pull into the shore. Hot coffee, a bite to eat and the chance to dry off a little are all gladly accepted. Discussions on the next step lead us to sticking to the troll so after a quick change of bait we head out again. One circuit of the bay later we exit Victoria and swing into the wind once again. Hail stings face and hands. We grit our teeth and plough on.

‘It’s like the Cape of Good Hope’ shouts Ben over the maelstrom. The boat bucks and the engine needs a bit more throttle to push us into the weather. All the way back up the lake we troll but the fish are simply not interested. The extensive shallows along the western shore should be alive with feeding trout now but we see no evidence of that in this weather. Olives, who hatch out in any weather, are nowhere to be seen. In the end we call it a day and head back to tie up the boat. We are both chilled to the bone by now and the task of emptying the boat and stowing the contents in the cars is painfully slow.

So what did we learn from today? Reports from Conn have suggested the fishing has been very slow so far and today has done nothing to change that. We had hoped to ambush a springer in the good wave but they seem to be few and far between. I saw a handful of mayfly hatch out in the sheltered bays so there is hope of better fishing in the near future if the weather improves. Freezing northerly winds are always going to be a huge challenge so we are not too disappointed. Days like today are part and parcel of Irish lough fishing and you have to accept them along with the good ones. There is always the next trip to look forward to.

Wednesday was spent catching up on chores and doing a bit of fly tying. The gear was dried out and I tidied out the back of the car which resembled an explosion in a tackle shop. The weather on Wednesday stayed stubbornly cold and windy. Thursday is the same and so I decide to make some flies for people who have been asking for them. Forecasters are sure the winds will swing southerly over the coming weekend, bringing rain but higher temperatures. I’ll keep my powder dry until then………………

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Fishing in Ireland

Carrowmore, May ’21

Yesterday I opted for a day chasing silvery salmon; I was off to North Mayo and the holy grail of lough salmon fly fishers – Carrowmore Lake. Carrowmore sits to the north of the village of Bangor in the old Earldom of Erris. Wild lands of hill and bog, this is a sparsely populated part of the country where scratching a living from rough pasture or the stormy Atlantic has been the lot of generations. The famine decimated the area and many more left to try and build a new life across the oceans. Here, on the very edge of Europe, there used to be few opportunities for the locals but that has at least partly changed as technology has allowed people to work from home.

The village of Bangor consists of little more than two streets. A few pubs, a couple of shops and some small businesses make up the buildings and the place has a sleepy quality about it. The angling plays a big part in the local community and many of the locals fish the river and lake. The Bangor Erris Angling Club has the rights to the lower section of the Owenmore river and Carrowmore lake (the upper river is in private hands). Permits are freely available and are a reasonable cost. Any visitors who want to come and fish in the area will find excellent B&B accommodation in and around Bangor itself so it is well worth considering if you are thinking about an angling holiday once we are all free to travel again.

What can I say about Carrowmore that has not already been said? Anglers have been waxing lyrical about this piece of water since sport fishing started here in Ireland hundreds of years ago. It is very much a ‘one off’, I know of no other lake which has such unique characteristics. Over the years it sounds like it has changed from being predominately a sea trout fishery to a spring salmon lake and that alone is very unusual. Beltra has followed that route to a degree I suppose but those two lakes are completely different in almost every other way. Beltra is deep and the fishing is confined largely to the narrow shallow margins while Carrowmore is universally shallow with some areas even being too shallow for boats to drive through.

Then there is the question of the bottom of the lake. We salmon fishers normally appreciate a high wind. It seems to stir up the salmon and gets them chasing the flies. That is not the case on Carrowmore where the bottom is composed of fine peat silt which has washed off the land. A high wind whips up the shallow water, causing the peat silt to ‘churn’ turning the lake a filthy brown colour. This is useless for fishing. I don’t know is it the fish are blinded in the oxtail soup consistency of the churned water or if they find the taste of the silt unpleasant or if the silt chokes their gills and makes breathing hard. Anyway, a churned lake is the nemesis of Carrowmore angler’s and many days are lost each season to the phenomenon. It is worth noting that Carrowmore is a spring fishery, April and May are the prime months and the salmon fishing tails off after that. Sea trout are numerous during the summer months but realistically the fishing is over by August.

