I have been quiet on here for a wee while as I was preparing for and then travelling to Scotland last week. It was wonderful to be able to see my family again after so long and we had a great catch up of what has been happening in both countries. Sadly, we had deaths on both sides of the sea and the sense of loss is still very real but we are all looking forward to happier times.
While at my mother’s house she produced a small photo of me from many years ago. It had been roughly trimmed to fit a tiny oval shaped frame but it was a picture of me holding my biggest ever salmon, a brute of 24 pounds. The head of the fish had been unceremoniously cut off so the photo would fit the frame which was a great pity.
Those of you who follow this blog will understandably be dubious that chap in this photo is me, but yes, I used to have hair. I would much rather have had a pic of the whole fish than of my ugly mug! It was September 1996 this was taken and little did I think then that only a little over a year later I would leave Scotland for good and relocate to the west of Ireland.
I can vividly recall the battle with this leviathan. I hooked him on a 11cm Rapala in a pool on the lower Don in Aberdeen. A powerful upstream run left me in no doubt this was a big fish and the following 20 minutes were spent countering his head-shaking and runs. At no time did he show, staying deep all the time instead. One last run took him 30 yards below me and I could not follow due to trees on my bank. With no other option I piled on the pressure, sure the hooks would give way as I doubled the rod into him. Slowly, very slowly, I gained some line and I prepared the net. Inches were retrieved and still the fish did not show. I could have used some help but there was nobody else fishing that morning. Level with me now, I peered into the coloured water to catch my first glimpse of him but he kept me waiting right to the end. I sank the net into the water, tightened down the drag and heaved with all my might to pull the fish towards me. At last it showed just under the surface and I slackened off the drag again. I had thought I was battling a fish in the teens of pounds but it was clear I was into a much more impressive specimen. He made a short, stabbing run but it was clear that I had him beaten and this time I led him into the net without any fuss.
These days, that fish would have been photographed and swiftly returned, but back then there was no thought of C&R. Dispatched, I lost all interest in carrying on so I headed for the car park with my prize. I was living in Fife back then but stayed in a flat in Aberdeen while at work in the mill there. Before returning to the flat I popped in to my parents to show them the fish. That is when the above photograph was taken. The fish was cut up and distributed to friends and neighbours.
All too soon the trip to Scotland was over and it was time to head back across the Irish Sea. The old VW burst a cooling pipe on the way home, necessitating a stop every 30 miles to top the old girl up with some H2O but I made it home none the worse for wear. Who knows when I will get back over there, but at least I saw my family for the first time in a year-and-a-half.
I blanked on my last visit to Carrowmore so I was hoping for better luck this time around. The lake has been a bit hit and miss so far this year with some anglers catching regularly while others are struggling to meet fish. A storm is forecast for the end of this week which will churn the bottom of the lake so this trip was aimed to put in a few hours before the lake became unfishable. I had been thinking about where to fish as part of my ’32’ project and plumped for Carrowmore, so this was going to be a big day for me.
The usual preparations were made and I arranged to meet Ben in Bangor as we still have to travel separately. I drove up under bright sunshine and with hardly any wind to shake the roadside trees and bushes. In the end, we met up in the car park at the harbour and nattered about the fishing as we tackled up. A few other cars were there too which is normally a good sign. I tied on a 3 fly leader with a Goats Toe Muddler, Claret Bumble and a Golden Olive hairwing creation of mine to start with. Clouds began to roll in from the west and the there was enough of a wind to give a ripple as we motored up the lake in improving conditions.
By judicious use of the oar Ben guided us along the mouth of the Glencullin river over prime lies but there were no takers apart from a few small brownies. We repeated the exercise then moved over to the Barney Shore as the wind was favorable for that drift. I had a small sea trout and a brownie and Ben added another pair of small trout but the salmon were still eluding us. We could see other boats around us and none of them were meeting fish either. With the fishing quiet we adjourned for lunch, wolfed down as we sat on the shore with sky larks serenading us from on high. Why do sandwiches and tea taste so good when eaten on the edge of the water? I took the opportunity to change all the flies on the cast, going for a Green Peter on the bob, a Wilkinson in the middle and a Beltra Badger on the tail. I figured the bright flies suited the day that was in it.
