Slap bang in the middle of Ulster lies the old kingdom of Tir O’ne, modern day Tyrone, the largest of the Northern Ireland counties. The O’Neill clan ruled these lands until the flight of the Earls in 1607, marking the end of Gaelic lordship in Ireland. This is archetypal Northern Ireland countryside with neat, well-tended fields and impressive farm buildings. Bustling towns, some bedecked with flags of one tradition or the other, are complimented by serene villages amid the greenery. I have visited Omagh and Dungannon in the past but can’t claim any great in-depth knowledge of the angling in Tyrone. I vaguely recall stopping off in Dungannon many years ago and catching a couple of rainbows in a lake which was set in a park but don’t ask me what it was called. For the purposes of this project I am going to disregard that minor success of long ago and set out to catch a fish in Tyrone using any legal method.
These are once again uncertain times in the North, Stormont is unable to sit as the DUP want the the border down the Irish Sea to be re-negotiated. My personal opinion is that Brexit was an unmitigated disaster for everyone, there were no winners. I don’t for one minute believe anyone on mainland UK gave two hoots about the Good Friday Agreement or peace in the North of Ireland when they voted. The consequences of the UK’s exit from Europe will rumble on for years and have the potential to degenerate into violence once again on this island. Shifting demographic sands, loosening political allegiances and the new realities of European relationships are destabilising an already volatile society and nobody can predict where we are heading.
Today would be about hedging my bets. In south Tyrone there are two small lakes close by each other, one a trout fishery and the other full of coarse fish. Creeve is the coarse fishing sister to Brantry which has the brown trout. The loughs are of similar size and have both been developed for angling with car parks, fishing stands and paths around them. I figured if I could not catch a fish on one I could try the other. They lie in the lush countryside which straddles the border, twisty wee roads through fields and hamlets bisected by an unnatural division created to address a century old imagined disaster with no thought of a changed future.
So with that unusually well constructed plan in mind I packed and set off for the border early on the last day of May. The journey along oh so familiar roads was uneventful. I had toyed with the idea of taking a scenic route through Cavan but decided in the end to take the main road and not dawdle. There was a quick stop in Enniskillen to get some bait. As is my want, I bought far more maggots than I needed for the day but I planned on fishing again this week so stocking up on bait made sense. The array of coarse tackle on display in the shop was dizzying. Much as I love my coarse fishing there is no way I could ever get to the point where I’d part with over a thousand pounds for a pole or a similar amount for a fancy seatbox. I am altogether cheaper than that and a couple of second-hand rods with ancient reels will do me. I invest in good quality line and hooks mind you but these items will hardly break the bank. A couple of small items found their way into my basket though and I chatted to the staff in the shop to find out how the fishing had been around Fermanagh and Tyrone recently. Then a toddle along the road to the huge roundabout at Ballygawley where I peeled off for Aughnacloy.
The only question for me was which lake to start with but in the end I plumped for Brantry first. Fishing the fly is still the method I am most comfortable and confident with. Guarantees don’t exist in any form of angling though and that’s why the coarse option hovered in the background. It is hard to make exact plans when fishing but I figured if I was still without a trout by 2pm I would up sticks and head a mile down the road to Creeve and try for a perch or roach. I know there are much more scenic loughs in this county but my express intended outcome was to land a fish so this seemed to be my best bet. With time limited good access and easy fishing are key elements to these 32 trips, I don’t have the luxury of taking hours to size up a fishery.
The car park, commodious and none too busy, was easy to find and I parked up in the light rain a few minutes before ten o’clock. ‘Scattered showers’ the forecasters had said and sure enough since the border the windscreen wipers had been used a couple of times. Thankfully it was drying up a bit now. This lough, around 20 acres in size, is edged by tall trees but a number of angling stands have been built to allow access. A good path circumnavigates the lough.
The 11 footer and old System 2 reel came out again and a light cast of three flies was soon rigged. On smaller waters I tend to favour small flies unless I see something bigger on the wing so I opted for a size 12 Welshman’s Button on the bob, a size 14 Silver March Brown in the middle and a Black Goldhead dressed on a size 12 long shank on the tail. Maybe not the most obvious selection to many of you but three flies that have done well for me over the years in the month of June for stocked browns. Now it was time to investigate my new surroundings.
