September on the western lakes can be an enigma, days when the trout seem to be suicidal are tempered with ones when they fail to respond in what appear to be perfect conditions. Years ago we could look forward to the last late hatches of olives in some bays and of course a fall of daddies or hoppers if there was a wind. The collapse of insect populations means it is unlikely we get those opportunities now. Undeterred, a day on Conn beckoned, plans were laid and tackle dusted down once more time.
The summer was very quiet on Conn this year. Not much action meant local anglers stayed away while visitor numbers were curtailed due to Covid. Two periods of hot, bright weather drove water levels down and made for next to impossible angling conditions. So here we are in September with only a scant few days left of the trout season. Light winds were forecast for the day ahead, sapping my confidence before even setting off in the morning.
I would not be fishing today, instead I would ghillie for two good anglers. John and Bob have fished Conn for years and today I was on the oars as they tried for a late season trout or two. We met up at Gillaroo Bay which was busier than usual as there was a competition on and anglers were all preparing to go out. The fellas arrived and it was great to see them both again so there was a bit of catching up to be done as we loaded the boat.
The wind was coming out of the south, a good direction for Conn but it meant my initial plan to fish the Colman Shallows had to be changed. With only a light breeze the shallows, which lie in the lee of the land, would be too calm so instead I headed up to Massbrooke and we set up on the drift 80 yards out in a nice wave but driving rain. Wet flies were the order of the day and the lads began short lining in good style. I worked the oar, sometimes just to keep the line but also to manoeuvre around shallows and rocks. The forecast of light winds was incorrect, the actually wind rose and fell throughout the day and was quite strong in the afternoon.
The first couple of drifts were fishless but we saw a few trout rocketing out of the water. This behaviour is not well understood and various theories have been put forward about it. Shaking parasites, daphnia feeding, aggressive behaviour as spawning approaches – these and many other causes are all possibilities. Today though I figured the trout might still be chasing fry in the shallows so I tied on some tinsel bodied patterns for the lads. Soon John’s rod bent into a normal sized Conn brownie. It had taken the Pearly Invicta dressed on a size 12 hook. We fished on and John repeated the trick with a lovely butter-yellow trout, also on the Invicta. Bob decided to try and pull a trout up to a dry fly so he changed over. All this time the rain came and went but it had been a very wet morning and we were pretty damp already. The wind, which had been light to start with, had picked up and we now had a good wave of a couple of feet. I floated the idea of heading back down to the Colman Shallows and so we set off in a flurry of spray, crashing through the waves as we ploughed south and set up on a nice drift at the shallows.
The shallows are a popular drift and being so easily accessible from Gillaroo bay they receive a lot of attention. Today we drifted from the big island all the way to the western pins off the little island. This is perfect trout country with rocks and shallow water under the keel all the way. The fish were uncooperative though and by now it was well after 1pm so we called it time for lunch.
The twigs I rustled up for the kettle were damp (understatement – they were soaking wet) and it took a while to get the old Kelly fired up but we got there eventually and enjoyed the simple pleasure of a hot drink and a bite to eat while stretching our legs on the shore. Some visiting anglers find the Irish obsession with stopping for lunch a waste of good fishing time but in fact it is an integral part of lough fishing. Chatting over a cuppa amid the scenery of the Irish countryside is one of life’s great joys and it gives you a chance to unwind after the high levels of concentration when fishing. On days when the fishing is good, lunch can be prepared and consumed fairly quickly but on slow days the break is a much more leisurely affair. Thankfully, today the rain had eased off and we ate in comparative dryness. The wind fell away again as we ate so once again we took off for Massbrooke once lunch was over. Bob’s 8hp Tohatsu made short work of the trip. I’m not familiar with these engines but it ran faultlessly and they seem to be a strong motor. With a good wave up the lake I convinced Bob to change back to a team of wets.
The rain began to fall heavily just as we set up on the first drift after lunch. I dislike fishing in heavy rain simply because in all my years of angling I have never experienced good fishing in a downpour. In fairness to both anglers they stuck manfully to the cause, casting rhythmically, steady retrieves, clean lift-offs and no tangles despite the encroaching cold and wetness in their arms. John struck into his third trout of the day, a slightly smaller lad this time who once again had taken the pearly tail fly.
We had only drifted a few yards more when not one but two salmon showed in front of the boat. We had seen a few salmon pitching in the distance before but these fish were quite close so I rowed quickly over so the lads could cover them. The fish refused to come up again and we drifted harmlessly over the lies. I tied on a largish Green Peter to Johns cast and Bob did the same with his leader in case we came upon some more salar. It was not to be though and the last fish in the boat today was a small brownie for Bob which took that old reliable, a small Bibio on the dropper.
We called it a day around 5pm, steaming back though choppy waters and arriving back in the bay wet to the skin. Any day afloat on an Irish lough is a good day and it was a pleasure to be out with two good anglers who appreciate the beauty and ever changing moods of lough Conn. The catch was somewhat disappointing in what were essentially good fishing conditions. Once again, it was noticeable there was no fly life on the lough at all. We did not see a single caddis, mayfly or midge on the water or in the air. This has been the case all summer and it is deeply concerning that insect populations appear to be collapsing.
September is flying past us and the end of the season is almost here. Hard to believe the 2021 trout and salmon season ends in a few days, it feels like we have only just got going.