Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Sunburst Octopus

A few years ago nobody had heard of the colour ‘sunburst’ but now it is widely used in pulling patterns. I tie a version of the Octopus using sunburst colours so I thought I would share it with you.

I like to tie this pattern on a size 10 heavyweight hook. That is because I want the fly to settle in the water quickly and fish well below the surface. Silk is usually red but I have used other colours and I don’t think it is really going to make a huge difference if you fancy a different shade of tying silk. Begin by starting the tying silk at the eye,remove the waste end and then catch in two golden pheasant yellow body feathers. I like to use two hackles as  single one looks a bit mean to me.

chinese cock cape dyed sunburst

Now strip the fluff from the butt of a cock hackle dyed sunburst and tie it in before running the silk in touching turns to the bend of the hook. Here you tie in a length of no.4 fl. silk and wind a small tag. For a tail I use a golden pheasant topping. Now catch in a length of no.14 oval silver tinsel which will be used for the rib.

tying in the tag

Dub the tying silk with your preferred sunburst dubbing and wind a nice, tapered body back up to where the hackles are tied in.

Taking the cock hackle in the pliers wind about five open turns of the hackle down to the tail where it is secured with the ribbing tinsel. Wind the rib in the opposite direction through the body hackle and tie it in at the neck before removing the waste end.

Grab both pheasant hackles with the pliers and wind them together. This can be a bit tricky as these feathers are slippery customers. Stroke the fibres back as you wind the feathers then tie the ends down with the tying silk and trim the waste ends off. Form a neat head and whip finish to complete the fly then apply a drop of varnish to finish off.

If you want, you can add some knotted cock pheasant tail fibres before you wind the head hackles. These can either be natural, dyed claret or dyed red. I can’t in all honest say the addition of a few legs will make a huge improvement to the fly but they certainly look nice to our eye.

With legs……………

or without

This is a fly for fishing as part of a team in the deeps, searching for daphnia feeders in the middle to late season on waters like lough Mask.

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

Messing about at the vice

So I was poking around in a drawer full of feathers and came across a packet containing the breast of a pheasant. I seem to recall buying this two or three years ago but the cellophane wrapping was unopened. The breast feathers are beautifully marked, a mix of dark brown and black barring with creamy coloured tips. In size they could make a good hackle on hook sizes ranging from 10’s up to 6’s, ideal for salmon lough flies. An idea for a Katie variation sprang to mind so I set about messing at the vice for  wee while.

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Using black tying silk I tied in one of the breast feathers and a black cock hackle then ran the thread down to the bend of a size 6 B175. Here I tied in a short silver tag and a tail made of a golden pheasant topping with a tuft of glo-brite no.4 floss. A rib of oval silver tinsel was caught before I dubbed a black fur body.

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Palmering the cock hackle and tying it in with the rib was bog standard but I wanted to add a couple of features. A short beard hackle consisting of some blue dyed guinea fowl was whipped in under the hook then half-a-dozen cock pheasant tail fibres dyed black went on top of the hook. Now I could wind the head hackle, giving it five full turns. I’m pretty happy with the result and pretty confident it will take a salmon or two on Carrowmore this season.

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Fishing in Ireland, trolling

Goodbye old friend

Since I bought my shiny new Honda outboard last spring my venerable 9.9 Johnson has lain unused in the shed. With a brand new engine it seemed highly unlikely the old one would ever be used by me again so I decided to sell it. Better someone else getting some good from it than leaving it to rust in a corner.

‘Done Deal’ is an online website here in Ireland where you can sell just about anything as long as it is legal. Up until today I have never used its services but I wrote up an ad and posted it at 3.30pm. Within the hour I had my first call about the engine and the deal was done by 6pm. Hands were shaken and cash changed hands. So the old girl has gone but I feel strangely nostalgic about that old motor.

How do we humans become attached to things like cars and boat engines? It is not rational but never-the-less the memories of days spent out on the lake with the faithful Johnson came flooding back. It was on the back of my boat when I caught first salmon on the troll on Lough Conn all those years ago. The bright silver salmon was the reward for many days trolling and I felt I had earned that one. It snaffled silver Toby pulled across a well know lie and the engine performed faultlessly during all the previous days mooching up and down Conn’s western shoreline.

corrib, lisloughrey bay in May

on lough Corrib

It wasn’t all plain sailing though. There was the day on Lough Mask when Mick and I were out in the deeps beyond the islands when it refused to start after a drift. Pull as hard as I might the damn thing would not start and so, with one oar each, Mick and I pulled and strained all the way back to Cushlough under a blazing sun. It turned out a small linkage had broken but we were not to know that out there in the middle of the lake. My arms ached for days after that incident!

