Four short, random pieces which have been lying around on my laptop. Hope you enjoy this eclectic mix of unrelated fishing topics.
- Donegal Blues
Friday 13th, I should have known not to try anything adventurous on this day! A plan for the day ahead, detailed and coordinated, fell apart after a couple of early morning phone calls. The back-up plan crumbled like the walls of Jericho too, leaving me with an unexpected free day. I should have just gone to Lough Conn and braved the gale force winds by fishing the sheltered bays but instead I decided to investigate a small lough in south Donegal which I had read about.
Bannus lough lies close to the village of Pettigo roughly in between Ballyshannon and Enniskillen. Sure and certain that anything I might require was already in the bomb site that was the interior of the car, I fed the cat and left in a hurry.
You can buy a permit which covers a few loughs in the area from the post office in Pettigo and I parked up near the edge of the reed fringed lough at 11.30. The wind, ferocious and gusting, tore at me as I tackled up making the job of threading the rings and tying on flies a tad more difficult than usual. Waders and jacket, rod and wading stick were all I took with me as I waddled down to the water, the wind blowing directly in my face. I had unearthed an old Speedex reel with a no.8 floating line on it, a full size heavier than the rod was rated for to combat the conditions. Wading in to thigh depth I began casting. Ten yards constituted a good cast, some ended up in a bundle in front of me but enough shot out far enough to say I was fishing. It was not cold but the strength of the wind was impressive.
A blae and black on the dropper and a soldier palmer on the tail failed to elicit any response so I swapped them for a butcher and a gold head daddy. Twenty minutes of flogging went unrewarded so I decided to move. Across the field then over a couple of drains via sturdy wooden bridges, I came to a stile and that typically Irish frustration, the barbed wire fence. The Irish farmers love of electric fences is only surpassed by their need to run mile upon mile of barbed wire over everything in their way. Here was yet another example of the utter disregard for anything and anyone else. There was no way I was going to risk tearing my waders attempting to cross this obstacle so I retraced my steps and went back to the spot where I had started.
I tried different flies but nothing was working and casting into the gale was exhausting. Looking over to my left I could just make something behind the trees which looked to be man-made. Reeling in, I followed a track that led to through the trees and there I found a small a small stand.
Fashioned from wood with a metal grate on top, the structure jutted out and across the wind giving me the chance to cast more easily. I resumed operations, chucking the flies out and as close to some reeds as I dared. If anything the wind strengthened, waves crashed against the stand causing it to shudder under the onslaught. More changes of flies, more disappointing failure. I took a break and sat behind the trees, sheltering from the wind and taking stock of the situation. This lake held not only trout but perch and roach but I was powerless to fish for them. If I had thought about it before I left home I could have dug some worms and taken them with me as a backup. Instead, in my haste the only thought in my head was a day fly fishing. A basic error on my part and now I was paying the price.
Olives and dabblers, green peters and bibios, they were all given a swim and each failed to rise a fish. Beaten, I packed up and tramped back to the car. The journey home was uneventful but during the trip I thought about how unprepared I had been and made plans to address my shortcomings. Back at home I found an old leger rod which could easily live in the car along with a small bag of basic tackle. I always have a reel case in the car containing eight different reels. I swapped out a salmon fly reel (unused for many seasons) for a small fixed spool filled with six pound mono. In future, a few minutes grubbing up some worms would be no hardship before setting off on any similar jaunts and the sting of todays failure was all the motivation needed to make sure I was not so lazy in future. We live and learn!
For those of you who were expecting a few words about the Donegal Blue fly here is the dressing:
Hackle – Black. I prefer a long fibred hen but each to his/her own
Body – Blue seal’s fur. I have seen every shade of blue from turquoise to indigo used for the fly but a royal blue seems to the best I think
Rib – flat silver tinsel, 4 turns
Tails (Optional) – Most tyers don’t bother with tails on this fly but I add a few GP tippets sometimes
2. More than just a kettle
When I first started fishing the Irish loughs the ritual lunchtime break for a brew on the shore was lost on me. Why on earth did the locals stop fishing for an hour when they could be casting. It made no sense to me as a young angler, I was there to fish, not waste time drinking tea and talking. Those dreaded words from my boat partners ‘we’ll just pull in for cuppa’ were torture to my ears and the whole messing about filling and boiling the damned Kelly kettle broke my heart. Ah, the impatience of the young!
At the very epicentre of this ritual is of course the kettle itself. Invariably battered and blackened its totemic status in Irish game angling is unrivalled. Somewhere along the way I bought one and mine too displays battle scars garnered on rocky shores and pebbled islands from Corrib to Conn. Nowadays I would not be without it. I bring it in an old hessian bag with some firelighters in a plastic box. This bag is the third item to be stowed in the boot of the car before setting off, only the engine and fuel tank are ahead of it.
