dryfly, trout fishing, wetfly

Memory lane

So, the flying visit to Scotland is over and I am back in Ireland once again. The catch up with family and friends now over, I can reflect on the last couple of days. The weather was pretty terrible on the journey north but the East of Scotland basked in lovely near summer conditions for the rest of the weekend. Aberdeen looked well in the sunshine, its granite sparkling for a change (it can look very dull on a cold, grey day). Saturday was spent in the relaxing company of family but on Sunday I found myself in Inverurie.

As a boy I learned a lot of my angling skills on the borough waters here on the rivers Don and Urie. A lifetime has passed since those far of days and the town of Inverurie has changed out of all recognition. The once sleepy country village has now become a bustling commuter town for Aberdeen, replete with the usual trappings of the change in status such as industrial parks and shopping centres.

Shallow water above the bridge

Lunch in a garden centre restaurant over, I drove down to the Urie to see how the river has fared in the intervening years. Back in the day I would catch the first country bus from the city every Saturday morning to Inverurie. Dropped off on the main street, clad in waders and smelly fishing coat, I’d wait for the tackle shop to open so I could buy a permit. A few shillings changed hands and I would march off back down the main street, bound for the Urie. I almost always followed the same plan, start on the Urie and fish down the where it meets the Don, hopefully just as the main hatch got under way. I’d then fish the dry fly and work my way upstream on the Don.

The bridge pool on the Urie

Tackle back then consisted of a nine-and-a-half foot glass fly rod, a short spinning rod and a bag full of everything from a tin of worms to tiny dry flies. Early in the morning I’d fish the pools and runs with spiders, casting ‘around the clock’. On days when that didn’t work the tin of worms came out and I would search the deeper pools. I was never much of a bait fisherman and the eels which were so common back then seemed to be my usual catch as I recall. I never had enough worms with me. The tiny square of poor earth which passed for a garden at the back of our council house yielded only a handful of tiny wrigglers that I dug between the scrawny lettuces. Often I was reduced to turning over stones on the river back to augment the contents of the bait tin during the fishing.

If my bait ran out I’d turn to spinning tiny Mepps or metal minnows but even at a young age I realised this was too easy. Flicked upstream and wound back over the fish’s heads, these lures virtually always caught me a trout or two.

an old box of tiny spinners dating from my youth

My selective memory lulls me into believing there was always a hatch around lunchtime. I’m sure there must have been days when the empherids didn’t appear but that is beyond my recall. The bridge pool was my favourite spot on the Urie and I have many happy memories of exciting times casting to rising trout as the olives and iron blues hatched out in April and May.

I parked beside the graveyard on Sunday. Already I could see the changes with more human interventions on the side of the road than there used to be. New houses and businesses were there and an ominous sign which said something about no access. Walking up to the bridge over the river was a strange experience, the years weighing heavily on me. Over the parapet I peered and there below was the river, wider than I had remembered it and very low for the time of year. It looked decidedly fishy, running clear over still lush, verdant weeds and brown olive gravel. I was instantly transported back to a more innocent time, a time when feeling the tug of a half-pounder was all I lived for. A time when the very idea of being anywhere other than here in the North East was simply impossible to comprehend. An altogether simpler time.

The golds and reds of the autumn leaves reflected the waning years of my own life. Growth and vigour have been replaced with introspection and reflection. I (hopefully) reach 60 next spring, battle scarred and weather worn. Lessons learned but still largely clueless about this world which seems hell bent on self-destruction. Fishing, the common thread woven through the very fabric of my existence, kept me sane through the dark days and nourished my soul in ways no religion ever could. I hold places like the bridge pool on the Urie very dear.

I never did catch any monsters from the bridge pool, a few pounders sprinkled among a host of lesser fish was my lot. That didn’t matter to me back then because it was a consistent spot. If I was going to catch a fish anywhere on that river the chances were it would come out of that pool. These days I would fish it in the gloaming of a late spring evening when the spinners return to lay their eggs and the better trout come out of hiding to feed, but back then the last bus home would have long departed by then! My love of motorbikes which freed me from the bonds of the bus timetable unfortunately coincided with my burgeoning attraction to the opposite sex and so the banks of the Urie were swapped for the bright lights and blandishments of the city. I could have become an expert fisher instead of a mediocre lothario. Ah well………………..

I snapped a couple of photos then took my leave. Maybe next year I might come back with a feather-light carbon wand and spend an hour casting on this nice piece of water for old-time sake. More likely, I will spend far too much money on a beat of the Dee chasing elusive salmon and catch nothing! It was a relief to see my old haunt was not yet succumbed to the relentless march of progress just yet. Who knows what the next few years will hold though?

