When we think about fly fishing the Irish loughs our minds immediately leap to lough style from drifting boats and indeed this is the usual and often highly productive approach for most of us. Sometimes though fishing from the shore is necessary or desirable so I thought I’d take a look at that topic today.
Let’s start with why you might fish from the shore. Some of us own boats and outboard engines so we can head out on to the lake whenever we want but not everyone is so lucky. The expense of buying a boat and engine is high, pushing it beyond many anglers budgets. While they may have some days afloat with other anglers a few hours from the shore may be more common. Other anglers do not like fishing from boats and prefer to wade the shoreline. Then again there are a great many smaller loughs which simply don’t have any boats on them. I am thinking here about remote waters or loughs high in the hills where is not possible to drag a boat up to.
I think it is best if you fish in the company of another angler. Some shores are far from any houses or farms and mobile coverage could range from poor to non-existent, so a companion in case of emergency is a great idea. If the lough is remote then bring a map and compass with you and know how to use them. Mist and fog can come down very quickly and it is terribly easy to become disorientated and get lost. If you are heading off into the wilds then tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back.
What you are going to wear for shore fly fishing requires some thought before you set off. This being Ireland the ground underfoot will vary but I will guarantee you it will be wet. For those distant loughs a good pair of hiking boots will be your choice for comfort and support on tracks or to cross rough moorland. If access is not a big issue and you can park up reasonably close to the shore then waders are a better bet. My personal choice is a pair of sturdy thigh boots as they allow more movement than chest waders. I don’t actually wade much but the thigh boots keep me dry as I walk through tall grass and such like. Crossing fences will be easier in thigh boots and the slight loss of depth when actually wading is not going to be significant in most cases. I habitually bring a wading staff and recommend even the fittest of you to do the same. Waterproofs, the lighter the better, and a hat complete you attire.
I always have a bottle of midge repellent and a bottle of sun cream in my pockets when shore fishing. I consider both to be essential for your safety and your sanity. Travelling light is the key to this form of angling and so I restrict myself to what I can stow in my waistcoat pockets, not even taking a bag of any sort with me. This is my personal preference but over a lifetime of fishing this way I can recommend it to you. I tend not to bring a landing net, the exceptions being if I either know the bank and access is clear or if I suspect the lough contains exceptionally large fish. Any net is going to get caught on briars or branches, making for a tedious day out.
As for the rest of the gear required I suggest you bring only one rod and reel. A ten footer with a reel filled with a floating line is perfect. A couple of small fly boxes will probably hold all the flies you will need for a day and a spool or two of tippet material will suffice. Odds and ends like floatant, de-greaser, scissors, a knife and something to eat/drink complete your tackle. Like I say, keeping it simple will pay dividends.
Please pay close attention to where you park your car. Don’t block gates or entrances to fields and if you have to cross someone’s land you should ask permission. The days of just tramping across a farmer’s land are gone and it takes no effort to knock on a farm door to request permission. A field could be full of lambing sheep or a bad tempered bull so making contact with the farmer is in your own interest too. Often times you will be pointed to a safer or shorter route to the shore. Close all gates behind you and don’t walk through the middle of a field of crops, just skirt the edges instead.Leave the dog at home. I know it is tempting to bring the pooch but dogs on the loose in the countryside is asking for trouble.
So you have arrived at the edge of a lough, what now? Shore fishing is about movement. Just standing in one spot all day is not going to bring you many fish so instead it pays to fish and move. This can be as easy as taking a step each time you cast if you are on a nice open shore. Rough terrain can mean a scramble across rocks and tussocks on wilder waters. Vary your casts and retrieves until you get a reaction from the fish. Look out for possible holding areas such as underwater rocks or weeds and fish these hard. If there are trees behind you there may be terrestrials falling on the water that the fish feed on so bear that in mind. The dry fly can be very effective even if there is no obvious hatch of naturals.
A word or two on wading. I am generally hesitant about wading in Irish loughs for safety reasons. The bottom is rarely smooth and safe, more usually it is rocky and pitted with holes you can twist your ankle in. Some loughs are treacherous with marl bottoms, Carra being the best example of this. Do not even consider wading the lough Carra shoreline! The gluttonous marl is many feet thick in places and you can easily become stuck in it, or worse. Bogland surrounds many loughs and while some of those shores may be firm a lot more lead into very soft bottoms under the water. Where I can see a nice gravel bottom I will wade if necessary but otherwise I stick to the shore. You will catch just as many fish as you would if you wade a couple of extra yards out.
There you have it, shore fishing is not complicated at all and can often provide surprisingly good fishing. Be considerate about how you access the shore and travelling light are the basics.