The clouds had burned off by now and we were treated to blue skies and a fierce sun which reflected off the surface of the lough making it hard to watch the flies. Another drift over the Glencullin lies was fruitless so we fished the shallow further out which is marked with an orange buoy. Not a stir. This is typical of salmon fishing, long hours flogging the water with no signs of fish. It takes a strong will and a hefty dose of self belief to keep going some days.
Ben suggested the Barney Shore again and I did not object. We set up on the drift close to the shore. Stonechats were singing that familiar weird song of theirs and I was watching some Sand Martins swooping over the fields out of the corner of my eye. Then it happened………………………
Ten yards from the boat the water broke and the tail of a fish lashed the surface as it turned down. Simultaneously, the line tightened and I lifted into solid resistance. ‘Salmon’ said Ben but I was not so sure. ‘Feels small, maybe a sea trout’ I countered, reeling in the slack and watching what the fish was doing. She swam towards the boat at first, staying deep and shaking her head. I stamped on the wooden boards, our usual tactic to keep the fish away from the boat and potentially swimming right under it. She moved off to my left and very obligingly kept going round to the back of the boat. This is where you want a fish to be so that you have room to play it out. By now Ben had reeled in his line, stowed his rod and had grabbed an oar which he used to move the boat away from the shore. These actions as so well rehearsed that neither of us need to ask the other, we simply get on with the jobs while the lucky angler is concentrating on playing the fish.
The ratchet sang as the salmon went off on a short run but it did not go far, instead turning and coming back towards the boat under heavy pressure from me. I don’t like to see fish being allowed to run too far and possibly drowning the line so I play salmon quite hard. My rod was hooped over and the line disappeared into the water almost vertically as the fish swam near the bottom. Another short run ended with the fish rolling just under the surface and we both got our first good look at it. ‘Fresh fish’ said Ben, not wasting words unnecessarily. ‘Bigger than I thought’ I chipped in. Yet another short run, this time to my right then back down to the bottom she went again. My wrist was aching by now!
I heard the net being extended as I applied more pressure to bring the fish up to the top. There she thrashed, always a nerve-wreaking moment but the hook held. I could see she had taken the bob fly. Circling now, the fish was beginning to tire but she still managed to dive once more then head of to my right again. I checked Ben was ready and led the fish towards the net. She shied away at first but I maneuvered her back and with her head up she slid into the waiting meshes. The relief was palpable and grinning like a pair of lunatics, we shook hands and quickly dispatched the salmon. The whole battle had probably lasted less than ten minutes. Ten minutes of doubts, fears and anxiety. I have fished most of my life and landed hundreds of salmon but the thrill of the fight never leaves you.
I put the fish into a bass to keep it fresh after fitting both tags through the gills. Now we had to get the boat back in order to resume fishing. The net was stowed, my tackle checked after the rigors of the fight and the oar put back into the right position. We set up to fish the balance of the drift and started casting again as we discussed every minute detail of the battle. In salmon fishing, it is often the case a second fish can be lured soon after the first one so it pays to fish hard when one is in the boat. Today though the lough was not going to play that game and we fished out the long drift without any further action.
We did the same drift again, then back out to the buoy and over Glencullin once more too. Not a fish stirred so we decided to stop for another cuppa. We both felt the conditions, while very bright, meant there was the chance of another fish so we next headed off for Paradise Bay. A couple of drifts failed to produce anything and so I decided to call it a day. I was tired and my wrist was aching. Under an azure sky dotted with cotton wool clouds we drove back to the harbour, both deep in thought. Today it had been my turn but is could just as easily been Bens. Why that fish had taken my fly and not his we will never know but that is part of the attraction of salmon fishing.
Gerry, one of the local Fisheries Officers, was at the harbour when we pulled in and he checked my catch to see everything was in order. We chatted for a while about fish and fishing and Ben decided he would go back out to fish on a while longer. I got out of the fishing clothes and packed everything into the car. The wind was dropping now and the sun was starting to sink in the west. The long road home seems much shorter when there is a salmon in the back of the car!
