Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Back at the vice

It has been a while since I tied anything at all so to ease me back in to it I had a short session yesterday evening at the vice. I confess to feeling very rusty to start with and it took a few flies before I settled into some sort of rhythm but that is to be expected after a lengthy break. All the gear had been packed away for months but this gave me a blank canvas to begin from. In place of the usual chaos of feathers and furs I had a bare table in front of me. I really must make more of an effort to keep it like this instead of letting the fly tying table degenerate into hopeless untidiness. Problems arise when I am having those ‘creative’ days when ideas for different patterns burst forth and I grab materials willy-nilly as I try to keep up with the flow of my thoughts. I’ll attempt to keep those types of days at bay for now and concentrate on filling up the fly boxes with my usual patterns, so I am not going to unpack everything, just a few basics. I slapped an Al Stewart album on the turntable and got to work.

Love this album.

I started off nice and easy with a fly from my box which I used to have great faith in but for some strange reason have not used for a long time. I guess you could call it a monochrome zulu if you really had to put a name to it. Two lonely looking examples in my fly box are old and faded so a few new ones are required. Just a Black Zulu but tied with a white fluorescent floss tail, this fly is a cracker for when the light begins to fade on the lough. You can pop a couple of strands on flash in the tail as well if you like but I doubt if that makes a massive difference. Size 12 has been the most consistent size for this pattern over the years for me. Zulu’s seem to have dropped out of favour for some reason, which I find strange. I still like them in small sizes.

One day last year I reached into the fly box for a silver badger only to find I was out of them. This is a very popular pattern hereabouts but one I rarely fish as the Beltra Badger seems to be a better salmon fly in my opinion. Sea trout on the the hand take the silver badger with gusto so I had to tie up a few in different sizes. A very easy fly to tie, I like grey squirrel tail for the wing instead of badger hair. Yes I know, the purists will have a hissy fit over this but I think the badger hair is too stiff on the size 10 and 12 hooks I use. I doubt if there is much to pick between the silver badger and a Teal, blue and silver but it is nice to have a local pattern on the cast. For no good reason other than it was already on the bobbin holder I used blue tying silk instead of the normal black; the trout won’t give a damn. The dressing is very straightforward, a flat silver tinsel body ribbed with oval silver, the tail is made from a golden pheasant topping. A blue hackle (I prefer hen but use what you are happiest with) and a small pinch of grey squirrel tail for the wing.

a few size 10’s

Feeling a tad more adventurous now, I made a few Storm Crows. Stan Headley’s original pattern had tails made of dyed cock pheasant tail fibres but I find these too weak and easily broken so I use cock hackle fibres or bucktail dyed crimson instead. Sometimes I change the colour of the French Partridge hackle just to a bit of zing to the fly. This are a nice looking pattern with plenty of action. A dull day on Carrowmore beckons………..

Next up was a couple of Silver Drakes. Check out Patsy Deery’s book on Mayflys for the details of this one. I like to give it a swim when towards the end of the hatch when the trout can be fussy, it has yet to give me a bag of fish but it usually turns up one or two.

The hackles look very dark in the photo above but they are green olive

The Red Mayfly is an odd sort of fly but on its day it will catch you a trout on Mask or Carra. I made a few up today. A simple red silk body with gold rib and a red game hackle palmered down it. Tails are either red game fibres or a few strands of badger hair. A natural French Partridge hackle is wound at the neck. I made a couple of pink variations too with a pink silk body and dyed pink french partridge hackle.

More patterns poured off the vice. Small yellow Goslings, Green French Partridges and many more. I snapped the thread a couple of times and made a mess of the head of one fly but in general I was happy with the flies I tied. I have a list of patterns that are required so I will work my way through that over the coming weeks. Hooks and materials are in plentiful supply (to say the least) meaning it is simply a case of making time to sit and tie.

Green French Partridge

I felt a deep, warming pleasure just sitting tying those few flies, a grounding sensation which I missed more than I had realised. At different times in my life there have been similar, and sometimes longer breaks from fly tying but I can’t recall missing it as much as I did this time around. Advancing years, current uncertainties, call it what you will but I felt a yearning to simply make a few flies, a feeling that had been growing over the past couple of weeks as Christmas loomed. Since a very young age making fishing flies has been a part of me, who I am. Many people recognise me as ‘that Scottish fella who makes the flies’; in some ways my fly tying helps to defines me. On the downside, my eyesight is definitely getting worse and anything below a size 12 hook is becoming a problem for me. I can live with that for now but I dread the day when making flies becomes impossible even with glasses. For now though I have to make up some more trout flies before Paddy’s Day and the start of another season here in the west.

