32 – Episode 23, Kilkenny

So there I was in New Ross, Co. Wexford on a fine spring day having caught a load of fish at Oaklands. It was 1pm and I had options to consider. I could spend the remainder of the afternoon fishing there (very tempting), drive back to Mayo and get home at a decent time for a change or I could try to fit in another county. From all my research I knew where I could fish in Co. Kilkenny which was not too far from where I was sitting in the spring sunshine. Hell, I’ll go for it.

Kilkenny is a popular city for visitors from around the world and the county is famous in Ireland for their hurling team who play in black and amber stripes. The city used to be a big brewing centre but that industry has closed down since the work was transferred to Dublin. Strangely, I had never been to Kilkenny before, somehow my wanderings had never led me to the Marble City. Back in 2017 I almost went there to look at a machine the company I was working for at the time was thinking on buying but they pulled out and so I never made it to Kilkenny. It was time to see what I had been missing.

One venue seemed to stand out above all others, the river Nore. Formerly one of the great salmon rivers of Ireland it is now better known for its trout angling. So the river Nore it was and I figured the club waters at Thomastown might be my best bet. The timing this trip was a bit too early to coincide with the famed hatches of Blue Winged Olives, June and July normally being good months for these small upwinged flies that the trout love so much. I was hoping there might still be a few fish around though.

My target species this would once again be brown trout. Further downstream the Nore is a first class coarse fishery but the runs and pools around the city are perfect trout water. The famous Mount Juliet stretch is just up river from Thomastown but I would be fishing the local club water, an altogether cheaper option! There could well be a few dace or roach in the stretch I planned to fish and either of them on the fly would be welcome too. River fishing for wild brownies was where I started my angling so this was going to be a bit of a trip down memory lane for me.

The road from New Ross to Thomastown wound through lovely scenery and I arrived in the pretty village around 2pm. My first job was to buy a permit for the afternoon. A couple of outlets in the village sell them and I rocked up to Treaceys Hardware shop, not far from the river. There I was furnished with a permit and pointed in the direction of the hurling park where I could park in safety and fish for three miles downstream.

The Nore here is a wide river which reminded me of the Aberdeenshire Don where I learned to fish all those years ago. Low, clear water and a strong upstream wind under bright sunshine were far from ideal conditions but I togged up and walked down the bank, looking for signs of life. It quickly became apparent the river was stuffed full of fish, I could see them in the crystal water holding near the bottom. Fishing down a long slow run failed to meet with any success so I swapped my nymphs for a pair of spiders and fished down a fast run but again, without so much as a pull. The river felt lifeless with no signs of fly life and I was beginning to think this had been a step too far for me. I had arrived too late for any lunchtime activity and too early for the evening rise. Changing flies again I put a black spider on the dropper and a PT nymph on the tail before moving a bit further down the river.

So strong was the wind that it lifted the cap off my head and I was lucky to retrieve it before the river washed it away. I fished on bare-headed, reddening as the day wore on. Cattle were in the river below me but they nosily left the water as I approached, eyeing my suspiciously as I entered the run and slithered into knee deep water. When confronted with tough conditions I like to take my time and observe what is happening around me, tune in to the river if you like. The cool water swirled around my legs as I leaned on my wading stick, the Orvis in my hand. My rod and my staff. Who knows how long I stood there silently observing the watery world, melding with the ancient river, becoming part of her.

There! Under the far bank in a back eddy I saw a rise. Too far to cast to but perhaps the beginning of some action, it was hugely encouraging to at least see a fish on the surface. Minutes passed then another fish rose nearly directly below me, quickly followed by another within casting distance. Knots and hooks checked, I started to cast, concentration levels at their highest. Cast and mend, cast and mend. A pluck but no contact. More fish rising now and I can see a very small dun on the water. Finally a solid pull and a small trout comes to hand! I breath a sigh of relief, over an hour had passed before I eventually landed this small fish but it felt like a triumph in these conditions.

When fishing wets like this I vary my casting as required, sometimes sweeping them down and across, sometimes flicking then upstream. You might think that I should have switched to the dry fly when the fish started to rise but in my experience these afternoon rises can be over just as fast as they began and I felt the time taken to change to dries and then find the right pattern was too risky. So the wets stayed on and did the business for me.

It felt like the years had rolled back and I was fishing the way I used to. Casting to rising fish is an intoxicating pastime and I became utterly absorbed in spotting a rise, making the cast and hooking the fish. Gradually I worked my way down the run, willows behind me forcing me to be inventive with my casting. Trout seemed to move around and were not holding station, meaning throwing the flies to the exact spot where I had seen a rise rarely produced a take. More were lost than landed but by the time the short lived rise had petered out eight gloriously spotted browns had fallen for my flies. None were better than 12 ounces I suppose but that didn’t matter a jot to me. In the end it was honours even with roughly the same number of fish on the wee black spider and the PT.

Turning back I waded up river and came ashore in the midst of the young cows who mooed loudly in indignation. It was 4pm by now and the river which had been pock-marked with rising trout a few minutes ago was deathly quiet once again. Time to go. The Nore at Thomastown is a wonderful piece of river and if you are ever in the area I would urge you to give it a try.

Tackle dismantled and tucked back in the noisy Renault I wound the weary miles home, initially through heavy traffic around Kilkenny and Athlone but along quieter roads after Roscommon. It had been a very long day but I was a happy man. For me fishing is not about big bags or huge fish, it is the experience of the outdoors, that connection with nature which is the drug I crave.

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