Fishing in Ireland, Nymphs, trout fishing, wetfly

First outing

It kind of crept up on me, the realisation that I could possibly go fishing this week. I had become so inured to floods and gales that the opening of the trout season had come and gone without really registering in my mind. This week though saw a change in the weather with cold, bright mornings and a merciful lack of precipitation. On Tuesday it occurred to me that there might be the chance of an hour or two on the river bank if this good weather held.

Wednesday had been largely given over to rummaging for lost tackle and repairing my broken wading staff. Rod and reel were easy to locate but fly boxes and tippet materials had snuck off into all sorts of odd corners and it took me a while to corral the various small items and repopulate my waistcoat pockets. That small boy’s excitement of an anticipated fishing trip grew stronger throughout the day, thoughts of bent rods and fish sliding into the net filled any quiet moments. I found myself smiling as thoughts of the pleasures of a few hours on the riverbank sunk in.

20200305_120635[1]Thursday came around at last. I hardly dare peek out of the window this morning when the alarm went off, would the day be fine? Yep, frosty but dry was the answer with some high thin cloud to boot. A fishing day of sorts! Some chores had to be completed quickly before the last odds and ends could be tossed unceremoniously into the back of the car and I was off down the road. The last couple of dry days had tempted me to try my luck on the River Robe.

Pulling up at a parking spot after a short detour because I had taken a wrong turning, I stepped out of the warmth of the car into a cool wind. Layers of clothing were hastily applied but it was much colder than I had anticipated and this was not going to improve my chances of success. Numb fingers took ages to knot on the flies but undaunted and dressed like Nanook of the North, I hopped the five bar gate and strode purposefully across the rough pasture. The drain at the edge of the field was chock-a-block with frog spawn, a sure sign that spring is on its way.

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I had it in my head to try a short section of the river I had never fished before. It lay upstream of where I was parked but access immediately became a major issue. I huge drain, filled to the brim with stagnant water and mud barred any further approach. In something which would not have looked out of place in Passchendaele the far bank of the drain was topped with a high fence of vicious looking barbed wire. I worked my way along the drain for a while but it became obvious there was no easy way across. In the end I gave up and returned to the river. There must be a way across that drain and I will return to try again soon. I suspect any trout lying above that obstacle have not seen an anglers fly for many a long year.

Typical rough agricultural land here in Mayo

I began by flicking weighted nymphs into the roiling current and eventually persuaded one trout to nip, unconvincingly at the Hare’s Ear on the tail. He didn’t stick. I could only fish a short stretch as the river was too high for this section and below me looking like a raging torrent. Out of nowhere, a kingfisher sped downstream a couple of feet above the water, that glorious flash of azure lighting up an otherwise dull vista.  Time for a move.

tungsten beaded nymphs

I drove down river to a favourite piece of the river where there are a selection of pools to try. I changed the rig and switched on to wet flies for swinging in the current. On went a Pheasant tail goldhead on the tail, a Plover and Hare’s Ear in the middle and an ever reliable Partridge and Orange on the top dropper. By now the sun was breaking through the clouds but it was still cold. Gaining the river I started casting as tight to the far bank as I could. An olive floated by on the wind.

big water

The water is still very cold and the strong current pushed hard through each of the pools (do you sense some excuses?). I methodically worked my way downstream, casting into any likely looking spots but try as I might there was no response from the trout. The fields, normally so well-tended around this part of the river were in terrible condition, badly rutted and pock-marked with deep hoof prints and showing signs of agricultural run off. Some pools I completely bypassed as they were far too fast for trout to be feeding in them. Near the tail of one pool, just where the pace slowed slightly a trout rose. I covered it carefully a few times and sure enough up he came and took the fly with a confident swirl. I struck but he dropped off almost immediately. Damn! I knew I was not going to get too many chances today so losing that one was a blow. Next fishable pool down I had another knock but it too did not stick around. Ah well, at least I was getting some fresh air.

I skipped the fast section of water below the weir. It fishes well on summer evenings when the fish lie there to get some oxygen across their gills and feast on the flies which gather there. But in a flood the waters rage through the rapids making them unfishable.

Down towards the bottom of this part of the river there are a couple of good pools. At the first one it was obvious the top of the pool was too fast but near the tail it looked a bit more likely. I worked my way down, one step per cast, planting the flies as close to the far bank as I could then mending two or three times as the cast fished out. Sure enough, a solid pull soon had me in business and a small trout came to hand, my first fish of the new season. A quick snap and then he was released, all 8 inches of him! It turned out to be the last offer I would get. He had taken the P&O.

