On the subject of new coarse fishing equipment, I have been considering the issues of access to loughs and how to tackle weed infested margins.
Weeds, reeds and other vegetation are a constant problem for me when searching out likely swims on my coarse fishing trips. I think in general this is more of a problems for anglers here in Ireland than it usually is in England where commercial fisheries are well tended. Here, wild loughs are pretty much left to themselves and access can be very difficult, sometimes to the point where I have looked at many loughs and decided it was just too difficult to clear a swim for me to waste time on them. Even on loughs where I do find somewhere to fish there are often lots of reeds and other growth which hamper me and their removal would make life much easier. I suspect here in the west the lakes are left to their own devices because there are so few coarse anglers. I know some waters which are teeming with roach but never see a rod and line.
I had already bought a weed rake for clearing underwater foliage but heavy growth of bankside reeds reaching many yards out into the lake had previously defeated me. Attempts at cutting down the offending reeds with a pen knife understandably came to nought. I was seriously under-gunned. So I bought myself a wee gadget (we all love a good gadget, don’t we?) for trimming aquatic reeds. It regales in the wonderful name of ‘the grim reaper’ and on the face of it this could be a huge step forward for me. It is basically a slash hook but one fitted with a screw thread to attach to a bank stick or a landing net handle. It’s a vicious looking brute of a thing but clearing vegetation is going to require a no-nonsense approach.
It came with a protective cover which was a good thing as it is very sharp. I am sure that regular use will dull the edge but brand new it is uncommonly sharp. In operation it appears to be straightforward to use. The beauty of the cutting head is that it has a 3/8 BSF thread welded on to it so that it screws into my landing net handle, something I will be carrying with me anyway. Once screwed safely into place I simply hook the blade around the reeds and pull towards me, chopping them down and creating space for me to cast through. I can imagine that in use the hook will work loose easily so a length of electrical tape might need to be wound over the joint but I always have a roll of tape in my bag anyway to bind it on tightly.
It has yet to be used in anger but I am hopeful this tool will make my angling life that little bit easier and let me catch a few more fish. Who knows, it might help me to access parts of loughs which have never been fished before! There are plenty of this kind of water, small lakes and ponds over here which are quite literally never fished. There could be anything swimming around in them but it is just too much trouble to clear a swim so anglers pass them by. I’m already plotting on clearing a swim on a small, reed choked lake here in Mayo this summer which was rumoured to have been stocked with tench many long years ago by an elderly priest who loved his coarse fishing. I heard this story years ago but only lately I was talking to a fisheries officer and he told me they once netted the lake in question to check on stocks of trout. Low and behold, lots of tench came up in the nets! There were no big ones in the haul but even small tench are very tempting targets for me and to have some virtually on my doorstep is quite exciting.
So the ‘Grim Reaper’ now resides in my coarse fishing seatbox, ready for action. It joins an ever expanding collection of gear in there. I have added some additional floats (like I need any more), a larger landing net (optimistic in the extreme) and rig wallets so I can carry made up hook lengths with me. So far I have resisted the temptation of trying hair rigs, pellets or in-line feeders. Maybe they will feature further down the line but for now finding good places to fish, gaining access to the water and learning to use basic gear are my main aims.
One of Kingsmill Moore’s lesser known patterns, this is a capital fly for all game fish on a dark, scoury day. It is a fly I place a lot of faith in and it has repaid me with many fine fish over the years. Like the rest of the bumble series it is pretty easy to tie, the only slightly challenging part is winding both body hackles together but you soon get the hang of that with a little practice. I must confess that this is another classic pattern which I can’t help but play around with.
Start by placing a hook in the vice. Sizes range from 14 up to 6 heavy wet fly hook, depending on the fish you are after. It pays to have a few of these tied in different sizes. If limited to just one size I guess a ten would be the most popular here in Ireland. Start the black tying silk near the bend of the hook and run it up the shank, leaving a few millimeters space just behind the eye. Now catch in a long fibred black hen hackle. Next, a black and a royal blue cock hackles are tied in together. Take a few turns to lock everything in place then tie in the tail materials. This is made from two pieces of floss, black on top and blue underneath. I like to use globrite blue but you may want to use a different shade. Run the tying silk down the shank catching in a length of fine oval silver tinsel as you do.
At the bend, bud the tying silk with black fur. I use seal but you may have your own favourite. Form the body by winding the dubbed silk back up to where the hackles are tied in, taking a turn around them to make them sit up. Now grab both cock hackle tips with pliers and wind them in open turns down to the bend where you tie them in securely with the silver tinsel. About 5 turns of tinsel will bring you back to the end of the body where the oval tinsel is tied in using your tying silk and the waste hackle tips and tinsel can be removed.
Wind the black hen hackle now, giving it many turns. Tie in and remove the waste before forming a neat head and whip finishing before applying the varnish. Check the length of the tail and trim it as necessary.
Now while this is a great pattern I like to change the body colour sometimes and use dark blue fur instead of black. The piece of black floss on top of the tail is a bit unnecessary I think so I often don’t bother with it. I have even been known to add a strand or two of flash to the tail.
I have caught fish on the Bruiser fished in every position on the cast. Sea trout in particular seem to love it but brownies fall for its charms too. Despite being written about in the book this is a pattern which I rarely see on other anglers lines which is a pity because it is so effective. The colour of royal blue is important so look out for a deep blue shade.
I sometimes add a few legs made out of knotted pheasant tail fibres dyed black. The jury is out on whether the fish appreciate the extra effort that entails!
I have been quiet on here for a wee while as I was preparing for and then travelling to Scotland last week. It was wonderful to be able to see my family again after so long and we had a great catch up of what has been happening in both countries. Sadly, we had deaths on both sides of the sea and the sense of loss is still very real but we are all looking forward to happier times.
While at my mother’s house she produced a small photo of me from many years ago. It had been roughly trimmed to fit a tiny oval shaped frame but it was a picture of me holding my biggest ever salmon, a brute of 24 pounds. The head of the fish had been unceremoniously cut off so the photo would fit the frame which was a great pity.
