Here is a question for all you coarse anglers out there. What is your decision process when deciding to opt for loose feeding or ground baiting? As a newbie I am still confused about which to use. Due to the lockdown last year there were no other anglers around to learn off of so I have been trying to puzzle all this out on my own.
My coarse angling was confined to natural stillwaters and canals last year and my planned trips to fish the rivers for winter roach this month are obviously on hold due to the pandemic. My target species are roach, bream, hybrids, rudd and perch but being of easy virtue I accept anything that is willing to bite. Bear in mind we don’t have crucians, chub, dace, carp, ruffe or catfish here (Ok so there are a tiny number of carp fisheries in Ireland but none near me). My methods are normally one rod on the waggler and the other either touch legering in the margins or a swimfeeder further out. I don’t fish with the pole. Looking back the float probably catches 60% of the fish, a worm legered in the margins about 30% and a measly 10% fall to the swimfeeder. Maggot tempts most of my fish but the worm is very good too. To date I have found sweetcorn useless and have not tried other baits such as bread, paste or even casters.
From the above is looks to me like I am very inefficient with the swimfeeder and too conservative with my bait choice. Watching videos by expert anglers has confused me more than anything. Do all these fancy groundbaits really make such a difference? Does some mush labelled ‘crab and coconut’ or whatever really drive the fish mad? I am deeply reluctant to fork out 6 or 7 Euro for such smelly delicacies on the off chance they will attract a few fish into a swim. But then again my brown crumb with some maggots approach is none too successful so far. I did reasonably well one day when I added some vanilla to the groundbait but have not had the opportunity to try that experiment again.
Up till now my typical approach is to fire in some balls of groundbait, usually brown crumb with a few maggots, while I am setting up. I will throw in some more balls for the first 20 minutes or so and if I start catching I will either loose feed a trickle of maggots or chuck in the odd ball of groundbait. I must admit this does not seem to work too well as I often catch in short bursts and can’t seem to hold a shoal in front of me. What am I doing wrong? It has crossed my mind that I am overfeeding but judging by the videos it doesn’t look like it. As a rough guide, half a pint of maggots and a small tub of worms will last me a 4 or 5 hour session, usually with some left over. I use a bag of brown crumb in that time too.
I like watching Greame Pullen’s ‘Totally awesome fishing show’, it is both entertaining and informative. He makes up a cheap groundbait based on bran and no.1 horse feed, something I might try this year. None of the tackle shops in the immediate area stock things like groundbait and I have no desire to buy that fancy stuff online. I want to make my own and the TAF recipe looks to be as good as any I have seen.
Watching all those videos I was struck by the fact they are often filmed on days when conditions are perfect. ‘It’s a lovely day on the such-and-such canal’ says the angler sitting on the banks of a picture perfect swim and the water is not the colour of oxtail soup or the wind blowing a hooley (my normal conditions). I am maybe just impatient and just need to stick to the basics and I’ll pick up the tricks of the trade. Any ideas from you guys would be deeply appreciated!
Just a quick update on what is happening here in Ireland. The level 5 lockdown is still in force and is being rigorously enforced by the guards. No travel beyond 5km unless you are travelling to work. That means for virtually all anglers there is no fishing. The death rate and rate of infection are both stubbornly high so it is unlikely the restrictions will be lifted any time soon. Here in Mayo we have some of the highest per capita rates in the country which is a bit scary. Areas like Belmullet have been particularly badly hit.
As an Interim Manager I lead an odd sort of life. I am either buried in work, often far from home, or I am unemployed and dossing about in Castlebar. The contract I am working on right now falls somewhere in between those states as I am working in Westport, just long the road. I get home every evening and even better, the hours I work mean I finish up at 1pm every Friday. So yesterday afternoon I left the old car in to Mick to get a small job done on it and came home to a warm house and an afternoon off. Bliss! Coffee in hand and Rory Gallagher on the turntable, I settled down at the vice to knock up a few flies.
I know I am going over very well worn territory here with this post but spiders are a major part of my river fly fishing armoury and yesterday I was busy at the vice topping up the early season boxes. While they catch fish at any time it is the first couple of months of the season that I rely on them most. Some are copies of naturals like the Iron Blue or the large dark olive while others are more general patterns. Here is what I was tying.
An old reliable, the P&O
I started out with the good old Partridge and Orange. A size 14 hook, orange Pearsall gossamer silk for the body and a fine gold rib. I like a thorax of a couple of turns of peacock herl and a hackle of brown partridge back feather. Very simple but very, very deadly. I have tried them on bigger and small hooks but nothing is as effective as a 14. I see many anglers waxing lyrical about the partridge and yellow but I have caught very few trout on that pattern. Orange is king in my book.
Then I moved on to Plover and Hares Lug. Yellow silk on 12 or 14 hook, hare’s ear body with either a narrow flat gold tinsel rib or fine oval gold and the hackle made from a golden plover feather. I am almost out of golden plover feathers and they are very hard to find these days.
my black spider
Black spiders now. Fl. orange tying silk and a flat holo black tinsel body with a silver wire rib for protection. A turn of a the small blueish feather from the upper side of a Jackdaw’s wing finishes this one off. The orange silk head gives a nice target for the fish.
olive partridge spider
My olive partridge spider was next on the list. As size 14 again and this time olive tying silk body ribbed with fine gold wire. I make a few variations of this pattern by changing the hackle, it can be a natural brown partridge feather or the same feather dyed different shades of olive. For some reason I seem to normally fish this pattern in the middle of the cast.
Whirling Blue Dun Spider
Whirling blue duns. Maybe not used that often these days but I like when olives are hatching out. Tails and hackle are ginger hen and the body is made for moles fur. I use yellow tying silk on a 14 or 16 hook. I tie then in both spider and winged versions, using starling for the wings.