I fished on but lost the full cast of flies when an over ambitious cast tangled on a bush on the far bank. Setting up again I fished my way back upstream to the car.

not the biggest trout but a very welcome one never-the-less

Early season trouting is always a precarious affair. Conditions can vary so much and fly life is sparse to non-existent. In a few weeks there will be more flies around and the water will be both lower and warmer. By April I would expect much better fishing but for today a single small trout was the meagre return for my efforts. That is fine with me, today was more about just getting out to blow away the cobwebs and to get a feel for the river again. The trout was a bonus.

 

That pipe was not there last season! Looks like there is a site being cleared for a new house on the other bank.

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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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Fishing in Ireland, Nymphs, trout fishing

A Sunday afternoon

Sullen, that’s the only way I can describe the weather this morning. No wind to speak of and heavy clouds above. The good news is that it was still reasonably warm, raising hopes there would be a hatch of ephemerids. Off to the Robe!

Water levels had dropped since my last visit but the water was still carrying some colour. Even as I tackled up on the bank a couple of olives fluttered past. Unfortunately almost as soon as I started casting the heavens opened and a cold wind blew straight upstream into my face. Shelter, in the shape of a convenient gorse bush, kept me dry until the squall petered out and fishing could resume.

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The wind dissipated completely and I quickly began to catch smallish brownies. One oddity this afternoon was the number of fish which simply ‘fell off’ after a few seconds contact. I didn’t keep a tally but I suppose there must have been a dozen or so which threw the hook with remarkable ease.

I took a snap of one fish but to be honest they were all minute wee fellas. Eventually I hooked a slightly better fish and brought him safely to hand. A photograph beckoned so I tried to fish the camera out of my chest pocket. It didn’t want to come out so I carefully laid the trout on the bank, some 10 or 12 feet from the edge of the river while I got the camera out of the pocket and then free from the bag it is in. Before I could complete this manoeuvre the trout gave a kick, squirmed down the bank and rolled back into the river with a resounding ‘PLOP’. It started to rain again………………..

Some horses decided to cheer me up by running up at me then turning away at the last minute. I guess they found it amusing but it didn’t do much for my humour!

Up until now I had been fishing with nymphs, keeping them as close to the river bed as possible. While this was certainly working the size of the fish was a disappointment. I switched to the dry fly but despite fishing some likely looking pools I came up empty handed with the floater. I was working my way upstream when the heavens opened again and I figured it was time to call it a day.

While tramping along the edge of the river I spotted the remains of a crayfish in the grass. Something had enjoyed a good dinner at the expense of this particular crustacean. A heron or mink were the most likely culprits..

By three o’clock I was back at the car and my Sunday on the river was over. A total of 13 small brownies had come to hand so I can’t complain really. It would just have been nice to land one good one.

 

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Fishing in Ireland, Nymphs, trout fishing, wetfly

Monday, bloody Monday

The morning slipped away from me but by 11.30 I was behind the wheel and heading off to spend a few hours trout fishing on the River Robe. All the rivers around here are high and this usually improves the fishing on the Robe, so hopes were high as the old green VW rumbled down the road filled with rods and reels. The target area was going to be the fast water below the bridge at Hollymount. I didn’t know it then, but this was going to be an eventful day.

The road bridge at Hollymount, looking upstream

As it turned out, the river level was even higher than I had presumed, meaning the three pools below the road bridge were just too fast for easy fishing. I slung heavy nymphs into the flow but even the tungstens were swept away quickly in the rush of water.

There was no sign of any fly life down here but a pair of swallows showed up, the first I had seen this year. By the time I had reached the lower pool I had made up my mind to try upstream of the bridge where the flow was much more friendly. That was when it all started to go pear-shaped on me.

To access the water above the road bridge you can either wade under the bridge (crossing a number of barbed wire fences in the process) or cross the road, hop a stone wall and head across a field. I always choose the latter option as the barbed wire below the bridge is a proper pain in the b__t. This time I placed my rod over the wall and as I drew my hand away there was a sharp pain in one of my fingers. The middle dropper had sunk into the flesh. I swore!

I poked about at the fly to establish that, yes, it was well past the barb. For those of you who have never had to deal with this scenario here is how you extract a barbed hook from your flesh. Only try this in places you can access easily and NEVER if the hook is in a sensitive area (such as around your eyes). If in doubt, get yourself to a hospital where they will have it out in no time. So, here I was with a size 14 spider stuck in the middle finger of my left hand. Pulling it out is not going to work as the barb just digs in where you try that.