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dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, Nymphs, salmon fishing, trout fishing, wetfly

Leaders

Let’s talk about leaders. When I started fishing the fly for trout this was pretty damn straight forward – you tied an overhand knot on the end of the fly line and looped a 9 foot length of 4 pound breaking strain nylon on to it. Life in general has evolved in a variety of complex ways since those days but leaders have exploded into a mind-bending number of different forms. In contrast, my fishing tends to be very simple so my leaders are similarly easy to construct. I thought you might like to see how I tie up leaders for the various different conditions over here in the far west of Ireland. Bear in mind we only have wild brown trout, a very small population of sea trout and a few Atlantic salmon to target. I will split this information into 4 sections to cover the vast majority of my fly fishing needs.

Maxima, good, honest line at a reasonable price

Trout (lough)

I will start with my my basic leader for wet fly on the lough. Lots of lough anglers, and certainly most of the completion lads, have long ago switched from nylon to fluorocarbon for leader material. The main benefit is the increase in breaking strain for the same diameter and for this reason alone I like to use fluorocarbon for my trout leaders when chasing brownies.

My typical lough style leader will consist of a heavy nylon butt, some 12 inches long, made from 15 pound nylon and attached to a small loop in the end of the fly line with a loop. Blood knotted on to the butt will be another foot of ten pound breaking strain nylon. That couple of feet of heavy nylon stays there and I change the leader itself by blood knotting on new lengths of fluorocarbon, usually 9.5 pound breaking strain Riverge. I make my droppers by cutting the fluorocarbon and then re-joining it using a double blood knot, leaving a long tag end which forms the dropper. I like to have my droppers around 6 inches long. When a leader gets damaged or the droppers become too short I snip off the whole fluorocarbon part and replace it with a new leader.

I am too lazy to make up specific leaders for the dry fly when I am on the boat, I just use a wet fly leader and tie on a pair of dries.

Flay calm – testing times for any type of leader!

Trout (river)

On the river I use a wide range of different set ups. As for the lough set up, my basic principle is to have a heavy butt attached to the end of the fly line with a ‘sacrificial’ length of lower diameter which I cut into each time I change the leader. This saves me messing around with the heavy butt section too often. I have been experimenting with tapered butts for a long time now and while I find them useful for sinking lines for salmon I am less impressed with them on floaters for trout fishing. I have also tried some of the specialist nymphing tapered leaders but I find them too soft for my own preference.

The same butt set up as I use for the loughs (see above) works fine for me, maybe just a few inches shorter is better when I am fishing on small streams or at close quarters. That butt section stays attached to the fly line all the time.

  1. Wet fly leader: six feet of 4 pound nylon with three feet of three pound nylon as a tippet. Droppers made by using the tag ends of double blood knots.
  2. Dry fly: Due to the generally higher air resistance I use six pound nylon for the main body of the leader and blood knot on a tippet of fluorocarbon. Breaking strain will depend on where I am fishing and the likely size of any trout there.
  3. Night time leader: The only leaders I carry which are made up before I go fishing are a couple of heavy (6 pound breaking strain) leaders armed with one dropper. I even have the flies tied on so I don’t have to do this in the dark. These leaders are for summer nights when the fish are chasing sedges. It is just too hard to make up a leader from scratch in the dark so I do this beforehand then simply snip off the old leader and knot the heavy one on.
  4. Nymphing set up: Once again, I like to keep this as simple as possible. I don’t need to use excessively heavy nymphs as I don’t fish very deep and fast water. My main aim is to provide enough thickness and therefore stiffness in the leader to turn over the nymphs on short lines. I resort to straight lengths of fifteen pound fluorocarbon as this gives me the power I require. To step down to the tippet I use about 18 inches of that Riverge 9.5 pound which is always lurking in the dark recesses of my waistcoat pocket. Sounds way too heavy for hooking up with half pound trout? Yes and no would be my answer. You see the bottom of my local rivers are stony and snaggy and hooking the bottom happens far more often than hooking fish, so I have a bit of leeway when I need to pull and tug at the line to retrieve snagged flies.

Salmon (lough)

Things change for me when I make up leaders deliberately for salmon on Beltra. We generally use largish flies on this lough and getting 3 meat hooks to cast properly in a high wind from a drifting boat means a switch back to nylon. I like something in or around 20 pound breaking strain and keep the leader to a maximum total length of 9 feet. I don’t think that salmon are line shy in four foot high waves.