Shintalla Beag

Mask in a flat calm, Shintalla Beag with another boat off the northern tip of the island

The Johnson was a long shift and this could be a blessing or a pain in the rear end. In a big wind when the waves reached 5 or 6 feet in height the Johnson’s propeller stayed under the water at all times, very comforting when driving in such extreme conditions. But the dense weeds on Lough Cullin reach close to the surface and I spent many days constantly pulling up the motor to clear the prop fouled with raft of weeds there. It also meant I had to be very careful, especially on the Mask as it was easy to strike the bottom, as the well chipped propeller testified. I went through three props in my time with that engine, all damaged by the stones on the bottom of Lough Mask. My preference for fishing the shallows was most definitely at odds with the length of the outboard. Please note my new engine is a short shaft model – I may have learned something in my old age.

Ooops!

No more will I sweat and curse the sheer weight of the old white engine while dragging it out of the car and on to the boat. I’ll miss the throaty roar as she sprang into life after a few pulls of the cord (she was always a good starter). That healthy kick as I opened the throttle used to bring a smile to my face, she was nippy enough for one so ancient. The smell of the two stroke oil and the little patch glistening on the surface of the lough when she kicked into life are things of the past now. It is the end of an era for me but in a way I am happy the engine has gone. It was too heavy for me now and the pollution from a two stroke is hard to justify these days. Her time had come and I had to move on. The new Honda shimmers under the light in the shed, basking in her beauty and reliability while the Johnson was carted off ignominiously to an uncertain future. I don’t know if the buyer plans to use the engine or if she will be stripped for parts. Either way, our paths have diverged and there is a patch of free space in the shed now that wasn’t there this morning. Goodbye old friend, I caught many fish as saw wondrous things thanks to you.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Fly tying season

At this time of the year we fly tyers are as busy as beavers, crouched over the vice winding and snipping to our hearts content. After a couple of very quiet seasons I had little need to top up my fly boxes until the plan to fish all 32 counties was hatched. Now I had to make sure I was going to be fully equipped for all eventualities.

The sub plot to doing the 32 counties is that I would keep some basic fishing gear in the car with me at all times so that I could take advantage of any free time while I am travelling with work. My trusty Orvis rod and a floating line will be in the back of the car this coming season but the question is what flies do I bring with me?

It is simply not possible to cover all eventualities so I figured I would take two boxes with me, a small one with dry patterns and a larger wooden box containing anything else, be that wets, nymphs or lures. This may not be as limiting as you might imagine as I tend to stick to relatively few patterns for 90% of my fishing.

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wets are at the bottom of this shot

Looking at the wet flies I can see myself stopping for a few casts at roadside loughs around the country where my quarry will be small, wild brown trout. These fish tend not to be overly fussy so some smallish bibio, bumble, invicta and dabbler flies will form the backbone of my collection for these types of waters. I will make up some other traditional style patterns too so I have something to try for a change if my regulars are not producing.

For rivers I love using spider patterns and I have loads of these already made up so I selected some and added them to the box. Mainly tied on size 14 and 16 hooks, I am fully confident they will catch me trout all across Ireland throughout the season and I would urge you all to have some of these simple but deadly flies in you armoury. There are some Wickhams, Greenwells and other similar flies in here too (all proven killers).

There may be opportunities for an hour or two on lakes stocked with rainbows and this had me reaching for the vice to knock up some lures and buzzers. I am woefully out of touch with the rainbow fishing scene, so bungs, snakes and the rest of the new-fangled patterns are not going to be considered. Instead, I will generally stick with oldies such as Cat’s Whiskers, Gold-head Daddies and Muddlers. One exception is those damned squirmy worms that everyone seems to be raving about. I have made a couple of them but my God they are annoying little yokes to whip up! The worm material itself is the devils own work to lash on to a hook. I may (or may not) persevere and make up some more.

For some reason I find tying buzzers difficult and I am never 100% happy with how my attempts to tie them turn out. I have made a start but I really need to up my game to make some decent copies. I can’t recall catching trout on buzzers of any colour other than black or claret, so my buzzer fishing needs a tune up as well as my fly tying!