For me, a day on Carrowmore was always one of rituals. We have followed the same procedures for many years now and to break any of our self-imposed rules would feel like sacrilege. The drive up to Bangor, the first glimpse of the Owenmore river at Bellacorrick, parking up on the main street and the breakfast before chatting with Seamus and picking up our permits. From there we head off to the lake, usually to find other fishers tackling up and loading boats.

There are some boats moored on the west side of the lake but there is a fine harbour on the south eastern shore with ample parking spaces, a hut and toilets and floating pontoons. More tales of fish landed and lost are told and the conditions for the day examined in microscopic detail. But that was all pre-covid and now we are social distancing and the pub is shut.

Anyway, the day had arrived for Vincent and myself to chance a day on Carrowmore. Careful scrutiny of the weather, past, present and future, had led us to think today would be a good and we had heard recent stories of fresh salmon in the lake to boot. The previous night’s sleep had been punctuated with dreams of bent rods and large silver fish leaping on the end of my line. Were they a precursor to success?

Waking early I fed the cats and made myself a strong coffee. The sky is cloudless and the air is still. Dressed and packed, a last minute check I had everything then into the car. The engine wheezes into life and I hit the road. Motoring north along the shores of Lough Beltra, noting water levels Dead low) and the wind (none, flat calm). Snake past the foot of Nephin then across the flat boglands of Keenagh with the impressive Nephin Beg range off to the left. Across the infant river Deel and on to Bellacorick, the site of the old peat fired power station. White painted houses, small green fields amid the bog, old stone walls crumbling back into the turf, hawks and buzzards quartering the dun-coloured ground in the search of small furry prey. The wildness of the vistas is breathtakingly beautiful. Ever north by west l until I pass the statue by the river and rumble into Bangor pretty much on time.

Vincent rolls into town a few minutes later and we meet Seamus. The serious matters of the day are broached. A key on a large fob, the necessary paperwork and the exchange of coin. ‘How are ye all up here?’, Not so bad, and ye down there in Castlebar?’ ‘Any fish being caught?’ ‘A few’. The Irish way of saying a lot yet nothing at the same time. ‘Toby Gibbons had another fish’ and a photo on his phone of a smiling Toby is passed around. ‘Two fish caught yesterday’, not much for a Saturday. ‘Boat five lads’.

Back into our respective cars and off on the final leg of the journey and that first glimpse of the lake. There is the dreaded flat calm now but a wind is forecast to pick up later today. It is likely to be a challenging day with so little wind but we will give it a try anyway.

Tacking up, I make up a new leader out of ten pound nylon straight through. I don’t feel the need for anything fancy for this type of fishing. Casts will be 15 to 20 yards with the wind behind me so rolling out the flies is not really a problem. A Clan Chief catches my eye so he has the honour of filling the tail position. A Green Peter is next in the middle then a Muddler Claret Bumble on the bob. That will do to start with.

We fill the boat with all the gear and tug on the cord until the Honda bursts into life, and then we are off. We now needed to negotiate the narrow harbour to exit into the lake. Even for experienced anglers this is tricky in anything of a wind in the wrong direction. Once out in the lake you still face dangers as there is an extensive shallow just outside the harbour where many a propeller has come to grief. There are some marker poles but in low water the shallows extend beyond those poles so take great care. I personally would not use a long shaft engine on Carrowmore but a lot of angler do but they are very careful where they motor. There are also shallows which are unmarked in the middle of the lake. You have been warned!

The bay on your right is called Bog Bay, a spot that has been good to me over the years. A hooked fish can easily stick you on the dead tree roots which litter the bottom here so try to keep the pressure on and his head up if possible. I recall hooking a small springer in this bay and he led me a merry dance including attaching my dropper fly on a sunken stump for a while. In the end, just as I thought he was tiring, he dived to the bottom then launched himself into the air not a yard from the gunnel of the boat. My fly lost its hold and the fish gained his well-earned freedom. We laughed like lunatics at his escape, who could grudge such a doughty fighter? On another day, a fish in the same bay rose to Ben’s fly but didn’t take it. Instead, he swam on a couple of yards and engulfed my fly (a Goat’s Toe as I recall) and was duly landed. A fine fish of over ten pounds weight. I like Bog Bay!

