32 – Episode 29, Waterford

Was there an element of exhaustion creeping in? A mental as well as physical tiredness seemed to be growing on me of late. The finishing line is so close but it felt like it would take a herculean effort to complete the next county on my ’32’ list. A second dose of Covid didn’t help either, like the first time around it left me very tired and lacking energy. I was over it now though and it was time to pick up the baton once again. Waterford is so far away from Mayo and just like many other counties I knew so little about the fishing there. Some of the Ulster counties are equally distant but up there I found fisheries which I felt confident I could tackle. Waterford was a different prospect all together. Nestling on the southern coast of the island, this county is probably best known in angling circles for the salmon fishing on the river Blackwater. I’ve fished that river once before in a raging flood and blanked. I didn’t fancy repeating that process.

Night after night I had scoured the internet looking for angling options. There are no canals in Waterford so my ‘go to’ solution of float fishing some maggots for roach and perch was out of the question. Try as I might I could find no coarse fishing lakes either, not so much as a farm yard pond full of stunted rudd. Was there any trout fishing down there? Scrutinising the internet I eventually found a couple of stocked reservoirs which might just fit the bill. Knockaderry and Carrigavantry, which supply drinking water to the city, lie some distance apart to the south west of Waterford and the angling there is controlled by the Waterford City and County Trout Anglers Association. They put some brown and rainbow trout into both lakes every year. With no other viable alternatives open to me I made up my mind it was the stocked fish in Knockaderry that I would attempt to catch. These are fly only waters and the fishing is from boats which you can hire. The only engines allowed are electric ones and since I don’t own an electric I would be using good old fashioned oars all day.

Getting there involved a trek from the north west to the south east of the country. Down to Limerick and then along the N24 for a bit to Carrick-on-Suir. It wasn’t a particularly difficult journey, just very long. To make the best of the day I planned set off early, hitting the road at 5am in an effort to miss the worst of the commuter traffic. In practice it was nearly an hour later than that before I set off after being up most of the night with a sickly cat. Once on the move my sedate pace meant the journey was boring but I was trying to be frugal, what with diesel being so over-priced these days. Traffic in Tipperary Town and Carrick-on-Suir slowed me down even further but I always knew these chock points would add to my journey time. The whole concept of the ‘bypass’ has never really caught on with Irish road planners.

When I started out on this project I thought I had a fair handle on this country. Work and relaxation had taken me to most corners, or so I thought. Turns out I had hardly scratched the surface and perhaps the travelling to get to the fishing in each county has been more of an education to me than expected. I wonder if there are still travelling salemen/women who criss-cross the country to make a living and know each county by heart? Or have they all been replaced by underpaid internet ‘customer service’ people who wouldn’t know Skibbereen from Ardee? I knew a fella once who sold farm machinery and I recall asking him what he enjoyed most about his job. He told me he could pullover and talk for ages to any farmer he met anywhere in Ireland, the pair of them chatting over a five bar gate about the land, the cattle or GAA. To him that was the perfect way of life. He possessed a seemingly inexhaustible litany of tales, some of which would make your hair stand on end, from all across old Ireland. My fleeting few hours as I dashed here and there were not going to afford me the same experiences but just these short visits whetted my appetite to get to know more about this land.

The first stop was the Centra shop in the little village of Kilmeaden where you buy your permits. €25 for the day permit then another €15 for the hire of a boat. I know that is not much really but it felt like a lot of money given that much of the project has taken me to free or ridiculously cheap venues up until now. The money was handed over with as much grace as I could muster and in return I had my permit for the day ahead and a small key on a large fob. Back in the car again it was only a few more minutes behind the wheel until I reached the car park and my first glimpse of Knockaderry. A fine floating harbour is home to a number of small, sturdy boats. The lough stretches away to the right, the dam is to the left. Thinking of a whole day ahead on the oars I decided unless I had a very good reason I’d fish close to the harbour (that changed!).

I had brought along a couple of fly rods, my Leeda 7 weight 11 footer and an old Hardy 11 foot 6 weight for dries and as a spare one in case anything happened to the heavy rod. Boxes of flies, cases full of reels loaded with all manner of different lines and my drogue. This contraption hasn’t been used in 25 years or so but it was an integral part of my rainbow trout fishing back in the UK all those years ago. The ability to slow the drift of the boat to allow sinking lines to get down helped me to catch an awful lot of fish back then. Of course you can’t use a drogue on the big limestone lakes, to do so would court disaster when the drogue catches on the rough bottom. Here though, on an unobstructed lake, I felt it might give me a small advantage if it was windy. It is a shame I lugged it all the way down there only to find it was flat calm! I recall the skinny line originally supplied with the drogue frayed badly after only a couple of outings so I fitted a length of thick yellow ‘machine rope’ pinched from the mill and it is still as strong as ever all these years later even if the colour has faded to off-white.