Pheasant Tail (well sort of)
Pheasant tails. Where do you start with this fly, there are hundreds of variations. I like to use crimson tying silk and the body is made from the ubiquitous cock pheasant tail herls, but dyed yellow. the tail which is made from brown partridge fibres. The hackle is the same feather. One for May evenings……
Iron Blue Dun. Darkest Iron blue hackle and tails, crimson silk dubbed with moles fur on a size 16 or 18 hook. All too often I see Iron Blue Duns tied with hackles which are far too pale. When you see the natural on the water you will realise they are nearly black.
My Ginger Partridge is a handy pattern for searching streamy water. A yellow sik body with a fine gold wire rib on a size 14 hook. There are two hackles, one turn each of a brown partridge back feather with a ginger hen in front.
The blue dun I tie is very simple. Yellow silk on a size 16 hook. Heron herl, either natural or dyed olive for the body with a fine gold wire rib to give the herls some protection. A pale blue dun hen hackle at the neck. Of course you can add blae wings.
Red spider. This is one for summer evenings. Usually a size 14 but strangely I have had success with a size 12 too. Red gossamer silk body with a fine gold wire rib and a red game hen hackle. You can add a lime green butt if you like but to be honest I can say that has proved any more effective.
Partridge and hare. Yellow silk, fine flat gold tinsel to rib a body of dubbed hare’s ear fur. A brown partridge hackle to finish. Not a million miles away from a March Brown pattern but we are not blessed with MB’s here in the west of Ireland. A general nymph like spider that does well early on.
Grey dun. Two versions here, the light and dark. Hackle is the same for both, from the knuckle of a coot’s wing. Body is pale straw coloured tying silk for the light version and black silk for the dark one.
Hook lengths have been a bit of a concern for me in my new found drive to learn about all things coarse fishing. I am maybe just being hyper critical, but my game angling background taught me that the final connection between main line and hook was often the difference between success and abject failure. Choice of hook, thickness/colour/ length of line and knots used all had to be correct if I was to fool a fish and hang on to it when fly fishing. I imagine the same is true of the final few inches when chasing roach.
Not being a competition angler I don’t require a vast armoury of gear so a few pre-tied rigs does me fine for a day on the canal bank. I have seen anglers with those plastic hook length boxes which are then filled with rows of perfectly tied hook lengths of exactly the same dimensions. I greatly admire the guys who populate those boxes and keep them topped up. I am not that accurate when tying my hook lengths and don’t trust bought ones so instead I acquired a couple of foam lined rig wallets and use them for my hook lengths. That works well enough for me and it means I can store a few hair rigs in there too. Not being a carp angler per say the world of hair rigs, bolt rigs, helicopter rigs or ronnies don’t really concern me too often. My interest in hair rigs simply extends as far as bigger baits for tench or using a pop up in weedy conditions.
I think I have mentioned in a previous post how much I detest snelling tiny spade end hooks. For someone who makes small trout flies it seems a bit weird that I struggle with a simple knot on a size 20. In the end I decided to cut my losses and invest in a hook tyer. These can be purchased for a very small amount. A simple little gadget, this has greatly speeded up my creation of hook lengths. The particular one I bought is a ‘Matchman tyer’ but there are lots of different ones made by other manufacturers out there. The added bonus of using the tyer is that you can easily use the tag end loop to make a hair rig.
In an effort to try and regulate my stock of hook lengths for use here in Ireland I settled on the following standard set ups made up in my (roughly) 4 and 6 inch lengths:
line breaking strain
I realise this is a crude and unsophisticated arrangement but hear me out. Irish coarse fishing consists of relatively straight forward methods. Yes, a competition angler would need to be able to make many small adjustments to maximise their catch but a pleasure angler like me will do just fine with the above range of hook lengths. The smallest sizes are used for single maggot, usually for fishing on a canal. I use size 14 and 16 hooks for two/three maggots, a section of worm or sweetcorn and the bigger hooks are for larger worm baits or bread flake. For bigger fish like tench or carp I make up special rigs on eight pound line. These I keep in another rig wallet but given the rare occasions I might fish for carp it sees little action. If, for some reason I feel the need for a hook length which is different from my ‘standard’ ones I make them up with eyed hooks when fishing. I carry some packets of eyed hooks in my waistcoat pocket for this purpose.
As for attaching the hook length to the main line I use two methods. For the lighter lines I tie a simple surgeon’s loop on the hook length and make a loop-to-loop connection. On heavier lines I sometimes use a tiny swivel. I guess there is a reason why swivels are not used by most coarse anglers but they make perfect sense to me. The tiniest ones add only a small amount of weight.
When fishing, I change hook lengths fairly regularly, usually to change hook size or if I suspect it has been abraded on the bottom. I cut the old hook length off and put it into a box I carry just for this purpose. The same happens if I change my whole rig, I snip it off and put it in the box to be dealt with later. When I get home (or more usually the next day) I go through the contents of the box and chop up all the line into tiny sections for disposal. I salvage all the useful hooks, shot, floats etc. and put them back into their respective tackle boxes. The whole point is not to be messing about on the bank and to get the baited hook in front of the fish as much as possible.
