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.
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!
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.