Climax 98 - I use this for making up salmon leaders

Climax 98 – I use this for making up salmon leaders

On waters like Carrowmore lake where we fish much smaller flies and only in light winds I simply use the same leaders that I tie up for trout fishing from 9.5 pound breaking strain Grand Max Revenge.

one that went back

safely in the net, the leader did its job this time

Salmon (river)

On big rivers I stick to only one fly and the big question is do I use a straight through length of nylon about 9 feet long or do I add a sinking butt section. The decision will be based on water speed and depth and I usually carry a couple of sinking butts in a pocket with me when I am on a big river.

sinking tapered poly leaders

sinking tapered poly leaders fished out of my jacket pocket!

On smaller rivers and during grilse time I am perfectly happy with a 9 foot length of 10 pound breaking strain nylon loop-to-looped to the end of the fly line. It doesn’t get more simple than that yet it has worked for me my whole angling life so I ain’t about to change any time soon. I add a dropper when the grilse are around so I can fish a tiny wee fly as well as a ‘normal’ size 8 – 12 on the tail. I space the dropper about three feet up from the tail fly.

spools of drennan

Now let’s turn to the vexed question of which brands to use. Over the years I have had pretty much every line let me down at some point. The early fluorocarbons were prone to snapping under even quite low strains if the load was applied suddenly. Thankfully this seems to have been ironed out but I still find that a good nylon is more forgiving and able to soak up more abrasion than more modern materials. So I carry both types of line with me in various breaking strains and diameters.

One of my favourite fluorocarbons for making up leaders

One of my favourite fluorocarbons for making up leaders

The market is flooded with different lines, each claiming to be better than the rival products as they are thinner/stronger/invisible to the fish. I guess you will have to make up your own minds about which to use. At the cheaper end of the market there may be some dodgy materials so I don’t mind spending money on the lines which I have experience of. Riverge is good in my opinion and I’ve used it for a good many season now. I have also used Frog Hair for years without complaint. Drennan sub-surface green has been a stalwart nylon for me too.

Frog hair

A quick word on attaching the leader to the fly line. I don’t know about you but this task used to create all manner of problems for me. I never took to braided butts which you slid over the line and were supposed to cling in place on their own. Dabbing superglue on these joints just made them stiff as pokers and I have seen them fail on a couple of occasions. I still have some older fly lines which I turned the end back on itself and whipped it into a small loop. That has worked fine for me over the years. Many modern fly lines are supplied with neat welded loops on the end, making the whole process of attaching the leader so much simpler.

 

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dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing

What’s wrong on the Robe?

Mid-May, the height of the trout season in Mayo. The weather forecast was good and I was really really looking forward to a few hours on the River Robe. The fishing can be challenging in low, clear water but fly life should be plentiful. I double checked my dry fly boxes to make sure I had all the bases covered.

The bridge over the Robe at Crossboyne

I had deliberately picked the stretch of the river around Crossboyne for two reasons. Firstly, the river there holds some very big trout. Secondly, the fly life is usually very reliable. I figured this was a winning combination, the rest was going to be up to my (dubious) skills with rod and line.

For the first time this year I ditched the neoprene waders and plumped for the lightweight chesties instead. I have had these boots for a while  but never worn them so I was was anticipating a more comfortable day. Pulling them on as I perched on the car, I felt far from comfortable. The feet were too tight but I thought they would slacken off once they had been broken in a bit by some walking and wading. Turns out I was wrong about that!

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wind ruffled surface

The bridge pool at Crossboyne looks inviting but I have never had a big fish out of it until late in the evenings. This morning all was quiet on the glass-like surface of this pretty pool. The trees downstream shielded the pool from a gusty south westerly, the only quiet spot on the river today! I waded across the tail of the pool and scrambled up the slippery bank. Once out of the trees the full force of the wind caught me unawares. Ducking back into the vegetation, I commenced operations with a small dry olive. Flicking it up and under the branches was tricky and the small olive sadly stuck on a leafy branch where it remained when the tippet snapped under pressure from me. This small tragedy was repeated often as fly after fly fell victim to my casting deficiencies. The trout were willing to grab the small flies if I could keep them on the surface on short drifts in tumbling water. The only problem was these were all small fish, only a few inches long.

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Trees everywhere! The last resting place for some more of my dries

Leaving the trees behind me I meandered down the edges of the fields, fishing the likely spots near structures and weedbeds. I could make out no signs of a hatch which was very odd. This is a fertile part of the river and upwinged flies usually litter the surface at this time of the year. With no hatch to tempt them up,  the trout were reluctant to show near the top. I had made up my mind that I would stick with dries today, so pushing thoughts of heavily weighted nymphs to the back of my mind I fished on amid a strengthening and variable wind.

