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

Getting ready

‘Tis the end of January and the time to prepare for the upcoming season is upon us game anglers in Ireland. I know that some early rivers opened weeks ago but for me and most of the lads I fish with the months of February and March mark the true beginning of another year on the water. In truth, I have been fiddling away all winter getting my tired old gear (both fresh and salt water) into better shape. There is something very satisfying about doing these small jobs, a feeling of pent up excitement mingled with the realism that previous poor seasons have beaten you down with. Hope springs eternal in the heart of every fisher. Here are some of the tasks which I have either completed or am still in the middle of.

fly lines hanging up

Rods have all been checked and any minor repairs such as re-whipping rings undertaken. With so little fishing done last season there were no issues on this front other than cleaning some muck and scales from the sea rods. I always give my rods and reels a good hose down with fresh water after a day’s sea angling but even still there seem to be scales and slime lodged in some nooks and crannies. The rollers on my boat rod also got a bit of lubrication while I was at it. The fly rods just required nothing more than a cursory wipe down as the rings, handles and reel seats were all in good nick.

Looking after reels is a big job when you own as many as I do. Regular readers will be aware that I have been re-building some old multipliers this winter, something I find deeply satisfying. I’ve also cleaned and lubricated all my other reels so they are fit for the rigours of the new season. I know that some anglers send their reels off to have this job carried out for them but I like to do it myself and it engenders a degree of confidence in my tackle if I know how they work and that I have the oil and grease in the right place (and in the right amount). Mine are all in fine fettle now and ready for the off next month.

Fly lines which had been unwound from the reels and cleaned in October are now being loaded back on to the self same reels, a laborious job punctuated by swearing at the not infrequent knots I seem to incur. I am thinking about investing in some new fly lines as most of mine are many years old now. The bewildering array of tapers and densities mean I have to do my homework first though. Why is fishing so complicated these days?

A big chunk of my winter evening were spent sorting out and fixing my unfeasably large collection of baits what with cleaning them and fitting new hooks and swivels. That task was completed a couple of weeks ago bar a few strays which keep cropping in in jacket pockets, old tobacco tins and other odd corners.

I also rationalised the boxes of baits so I know where most things are. The same went for the other small items such as swivels and hooks. Hopefully the unedifying sight of me tipping the contents of my bag out on to the bottom of the boat to track down missing items is not going to be repeated this coming season!

Speaking about the bags, I gave the various tackle bags a good clean and then reorganised them all. Fishermen’s tackle bags are akin to Pandora’s box, opening them up unleashes powerful forces, especially smells. When going through the contents of my old blue bag I found gear I’ve been lugging around for years which were never used, so a drastic reorganisation was called for.

I have owned my black shore fishing tackle box for a few years but have never really managed to organise it properly. It is either overloaded and unwieldy or spartan to the point where it contains nothing that I need. I can’t find that happy medium it seems. I’m now contemplating an internal modular system so that I can switch it around depending on what type of fish I am after on any given day. For example, there is no point in lugging float tackle with me when I am fishing off a beach. It needs more thought but I need to be better organised that I am just now. I must ‘7S’ my black box!

It looks OK in this shot but trust me, this shore fishing box is a perpetual disaster area

One change I am going to make this coming season is to carry a few made up leaders with me. This is a simple expedient to work around my failing eyesight and reduce lost time on the bank. Many years ago I was drifting the west shore of Lough Conn one May morning when I happened across some rising trout. Earlier that day I had tied on a leader from my bulging cast wallet. A nice sized trout walloped my tail fly and soon after setting the hook he jumped and the leader parted at the knot. Annoyed at myself for tying a shoddy half blood I tidied up the end of the leader and tied on another fly. Fish were all around me now and I placed the fly perfectly in front of a cruising fish a few casts later. The offer was accepted and a large wild trout set off at pace for the deep water close by. My smile faded quickly from my face when that fish snapped me too. Winding in a gave the leader a tug and it snapped like cotton thread. The nylon had aged in the years that leader must have been lurking in the cast wallet. Lesson learned, I vowed then and there to stop carrying made up leaders and I have stuck to that rigidly – until now. From now on, the simple expedient of scribbling a date on the cast carrier will let me know how old the leader is and when I should dispose of them.

Conn shoreline

The various fly boxes are looking a bit healthier now after some fly tying over the winter months. After a bit of rationalisation I was able to ditch two boxes that I used to take on trips to the rivers for trout. That still leaves me with six boxes though!