Expert coarse fishers are no doubt appalled at my lack of sophistication here but look, we all had to start somewhere. I have tried to apply a degree of logical thinking into organising my hook lengths and it seems to be working for me so far. A potential fly in the ointment is my growing interest in method feeders. Would they offer me an advantage when trying for tench? If so, I might need shorter hook lengths. A conundrum for another day…………
One of the reasons it took me so long to take up coarse fishing was my perception that you required a huge amount of tackle. In particular, the sight of anglers with barrows loaded to the gunnels with bivvys, beds, chairs, multi-sectioned poles, fancy cooking and lighting gear, bite alarms and myriad of other hi-tech accessories left me cold. Hell, the complex seats sprouting all manner of trays, umbrellas, pole roller systems et al made me feel totally inadequate. It was only when I broke down what I absolutely needed that the shopping list became manageable. Even still, I am slowly buying little bits which, while not essential, are making my angling more enjoyable. These are not ‘big ticket’ items. For the fishing that I do a €500 seat with all the bells and whistles would be overkill. I admit I am considering an umbrella but it will only be a very basic model. The reason for taking my time in deciding whether to buy a brolly is the fact wet weather here in Ireland often coincides with high winds. The jury is still out…..
It is the smaller items which I have bought which are bringing the greatest rewards. The hook tyer mentioned above is typical of the kind of thing I am talking about. I also got a multi-purpose needle which is great for attaching bait on to hair figs for example. A nice woolly hat with a built in rechargeable LED light is another, great for setting up or packing up in the dark. Artificial maggots were a welcome discovery. They float and don’t easily fall off the hook so they are ideal for tipping natural baits, preventing them from falling off and at the same time lifting them above the debris on the bottom. None of these thing cost much money but they all added to the experiences of a day with float and leger.
If I had some money (I don’t so this is purely a day dream) I know what I would invest in – a boat! ‘You have a boat you bloody fool’ I hear you say. Correct, but my 19 foot fibreglass boat is intended for lough fishing and is a devil to tow/launch/retrieve. No, what I would buy is an inflatable dory and an electric engine. Easy to transport and inflate, a 2.3m or 2.5m dory would be ideal for accessing rarely fished parts of loughs. Here in some parts of Ireland we have whole systems of loughs which are full of fish but you cannot access them from the shore. A small inflatable would provide me with a huge range of opportunities. And I just love messing about in boats. So the answer to the question ‘what would you do if you won the lottery’ would surely elicit an unusual reply from me.
I am rabbiting on a bit now. I wanted to talk about hook lengths and here I am going on about inflatable boats! I guess that is a reflection of my mind now, with no fishing my thoughts are wandering down all sorts of avenues. Mind yourselves out there and I will write again when I am less scattered.
It’s a Friday evening in January and I am in front of the fire. For the last hour I have been practising on the guitar and dreaming about angling. I am feeling particularly happy because my ancient car (20 years old, 317,000 miles on the clock) sailed through the NCT test this week. I had been anticipating the usual handful of expensive repairs but instead it passed with flying colours. It was a welcome break from the unremittingly bad news that seems to surround us and is hard to take every day. Infection and fatality numbers continue to rise and the pandemic feels like it is out of control in Ireland. For me, it feels like it is largely self-inflicted. I know of so many people who flouted the most basic of rules over the festive period, gathering in groups for house parties, not wearing a mask or washing their hands (especially after a few drinks) and even passing bottles or glasses between each other. This was only going to end one way and sure enough we are all paying the price now with new restrictions on our freedoms being enacted by the government most days. In an effort to try to give you something more optimistic to think about I thought you might like to hear what my plans are for the 2021 season.
I am going to write off the spring. At best we may get some easing of travel restrictions in March but I doubt even that will happen so I am assuming it will be April before we are allowed out to fish again. For me personally that is not a huge issue as I will be very busy with work until the start of April.
For a start, I am aiming on ticking off a few more counties in my grand plan to catch a fish in every Irish county. April will hopefully see me heading for counties Down to fish for trout and then roach fishing in Dublin and Kildare. I love April and can’t wait to be out in the fresh air again.
April will also see me on Carrowmore Lake chasing salmon. It has always been a good month to me there and fingers crossed there will be a good run of fish this year. Beltra is also high on my agenda. There is a brown tag system in place on the lough this year and I think I am right in saying the whole Newport river/Beltra lough system is only getting 40 tags. All in all, April will be a busy month. Just think lads and lasses, that is only 12 weeks away!
Come May it is my intention to concentrate on lough Conn. It fished well last year for the first time in many years and if the weather is good I can see another bumper year there. Just the thought of drifting along the shallow shoreline of that great lake is enough to bring a smile to the face of any seasoned angler.
Apart from Conn I am looking at driving down to Kilkenny and Carlow to chalk those two counties off my list. These are going to be tough and I am anticipating possible blanks.
June, and I am planning on heading off on a couple of long distance trips to Cork or Kerry and maybe Waterford and Wexford. It kind off depends what is happening work-wise and how much free time I have. Oh, and I want to try Lough Keeaghan up in Fermanagh. It looks like a lovely fishery with plenty of brownies in it.
July is the height of the sea fishing around these parts and so I will almost certainly try for the usual mackerel and pollack to fill the freezer. I’ll keep an ear to the ground in case the evening hatches on Carra start again. I miss the excitement of those summer evenings when the trout went mad feasting on buzzers and sedges as the light turned to darkness. I would end up casting in the pitch black, trying to figure out where that noisy splashes were by sound alone. Those heart-stopping takes when a good trout engulfed your fly were simply magical.
August rolls around and the grilse will be running the Moy. There were plenty around last year so fingers crossed we see more of the same this year. With any luck we will be able to travel more freely and I am pencilling in a trip to Scotland to see my family and fit in a day’s fishing somewhere over there. Maybe a day on the river Dee fishing for grilse? That would be nice!
There are plenty of other ideas floating around too. I have found so many venues in Leitrim and Cavan to fish for roach and bream it would take a lifetime to try them all. Getting to grips with trotting maggots on deep Irish rivers for roach is something I want to try out for example. Then there are the shy tench which I have yet to crack. Early morning summer sessions look very exciting and I want to try hard for them this year.