After the hiatus, we are now looking at the house move this coming spring. Starting the new job sapped my energy and we lost focus on the house sale. We also lost a much loved cat, changed the car, dealt with the latest covid situation and much more, all of which distracted us greatly. The move, much delayed and I have to say much feared, will be back on track in the new year but we still have a few more jobs to do before putting the house up for sale. I hope it is all done and dusted before the fishing season takes off in earnest in March/April but that is out of my control. Until then I will keep making flies and post my efforts here.

This will be my last post for 2021, a strange and often trying year for so many people. Many of you reading this have lost loved ones this year and I want to pass on my condolences to those of you who are grieving. I hope 2022 brings us all some relief from the pandemic and that brighter days are ahead.

Poor Theo, he was such a great wee cat and we miss him terribly.
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coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

Another project

Late November, a damp, dreary morning. Loud and heavy, I knew that booming knock on the front door well and sure enough my mate was stood there clad in coat and boots against the weather when I opened the door. It’s early and he knows I am working so what has brought him across town at this time of the day? I surmise the pale wooden box he is clutching must have something to do with it. We chat for a bit then he thrusts said box across the threshold to me. ‘Here, you take this, I have no use for it’ he says, ‘I was given this by relations but it is full of coarse fishing gear so I thought you might find some of it useful’. I undid both latches and opened the lid a smidgen to reveal a bit of a mess. I could make out a collection of floats, hooks and some line. ‘Certainly some good stuff in here’ I said and with that he turned, waved and marched off down the path in the damp half light. So there I was, slightly bemused, left holding my unexpected gift. Leaving it in the sitting room I returned to the laptop and the first meeting of the day. Work dragged slowly by, a blur of spreadsheets and emails, but finally I was free from the shackles of employment and could investigate further my new acquisition. What would it be, treasure trove or junk!

The box itself, fashioned from plywood and furnished with a carrying handle and two sturdy latches, was in very good condition on the outside. The hinges and latches worked perfectly and apart from being a little dirty there seemed to be no damage. However it was a different story once I opened it up. The slotted foam float holder strips had disintegrated and the floats were lying around in a mess of black dust. I poked about and could see some useful bits and pieces alright. With ubiquitous cup of coffee in hand, I delved further into the nooks and crannies of the box, lifting out two removable compartments to examine the gear and count the floats. Out of the 70 odd in the box only one was instantly discarded, a nice black stick float which had snapped at some point and it was not worth the time and effort to repair it. Do I need another 70 floats? Obviously not but here they were and so I checked them all out. Apart from some which had foam stuck on them the floats were in remarkably good order. Indeed, most appeared to have never seen the water. The age of the contents was hard to gauge but I would hazard a guess at pre-2000 going by the design of the floats and the fact the foam strips had disintegrated.

I sat looking at the box for a while, trying to figure out how it could fit into my already extensive collection of tackle, bearing in mind that I am trying hard to downsize my fishing gear these days. The box was too big and heavy to be of use on the bank but it could usefully store some of the spare tackle I own. That was that, it would be turned into my spare box for coarse fishing bits and bobs. Currently any spare bits are in a clear plastic tub where anything and everything is jumbled together. Now I could be more organised. The anorak in me came to the fore and I proceeded to check and catalog every one of the 70 floats, sorting them into 3 bundles, one each for lake, canal or river fishing. Three pike floats were separated and will be deposited in my deabaiting box later (one, a lovely self cocking slider, has a pin hole that I need to fix first).

Floats, and plenty of ’em

A few hooks, swivels and spools of line were next to be examined. I don’t trust old fishing line so the spools will be disposed of for recycling. Hooks on the other hand are always welcome and there was a somewhat eclectic mix to check over. The weird 2/0 bent worm hooks, all the way from the great state of Alabama, might work for soft plastics while some tiny Partridge trebles might be used to make small minnow mounts. Very small Aberdeen’s, much smaller than any I have seen before, may have a use for flatties off a sandy beach or estuary. There is a packet of size 8 long shank fly hooks too. Half-a-dozen excellent steel pike traces will definitely be used in the future so these were immediately transferred to my blue tackle bag. Two bags of small plastic parts remain unidentified (see below) so if any of you lot know what these are for I would be most obliged (I am hazarding a guess they are stops of some kind and are something to do with pole fishing, see pix below). Fly line sinking agent, a torch/compass thingy, some big brass link swivels, starlights, packets of float adapters………… A mixed bag to be sure!

