Lough Bofinna. I have no rational explanation why this secluded little lake sang to me but as soon as I read about it I decided I simply had to fish it. Cork is a big county with countless opportunities to fish so quite how my brain fixed on this far off lough will for ever remain a mystery. Close to the tourist trap of Bantry in the far south west, it was going to be a long, long journey for me but I didn’t mind, indeed I was excited by the challenge of the day. Little did I know how great that challenge would be.
Bofinna is an unusual place to fish, tarred roads run along two edges of the triangular shaped lough. Trout, a mix of browns and ‘bows, are stocked at intervals and some rudd live in there too according to the IFI website. Fishing is by all legal methods so I could fish fly (preferred), worm (might for an hour) or spin (desperation). My research suggested this was a very popular fishery so the usual pressures on hard fished stocked waters would apply. You are required to buy a permit to fish this and the other SW stocked lakes but it can be bought online easily enough so I had previously parted with €20, printed off the permit and tucked it into my jacket pocket. A dozen or so small worms in a bait box came along with me in case things got desperate.
The journey seemed to go on and on and on. By Limerick I was barely half way there, the roads worsened and narrowed as I traveled deeper and deeper into Munster. No direct road brought me to Bantry so numerous junctions and turns took me along lesser byways, but I got there in the end with only one slight detour when I missed an unmarked junction on a bad bend. This was the longest trip for me so far on the project, even Wexford and Antrim were marginally closer to home.
Driving up the narrow tarred road on the far side on the lough I came to a small parking space where a large motorhome was parked. Reversing into the remaining space I got out and took in my surroundings as I tried to massage some life back into my stiff legs. With little wind to ruffle the surface I peered out across the lake hoping to spot an odd rise but there was no sign of life. Ah well, I had the whole day ahead of me and the fish could waken up at any time. Thigh boots and jacket on, I was threading the line through the rings of the 11 footer when the door of the motorhome opened.
‘I have got some bad news for you’, his thick Devonshire accent was a bit unexpected here in deepest Cork. Tall, bearded, about my own age and weather worn, the owner of the huge white vehicle had my attention. ‘What’s that?’ I retorted. ‘There are no fish in this lake’ he said in a voice which clearly demonstrated he was not joking.
What unfolded next was a sorry tale but sadly not an unusual one in present day Ireland. My new acquaintance came to fish here every season and had caught many fine trout from the lough over the years. This past three days he had fished hard but had not even seen a fish rise, let alone catch one. Locals he knew and trusted had told him the lough had recently been poached by a gang who came with nets and huge plastic containers to transport their illegal catch. Nobody was bothering to fish the lough now it was empty. We chatted for a while but it was clear there was little hope of a fish from Bofinna today.
So here I was, miles from anywhere and without a plan ‘B’. Mulling it over I decided to have a few casts anyway since I was here. At least I would be fishing as I tried to hatch a new plan. The old leader from my last outing was on the reel so I knotted on three flies, a black goldhead on the tail, a daiwl bach in the middle and a small claret deer hair sedge on the bob. Across a small slatted concrete bridge to a path which led to a shelving gravel bank at the head of the lake I strode. Alder and willows grew close to the waters edge but there was enough room to cast. This looked to be as good a place as any to try.
My slime line got the flies off the surface and allowed me to fish without leaving a wake. Short casts to cover the shallow water near at hand then longer throws out to about twenty yards or so, fanning from right to left so I was covering as much water as possible. At a step per cast I was soon up at the far end of the small bay so I wound in and went back to where I had started but this time I waded out a bit so I could reach out into deeper water. Maybe 30 or 40 minutes elapsed and no signs of fish had caught me attention even though I was watching the surface intently. Fly life, in the form of buzzers, small sedges and a sprinkling of olives dotted the surface but nothing tried to eat them. Chaffinches tweeted noisily in the bushes behind me but all was eerily quiet apart from them. By now I was back at the head of the small bay, thigh deep in water slightly clouded with algae. I turned to make my way back to where I had entered the water – then it happened.
Perhaps because I was paying such close attention to all around me the rise when I saw it seemed almost surreal. I was looking back down the lough when a fish broke the surface about 15 yards from where I was. One of those swirling rises as a fish turns to take something on or near the surface. The sight of that swirl transfixed me. It really was almost unbelievable.
My line was in the water, about ten yards of it was out to my left, unseen a couple of feet below the mirror-calm surface. Stripping in with my left hand I felt the weight of the line on the rod and judged when to sweep up to lift the line out. Two false casts, the first to change direction, the second to increase length. Out shot the line, the flies turning over nicely in the air and the whole alighting gently close to the slowly disappearing rise and a few inches to the left as I looked at it. I let the flies sink for a couple of seconds then started the retrieve – slow, short pulls. BANG!!!!
Some head shakes followed the electrifying take then the fish ran out towards deeper water. I let him go as I wound the slack line on the reel. Just as I got the last of the line on the spool he jumped and I could see he was a nice fish but nothing special in terms of size. Another short run then he thrashed the surface, throwing spray around in an unpleasant way. I am not a religious man but trust me, invocations were being muttered under my breath as that trout fought well for those couple of minutes. He tired though and I reached for my net, which was conspicuous by its absence. Damn! I had left the net on the back seat of the car. Lady luck was smiling on me though as the gently sloping gravel made a perfect place to beach the fish once he was properly tired out. Exhausted, my prize was easily led on to the beach where one very relieved Scotsman picked him up and applied the coup-de-grace. I had caught a fish in the Rebel county after all.
The size 14 deerhair sedge was firmly in the scissors, where we all like to see our flies. Re-organised, I waded back out and started to fish again when my new friend appeared, rod in hand. ‘I know there are no fish in here but I will give it a try anyway’ he told me, started to cast a beautiful line just where I had hooked my fish. ‘I have one’ I said, trying to find an tone which did not sound overly triumphant. He looked at me as if I had just informed him of an alien encounter. ‘What?’ Picking the fish from the grass where it lay I proffered the corpse to validate my claim. The poor man seemed utterly stunned. With lots of similar deerhair sedges in my box I took one out and gave it to him, then resumed casting a few yards along the back. We fished on for a while, the details of the take and fight being dissected in the minutest detail.
An hour passed without any further action, despite increasing numbers of natural flies on the water and almost perfect conditions. I feared the story of the poachers was true and that this lough had been all but emptied by the gang. By some fluke I had run into one of the few fish remaining. It was decision time, did I stay here and keep flogging, did I cut my losses and head back to Mayo, or was there a third option?
I have had time mull over the few seconds which defined my trip to Bofinna. I believe there are lessons from that short period of time which will stand inexperienced anglers in good stead.
- Keep fishing. I know this sounds obvious but as long as your flies are in the water you have a chance. Today I could have easily not bothered setting up, so devastating was news of the poaching. Instead I figured there might but an odd fish left so I might as well make an effort.
- Look for places where fish could potentially be. That gravel bank shelved quickly, creating a drop off which fish love. Headlands, rocks, weedbeds etc are all potential fish holding areas so concentrate on them when the fishing is difficult.
- Keep your eyes peeled! Even though I had been told there were no fish I kept looking for any signs of one.
- Work on your casting until it becomes second nature to you. I had one shot today, if I made a mess of my first cast the fish would have spooked and be gone in a flash.
Just after midday I reeled in and walked back across the wee bridge to the waiting car. A new plan had been hatched, one that would take me somewhere new.
To be continued.