Those of you who follow this blog will understandably be dubious that chap in this photo is me, but yes, I used to have hair. I would much rather have had a pic of the whole fish than of my ugly mug! It was September 1996 this was taken and little did I think then that only a little over a year later I would leave Scotland for good and relocate to the west of Ireland.
I can vividly recall the battle with this leviathan. I hooked him on a 11cm Rapala in a pool on the lower Don in Aberdeen. A powerful upstream run left me in no doubt this was a big fish and the following 20 minutes were spent countering his head-shaking and runs. At no time did he show, staying deep all the time instead. One last run took him 30 yards below me and I could not follow due to trees on my bank. With no other option I piled on the pressure, sure the hooks would give way as I doubled the rod into him. Slowly, very slowly, I gained some line and I prepared the net. Inches were retrieved and still the fish did not show. I could have used some help but there was nobody else fishing that morning. Level with me now, I peered into the coloured water to catch my first glimpse of him but he kept me waiting right to the end. I sank the net into the water, tightened down the drag and heaved with all my might to pull the fish towards me. At last it showed just under the surface and I slackened off the drag again. I had thought I was battling a fish in the teens of pounds but it was clear I was into a much more impressive specimen. He made a short, stabbing run but it was clear that I had him beaten and this time I led him into the net without any fuss.
These days, that fish would have been photographed and swiftly returned, but back then there was no thought of C&R. Dispatched, I lost all interest in carrying on so I headed for the car park with my prize. I was living in Fife back then but stayed in a flat in Aberdeen while at work in the mill there. Before returning to the flat I popped in to my parents to show them the fish. That is when the above photograph was taken. The fish was cut up and distributed to friends and neighbours.
All too soon the trip to Scotland was over and it was time to head back across the Irish Sea. The old VW burst a cooling pipe on the way home, necessitating a stop every 30 miles to top the old girl up with some H2O but I made it home none the worse for wear. Who knows when I will get back over there, but at least I saw my family for the first time in a year-and-a-half.
Fermanagh is synonymous with coarse fishing, period. The Erne system and a wealth of other lakes set like jewels on a cloth of green are a coarse fisher’s paradise. Anglers come from all over to fish the pole or swimfeeder, heaving out impressive bags of roach and bream. Competitions around Enniskillen often feature weights in excess of 100 pounds. Fantastic piking is to be had in the county too. Obviously when tackling Fermanagh I would be coarse fishing, right? Au contraire! I had another plan in mind altogether.
Fermanagh, one of the northern counties, is landlocked. It shares a lengthy border with the Republic as well as co. Tyrone. Right at the extreme western edge of the county there lies a small lough called Keenaghan, so far to the west in fact that a small part of the lough is actually in Donegal. In this lough live a healthy population of brown trout and it was these little beauties I wanted to catch. In choosing Keenaghan I was making a strategic decision. You could make a very valid argument that Lough Erne is a more productive fishery and certainly holds larger trout. My issue with Lough Erne is I have absolutely no knowledge of the system and simply locating fish could be a nightmare for me. The same really applies to the coarse fishing. There are well known stretches all over the county but having never fished there trying to track down a shoal of bream or entice some roach from broad, deep waters felt like too big a challenge for me. I wanted somewhere more ’intimate’, somewhere that I could stand a reasonable chance of locating a few feeding fish. Plus I am so much more comfortable with a fly rod in my hand, despite my slowly improving coarse fishing skills. I felt confident on small loughs full of trout, it seems like half the battle has already been fought.
This lough is shaped like a letter ‘Y’ lying on its side. It is small by Irish standards but is still best fished from a boat. Rules allow only electric engines and since I don’t have one I decided to fish from the bank. The idea of trailering my boat all the way there then rowing for the day then manhandling the boat back on to the trailer on my own did not appeal, so I would tough it out from the periphery instead. I had no real idea of how good access was around the lough but I read that there a few stone fishing stands placed where necessary. I liked the sound of these! So waders would be required in case I needed to get past reeds or to reach deeper water. The other day my four year old neoprene chest waders gave up the ghost in spectacular fashion when they ripped at the seams while I was in deep. A new, cheap pair were acquired and these would do fine for this trip. Given my near total absence of a sense of balance these days my trusty wading staff was definitely going to be required.
A contact on social media told me he fished this lough and recommended it to me. He also said it got good hatches including some mayfly. I looked up the NIdirect website to get an idea of the stocking policy and they apparently put 5,000 brown trout into Keenaghan during 2020, the first 1,000 going in in January. More went in during March, May and June. Stocking was suspended during April due to Covid-19 restrictions. I was hoping they followed broadly the same pattern this season and when I looked it up on the NIdirect website I saw 3000 trout had gone in this year so far. Surely there would be a few of them still in there?
Dropping Helen off at work first, I hit the road amid rush hour traffic. Usually I plan trips to avoid the worst of the cars and trucks on our roads but today I had to put up with an excess of my fellow road users. I had grown used to the feelings of trepidation on these ’32’ trips but this time I was really looking forward to fishing a new lough. Many anglers here in Ireland despise stocked fisheries but I see them as an integral part of the angling scene. They make a pleasant change from the big loughs, a chance to try out new ideas and methods.
I had brought along my 5 weight Orvis with a floating line, hoping any action would be in the upper layers of the water. Recent warm weather should have encouraged the trout to look up for hatching insects at this time of the year. In case I was completely wrong a back up of the 7 weight with a range of reels holding various sinking lines nestled in the back of the car. As I would be wading and moving around I filled a couple of fly boxes with some likely patterns and stuffed them in a waistcoat. This lot, and more, were stowed in the back of the car as I motored along, the glorious countryside slipping by, a dull and windy day but warm. Ireland can be cold and grey in winter, but here in June it sparkles with new life.