The thinner parts fit inside the cylinders from what I can make out.
These look the same but have a little hole on the outside

Only one lure was in the box, a nice Tasmanian Devil dressed in blue and silver. Confession time – I have never used a Tazzie before. I’ll chuck this one in my baits box for now where it can live with the pretty blue and gold one I have owned for years but never even tied on the end of my line. I have read these are the ‘go to’ bait for the shad fishermen down south on the Barrow at St. Mullins but they have never been popular over on this side of the country.

That sticky tape in there did not want to budge!

Work and Christmas got in the way of things, as they do. The box was safely stowed away until late in December until I had a bit more free time on my hands. Eventually I pulled it out, gathered together some tools and began to clean up of the interior of the box. Divided into little bays, some partly filled with black foam, it looked a right old state when I started but it slowly began to look a bit better. The big issue was the foam strips which had been used to secure the floats to the inside of the lid and one of the compartments. One other compartment had been filled with foam too and all of these strips had to go. Using a paint scraper I removed the old foam but the sticky backing tape took for ever to peel off. It was so old it just ripped when I tied to pull it. Trust me, this was a mind-numbingly boring job which took me ages. A residue of sticky adhesive from the tape still clung to the wood so I used some alcohol to remove that too. The sticky backed foam obviously was not tacky enough and whoever had previously owned the box stuck the foam strips down with a strong adhesive, so hardened globs of that had to be scraped off with a Stanley blade. Next it was out with the sandpaper and the inside was given a good rub down. I may varnish the box in the future but for now it s fine as it is. I have no intention of using outdoors.

After cleaning up. Looks OK to me.

It took me a while but in the end I was happy with the refurbished box. Floats, feeders and a whole panoply of rig bits now reside in the cosy confines of the old wooden box. I know it won’t catch me one more fish but it has been returned to use and I have a neat storage solution for the smaller bits of tackle.

What about all those floats I hear you ask? After sorting through them and giving them a clean up I had to decide what to do with them all. The river floats really are surplus to my requirements. I have a lot of stick floats already and I don’t fish the rivers much these days so I’ll store the river floats away safely for now in the hope I find a use for them at some vague point in the future. Luckily, the biggest percentage of the floats were wagglers which are obviously the mainstay of my coarse angling. All are eminently usable but I am not going to drag another 60 floats out with me each time I go fishing for roach and bream. About a dozen have made the cut and are now in my tackle box, the rest will stay in the newly refurbished wooden box as spares. I’ve mentioned before that I lose or break at least one float on most trips so these wagglers will come in handy over time. One thing is for sure, I will never need to buy another float ever again! And this is before I delve into a well filled box of damaged/broken/worn floats which keep meaning to fix up. There must be another fifty or so unloved old floats residing in that box so that is yet another project for later this winter.

Nice set of stick floats. I will keep them safe for now and hope to use them next year

Highlights include a lovely Middy Bomb Waggler, a beast of a float which I will try for tench on a lake I know. The fish tend to hang out near a reed bed about 30 yards out so the weight of the big float will be a big help in reaching them. I know what you are thinking – chuck a feeder at them! The thing is the tench seem to respond much better to the float for some reason there, I can’t explain why, they just do.

At the other end of the scale I now have a few smaller onion’s which will see action on the wee ponds I want to fish next summer. Two of these forgotten lakes in particular stand out as potentially good tench venues. Both are small and weedy and I think the wee onion floats could be just the ticket for places like this. Three lovely grey ‘Olympia’ wagglers (a brand I am unfamiliar with) look to be ideal for the canal fishing I do up in Leitrim. All in all I am delighted with the haul of excellent floats and I will derive huge pleasure using them over the coming years.

My coarse angling is, at best, unsophisticated and I strongly suspect if I just stuck to a medium sized crystal waggler I’d probably catch the same number of fish but I enjoy swapping floats as I see fit in an effort to overcome changing conditions. We can go from flat calm to a howling gale in the space a few minutes here (and everything in between) so I feel being flexible in float selection is part and parcel of the Irish coarse fishing game. My general modus operandi is small, light, inconspicuous floats for the canals here as the water tends to be both shallow and clear, and not spooking fish is my main concern. On the small loughs I use different wagglers depending on how far out I am fishing, the bait, target species and conditions. On the rare occasions I find myself on bigger loughs or when fishing a bigger bait for tench I go for large bodied wagglers which cast further and can support the weight of big gobs of worms. Of course there are all sorts of variations in between these broad groupings but you get the idea. Sliders for deep water, Sticks and Avons for rivers and a host of other oddballs can all make an appearance at times too.

The finished box starting to fill up with tackle now.