5 fish came to hand today but they were all of this stamp

Open fields, dotted with grazing sheep and cattle, bordered the river now. The big drain was in sight (the natural end to this stretch) but a nasty new electric fence barred any further progress. With no flies and a difficult wind I decided to turn back and head for the fast pool above the bridge.

The calf followed me around for a while until mum came to fetch him!

Another trout took the dry spider I had floated over him and it turned out he would be the last one of the day. I picked up the remains of a beautiful spotted blue egg which caught my eye. It may have been left over from a successful hatching but it’s more likely that the egg was robbed by the crows.

Re-crossing the river I ducked under the bridge, getting a soaking from the mains water pipe which is leaking badly from a joint. The lively pool immediately above the bridge is home to some fine trout but once again there was no sign of life. By now I had taken enough disappointment so I called it a day and returned to the car. The lack of insect life is a huge problem, one that does not bode well for the future. I have been blaming the cold weather this spring for the poor (non-existent) hatches but maybe there are more sinister reasons. The use of pesticides in Ireland is endemic. Farmers and other land owners habitually spray pesticides and herbicides in huge quantities. Perhaps this is part of the problem?

Lovely water, pity there were no insects hatching

I will give the Robe a rest now until next month when (hopefully) the evening falls of spinners will liven up the fishing.

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dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing

Sanctuary

Of all the many things I dislike in this world, sitting in the waiting room at a doctor’s surgery is right up there near the top of the list. It was my misfortune to find myself in just such a hell-hole yesterday through no fault of my own. My new employer required me to have a medical check up to give them some peace of mind that I would not keel over in the workplace, so the beautiful sunny morning was spent in close confinement with a number of sick people. I entered the cramped room perfectly healthy but left after a couple of hours with my immune system battling every sort of air-borne infection.

waiting-room2

At least I had time to ponder where I could cast a line over the weekend and I settled on another trip to the River Robe this coming Sunday. Between the frequent coughs and sneezes of my fellow sufferers I day dreamed about which stretch to fish and what patterns to try. It must have been the medical surroundings, but I decided that a wee fly called the Sanctuary could be the job on the Sabbath as it often works at this time of the year.

Not a fly that I see other anglers using but one which has done the business for me more than once. The Sanctuary is a simple fly to tie. It is not substantially different from a number of other patterns which you can use to imitate the large dark olive but I like catching trout on different patterns.

I think I’m right in saying this pattern was devised by a certain Dr. Sanctuary (hence the medical connection). He fished the chalk streams of east Yorkshire in the late 19th century and was an avid fly tyer.

costaweir_22may17.jpg

The Costa Beck in the east riding of Yorkshire – it looks very similar to the Robe!

As usual, I have mucked around with the original pattern! The good doctor saw fit to omit tails from his fly but I like tail fibres on my dry flies so some were duly added. To my eyes the Coch-y-bondhu hackle was too dark on its own so I wind an olive hackle through it.

  • Hook: your choice of dry fly hook, size 14 works best for me
  • Tying silk: 8/0 or, if you want to more traditional, use Pearsils in brown
  • Tails: A few stiff fibres of dark ginger cock hackle
  • Rib: fine flat gold tinsel
  • Body: dubbed with fur from a hares ear
  • Hackles: a Coch-y-bondhu cock hackle with a couple of turns of olive cock wound through it

The coughing and spluttering of my near neighbours seemed to be reaching a devilish

crescendo and my mind wandered of down different paths in an effort to blot out the horror of being confined amid all this disease. It took me all the way back to the eighties and that brilliant track by the Cult – She sells sanctuary.

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dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing

Fathach glas (Green giant)

The fly I am writing about today is not especially unique. Indeed, many of you reading this post possibly have one or two similar patterns in your box of dry mayflys. What singles this one out is one thing only – it’s SIZE. Let me transport you back in time to the crystal clear waters of Lough Carra, many seasons ago……..

Drifting gently down the shoreline one May afternoon we came across some fish feeding on hatching mayfly. ‘We’ consisted of Ben, my usual boat partner and myself. It had been a slow morning for us with little in the way of action but it was a lovely day to be out and about on the water. A spring day on Carra is always good for the soul. The sprinkling of fly which had started to appear raised our hopes for sport and I swapped the cast of wets for a solitary dry (I forget the pattern). A trout rose followed by another, then another. Tensions rose perceptibly as the trout grew more confident and broke the surface to grab the poor fly as the hatched. Here we were, in every fly fisher’s dream.