This trip involved a direct route for me. Up the N17 to Sligo then along the N15 to that newish bypass at Ballyshannon (birthplace of one of my musical heroes, Rory Gallagher) before peeling off on to the tail end of the N3 to Beleek where I crossed into the UK. A mile beyond the town a left turn brought me down a narrow, tree lined track to a car park at the water’s edge. In total, it is about 135km from my home in Mayo. Given the length of some of my fishing journeys this felt like my back yard. One other reason for selecting Fermanagh this time was I am going to be heading over to Scotland next week and didn’t fancy another long drive. There is a car park right beside the edge of the water where I pulled up and shut off the engine. Stretching as I extricated myself from the front seat, I began to I tackle up and appraised my surroundings. the lough looked to a bit smaller than I had imagined but it looked ‘fishy’ enough.
The wind would be blowing in my face from the car park bank so I set up the 7 weight with a floating line and three flies. A car pulled up, soon followed by another. The drivers obviously knew each other but beyond a friendly ‘how are ye?’ in my direction it was hard to see why they were there. No fishing tackle appeared to be present. I toddled off to the first of the stone jetties and started to cast into the wind. Soon a white truck came bumping along the narrow track to the car park. What was a lorry like this doing here? A fish plucked at my flies but didn’t take properly. Damn! I turned to get a better look at the white truck and it was then that it dawned on me – it was a fisheries truck and it was here to stock the lough!
I fished on as the two lads in the cars greeted the truck driver and they planned the stocking. With regimental order the truck was positioned, a pipe fitted to the tanks and suddenly hundreds of trout were being sucked into the lough not 30 yards from me. Some banter from the lads then the truck was off again but by now the water in front of me was heaving with the new arrivals. My line tightened and I struck into a trout but it came off almost immediately. Before I had time to retrieve the slack and re-cast another fish had grabbed the tail fly and was safely landed. Quickly released, I cast out and this time two trout were hooked! Both fell off but a few chucks later I had another brownie. And so it went on, cast, fish, release, cast, fish, release, etc. Double hook ups were common, trebles happened three or four times. Casting to fish which showed almost always resulted in a hook up but fishing blind pulled them too. I photographed some but my mobile was getting all slimy so I stopped after a dozen or so.
Fish were all around me so I kept casting and catching. I thought about stopping when I had landed 20, but that came and went and I was still catching. The fish were typical stockies, about 14 ounces in weight and generally in good condition apart from some chewed tail fins and stunted pectorals. I swapped flies just to see if that would make any difference but to be honest I could have thrown in bare hooks and probably caught just as many! A black goldhead was probably the most effect fly but a peach muddler caught a few as well.
After an hour and a half of this madness I called it a day. I had landed 36 trout, lost twice that number and must have risen close to 100 or so. All fish were safely returned to fight another day. I plodded back to the car to think about what had just happened. The trout were still taking freely but I had had enough for one day.
Never before in my long angling life has this happened to me and I doubt it will ever happen again. Was it fun? Yes, for a while it was exciting but that soon wore off. There was no skill attached to catching the fish, no metal gymnastics we anglers normally associate with our fishing. It was too easy. Sure, like you I have spent so many days flogging the water for no return and would have given my first born child for an hour of non-stop action. When it actually happened the joy was short-lived and the mechanical actions of heaving in fish after fish soon pall. I am glad I stopped when I did, to keep on hauling out trout after trout would have been a pointless exercise. As it was, I had three dozen good trout in 90 minutes, a feat I will surely never repeat. It made for a memorable day right enough! Once in a lifetime you might say.
For the sake of the ’32’ project I can categorically cross Fermanagh off the list. The day turned out to be very different to what I had expected and I guess I did not really learn much about Lough Keneghan. It is a nice place with good facilities, including a disabled access platform. I’d like to fish it again on a more ‘normal’ day.
The drive home was uneventful and I was glad I had returned all the fish, the thought of gutting and filleting really did not appeal to me this evening! I got some more work done in the garden on my return and the tackle in the back of the car can wait there until the morning. I will never have another day like today and it was an incredible experience which I know many of you will be envious of. I was extremely lucky to be in the right place at the right time for once. It will keep me going through the many blanks which no doubt await me.
There is usually a spool of dapping floss lurking somewhere in my bag. I rarely dap but just in case I feel the need or someone else in the boat requires some, a reel of the light brown floss is on hand. As I was tidying up my gear today I unearthed the spool and took a good look at it. It occurred to me the floss might be a suitable material for a dry mayfly so I snipped a piece off and started tying.
Using a Kamasan B170 size 10 hook, I started the 8/0 chartreuse silk near the bend then ran it up to about 4mm from the eye. Here I secured the floss with figure-of-eight turns, creating two wings which I then trimmed to roughly the same length as the hook shank. Now I tied in a chocolate coloured genetic cock hackle. Next, I tied in a bunch of natural brown squirrel tail hair, cutting off the waste and binding it in as I ran the tying silk to the bend of the hook. Here I tied in a length of thick brown silk which would be used as a rib before dubbing the silk with natural seals fur. The body was formed by winding the dubbed silk up to near where the wing were tied in and I ribbed the body with the brown silk, then removed the waste. The hackle was given multiple turns both behind and in front of the wings before tying it off, removing the waste end and forming a neat head with the tying silk. Whip finish and varnish was all that was needed to complete the fly.
The mayfly is nearly over for this year now but I will save this new pattern for next spring. Over the years I have given away almost all of my dry mayflies. A few Wulff’s and my favourite CDC Emergers are just about all that I have left so this coming winter I will make the effort to tie a box full of dries.
‘Oh my mama told me there’ll be days like this’ (Van Morrison)
Not the most noted of Irish counties for angling but I still found a venue to try. This would be another coarse fishing trip for me and one that would be slightly different to my usual canal shenanigans.
Armagh is one of the northern counties, sandwiched in between Tyrone, Down and Antrim as well as Monaghan and Louth in the Republic. The vast expanse of Lough Neagh forms the northern boundary. I have only ever zoomed across this county on the motorway, often in the dark, so know little or nothing about it. When I worked in Belfast this was a weekly occurrence and trips over to Scotland to visit family and friends took me along the same route. Armagh was just another few miles of green lands beyond the tarmac to me. I did start to read up on Armagh prior to this trip but gave up after a few pages, it was just a litany of murder, religious war and plantation. I found it all too depressing when I was supposed to be planning a fishing trip so I abandoned the blood-soaked pages and instead read up on the finer points of stillwater float fishing, an altogether more relaxing pastime.
