After a spell in England during the mid-noughties I returned to Ireland and came to live in Ballinrobe. During that time I kept a boat at Cushlough, learning a little bit about the trout fishing around that part of Lough Mask. Previously (we are talking the late ‘90’s) I kept a boat on the other side of the lough at Churchfield, a handy spot with good access to the whole of the western shoreline. It has been a few years since I seriously fished Mask but here are some of the flies I found useful in the early part of the season for that hallowed water.
I want to stress the importance of finding where the fish as the prerequisite for a successful day out on lough Mask. With 20,000 acres of water available to hide in the fish can take some finding. It won’t matter a jot what flies you tie on to your leader if you are fishing over barren drifts. On the vast expanse of a water like lough Mask it can be no easy matter finding the trout and this can be very disheartening for visiting anglers, especially if they are used to stocked fisheries where fish can usually be seen rising. If drifts are unsuccessful then move and try somewhere else. Always keep your eyes open for clues such as birds feeding or other boats congregating in a certain area. Be aware of changing conditions, especially the wind direction and strength.
When the season opens the fish will be on the bottom hoovering up shrimps. There will be very localised hatches of duckfly in some bays but the exact locations of these duckfly ‘holes’ are closely guarded secrets, known to the locals only. Around many parts of the lake you can often see large numbers of duckfly in the air in March and April but see very little surface activity. Given calm conditions normal buzzer tactics will take some fish. Otherwise, drifting over shallow reefs for the shrimp feeders will usually be your best bet.
Normal buzzer patterns on size 10 or 12 hooks will catch fish in calm conditions
‘Bits’ in black, claret, ginger and olive are handy for the times the fish are mopping hatching duckfly. Fish these in the surface film with a lick of floatant on the back of the fly
The Sooty olive. This is one of the staple flies for early season work. There must be dozens of different ties of the fly and all of them will work on their day. For me, size is important and I prefer a size 12 to the larger 10’s which seem to be more popular. Hackle colour is always up for debate with this fly but either a natural black or a red game dyed olive are your main choices.
Sooty Olive, this one is tied with a black hackle
Fiery Brown. Classic Irish wet fly which is a great producer in the early months of the season. It is just as effective when dressed dabbler style. While I have seen some anglers adding jungle cock to their Fiery Brown’s it is a pattern that does not need them in my humble opinion. Save those precious black and white feathers for other, more deserving flies! I do like to tie my Fiery Brown’s with an orange tag.
Bibio. It is hard to beat the original dressing but I do like the jungle bunny dressing earlier in the season. When the wind drops a skinnier version can be better than the bushy tying, something like the Bibio Snatcher .
Some anglers like the Peter Ross but I can’t say I have had much luck with it on Mask. Having said that I have caught trout on a Silver Spider with a red thorax which is pretty similar.
Peter Ross Buzzer
The red/silver spider that I like
There are a seemingly endless array of buzzer patterns to pick from but these are a couple of fairly reliable ones:
By April there will be olives hatching on lough Mask. What should be a period of excitement is frequently a lesson in frustration as trout rise in front of you but ignore your best flies. I have seen many of the best anglers defeated by a hatch of olives over the years. So what are your best options? In a very heavy hatch when the fish are sipping flies from the surface then dry the dry fly. A CDC dun or hatching pattern will sometimes work.
When there are flies on the wing but little in the way of surface activity the wet fly is your best option and there are a range of flies I would recommend.
Red tailed Invicta
Invicta. Yes I know, this is supposed to be a sedge pattern but nobody told the trout that and an Invicta tied with a red tail can be good medicine in a hatch of olives.
Claret Dabbler. It looks nothing like an olive but it has worked for me on many occasions in a hatch of olives.
Raymond. An old pattern but one which can do the job early in the season. The only change from the original dressing is that I wind claret and a light olive body hackles instead of the normal red one.
A small Green Peter
A small Green Peter fished on the bob has saved the day for me before now. A size 12, dressed lightly and cast to rising fish sometimes works. I like the RA version but one with a solid green body works too.
As the days lengthen and the water warms up the iconic mayfly start to make their annual appearance on lough Mask. Years ago these hatches were heavy and the fish could be seen mopping the duns from the surface across the shallows of the eastern side of the lough. These days the hatches are sparse and surface activity much less than of yester year. There are hundreds of mayfly patterns to pick from and rather than fill page after page here I suggest you read one of the best books on the subject, Irish Mayflys by Patsy Deery.
While mayfly patterns catch the bulk of the trout in May there are a number of other useful flies which also succeed.
I love a small Connemara Black in the middle when mayflies are hatching. Don’t ask me why it works, all I know is that the ‘CB’ has caught me lots of fish over the years.
Colin’s Ginger Sedge
My own Ginger Sedge is a good fly at this time of the year too. I tied this fly initially after seeing trout selectively taking sedges in the middle of a mayfly hatch one year.
The Cock Robin variant comes into its own around about now. Don’t be frightened to try it on a size 8 hook.
Fishing in the deeps really picks up in late spring and the use of flashy pulling patterns comes into its own. Gorgeous George, Octopus and other similar highly coloured flies will take fish on those long drifts over the deep water when the shallows are quiet. I will hold my hand up and say that I am no expert on fishing the deeps, I find it a very boring way of fishing and tend to keep to the shallows even when the fishing there is poor. Let’s run through a couple typical scenarios and think about how to deal with them.
Imagine you are fishing lough Mask and turn up to find a big wind blowing from the north. It’s April and the day feels raw with thick clouds scudding across the sky. White horses on the lough suggest a rough day on the water. Where do you start? I would possibly head for some shelter either at the north end of the lough or around the islands. I’d leave the deeps alone as the wind will push you along at a high speed and a drogue is out of the question on Mask (never be tempted to try a drogue here even out in the deeps, there are hidden pinnacles of limestone which will snag the drogue and swamp the boat). A team of wets on a slow sinking line is a good place to start and flies like Fiery Brown, Sooty Olive and Bibio are worth a swim. I would be more concerned about getting the depth and speed of the flies right ahead of any particular pattern.
On a day of little wind at the same time of year you can go searching for a duckfly hole and fish buzzers just like you would on an English reservoir. If that is not your style of fishing then keep looking for signs of wind rippling the surface. There is rarely a day when there is a dead flat calm in this part of the world so be prepared to move to find the ripple and the wet flies can be used again. If there is a bright sky with a bitter east wind then I’d prefer to be sitting in a warm pub rather than fishing in such poor conditions!
Books could be written on the tactics and flies for use on Lough Mask and similar tomes produced for the other great western lakes. It often comes down to local knowledge so take my advice and talk to the anglers you meet. Advice is willingly given and can often be the difference between a successful day and miserable failure.