Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling

Red Rapalas

Over the years I have heard of other anglers painting Rapalas red and having great success with them. I always meant to do the same but somehow never got around to actually painting any myself. Then a heard that Rapala actually produced a red coloured plug themselves but only in very small numbers. So the hunt was on to find and buy some examples.

I eventually tracked down a couple of different ones. Both are in a colour called Red Hologram Flake, the Rapala colour code being FRHF. The red paint has been infused with very fine holographic glitter which to the human eye looks very good indeed. Whether the fish find it equally attractive has yet to be proved as the season is over now and it will be next spring before these plugs get a swim.

5cm red rapala

The first one I bought is a 7cm model, one of those ‘Team Esko’ lures with the cranked lip which according to the blurb on the back of the box are made in Estonia these days. 7cm is really too small for early season trolling but is a fine size for the summer grilse. They have a different action to the original models and I have not used the Team Esko ones before.

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Later, I found a bog standard 9cm floating Rapala in the same red hologram flake colour so I snapped that one up too. This is a good all round size and I use this or 11cm are my ‘go too’ sizes for trolling on Lough Conn. I have yet to find a red 11cm but I will keep looking.

As yet untried, I guess that there is every possibility these lures will be useless but somehow I don’t think so. Red was always a popular colour on Lough Conn and the action of the various types of Rapalas have been the downfall of so many fish for me over the years I have a bit of faith in these two crimson beauties. I will keep an eye out for more of these red Rapalas as I think they will catch fish. Some colours don’t inspire me with confidence, the blue and silver ones for example have never caught me a salmon despite being universally popular. I like gold, orange and silver with a black back.

magnum.jpg

While I was searching for the red ones I spotted an ad online for a ‘large vintage Rapala’. The accompanying photo did not give any idea of the size but I took a punt on it and bought it anyway, thinking it would be a 13cm original. What turned up was a pristine example of the 18cm Magnum in brown and gold livery. It even came in the original box. While I am sure the local Pike would love to chew on this fabulous lure it is just too pretty to be used. Instead, I will add this to my collection of lures for show only. I think this amazing lure dates from the late 1960’s or early ‘70s by the look of it. It really is stunning!

Have any of you who read this blog had any success with the Scatter Rap Rapalas? I have only acquired some recently and have not had the opportunity to try them for an extended period. The idea that they swerve about like a wounded fish is appealing but I wonder if they are good fish catchers. One of the ones I bought is in ‘Gold of Lapland’ colours and it looks wonderful!

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Gold of Lapland Scatter Rap

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

Littlewood

Saturday

I drove off the ferry at Cairnryan into stygian darkness filled with rain, the long drive North through the night ahead of me. I was back in my homeland again and the rain perplexed me. All the way to Glasgow it lashed down from the heavens, flooding the road in places and making me think of swollen rivers which would be out of ply for days. The Stincher was huge and the Ayr full to the banks as I crossed them in the early hours of Saturday morning. What would the Aberdeenshire Don be like? I had booked a rod on the lovely Littlewood beat for the coming Monday and I needed some rain, just not as much as the South West was suffering that Saturday night.

The downpour eased off somewhere around Cumbernauld and there was dense fog lying around Stirling before it all cleared by the time I was nearing Dundee. The North East appeared to have missed the rain again and now I was fretting there had not been any precipitation to lift the Don a few inches. The old VW chugged through the night under a clear skies on the final leg of the journey. I shut the engine off at exactly 6am and I slurped a quick cup of coffee in Aberdeen before some well-deserved sleep and dreams of rivers either in raging spate or as dry as a bone. I woke a couple of hours later to another downpour outside.