I had opted to try the lake at Loughgall. Set in a country park, it looked to be a nice spot surrounded by trees and with good access via a pathway all the way around it. Stocked with roach and carp, there were some tench, pike and perch also present according to the blurb on the ‘net. There seemed to be an abundance of stands to fish from too and it all sounded like the ingredients for a relaxing day were there. The only cloud on the horizon was a report that the fishing was now terrible after a zebra mussel infestation had caused the water to clear. This kind of mixed messages are a constant problem for me when planning trips and it adds to the uncertainty and worry. Fishing is never an exact science and blanks are part and parcel of the game but when you are travelling long distances to fish you want to give yourself the best of chances. The saving grace for me was the presence of perch, these little warriors are usually obliging and I was banking on tempting at least one of them. I had no intention of bothering the carp. In the north you are only allowed to use one rod (unless you buy another rod licence and permit) so there was no way I would be hunkering down with the heavy gear and boilies or any of that malarkey. No, I planned on keeping it simple and trying for the smaller stuff either on the float or maybe with a leger.
I figured I needed a ‘plan B’ so I looked at the river Bann which flows through the county. The upper Bann around Portadown has a good reputation for bream and roach so I decided it would be my back up water in the event of a blank at Loughgall. Some stretches of the river have been developed for angling and other pursuits so I looked it up on the internet and there were some glowing reports of good bags of bream and roach. As far as ‘plan B’s’ go this one was most definitely on shaky ground. I am useless at catching bream, have no experience of coarse fishing on rivers and the river looked to be devoid of any features to focus on. I was anticipating a difficult day………………….
Getting there seemed to be easy, just follow the usual road to the north via Sligo and Enniskillen. A fair chunk of my life has been spent travelling that road and I have seen it slowly improve over the years. The fine piece of duel carriageway between Dungannon and Ballygawley replaced a boring and badly worn road a few years ago and the twisting, winding, narrow stretch that links Enniskillen to Sligo is gradually being upgraded to remove the worst of the bends. Lord only knows how often I have chugged along this ribbon of tarmacadam, at least I was going fishing this time. Just add to the day I was bringing my outboard engine up to be services at Sands Marine on the shores of Lough Neagh. This involved a slight detour but it was worth doing while I was in the area.
One of the very few good things about growing old is the cheap angling permits in Northern Ireland. If you are a young pup aged 18 – 60 this costs you a whopping £77 for a season permit but oldies like me aged over 60 only pay £17.50 for the season. You need a rod licence on top of this but that only sets us ‘mature’ anglers back a fiver. I had bought mine on line and now I double checked that the printed copies were in my jacket pocket.
I timed my journey to coincide with the tackle shops in Enniskillen opening so I could procure some bait. Digging in the compost heap produced some worms to bring with me but I really wanted my preferred maggots. My deep and abiding love of maggots is founded on the fact they work. OK, it gets a bit self-fulfilling when I use maggots all the time but they are an astonishingly consistent bait. A new venue with some mixed reviews, limited time to fish and rustiness due to lack of any coarse angling for six months made it feel like I needed every possible aid on my side. The old familiar jumble of tackle was in the back of the car of course so I would be able to switch methods if I felt the need.
Gentle, melodic tones awoke me at 5am. I consider the invention of the ring tones on mobile phones to be one of life’s greatest dichotomies, an assault on the ears in most cases but the calming tones of my alarm make the transition from sleep to groggy wakefulness quite pleasant. Coffee, strong and dark, drunk as I make up some sandwiches for the day, one last check I have most things packed then I am off on the road once again. The open road, not much traffic for the first leg as far as Sligo, just the rhythm of the tyres on tar. Roadworks slowed me down a bit but I drew up outside the tackle shop in Enniskillen just as they were opening up. One pint of their finest red maggots were soon wriggling in my bait box and I hit the road again amid rush hour traffic. Just after 10 I dropped off the engine and doubled back through Portadown and on to Loughgall. The last part of the journey was through orchards which give the county its nick name.
My licence checked, I parked up and had to decide what to take with me to the waters edge. I had read the lake was very deep so I was planning on using a swim feeder and based my choice of rod around that. It felt odd not taking my light leger rod or the float rod this time. With a ‘clunk’ the car doors locked and I was off down the path to the lake, bathed in warm summer sunshine. Walking around the lake, I plumped for a stand which looked out on a small weedy bay. No. 78 would be my spot for a few hours.
Setting up a small maggot swimfeeder, I lobbed it out into the greenish water and settled down to see what would happen. I fed the swim often to try and attract some fish and also dropped a few maggots close in. I missed using two rods (you are only allowed to use one in Northern Ireland) and really felt handicapped without the options two rods gives me. The first hour passed pleasantly enough, the warm day making it thoroughly enjoyable just to be out in the fresh air, but there were no fishy responses to the feeder. I reeled in a switched to a sliding float but this was completely ignored too. Back to the feeder and this time I fished it at very short range, loose feeding heavily with maggots. Still nothing so I ate a sandwich and thought about what was going on. Three other anglers were in sight and I had not seen any of them bend a rod into a fish so I was not alone in the ignominy of blanking. A pair of swans swam nonchalantly past me with their 6 cygnets in tow. As I watched them I became aware of some small fish in the weeds on the bottom at my feet. It was impossible to tell what they were or indeed exactly how big they might be but I guessed they were silvers of some description. Here was a possible target for me.
The feeder set up was removed and I set up a small float with bulk shot on either side of it and no other shotting. My idea was to see if the small lads would take a maggot on the drop so I tied on a size 20 hook on two pound hook length and baited it with a single red maggot. Small handfuls of maggots were then trickled into the swim just under the tip of the rod. When dropped in (it was so close I didn’t need to cast), I could watch the wriggling red maggot slowly drop down through the water column, slowly spiraling down until it disappeared in the weeds. I kept this up for maybe 20 minutes until the float gave a tremble and when I struck out came a small perch. Success had come in the spiny shape of a 6 incher but they all count and I had landed a fish in county Armagh. A few minutes later an even smaller perch came to hand by the same method.