Next bay on the right side is Paradise Bay. I have found this to be a moody spot but many fishers swear by it and every season there are some fine fish caught in here. It is a large bay and most of the fish lie close to the shores.

I tend to fish a lot around the mouth of the Glenicullen River, as do a lot of other anglers. This is probably the hotspot on the lake for salmon (for sea trout the Barney Shore is possibly a better bet). There are extensive shallows here and the salmon can congregate in large numbers. Don’t expect to see many fish showing. Unlike loughs like Furnace, the fish in Carrowmore tend to keep their heads down and it is unusual to see a fish show other than to rise to a fly.

We bypass the other spots and head straight for Glencullin. The merest ripple begins to form providing a little encouragement for us. I set up on the first drift but judge the light breeze badly and have to double back and start over again. The drifts are slow with so little wind and I have to work the oar to keep us moving. I saw a couple of salmon jump in the distance and Vincent saw a very large fish show far out.

The day would be punctuated with bands of cloud coming in from the west and when that happened the wind would pick up giving us good conditions. It was during one of these spells that Vincent turned a fish. The rise looked good but as the fish turned down he seemed to turn and thrash the water. Vincent felt nothing and I suspect the fish turned away before actually taking the fly. We fished on.

After a calm period the wind picked up and I suggested a change of drift. As I rounded the corner I thought the wind had changed direction slightly and it should favour the gravel bank I know as the spit. It turned out I was wrong and the boat headed straight for the shore in a reasonable chop. I was pulling hard on the oar to give us some sea room when Vincent shouted. ‘Another fish’! I turned just in time to see a large boil not 5 yards from the gunnel and the rod pulled hard over.

Vincent is an experienced angler but new to this fly fishing craik so I kept up a stream of advice while working the oar to keep us out of danger of grounding. The fish showed a few times so we could see it was your average sized springer. It tended to stay close to the boat, only making one run which took ten yards or of line. Vincent played him like he had been doing this all his life and after about ten minutes the fish had tired sufficiently for the net. I dipped my venerable old gye below the surface and the salmon slid into the meshes in text book style. The fish was swiftly dispatched, hand were shaken and the details of the take and fight discussed in minute detail. Weighting the fish later and he tipped the scales and exactly 8 pounds. A small Beltra Badger was the killing pattern.

The wind dropped to a zephyr again and we fished hard but for no further return. A late lunch was called for so we pulled in to the shallow, sandy bay at the mouth of the river and hungrily ate our sandwiches amid the glorious Mayo scenery. Bladders relieved, we set off again amid variable conditions and now joined by at least 4 other boats. We flogged hard, Vincent raising another two fish which were most likely trout. Late on I had a pull accompanied by a boil on the surface, my only chance of the day but the fish did not take properly.

On our way back to the harbour we tried Bog Bay but it was lifeless so we called it a day around 7pm. By then I was very tired and emptying the boat/packing the car seemed to take me an age. We rendezvoused with Seamus to hand over the brown tag I didn’t use and to update him on our day. He knew of one other fish caught and another lost.

Driving home slowly I reflected on the day. Obviously, the salmon was the highlight and for Vincent to be the successful angler was important. I am old and have caught plenty of fish, it really doesn’t matter if I get one. Vincent on the other hand is represents the future of game fishing here. Today the angling gods smiled on him and he took his opportunity with alacrity. I don’t think I could be any more happy if I had been the lucky one in the boat.

Dark rain clouds piled up on the western hills as I drove south, harbingers of a storm due to break overnight. Hopefully it will bring lots of rain as the rivers are all bone dry now. With my work assignment now completed, I have time to do a bit of fishing. Yesterday just whetted my appetite!

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