Past the barb, this will have to be pushed through

Instead, you need to push the hook point back out through the skin, then flatten the barb so it can be withdrawn. I am not going to gloss over it, this nips a bit. But it is never as bad as you think it will be and a little pinch is worth the speed of getting back to the fishing. Holding the hook very firmly, angle it up and push the point back through the skin. Feed the hook through until the barb is clear.

Here, I have pushed the hook back out through the skin and you can see the barb which now can be flattened

That is the hard part past, all you need to do now is flatten the barb on the hook. I always keep a pair of de-barbing pliers at hand so this was only the work of a few seconds to mash the barb down. Yes, I know – I should have done this before I started fishing!!!!

Out it comes!

Pushing the hook back out was easy with the aid of the pliers. Blood dripped from the tiny wound but I soon had that cleaned up and a plaster stuck over the hole. I carry a small first aid kit in the car at all times and I would urge you all to do the same, you never know when a small mishap could require patching up.

handy wee tool

That minor drama over I made my way up river. By the old footbridge there are sometimes a few trout feeding but not today. With no flies hatching the river was dead so I decided to change venue. An hour had elapsed and all I had hooked was myself!

The fateful pool

I didn’t even dismantle the rod, just stuck it in the car as it was and drove a few miles to the stretch I fished last week. I felt way more confident here. The air was warmer and the flow of water, while still fast, looked to be much more manageable. The net had caused me nothing but grief at the last spot. This stretch has never produces a fish of more and a pound-and-a-half to me so I decided to leave it in the car this time (you know this is going to end in tears!). I tied up a new leader and started to fish down through the pools. In this type of water I like to flick out a short line with three flies, taking a step each cast. This allows me to cover a lot of water quickly. A few stoneflies were fluttering about in the air so I tied a size 12 Plover and Hare’s Ear on the bob, and March brown spider in the middle and a flashback Endrick Spider on a curved size 12 hook occupied the tail position.

No takers in the first pool, so I started down the next one. There was a difficult fence to negotiate and as I pushed past the jumble of barbed wire and rocks the line tightened. The reel screamed as the fish made a dash for the tail of the pool and  20 yards were stripped from the reel in a flash. He stopped at the tail of the pool and leapt, clearly a very good fish! I could see the fish had taken the bob fly and he seemed to be well hooked so I gingerly played him back up to me, taking my time and countering his darts and runs. Only as he was tiring I recalled the net was still in the car. When I figured he was played out I reached down but as soon as he felt my touch he turned and shot off, snapping the line. He was gone. I estimate that trout was between two and three pounds!

That’s better!

OK, with nobody else to blame I had to pick up the pieces and try again. Another new leader, three more flies. Back on the water, I repeated the same method of presenting the flies and was rewarded quickly with another firm take. A 12 incher came to hand, swiftly followed by some more, smaller fish. This was better!

a tiddler

Working my way down the river I skipped some of the faster water and concentrated on the slower pools.

lovely pool which gave me some smallish trout today

Trout number 5 stuck me in a weedbed but I managed to prize him out. Number 9 jumped a couple of feet in the air when he felt the hook. By the time I reached the bottom of the stretch I had landed ten wild brownies and lost another 4 or 5.

I did not see a single rise but the fish were feeding near the bottom. With a bit more attention to detail I could have landed a very good fish today but still caught a nice bag of fish. Prospects are good for the next few days!

And the moral of this simple tale is ALWAYS BRING YOUR NET!!!!!!

still there in the back of the car.

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Fishing in Ireland, Nymphs, trout fishing, wetfly

Rainy day on the Robe

Rain fell from the battleship grey skies, the day had been damp since early this morning. Leaden clouds poured pewter drops on me as I tackled up at the bridge across the river. Wet and cold before I even started, the day took a definite turn for the worse when I found there were no thick socks in the car. I normally have lots of pairs lurking in the back of the motor but I must have tidied them up at some point and now I was going to pay the price with cold feet while fishing. Note to self: Chaos is the natural order, DON’T tidy the car!

New sign, that wasn’t here last season!

A new sign has been erected by the Fisheries board at the bridge, giving some very basic information about catch limits, seasons etc.

General angling regs. for the river Robe

Across the way I spotted another new addition – a nice set of steps for access to the upstream part of the river. I have not fished this side of the river above the bridge as it used to be home to a particularly large black bull. Warning signs gave you notice not to enter the field but now the big lad was gone, perhaps to a new home or maybe he is now sausages on your breakfast plate. Anyway, the new ladder makes entry to the field and the river much easier and I look forward to giving that stretch a try out in May/June when good spinner fishing can be had on the weedy, slow-moving water there.

