32 – Episode 20, Louth

Again, a county I know very little about as I have only been there on business or driven through it. Zooming up and down the M1 had done little to enhance my knowledge of the angling potential around the county. Louth occupies that north east corner of the country between Dublin and the border. I expect the locals would disagree with me but let’s just say it is not overly blessed when it comes to angling venues. I trolled the internet for many hours trying to find a likely spot and I can tell you it was bloody hard work. There were a couple of ponds which may or may not hold small stocks of coarse fish but I could find little to recommend them, bearing in mind it is a near 4 hour drive from Mayo to even get to this county. That Louth’s rivers used to wonderful fisheries is beyond dispute, the Boyne, Dee and Fane are all examples of previously premium game angling systems. All of these rivers have seen reduced stocks of migratory fish as well as browns so I felt I was taking a huge leap of faith if I tried my luck on one of them. The thought of driving all the way to Louth only to return having blanked was too much to bear. Come on, there must be somewhere to cast a line?

My dislike of Facebook is deep-rooted, I never ‘got’ it. How people can spend their lives posting the minutia of their existence like what they are eating or wearing beats me. Then again I expect most people would regard my posting the details of my inconclusive fishing trips as pretty odd so it just goes to show we are all different. Casting my prejudices aside, for once I turned to FB and hey-presto! A place called The Grange Trout Fishery popped up. They have a page there which gave some information about the small lake behind a shop in Carlingford. I read every word and admired their photos of impressively large brown and rainbow trout. The rules were helpfully listed and the whole package suggested this was just the place I had been looking for. So I made up my mind this would be the right venue and made my plans accordingly. Louth was on!

Three whole months had elapsed since my last ’32’ trip due to a combination of factors, most of them out of my control. Moments of doubt over its completion had crept in over those twelve weeks but now I was feeling a bit better after my brush with Covid and had a chunk of free time to pick up the gauntlet once more. Finding The Grange had been a massive boost, I was just hoping I would not be disappointed. An added bonus was the opportunity to fish for rainbows in a stocked lake. There are very limited numbers of such fisheries here in the Republic, unlike the UK where there seem to be one around every corner. Even in Northern Ireland there are lots to pick from but as soon as you cross the border the change in attitude to rainbows is very noticeable. With so much fishing for wild brown trout on hand there is very little appetite for stockies down here. I would never trade the glories of Mask or Conn for a put and take pond of rainbows but for a change from my norm I was really looking forward to this latest challenge.

The road to Louth was a long one. From Mayo on the N5 to Mullingar then up the N52 (a road that has more twists than an Arizona Sidewinder) to Delvin. I stretched my legs at Kells then trundled all the way to Dundalk. From there I took the Newry road around the town before turning off. That doesn’t sound too bad when I write it down but trust me, it was a long enough drive. The Renault huffed and puffed on some hills but it kept going and finally I made it to the Carlingford peninsular. Pulling up in the car park next to the shop I eased my stiff joints and stretched my legs, looking over the low wall at the lake. ‘Lake’ is possibly stretching things a bit, the fishery is basically a pond. ‘Intimate’ might be one way of describing this body of water, it was certainly a big change for me from the vastness of Conn and Mask. Just because it was small there was no guarantee I would catch anything, the trout can make fools of us all no matter where they are swimming.

Inside the shop I bought the permit and chatted to the guy in there about the fishing then returned to the car and set up my rod. I would use my seven weight 11 footer in anticipation of heavy fish and I paired it with a Hardy Swift mark 2 loaded with a clear intermediate line. A five pound breaking strain 18 foot leader had a damsel on the end of it which felt as good a starting point as any so I mashed the barb down on the hook and drew the tucked half-blood tight. With the age of these flies I made sure to check the hooks thoroughly for any signs of rust before use. A little on the surface would not do any harm but any deep rust would mean the fly was only fit for the bin. Luckily, most of the flies I examined passed muster.

Fly fishing for stockies is something I’ll confess I am totally out of touch with. Blobs, bungs, squirmys and all that malarkey are outside my knowledge so I really did not know what to expect. Obviously my normal traditional three fly cast of peters and dabblers was not going to be of any use so instead I had to rely on some very old patterns fished in what I could vaguely remember as effective retrieves from my past. During the past winter I had reorganised my collection of fly boxes and had two which were still reasonably full of my stockie bashing lures and flies. Rather than trying to teach this old dog some new tricks I figured these rust tinged old warriors could be relied on. The damsel pattern was one I have used a lot and it caught me bags of fish in the past. It was a starting point at least. Knots all tested, it was time to make a start.

A path led around one side of the pond but there was no access to the other side. Wooden stands gave a nice platform to cast from and I couldn’t help but think how welcome they would be on some of the coarse lakes I fish. All my tackle for today was tucked into an old canvas bag as for once I had scaled down the gear I took with me. Those old fly boxes, a couple of reels and a net summed up the hardware I needed. This alone was a pleasant change from my normal boat fishing which entails me hauling engine, petrol tank, baler, tackle bag etc. I am sure I could have pared the gear down even further but the few bits in an old canvas bag did the job for me on this occasion. The spaniel which had been hanging around the car park followed me to the lake, I was going to be his entertainment for the day.