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spot the lures

I am not planning on carting salmon gear around in the boot of the car but I have slipped a few small grilse flies into the box too. I would hate to be in a position to fish a falling spate river for an hour and not have any flies with me. The old Orvis rod could handle grilse OK but it lacks the backbone to deal with a full grown salmon. Given that Irish grilse run from a couple of pounds up to about 5 pounds I think the trout rod can do the business if required. Anyway, some Hairy Marys and shrimps are in there too.

There are still some gaps to be filled in the double-sided box so I am going to troll through my angling books and look out for any specific regional flies which may come in useful. I am sure the wily fishers of Kerry or Wexford have their own patterns!

As a young man I used to revel in making difficult patterns. The more complex or challenging the fly the more I enjoyed tying it. I had to try out any new material that came on the market or make up the latest pattern from the monthly fishing magazines (we are talking pre-internet days). I learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed making all those weird and wonderful flies at the time. These days I find tying simple traditional flies much more satisfying and knocking out some Invictas or sooty olives gives me more pleasure than anything else. January is proving to be a happy month so far, filling the boxes and anticipating the coming season like a child before Christmas.

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coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

Into the light

Let me say straight away that I am a dyed-in-the-wool game fisher. Brought up on river fishing with fly and spinner I missed out on coarse fishing completely all my life, up until now. I’m on solid ground when it comes to chasing trout and salmon and have a reasonably firm grasp of the basics when angling for those species. To a degree I have kept up with the technical and tactical advances in game fishing over the years as well. Of poles, groundbait and keepnets I know not a jot, at least I didn’t up until very recently.

My new project of aiming to catch at least one fish from each county in Ireland has inadvertently led me down a very different path though, one which is proving to be bewildering but at the same time an interesting challenge. I need to learn how to catch coarse fish from scratch, so the last few weeks have been an education for me. To be perfectly honest I have caught way more coarse fish either by accident or design on fly tackle than I have on floats and legers.

A small roach caught on the fly

My fishing den has shelves groaning under the weight of books on fishing from skinny little booklets on individual rivers to mighty tomes encompassing the minutest details of game and sea fishing. What you won’t find there are books on coarse fishing. I scanned the dustcovers for any stray coarse angling books which I might have forgotten about but could only find one slim volume which gave some brief details of the different species but nothing on angling methods. From the pages of this book I gleaned that Bream were common in Ireland along with Perch but that other mainstays of English coarse fishing such as chub and barbel were absent completely and carp were scarce. Of course we have countless millions of tiny roach in virtually all our Irish waterways these days and I have been told in the past about some lakes which are full of that most handsome of fish, the rudd. At least this narrowed things down a bit for me.

The internet can be viewed as one of the great evils of our times but it certainly came to my rescue when researching coarse fishing methods these last few weeks. YouTube is jam packed with useful instructional videos on how to catch just about anything that swims and there were hours spent watching experts haul out impressively large bags of bream and roach using methods and baits which could have been developed on the moon for all I know. I admit to being fascinated by pole fishing, the concept that you take your rod apart every time you hook a fish seems so alien to me! I very quickly dismissed poles and whips (whips are shorter poles apparently) from my potential armoury as being too cumbersome and expensive for my needs. I want to be able to spent short sessions at new waters meaning I will probably have to move a fair bit to find good spots, setting up all the equipment for pole fishing looks like it takes the organisational ability and heaving lifting of a military regiment.

A Common Cary I caught a few years ago in England on freelined bread

I already owned a float rod, a cheap Shakespeare jobbie that landed me some roach and carp back in England many moons ago. I can clearly recall the alarming bend in that rod when a good sized carp took off for the other side of the lake but it was only ever used a few times and remains in good nick. It will do nicely for float fishing for roach and rudd and anything else that can be tempted on the stick or waggler. Ferreting around in various tackle boxes yielded some old floats and a box of mixed split shot but no line that was light enough for making hook lengths. And so the shopping list began. I guess I knew it would come to this and that some excuse to spend money on fishing tackle would be found. My research on the internet was raising lots of questions and there were obvious gaps in my equipment just as there was in my knowledge. Bottom fishing was a case in point.

Carp fighting

A carp breaks the surface as he feels to hook

Watching the experts on YouTube it became obvious that feeders are a major form of fishing for bottom dwelling species such as bream and tench. The concept of a small device which carries ground bait close to your baited hook is the mainstay of much bottom fishing and this appears to have now flourished into a cornucopia of tackle to cope with every possible variable within the basic method. The rods to hurl the rigs prodigious distances, the details of the rigs themselves and the baits used all held me in close attention and I soaked in all this new-fangled knowledge like a sponge.

