Swift and Suir
Confession time, I love Excel. I have relied on it for years at work and all that ‘right click in the box’ has spilled over into my fishing, helping me to keep track of plans, trips and records of catches. Updating the 32 project master spreadsheet on my laptop one evening I was a bit taken aback to see it was coming up for two years since I had started this project. 6th August 2020 when I fished lough Talt in Sligo to be exact. Since then there have been long periods of inactivity interspersed with bursts of frenetic angling trips. The merry month of May this year saw a big change for me. I took the whole month off work, one of the few luxuries of my then employment. While there were numerous other commitments I still had time to undertake more of the 32 project, bagging 6 more counties during those four weeks. Now a free Monday in June presented another opportunity for me, so I saved my brownie points through the week and persuaded my long suffering other half that I simply had to go fishing again.
2022 has been some year so far. Ireland, like every other European country, is filling up with our friends from Ukraine. Lord knows what they make of the cost of living here. The price of everything has shot through the roof so allowances have to be made on all fronts and savings ring fenced in readiness for the next stage of the financial onslaught. For me and this project it has meant earlier starts and longer days as I reduce my speed appreciably to try and conserve fuel. It does make a small difference but it is still very expensive to travel far from home. Why not buy an electric car? Here in Ireland electric vehicles are for rich people, not for the likes of me. All the talk about going green in the transport sector is pure hogwash, just politicians in Dublin talking utter crap and totally out of touch with the real world here in rural Ireland. The best I can do for now is just ease off on the pedal and hum along slowly, letting other drivers whiz by.
While I am on about driving I will give you an update on the wee black Renault, my ride for the past 7 months. Since acquiring it I have driven about 8,000 kilometers and during that time there have been the odd little technical glitch but it has not let me down so far. Various things don’t work at all (sunroof, heater fan etc) while other things work on occasion. Some sort of Gallic poltergeist seems to reside in the cars electrical circuits as some days the wipers work, sometimes they don’t and quite often they just please themselves what speed they decide operate at. The same malicious spirit (or a very close relation) lives in the electric window systems meaning the everyday task of opening a window is laced with a certain apprehension. The car starts, it runs and it stops efficiently so anything above that admittedly low base line is a bonus on an old French car. The bodywork is pretty tatty (much like my own chassis) but that doesn’t matter to me as I spend my life driving down narrow, pot-holed roads adding to the tally of scratches and bumps on a near daily basis. My main gripe is the lack of space but I knew that when I bought the car so I just need to get on with it. At the end of the day the elderly tin can on wheels is doing what I ask of it so I am relatively happy.
It is not such a long way to Tipperary, not for me at any rate. This south-central county butts up against Galway among others and while a good few miles must be traveled it is all along good roads so it is easily accessible for me. ‘Tipperary’ is colloquially known as simply ‘Tipp’ here in Ireland and I fully intend to use that term in this post. A hurling county which sits in the middle of Ireland, its rich farmlands roll across the face of the land, interspersed with low hills and busy country towns. And the rivers, there are miles and miles of lovely rivers to fish. Tipp boasts some wonderful trout fishing and it was my full intention to avail of this sport in my latest effort to catch a fish from each of Ireland’s 32 counties.
An early summer morning dawned and found me loading the gear into the back of the car once again. I know I mention this in every post but it really is an important part of the day for me. With the combination of a small car and numerous different forms of fishing I need to remove and reload gear nearly every time I set off. Today the outboard, fuel tank and all the lough fishing stuff had to come out and be stowed away before the river gear found a billet in the back of the Renault. Here in lies the opportunity to forget some vital piece of equipment and over the years many’s the slip twixt cup and lip has occurred. The idea of preparing lists of what I need for each type of fishing has crossed my mind but I have taken that no further (yet). With every passing season my memory gets worse and worse so perhaps committing my requirements to paper is not such a bad idea.
