The fickle Irish weather scrunched up my weekend plans and tossed them in the bin. I was been due to take two anglers out on lough Beltra on Saturday but the high winds of last week had melted away like April snow to present me with a flat calm by early this morning. We exchanged short texts to confirm the obvious, Beltra was out of the question and we would fish there tomorrow when the forecast suggested a near hurricane would swoop in from the south. Coffee, a slice of hot buttered toast and a little time thinking about alternative options ensued. That’s what I’d do – the Clare river was my choice. Some of you may recall that I joined the Milltown angling club this season so here was an opportunity to explore a bit of the river.
Frost quickly lifted as the sun rose in an azure sky making for a lovely spring morning for just about anything but fishing. Not to worry, today was more about finding fishy looking spots than actually catching very much. Chucking boots, rod and net into the car I headed off to find somewhere to try my luck. The Renault hummed along the tarmac, as well it should after me spending a small fortune having new shocks fitted for the NCT which it passed on Friday. After a minor detour due to my poor map reading skills I took the correct road and found the river. Parked up at a small rural cemetery, I hopped a stone style and began hiking along the river amid greening bushes and the smells of a countryside awakening once more.
Over the years this river has been systematically destroyed by a succession of Irish governments in the shape of the odious OPW (Office of Public Works). An utterly despicable gang of environmental hooligans, they take delight in dredging and straightening every waterway they can lay their hands on. All of this in the name of flood prevention (a joke) and land reclamation. Before all this damage was done the Clare and its many tributaries were home to a diverse and thriving habitat but now it is just an unsightly drain. That a few fish cling to life in the river is testament to natures ability to adapt but it is heartbreaking to walk beside the huge piles of stone which have been dredged from the watercourse.
Stopping at a slight bend I set up a three fly cast with a pair of beaded nymphs and a size 16 partridge spider. I had selected this spot because I could get relatively close to the river, most other parts consisted of 10 foot sheer drop into the water, cleanly dug out by the excavators many years ago. I flicked the flies under the far bank and let them swing around below me, repeating the process as I made my way slowly downstream. I missed a couple of half-hearted tugs but then hooked a small fish. A salmon smolt wriggled in my hand for an instant before I dropped it back into the river. Another few casts and then a second smolt grabbed one of the flies. That was enough for me and I upped-sticks and plodded off upstream. It is always great to see the smolts dropping downstream but accidentally catching them is upsetting so I left them in peace and followed the track northwards. I tried another couple of spots but there were smolts there too so I kept pressing on up river.
A tug indicated something was willing to play but it was only a small brownie. Well at least I didn’t blank. The wee chap is safely returned and soon after the river gives up another similar sized trout but that was to be all the action for the day. I fished my way up river and covered some nice water but there was no fly life to speak of and no signs of any fish moving. Turning around I fished back downstream with a new cast of flies but the only thing I caught is another couple of silvery smolts. The young salmon are very pretty but I took no photos as I rushed to get them back in the water as fast as possible. Enough dangers await them without me adding to their woes.
Up until now I have been feeling good but I began to weaken and decided it is time to return to the car. Frequent stops over the few hundred yards are required as my post-covid body reminds me not to push things to hard yet. By the time I reach the car I was exhausted and needed to rest for a few minutes before starting the journey home.
So what did I learn today? The river is badly scarred by the old dredging and I am left with the impression there is only a low stock of trout in this stretch. Almost dead straight and with no defining features, I could see nowhere for fish to shelter or hide. Some small beds of weed suggested there was a supply of food available even if there was no hatch today. It could be that this river is just a bit later in getting going than the Robe just a few miles away. Access is OK but there are many parts which are not possible to fish with the fly due tot he high banks. After a summer spate there should be a few salmon in this stretch and I found a couple of spots where a well presented fly should tempt a grilse. The Clare river is far from a perfect venue but there is enough to attract me back to give it a go next month.
Tomorrow looks like a windy and wet day so I will be on Beltra, God willing.