I shall refrain from regaling you dear readers with rest of the afternoons catch, whipping out small fish is difficult to relate as a page-turner! Suffice to say I ended up with 4 perch, 2 roach, one skimmer and one unidentified ‘something’ which looked like a tiny silver bream (but different to a skimmer). Eight tiddlers after driving all the way from Mayo but in truth I was pretty happy.
I knew when I started this odyssey that there would be days like this, days when the big fish were not biting or I was just not fishing properly. Or conditions were against me or Lady Luck was sitting drinking gin in a bar instead of watching over me. Days when I would struggle and need to find ways of catching something (anything) to save the blank. Today I had to resort to fishing for small stuff but at least I had figured out a way of tempting them and trickling the loose maggots into the swim worked a treat at holding the little lads at my feet.
By 4pm I had had enough and packed away the gear. The air felt heavy, as if thunder was not far off, as I loaded up the car and heading back to the motorway. Picking up the now serviced engine, I turned for home, the road now clogged with commuter traffic. By Dungannon the heavens opened and I crossed back into the Republic at Blacklion in a downpour. It was a long day but an enjoyable one. Armagh had always bothered me and I suspected if I was going to blank anywhere it would be here. Instead, I landed eight small fish, lost about the same number and missed dozens of bites in that busy final hour. If you had offered me that at the start of the day I would have gladly taken it!
If I am honest I should have really ticked Galway off right at the very beginning of the ’32’ project as I have caught numerous fish in this county over the years. Sea fishing out of Clifden, mackerel bashing off the rocks in Galway Bay, casting flies for brown trout on the Clare river – the list goes on and on. A fisher could spend his or her life in the county and still not fish all the available waters. Some of the angling greats fished in Galway and wrote extensively of their experiences so there is no shortage of literature to digest if you are researching the area. I used to come to Galway frequently when I lived in Scotland and loved the city (especially the nightlife), the surrounding countryside and the fishing. But for the sake of this project I wanted to catch a fish in the county this year so I made plans to try for some trout on mighty lough Corrib.
Anglers across the globe are familiar with the Corrib, it holds a special draw on fishermen’s imagination. Since the dawn of sport fishing the vast, wild waters of this lough have provided spectacular angling for those lucky enough to cast a line here. For many years I kept a boat on the upper part of the lough and got to know it reasonably well, catching (and losing) some terrific trout in the process. The days spent exploring the bays and islands, the offshore reefs and craggy shorelines were a joy and I learned a lot about my own abilities as well as the ways of the fish. Days of high expectation which came to naught were balanced by exciting sport amid glorious surroundings. Corrib is a special lough which captures your heart.
For those unfamiliar with Corrib let me give you a rough outline of the fishery. With a surface area of over 170 km2 it is the second largest freshwater lough on the island of Ireland (after lough Neagh). It lies to the north of Galway city and a small part of it is in county Mayo. Roughly divided into two parts, the northern basin tends to be deeper and rockier with the south basin shallow and open. The lough is narrow and full of reefs where the two basins join. Islands, large and small dot the lough and I have heard numbers for these island vary between 365 and over a thousand. I guess it all depends on your exact definition of when a reef becomes an island. While brown trout are the principle quarry species the lough is also home to pike, ferox, salmon, perch, bream and roach. Visiting anglers are well catered for by the local boatmen who can be hired from villages around the lough. This is no place for a beginner, you need to know exactly where you can motor and fish, keep a close watch on the weather, know how to handle a boat in all conditions and be prepared for every eventuality. Sadly, lives are lost too often when this lough is not shown the respect it deserves.
In terms of the fishing, the Corrib caters for every taste. Some people troll for large trout and salmon while many others prefer to dap. I much prefer to fly fish despite the knowledge a dapper will out-fish me most days both in terms of the number and the size of trout caught. It is late May and that of course means one thing and one thing only – the mayfly. My plan was simple, fish either wets or dries depending on the hatch, move until I found the fish and to enjoy my days out on the lough. I say ‘days’ as I was fortunate to be sharing a boat with that fine angler, Dr. John Connolly of Pontoon for four days on the Corrib.
Sometimes I fish with a 6 or even a 5 weight outfit but here in the Corrib you can run into some seriously large fish so I brought along my 7 weight outfit. Wet fly usually catches average sized trout with the dappers picking up bigger fish but even still trout in the 5 to 10 pound range are caught by fly fishers each season so it pays to fish on the heavy side.
No wind. I looked out first thing in the morning, as all anglers do. The trees stood straight and tall, no signs of the slightest movement in their branches. I was not overly concerned though as the wind usually picks up as the day goes on. I had slung a pile of gear into the back of the car the night before so it only remained for me to sort out food and drink for the day. I would be ghillieing John for these 4 days but I hoped to pick up a rod for a while too, depending on how the days panned out. Due to Covid restrictions we met up on the edge of town but traveled separately, two cars in tandem as we drove down the long road to Doorus. Ballinrobe, Clonbur and Cornamona came and went then down the shrub fringed narrow road to the small private harbour where our hire boat was moored.
Doorus is a peninsular which juts out into the upper part of the western side of lough Corrib. It has long been associated with excellent trout fishing, in particular when the mayfly are hatching. Islands, reefs and shallows dot the waters around the peninsular and the whole area is a fishers heaven. Friends had been fishing there the day before and while they had lean pickings they saw the dappers pick up many good trout up to in excess of 5 pounds in weight.
The time honored rituals of loading the mountain of gear into the boat ensued. We met up with Jim and Brian who were also fishing today and we made loose arrangements to meet up at lunchtime. An aggressive swan got a bit too close for comfort as we pulled away from the shore and headed out for our first drift. The westerly wind was fitful and only 30 minutes in to the day that small breeze died completely, leaving us becalmed. Motoring around we hunted for a ripple, however small. This went on for a while until a faint zephyr from the north gradually built up sufficiently to ruffle the surface slightly. It wasn’t much but it was just enough to allow us to fish. John fished a team of wets while I opted for a pair of dries. We were equally unsuccessful for the next two hours. Mayfly were hatching in reasonable numbers but very few trout had shown. Time for a spot of lunch!