No need for an early start today as any activity was unlikely to start much before 11am. The rear of the car housed a couple of light fly rods, a spare reel and chest waders. The rest of my equipment was stowed in the maze of pockets on my waistcoat. Who knows what treasures live in some of these pockets, many of them have not been opened for years! I made sure to check my dry flies were there though, I was really hoping for some surface action today. And one of those expensive little bottles of Gink. How many times have I forgotten that over the years!
I digress. Down in the south of the county lies the village of Golden, an anglicised corruption of the Irish, An Gabhlaine. There, around an island with a ruined castle on it, on the edge of the village flows the river Suir. By the time the Suir reaches the salt water at Waterford it is a substantial river but that is many miles downstream. Here, it is 30 or 40 yards wide and flows swiftly over gravel and weed beds, a trout fishers delight. Along with its tributaries the Suir boasts many miles of excellent trout fishing, drawing keen anglers from near and far to fish its clear waters.
To get there I drove down to Limerick then picked up the N24 to Tipperary Town. From there the N74 took me due east for a few pleasant miles. I was well down the country now. There is sometimes a dichotomy for me when I’m so far from home. Do I just enjoy the day at my chosen venue or do I push to fish a second county on the same day. Both have their attractions and my feelings shift between both options depending on a range of factors. It is hard to really enjoy the fishing when constantly thinking about the next venue. Then again, when I am already 200 miles from home and the next county is only a 40 mile hop away the temptations are very real. Usually I prefer to just fish one county simply because it is tiring enough to do that let alone travel on once again. The last 32 trip to Cork and then Kerry left me tired for a couple of days afterwards. Today I had decided before departure I was not going to attempt two counties but rather enjoy a few hours on a new river to me.
The fishing at Golden is controlled by the local angling club and a visitor like me can buy a permit for the sum of €25. Much as I had tried I could not find out online where to buy a permit but this is Ireland and somebody in the village would know. I pulled up on the main street opposite a butchers shop. Parking outside, I stretched my stiff joints after the drive then strode inside where (for vegetarian me) the unusual smells of dead animals greeted me. The butcher, a large and jolly man, appeared from the back of the shop and I sheepishly asked if he knew were I could but a fishing permit. ‘Sure, right here!’ was his answer and he reached for clipboard and the form to be completed by me. Now folks, I have been around but this was the first time I have bought a fishing permit from a butcher.
When tackling a new river I admit to being very conservative in my initial choice of flies. Not knowing a water means you are at a huge disadvantage but starting with some tried and trusted ‘general’ patterns is usually a sound approach. If there is no sign of surface activity I like to commence operations with a team of spiders. My logic is I can cover a lot of water quickly with the team of small wets, all the time looking for clues even if the flies are not getting a response. If that fails I will swap to nymphing but will always keep my eyes open for any rising fish so I can switch to the dry fly. Some rivers respond well to searching with a dry fly even when there is no signs of surface activity and a well presented dry fly cast into likely looking lies can often bring a reward.
What waders to wear when visiting a new river is always a hard call. In general I prefer chest waders so I can get in deep if required but they can be a liability if access is an issue. Barbed wire fences or thorn bushes can destroy a pair in no time. Today I had both options in the back of the car. From what I could see there was a little path to the river and no immediate signs of lethal barbed wire to cross so I chanced the chesties. Setting up the faithful old Orvis with a floating line I tied on a leader with a size 18 black waterhen spider on the dropper and a size 16 goldhead PT nymph on the end. With such clear water I had dropped to a 3 pound leader, thoroughly de-greased as much to take the glint off it as to making it sink. Car locked, through the gap in the low stone wall, I crossed the green sward to the river where it burbled happily under a road bridge.
Operations commenced on the downstream side of the island which is immaculately maintained. Pushing through the reeds I gained the water and waded in to the gin clear stream. Vast beds of bright green weeds clothed the gravel bottom and reeds poked up here and there, making fishing a bit tricky. Throughout the morning I would be plagued by these reeds. Most were visible but some were just under the surface and it was these that my flies had a magnetic attraction too. I started to cast upstream, just short flicks so I could see the end of the line. A few casts in I had a pluck at one of the flies but missed it. Slowly I made my way down stream, hugging the bank to keep out of sight.