A grand new set of steps

Slow water above the bridge but it holds fish during the summer

The farmer’s gate was in poor condition and held together with a piece of blue rope, delaying me as I squeezed through and then had to re-tie the rope to close the gate. Finally, I was at the waterside and ready to go!

holding water below the bridge

With a pair of wets tied on I fished my way down the first pool without a touch. I was dismayed at the low water, at least a couple of feet below what I would expect at this time of year. Although it was raining today it will take a solid week of wet weather to bring the level back up to where it should be.

The fisheries board had also been busy on the banks too. The trees on both banks have been either trimmed back or even removed altogether. This is a very welcome change for the better as many parts of this particular stretch had become virtually unfishable due to overhanging branches. Well done to the board for all the hard work they have done to bring this piece of water back into full use.

A very short line, hanging the flies in the fast water at the neck of the next pool brought the first action of the session, a fiesty WBT ran and danced across the surface before shedding the hook just as he came to hand. Ah well………………..

Not long after that I had a solid pull and a nice trout came to hand. A quick picture and then he was back in the river again.

a 10 incher

A solitary Large Dark Olive fluttered by but there was no hatch as such. I meandered down the river, casting into likely spots but there was no response from the trout. Flies were changed and different presentation methods given an airing but the fish showed no appreciation of my efforts. The rain eased of for a few minutes only to turn heavier than ever by the time I had reached the next pool. I was, to use a good Scottish phrase, ‘drookit’.

where the second fish came out of

A small trout grabbed the passing fly just where the calm patch in the photo above merged into the faster flow. Again, very short casts allied to reaching with the rod to hold the fly line off the surface while leading the flies round was the successful method. A bit smaller than the first fella, I slipped home back int the water and he shot off, none the worse for our brief encounter.

Looking back upstream to the water I have just fished down – notice how clear the banks are!

Doesn’t look much but this is a great spot

I eventually reached the pool I wanted to fish most, an odd-shaped piece of water with a number of conflicting flows to contend with. It is not easy to fish but I have taken some good fish out of this area. Today was no exception.

Not a monster but very welcome of a miserable day

A partridge and orange fished on a dropper fooled this one. The take was confident and he was well hooked. I could not repeat the feat though so I changed back to a pair of hare’s ear weighted nymphs and fished my way back upriver, retracing my steps to the parked car.

a pair of nymphs

Today was fairly typical of early fishing on the river, with hardly any fly life the fish were dour and holding close to the bottom. I bit more water and higher air temperatures will bring an improvement in the fishing. It was just good to be out again today, rain or no rain!

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Fishing in Ireland, Nymphs, trout fishing, wetfly

First day of 2018 season

We all love that feeling of expectation when planning our first fishing trip of the season. Work commitments this year have meant my own plans were constantly being re-jigged as my contract dragged on for much longer than expected. The hoped for early outing for salmon fell victim to the great lord of work. A necessary trip to London then got in the way and I only returned to Ireland from a well-earned holiday in Prague yesterday. But today  was ‘der tag’. Today I was going fishing.

Prague was beautiful, but there was no sign of any trout in the river!

The river Robe today

I mulled over the options as I drove down to Claremorris. Settling on a short stretch I know near the water works, I found a spot to park up just a field away from the river. The first challenge of the day soon became apparent when I pulled my leaky old waders from the bag instead of my nice new ones! This would mean no wading across the river as I usually do. Not to worry, the river is only 5 or 6 yards wide on this stretch so access would not be a huge issue for me. I tackled up and plodded off across the field.

A commotion in a drain caught my eye and further inspection revealed that the local frog population were being frisky.

Frog spawn in a drain

here are the wee critters responsible

Onward to the river and my first casts of the new season. I flicked the flies into the usual spots but there was a noticable lack of fishy interest. No flies were present and the cold air didn’t help matters any. I swapped flies a few times and changed from wets to nymphs. Still no joy.

The local farmer must have been busy as there were lots of new fences around each field. At the bottom of the stretch though I found some damaged fences so I guess he/she has just been making repairs. I spotted a Thrush’s anvil close to a gap in the fence, the end of the line for a lot of snails!

The far bank was pitted with the holes made by our local Crayfish. I’m not sure if these holes are still in use of if they are abandoned once the water level drops, leaving them high and dry.