All of this fretting about rain comes naturally to us salmon fishers. The timing and quantity of precipitation can make or destroy a day on the river. I had been studying the long range weather forecast for a week before I booked Littlewood, banking on a wet Saturday followed by dry conditions on Sunday.   The Don was running only 4 inches above summer level the previous week, not enough to fill me with confidence that salmon would be on the move. I wanted a rise of a foot or so on Saturday/Sunday and for the river to start falling again on Monday. In that respect Littlewood was a gamble. It does not have any well-known holding pools, deep sanctuaries where salmon hold up in times of low water. It is a streamy beat where running fish can be picked up in shallow water or from odd corners where they stop briefly on their way up river. Like a piscatorial Goldilocks I wanted the river not too high nor too low, just somewhere in the middle and slowly falling.

I spend the day with family and catch up on all the news in Scotland. A good day, topped off by a hard fought draw at ‘Villa for the Clarets. I’m happy enough with 10th spot in the Premiership after a tough schedule of games since the start of the season. Everton visit Turf Moor next – another hard game for us.

Sunday

A dry day. Tackle wise I would equip myself with a 13 foot Spey rod and no. 8 lines. A range of tubes and flies with a few spools of nylon were all I planned to take with me. Littlewood extends to 4.5 miles, a lot of water to cover so I wanted to travel light. With time on my hands I checked over the gear, paying particular attention to the reels and leaders. The reels needed a clean and some light oiling which was only the work of a few minutes. Old leaders were cut up and replaced with new ones in readiness for the next day. I made heavy leaders tipped with 18 pound breaking strain tippets. This may sound over the top but some big salmon run the river Don at the end of the season and fish in the high teens or low twenties are not unheard of. Better safe than sorry.

In the afternoon I went on to the Fishpal site to check water levels. This is a hugely helpful service which I would encourage all anglers to use if they are fishing salmon rivers in the UK. It looked like the top of the river did not receive any rain at all as the levels were steady. The same was not true of the rest of the watershed though. Parkhill, on the lower river was at two-and-a-half feet above summer level and falling while, more interestingly for me, Bridge of Alford, a mile or two below Littlewood, was registering one foot and 3 inches and falling. With no rain that should equate to roughly 12 inches of water on Monday, as near perfect as you could ask for on Littlewood. With no fishing on a Sunday in Scotland any salmon in the system can move unhindered on their journey upstream. Many of the fish will be coloured but there should be some fresh ones mixed in with the old stagers. I was in with a chance!

This beat has a historical connection, the much maligned politician Neville Chamberlain used to fish it frequently. It is situated on the left bank of the Don upsteam of Alford. Here the river is about 30 yards wide and comprises a series of runs and glides more than pools. It is great fly water throughout the whole 4.5 miles length of the beat but it does demand a high level of experience to get the best from it. Some sections can be covered using overhead casting but there are lots of bankside trees meaning spey casting is definitely a better option. Fishing water like this demands the ability to read the water and control your fly more than great technical casting ability or depth control. By that I mean there is no need for fast sinking lines or shooting heads as the width of the river and depth of the water are easily manageable with conventional tackle. Mending the line and knowing how/when to hang a fly over a potential lie are keys to success in my opinion.

I had packed three boxes of flies and ferreting around in various jackets and the back of the car I turned up another three boxes! Just how many flies a salmon angler actually requires is something of a moot point. One box is in all honest sufficient but being a fly tyer it is impossible to restrict myself in that way. I rooted out some patterns which would definitely not be required on Monday then roughly organised the more likely ones into one box. The others were chucked into the back of the car, ready if called upon but I felt it unlikely I would require much else than the one box now in my jacket pocket. My usual patterns were in the box, Cascades, some shrimps, Hairy Mary and Willie Gunns.

 

Monday

Up early. Coffee. Fill a flask and make up some sandwiches. No rain.