Rainbows – I have not fished for rainbow trout for maybe a decade and have a hankering to go out on a stocked lake one more time.
I could go on and on. Whether I actually manage to fish or any of the above is in the lap of the Gods right now but I believe it is important to keep your spirits up in these dark and terrible days. If you are struggling a bit then take some time to do what I am doing – look forward and make some plans to go fishing. We anglers thrive on the challenge of not knowing much. We like to think we are good at catching fish but how much does chance play its part? We don’t know when or where we will be fishing again but it does us good to at least begin to form some plans. Beyond looking after ourselves and loved ones we have little control over what else is going on around us. At least we can think forward to a time when we can travel, can fish and can be ourselves again. So make some rough plans, tie a few flies or make up some rigs. You will need them in the not too distant future.
In a world of ever more complex fly patterns there are a few easy to tie old favourites which still catch fish. The Deer Hair Caddis has been around for a lot of years now but is remains as effective as ever. The real beauty of this fly is its adaptability, it can produce a trout in almost any circumstance. A dark variation has caught me trout on lough Mask and one tied with a green fur body worked treat on the Keel a few summers ago. For fishing the hill loughs in summer a brown one is very hard to beat. Ginked up they are good dry flies or left unadorned they work as wets.
Tying is simplicity itself. I use size 12 – 16 hooks but you may decide to go bigger or smaller to match your local hatches. Dark 8/0 silk (black, brown or olive all work) is started at the neck of the hook and run down to the bend. Dub a fur body and run this back 2/3 of the way to the eye. Now prepare a thin noodle of deer hair, either natural or dyed as required. Align the tips of the hair using a stacker and position the hair on top of the hook with the tips in line with the bend. A couple of loose turns with the silk are taken first then more, tighter wraps to firmly secure the deer. Now remove the waste ends of the hair. You can use the fly like this or you can add a hackle. A cock hackle can be tied in front of the wing, a couple of turns is usually sufficient. Form a head and whip finish before varnishing.
I have deliberately avoided giving colours here. This pattern is a template for you to use and you match colours depending on the local requirements. For Irish hill loughs I like a brown fur body, natural deer hair wing and a ginger or furnace hackle. A darker version with a chocolate colour scheme is good on Mask in late summer. One with a black wing is good for fishing into the darkness.
This is my last post of 2020 so let me wish all of you kind people a healthy and prosperous New Year. I hope 2021 is better for us all!
I almost forget to send in my DAERA annual catch return. In all honesty this was an easy mistake to make as I never made it north of the border to do any fishing this year what with Covid-19 lockdown travel restrictions. Just thought I would clarify for you guys what you must do regarding Northern Ireland catch returns. You do this online and it only takes a few seconds if you have been diligent in recording your catches through the year. Simply go to the website and follow the instructions:
You need to record all your fishing trips and what you caught. By far the easiest way of doing this is to add each trip at the time instead of waiting until the end of the year. Trying to remember dates and exactly what you caught is a real pain so do yourself a favour and get into the habit of filling in the form promptly. Once you have completed the form you will receive an email from DAERA like this –
We wanted to inform you that we received your fish catch submission made on the DAERA license/endorsement/permit number.
Have a nice day and enjoy your fishing!
This year I wasted good money because I bought the annual licence and permit in early January, before the pandemic had struck. I will wait until the situation improves before purchasing the paperwork in 2021! The same goes for my annual salmon licence here in the republic, who knows what restrictions we will be living under in the months ahead. It’s a shame as I enjoy the ritual of popping in to buy my licence. It feels like the year is getting started and the winter is coming to an end.
While I am at it let me remind you that in the Republic you can fish for coarse fish with a maximum of two rods. In the north you but a licence for one rod. If you want to fish with more than one rod you need to buy another licence.
There is a tiny window of opportunity to sneak out for a day’s fishing between lockdowns. The government have lowered travel restrictions for Christmas so I am taking this chance to attempt to catch a fish in another one of the 32 counties. I won’t be meeting anyone so I pose no threat of spreading the contagion.
It’s the night before and I am sipping a whisky in front of a fire. The thoughts flow through my mind about what I am going to do come the morning. It will involve coarse fishing and this alone is enough to peak my interest. My increased enjoyment in all forms of angling has been driven by my new found love of all things roach and perch. That alone would be fine, just fine. The thing is my mind is now buzzing with all kinds of ideas about other forms of angling. It is like someone has strapped me up to a couple of jump leads and tuned the key in the ignition. I am energised and have found a clarity of thought which I have not seen for many a long year. Learning new techniques and methods, experiencing new waters and catching different fish have stretched me and this in turn has opened me up to new ideas for my game and sea angling. Suddenly I am back to being this wide-eyed and open minded being of my youth, wanting to find out the things I didn’t know and to bring my own slant to the fishing. Esoteric? Possibly. But it is how I feel these days and I don’t believe that is a bad thing. So the whisky may be opening up my mind but there is an underlying and ultimately fundamental change going on in me. I am really enjoying my fishing now, much more than I did even last year. And now I am going to county Westmeath in the morning.
The obvious venue to fish in this midlands county is Lough Sheelin. Sheelin is home to a stock of large brown trout and is a mecca for dedicated fly anglers. The thing is, for my purposes tackling a difficult water like Sheelin was a chancy option with a high probability of failure. Sure, if I boated a good trout it would be great but I have blanked on Sheelin too often to take it lightly. The other great trout loughs of Ennell and Owel are very demanding waters too, so instead of waiting for the trout loughs to open again next spring I decided to fish the Royal Canal now and try to tempt some coarse species. Closer to Dublin there are some very productive stretches of the canal but in Westmeath info was a bit patchy regarding hotspots. There is good access just off the M4 motorway near Mullingar which was tempting but in the end I settled on a stretch at Ballynacargy. At this point I have to confess I had pencilled this trip in for late spring next year and not the week before Christmas. Only the temporary easing of lockdown has tempted me out.