With still no signs of any fish I took stock of the situation. It was 1.30pm and if there was going to be a hatch of any sort it would have started by now. The only insects I had seen were a couple of tiny midges on the wing. What I needed was some deeper water where I could trundle heavily weighted nymphs on or at least very close to the bottom. All around me were shallow, streamy runs. It was time to move.

Nice fly water but the water here is only a few inches deep

I walked up river until I reached the limit of the water I have previously fished. A deep, heavily fenced drain barred my path so I followed it away from the river to try to find a way across. A startled Snipe exploded from under my feet – they don’t normally let you get that close to them!

I reached an old metal gate which had been rudely lodged in position at a corner of the field. I could see a battery with wires too – were they connected up? Only one way to find out, so I braved touching the cold grey metal – no current thank God.

I hopped over and made my way back towrds the river holding tot he edge of the field all the while. I gained the river and was greeted by more of the accursed barbed wire blocking my way to the water’s edge.

OK, so maybe the wire was not as bad as this!

I changed to a Czech nymph set up (how appropriate) and set about my business. Bumping the bottom, extending the lift, rolling the set up back upstream and repeating again and again.

I worked my wy upstream as the few gaps in the bankside trees allowed me. I seriously doubt if anyone has fished this part of the river for years, it is so remote and hard to access. At the neck of the long pool I was fishing I finally had a take, the line gave a short, shap stabbing motion and I lifted smartly into a trout. Success at last!

I played the fish out, nothing dramatic happened and he was soon ready to be lifted out for a quick photo. A handsome lad, a bit over the pound in weight I’d guess.

p3120037.jpg

I popped him back into the water and he rushed off, none the worse for our brief meeting. I decided I had enough for the day as there were chores to be done at home. At least I was off the mark and I felt I had done OK given the poor conditions on the day. Let’s hope the weather warms up and the flies begin to hatch.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, Nymphs, trout fishing, wetfly

Getting down

A lot of my own fishing in the spring takes place on smallish, wild rivers. There are no carefully manicured lawns sloping gently to the water’s edge here in Mayo! Access to the river ranges from ‘interesting’ to down right life threatening. When you do arrive, sweating and breathless at the river you are faced with an endless variety of problems to solve when you when trying to present your fly to the trout.

lovely water but access is difficult

The sheer variety of water means to be successful you must be flexible in your approach. Anglers who are used to wide open river banks often become frustrated by small overgrown rivers. You will drive yourself insane unless your mental approach to the challenges is correct. I find that a day on a wild river is best treated not as one session but as a series of short, individual angling vignettes. Each pool, run or potential lie will require its own specific issues to be addressed. Around the next bend will be yet another, probably very different set of circumstances for you to adjust too. It varies of course, but a typical spring day probably sees me spending only a quarter of the time actually fishing, the rest of the time is taken up with getting into position,  changing set up / flies, and simply just watching.

One of the big questions when fishing in the Springtime is how to get the flies or nymphs down to the right depth. In these days of heavily weighted flies you may think this is not really an issue. Most of us carried an array of differently weighted patterns, enough to cover just about every conceivable scenario. That is fine and grand when you have easy access to the river and can pick the angle to cast and fish. In tight corners this is not always the case, so what do you do when confronted with a hard to reach lie?

Tight spot on the Manulla

Tight spot on the Manulla

In the corner of a box I carry a couple sacrificial nymphs. They are rarely used but when I need them they have proved their usefulness. Precise pattern is unimportant, these flies are not meant to copy anything in particular so I use hares ear to cover the heavy wire underbody which has been wrapped on a jig hook.

Leader construction is important. Keep the sacrificial fly close to you other patterns, I like to have it only 8 – 12 inches below my ‘proper’ fly/nymph. My preferred method of attachment is New Zealand style and the trick is to use a weak link of lower breaking strength nylon to join the flies. This will allow you to break off the sacrificial fly if it becomes snagged without losing the whole leader.

How to tie the sacrificial nymph

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Tungsten bead has been threaded on to the jig hook and yellow silk started

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tie in some lead wire then wind the wire back up to the bead and break off the tag end

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Wind the silk over the wire and back to the end of the body

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dub with hare’s fur and wind over the lead, whip finish behind the bead and varnish

I have also used the sacrificial nymph on a dropper above a ‘normal’ pattern. This works too but for some reason I find I have more tangles when using this configuration. I bet some of you Grayling fishers who are reading are amused at these feeble attempts to control nymph depth. I know there are experts who can control their flies to within inches of where they want them. The problem on the rivers I fish is simply getting the fly down as fast as possible once it hits the water before the whole shebang is whipped away by the current. The sacrificial nymph allows me to do that and at the same time know I can break off easily if the nymph becomes lodged on the bottom.