I battle my way against the flow of Monday morning commuters as they stream in from the towns and villages around the city of Aberdeen. When I grew up here in pre-oil days the likes of Westhill and Kingwells were small and quiet, now they are home to thousands of workers, many of whom come into the city each day. The traffic thins after Elrick and I head west to the pretty town of Alford. Hopes are high today and confidence is a necessary attitude for the salmon angler. Without belief there is little chance of sport. Confidence is something which grows and is honed by experience. The tiny lessons which are picked up every time we fish add to the lexicon of detail stored in our brains. Things which are impossible to convey in words can mean so much to us, things like the tension on the line when the fly is swimming properly, the look of a lie at the right height of water. Understanding these and many more details are what make some anglers more successful than others. Sure, luck has a huge role to play but experience breeds confidence and confidence leads to fish on the bank. This morning I am feeling confident.

My first view of the river is at the same time encouraging and perplexing. There is some colour and the height looks to be more like 2 feet above summer level. I drive to a parking place near the top of the beat and tackle up. A size 8 Hairy Mary goes on the end of the line then I am off down to the river bank.

I fish through a couple of pools, getting the feel of the rod and my surroundings. The banks are generally rough and I am finding it tough on my arthritic ankles almost from the off. I concentrate on my spey casting which is going OK.

There are some trees which reach all the way to the waters edge, barring downstream progress so I walk back up to the road and skirt the trees. Crossing a field I reach a lovely pool which has given me fish from the opposite side in the past.

 

 

I fish it down then change flies and go down it one more time. Near the tail the line tightens but my momentary joy is short lived as a small trout proves to be no match for the salmon gear.

I stick with the small tube as I fish through the next couple of pools but there are no offers here.

 

 

I switch flies and put on 22mm brass tube to get me down a bit and while I’m at it I change to a sink tip line. I sense the river is actually rising but as I am working my way downstream it is hard to be sure.

There is a lie in a small pocket to the side of a fast run which looks inviting and I swing the heavy tube through it a couple of times. Bang! Fish on and just as quickly he is gone. I pull in the line to check in case the fly had fouled on the leader or I had somehow broken a hook but no, everything looked just right. A simple case of bad luck this time.

I continued to work my way down the river, covering every inch of likely water. There are some lovely pools on Littlewood and I swam a number of different flies through them all on Monday, to no avail.

In the end I had to concede defeat and as the rain started to fall I packed up and left the river in peace. All my fretting about the rain was not entirely wrong, the slowly rising Don did not live up to expectations in terms of fish on the bank. That said, I had a great day out in the fresh air and with a small slice of luck I might have hooked the one fish that came to the fly.

For those of you who don’t mind rough banks I can thoroughly recommend Littlewood. It is very scenic and on its day it can be very productive. Just Monday wasn’t one of those days!

 

 

 

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dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, salmon fishing, trout fishing

Green tinsel

I was given a fly the other day by a highly experienced local angler who has had some success with it on Carrowmore Lake. It is predominantly black and dressed in bumble style but the thing that caught my eye was the body material – green tinsel. For years I have found this colour of tinsel to be an excellent attractor of both trout and salmon.

My infatuation with green tinsels started a long, long time ago when, as a young lad I bought a book called ‘Clyde style flies and how to dress them’. This slim volume contained some great patterns but the main emphasis of the book was on the design of the flies and how to keep the dressings to a minimum on small hooks. Back in those days the smallest hook I could buy was a size 16 and I tied up lots of the patterns from the book on Mustads. The big attractions for me was the simplicity of the patterns and the readily available materials they required.

One of the flies which I tied was a thing called the Murray’s Blue bottle spider. There were a few variations of the bluebottle. They all had a small black hackle but the body could be made out of either blue or green lurex. There was even another variant which sported a couple of turns of pink lurex as a butt. In use, the blue bodied one did not catch me very much at all but the green one was a sure fire killer on the Don on summer evenings before the rise got going.

Not much left of this 50 year old lurex!

The big drawback with the small Murray’s spiders was the lurex itself. While it was very shiny it was also extremely delicate and rarely lasted beyond the first take. I spent so many frustrating evenings cutting off one damaged spider to replace it with a fresh one, only for it to be destroyed in short order by the next fish. I tried covering the lurex with varnish and this helped a little but the fly was inherently weak. These days I’d use epoxy to coat the lurex but back in the day varnish was all that was available.