The Royal Canal apparently holds bream, roach, hybrids, perch, tench and pike. Not sure if there any rudd if there too. I read that local anglers were deeply concerned about plummeting stocks of fish due to poaching but it sounded like there were still some fish there to be caught. I packed a float rod, a leger rod and a spinning rod in the car, hoping that would cover any possible eventualities. The rough plan in my head was to travel light and keep moving with just the float rod, hoping to run into some bream or roach. If that did not work then I’d switch to the feeder and if that failed to produce the goods I’d try the spinning rod for pike and perch.
As usual, I had a back-up plan in case Ballynacargy was a failure. Along the road to the east lies the town of Mullingar and the canal passes through there too. It has fished very well in the past so I planned to head over there if Ballynacargy was blank. To be honest, I was expecting a tough trip this time. I am still very much a beginner at canal fishing and I would be guessing where the fish might be at either location. Added to that the time of year and I was certainly going to be stretched this time around.
Yesterday I poked around in my relatively new compost heap to see if there were any worms to be had. I was none too hopeful as it still looked woody on top but as I got near to the bottom of the pile I found some lovely worms. I gathered about 30 of them and left the rest in peace (for now). All the worms were the same size, around 3 – 4 inches long meaning I would get two baits out of each by simply cutting them in half. Enough to last me for the duration of this session I figured. There is always a tin of sweetcorn in the bag in case of emergencies.
The new rucksack/stool would get its first airing. This exactly what I bought it for, roving along a towpath with the minimum of gear. My trepidation at fishing canals, while still very real, has abated somewhat on the back of success in Offaly last autumn. There is nothing like catching a few small fish to settle the nerves and the snippets of knowledge I am gradually picking up have given me a sort of platform to work from. Just having the basics to set up and know broadly what to do is comforting. I am no expert, nor will I become one anytime soon, but I am learning as I go and thoroughly enjoying every minute of it. I have planned as much as I can so I head off to bed.
Light. It is light. I waken slowly and am disorientated. Why didn’t my alarm go off? Probably because I forgot to set it! OK, so I am starting later than planned but that is alright, there is no great panic. While it is a fair distance to Westmeath it is not the longest of my trips. I’m hoping against hope the roads will be quiet for a Monday. It’s very wet and the temperature is hovering around freezing as I set off into the grey gloom.
The usual road east along the N5/N4 brought me to the long straight between Rathowen and Ballinaleck. Here I turned off on to the L1902 and followed this road, across the river Inny, down to the village of Ballynacargy which is right on the Grand Canal. This part of the country is rarely visited by tourists. It is prime agricultural land but it lacks the grandeur and romance of the west, the history of Ulster or the city life in Dublin. Here there are cattle chewing the cud, lazy rivers and canals winding amid low lying green fields. Large tracks of the land around here were devastated by Bord na Mona as they ripped the peat bogs apart to fuel power stations in the last century. This practice has largely stopped and there is a degree of remedial work being carried out on the damaged bogland. It will take generations for that effort to come to fruition but at least a start is being made. Hamlets and small villages dot the middle of Ireland, places where the pace of life has barely altered for a hundred years. Those within commuting distance of the city can tell a very different tale though as thousands of people flocked to live within striking distance of the well paid jobs in Dublin. Today I was beyond that belt of blighted towns, out in the silage scented air of Westmeath on the banks of the Royal Canal.
Truth be told there is not much too the neat little village of Ballynacargy. It consists of two streets, a fine church, one shop, a petrol station and a few pubs. I ducked down a lane beside the church and parked near a small stone bridge over channel which fed the canal. Mallards were noisily poking around in the shallow water, untroubled by the rain. Beyond, the wide basin looked pretty desolate in the watery vista. I am afraid I know little about canal construction but I am guessing basins like this one were built so boats can turn around. To think that these canals were dug by men with just a pick and shovel amazes me. An hour digging for worms exhausts me so how men could keep it up hour after hour, day after day seems to be superhuman. Working the barges which used the canals was dangerous, low paid work too and many men died transporting goods across the country. This article gives some insight into the conditions at the time:
The mist was drenching from the moment I stepped out of the car. This was going to be far removed from my day dreams of balmy summer days on the towpath. There is a lock at one end of the basin so I decide to start proceedings immediately below it. First I put the light leger rod together and cast half a worm out. Setting up the float rod next I plumbed the depth. I mucked up this process by putting on shot which were too heavy and it took me a while to cotton on to my mistake. Split shot sizes and weights utterly confuse me but I need to learn about them to avoid wasting time again. There is a steady flow here and the float trots nice and slowly down into the basin before I wind in and recast. A small rivulet feeds into the basin at my feet, the muddy water gradually discolouring the canal. Will this put the fish off? I nip back to the car for something or other and as I return I see a mink on my bank. He is too quick for me and he escapes before I can reach for my camera (a gun would have been better). Taking a look around me I see the pike anglers have been a bit careless with their casting. I feel very safe as there is nobody around here. The small village behind me is quietly going about its business but nobody comes near me at the canal.
I have been fishing for about half-an-hour when the leger rod gives a slight rattle. Letting it develop, I finally lift into a small fish which quickly comes to hand. A nice 6 ounce roach to start with and he is released after a snap. It doesn’t matter what else happens today, I have my fish from county Westmeath and I am delighted.