I use this set up when I am faced with difficult access to tight lies. For me it is the last option as there is a high risk of losing the fly. The bonus is that you could be fishing a lie which is rarely or even never fished by other anglers.

Another issue with depth…………………………..

fast, smooth and deep

There a couple of stretches I fish where there is the opposite problem. Open, fast flowing straight runs with deep water. Here the trick is still to get down quickly but I also want to hold the depth as I swing a team of wets across the current. Normally, I tackle this kind of water using an upstream nymph but some days the fish just don’t respond and over the years I have found that swinging wets works instead. To help to keep the team of flies low down in the water column I carry a couple of sinking tips which take only a few minutes to add between the line and the leader. They don’t get to see the water very often but they are damn useful on occasion, so I recommend you have one in a pocket of your fishing jacket. Beaded or weighted patterns on the point of the leader are a must to keep the team low down.

A sinking leader with loop to loop connections

The cast is made across and down and I like to throw a loop line line as the flies hit the water so there is slack. This gives the team a chance to sink before the current grabs them.

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

Crossboyne

I want to focus on a specific stretch of the River Robe in this post. There are two reasons for this; firstly one of my followers tells me he fishes in the area and has struggled to catch much. Secondly I want to run through some basic techniques which have been successful for me in the past and show the type of water where they work. This post will therefore be much longer than my normal ramblings, so please do bear with me.

The bridge over the Robe at Crossboyne. A handy spot to park and enter the river

I’ll start off with a brief description of the river as many of you will be unfamiliar with this stream. The Robe rises about 3 miles outside the town of Ballyhaunis in Co. Mayo and it winds its way down to where it empties into the mighty Lough Mask, some 40 miles in total length. This part of Ireland rests on a big slab of limestone, so the river is very fertile. Pike, perch and roach live in the river alongside native wild Brown Trout but I have no interest in any of the other species, I only fish for the brownies. It is important to understand the topography of the river as there are long stretches which, while they probably support pike and perch, as pretty much useless for trout. This is due to the low flow and deep water which don’t seem to suit the trout. Some of these slow, deep parts are natural but others as are a result of man’s tinkering with nature and dredging the river in the hope it would alleviate flooding. So, if you are visiting please bear this in mind and pick your spot carefully (this blog may be of assistance).

You can cross the river here at the tail of the pool

The part of the Robe in question is centred on the hamlet of Crossboyne, just outside Claremorris in County Mayo. This part of the river boasts a number of different habitats and really challenging angling. Don’t think this is somewhere that you can easily drag out 8 or 10 good trout in a few hours fishing. No, this is fishing which will test the best of fishers, water that makes you think and when your best efforts prove fruitless will show you big, fat trout which rise just to annoy you. I have landed and returned 4 pound trout here and I have blanked more often than I can remember.

Lovely pools under the trees

This is very much wild fishing, none of the pools on the river are named (as far as I know anyway). Forget manicured banks and cosy fishing huts. Here you scramble down slopes and into the water to try and sneak up on your quarry. I spend much more time trying to figure out how to get into a position to cast than I do actually fishing. Crossboyne is actually one of the easier stretches on the Robe, I know some other bits of the river that would test the resolve of a Himalayan Sherpa! While there are some large fish here the vast majority of the catch will be between 6 and 10 inches. This may sound like small fry but trying to tempt these fish from a narrow, overgrown stream is a real challenge.

Access is easiest either at the bridge in Crossboyne itself or along the tiny road which leads out towards Castlemaggarett. The river hereabouts is roughly 5 or 6 yards wide, so the fishing is going to be short range with no need for long casts. Leave your heavy rods and powerful reels behind, a 3 wt set up is fine and if you want to go lighter that is OK too. Gear is going to be basic with some spools of line for leaders and tippets (I cart about everything from 6 pound nylon down to 7x carbon). I use a wide range of flies and techniques so my pockets are filled with boxes of every sort of fly. I am growing increasingly ambivalent towards nets, some days I carry one but on others I can’t be bothered with the hassle of them catching on every twig and bush. I return all I catch anyway so there doesn’t seem to be much point in taking one with me. The choice is yours…….

An additional hazard to look out for!