I never found the blue lurex to be as effective as the green

A tiny dry version of the blue bottle spider is an effective pattern but I suspect it entices smaller trout ahead of their larger brethren. I can’t recall landing any big brownies on a dry Bluebottle but it used to catch me loads of small fellas.

Fast forward to a more modern era and the arrival of mylar as a tinsel. Much stronger than the outdated lurex, mylar also comes in a nice green colour.  Of course nowadays there are a profusion of different types of tinsel-like materials to pick from in just about any colour you can imagine but I like Mylar and use it for most of my tinsel bodied flies. We fly tiers get used to handling certain materials, become more dexterous with them in use and better able to judge just the right amount of tension we can apply.

A stoat’s tail with a green mylar body is a capital fly for grilse in pretty much any conditions. I rib the green body with oval silver tinsel to add some more flash and to protect the mylar a bit. I fish this fly fast, darting it across the lies so the fish don’t get too long to look at it. In the past I used to add a layer of pearl over the green which makes for a very pretty fly but I can’t in all honesty say this made the fly any more deadly.

I have tied  green shrimp pattern for the summer grilse fishing but it has yet to be tried so this one comes with no recommendations (yet). The silver tag and a wound GP body feather as a tail are standard. The body is in two halves, the rear being green tinsel ribbed with silver and front is red fur or silk, also ribbed with silver. A doubled badger cock hackle is wound at the joint of the body and another one at the head. You could add a couple of Jungle Cock eyes too if you feel the need.

it looks like it should catch fish!

So there you have it, green tinsel is a great addition to trout and salmon flies. In a world of increasingly complex patterns and ever more exotic synthetic materials the humble coloured tinsel can still be relied upon to give some action. Give it a try!

pools on an west coast spate river, ideal water for these flies

 

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling, wetfly

Choices

Saturday was a day of labour for me but I planned to sneak off for some fishing on Sunday. Modern life is so full it seems to get harder with every passing day to dedicate downtime for fishing or other relaxation. I had narrowed down my choice of venue to either the Moy or Lough Conn, leaving the final decision until the last minute. I knew both venues were producing a small number of fresh salmon so it would come down to the weather conditions on the day.

Sunday morning saw a gusty westerly wind blowing under thick clouds in a lead coloured sky, perfect for Lough Conn! Decision made, I loaded the car and pulled off, happy in the knowledge I had made the right move. The world seemed to consist only of grey as I motored North though drizzle and mist. So much for the Irish summer! It did ease off  bit by the time I parked the car on the verge of the boreen next the the boat. My mobile squawed into life and Ben was on the other end – with news he had just landed a very fresh grilse on a Hairy Mary. Of course he was fishing the Moy!

Well, here I was now so I bailed the boat, loaded up and scoured the car for a hat. No headgear was to be found so I set off bare-headed (if you ave read my last post you will know this is not an uncommon failing on my part). The west wind suited a good drift I often fish in Castlehill Bay so I headed there first. Green Peter, Claret Bumble and a Watson’s seemed to be reasonable choices given the overhead conditions and I fished them with a floating line due in part to the masses of weeds in the bay. It all looked quite promising as I fished a few short drifts in quick succession. Then i tried drifting further out in the bay but there were no takers. Flogging the waves with a cast of three flies was proving to be a waste of time so I pulled in to the shore and set up a pair of trolling rods.

Looking down to Massbrook in the distance

The wind by now had swung from dead West to southerly and it had picked up strength as well. Sunshine broke through the clouds and within the space of only a few minutes the whole feel of the day had changed. Down over the lies I fished but without response or indeed, even seeing a fish of any kind. I passed a fellow troller who signalled he had a fish so I stuck manfully to the task in hand. The wind changed direction again, this time backing westerly once more and turning very gusty. Holding the line was hard as the wind caught the bows and tried to swing the boat around.