So there you have it, Mayo has been crossed off my list of the 32 counties. I had fished hard all day, kept persevering in marginal conditions and never gave up hope. This does not always work but I believe persistence is critical to being a successful salmon angler. I will sleep soundly tonight, trust me!
I know what you are thinking – he is opening a can of worms here! Be that as it may, I want to discuss boat partners as they as such a vital part of the lough fishing experience. Let me say at the outset that I have been very lucky and fished with some of the finest anglers over the years and an awful lot of my knowledge has been gleaned from those fine fishermen.
So what makes a good boat partner? Anglers, like the rest of society, are a diverse bunch. Some are gregarious and voluble while others are introverted and quiet. Some are skilful and others bumblers of the highest order (I fall into the latter group). There is no magic formula and I find that while pretty much all boat anglers get along just fine there are some combinations which work better than others.
When fishing I tend to be quiet. I don’t say much and certainly don’t indulge in idle chit-chat when afloat. I like my boat partners to be similarly silent when on the drift. While that works for me others will find my quietness irksome. I know some boats that you can often hear before you see them! Loud laughter and constant chatter mark them out at a distance and good luck to them. It works for both parties and they thoroughly enjoy their days of constant banter on the waves.
Then there is the question of the division of work. Drifting an Irish lough seems to some like perfect peace but trust me, there are days when the oar is in constant use or short drifts mean the engine is often purring as you shift back to the start of a drift or work your way down a shoreline. Some boats share the load by swapping positions in the boat, usually at lunchtime. This is a very fair way of doing things as it also changes casting positions giving both anglers a chance of fishing from each end of the boat. Other boats never swap positions, perhaps due to the engine being the property of one of the anglers and he/she may not want anyone else operating their expensive outboard. In my book that is fair enough. It is all too easy to strike a hidden rock and seriously damage an engine. I for one would feel terrible if that happened to me.
Ability and physicality need to be considered too. As I get older I appreciate that I am not as agile or strong as I was in my youth and am not too proud to ask for help. Young fellas can row all day or stand up in the stern facing the weather as we beat upwind in a force 5 much better than I can!
Little things can make a difference, like what happens at lunchtime. For some boats this is a team effort where each party knows their job and indeed even who brings along what bit of grub. Some lads are deft with the frying pan while others are good at foraging for twigs to start a fire for example. Some enjoy a glass of wine while others a pioneers.
The vibrant competition scene here in Ireland fosters long-standing boat partnerships. At the same time, many competitions feature a draw at the start of the day when your name is in the hat with everyone else and whoever your are pulled out with is your partner for the day. I won’t get into that now as I am not a competition fisher but for many meeting other anglers is one of the joys of the competition scene.
Somehow all these variables shake down over time and anglers gravitate to each other and form strong bonds. Good boat partnerships last a lifetime and losing that partner can feel like a bereavement.
So where do I fit into this picture? I am afraid I am a bit of a tramp, I flit between boat partners. In my defence I have to say this is partly because I vary my fishing so much. Different venues, different species, different methods – they all play a part in this mosaic. Virtually all of my lough salmon fishing is with my mate Ben, a dyed-in-the-wool salmon fisher. Trout fishing on the other hand sees me partnered with a phalanx of other anglers depending on where and when I am fishing. Very often I fish alone, not because I am particularly anti-social but more that my outings are often unplanned. I see a window in the weather or have time on my hands and take advantage of those opportunities at short notice. I am also notorious for swapping between methods which some people don’t mind but others find a challenge. I may start the day fishing the fly but if the wind drops I will troll for a while until the breeze comes back up. Most of my acquaintances are fly-only men who would not be seen dead with a trolling rod in the boat. So you can frequently find me out on the water alone, trailing a lure behind the boat or doing that cast/pull the oar (repeat) thing.
There does not seem to be one magic rule which decides how a good partnership is formed, rather it is an amalgamation of a host of factors. The complexities of human interaction mean we will never fully understand it but sometimes you just ‘click’ with another angler and when that happens it adds enormously to the days afloat.
After 12th April we will be allowed to travel within our counties here in Ireland and I will be back out on the water, either alone or with a boat partner. The long wait is nearly over and I am hopeful of some good fishing this season. Part of the excitement of returning to the fishing is reaffirming those friendships forged over past seasons with like-minded fishers and I hope to meet and fish with many more of you this year.