Mayfly

As we drifted I covered first one, then a second fish but without response from either. Change the fly! The hatch can end very quickly or the trout get spooked and go down, so if the fly is ignored after a couple of fish have seen it I tend to change the fly rather than persevere. The day had metamorphosed from lazily drifting and stroking the top of the water with calm, ill-defined casting to one of high tension and focussed thinking. Were the fish hitting emergers or duns on the surface? Would we be better to set up on a drift closer to the reeds? Wulff or Fan-wing? Is that leader long enough? Maybe I should add a new tippet? To a non-fisher the detail we fly fishers consider must seem like a form of self-inflicted mental torture but the unravelling of the complexities of a day’s fishing are fundamental to our enjoyment of the sport. I tied on a dry version of a Lough Arrow but it was ignored. So was a Royal Wulff and a Yellow Fan-wing. And still the trout rose, some in a steady, no nonsense roll over the fly. Others, probably small trout, splashing violently as they engulfed the naturals. I was beginning to struggle and the pressure that we all apply inwardly when surrounded by rising trout grew exponentially with each natural rise within casting range.

Why I decided to tie on the Green Wulff is not very clear in my memory. It was not the most obvious choice as I had tied a couple up with Lough Mask in mind and in particular for use on a windy day. Yet here I was fishing a smallish ripple on Carra and yet the green monster called out to me. Like a football manager deep in the second half with the desperate need to find a goal I reached out to the biggest lad on the bench. My equivalent of a six-foot-five-inch centre forward was a humungous Green Wulff. Tied on a size 6 longshank and sprouting squirrel hair wings and tails that made it look even bigger. This was an Fathach Glas – a green giant!

‘What are you trying next?’ asked Ben. I paused before answering, trying to judge if he will be mildly amused or simply turn the boat around and head for the nearest mental asylum where I could be incarcerated for my own safety. ‘Green Wulff’. ‘A big one’. He glanced in my direction then did a double take when the size of my latest offering became obvious. Now Ben has seen a lot on these Irish loughs so nothing much fazes him. ‘Worth a lash’ was all he said but I could tell he was trying to grasp my reasoning for trying this oddball.

I made the first cast, or rather I tried to make the first cast with the Wulff. Damn you physics! The air resistance of big dries can be difficult to overcome and huge hairy Wulffs are right up there among the most awkward flies to present. It took me a few minutes of flailing to find my timing and alter the loop sufficiently to project the fly about 15 yards out in front of me. That would have to do for now. I was feeling a tad self-conscious about this now, a mad yoke of a fly and obvious difficulty casting it out. And now it was sitting on the surface it looked even bigger! It dwarfed the naturals around it and looked absolutely nothing like the creatures I was trying to imitate. Maybe I should change back to something more normal.

Then, in one of those sublime moments which you never forget, it happened. I saw the whole thing clearly and even now, all these years later the picture is fresh and vivid in my mind. The trout broke the surface perhaps a couple of inches abaft the Wulff and opened his mouth to engulf it as he turned down again. My timing was exquisite, the duration of pause perfect for once and the line tightened as the hook found lodgement in his scissors. All of this happened because I was in shock at the sight of the take. I could hardly believe a modestly sized trout had swallowed the enormous fly. After boating the trout I checked the fly and it was undamaged but sodden. Drying it proved to be the next challenge as it had shipped a lot of water and took plenty of blotting and blowing to get it dry enough for a re-application of floatant. More unsightly whipping and hauling finally landed the fly in front of the boat again and I settled back to digest what had just happened.

Not even a couple of minutes had passed when the whole process repeated itself and a second trout was plunging to the depths of the lough with the Wulff firmly attached. By the time the rise was over I had taken five decent trout, all on the green giant. I missed some others but in general the takes were very confident and the hook holds very good. In my limited experience this is very unusual when fishing large mayflys on the surface – lots of splashy rises, misconnections and poor hook-holds seem to be commonplace when using big dries.

Word spread like wildfire and everyone I bumped into seemed to know that I had had a good day on Carra with some sort of green dry fly. I tied up some more and handed them around the fishers who were interested. Amazed laughter was the normal reaction and I could see that most of the lads were not going to embarrass themselves by trying out this ungainly monster. Those that did were just as pleasantly surprised as I was that fine day on Lough Carra. For those of you who make your own flies here is the dressing:

Hook: size 6 long-shank (if you really can’t face the embarrasment of using something this big then an 8 long shank works too)

Tying silk: yellow or olive 6/0 – it needs to be strong for tightly binding the slippery squirrel hair

Tail and spent wings: grey squirrel tail hair dyed bright green. The wings are tied semi-spent. Watch out for tying the wings too long (an easy mistake to make with a long shank hook). Make them barely the same length as the body of the fly and not the length of the hook. If you make the wings too long it makes the finished fly all but impossible to cast.