The inveterate tinkerer in me loves spending time on projects like this. While I suppose there is an element of saving money that is not the real driver here. Salvaging items which otherwise might be tossed out as rubbish feels like the right thing to do. The box is now back in use and the odds and ends of tackle sorted out. At the end of the day I am now marginally more organised than before. It doesn’t take much to keep me amused. Being the only coarse fisher in the village does have some advantages!

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Boxing clever

‘And so this is Christmas’ as the song goes. In this house we were not particularly looking forward to it this year but here we are so making the best of it was the order of the day. A little time off work, eating and drinking, snoozing in front of the telly – we undertook the usual pastimes of the lucky few of us in these difficult times. After the feasting and over indulging in mince pies I grew restless (as usual) so decided to sort out my fly boxes, a job I have been putting off for about, let me see – 5 years or so! I’ve not been happy with the boxes for at least that long but the task of reorganising them had been put on the long finger until now. In preparation for the expected house move a large cardboard box contained all the boxes so I unearthed it this morning and lugged it up to the sitting room.

The basic problem is that I own far too many flies. One medium sized box would contain all the flies I need for the season. Instead, there is a proliferation of boxes filled with all manner of patterns 99% of which will never be used by me. Over the years boxes have arrived in my collection only for them to be filled up in short order and I find myself with no space once again. This provides me with the justification to buy another fly box and so the cycle repeats itself. Twice over my angling life I have sold off most of my fly boxes and their contents only for the addiction to return later and the whole process begins again. I guess as addictions go mine is a pretty innocuous one, I don’t go robbing people to feed my habit  or conduct shady deals in poorly lit back streets. I’m not driven into debt or destitution, nor see those I love go without so I can own a jewel encrusted box to hold some bumbles. No, it is just your average fly fishers infatuation with all things fur and feather.

I take solace knowing I am not alone when it comes to this particular affliction. The tackle bags of fellow anglers bulge just as much as mine with an overabundance of fly boxes. I seem to be in good company. Why do other anglers fly boxes hold a deep attraction to us? Given the chance we all love to poke about in someone else’s fly boxes, looking for killer patters, admiring the quality of the tying and sometimes dropping broad hints that we might like to own one or two of them.

If we accept the premise that we flyfishers are prone to excess when it comes to artificial flies it now remains to decide how to organise the collection so that I:

  • Rationalise the collection of boxes, reducing their number if possible
  • Understand what flies I have and arrange them so I know what flies are in each box
  • Weed out any unwanted patterns and replace them with new (deadly) ones

One regret I have is the gradual decline in the quality of the actual boxes themselves which I own. The ‘mass extinctions’ of my boxes in the past saw the aluminium and wooden ones sold, mistakenly replacing them with cheap plastic ones. Yes, I know they do the job but I miss the texture and solidity of those aluminium Wheatleys. A couple of good ones remain but most are nasty soulless plastics. The same goes for the big wooden box of lough flies, I previously owned a magnificent one made of mahogany but a cheap plywood one took its place when it was sold over 15 years ago.

Well used but all the better for that, an old aluminium box

The lights on the tree flickered and the old black cat was in his usual position, stretched out his full length in front of the fire, when I cleared the dining table and pulled out the cardboard box which was filled to overflowing with fly boxes and began to sift through them. I counted a nice round thirty fly boxes in total, a mix of assorted sizes and colours all jumbled together, some in regular use and others that have not been opened in anger for many seasons. As if that wasn’t enough I added a couple of containers from the fly tying kit which were receptacles for flies fresh off the vice and were now looking for a home. Pouring myself a fortifying glass of port, I started by looking at the wet fly boxes first. Here was a perfect example of the mess I had created for myself, boxes of flies in all manner of distress and with no rhyme nor reason to their contents.

My thinking for many years has been to pack one large fly box in my lough bag which contained a high proportion of my trout and salmon flies. My logic was that I would always have something to fish with, be it on Conn, Mask, Carra, Corrib, Beltra or Carrowmore. It might not be exactly the fly I wanted but a close enough pattern/size would be in there (somewhere). This sort of worked but I ended up with rows of the popular flies (Bibio and Green Peter for example) and then ran out of space. The overflow of flies then started to fill other, smaller boxes and the whole thing has since sunk to a disappointingly low level of organisation.