There is time yet to tie up a few more killer patterns and the only type I feel seriously under gunned is emergers. I’ll rattle up a few this week and have them ready for those exciting days when the fish are on the top of the water and flies are hatching. With a storm blowing outside and the windows rattling those balmy days seem a long way off. I will also tie up some shrimp copies for the trout. With so little in the way of fly life last year I will make more effort to fish deep with grammus patterns this time around. While I do a fair bit of deep nymphing I am planning a much more targeted approach with a greater focus on shrimps rather than stoneflys and empherid nymphs which seem to be in such short supply these days.

So while the days oh so gradually lengthen I will continue my making and mending, fiddling and foostering and generally edging my way towards the new season in the sure and certain hope that there will be some days in amongst the blanks.

The boat and engines need some work but I’ll go over them in another post.

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, salmon fishing, trolling

Single hooks?

Any of you tried single hooks on your salmon baits? I have not (yet) but plan to give them a go this coming season so that returning fish is going to be easier

Here is an ABU Killer which I have changed the hooks on. To me it looks a bit odd but that will just be due to the newness of seeing a bait I have spent a lifetime altered like this.

I am not going to do all the baits in my box, just a handful of them and see how that works out in terms of hooking and holding fish as well as ease of release.

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Fishing in Ireland

The Black Wickham

By simply changing the palmered hackle on a standard Wickham you get a trout fly that works well on summer evenings in fast water. I’ve used this pattern for more years than I care to remember and it has been responsible for many fine trout finding their way to my net.

So, instead of a red game hackle and tails just use a black cock hackle.

Back in Scotland I used to make another variation by adding a blue dun hen hackle in front of the wings. I confess to having completely neglected this pattern since I moved to Ireland 23 years ago so maybe it’s time to give it another swim.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

More Dabblers

I’ve been bust at the vice again and the fly boxes are filling up nicely now. For me, Saturday afternoons are my preferred time to tuck myself away with the radio on, happily snipping and whipping away. Steam rising lazily from my umpteenth mug of coffee while the room around me gradually fills with half used packets of feathers and reels of silk as I swap from pattern to pattern. Then an all mighty tidy up at the end of the session to restore a degree order once again. There are often a small pile of scraps of paper on the bench beside me, hastily devised patterns which popped into me head and I noted down on whatever was handy at the time. Lately I have been churning out Dabbler patterns. Some have been your bog-standard clarets and golden olives but I’ve also created some new ones too.

This handsome fly is a variation on the standard silver dabbler. Simply add a Glo-drite no.4 tag under the tail and use a badger hackle dyed green-olive instead of the usual red game. This fly has caught me plenty of fish in the past.

Here’s one I guess you could call a rhubarb and custard dabbler. Untried as yet, I have high hopes for it on Lough Mask. Yellow body and hackle with a blood red hen hackle wound in front of the wing, there is more than a hint of the Mayo Bumble about this one. It should work as a pulling fly when the trout are on the daphnia in the deeps on Lough Mask.

This bright dabbler looks to be a bit of a long shot to me but I guess you never know until you try it. Flat silver tinsel or Opal Mirage for the body and a teal blue dyed grizzle hackle under the cloak combine with a red tail to give a fry imitation look to it. It will either blank or give me the biggest trout of the season!

Why am I tying so many dabblers right now? There just seemed to be so many gaps in that part of the fly box is the only answer. I have not been doing much in the way of lough fly fishing for a few seasons now and as a result there has been a lack of focus on my part on what there is in there. I am forever handing my fly boxes around to others that I am fishing with and letting them help themselves to whatever takes their fancy. This of course leads to popular or interesting patterns disappearing, which is fine by me. I like to hear other anglers are catching fish on my flies.

I’ll need to address some major gaps in the lough dry fly box next. I have neglected this box too and there seems to be a lot of very old flies in there which need to be cleared out and new patterns added. Wulff’s in particular are conspicious by their absence.

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, salmon fishing, trolling, trout fishing, wetfly

2019

With Christmas behind us now and the old year only hours left to run my thoughts are firmly fixed on the 2019 season. What will it bring? This used to be a time of mounting excitement but the collapse of fish stocks in and around Ireland mean there is more trepidation rather than anticipation these days.

A drift on Beltra

Looking back over many years, my angling year fitted into neat sections with the focus on wild brown trout and Atlantic salmon from February right through until the end of September. Only when the game fishing ended would I make any concerted effort to go sea fishing and piking was something I only did once a year. How things have changed! Lack of water early in the season reduced the rivers to a trickle of cold water and the trout went into hiding. Fly life was pretty much non-existent, so the joys of fishing a hatch of duns or a fall of spinners never materialise these days. Salmon too have become scarce with even the once prolific runs of summer grilse a now distant memory.