I needed a rod for feeder fishing but I was not going to go mad on one of the new specialist feeder rods which are eye-wateringly expensive. It seems that fishing big Irish lakes for bream often involves long, accurate casting of the feeder on large beds of ground bait. Add in the wind which is a feature of this part of the world and you can see that long rods for distance casting in difficult conditions are a real bonus. But I am not planning on jumping into the extreme end of coarse fishing. I want easy venues (to start with at least) where casts are going to be of more normal proportions, depth of water won’t be excessive and the stresses and strains on tackle will be commensurately less. Those of you who follow this blog will recognise where this is all heading – I needed an old ABU rod!

When ABU where still making all their gear in Sweden back in the seventies and eighties they produced a range of coarse fishing rods in both fibreglass and carbon. I quickly found a couple of old leger rods, one light and one medium, which were going for a song and duly snapped them up. An old Cardinal 444A seemed to be a good reel to match up with these rods and filling it with 6 pound line gave me a pretty balanced outfit for basic feeder fishing. OK, so these rods are heavy by todays standards but look, I will be fishing short sessions so fatigue won’t be an issue.

I have also been picking up different types and weights of feeders. Each have their own niche and it looks like I need different ones for different scenarios. I can see a lot of experimentation is going to be required but that is a large part of the fun from my perspective. I remain unsure if I need to expand into method feeders as they seem to be more specialised and the carp fishing lads love them. For now I will stick to simple cage, block and open end feeders for a start anyway. I might be wrong but feeders look like the kind of thing which will get stuck on the bottom easily and so I am anticipating losses. My 6 pound breaking strain running line is hardly going to be fit for much pulling and dragging if the gets snagged in weeds or rocks.

The whole issue of groundbait is another minefield. The experts all agree that Irish bream require huge volumes of groundbait to attract the fish to your swim and to hold them there. Hugely expensive bags of prepared groundbait in an amazing array of flavours and textures seemed to be used by the top fishers but I am unconvinced as yet that I need to go down this road. For a start I will be avoiding the big, deep loughs with their shoals of specimen sized ‘dustbin lids’. I get that you need copious amounts of ground bait to pull the shoals in to casting range on these challenging venues and that little old me with a handful of bread or sweetcorn would likely be fishing barren water most of the time on the big loughs. But I want to cut my teeth on much smaller venues where I already have a good chance of covering fish. Big bags of huge fish simply don’t excite me and a modest catch from an intimate lough are much more appealing to this newbe. I was thinking of making a simple groundbait out of a mix of bread and bran but most of the research I have done suggests your groundbait for Irish waters needs to be dark in colour. Brown flake may be the way to go but I will figure something out.

Hook baits opens up another can of worms (sorry). My small amount of previous coarse angling involved bread paste on a size 14 hook dangling below a stick float and I saw no reason to doubt this would work here in Ireland too. While bread is used it looks like maggots, coloured red preferably, are a better bet for most fish. That presents a slight problem as nobody in my area stocks maggots and I will have to buy them locally when I go coarse fishing. The humble worm is also used a lot and they will be easier to lay my hands on. Even easier again is that old reliable sweetcorn. I am hoping sweetcorn does work as I can have a few tins stowed in the car ready for use at any time.

Roach

Small roach, probably one of the species I will target

When to go coarse fishing is all a bit of a mystery too. With no close season here in Ireland I can in theory go fishing every day of the year but obviously some times are much better than others. I had always imagined coarse fishing was a summer sport, lazy days watching the tip of the float under blue sky. It turns out hardy coarse anglers go about their business in winter too. Tench seem to be a summer only fish but the others can be caught all year round. This very interesting for me as the option of fishing outside the game angling season has great appeal. Then again, sitting hunched up against the lashing rain in a howling gales does not sound too great! The jury is out on winter fishing for now.