Maybe 20 minutes had elapsed when I struck into a trout. There was no take/pull/tweak, I just knew it was there. ‘Back up there now!’ I can hear you all exclaim. ‘What is all this ‘knowing’ stuff? Those of you who fish upstream wetfly know exactly what I am on about but for the rest of you this is going to very hard to explain. When fishing downstream with wets there is generally a pull when the fish takes, sometimes accompanied with a splash or rise of some sorts. When using a nymph set up there is usually a tweak or at least some indication of a take such as the tip of the line or your indicator moving. Upstream wets are a whole different ball game and most of the takes are not visible. There is no rise, no splash, no pull or even a stoppage on the line. You just sense the fish is there and strike. It took me years of practice to develop this skill and still I suspect I miss far more fish than I hook. Anyway, I hooked this lad and brought him to hand. A lovely little wild brownie who had fallen for the charms of the Black Waterhen Spider. A quick snap then he was set free, none the worse for wear. That was more than could be said for my leader which he had managed to tangle up during the fight so I had to sort it out before resuming. Near the end of the pool a second trout took in very similar fashion and this one too was quickly played and released. Not a bad start to the day!
A gap in the reeds where the island tapered to an end gave me access to the main stream and by wading out I could fish a line of seams where two different currents meet. This was an awkward spot with deep, fast water right in front of me, forcing me to mend furiously with each cast and high-sticking to keep control of the line. Two more trout were landed and a few lost as I worked hard under the grey clouds. Time flew past, such was my concentration. I love this type of fly fishing where each cast requires me to think in detail about how and where I am going place the line and fish the flies most effectively. This really was lovely fishing.
Once I felt I had covered all the water I could I headed up to the top of the island and started to cast into a deep, fishy looking pool. One more trout fell for the PT on the tail, a fish with the most amazing dorsal fin.
I released that one and began to cast again, completely forgetting about the tree behind me. Sure enough I lost both flies on a high branch. I took the opportunity to tie a new leader and swapped on to the dry fly, a small Adams Spider being my choice. There was no sign of any flies on the surface but I fancied fishing dry so I gave it a lash. One fish rose to the Adams but I missed it completely. An hour passed with me chucking small dries into the wind but the fish were seriously unimpressed. Time for a spot of lunch so I went back to the car and ate a sandwich before rebuilding the leader and going back on to wets.
This time I fished a size 18 red-ribbed black spider and a hare’s ear nymph on a long leader. Back on the island once again I decided to run the wets through a streamy section which had defeated my efforts with the dry fly. Long casts across the stream and placing the flies as close as I dare to the reeds kept me on my toes and resulted in the best trout of the day leading me a merry dance before I netted him. The poor fish was exhausted so I popped it straight back into the water without adding to the stress by taking a photo. Afraid you will just need to take my word that it was a super fish of a bit over a pound in weight.
Once I had fished that section I decided to walk upriver. A path on the east bank looked promising so I started to walk through the summer grass and flowers, the river on my left through the trees and pasture on my right guarded by electric fences. I walked and walked, the water being universally deep and slow up here. Finally, I found a faint stream near a fallen tree and I fished it hard but without rising anything. More walking and fishing ensued but all to no avail, I failed to catch any more fish at all during the afternoon. In the end I turned and retraced my steps through the greens and yellows of the grasses. Grasshoppers, daddy-long-legs, butterflies and moths all fluttered and hopped around, an utter joy of insect life.
I thought about staying on for a while longer but I suspected it would be near dark before the river woke up and I was many miles from home. So I headed back to the car and broke down the gear, my day in and around the swift flowing river Suir was over all too quickly. It really is a lovely river to fish and I would recommend it to those of you who are experienced river anglers. For novices it could be harder as the water is very clear and access requires agile wading in deep water in some places.
I had set off full of confidence in the morning and thoroughly enjoyed my day in Tipp. Most of the river can be accessed on local permits at reasonable cost so it is highly likely I will try another stretch of the Suir in the future. For now though I can put a big black ‘X‘ through it on my list of counties to do. Excel is great, isn’t it!