As the winter gives way to springtime us fishermen turn our thoughts to the early season fisheries and prime amongst the Irish loughs is Beltra. There are more prolific loughs and rivers but for sheer beauty it is hard to beat lovely lough Beltra. Since it is one of my local waters and one which I fish regularly I thought I would share some information on the best drifts on the Glenisland side of the lough. It may just help a visiting angler to locate a springer. Opening day is 20th March and one or two locals who live on the shores of the lough will no doubt be out to try their luck on that day.
Beltra lies to the west of the town of Castlebar in the townland of Glenisland. This is marginal farming country of rough pastures and hill sheep. The lough collects water from the Crumpaun river which flows into the northern end of the lough and the Newport river discharges from the opposite southern end. The Newport river is a good salmon fishery in its own right but I have only rarely fished it and am no expert on that water. In addition there are a few small streams which drain the immediate area and find their way into the lough.
Roughly two miles long by a mile or so wide, the lough is set on a northeast – south west axis and this is very important to know when planning a day on the lake. The predominant wind direction here in Mayo is an Atlantic breeze from the south west. This is pretty much a perfect direction for Beltra as it allows you to set up a drift from the southern end of the lake and be blown up the full length of the lough to the north. In practice the wind is rarely spot on and the drifts need to be adjusted as you proceed down the lough but either a south west or a north east wind suits the Glenisland Coop side of the lough.
While there are islands and bays on the Newport side of the lough there is an open shoreline on the Coop side. Fishing is carried out close to the shore, if you are more than 50 yards from the bank you are too far out in most places (I will come to exceptions to that rule later on). The reason for this is the depth falls away rapidly and the salmon (and sea trout) much prefer to lie in shallow water when they get into the lough. So keep close to the bank and adjust your drift with strokes on an oar out the back of the boat. Unlike most of the big loughs, there are no rocks or reefs to worry about on this side of Beltra. There are a few well marked rocks on the Newport House side but none on Glenisland. For some anglers this is a blessing. I know not a few very good anglers who hate dodging in around rocks and reefs for fear of grounding of smashing a hole in the boat. Others, myself included, find that where there are reefs or rocks there will often be fish so put up with the occasional scratch on the keel from barely visible obstructions.
Let’s take a look at some of the well known drifts on the Glenisland side. We will presume there is a good force 4 or 5 south-westerly blowing. The mouth of the river where the stream at the harbour enters the lough is a good spot. Silt from the river has built up over the years and the water is shallow (mind your propeller!). Start your drift well to the south so you have time to get your line lengthened and everything in the boat settled. It will depend on the height of water in the lough but roughly 20 – 40 yards out is about right. Drift past the mouth of the river then guide the boat towards the shore. Fish on down the length of the shoreline, keeping inside the 50 yard line. This a good drift for sea trout too.
Moving down the lough, Morrisons is a grand lie for a salmon. Drifting up to it from the south you come to a small point of gravel; fish can take you either before or immediately after this point. After this there are sometimes a fish or two sitting 50-100 yards further down.
Next as we drift along the shore we come to the Wall. The reason for the name is obvious as there is a wall practically on the edge of the water where the road runs close by. No major features here bar a small stream which enters the lough via a culvert under the road.
The red shed is now a bit of a misnomer after the owner painted it grey a few years ago! We still refer to it as the red shed though. Another good salmon lie, they can come to you from right along this piece of shoreline. There is a tiny little bay where a small stream comes in and fish lie all around here. The slightly featureless shore stretching northwards from the small bay is all good salmon water. This leads you down to the northern harbour which is known as ‘the dock’.
So what do you do if the wind is not blowing conveniently from the south west. Your best bet is going to be the northern end of the lough where the shallows at the mouth of the Crumpaun river can be tackled in just about any wind direction. You are sort of trapped in a small area but it is always a good spot for a salmon and I have seen many fish caught there in winds which meant the rest of the lough was almost unfishable. The bottom here is sandy and the fish seem to like lying in the shallow water. By late spring there will be some weed growth on the bottom here, especially as you get closer to the shore so watch out for vegetation fouling your flies. The shallows outside the dock are one of the prime drifts for sea trout on the lough. It is worth noting that when the Crumpaun river is in flood this end of the lough can become very dirty with sediment from the river, making it unfishable at times. The limit of the beat is marked by a buoy so you often here locals referring to catching a fish ‘at the buoy’. It is good fishing water right across from the buoy to the dock. Keep a careful eye on the depth of water when drifting into the mouth of the river, it shallows up and you can ground the boat which could be tricky to re-float in a good wind.