With a season stretching from 1st of March right through to the last day of September you can expect a wide range of conditions and responses form the trout. The early season is usually good and then the summer is difficult but rewarding. I must admit I rarely fish the Robe after August so it might be fabulous in September but I would not know. Fly hatches include olives, midges, sedges and stoneflies and there are always terrestrials too. The bigger fish feast on crayfish and small fish.

Stonefly

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Tail of a pool, expect to catch fish here early in the season

Let me run through some specific techniques and illustrate them in use on the river around Crossboyne. I will start with early season, March and April and in high water.

Imagine it is the middle of March and the river is running a couple of feet above normal level due to a prolonged period of rain. With no hills in the catchment and mild winters snow melt is never an issue nor is freezing at this time of the year. The water will be cool and the fish reluctant to stir from the bottom of the river. That means we have to go down to them and weighted nymphs are the answer. Expect to find trout off the main flow and hunting for food which is being swept right to them. Backwaters, easy lies behind rocks and the smooth water at the tails of pools are usually a happy hunting ground in these conditions. I find normal upstream nymphing most productive, changing the weight of the nymphs to keep them near the bottom in different flows and depths. Fish the slower water carefully and at very short range. If you have more than a couple of yards of fly line outside the tip ring you are probably not in control of the flies. Due to the nature of this kind of fishing on such a small river I find I change the weight of the flies often. I am not too bothered about patterns, anything with hare’s ear or pheasant tail will do, but the weighting of the fly so it is very near the bottom is critical.

If the water is very, very high at this time of year some of the long, dead flats I mentioned in the first paragraph can produce a trout or two. Big, coloured water should be tackled with large crayfish or sculpin type pattern of streamer fished near the bottom and swung in the current. Buggers and woolly worms work too. On this stretch of the Robe there are limited places to practice this kind of method but the long flats below the trees downstream of the bridge at Crossboyne are ideal. The streamers need to be well weighted so they get down to the fish very quickly. This is when that spool of 6 pound mono comes in handy. Partly because you are casting heavy flies which will crack off if you slightly mis-time a cast and also because you are likely to attract the biggest fish in the river.

Crayfish remains

a small trout taken on a wet olive

Some days the nymph does not seem to be effective but swinging a team of wets can work instead. I like to use a weighted nymph type pattern on the tail early in the season partnered with a couple of traditional spiders on droppers. If you have been following this blog you will be familiar with my choice of spiders. The Partridge and Orange and Plover and Hare’s Ear are staples of mine but there are a host of old patterns which all work on their day. In March and April the trout will hold near the tails of the pools but as the water warms up they tend to spread out and into faster water. You need to be adaptable when fishing wets in small rivers and the ability to fish upstream is key if you are to maximise catches. For me, taking a trout on the upstream wet fly is very satisfying. Half the time when I strike I do so through instinct rather than any physical evidence there is a fish. Trying to describe how this works is beyond me and I have not read any other angling writer do this ‘art’ justice. All I can do is recommend you practice, practice and practice some more with fishing upstream wets. Trust me, it is worth the effort.

Let’s move on a few weeks and into the glorious month of May. By now there should be good hatches of flies in the Crossboyne stretch, enough to tempt the trout to take food from the surface. Like many other anglers I am always itching to fish dry. Flicking a tiny floating fly at rising trout is right up there with the finest methods of angling. Once again, the Robe fish are not too demanding when it comes to specific patterns and an Adams, Grizzled Mink or similar ‘general’ dry flies will work on most occasions. If you encounter a very picky fish you might have to go through your fly box to find a better copy. Over the years I have found that switching to an emerger pattern and fishing it ‘damp’ will often fool these difficult fish. I tie up very simple CDC emergers in grey, olive and yellow and they have worked well.

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

The stretch of river immediately upstream of Crossboyne bridge is lovely dry fly water. You will need to wade here to get into good positions, so I better say a bit about wading in the River Robe.

The new church just visible from the water

For me, wading is an intrinsic part of fly fishing. There is something deeply satisfying about getting into the river, feeling the power of the water and the coolness of the different environment. The Robe, while small, demands respect when wading. These limestone rivers can be tricky and you need to be aware such hazards as:

  • Steep shelving bottoms. The water can plunge from a few inches to many feet deep very quickly and due to the colour of the water and the dark nature of the bottom this can be really hard to spot.
  • Silty bottom. Look out for pockets of deep silt which can be hard to extricate your feet from. These are often encountered in slow stretches.
  • Slippery rocks. The bottom of the river is covered in slippery weed and algae. I always use a wading stick for extra support and to give me that ‘third leg’ for when I slip on the rocks. I urge you all to do the same, it has saved me from many a ducking.
  • Difficult access. This rough fishing and just getting into the water can be among the biggest challenges. High banks are the order of the day and selecting the right spot to enter the river is an art in itself.