So after all my hours of research it looks like I will be targeting Bream, Roach, Rudd and Tench this summer. I will float fish or use feeders and have all the gear I now require bar a landing net which I will pick up sometime soon. Venues will be carefully chosen for size, ease of access and species present rather than looking for specimen sized fish or heavy bags. Over the course of the past few months my perception of coarse fishing has completely altered. Previously I had no interest in the sport at all. It looked difficult and far too technical for me with the outcome not worth the effort and expense. Now, I am looking forward to learning new techniques and catching new species in the heart of the Irish countryside. From a fog of confusion back in the autumn I can now see some glimmers of light. Whether this new found insight into coarse fishing will translate into fish on the bank remains to be seen but it has been fun just learning more about this fascinating branch of our sport.

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Fishing in Ireland

Winged PT

Here is a useful little fly that does not get the attention it deserves. I use it on the smaller loughs around here where it does well when the trout are taking midges.

Most of you will be very familiar with patterns such as the PT nymph or the hackled Pheasant Tail. These staples of the European fly fishing scene have been around for years and there can’t be many fly fishers for trout or grayling who don’t have a few tucked away in their box. By simply adding wings and playing around with the hackle and tails you can create a great fly for fishing wet during a midge hatch on still water.

 

I like to use red silk for making this fly and being a bit of a traditionalist I reach for a spool of crimson Pearsal gossomer , but can use whatever brand you prefer. Starting an the eye I catch in a small red game hackle. This can be cock or hen, depending on your preference. I normally use a small cock hackle. Proceed down the shank catching in a few fibres of grey or blue dun cock hackle to form the tails. A length of fine copper wire is also tied in as you run the silk down to the bend. Gold wire can be used instead if you prefer.

At the bend, catch in three fibres of cock pheasant tail which will be used for the body. Try to use some brightly coloured herl (there is some pretty awful stuff out there so keep a look out for better quality tail feathers). Now run the silk back up to where the hackle is tied in, trapping the end of the pheasant herl as you go.

Apply some varnish to the bed of silk to give the body a little extra strength. Then twist the herls into a rope and wind them in touching turns up to the hackle and tie them in with the silk. Remove the waste ends. Take the copper wire and wind it in the opposite spiral in open turns to form the ribbing. Now tie the wire in as well and remove the waste.

Wind the hackle which you previously tied in, Only a couple of turns are required as you want to keep this pattern light and delicate. Tie in and trim the waste end of the hackle in the usual manner.

Now for the wings, a pair of matching slips from starling secondary flight feathers. I know this is very old fashioned but trust me, this pattern works well with these wings on it. Don’t make the wings to broad, keep them narrow and light. All that remains is to trim the waste and whip finish a neat head before varnishing.

I prefer to fish this fly on the dropper of a wet fly cast and it does great work early in the season. It has also produced the goods for me on summer evenings. Some of you may be muttering that this is all a waste of time and that buzzer fishing will be more effective during a midge hatch. In calm conditions I would agree but here in the west of Ireland we often fish on days when the wind is a blowing hard and buzzer fishing in a wave is not much fun. Then a team of small wets come into their own and this wee fly can be a useful addition to the cast.

 

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Fishing in Ireland

IFI

An interesting piece in the local rag (the Mayo Advertiser) by Cllr Michael Burke who sits on Mayo County Council. In a half page piece he discusses the huge changes in the structure of the old IFT which has over the years become Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI). He rightly points out that angling tourism which is so vital to the local economy is down and the poor catches of recent years is a major contributing factor. He goes on to point out that a lot of the important work such as maintaining the spawning beds does not appear to be happening as they used to. He says that IFI staff numbers are now down to ‘about 300’.

I can’t disagree with anything in Michael’s article but I would add some additional reasons for the slump in catches. The whole ecology of the western lakes has radically altered over the past 30 years and invasive species are now thriving at the expense of our native trout and salmon. There is no control of the huge shoals of roach and increasingly bream in our lakes. Just imagine the biomass consumed by there fish which would have otherwise fed trout and young salmon.

Mink are present in large numbers across the country and these creatures do immense damage, not just to fisheries but all forms of wildlife. Virtually no controls are in place bar the odd trap here and there.

Agricultural run off is a problem nobody wants to talk about for fear of upsetting the farmers (read voters). Intensive cattle production in a huge local employer so the slurry produced and then sprayed on the land is not going to tackled by government.

The number of dwellings on or near the banks of lakes and tributaries has exploded and these feed phosphates into watercourses, further upsetting the balance of nutrients.

I love fishing the peaceful lakes and rivers here in Ireland but the days of good catches and pristine waterways is long gone. I applaud Michael Burke’s piece in the local paper but it is actions we need if there is going to be any sort of an improvement in angling here in Ireland.

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