Dry patterns are in similar disarray, lots of flies but jumbled into different boxes so that easily finding the pattern I wanted is beyond hope or the power of prayer. Don’t even start me on salmon flies! I used to fish a lot for salmon but rarely venture out for them these days. Some old flies from Scotland are still hanging around and because I enjoy making salmon flies there are many, many newer ones filling boxes too. To be honest, it was a bit shocking to realise how many salmon flies I possess. I thought I was better organised than this as I keep 4 fly boxes in the waistcoat for grilse fishing on the rivers. Small singles, doubles and trebles in my favourite patterns used to reside in those boxes but such well defined structure has fallen like the Roman empire into chaos. These previously pristine plastic boxes were now home to all kinds of everything (as Dana might have sung).

One issue that seems to be a common thread in all the boxes is my preoccupation with having spares of my favourite flies. OK, so having one or two of the same pattern makes a lot of sense. A broken hook or a lost fly could be a disaster on a day when the fish were being finicky, so having one or perhaps two of the same fly is a handy insurance. I have gone totally overboard though and now some boxes are full of a small number of patterns but plenty of them. Thinking back, I can’t recall the last time I was stuck without a spare of any particular fly that was catching me fish. Was this due to good organisation or did it show me the chances of not having the right fly were minimal?

I am not going to count all the flies I own but looking at the pyramid of boxes on the table I’d hazard a guess there are 4000 – 5000 at the moment. Most will never be used now. The box of grayling bugs for instance are of no use to me now as there are no Grayling here in Ireland. The big collection of tubes and waddies which gave such sterling service over the years on the salmon rivers of Scotland have no use here in the west of Ireland. There they sit, colours slowly fading and tinsel tarnished, the foot soldiers of so many campaigns now retired and forgotten. Even the boxes of lures for rainbow trout which gave me many happy days in Scotland are probably surplus to requirements now.

So what to do with this lot? I badly needed a system, some structured method of knowing what flies were where. First I had to create some storage space in the boxes I planned to use for spare flies.  That was pretty easy and didn’t take too long, soon I had a large box for salmon flies and a smaller one for trout patterns. Now the task of clearing out any surplus flies from the other boxes could begin, an altogether more time consuming job.

Trout River boxes. These live in a waistcoat specifically used only when I fish rivers like the Robe. Since I have done very little river fishing over the past three or four seasons these boxes are all fairly full. I could add a few mayfly patterns but that is about all I need. I do have some new spider patterns in my head and so once I have made them up I’ll make room for them by weeding out some older ones.

Lough Boxes. The ‘single box’ option is not working for me so I need to think this over. Separate boxes for wet, dry and salmon flies seems to be the logical answer but I am short of a big box to take the salmon patterns. Hang on, I had two large boxes of flies and lures which I used for rainbow trout. What if I empty one of them and use it for the salmon flies? Brilliant! Those rainbow flies have not been used in years so repurposing one of the boxes makes a lot of sense. I’ll move them into an old cigar box for now. That done, the salmon flies were then transferred over and at the same time I culled the ones which I deemed to be surplus to requirements. To say this was an eye-opener is a gross understatement, Almost half of the salmon flies were removed mainly because they were repeats of the same size and pattern or in some cases I had no faith in them. Row upon row of Green Peters, Bibios and bumbles were sorted through and the spares sent down the tunnel into the waiting maws of the ‘Spares’ box. A dozen size 8 Beltra badgers, nearly the same number of size 10 Bibios and multiples of my other favourites were thinned out over an hour or so. All good flies but there is no point filling up boxes with identical patterns. The upshot of all this was a ¾ filled salmon box and two completely empty leaves in the newly renamed Trout fly box. A shaft of light shone on my work and I felt I was getting somewhere at last. With some space in the both the wet fly and salmon boxes I can make some new patterns to try out next season. Hundreds of spares are now in one place so I can top up as required too.

Before : Old rainbow trout lures

The salmon river boxes (which habitually live in what i term the ‘grilse’ waistcoat) required a good tidy up but that didn’t take me long. I have loads of my usual patterns and there is a little space for any new ones I want to make this winter. I sorted through the tube fly boxes too and tidied them in to one box for big tubes (unlikely to be used), a tin for small, heavy tubes and one for micro tubes (both highly likely to be in action next season). I was ‘suppin’ diesel now’ as they say here in the west.

Micro tubes. Started using them over 40 years ago and they still catch me a few fish

Drys. Well this was a mess and no mistake. Boxes after box, no clear organisation and a lot of very old flies jumbled together. I counted 6 dry fly boxes. Two small ones were acceptable as they housed small river flies for summer evenings. The others were a veritable smorgasbord of flies so I plunged in and emptied them out on to the table and started over again. It soon became obvious my stock of dry mayflies has been decimated so there is a wee job for me during the winter evenings. Many of the delicate flies were misshapen and so I removed them and will tie replacements. By the time I had finished there was a pile of flies which were only fit for the bin. Space had been created and the remaining flies sorted into some semblance of order. Hours at the vice beckoned to tie up a range of replacement dries for both river and lough. That’s progress isn’t it?

