6th June, D-day. I was stood up to my knees in Lough Bofinna in county Cork trying to decide what to do when it occurred to me that Kerry was not so terribly far away. There is a stocked lough called Barfinnihy which lies high up in the hills on the ring of Kerry, very close to Moll’s Gap. An hour’s drive should get me there and I could spend a while attempting to winkle out a trout or two. I bid farewell to Bantry then took the tortuous route along the N71 via the hustle and bustle of Kenmare.
Barfinnihy is another one of the lakes covered by the SW stocked lakes permit system, the permits being available locally or online. As I already had one in my pocket I could just rock up and commence fishing. Would this lake be devoid of fish too? It felt like a gamble worth taking.
Kerry is beautiful but crowded during the summer as it fills with visitors from all over the world. It used to be a great spot for bass fishing in the winter and dedicated bass anglers traveled here to hurl baits past the third breaker on the lovely beaches. Those bass are rare now and the anglers tend to come more for the rays and conger which are still there.
I am no stranger to the kingdom of Kerry, it used to be one of my favourite places to fish. Back when I lived in Scotland I would drive all the way from Aberdeen to Fenit or Valentia Island to fish the rich salty waters for bass, rays and wrasse. In those far off days I loved nothing better than riding my bike, wild camping and fishing in the most difficult to reach places. Happy days indeed but it has been many a long year since I have partaken of any of those pastimes which were once so dear to me. Life seems to slither away so damn quickly, one minute you are young and strong and carefree and before you know it the grey hairs, aches and fears over take you. My motorbikes are long gone and the treks to Kerry stopped around the same time. Somehow there just never seemed to be time to go back to do some fishing there. Apart from a flying visit to Tralee with work in 2017 I had not visited Kerry for nearly 40 years. I used to know my way around the county but that knowledge has long since faded and I strongly suspect the sea angling has similarly declined.
There would be no return to the smell of two stroke engines nor the thrill of scaling 100 foot cliffs on my return to Kerry in 2022. Those days are past now and in the past they must remain. For those of you unfamiliar with Ireland, county Kerry lies in the south west of the island. There are a few towns but this is largely a rural area with stunning scenery and a rich history. A haven for visitors, Kerry has an economy based on agriculture and tourism. Football (the GAA variety) is a passion in the county and many fine players have togged out in the green and gold colours over the years. Of course there is always a healthy rivalry between Kerry and their next door neighbours, Cork.
Once past Kenmare, I pointed the car north along the N71, surely the most scenic route in the country. Steep climbs with sheer drops a few feet away, tunnels just wide enough for one car to pass through and views across the glens to die for. On the June bank holiday weekend it was jammed with every conceivable form of transport but in little over an hour I turned on to the road for Sneem and rounding a bend spied the lough below me.
I found a parking place across the road from the lough and shut off the poor overworked engine. This lough is set in a natural dip between the hills so the faint wind was barely sufficient to ripple the surface. I went over to have a look at the water from above, quickly spotting a few other anglers already hard at work. Some fish could be seen rising far out in front of one chap at the southern end of the lough beside an island. He was busily chucking a large bubble float at them and as I watched he hooked and landed a trout. Well, that was encouraging at least! Back at the car I re-assembled the fly rod and retained the same leader of flies, as good an option to begin with as any others. Then it was across the road and down the steep slope.
Steep slopes are difficult for me, what with my arthritic joints and dodgy balance. Slowly and inelegantly I picked my way down through the boggy ground to the edge of the water. Only when I was there did I realise that I had done it again – left my bloody net in the car. Twice in one day I had made this schoolboy error. The notion of climbing back up the slope again lacked any appeal for me so I started to fish without a net, an act of bravery or foolishness, I will leave you to decide.
Two chaps away off to my right were float fishing worms and in short order they pulled out a brace of trout. Their gear looked to be on the heavy side and the trout came in rapidly as the handle on the big reels were cranked. The fish would have had more chance if they were being pulled in on the end of a Grimsby trawlers winch. Each to his own I suppose.
There were no signs of fish in front of me so I started to cast at 90 degrees to the bank. With each new cast I took another step along the shoreline, methodically working my way to the east. After a while I came to a huge rock which barred my path so I got up on top of it and fanned some casts out. A very inviting faint ripple off the my right was unfishable to me as the wormers were set up there. I kept casting.
Time passed, the mist came and went leaving me damp and chilled but I stuck to my task. Finally, from my rocky outcrop I saw a fish rise about 10 yards beyond my casting range. With little to lose I aimed my next cast in the general direction of the fish, repeating this three times. By some trick of the light I saw the fish turn under the water a split second before my line gave that longed for jump and I was into a trout. Like most rainbows this one fought well, finding the energy for one final run just when I thought it was tired out. With no net I had to guide the fish into a tiny space between some rocks where I could then pick it up but soon I was clutching my prize. It had absolutely nailed the black goldhead.
With one in the bag I was hungry for more so I resumed operations from a lower perch. This made casting harder but the flies were still getting out a fair distance in the cats paw of a breeze. Half-an-hour slipped past in no time, I was just enjoying casting and fishing the water. Out of nowhere the line tightened and trout number two swam around in a circle for a while until it woke up and charged around like a lunatic. I got that one too, landing it in identical fashion as the first one. The goldhead had claimed a second victim. While I was playing that fish another couple of rainbows had risen in the near vicinity but by the time I was back in action they had moved off.
The chap with the bubble float down the shore from me continued to haul out fish after fish but things had gone quiet for the wormers on my right. One of them packed in but the other lad stuck it out, only moving to a new spot after an hour or so. I could not make out any fly life at all but that is not surprising at this altitude. I was tempted to switch to a dry daddy but the mist came down even heavier so I decided to just stick to my current set up. Trout number three showed up with a hefty pull but it turned out to be the smallest of the day. Lightly hooked, it swam off strongly when I released it.
With pressure to land a fish now off me I could relax and enjoy my surroundings. It was a lovely spot, the water framed by rugged hills on the far side. The air tasted fresh and clean, scented with heather and peat. Many anglers were fishing along the shore but I was the only one using a fly rod. I am not a snob and can see the attraction of worming but any trout on the fly is more enjoyable than one reeled in on heavy spinning gear in my opinion.
Fish number four smashed into the fly and leapt twice, huge, acrobatic jumps I could do nothing to control. The hook held and that one too came to hand, the goldhead far down his throat. After that it went quiet and reluctantly I concluded the road home would be a better idea than staying on here for another while. Getting up hills is easier for me than descending them and I got back to the car quickly and without mishap, three trout in my salmon bass as that was the only bag I had in my jacket pocket.
Breaking down the rod I took one last look at Barfinnihy as the mist rolled across the hills and a lapwing cried in the distance. The lake had been kind to me and fishing had been thoroughly enjoyable, I just wish I had longer there to explore it a bit more. The extreme southern end is a jumble of large boulders and it looked exceedingly ‘fishy’ to me. Instead I drove off and joined the holiday traffic.
Every fish had taken the ubiquitous black goldhead, just showing what an excellent searching pattern it can be for stocked fish. The dressing is in another post and I urge you to tie a few up, it can pull out a trout when nothing else will.
With Kerry completed I find that I have only five counties left to conquer, a position which I would hardly have believed six weeks ago. Realistically, I will be lucky to do one per month this summer but that would mean by the end of this autumn, if I am spared that long, my goal of catching a fish in every Irish county will have been achieved.