So what changed? How did I go from hating lunchtime to looking forward to the traditional break? My guess is I mellowed with the passage of time as most of us do. The driven and focussed man I used to be has slowly learned to hurry less and appreciate more. Sitting on a rock, talking to friends or strangers as the smoke and steam curl up into the sweet spring air now seems like a gift from heaven. Angling for me has morphed into the sum of many parts instead of just bent rods and great spotted fish.
Of course there are days when wet and miserable weather make that reviving beverage more than just pleasant, it verges on the lifesaving. Hunting for dry twigs to burn poses a challenge nearly as great as catching a fish on a rainy day so some of us cheat a bit by secreting a few dry pieces of kindling from the woodpile at home in our bags.
If I had to conjure up a single image that conveyed Irish angling I suspect it would not be of a great fish, a screaming reel or even the vista of the sun setting over a lough, no, it would be a Kelly kettle with a wisp of white smoke rising and the lads laughing and talking in the background.
I see it all the time – anglers using the latest ‘invisible’ leader materials being broken by fish on the lough. I do try to tell them but they rarely listen and it often ends in tears as trout of even modest proportions snap their line. For what it is worth here is my take on leader materials for Irish boat angling.
Modern fluorocarbon and copolymer lines are feats of chemical engineering and rightly have their place in our tackle boxes. Under certain circumstances they provide us anglers with much better opportunities of fooling the fish. Fishing in calm conditions, stalking trout sipping spent spinners, early morning caenis feeders requiring tiny flies – all scenarios where fine line is a huge advantage. I use them myself and marvel how thin these expensive lines are.
Problems arise though when anglers use the same thin materials for wet fly fishing in front of a drifting boat. For this game I am convinced a relatively thick, stiff leader is what you need and specifically one made from monofilament. There are a couple of reasons for this. Obviously the stretch which is an inherent feature of mono acts as a shock absorber leading to less breakages when the fish takes. Secondly, droppers tied on nylon stands out better, leading to less knots. I believe this is an underestimated problem and many of the breakages anglers suffer while using fluorocarbon or copolymer leaders are due to wind knots in their line which go unnoticed until the fateful moment when a good trout grabs a fly in a big wave and the combined shock is too much for thin fluorocarbon which snaps at the knot. I fully understand the use of stronger line for the same diameter and I know hugely successful anglers who take advantage of the higher strength to use 10 or 12 pound breaking strain fluorocarbon which have roughly the same thickness of old fashioned 6 pound nylon.
For me the related issue of leader length when wet fly fishing from a drifting boat also needs to be given consideration. Perceived wisdom is that a long, fine leader is best in all conditions as it keeps your flies further from the thick, fish scaring fly line. I don’t subscribe to this point of view. I catch lots of fish every season within a couple of yards of a 19 foot boat so I seriously doubt if a bit of fly line is going to put the trout off. Long, ultra-thin leaders used in a high wind is asking for trouble in my book so I stick to casts between 9 and 12 feet. Of course I still suffer knots and tangles, it is all part of the game, but not as many as I see other anglers with longer leaders. I do use longer leaders when dry fly fishing in less windy conditions, up to about 18 feet or so.
I had been meaning to try a small lough in county Roscommon for a while and finally found a few hours to travel down there and give it a lash. We seem to be plagued with high winds this year and the day in question was no different with a strong southerly wind buffeting the car as I headed across the border into the land of the Rossies.
The Black lough apparently holds roach and bream – I say apparently because I could not hook anything there. Old fishing stands have been removed but one fine metal disabled stand sticks proudly out into the deep water. I set up there and fished with float and feeder in the teeth of the gale. Not a single bite did I register and it was pretty uncomfortable just trying to stop everything being blown into the water. An hour of this hard work was enough and I packed up.
Just along the road there is another lough. Stonehams, so I pulled in there to find some cars already parked and fishermen hard at work with rod and pole. One long stand provided access and as I was setting up I could see my fellow anglers were all catching tiny rudd and roach. Whereas the Black lough was deep this one was very shallow with less than three feet of water in front of me. I blasted the feeder as far as I could, searching for some deeper water near the middle of the lough then fished the float one rod length out, loose feeding a few maggots every cast to try and pull some fish to me.
Soon I too was catching small silvers, a mix of roach, rudd and skimmers. Nothing of any size was being caught by the others lads and certainly not by me but at least there was some shelter from the wind so I stuck it out for a couple of hours.
I got chatting to one of the lads, a Polish fella who fished this lake often. He said they did catch the odd better fish but mainly it was a case of hauling out bags of small stuff. There were some good sized pike in the lake too and they fished for them in the winter. Pole was his preferred method to bag up on silvers and I could see why, this place was made for that style of fishing.
I have been very vocal in the past about my lack of interest in pole fishing BUT, perhaps a whip might be handy for venues like this one.