I stated at the beginning of this post that I owned far too many flies and that is very true, however this exercise of tidying up the fly boxes has shone a light into the dark recesses of my collection of flies and I now accuse myself of willful negligence. While I own lots of flies I have just kept adding the same ones and not really made any effort to add new patterns. There are lots of slight variations, adding a different coloured hackle here or a shiny tag there, but no real invention. I have time before the new season to address this glaring omission and now have the space to hold any designs.

Space in the wet fly box, now I simply must make more flies!

The past two seasons have seen me concentrate more on coarse fishing than my usual forays for trout and salmon. The coming year will see me limited to only a few angling days so I need to be more balanced in my choice of venues. At this stage that means more fly fishing and less maggot drowning for me, hence the drive to sort out my fly tackle. Jobs like sorting out the fly boxes, jobs I have been putting off for years, area a good way of re-focusing my thoughts. Next up will be tying flies, something else that had slipped off my radar of late. I know that many of you readers of this blog are particularly interested in the fly tying posts so hopefully there will be more of them to come over the next couple of months.

The bottle of port was a good bit lighter by the time I finished but it looks like I am much better organised now. I’ll have to get used to where everything is and top up certain patterns before March but that is OK. At least it was time better spent than just vegetating in front of the telly. Nelson stirred in front of the fire, his meow telling me he was hungry (again) so I pack the boxes away for now and attend to him. Maybe Christmas isn’t so bad after all.

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32, coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

32 – Episode 18, County Carlow

Storm Barra had rattled the windows and felled trees across the south and west earlier in the week and the cold, windy weather lingered on long after the eye of the storm had passed. Being cooped up indoors for days on end was taking its toll so I decided to fish this Sunday and even more exciting, I would tackle another of the 32 counties. An uncomfortable day beckoned but what else can you expect in December? Being honest, winter fishing is something I find less and less enjoyable as each year slips past. I used to love it, the cold and wet didn’t knock a stir out of me at all when I was a young man but these days I hate the chilly weather. Just being cold is enough to ruin being outdoors for me so a selection of thermals, fleeces, waterproofs and hats are necessities when I do venture out. Met Eireann were promising rain with strong winds all day which is always a pretty safe bet here in Ireland.

Carlow does not immediately spring to mind when thinking about Irish angling. Gentle farmland and busy towns, just about commutable distance from Dublin; that is how it always struck me. Situated in the south east of Ireland, Carlow is one of the smaller counties, sandwiched between Laois, Kilkenny, Kildare, Wexford and Wicklow. Carlow Town is a thriving community with lots of shops, pubs and restaurants to be enjoyed.

By now you will have all gathered that I am no fan of the OPW (office of public works) but the information on their website on river heights is excellent and I was able to see the Barrow was running at half a metre on the gauge and slowly dropping near where I planned to fish. Water temperature had dropped quickly at the end of last month but had steadied recently at just over 5 degrees. If that was good or bad for roach and dace fishing I had no idea.

The river Barrow is one of the country’s great waterways despite many man-made diversions. It flows very roughly north to south and empties into the salt at Waterford along with her sisters the Suir and the Nore. Much of the river has been canalised and numerous weirs make it hard for salmon to penetrate far upstream. OK a few salar still force their way into the system but aside from the locals who haunt the bank it is not seriously fished for the salmon. Instead, over the years it has become a popular venue for coarse fishers. Angling clubs along its length cater for a large and active fishing community who use pole and rod to extract roach, dace and pike in good numbers. The river also holds a head of brown trout and there are perch in the river too.

Once upon a time I worked in south county Kildare, just a few miles from Carlow Town. Indeed, I often stayed in Carlow and got to know the town reasonably well at the time. Evenings would sometimes see me go for a walk after work and I used to stand on the bridges, watching the river flowing beneath, wide, deep and coloured. I never did see any anglers though. In my research I found out that the section of river in the town is actually a good spot for both roach and dace so it is strange that I never came across an angler trying their luck on the town water. The same stretch apparently also holds bream along with occasional pike and perch.

