Hearing the name Wicklow always conjures up visions of the mountains for me. Rising like some mythical protector of the land, the Wicklow mountains guard the southern approaches to the capital, proud and ancient. These hills and glens are thronged with people every weekend as they escape the city for rest and relaxation – walking, biking and jogging on the miles of tracks and paths. Being situated so close to the capital Wicklow has become a natural commuter base for those who can afford to live there. Aside from the mountains there is some farmland and a string of towns along the coast. Pretty, historical and easily accessible from the capital, Wicklow is a nice place to escape the hubbub of the city. From an angling perspective Wicklow has a history of good sea fishing from the beaches where smoothhounds and flatties used to be caught in numbers. I am not sure the catches are still so good in these days of over fishing. A handful of rivers rush off the mountains to empty into the Irish Sea, home to small brownies and some sea trout. Being so close to Dublin Wicklow is an obvious destination not just for locals but visitors and the county boasts all levels of accommodation and attractions. It can get awfully busy at times and the price of everything seems to be extortionate to someone from ‘down the country’ like me. There is lots to do and see and something for everyone here or so it seems. Wicklow has been ravaged by wild fires this summer, decimating the wildlife and scarring vast chunks of the woodland. We can ill afford to lose any forest in Ireland, there is hardly any left now and the powers that be don’t seem to care. The image we like to portray to the wider world is a rural ideal but the truth is a land blighted by intensive farming, over grazed uplands and barren seas. I try to be optimistic and look to the EU for greater environmental controls and some enlightenment regarding our fragile eco systems but it is not easy. These wild fires show us the climate does appear to be changing and we must adapt how we are living to cope in the future. Initially I considered two very different fisheries but rejected them both in the end. The river Liffey which flows through Dublin city centre starts out as a lively hill stream in the Wicklow mountains and there is a bit of trout fishing to be had as it flows in a wide circle through the county. While this initially appealed greatly to me but I have been doing a lot of brown trout fishing so far this year so I wanted a change. I may fish the upper Liffey sometime in the future, it looks like a nice stream to fish up in the hills. Then there was the river Aughrim which looked very inviting, small pools in heavily wooded glens just waiting to be explored. The only problem for me was at this time of year the water will be horribly low and the trout hard to fool. I will leave this lovely river for another time too. In the end I plumped for the other option, a small stocked fishery called Annamoe down near Laragh in the south of the county. Allegedly home to rainbow trout of up to twenty pounds it sounded like a nice spot for a few hours. Stocked fisheries have been good to me over the years so it was with a level of confidence that I laid my plans. Surely even I would manage at least one rainbow trout! At the back of my mind was the notion of hooking a big trout, one to put a real bend in the rod. I have been fortunate enough to land many fish over the past couple of years but nothing very big – so far. Small stocked fisheries have actually made up a larger proportion of the fishing for the project than I had initially thought they would. I’ll confess this turned out to be deliberate as the need to catch ‘something’ was so important. Days spent tackling difficult waters, while interesting and stimulating, would not propel me towards my goal if they ended up as blanks. So stocked loughs and ponds offered me an advantage which generally worked out in my favour. For some purists this might be seen as an easy option and none too sporting but I enjoy most forms of angling so a day chasing rainbows in a small lake can be enjoyable as well as productive. I guess I am spoiled by living in the west where I can fish the big loughs anytime I want! Not much tackle was required for this trip, a couple of fly rods, some reels, two boxes of flies and a net was all I packed this time, a change from the normal mountain of tackle that litters my car on a ’32’ journey. With some big fish potentially swimming around in the lake I double checked my leader butts and connections to the fly lines, giving them a good tug to see if they would hold under pressure. Then I made up a couple of leaders using 9 pound Stroft which I find is both thin and strong. It knots well but you must use plenty of lubrication when pulling your knots tight. My huge salmon net came with me, partly in case I ran in to a big trout but more because it is the only large knotless net I own. The obvious route to Wicklow for me is to drive to Dublin then around the M50 as it circumnavigates the city then down the M11 to Bray. This had all the appeal of a visit to the dentist so instead of sitting in endless queues of frustrated commuters on six lanes of tarmac I drove down to Athlone, Tullamore then across south Kildare and in through the back door of Wicklow on some minor roads. The fishery doesn’t open until ten o’clock in the morning so there was