Green squirrel hair is easily available, Veniards is good though

Body: mix of 50% green seal’s fur and 50% hare’s body fur dyed olive. Taper the body so that it thickens at the thorax

Rib: oval gold tinsel or clear nylon (the original used the tinsel but I think the nylon looks better)

Hackle: Grizzle cock dyed bright green. I clip the fibres underneath so the fly can sit in the surface film.

A good few of the locals around Mayo have one of these beauties in their fly box, and yes, they have caught trout on them too! I have heard it has been the downfall of fish on Mask and Corrib as well as Carra. I carry a couple around with me just in case, one fine May afternoon when the greendrakes are on the surface, history will repeat itself.

I start the tying silk at the bend so that there is a layer of silk along the shank

The hair for the wings is tied in over the eye then split with figure-of-eight turns to form a pair of semi-spent wings

Form the tail from a bunch of green dyed squirrel too

cut the waste ends in steps to give a smooth body shape

body dubbed and wound, then ribbed with nylon

Green dyed grizzle

Hackle wound and head formed. just a drop of varnish on the head now to finish the giant off

 

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dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, sea angling, shore fishing, trout fishing

Wish list

It’s all over for 2017 and I am stuck in another hotel room a long way from home, thinking about next season already. It is a nice hotel, comfortable and warm with an excellent menu in the restaurant downstairs. However, it is not home and so it pales when measured against my abode in the west. I’m lucky in that I don’t suffer from loneliness or sink into morbid thoughts when separated from loved ones, instead I use my time to reflect and think about the future. I don’t usually overthink my fishing trips but, maybe on the back of a poor season, I have been contemplating my options for 2018 in an unusual level of detail. Everything will depend on how the gods of work treat me, too little and I will have lots of time but no money while too much work will keep me away from home and with no time to go fishing. I need to jot down where i want to go. I need to write a list!

8NX6EPAWCB

I guess my train of thought is neatly divided along geographical lines. Irish angling will obviously be uppermost in any plans but I’m going to wet a line in Scotland too. So let’s take a look at the possibilities which I currently have under review.

Angling for salmon starts early over here with a handful of rivers opening on 1st January. The Drowes is close by, only a bit over an hour’s drive from home. The opening week sees large numbers of fishers descending on this river in an attempt to catch the first salmon of the season. Crowded banks are not my idea of fun but I may just venture up there for a change of scene. Much of the fishing is worming or spinning but there are some nice stretches for the fly and I like the idea of clearing away the cobwebs and casting an early line there.

the Drowes has some good fly water

The River Robe failed to produce the goods last Spring but horrendously low water levels ruined any chances of success. Undeterred, I will return to the banks around Claremorris in March and April when the stoneflies and olives should be hatching. Daffodils and bird song, the greening grass in the fields, the nip still in the air that turns your breath to silver in the early morning all combine to form the unmistakable feeling that winter is over and spring has arrived. The excitement of those initial casts, those first tugs of a small trout as the team of spiders swing in the current, sloshing though the shallows to cross at a ford, munching a sandwich with the sun on your face – all the immensely enjoyable minutia of a day on an Irish river. Happiness!

The Robe at Hollymount, a favourite springtime stretch

The Robe at Hollymount, a favourite stretch in the springtime

If time allows I want to go back to Scotland in April. The fourth month of the year was always a lucky one for me for both trout and salmon. I cannot recall the last time I cast a line in Scotland during the month of April, 1996 seems to be most likely but I can’t honestly say it was with any sense of certainty. It was a heck of a long time ago anyway! If there has been some rain there should be a few salmon in the middle beats of the Aberdeenshire Don and even if it has been dry the trout will be feeding hard in anything but an east wind. The beats around Alford offer some wonderful fly water and if time allows I’d love to squeeze in a long weekend tramping the banks of the river where I learned to fish.

The middle Don and a fishy looking pool

 

I’ve not fished the mayfly properly for a couple of seasons now. I used to adore Lough Carra when the greendrakes were hatching but those days are firmly in the past now. Carra has not fished well for many seasons, despite some very good anglers giving a nostalgic try every year. The quantity of fly life has diminished alarmingly. Trout need to compete with the gulls for even hatching olives, let alone mayflies. Any trout still living in the lake keep their heads well down and those lovely, long rolling waves that you get on a windy day above on Carra still don’t attract the fish to the surface. I seriously doubt if I will bother with Carra next season unless the local ‘jungle drums’ tell me it has turned the corner.