Pulling into an island we decamped and started to walk over to a table in the trees where two fellow anglers were sitting. A string of profanities greeted me and I recognised Liam and Paul, lads from town. I had not clapped eyes on Liam for years so we had some catching up to do. Firing up my kettle, I was horrified to find I had left my mug at home and had to beg a loan of one from the lads. We spent a while recalling our various fishing experiences and there was the familiar raid on my fly box by the boys. Parting on the shore, we all headed off in different directions. It had been great to see the lads, especially on an island in the middle of the Corrib.
I set us up on one lovely drift after another, ghosting over reefs and pale submerged stones or hugging the edges of tree covered islands. Close to a rocky island shore John lifted into a fish but it turned out to be a lightly hooked 6 incher. Back it went and we resumed the drift. Just enough of a wind was blowing to create a small wave and a trickle of mayflies were still hatching so we had some hope. Fishing with one hand on the oar and flicking out casts with my other hand we tried to cover as much water as possible. Fixed intently on the pair of dries I got a perfect view as a trout head-and-tailed as it inhaled my Yellow Wulff. A delayed strike found purchase and I was in at last. After a good fight which featured a blistering run, I netted a fine trout of about a pound-and-three-quarters. The lads wanted some fish to cook so this one went into the bag. Relief was writ large on my face, the day had been slipping away without me moving a fish until then.
Dried and treated, once more the flies were sent back out again but that was all the sport we had for the day. Given the time of year this was a poor return but conditions had been tough and all the other boats we met had similar catches of just one or two trout.
So I had achieved my goal and landed a fish in Co. Galway. Under the circumstances I suppose I should be happy I caught one but I honestly feel I should have done better. Mayfly were hatching a few trout were moving to them. Ah well, there is always the next time.
I blanked on my last visit to Carrowmore so I was hoping for better luck this time around. The lake has been a bit hit and miss so far this year with some anglers catching regularly while others are struggling to meet fish. A storm is forecast for the end of this week which will churn the bottom of the lake so this trip was aimed to put in a few hours before the lake became unfishable. I had been thinking about where to fish as part of my ’32’ project and plumped for Carrowmore, so this was going to be a big day for me.
The usual preparations were made and I arranged to meet Ben in Bangor as we still have to travel separately. I drove up under bright sunshine and with hardly any wind to shake the roadside trees and bushes. In the end, we met up in the car park at the harbour and nattered about the fishing as we tackled up. A few other cars were there too which is normally a good sign. I tied on a 3 fly leader with a Goats Toe Muddler, Claret Bumble and a Golden Olive hairwing creation of mine to start with. Clouds began to roll in from the west and the there was enough of a wind to give a ripple as we motored up the lake in improving conditions.
By judicious use of the oar Ben guided us along the mouth of the Glencullin river over prime lies but there were no takers apart from a few small brownies. We repeated the exercise then moved over to the Barney Shore as the wind was favorable for that drift. I had a small sea trout and a brownie and Ben added another pair of small trout but the salmon were still eluding us. We could see other boats around us and none of them were meeting fish either. With the fishing quiet we adjourned for lunch, wolfed down as we sat on the shore with sky larks serenading us from on high. Why do sandwiches and tea taste so good when eaten on the edge of the water? I took the opportunity to change all the flies on the cast, going for a Green Peter on the bob, a Wilkinson in the middle and a Beltra Badger on the tail. I figured the bright flies suited the day that was in it.
The clouds had burned off by now and we were treated to blue skies and a fierce sun which reflected off the surface of the lough making it hard to watch the flies. Another drift over the Glencullin lies was fruitless so we fished the shallow further out which is marked with an orange buoy. Not a stir. This is typical of salmon fishing, long hours flogging the water with no signs of fish. It takes a strong will and a hefty dose of self belief to keep going some days.
Ben suggested the Barney Shore again and I did not object. We set up on the drift close to the shore. Stonechats were singing that familiar weird song of theirs and I was watching some Sand Martins swooping over the fields out of the corner of my eye. Then it happened………………………
Ten yards from the boat the water broke and the tail of a fish lashed the surface as it turned down. Simultaneously, the line tightened and I lifted into solid resistance. ‘Salmon’ said Ben but I was not so sure. ‘Feels small, maybe a sea trout’ I countered, reeling in the slack and watching what the fish was doing. She swam towards the boat at first, staying deep and shaking her head. I stamped on the wooden boards, our usual tactic to keep the fish away from the boat and potentially swimming right under it. She moved off to my left and very obligingly kept going round to the back of the boat. This is where you want a fish to be so that you have room to play it out. By now Ben had reeled in his line, stowed his rod and had grabbed an oar which he used to move the boat away from the shore. These actions as so well rehearsed that neither of us need to ask the other, we simply get on with the jobs while the lucky angler is concentrating on playing the fish.
The ratchet sang as the salmon went off on a short run but it did not go far, instead turning and coming back towards the boat under heavy pressure from me. I don’t like to see fish being allowed to run too far and possibly drowning the line so I play salmon quite hard. My rod was hooped over and the line disappeared into the water almost vertically as the fish swam near the bottom. Another short run ended with the fish rolling just under the surface and we both got our first good look at it. ‘Fresh fish’ said Ben, not wasting words unnecessarily. ‘Bigger than I thought’ I chipped in. Yet another short run, this time to my right then back down to the bottom she went again. My wrist was aching by now!
I heard the net being extended as I applied more pressure to bring the fish up to the top. There she thrashed, always a nerve-wreaking moment but the hook held. I could see she had taken the bob fly. Circling now, the fish was beginning to tire but she still managed to dive once more then head of to my right again. I checked Ben was ready and led the fish towards the net. She shied away at first but I maneuvered her back and with her head up she slid into the waiting meshes. The relief was palpable and grinning like a pair of lunatics, we shook hands and quickly dispatched the salmon. The whole battle had probably lasted less than ten minutes. Ten minutes of doubts, fears and anxiety. I have fished most of my life and landed hundreds of salmon but the thrill of the fight never leaves you.