The Ridge pool on the Moy

Much as I try, it is hard to be optimistic about salmon fishing in 2019. Salmon fishers are used to disappointment, it’s part of our DNA. Long hours on the water without so much a tug on the line are the norm and we all accept this as part and parcel of our chosen sport. Dwindling stocks have turned the empty hours into empty weeks, months and seasons for most of us now. I know many good fishers who put in the hard hours over the past couple of seasons but failed to even hook a fish, let alone land one. Why should 2019 be any better when nothing has been done to help the salmon? There are more fish farms with all their pollution and sea lice. Industrial fishing continues unchecked, wiping out the food sources for the fish. Changing weather patterns seem to be having a detrimental effect of the fish and cycle of high/low water has been replaced with flood/drought. I fear another poor salmon season is about to start. Let’s hope I am wrong.

I’m hoping for more like this next season!

The long, painful drought of last spring and summer, combined with a near total lack of fly life ruined my trouting season on the rivers. I need to be more flexible this coming year, look for new venues and try new methods to winkle out the odd fish. So much will depend on the weather of course but the loss of natural flies means the trout must be feeding on other food forms such as small fish and crustaceans.

On the loughs I am planning on doing more trolling and have geared up accordingly. Not my favourite pastime by any means but when faced with otherwise hopeless conditions I needed to have a ‘plan B’.

I am also thinking about doing more Pike fishing if the trout and salmon are a wash out again. This will be a stretch for me as I have never really enjoyed Pike angling but I suppose any fishing is better than none at all. Again, I have invested in a range of lures and will give them a swim when the water warms up sufficiently.

So as this years ebbs away I still have much to be thankful for and a lot to look forward to. I hope the same applies to each of you who have taken the time to read some of my ramblings on this blog. See you all next year!

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Bloody Dabbler

On holiday now so I am busy tying flies for the upcoming season. I have lots of ideas floating around in my head and one of them took shape this morning in the form of a Bloody Dabbler. This is loosely based on the Bloody Butcher, a great old pattern which used to work for me in either the standard feather winged form or busked on a longshank 8 and fished off fast sinker at night for sea trout.

I made the body of the fly from flat silver tinsel body, ribbed with fine oval silver and a palmered hen hackle. This hackle came from a hen cape I dyed flourescent scarlet. Tails of cock pheasant, a cloak of bronze mallard and a pair of jungle cock cheeks were added and the head was formed from the fire orange tying silk. I have high hopes this one will work when the pin fry are on the go in June/July.

I have been reading some ideas from Rob Denson and in particular his use of hen hackles for palmering dabblers and bumbles. This gives a very different look to these flies and I like the idea they will move better in the water than our normal stiff cock hackles.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Western Lakes Dabbler

Here is a dabbler pattern I created some years ago to use during the mayfly hatch on Lough Carra. It’s proved to be a consistent killer and has taken trout from the other lakes too, so I can vouch for its effectiveness.

A calm start to a day on Lough Carra

I used to keep a boat at Moorehall on Lough Carra and enjoyed some great fishing on that lovely water but these days the fishing on Carra has deteriorated to the point where I no longer leave a boat there. It’s easy for me to get a loan of a boat on any of the local lakes so I fish Carra occasionally these days when I hear the trout are rising. 

Carra has long been famous as a lake with a massive hatch of mayfly. Sadly, there are fewer and fewer mayfly each season now but the fish still respond to a well fished artificial. I prefer Carra on a day of big winds when large waves roll the length of the lake. Big winds seem to stir the bigger trout in my experience. This pattern was designed to be fished in just such conditions.

Tying silk: brown

Hook: heavy wet fly, size 8

Tails: Cock Pheasant tail fibres, about half-a-dozen

Rib: thick brown silk. I use rod whipping silk which has a nice colour and is very strong.

Body: natural seals fur

Body Hackle: a dark red game cock hackle, palmered

Shoulder hackle: a grey partridge dyed golden olive or yellow

Cloak: well marked bronze mallard tied all round

As you can see, this is a simple dabbler style pattern and it is easy to tie. To my eye the natural seals fur is an excellent match to the ivory coloured body of the naturals. The trout certainly approve and it has been a very consistent pattern over the 20 odd years I and my friends have been using it.

The natural fur
Heavy rod wrapping thread for the rib
Tapered dubbed body

I recommend that you fish this fly as part of a three fly team. It has caught me trout in all positions on the leader but if pressed I would put it on the tail in preference to the droppers. Many times I have boated trout on a wide range of patterns on the same drift, so exact copies are not usually required in a big wave. The secret is to find the fish where they are feeding and this is not always easy. Experience plays a large part in finding the trout but you cover a lot of water in a big wind so keep flogging away safe in the knowledge you are going to cover fish somewhere on your drifts.

The only drawback with this pattern is the weakness of the pheasant tail fibres. These break off easily and the resulting tail-less fly is not effective. Try replacing the pheasant tail fibres with some moose main hair – it is much tougher and longer lasting.

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