Moorehall bay on Carra

Boats in Moorhall, Lough Carra

Most anglers would plump for the mighty Corrib for mayfly fishing but for me that hallowed water is principally a dapper’s paradise. I used to keep a boat in Salthouse bay at the northern end of the Corrib and learned to find my way around that part of the lake. I caught some nice trout on wets and dries but the real leviathans succumbed to other anglers using dapped naturals. I can’t explain why I don’t dap. I know how to do it, where and when to do it and yet I don’t bother. The dapping rod, reel and thick, unruly floss line, the wooden live bait box and even the little scoop for netting live flies from the surface for bait all nestle in a corner of the room, unloved and unused. Barring some sort of ‘road to Damascus’ moment I doubt if I’ll dap this coming season.

Cahir Bay

Cahir Bay, lough Mask

So for me it will be lough Mask for the mayfly. It will feel as if I am being unfaithful to my first love, Lough Conn, but Mask is a terrific fishery and I have missed drifting the shallows in a brisk wind. I lived in Ballinrobe when I returned to Ireland and spent many happy hours getting to know where (and where not) you can motor and drift. The boat picked up a few scars after encounters with unseen rocks but the rewards were many. These days much of the fishing on Mask is carried out over the deeps, pulling a team of wets on sinking lines. I’m not a fan of this type of fishing, effective though it undoubtedly is. I find it very hard to justify this disinterest as it looks to the untrained eye very similar to salmon fishing – combing the water with sinking lines and a team of flies. No signs of fish, just the rolling waves and the rhythm of casting. I love days like that on the salmon loughs but quickly succumb to boredom if the speckled lads are my quarry. So I must make time in late May or early June to fish the Mask, drifting the craggy shallows of the Rocky Shore or around the islands.

The mouth of the canal on Lough Mask

At some point during the summer I want to take the road south and motor down to the Kingdom of Kerry. Many, many years ago I fished down that way and it would be nice to try my luck in the salty waters around Dingle again. The only trouble is the holidaymakers are there in droves during the summer months and accommodation is hard to find and damn expensive when you do locate a B&B. Who knows, maybe I’ll camp instead, just like I did all those years ago when I rode a motorbike from Aberdeen to Fenit, pitched the tent near the pier and caught a bass on the second cast! There used to be some good Wrasse fishing from the shore too as I recall. That sport has completely changed nowadays with the advent of LRF.

When I practised wrasse fishing it was with a sliding float and lugworm for bait. I tried all kinds of other baits, especially crab which seemed to be the most logical choice, but lugworm out-fished everything else for me and the sight of the float disappearing into the depths as another big Ballan swallowed the hook was always a huge thrill.  Yes, Kerry would be nice for a change of scene.

my mate Chris with a shore caught Wrasse

I love the autumn. It is by far my favourite season. I am keen on returning to Scotland again to try for a late season salmon on one of the smaller back end rivers. Finding reasonable and affordable water on the Tweed or Tay is difficult but the Deveron used to see good autumn runs and rods were often available without having to win the lottery. So next October I am planning on a short trip to the Turriff area to try for a big back-ender. Many years ago I lost a huge salmon further upstream on the Huntly water. That brute turned and ran down through three pools before the hook pulled out. It was the last of three fish I had on in the space of a few hours and none of them made it to the bank. Sometimes it’s just not your day. I find the Deveron is a nice size, not too poky and yet not overly large and intimidating. Getting back to Scotland twice in one year is very definitely pushing my luck but this is a wish list so October on the Deveron has been pencilled in.

The Devervon near Rothiemay

2017 was an unmitigated angling disaster for me, mainly because work got in the way of time off. It was a poor season for many and maybe I didn’t miss much but I would rather have a poor day on the riverbank than a good day at work. So there is my wish list, I will review it in 12 month’s time see what I did and did not manage to achieve.

 

 

 

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dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, Nymphs, Pike, salmon fishing, sea angling, shore fishing, trolling, trout fishing

A look back in…………….disappointment

Pike on the Rapala

Pike coming to hand. No big ones this season but the usual sprinkling of jacks grabbed various spoons and plugs. This lad took a shine to a Rapala

It’s over. The trout season that is and much of the salmon fishing too. The 2017 season coasted to its finale last weekend and, for me at least, it was a season to forget. Yesterday we fetched the boat in and over the next couple of weekends we will repeat the process with everyone else’s boats. Autumn will bring some sea fishing and maybe a couple of derisory outings to troll for Pike, but the game fishing is over for us in the West of Ireland until next spring. I thought I’d quickly run through the season, disappointing though it most certainly was for me.