no need for a stupidly early start to my day. That terribly nice weather lady on RTE the night before had promised a day of strong winds and showers for Wednesday and I went to bed with the windows rattling and the garden being well watered from above. I wake a few minutes before the alarm after a night of tossing and turning in the humid darkness. Yer wan on the telly was right, the trees along our street are bent by the wind and puddles on the road testify to last nights downpours. Coffee, toast, one last check I have everything then I’m off. Wind buffets the car and the occasional heavy shower clatters down all the way to Athlone but it dries up after that. The roads in Wicklow are heaving with traffic and every pub, hotel or restaurant I passed look like they are wedged with tourists. I find the fishery without any problem and park beside another couple of cars. A white haired man who looked to be about my own age greets me and we talk for a while. This is the owner and I could have spend the day just listening to him but I was here to fish so once I had paid my dues I tackled up with the six weight then made my way through the trees to the lake. As it is surrounded by mature woodlands the wind is quite light, just ruffling the surface and no more. I see a very occasional fish show as I thread a clear intermediate through the rings and tie up a leader complete with a black goldhead, a dark sedge and a green peter. As I cast I’m watching for any clues as to what the trout are feeding on but there are no insects on the water surface. The slow rise forms suggest buzzers to me but just as I am thinking of a change the line tightens and I am in to one. He moves off to my left, taking a little bit of line but after a few seconds everything goes slack and the fish has gone. I stick with the same flies for a while but there are no more offers so I change to a small goldhead damsel and a pair of buzzers. An hour later and many more changes of fly, I hook another trout but it too falls off after only a short run. I decide to walk along the bank. Annamoe is small and intimate but there are only three of us fishing here today so there is plenty of space. A change to the floating line seems to be worth a try and then I fish around the far end with small lures before changing to dries. Nothing works. Checking the time I see that I’m half way through my four hour session. Two hours left to catch a fish and to be honest I am running out of ideas. Sitting at a wooden bench, I eat my sandwiches and try to think this through. An odd fish is showing around me but with no hatch I go back to the goldhead and a couple of nymphs. The trees are close to the water here and casting is tricky but I resume fishing and flick the line out from under the canopy then inch it back to me. I have been doing this for maybe fifteen minutes when miraculously there is a tap-tap-tap at the flies and I strip strike into a rainbow. Gingerly I play the hard fighting fish out and net my first ever county Wicklow fish. I release him and start fishing again, vaguely aware of the stupid grin on my face. I fish on and am rewarded when a trout grabs the goldhead just as it hits the water. It too come to me after a strong fight, a bit smaller than the first lad but still very welcome. Taking stock of where I was the small island opposite looks to be easier to fish from than the bank I am on so I decamp and cross the bridge on to the island and start fishing there. With less trees behind me I can make longer casts and this pays off handsomely. A heavier fish grabs the goldhead and puts up a tremendous fight, nearly taking all the fly line off the reel twice before I subdue him. After that it goes quiet again and for the next thirty minutes there are no more offers. Happy with three trout, I change all the flies again to see if I can catch on something other than the black goldhead. A black fritz goes on the tail, a sort of stick fly in the middle berth and an old favorite of mine, an Iven’s nymph on the top. I’m in to the last hour of the session so these flies do not have long to prove themselves. The next fish grabs the Ivens and turns cartwheels after a long run but the hook holds and number four comes to the net. The next fish is on the stickfly and then, just before I pack up one last trout falls for the Ivens. All are swiftly released and just before three o’clock I call it a day. Back across the bridge I trudge, aware that my left ankle is sore. Funny how I only feel this once I stop fishing! I chat with the other two lads on my way to the car and like me they caught nothing until after lunch. The warm, humid weather means I am soaked in sweat from the exertions of the day. As I pack the gear into the car some drops of rain begin to fall and by the time I am driving through the village the heavens have opened. Heavy traffic and wet roads make for a tiresome journey home to Mayo but at least I can now say I have caught fish in Wicklow. It wasn’t looking good for a while but the fish switched on during the afternoon and I had great fun with those rainbows making the reel scream. I know some of you want the dressings for the flies I have mentioned but I have to confess I am adding them to the others in a book I am currently writing. It is coming together slowly and I should have something ready later this year. Only two more counties remain, Limerick and Donegal. The end is in sight!