It goes quiet again so I start casting in different directions. I flick the float ‘upstream’ towards the locks and almost immediately it disappears. I miss that one but the very next cast produces another firm take and this time I set the hook. This is a much better fish and it fights really well all the way to the net. Out of the water I am unsure of exactly what I have just caught. Initially I figure it is a good roach but the colour is golden, like a rudd. I check the mouth (up for rudd, down for roach) but this just adds to the confusion, both mandibles are the same length. I invite you experts who read this blog to put me right but I think this fish is a roach/rudd hybrid? I am happy to hold up my hand and say I don’t know and I look forward to you guys enlightening me. I popped the fish back and it swam off strongly. I reckon it weighed around a pound.
Now the perch show up and I land a couple of small lads. Perch in Irish canals don’t seem to grow large, unlike some in English canals. I don’t care, it is always lovely to see these aggressive little fish in their brilliant colours.
It all goes quiet for a long time and I try searching along the bank but without success. Returning to where I started I pick up another three roach over the next hour, hardly scintillating fishing but hey, I am out in the fresh air so I don’t mind. All the time the mist gets heavier and heavier, soaking everything. In the end I decided that the return for getting so wet is not worth it and I pack up. Four roach, one roach/rudd hybrid and two perch for the session. I have had a lot worse days!
I toss the sopping wet gear in to the car and head off on the long road west. Back at home I returned the unused worms to the compost heap where they can do what worms do for the next few months. The wet tackle is given a rudimentary drying but I will sort it out properly in the morning. For now I want nothing more than a bite to eat and to unwind after the drive home. Oh, and there is the little matter of writing this post to be taken care of.
We can expect a severe lockdown to come into force almost immediately after Christmas Day and not the 6th of January as previously stated. My take on it is that this next lockdown will go on for many weeks so there will be no fishing for me in the near future. Added to the lockdown, I have taken another interim management role which will last for the first 3 months of 2021, meaning I will be kept busy making some money instead of angling.
Taking stock of where I am on the 32 journey I see that I have caught 49 fish in 8 counties to date, exactly a quarter of the total. I am well pleased with this, given the horrible year we have all had. Here is how it looks so far:
Garty Lough, Arvagh
6 x Roach, 4 x Perch
5 on touch leger, 5 on waggler
Cloondorney Lough, Tulla
3 x small Rudd, 1 x skimmer
float, fished shallow
5 Roach, 2 x Perch
feeder and ledger
1 x perch, 1 x hybrid
trotted float and feeder
Grand Canal at Shannon Harbour
3 x roach, 3 x perch
trotted maggot and legered worm
a dozen Brown trout
4 x roach, 2 x perch, 1 x roach/rudd hybrid
float fished worm
A few fish landed on the solstice felt like a fitting end to 2020. From now on the days will very slowly lengthen, the darkness gradually retreating as it has for the millennium. Maybe the strange times we are living in heighten our appreciation of the simple things in life we all took for granted before the lexicon of new words ruled our every day – covid, pandemic, lockdown, furloughed and all the others. I know I am grateful for every outing with the rods now and cherish the sights and sounds of a day on the bank.
As 2020 ages and withers I want to say ‘thank you’ to all of you who have taken the time to read my rambling here on this blog. I hope you found something to entertain, inform or amuse you. Stay safe out there.
Every winter it is the same, I promise myself I will do a bit of sea trout fishing next year and by the end of the season I find I have not been out nearly enough to angle for these fabulous wee fish. A large part of that is because here in the west most anglers have lost interest in the sea trout as a sporting species. They are now so rare that people just want to leave the ever dwindling stocks alone. None of my boat partners fish for sea trout now. I can fully accept this point of view but on one or two systems there are still a small run of sea trout, enough to make it worthwhile throwing a fly at them. Lough Beltra gets a small run of trout, nothing remotely like what it used to get before the fish farms came along of course. A few swim up the Owenmore river while others turn off into Carrowmore Lake.
As an aside, it has always been a mystery to me where the sea trout in the Moy estuary go. Reasonable numbers of them can be found in the spring and summer hunting sandeels in the shallow bays at the mouth of the river but I personally have only ever once caught a sea trout in the Moy system, a small one on Lough Conn one May day twenty odd years ago. Do these trout run the main stem of the Moy or are they bound for other rivers in the area. The Palmerstown River used to have a great reputation for sea trout but these days they are extremely scarce there. Lord only knows where these sea trout go to, it would be nice to find out.
The loss of the sea trout to the pollution and lice of the fish farmers is one of the great Irish eco crimes in my book. Fish farming is a horrible business which only benefits the rich business owners while it wrecks delicate marine environments. I can recall my earliest visits to the west of Ireland back in the late ’70s when every stream which flowed into salt water held big populations of small sea going trout. Irish sea trout were small compared to the ones I fished for on the Scottish east coast but there were so many of them it made for great fishing. Alas they have all but been wiped out for sake of lining Norwegian millionaires pockets.
A glance in my fly box showed it was already stuffed with flies but maybe I could squeeze a few more in. I sat down at the vice and got tying. All of the patterns below are usually tied on size 10 hooks but you can go a size bigger or smaller.
The Silver Doctor. I have captured only a small number of fish on this pattern but it is great fun to tie. A bright blue cock or hen hackle is tied in by the butt at the neck of the hook with red tying silk. A tip of fine oval silver tinsel is followed by a tag made from a few turns of yellow floss. Now add a tail consisting of a topping, with or without some Indian Crow or red feather substitute. I like to add a butt made of red ostrich herl or rough red wool. Now tie in the body materials of flat and oval silver tinsel and take the tying silk up to the eye. Wind the flat tinsel in touching turns to make a smooth body before ribbing it with the fine oval. Wind the blue hackle and tie it in then make a wing from GP tippets with some bronze mallard over them. Sometimes I like to fit a GP topping over the wing but most anglers don’t bother with this refinement. A nice neat red head finishes off the fly.