For the purposes of this trip I eschewed the Carlow Town water itself for a stretch further downstream at Clashganny. To quote directly from the Fishing Ireland website: ‘The stretch at Clashganny offers coarse anglers the opportunity to try different coarse fishing techniques in picturesque surroundings. Float, feeder and pole techniques all offer possibilities on this superb stretch of river’. That sounds good doesn’t it? Here I would target the roach and dace which allegedly stalked the weed beds on the bottom. From the images on the internet it looked like a nice place with the river, a stretch of canal and a lock all possible pegs. The humble maggot and worm would be my baits of choice and it would be a day when the float was going to be my preferred method of presentation. Having only ever caught roach in flowing water by accident on the fly this was going to be an interesting day out for me.

You will all know by now that on these long distance trips I plan for a back-up venue in case my first choice is unfishable or I simply fail to catch anything there. In this case I figured I would head upstream a bit to Bagnalstown or Leighlinbridge, also on the Barrow. Similar water and fishing for similar species but it would be a change of scene in the event I was still blank in the afternoon. As for tactics I would bring along a swimfeeder rod in case the float did not work so feeders in a range of weights were dug out and tossed into the box. I use smaller feeders regularly but the bigger lads rarely enjoy a dip in the water. On the swiftly flowing Barrow their gravitas might be required.

As always, a humongous quantity of gear came along for the ride. Not being used to fishing in flowing water for roach I was unsure which rod to bring with me, so I brought them all! As I mentioned, my heavy leger rod looked like my best option if I turned to the feeder in the main flow of the river but would my 12 or 13 foot float rods be best suited to trotting a float? I’m used to canals and fishing at close range, what if I had to fish at distance? The Barrow is a big river as it flows through Carlow and if the roach were holding further out I might struggle to present the bait properly. It is also pretty straight with not much in the way of pools or other features where I could easily identify holding areas. The canalisation of the river has removed most features but there are locks both upstream and downstream of Clashganny so these may just be the prime spots to hunt the roach. I needed more clarity of thought. Was I biting off more than I could chew?

Driving to Carlow entails a long and winding journey via Tulsk and Roscommon Town then down to Athlone. Drive east along a stretch of the M6 motorway as far as Tullamore then to Portlaoise. My plan was to stop off in Carlow and picked up some bait from the tackle shop in town. The final stretch is on the R448 down to Leighlinbridge, then the R702. A cool 290 km from home or a 580 km round trip in total. I set off early.

So I pulled up in Carlow Town, already stiff in the joints from 3 hours at the wheel. Barrow Fishing Tackle Shop is on Maryborough street, looking right on to the river. It was immediately obvious that I was in bother, the shop was closed. Twenty minutes past nine on my watch and the website said the shop would be open at nine. A heavy padlock on the door suggested that was not going to happen. A ‘self service’ bait dispenser next to the door had a sign proclaiming ‘bait 24/7’ but it was out of order. It would be good to say I was mildly put out by this turn of events but in point of fact I was livid. Why would a retail business advertise its opening hours on a website and Facebook page then completely disregard those hours? Now I was stuck with no alternative and would have to make do with the worms and dead maggots I had brought along with me. The dead maggots had been in the freezer for months and were in poor condition, I had planned on just using them up in the groundbait. There was nothing else for it, I drove off again heading for Clashganny, my plans in tatters.

It felt like a very long and tiresome road as I motored ever southwards, down the motorway as far as Leighlinbridge then winding through the khaki-coloured fields of rural Carlow. A very convenient car park close to the waters edge made life a bit easier for me and I was soon taking in my new surroundings. This is a very lovely corner of Ireland, mature trees bounding the brown waters of the river, clipped grass around the neat lock gates, small birds flitting among the undergrowth. I’m sure it is even prettier in the green of summer. Here the river flowed over a weir off to my right with another one a bit further downstream. To allow small craft to navigate past the obstacles there is a short stretch of canal with locks. The river is high all right, the aftermath of storm Barra earlier in the week but the canal is very shallow here. The strong southerly wind which was forecast for today is absent and the air is pleasantly warm for the time of year.

I had seen an ariel photograph of this stretch but found it hard to get a sense of scale and form so it was only now, when standing on the bank that I could sense what the river ‘felt’ like. I will try to explain that statement for you. Angling for me is not simply the mechanics of casting/baiting/catching. Sure, technical knowledge, masterly of techniques and so on are vital for success but I have a much deeper feeling for the places I fish. I guess you could say it is a spiritual connection of sorts. For me, the privilege of immersing myself in the natural world for a few short hours means I can be in a different head space. I am not a neurologist but I suspect I engage different parts of my brain when out in the natural world. So the ‘feeling’ of a waterway is a major part of how I fish on any given day. The Barrow noisily tumbled over the weirs above and below me, creating a wall of sound as a backdrop to the session.