Selecting one of the wooden stands I started to cast but something was wrong. A quick examination showed I had missed a ring, this time the second top one. I do this nearly every time I go fishing now as my eyesight is getting worse every day. Cutting the leader I re-threaded the line and made a new blood knot, the work of just a few seconds. Finally, I was fishing. The old line is not as smooth as it used to be but it still shoots well and I was pinging out 25 yard casts no bother. An occasional fish rose, almost certainly taking buzzers near the top. Casts in different directions covered the water and I soon had a rhythm going. Birdsong filled the warm, spring air and I could smell a faint tang of the sea, less than a mile from where I was standing. After the long drive I was just beginning to relax when the line tightened…………

Right away it was obvious this was a good fish. One powerful run after another bent the rod hard over and the reel sang. A couple of times I thought the fish was tired out but he found some more energy and would shoot off again. Five minutes must have elapsed before he slid towards the waiting net. Six inches from the waiting meshes he turned one more time and thrashed the water with his great spotted tail – then he was gone! The hook had just pulled out, he had fought a good fight and won in the end so I had no complaints. It was just a pity to be so close to landing a fish only for it to get away. The Spaniel gave me a withering look of disdain. Was that going to be my one and only chance?

Checking the hook confirmed there was nothing wrong with it so I started to cast again. Coots noisily fought in the distance, a Jay flew past me in an undulating flash of pink and blue. Twenty more casts, maybe thirty, then the line seemed to stop and grow heavy, I was in again! This one seemed confused as to what was happening to start with but it soon woke up and charged around the pond, at one point running out the whole length of the fly line so the joint to the backing chattered as it ran through the rings. The spaniel lunged at the rainbow as it came close to the muddy bank but I shoo it away and led the tired fish into my net. Thank God, I had one. A fine trout of about three pounds, he was quickly released and swam off strongly after a couple of photos.

Hook and leader checked I resumed operations but the pond had gone quiet now and no more offers came my way. Off came the damsel and in its place a Montana, then a gold head daddy and even a cat’s whiskers. These old reliables were all given a swim but without success. It was time for a change of tactics so I tied on a pair of daiwl bach, one brown and the other black. Retrieved at a glacial pace a smaller rainbow inhaled the brown lad and put up a good scrap before I netted it. A shade under two pounds was my guess at its weight as I slipped it back into the water. Like the first fish it was in fin perfect condition.

Don’t be fooled by the net, it is my huge boat net

Any thoughts that I had cracked it and more fish would now come my way were rudely disabused and the only action was the inevitable raucous fights between the coots. Time for a break so I sat on a bench and ate a sandwich while taking in the view. Mistle thrushes were busy on the other bank while chiff chaffs, blackbirds and others kept up a chorus which made for a soothing soundtrack to the day. Fed and watered, it was back to the casting for me. I took off the black daiwl bach, replacing it with a buzzer. Finally my line tightened and the third trout of the session put up a hell of a scrap but was enveloped in the meshes of my net in the end.

An hour more of casting and slowly retrieving went unrewarded. Packing up, I bid adieu to my companion. Fishing over, it was time to motor back west but this time I took a different route so I could stop off in Carrickmacross to buy some maggots. The shop there closes at 6pm so I made it in time to purchase a pint of red for use later in the week. From there I threaded my way across Cavan and Longford where I picked up the N5 and the steady cruise home. As you will have gathered by now, these long journeys home are a time for reflection on the days events.

What is it they say, ‘a change is as good as a rest’. Today had been a change all right, just about as different from my normal angling as it is possible to find in this country. In truth, when I happened upon Grange Trout Fishery the notion of doing something so different was as big an attraction as ticking off another county. This year has been a slow burner for me with very little angling so far due to work and then Covid. The long journey and day casting for trout was a tonic, an immersion in another world away from the pressures of modern life. To say I loved every minute of it is not far from the truth. I had fretted and worried for so long about finding a nice place to fish in Louth that a sense of relief draped over me as the little black Renault and I trundled homewards that evening, the sun lowering in a sky of pink and gold.

Here is the pattern for that damsel nymph:

Hook – A size 8 long shank such as the Kamasan B830

Silk – any colour, I doubt if it makes a difference. Black or brown are grand.

Eyes – Two beads from a sink plug chain whipped on to the top of the hook shank just back from the eye. A drop of glue helps to keep them in place.

Tail – Olive Marabou, not too long. A couple of strands of pearl flash are a nice addition.

Body – Dark olive fritz for two thirds of the body then light green fritz up to the eyes.

I have tried adding hackles and wing buds to this fly but they made no appreciable difference. Rainbows love this one and can often nip at the fly during the retrieve before a solid hook up. I have often thought about trying it on the loughs for wild browns but not followed through, maybe I am missing a trick here.

That family ticket looks like good value

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