I put the fish into a bass to keep it fresh after fitting both tags through the gills. Now we had to get the boat back in order to resume fishing. The net was stowed, my tackle checked after the rigors of the fight and the oar put back into the right position. We set up to fish the balance of the drift and started casting again as we discussed every minute detail of the battle. In salmon fishing, it is often the case a second fish can be lured soon after the first one so it pays to fish hard when one is in the boat. Today though the lough was not going to play that game and we fished out the long drift without any further action.
We did the same drift again, then back out to the buoy and over Glencullin once more too. Not a fish stirred so we decided to stop for another cuppa. We both felt the conditions, while very bright, meant there was the chance of another fish so we next headed off for Paradise Bay. A couple of drifts failed to produce anything and so I decided to call it a day. I was tired and my wrist was aching. Under an azure sky dotted with cotton wool clouds we drove back to the harbour, both deep in thought. Today it had been my turn but is could just as easily been Bens. Why that fish had taken my fly and not his we will never know but that is part of the attraction of salmon fishing.
Gerry, one of the local Fisheries Officers, was at the harbour when we pulled in and he checked my catch to see everything was in order. We chatted for a while about fish and fishing and Ben decided he would go back out to fish on a while longer. I got out of the fishing clothes and packed everything into the car. The wind was dropping now and the sun was starting to sink in the west. The long road home seems much shorter when there is a salmon in the back of the car!
So there you have it, Mayo has been crossed off my list of the 32 counties. I had fished hard all day, kept persevering in marginal conditions and never gave up hope. This does not always work but I believe persistence is critical to being a successful salmon angler. I will sleep soundly tonight, trust me!
After such an enjoyable day on Mask last Saturday I decided to head out on lough Conn for a few hours today. I rose early and checked the tall trees for movement – nothing, it was dead calm. Looking at the sky though it seemed to promise a little wind so I got myself ready and headed of about 10am. Neil Young on the CD player, giving it socks with ‘Ragged Glory’ as I cruised along the R310 once again. I sang along with Neil and the lads, distortion turned up to maximum, as the greening land slipped by.
The boat was in fine fettle apart from the 4 inches of water inside her, so I bailed that lot out and loaded up. Pike Bay was calm but there seemed to be a small ripple out in the main body of the lake. 3 tugs on the cord then the engine burst into life and out into the lough I headed. Rounding the point I found a small wave was coming out of Castlehill bay so I drove in there. All of my biggest trout from Conn have come from this bay but the past few seasons it has fished very poorly for me. Mayflies were hatching, not in huge numbers but there was a steady trickle of them. No signs of any fish rising though. I set up on a drift and kept an eye on the other three boats who were already fishing. The first drift was blank, as was the next one. Next drift took me nearer the shore and the line stopped abruptly and a weight on the end moved off a little. I knew immediately what this was – a perch. Sure enough, in came a lovely stripy lad with blood red fins. We are a funny crowd us fishermen, if I had landed this perch on worm under a float on a canal I would have been over the moon. Here, fishing for trout it was a disappointment. I unhooked him and slid him back into the water after a quick photo.
Fly life was good with lots of buzzers and some small sedges on the water but not a single trout did I see. None of the other boats appeared to be catching either so I decided to make a move. Motoring down the lake I stopped a Massbrook but here there was no wind, making fishing extremely difficult. I waited and watched for a while, hoping to see some mayflies hatching and the trout rising to eat the duns. Nothing stirred. I ate a sandwich, washing down with some luke warm tea. What to do next?
I was tempted to return to Castlehill again, simply because I knew there was a hatch of mayfly there. In the end though I opted to cross the lough and fish Bracawansha. The wind picked up a little on my way over, just enough for a wave of a foot or so. In fact, I had really good conditions now with a steady wind, thick cloud cover and when I arrived at my next spot I was greeted by a few mayfly on the surface. Three wet flies were chucked out and pulled back in again as I dodged among the boulders, some marked with poles but others unmarked and dangerous.
Mayflies were now hatching in good numbers and I expected to see fish rising but they kept their heads down in the main. A heavy tug indicated a fish had at last shown some interest and I duly boated a fine fish of about a pound and a quarter. He took the Golden Olive Bumble on the top and I admired his gorgeous colouring before slipping him over the side. The wind would not settle at all, moving from north to west them back again in the space of a few minutes. Setting up on a drift was a challenge even though the wind was not strong. Working the oar constantly was the only way to keep on anything approaching a steady drift.
Another trout splashed as he took the fly and after a lively tussle he came to hand, maybe a little smaller than the first lad. This time it was the wee Silver Drake that worked and this one too was released. Drifts were typically two or three hundred yards long and each time one ended close to the shore I backed up a little and came over new ground. The water here is shallow and wonderful for trout fishing so each cast could be the one to produce another take. I missed two rises, feeling no resistance to either of them.
My casting seems to be a shoddy and I suffered frequent tangles. As I ended a drift I could see all three flies were in a bunch so I motored far out into the deep water where I would have time to make up a new leader. By the time the job was completed I was near enough the shallows to start fishing. Lengthening the line on the first cast a trout grabbed the tail fly as it hit the surface. This one was a bit smaller but it put up a good scrap. He too was let back into the water, none the worse for his encounter. Showers had come and gone throughout the afternoon and I was a bit wet by 3.30pm so I decided to call it a day. Across the wide expanse of the lough I motored, the Honda buzzing happily along as I mulled over the past few hours.
The point of today had been to reconnoiter the lough and see if I could locate mayflies hatching and trout feeding so in both respects it had been a successful trip. Perhaps I should have stayed in Castlehill and the trout may have come on the feed but I strongly suspect that did not happen. Massbrook had no signs of fly life but then the wind was wrong for that shore and it may fish well in a more favorable breeze. A good hatch at Bracawansha had definitely got the fish feeding and I should have probably done better than the three fish I boated. The bottom line is that the mayfly season has started and the next couple of weeks, if the weather is good, should see a steady improvement in catches on lough Conn. I shall return!