The obvious starting point for me was the swim below the lock where an old boat was tied up. I set up with two rods, the feeder and the float rod. This looked very ‘perchy’ to me so I tried a worm held in place with a couple of dead maggots on the feeder rod. Since the sad demise of my old Daiwa Harrier reel I have been using a cheap black one which I bought in Sligo a while back. It even has a baitrunner facility, not that I need that when using it for float fishing but it fits well on the small feeder rod and the baitrunner facility means if anything big does take me it won’t pull the whole lot into the water. Balls of groundbait plopped into the water and a short cast sent a worm to the bottom. For the feeder the waiting began……………..

The feeder rod could look after itself while I set up the float rod. A couple of feet of mucky water flowed past me so I set up accordingly with an stick float and a size 14 hook. Shotting was simple, bulk shot above the tippet, and a couple of runners spaced up the line. Then I hurled in some some more balls of groundbait and loose fed a trickle of the dead maggots. Having never caught a dace before and lacking any real idea how to target them specifically meant limiting my choices to simply using a small hook below the bulk shot. In reality I was setting my stall out for roach today instead. I’ve yet to land one of better than a pound in weight and mostly they are only a few ounces but I still love fishing for the wee silvers.

The float trotted through the swim a few times without being troubled by the fish. The shallow water meant I could see the groundbait lying on the bottom and the float could be perfectly positioned to cover the exact spot. Soon however the feeder rod gave a small rattle. Dropping the float rod I lifted the feeder and there was a small silvery fish on the end. A dace no less, the first one I have ever landed. It had taken a worm which I found a bit surprising but I was damn glad to see it anyway. Some bubbles on the surface where I had chucked in the balls of groundbait looked like a good omen so I settled into concentrating hard on the float, trotting a worm or a pair of dead maggots through the swim time and time again. Nothing. Not so much as a nibble. I tried chopped worm, hoping the small pieces would be easy for the small dace to take but they failed to elicit any reaction. I tried a single dead maggot on a size 18 hook but that was no better. The problem with the maggots was not that they were dead, it was to do with their poor condition, they smelled horrible. A hour passed but no more bite were forthcoming so I decided to try above the lock.

A small Dace beside a very big feeder

The flow was minimal up there and try as I might no bites came my way. Eventually a group of guys with kayaks appeared and noisily launched right next to me. I took this as a hint and decided I needed a change, but where to go? In the end I packed the gear into the car and headed back the way I came and stopped at Muine Bheag where there are some stands on the channel of the Barrow. Three other guys were fishing the pole there and were catching a few roach and dace on (you have guessed it) maggot. I set up the rods and fished hard for the next couple of hours. Worm after worm trotted through the swim in front on me and never once did the float dip in anger. I knew in my heart I would be catching fish if only I had some maggots but it was not to be and when the rain came in the afternoon I called it a day and packed up.

Returning home I took a different road, driving up the M9 to Athy and reaching Tullamore via Portarlington. I had time to think about what had been a very poor day’s fishing. I accept it is possible I would have not caught anything even if I had some maggots but I doubt that. I have seen this before and for me maggots equals fish, it is as simple as that. If I had known the tackle shop in Carlow was going to be shut I would not have gone fishing there today. I like to be supportive of Irish tackle shops but I am left extremely frustrated and angry by the events of this morning. How hard would it have been to post a note on their FB page to say they were closed today?

So despite what was a terribly poor day I did actually catch one fish in co. Carlow, which under the T&C of the ’32’ project means I achieved my aims. It feels like a very hollow victory though; travelling the length of the country for one small dace was hardly the most exciting day on the bank. At least the promised high winds and rain kept away while I was fishing.

Christmas is but two weeks away and realistically I won’t have time to fish again before then. There are a few days off at the end of the month but it remains to be seen if I will venture out. Today was tiring and disappointing but they can’t all be golden days of bent rods and full nets. I know I have now caught one fish in county Carlow and that is all I wanted to do at the outset of this project. Just the one fish was supposed to be sufficient for me but in this case it simply is not. I am left with a hollow feeling after today, a need to right a wrong if you will. Looking back, I am sure that given decent bait I would have done much better so a possible additional visit to that fair county is under consideration for next year. I still have to fish the neighboring counties of Wexford, Kilkenny and Waterford and they are close enough for me to dart across to Carlow for a few hours angling. If I do you can bet I will bring a pint or two of maggots with me!

Update: The internet is a wonderful thing, isn’t it! I have found another tackle shop that is open on Sundays and sells maggots. https://www.vivado.ie are based in an industrial estate on O’Moore Street in the town of Tullamore and they open at 10am on Sundays. Wish I had known that earlier.

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