The Carrownisky as it exits the lough

very low water on the Carrownisky river

Water levels were all over the place this season, not enough in the spring and too much later in the year. A dry spring does nobody any good and both salmon and trout fishing suffered greatly due to a lack of water. I have never seen the rivers so low in April and May! Is global warming taking effect here as well as in other, more exotic climates? I suspect it is and the changing weather patterns are having a negative impact on the fish and our fishing. Given the we in Ireland are nowhere near meeting our commitments on greenhouse gas reduction it is hard to climb on to any moral high horses. Sure, we are a small country and relatively speaking make little difference compared to the huge carbon footprint of other, larger and more densely populated nations. That does not exonerate us from our duty as world citizens to reduce our effects on the planet, indeed I would argue it should be easier for us that for the likes of India or China.

My olive emerger. Fur body and CDC looped over the back

My olive emerger. Fur body and CDC looped over the back. Normally this pattern catches me lots of springtime brownies but not this past season!

So, it was dry and cold to start with and the spring salmon were scarce. Work sucked me dry every week. Time spent in Mayo was infrequent and I totally failed to make it to the riverbank for the spring salmon fishing. By all accounts I didn’t miss much. Instead, I was able to squeeze some trouting in during March and early April, usually very productive times for me. This year however I could (and did) walk across some parts of the river Robe without the water reaching above my ankles. Northerly and Easterly winds combined with low water are quite possibly the worst conditions for the springtime fly fisher, but that was exactly what I met during those trying March outings. Fly life was non-existent. No Iron Blues or Large Dark Olives. No stoneflies or Diptera. I tempted a few small fish to wets and nymphs but it was hard work with little reward.

Tiny Brown Trout from the river Robe

Anglers fishing the fly on a shrunken river Corrib at the Galway Weir

Anglers fishing the fly on a shrunken river Corrib at the Galway Weir

Great plans to fish hard during May came to nothing and others made use of the boat in my absence. By now I was becoming concerned the whole season would pass me by with work hungrily consuming me. Returning home after time away requires ‘catching up’ with family and all the tasks which have been left unattended need to be addressed in the fleeting few hours with loved ones. Fitting a day or even a few hours fishing into this complex mosaic proved be beyond my organisational skills. Then the rain started to fall.

one from the Robe

small but very welcome!

From June through to September we endured frequent periods of sustained precipitation. The heavens unloaded water on Ireland in biblical quantities. Rivers rose then burst their banks. Each time I found a chink in my diary it coincided with filthy brown spates. My fishing buddies who did venture out with rod and line found the grilse late and well scattered. Salmon fishing is always a case of being in the right place at the right time but this year it seems that maxim was even keener than normal. Tiny windows of opportunity presented themselves when the water was right for an hour or less and experienced rods who knew where to be connected with resting runners. I fumed and shook my head with every text or FB post from friends as they celebrated successes. I never even made it out with the salmon rod after June. A film of dust covers my salmon gear in testimony to my inaction.

Barely used all last season, I will strip the reels down lubricate them all before tucking them away for the winter

So what positives were there this past season? I had a nice brownie in the gloaming from the Keel canal which grabbed a small Wickham then charged around the pool like a fish twice its size. Then there was introduction to the tiny river Griese down in Kildare. The sheer joy of trying to fool those wee trout in difficult conditions was wonderful balm to bruised angling ego and I am already planning on fishing this gem of a river next season. For me, size means nothing, angling is all about being immersed in nature and trying to solve the problems in front of me. A hard-earned 8 incher can be more rewarding than a dozen fish which fling themselves at the flies.

The Griese in Co. Kildare. Clear and stuffed with small trout. I’ll be back………….

My current contract ends early in November and there will probably be some free time from then until Christmas. I’ll do some sea fishing and tie lots of flies when I get to that point. I’ll also make my plans for the 2018 season and I’m going to do some work on this blog as well when I get some free time.

Not many gaps in the fly box but I will be busy at the vice over the winter regardless

The boat about to be hauled out of Lough Conn last weekend

part of an old roller conveyor which an angler uses to ease beaching his boat.

Last view of the lough for this year

There is always next season. At least I managed to get out a few times, walking and wading the rivers and taking the boat out for a look around the bays and shallows. It doesn’t matter how bad the fishing is, just being able to get out in the fresh air is a joy.

And finally…..

My beloved collie left this world in September after 15 years at my side. The sense of loss seems overwhelming sometimes and I am still struggling to come to terms with life without her. The pain will subside over the coming weeks and months but for now life is just ‘less’ in ways which are hard to form into words. So if you have a dog, go and give him/her a rub behind the ears and maybe a wee treat to chew on. You miss them something awful when they are gone.

Ness looking for waterhens

Nessie, 2002 – 2017

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