The Silver Badger used to be a widely used fly here in Mayo but I never see it fished these days. It still catches fish so here is how to tie this one. Black silk is used and a blue hackle is tied in by the butt at the neck before running the silk to the bend where some fine oval silver tinsel is used to form a tag. A GP topping is used for the tail and the body materials of flat silver tinsel with a fine oval silver rib is tied in and wound. Wind the blue hackle. Make a wing from a slim bunch of badger hair taken from the neck of the creature in the springtime. We are talking road kill here ladies and gentlemen, so if you come across a dead badger at the side of the road in springtime stop and cut off some hair from the neck. It is finer and softer than the body hairs. No smelly dead badger bodies to raid? Use some grey squirrel tail hair instead. Make a head, whip finish and varnish.
Claret Wickhams. One of my own patterns (I always sneak a few in!). Dress a normal Wickhams but make the wings from mottled secondary feathers dyed red. Any mottled feather will do, hen pheasant is fine for example. Then wind a claret hackle in front of the wings. A really good fly this one. The one below is sporting GP tippets for a tail but I seriously doubt this makes a whole pile of a difference to the fish.
Teal and Black. Normally when I want a black coloured fly for the sea trout I reach for a Black Pennel but this fly is a good one on the tail of the cast. The tying I prefer is the old standard one but with a little bottle green seal’s fur mixed in with the black, a rib of fine flat silver tinsel and a pair of jungle cock eyes added as cheeks. This pattern works well for early season brownies too.
A Golden Olive Butcher has been a constantly good fly for me for sea trout ever since I started using it more years ago than I care to remember. Tie a normal butcher but replace the black hackle with a golden olive one.
Christmas is fast approaching and the shortest day of the year is almost upon us. I guess most of us want to forget 2020 but there are many more tough days ahead until the pandemic recedes. Until then we here in Ireland face more lock down restrictions and I anticipate missing the early part of the season next season. Hopefully though, late spring will see an improvement and these flies I am tying at the vice today may get a swim next summer.
I am in negotiations for a short work contract which would tie me up for the first three months of next year, severely restricting my fishing. Thus is the life of an Interim Manager, periods of no work followed by intense efforts over a short time frame to achieve business goals (often away from home). I have been leading this life for many years now and am used to it but it makes planning your life pretty difficult. I’m not complaining, a lot of people are significantly worse off than I am these days.
This is not a pattern I guess many of you will be aware of but it has caught me a few trout over the years so here is my take on an old fly dating from the 1930’s. It masquerades under a few different names and has been the subject of numerous variations over the years. I believe it may be better known as a Carey Special in some quarters. This is not the original nor is it intended to be, it’s just my take on it. I like to use it on a slow sinking or intermediate line for Rainbows in the spring and early summer.
I use black or brown tying silk for this fly and dress it on a size 10 long shank hook. Start the silk and catch in cock pheasant rump feather. Now run the silk down to the bend catching in some fibres of the same feather to make a tail and a length of fine gold wire.
Dub the silk with some brown olive seal’s fur or a suitable substitute and form an abdomen to cover about 2/3 of the hook, leaving space for a thorax. I mix my own seals fur by using olive and fiery brown dyed fur with just a pinch of orange and blue added. Don’t fall into the trap of making the abdomen too thick, keep it nice and slim. Now the original didn’t have a thorax but I think this adds something to the fly, giving a bit of flash and an aiming point for the fish. In this case the thorax is made from glister or any similar material in a dark olive colour. Once you have made the thorax run the gold wire up the body in open turns. Tie down and remove the waste end.
Wind the hackle a full three turns then tie down and cut off the waste before forming a neat wee head. Varnish as normal and there you are!
I know of one variation which sports a body made out of fine olive chenille.
Shallow water, along the margins and around reeds or weedbeds are where this fly does its best work. Fish this fly by giving it vigorous twitches as you retrieve. Takes can be quite vicious!
I buy a lot of fishing gear on line just like many of you do. It is convenient and you can find pretty much anything you want out there in internet land. At the same time I make a conscious effort to support my local tackle dealers as without them we anglers are going to be a lot worse off. So for me at any rate there is a mix of online and local fishing tackle suppliers. It was not always so and during my early years all my tackle was bought from the fishing shops in Aberdeen where I grew up.
Sharpes had a fancy shop in Belmont Street but it was way too expensive for the likes of me so I hardly ever crossed the threshold. Rows of ‘Scottie’ spit cane fly rods and trays of beautifully tied salmon flies shared the hallowed spaces with tweed jackets and sturdy leather boots. It was all very refined and posh. I was like a fish out of water in there.
That shop closed down sometime in the late 70’s or early 80’s and one of the guys who worked there, Richard Walker, set up his own shop down on King Street. A large, bearded and lugubrious fellow, he presided over an eclectic mix of tackle. If Richard wasn’t there his mum covered for him. My heart sank any time I went in and found Mrs Walker behind the counter, the poor thing had no idea where anything was, leading to a lengthy hunt in all the cupboards and drawers for the right swivels, hooks or whatever. That shop shut down after a few years but I have no idea what became of the big man.
Most of my time (and money) was spent in Thistle Street where the small Somers shop was positioned. The old man only rarely popped his head into the shop by the time I was on the go but his son, Jim, ably assisted by Horace helped me enormously as I grappled with learning the arts of angling. I still own and use some of the gear I bought from them back in the late ‘70s. The shop was later sold and the new owner moved to bigger premises in Bon Accord Street.