It took me ages to even find this thing and then I had to check it was still fit for purpose after all these years.

The 32 project has brought me back to fishing for rainbows, something I thought I had left behind me when I departed Scotland all those years ago. When I lived in the central belt I haunted lochs like Leven and Fitty as well as some of the smaller venues. Double figure days were almost the norm back then and I employed just about every method, ranging from stripped lures through buzzers to drys. A well sunk Ace of Spades and Cats Whisker were my favourite lures and between just those two I must have landed hundreds of trout. If the going was tough today I might have to resort to my old bad habits!

With some rainbows in the lake my first thoughts were to fish a sinking line, just to try and get me one fish but that could all change if there were fish rising when I was afloat. A fast sinker or a slow one? My intuition told me to go for a slow sinker but in the end I set up with a DI7, a fast sinking 5 foot tip and a leader with three flies. With so little little wind I presumed the trout were likely to be down deep. Just getting the flies in front of any fish was my biggest concern. I checked the time, it was 11am already and I was only now loading up the boat with my gear. After such a long journey I was really feeling the pressure. July can be a tricky month, hot weather and low water can put the fish off the feed but I had made my choices and here I was, pulling on the oars and heading out into the lake.

So what flies to start with? My damsel was a good bet on the tail, its weight taking the leader down quickly and erratic action might wake up any lethargic fish. In the middle I began with an Orange Montana. A What???? This is something I tied up decades ago for fishing in warm water. It’s the shape of a Montana Nymph but in hot orange instead of black. The top fly would be something with a dash of tinsel in its make up so I opted for a Silver Invicta first. My logic here was there could be pin fry on the menu for the rainbows so small but flashy might be good. Having no idea how big (or small) the fish were in this place I made up a leader from six pound mono straight through. I had made it here and was set up in the boat, what would the day hold?

I know it ain’t pretty but it works (sometimes)

With steady pulls on the oars I set off to find a likely looking spot to begin. I enjoy rowing. Apart from being good exercise there is also an element of skill in propelling the boat in roughly the right direction. A whole day on the oars is a hard work though so today was definitely going to a challenging one for me. On the plus side there was little in the way of wind as I set off.

Lacking any specific knowledge I had no preconceptions regarding the size of trout in the lough. Nothing I could find out while researching this spot gave any indication of big or small fish being stocked. They could be ten inchers or three pounders for all I knew, so my six pound leader felt like it should be able to cope with anything ‘normal’. Lakes which are stocked with ultra large trout tend to advertise the fact loudly to attract those anglers who value big fish. As always on these 32 jaunts size was of no importance to me and a solitary foot long spotted fish would send me home to Mayo a happy fisher. Here, just off the shore, looked like as good a place as any to start fishing.

The rod flexed like a living thing in my hand as the first casts of the day sang through the rings. It takes time for me to settle into the fishing after all the driving to get here. The concentration required when behind the wheel is very different to what I find I need when fishing. Being encased in a little tin can as you whizz along the tarmac dodging homicidal others road users takes one skill set while angling for fish on a new water most definitely requires a totally different set of mental and physical processes. I find it hard to instantly switch from one to the other.

Leaving the pontoon harbour

Fly fishing from a boat on your own can be a bit tricky. The weight distribution is poor so the boat rarely travels directly down wind, tending instead to wander about depending on the whims of the capricious wind. Today though there would be none of those issues as there was no wind. The boats were smallish but just fine for a lough this size.

It soon became apparent this was going to be a tough day. Trout were leaping all around me, but not in a good way. The fish were not rising to feed on flies, they were just shooting vertically in the air then dropping back with an almighty splash. I hate to see fish doing that, They are preoccupied with something else other than food and are the devil’s own work to catch. After a while I changed flies, the first of a seemingly endless series of changes which kept me busy the whole session. The deep water beside the dam was thoroughly searched with me counting the line down. Ten seconds, then fifteen, twenty next and so on. That didn’t work so I changed the flies again, then moved to different ‘drifts’ across the deep water. No joy. Next I rowed to the other end of the lake and fished the shallower water there. A tiny ripple developed so I tried the dry fly but nothing was tempted by that so I went back to the fast sinker. Another change of flies and a new, finer leader on the sinker failed so I swapped to a fast glass. It was flat calm again now but I could see some movement over in a small bay so I rowed in there and chucked the kitchen sink at the fish leaping in there. Of course they refused to play. Back to the deeps then….

There were rainbows jumping all around me about 50 yards off the dam wall but try as I might I could not tempt one. A faint ripple got up as a breeze appeared so I set up a floating line on the six weight and started to cast. No response, not even after yet another change of flies. OK, I will try buzzers. A long leader with three heavy buzzers, then a washing line set up all proved to be useless. I changed to seven weight back to the fast sinking line and went through my lure box trying minkies, IPN’s in different colours, damsels, cats whiskers in different hues and floating fry imitations. Not so much as a nibble.