I am not saying it is impossible to fish the main lies along the east shore in any wind except a south westerly, it is just much harder work. A westerly pushes the boat fast on to the shore and drifts consist of a few hasty casts before starting the engine and going back out a hundred yards or so. This is tiring work for little return. An easterly wind is blocked by the hills meaning calm water on the Glenisland shore (who likes an east wind anyway!)
In a North Easterly wind Walsh’s Bay at the south of the lough is a good lie. Here the fish lie very close to the shore so cast your flies as close as you dare to the rocks and rushes and be ready for a pull within inches of dry land. This is a lovely wee bay to fish, very intimate and calming.
Fishing on your own can be hard work as casting a heavy line and pulling on an oar to keep on the drift demands a degree of physicality. The services of a ghillie can really be a boon and there are some excellent ones on the lough, including some real characters (you know who you are!). If you are not used to handling a boat in big waves and high winds then I strongly recommend you hire a ghillie for the day. He will take care of the hard work on the oar and let you concentrate on your casting in the challenging conditions. The ghillie will also have the advantage of intimate knowledge and experience which can be crucial, especially on marginal days.
I could go on and on about this lough but the best thing is for you to come and experience it for yourself. The fishing is not easy and blank days are common but few places finer for spending a day.
I know I have written about salmon fishing on spate rivers before but with this season already slipping away I am planning on fishing a couple of small local rivers this summer. I have avoided them recently as the stocks were being hammered by poachers in small boats at the mouth of the rivers and I felt my fishing them was only adding to the difficulties of the poor salmon. But after last year I am hopeful the fish numbers might have increased a little so I will chance trying for some grilse come the summer months. With my early spring fishing already lost due to travel restrictions I want to maximise my summer angling so that means grilse fishing on spate streams for me.
The small spate rivers of the west of Ireland are very similar to their counterparts on the west coast of Scotland so pretty much all of what I am going to talk about applies to both countries. These are small, intimate fisheries, far removed from the classic ‘big four’ of Tweed, Tay, Dee and Spey. Each has its own character and a large part of the enjoyment is getting to know the moods and signals the water will give you if you look and learn. I confess it took me a while to key into small rivers, I was so used to fishing the big Scottish rivers that tiny streams seemed a huge challenge. No more 200 yard long pools where I could get into a rhythm casting or fishing over lies where I knew fish would hold for days on end. I learned slowly and now appreciate the beauty and excitement of the spate rivers.
In my previous posts I dealt with the basics but here I want to go into more detail of the methods I personally have found successful. I’ll start with tackle. Although the average width of the rivers I am taking about is from about 5 – 20 yards I prefer a rod of around 11 feet in length. Many local anglers go longer than that and 12 or 13 footers can often be seen in use around here. Partly this is simply using the same rod for boat fishing as for the river but the longer rod gives a couple of advantages over its shorter brethren. Anything which reduces the need for false casting is good, the banks of the river are wild and unkempt so keeping the fly in the water and not in the air too much is a good idea. I find a longer rod is an aid when landing fish too. Often you have to reach over bankside obstructions so that extra foot or two of rod length can be a godsend.
For me personally, chest waders are a must. I see other very successful anglers rocking up to the river wearing only a pair of wellies but I want the freedom of crossing the river as required and bridges are at a premium usually. The price I pay is being lathered in sweat but there you go.
For fishing big rivers I own a range of different line densities to cope with varying conditions but for spate rivers I just use a floater. If I want to get down a bit or combat a very heavy current I use a small brass tube fly rather than mess about with sinking lines. Keep your tackle simple, there is no need for anything fancy.