Back to the dry fly. Also in May the evening fishing starts to pick up on this part of the Robe. Dry fly reigns supreme during these late spring and summer evenings and matching the hatch is the name of the game. Falls of spinners are often the cause of the evening rise but watch out for fish taking small sedges and other insects. It is really hard to be specific about patterns due to the variety of fly life available to the fish so I will leave it up to you to decide on what to try. I will do a separate post of patterns which have worked for me (this post is already getting out of hand!).

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Some years we get huge falls of Black Gnats and the fish go crazy for them. This can be wonderful fishing. Normal small, dark patterns fished dry or in the surface film work a treat. Look out for hawthorns too, they are never plentiful but the fish seem to love them so I carry a copy in my dry fly box just in case (I saw the first Hawthorn of the year today at Crossboyne).

Blue Winged Olives are the mainstay of the evening fishing and you must have a range of different patterns to cover these little beauties. Some evenings the fish was yellow-ish olive duns, other times it has to be an orange bodied spinner. When the trout switch on to a fall of BWO spinners the river seems to be covered with the rises of the fish. Stretches which you though were barren suddenly come alive with trout. As usual, these impressive rises are all to short and the failing light puts an end to the sport. You will do well to land 3 or 4 trout in the short space of time between the start of the action and ‘lights out’.

4 pounds plus

The old trusted technique of skating a biggish sedge on the top of the water as the light fades usually produces a fish or two and sometimes a good one. I remember dong this late one summer evening when a huge trout appeared out of nowhere and grabbed the size 10, he shot upstream, jumped and smashed my tippet. He was four pounds if he was an ounce! That fish was lying in less than a foot of water. Red sedge, Balloon Caddis and dry Green Peters all work well as the sun goes down.

Dry flies

High summer is always a challenging time for any river fisher and the Robe shrinks to meagre, weed encrusted trickles by July. Small, dark flies and terrestrial patterns are what you need. If you stand on the bridge at Crossboyne and look down stream you see trees. Lots of trees, overhanging the river and almost totally enclosing the river. While these trees are obviously going to be a headache when casting they are also a larder for the fish. All kinds of creatures fall into the river and keep the fish well fed. The secret to fishing this short stretch is to go down to the tail of the last pool and enter the river. By slowing and very carefully wading upstream you can just cast under the branches. You will lose flies and leaders aplenty but you just have to accept that as the price you pay for this ‘jungle fishing’. Take care when wading, the bottom in these pools is very uneven and there are some small but deep holes to be avoided. I have never had any monsters out of these pulls but it is satisfying to catch even a 10 incher from difficult spots like this.

Stimulators, like this green one, catch fish on summer evenings when sedges are on the wing

I can’t say that I have fished the Crossboyne stretch after August so I may be missing out on spectacular late season trouting. For me, this is an early season and summer evening sort of spot. I hope this has been of some help to you and that you are able to give this piece of water a try sometime.

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Fishing in Ireland, Nymphs, trout fishing, wetfly

Fishing on the Robe picks up

 

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We went to our favourite restaurant last night, my better half and I. Luckily I had booked a table as the place was packed with others similarly engaged in eating and drinking. The food as superb (the spinach gnocchi with clams and prawns was to die for) and we washed the meal down with lashings of red wine and we talked and laughed. It was a great night. We are in the habit of lingering over our dinner and our conversation turned the dangerous world out there beyond Ireland’s shores. Fears of nuclear war, Trump’s tweets and imbecility, children dying in Syria, Westminster’s ineptitude, Brexit; the list seems to grow with each passing day. It made us both realise just how lucky we are to live in the West of Ireland.

This morning I was tied up with odds and ends around the house and it was after 1pm before I decided to go to the Robe for an hour. I had to shake the doom and gloom I have been feeling for the past week and which was heightened in light of the after dinner conversation last night. A short session swinging small wets in the stream would be just the ticket.

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As you can see from these photos the wild browns were in a cooperative mood for a change and a total of 11 of them came to hand in a little over an hour. A couple of them would have nudged a pound in weight. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I only used 3 flies, a size 14 Partridge and Orange on the bob, a wee size 16 midge pattern in the middle and Hare’s Ear with a copper bead head on the tail. Honours were even between all three.

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The fishing took my mind off of the rest of life for the hour and a bit. Refreshed and grounded, I headed back home to enjoy what was left of the holiday weekend.

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