Some items for the day. Coffee, keys for the boat locks, some swivels (in the old cigar box) and a few baits

The shallows at Massbrook extend out into the main body of the lake for some considerable distance and I ploughed up and down them for a good hour without eliciting any sort of a response form the fish. I headed next to ‘Mary Robinson’s’ shore (we still call it that even though the ex-President no longer owns that land). There is a good lie at the first pin but just as I was coming up to it the Rapala on the right hand rod snagged the bottom. Mild panic ensured as I cleared the other rod but found the Finnish plug was well and truly stuck. I heaved in some slack and wound it around a tholl pin and hey presto! something gave and I recovered some line. The reason for the solid connection soon became clear, I had snagged another line. More pulling/cursing on my part finally freed this old line and I hauled in about 30 yards of very heavy braid. Also attached was a Toby T but to my disappointment it was only a Garcia model instead of a good Swedish one.

I had no sooner got back into action when the same thing happened again! This time another chunk of heavy braid came in to the boat with an ancient and mangled Flying C. Both pieces of braid were very heavy, I’d estimate they were at least 60 or 70 pound breaking strain. One looked pretty recent but the other line had lain on the bottom for a long time by the look of it.

nasty mess of heavy braid

I turned for home, hope slipping away like the white foam trail from the engine. Then, at the most northern part of Massbrook shore the 12 gram copper Smash was grabbed by a grilse. Lifting into him I could tell this was a small fish but after only 30 seconds or so he shook himself free of the hook and he was gone. As it turns out that was the only action for the day despite another few drifts with the flies in Castlehill.

All in all it appears that I made the wrong choice and I should have headed to the river Moy instead of trying my luck on Lough Conn. This is what happens when I am not fishing often enough, I get rusty and miss out on opportunities because I have not been close to the river/lake. With detailed knowledge I may well have gone to the river instead of the lake today and had a better chance of contacting a fish as a result. On the plus side at least I removed some line which had been snagged on the bottom and or a few brief seconds the rod was bent and fish was on. I’ll settle for that today.

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling

Around Conn

The forecast was for rain but I nipped out to have a couple of hours on lough Conn this morning before the deluge started. It’s Sunday and the weekend feels like it it has slipped by already so a trip to my favourite lake was definitely in order. Now normally all the gear is nestled in the back of the old car but today I had to load up from scratch, something that always worries me these days what with my appalling memory. In the recent past i have forgotten a rod, the petrol tank for the engine, the boat keys and don’t start me of the number of occasions I have left home without a net! Today though all went smoothly and every item which was required made it safely to the lakeside.

I wonder how often I have driven the winding road to Pike Bay? It must in the hundreds by now, yet I still love the the twenty odd minutes cruising through the green countryside. I know every twist and turn (and pothole) by now but it is a journey full of happy memories for me. Days when the fish were biting or just that ease of mind knowing I was heading to the fishing. Today was going to be a difficult day no doubt with very few fish around, but I didn’t care, at least I would be out on the water.

start of the day

A leaden sky hung over the every changing vistas as the old green VW snaked along the road, alternately hemmed in by trees or exposed to views across the bog to the high ground to the west. Of wind there was not much to nil, but the forecast assured me that would change as the day wore on and a good blow was to be expected later. It had rained as I packed the car but that shower moved off to the north and it was dry until I turned on to the boreen down to Pike Bay. Big, fat rain drops splattered the windscreen from there to the spot where the boat is berthed, maybe this was going to be another damp outing for me after all. Setting up the rods and stowing the gear on board took me only a few minutes then I was off. The bank of reeds between me and open water were negotiated using the oars, it being too thick to chance using the outboard. I have done that before and only succeeded in wrapping the wire-like reed stems around the prop. Pulling on the oars in unison I cleared the reeds in no time and their soft ‘swish’ on the sides of the grey boat soon gave way to silence.