Today I want to tell you about unusual flies which tied for use on the rivers of the extreme north east of Scotland, the Ythan and Ugie. The patterns were not that odd but the hooks they were tied on were. I only ever saw these hooks for sale in that stalwart of Aberdeen tackle shops, William Brown and Co. of Belmont Street. ‘Broons’ as all and sundry knew it in the city was one of those old fashioned fishing shops, replete with the trappings of such fine old establishments. Ancient dark wood everywhere, glazed cabinets on one wall, racks of shot guns, a green topped counter like a bar and usually a couple of venerable old anglers sitting on stools talking about the good auld days. Glass cases of stuffed salmon hauled from the Dee or Don by lords and colonels adorned the walls. Behind the counter was the domain of two characters, old Tom and George Denholm. Lord only knows how old Tom actually was. By his bearing I marking him down as an ex-military chap who probably fought for king and country in the Great War. George was middle aged, fond of a dram and could put his hand on anything in the shop at the drop of a hat. He knew where to find those long-shank pennel hooks alright.
The Ythan and the Ugie are narrow rivers which flow through the lush green and gold pasturelands of North East Scotland. They both get runs of salmon but the main quarry was sea trout which used to be extremely prolific. On the slower, deeper sections of the rivers the humble worm ruled supreme but where the current speeds up or there is some broken water anglers used the fly to good effect. It has always surprised me that the angling on these rivers has never been fully covered in print despite a long lineage of sport fishing on these rivers. I don’t know the Ugie but I spent a big chunk of my early life fishing the Ythan. Hence my acquaintance with the pennel hooks from ‘Broons’.
The hooks I want to tell you about are roughly the same length as a size 8 long shank trout hook but they are made with an additional hook pointing upwards in the middle of the shank. I had purchased some of these odd hooks before, maybe 10 or 12 of them to make some Ugie Bugs for myself but there was a sale in Broons one time and I bought a box of them. The box was opened and it was not full but for a small sum I purchased what remained and I still have a few of them left. The box itself is sadly lost so I can’t tell you too much about the maker. I seem to recall they were made by Partridge but I could be wildly wrong about that.
Sadly Broons closed it doors many years ago. Tom and George have long since departed this world. The circle of life keeps turning and all things come to an end at some point. The bedazzling range of fishing tackle available online or from the angling hypermarkets are incomparable to the likes of Broons with their handful of split cane rods and rimfly reels. The competition was just too strong for them. It is a shame as those old tackle shops possessed a charm all of their own. Like many other anglers of my vintage I miss the sights and smells of the now defunct old tackle shops.
The Ugie Bug
Akin to a long skinny Alexandra, this was a very popular fly in the middle years of the last century. It will still tempt the odd fish so I keep one or two in my box. It is very easy to make, only the top hook getting in the way when winding materials is liable to cause you any distress. Use black tying silk and start it at the eye of the hook and wind towards the bend. Catch in a short length of red Ibis substitute such as a slip of dyed swan or duck. I piece of bright red wool works just as well. Now tie in a length of fine oval silver tinsel and some black floss silk before running the tying silk back to within a few millimetres of the eye. Wind the floss to make a tapered body, tie off and remove the waste. Now rib the floss with open turns of the oval silver tinsel. Tie in and remove the waste as usual.
Take a bunch of cock or hen hackle fibres dyed black and tie them in under the hook to form a beard hackle then remove the waste ends. Alternatively, you can tie in and wind a black hackle in the conventional manner. The wing is made from peacock sword and I like to take a few fibres each from opposing tail feathers. This is tricky stuff to work with so take your time and aim to get a wing which sits straight on top of the hook and is the same length as the tail. Remove the waste.
A pair of small jungle cock eyes are tied in, one on each side of the wing. Cut off the waste, wind a neat head with the tying silk and cut off the silk. Varnish the head to complete the fly. Fish this fly either on its own or on the tail of a wet fly cast. I prefer it on a sinking line as the light goes and on into the darkness. Could you simply tie this pattern on a normal long shank hook? Of course you can! I reckon you could pep this fly up a bit with a couple of strands of flash in the wing too.
These hooks are grand for tying another very old pattern, the Wormfly. I think this fly was originally tied on two separate hooks joined together with gut. That then progressed to either the pennel hooks I am discussing here or simple long shanked hooks. This is an old stalwart which works in poor light, in the dark or in a good wave on the hill loughs.
Start the black tying silk at the eye and tie in a red game hackle. I prefer hen hackle but use a cock hackle if you wish. Now run it down to the first bend where you tie in a second, slightly smaller red game hackle. Keep winding the silk to the bend and tie in a red tail. Select whatever material you fancy, feather, floss or wool spring to mind. I like to add in a length of fine copper wire but this is not in the original dressing. I just want to give the weak peacock some protection. Tie in about 6 herls of peacock and take the tying silk up to the hook in the middle of the shank. Now twist the herls into a rope and wind this up to the tying silk and tie it in. Remove the waste and rib the rear body with the copper wire. Wind that hackle which you tied in earlier and remove the waste. Repeat the same process for the front of the fly. Form a head with the tying silk, whip finish and tie off before varnishing.
The most common variation is simply to swap the natural red game hackles and replace them with black hen hackles.
I also tie the Alexandra on these hooks to give me a good imitation of a minnow.
Just about any hackled loch fly can be adapted for tying on these hooks. Flies like the Ke-He, Zulu or bumbles lend themselves perfectly to this simply by tying two of them on the one hook. I realise that getting your hands on these vintage hooks is going to be virtually impossible for everyone else, I was just lucky to buy some all those years ago. Use a normal long shank hook and you get the same effect.
I seriously doubt if the additional top hook makes a huge difference to the fly. Over the years I have caught a good few trout on flies tied on these hooks and not one of those fish was hooked solely on the middle hook. I just like using them for old time sake. I suspect old Tom would approve.