Putting the sinking kit aside, I picked up the six weight and tied on three new flies, a size 12 Octopus on the bob, a similar sized Wickhams in the middle and a small Yellow Green Peter on the tail and fished them at different speeds. A pod of fish were jumping behind the boat now so I left the rod down with the flies still in the water while I pulled on the oars to take me 20 yards back up the wind. The inevitable happened of course and after only a few strokes on the oars the reel screamed as a heavy fish latched on to the flies trailing behind me. Ten yards of line were gone in an instant before the leader snapped. I saw nothing of that fish but it sounded like a good one! Yet another new leader and different flies were soon attached and I started to cast once again amid the splashes of the jumping trout.

All this time I has been looking for any clues as to what might be going on with the fish. The water was low and warm, opaque grey in colour. I had seen some fry in the harbour but none out in the deep water at the dam. There was no fly life to be seen. In warm weather lime green and orange lures often work but not today. By four pm I had tried dozens of lures, wet flies, dries and buzzers, fished floating , intermediate, fast glass, slow sinking and fast sinking lines. Retrieves had varied from static to near-supersonic and the whole of the lake had by now received my attention. I had covered scores of fish, the only take being that one who savaged the flies as I was rowing. I was rapidly running out of ideas!

Pretty much becalmed, I put three new flies on the fast sinking line and went back to counting them down to fish the whole water column right down to the bottom. Each cast was a carbon copy of the last, blast the line out as far as I could, count it down then retrieve in short, sharp pulls until I rolled the line on to the surface for the next cast. By now there were only a handful of trout leaping and a little light rain began to fall. Then, out of nowhere, there was the faintest pluck at one of the flies. Not a proper take but a hopeful sign none-the-less. I cast again, muttered the seconds under my breath and started the retrieve. After a few pulls the line miraculously tightened……….

A lot of anglers hate sinking lines, with the action happening deep below there is none of the visual joys of a take. For me there is something wonderful in that sensation of the fish ‘appearing’ on the end of a well sunk line. My line went tight and the slack line on the deck flew through the rings as the fish felt the hook. Two runs took me almost to the backing then he started to jump. Five or six times he took to the air but the hook held for me. Another run but this time much shorter. I got the net ready and played him out. Hooked on the bob fly, I drew him into the meshes at the first time of asking, a lovely fish of between three and four pounds. A photo, unhooking then I slipped the fish back into the grey water. It was all over in no time at all.

Why had that fish taken a fly when so many others had refuse to all day? I will never know and maybe that is part of why we going fishing, there are no certainties. For the next hour I cast out and retrieved without so much as a touch so in the end I rowed back to the harbour and tied up. Gear transferred to the car, I filled in my catch on the permit and stuffed it in the box by the gate along with the key. Then it was back up that long road to Mayo, past the fresh cut golden fields and through busy rural towns of Waterford, Tipp and Limerick. Helen gave me that ‘you are mad’ look as I walked through the front door just before nine pm.

What fly did the trout take in the end? After chucking every lure know to mankind at the fish all day my only trout fell for a size 12 Octopus.

It was a fly like this that caught me the fish. The actual one was damaged beyond repair

The drogue was never needed and it has been tucked away in the fishing den once again. I’ll admit I fell in love again with my old Hardy six weight and intend to use it more often. So, Waterford has been stroked off the list after a difficult but hugely enjoyable day. I am edging ever closer to the finishing line.

4 thoughts on “32 – Episode 29, Waterford

  1. Your persistence paid off – a lovey fish – well done! Days like that can be demanding and frustrating. I admire your continued thoughtful approach.

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  2. Hi Duncan, it was one of those days when you either give up in frustration or keep plugging away and hope for the best. Why that fish took that fly will remain a mystery but I am a great believer in persistence. Sometimes that is the difference between success and failure. A great day out down there regardless of the fish, it is a nice part of the world.

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  3. Hello,
    I had the similar experience to you on Carigahalty but finally found a solution. When the fish are jumping like that they are fry bashing. Landing heavily stuns the fry and they turn and pick them off at their leisure. A shuttlecock is a good imitator of the stunned fish. I also found that a duo set up with a hares ear nymph effective.
    I look forward to reading about further adventures on your quest to fish the 32 counties. Well done . Alistair (originally from Berwickshire)

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    1. Hi Alistair, I was thinking that might be what the fish were at so I tried a suspender minkie and a floating fry but without success. Maybe if I had tried different sizes I might have been successful. I have seen fish being very picky about size when fry bashing in the past. I will tie a few shuttlecocks in case I meet the same issue again. Nice to hear from a fellow exiled Jock!

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