The Honda burst into life at the third pull and I puttered out of the bay, streaming three lines behind me. The rain got heavier.

Using three rods to troll on Irish loughs in not unusual, indeed I have heard of experienced trollers using more that that number with great success. It is easy enough when you are motoring along, the fun and games really begin when you either hit a fish or snag on the bottom. Suddenly you are faced with decisions on which rod to grab. If it is a fish I like to strike, slacken off the drag a bit then turn my attention to the other rods. It is necessary to get those other lines out of harms way a soon as possible. Today there were no fish but there were plenty of weeds.

on the troll

On a line I troll frequently I snagged all three baits simultaneously. All three appeared to be absolutely solid so I came to a halt then knocked the engine into reverse. The following wind had strengthened and was coming from the quarter, making the boat drift very awkwardly indeed. So there I was, hand on the tiller trying hard to keep the right line while also attempting to reel in the slack line on all three rods. Needless to say this was more than a man with the normal quota of arms and hands was able to do. Slack line was stripped in but it still managed to wrap itself around the engine, creating a rare old tangle in the process. I was being pushed quickly on to the shore so I cut my losses and pulled in all three baits then motored for a shore in the lee of the wind when I could sort myself out. Two rods were quickly sorted out but the braid on the cardinal reel was in a hopeless fankle which necessitated a swift chop. That’s the trouble with braid – once it get into a tangle it is very hard to clear it.

Knotted braid

I lost a few yards of braid but at least I was back out fishing again in a few minutes. I trolled all the way down to Massbrook in a strong headwind, the spray lashing me in the face as I hunkered down in the back of the boat. In those conditions I would expect to see the odd salmon pitching in the distance but not today. A few late mayfly were hatching out but nothing molested them and they zoomed off the wind as soon as their wings were dry. I swapped baits before turning for home in the waves which had by now grown to a yard from trough to foaming crest.

Using three rods allowed me to try three different baits at the same time. A Swedish silver and copper Toby, an orange and gold Rapala and a copper spoon I bought in Poland last year were given a swim on the way back up the lake. Sometimes I use the same baits on two rods but in different sizes or weights to search at different depths. I can’t say I have ever resorted to using three identical baits at the same time but I know many anglers do that.

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A nice Tay-rigged Rapala

The return trip failed to produce any action either and the intensity of the rain grew with every passing minute. I had planned for many hours on the water but there is little joy to be found when the cold water runs down the back of your neck. Pike Bay and the warmth of the car beckoned and I answered the call gladly. Another fishless few hours for me then, a dreaded blank no less. To say this is the norm now for salmon fishers is an understatement. The poor salmon have been hunted to the very edge of extinction from what I can see and it is hard to see the situation improving. The Moy system, which Lough Conn is part of, is one of the last to hold on to a decent run of fish but even here there is a decline in numbers.

This latest belt of rain will hasten the grilse run and they will be moving up river over the coming week. I’ll try to sneak away for a few hours after work over the upcoming days. Salmon angling is all about putting in the hard hours on the water.

 

 

 

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

Typical weekend

I fished Lough Conn on Saturday morning before family commitments called me back to town then had a quiet hour or soon the Moy on Sunday evening. No fish but it was nice to be out. I’ll let the photos do the talking:

Down at Mary Robinson’s

the old 66

welcome mug of coffee

flat calm

what to try next?

Sunday and the Moy is running high

blue and silver devon

rumour is the fish are running hard and not stopping.

 

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

All quiet on Beltra

Tried a few drifts on Lough Beltra yesterday evening but there was no signs of any salmon. Jackie and Connor Deffley landed a fish apiece the day before in good conditions so there are still one or two sneaking up into the lake. Here are a few photos anyway.

Looking along the Co-op shore

waiting at the dock

On the oar

 

View from the car as I headed home. No fish but a great evening to be out and about

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