The nearest stand was actually at the car park so I grabbed a sandwich and walked to the end of it to have a look around. Milky coloured water was fringed with reeds and ruffled by a steady wind. I could see no insects on the water or on the wing, try as I might. While munching on the last bite of the sandwich a big fish splashed the surface forty yards out. I didn’t see the fish properly but the commotion suggested something heavy. Lacking any better ideas I decided to start right there. Here the reeds grew well out into the southern end of the lake and from this stand I could reach the edge of them with a good cast. So back to the car, grab rod, bag and net then I was set to go.
That wind was at an awkward angle, coming on to my right shoulder meaning the cast had to be timed to perfection, any slovenliness would result in the line around my ears! My first cast was a bit short but I fished it out and re-cast, this time dropping the flies a foot from the reeds. Short, sharp pulls to get that goldhead working just below the surface. Lift off, one false cast then the line shot out again. A few pulls then wallop! A good fish dived before leaping a foot in the air, flashing silver and pink – a rainbow. Played out, I soon had it in the net but what was a rainbow doing in here, I had read this was a brown trout fishery?
You can keep up to four fish on this lake but I slipped the ‘bow back into the water once the hook had been fetched from his scissors. That was a good start anyway. Back fishing, maybe twenty casts later another solid take saw me into another fish and yes, it was another rainbow. A wee bit smaller than the first one it was still a nice trout but he too was carefully returned. I added a third rainbow soon after, all three trout hammering the black goldhead.
An occasional small fish showed far out beyond casting distance and I began to consider my options. Stay here or move to another stand? Casts at different angles and different retrieves were tried before a nice morning was rudely interrupted by a phone call from work. I hate my current job and the call (innocent and well meaning) upset me greatly. This was the last day of my time off and here I was thinking about work again. In an instant I had gone from immersed in the fishing to worrying about work. I tried to fish on but I could not shake myself out of this gloom, so I decided to pack up and head for the other lake, Creeve. Rod disassembled and reel safely tucked away, I picked my way along the winding minor road I had driven up a scant hour before.
Only a mile or two south of Brantry, Creeve is a very similar looking lake. It’s a tad smaller and rounder but has similar facilities, the only difference being the occupants. This lough has pike, perch, bream and roach in it and I planned to float fish for the latter three species. Creeve has suffered greatly in the recent past with blue-green algal bloom. It was my hope this affliction would not be present this early in the year and a careful search around the edge turned up no signs of the deadly algae.
I tackled up with the 12 foot general purpose rod so that I could switch to feeder if necessary but I started with a bodied waggler to a size 14 fished over depth. The swim was only one rod length out, the wind being too strong for attempting anything further out with the float. Groundbait and a steady trickle of loose fed maggots went in and I tried hard to settle in to the fishing but images of work haunted me. Mature trees gave me cover from the cool wind but also made casting a bit of a pain. A pair of ducks swam down the lake to investigate and spent the rest of the session tormenting me, swimming close to the line and even pecking my float on a couple of occasions. All in all it was a session to forget, the only highlight being a solitary perch which pulled the float under after an hour or so of work/duck/wind stress.
Normally I would have made some changes and possibly switched to the feeder by my heart was not in it. A couple of hours slipped past but that one lonesome perch was all I caught. Clouds darkened and rain threatened so I cut my losses and called it a day. Briefly I toyed with the notion of going back to try for rainbows on Brantry but my mood was very low so instead I pointed the car for Mayo. Heavy showers chased me across the border but they petered out by the time I was past Manorhamilton.
It had been a day of pluses and minuses. Three rainbows were unexpected but very welcome and my short time fishing Brantry had been really enjoyable. That wee black goldhead is a great fly when you have no idea what to try on a new water. It works just as well for stocked brownies as rainbow so it is good to have a couple in your box (I’ll put up a separate post detailing how to make it).
I have just checked the NIDirect website and here is what is says about Brantry:
|Season||1 March to 31 October|
|Methods||fly fishing only from boat and shore|
|Daily bag limit||four trout per rod|
|Size limit||minimum takeable size 25.4cm|
As you can see there is no mention of rainbows but I guess the stocking policy must have changed. It just shows the value of trying something like the black goldhead, it will trick any stocked trout, be they brown or ‘bow.
The afternoon was one to forget. I have been unhappy at work for a while now but today it just hit home how deeply miserable I am there. Time for a change I think!
Sitting at home now and reflecting on the day, there is a satisfaction that I have now caught a fish in all of the six counties which make up Northern Ireland. Only seven other counties in the Republic remain on the rapidly shrinking ‘to do’ list. By my dodgy maths that means close to 80% of the total have been completed to date. These last few will all be very long days of tiring journeys to the far corners of the island of Ireland but I can almost see the finish line now.