This trip had been planned for a while but had to be put off for various reasons. Mike works at the plant in Westport where I had been on contract and we talked often about our fishing exploits, eventually agreeing we would fish Lough mask one day. After numerous false starts we finally made it out on the water yesterday.
Mike keeps his boat on the western shore of the lough and we arrived there just around 10.30 this morning. The weather forecast was for light winds and we were concerned we would be greeted with a flat calm, but no, there was a nice wave and a wind from the south-west as we tackled up. Both setting up on wet flys, we headed off for the Schintellas where Mike had been very successfull a couple of weeks ago. Since then though the water level has dropped and it seemd like the fish which had been there in numbers had moved out now.
On the first drift Mike saw a fish rise and casting to it, he set the hook in a small trout but it quickly fell off. A promising start, but 3 or 4 drifts went by we had not seen any other fish let alone hook anything. Low cloud and rain squalls did little to encourage us so we pulled into an island for a reviving cuppa and to figure out a new strategy. The lack of fly life was my biggest concern and we felt we should move to try and locate a hatch. Mike had heard reports from other fishers that the mayfly were up but the hatches were very localised. With no signs of life here we would need to go looking elsewhere. Back in the boat we headed east and then south to the well known waters off the mouth of the canal.
For those unfamiliar with Lough Mask let me explain a little about this area of the lake. During the mid-nineteenth century a plan was hatched to link Lough Mask to the sea via a canal to join it to Lough Corrib. The two loughs are separated by a thin strip of land so this did not look to be too big a problem. Unfortunately the engineers had not bargained for the porous nature of the limestone rocks around here and while they dug out a channel in the normal fashion they simply could not keep the water in it. Fractures and chasms in the rock allowed the water in the canal to drain out and no matter how often the engineers tried to staunch the flow their efforts were all unsuccessful. The canal was abandoned and left alone except for the fish which used it for a breeding area. Where the disused canal joins lough Mask is known as the mouth of the canal and it is a very popular fishing area with a reputation for holding big trout.
We set up on a drift and I soon turned a fish which stayed on only for a few seconds before shaking the fly free. The wind dropped and we set up on the next drift, a tad closer to the canal mouth. Mike had by now switched on to dry fly as the conditions were ideal. There were even a few mayfly hatching out so we both felt much more confident. I managed to put a knot in my leader and as I was sorting it out I looked at my middle dropper and thought it was not right for today (it was a red-tailed Invicta). My Golden Olive Bumble variant might be a better option, so I ferreted about in the fly box and found one on a size 10 hook.
I had only made about 20 casts when the line tightened and I was into a fish which fought really well before sliding into the net. A fine fish of a pound and three-quarters with wonderful markings was my prize. It had taken the newly added bumble. It was great to land a fish but even more satisfying that it took the newly tied on fly.
We drifted on, both fishing hard now on the back of the success. Once again my line tightened and a good trout took to the air, ran to the right, turned around and shot off to my left, leaped again and finally threw the hook. Who could grudge such a doughty fighter his freedom? The brief encounter was huge fun and I felt no sense of loss at the fishes escape. On down the shore we drifted and yet another fish took me. The rod bent hard over as he powered off on a run but this one stayed deep, trying to snag the line on the jumble of limestone boulders on the bottom. Safely in the boat he turned the scales at two pounds and was the most glorious bronze hue. In the space of 20 minutes I had hooked three good trout and boated two of them. Lough Mask was being very kind today.
Pulling in to the shore, Mike changed back to the wet fly and I gave him one of my bumbles to tie on. A quick cup of tea then we were back out again. Pretty soon Mike had a trout slash at the dropper but it failed to connect. Lifting off, he cast again and this time was rewarded with a firm take to the tail fly, a black dabbler. Played out, he slid the fish into the meshes and we both admired the third trout of the day. We fished hard on various drifts in the bay but the fish had gone quiet so we moved out to try new water.
The rest of the day was fishless but drifted over some fantastic reefs and were expecting a take on every cast. The noticable difference between the mouth of the canal and the other areas we covered was the fly life. It was almost totally absent on the other drifts but we found a few mays, lots of caddis, some lake olives, alders and midges near the canal. Even though we are in the middle of May the mayfly hatch has barely started. The recent cold weather must have played a part in this and we need to hope for rising temperatures before the end of the month.
About 6pm we decided to call it a day after fishing around the islands on our way back to base. The wind had been very good to us all day, falling away sometimes but always picking up again to keep a small wave on the surface.
OK, so three trout landed for a day out on Lough Mask is hardly scintillating fishing but we both enjoyed the day. Just to be out on the lake after lockdown is a great feeling. A large number of boats were out today, many I am sure having traveled from other counties now the restrictions have been lifted. I suppose some boats did very well today while others blanked but in the grand scheme of things I think we can be happy with three good trout for our efforts. The mayfly are starting to hatch but numbers where we were fishing are still low. If the weather is good we should see an increase in activity over the next two weeks.
We pulled into the shore at the end of the day just as the wind dropped away, leaving the face of the lough serene and peaceful. Gear was unloaded and lugged back to the car, rods dismantled and waterproof garments removed. The boat secured, we drove off and headed home, talking about the day as we went. The car was full of our gear, engine, fuel tank, bags, rods, nets and the rest. We marveled at the sheer quantity of accouterments required to catch three small fish but that is our chosen sport and we love it. Days like yesterday when the weather is kind and we catch a few fish in glorious surroundings are the stuff of dreams. It was our first time sharing a boat but I hope we can do so again in the future. Mike is a skillful and persistent angler and it was a pleasure to share the day with him.
I did not fish last week as we had a death in the family. Sadly Helen’s mam, Patricia, passed away at the age of 81 years. She will be sadly missed. A larger than life character, she was a kind and caring woman who battled great difficulties all her life. Rest in peace Pat.