Some pools on small rivers look just like miniature ‘classic’ pools in shape and depth profile, a fast run into the pool at the neck then the deeper main body before the water shallows and smooths out at the tail. For an experienced angler this is easy to read and fish. A lot of ‘pools’ on the small rivers are not that obvious though. Winkling grilse out of odd corners is one of the great charms of this type of fishing and I have caught them in all sorts of places. Every sunken rock, surface disturbance, drop off or gravel bar should be fished diligently. Only experience will tell you when a particular lie will hold fish at any given height. And this is where the question of height becomes paramount.
Beginners are often caught out by the speed a river rises or drops. In these times of intensive farming, hill sheep, Sitka plantations and drainage systems our spate rivers swell with flood water and then empty at astonishing rates. Knowing the river you are fishing is a vital component of your armoury. The visiting angler who decides to fish on a certain day, starting at a given time will always be at a huge disadvantage compared to a local who can be flexible. For example, imagine a small spate river in July. A visiting angler books a days fishing for the Wednesday to fit in with other family commitments. The weather forecast is for rain on Tuesday so he is pretty confident of sport. Sure enough, it rains early on Tuesday morning and the river is a roaring flood by midday. It falls rapidly though and the locals are out in numbers by 3pm and fresh grilse are landed in prime conditions of falling and clearing water. By 9am on Tuesday the river is low and clear once again and our visitor is forced to fish either the sea pool or one or two deeper holes in the river. During the summer here in the west there is a constant flow of calls and texts between us salmon fishers. Every snippet of information regarding weather and water levels is passed on. ‘I was driving over the Party mountains an hour ago and the heavens opened, the Erriff will be up soon’, or ‘I was talking to a lad who said it’s lashing in Bangor, the grilse will be in the Owenmore’. Such juicy titbits are the lifeblood of summer fishing here and are the reason you see locals appear as if by magic when the rivers are in ply.
Within the window of a falling spate the experienced angler will have his or her own preferred pools at any given height. I could recount so many tales of catching a salmon from a lie which two hours later was bone dry. Each river system has it’s own character and seems to fish best under certain conditions. Take the Carrownisky river in west Mayo for example. I have fished this small river for many years and know excellent anglers who have done so since they were kids. None of us would bother fishing the lower stretches on a bright day. Cloudy, windy and damp are what you need there. On the other hand I have seen some good fishing on the Owenmore though on bright days though and even caught them in blazing sunshine on the Bunowen. Again, it comes back to knowing your water.
Have I caught salmon from a rising river? Yes I have. Have I caught many? No, only a handful over my lifetime. The ability to wait it out and allow the river to begin to drop is a huge plus. Often I have looked at the river at 9am to find it rising, filthy and unfishable. I’ll go off and do something else for a while then come back later in the day, the exact timing depending on the rain. If it rains all day I’ll pass on the fishing but if it stops the river will stop rising then start to drop, the exact timing depending on each system and where the rain fell. It is then that you want to be tackled up and on the bank. It can be a period of frustration or intense excitement when waiting for the river to come into ply. Here in the west the weather systems can sometimes roll in one after the other so just when you think it is time to get the rods out another belt of rain dumps yet more water into the river and up she goes again. Then again sometimes the the river drops during the night and that roaring flood at 10pm has subsided to a trickle by 5am the next morning.
The actual fishing itself is a hotch-potch of different casts trying to present the flies to fish in a wide range of lies. Long casts are rarely required but the ability to read a piece of water and fish it well are a necessity. I find myself roll casting frequently to avoid trees and bushes, wading deep to get the right angle to drift a fly into position or throwing outrageous mends in the line to hang the fly just right. I am sometimes out fished by the spinner and worming lads but in general over a season I regard the fly as the most effective method of tempting spate river salmon.
I’ve gone into fly design and patterns in other posts so I won’t re-hash that here, suffice to say that I find the smaller the better when it comes to summer fishing. Confidence in your fly is much more important that the particular pattern. I change flies often but that is simply because I am a fly tyer and like giving my new creations a swim. A Black Pennel, a Cascade or an Allys Shrimp will all catch you a fish or two so don’t sweat fly choice.
In summary, being on the water at the right time during the very short period of falling water is 90% of the battle. After that you need to read the water to figure out where a salmon could be lying then present smallish flies on a floating line. The real joy of this type of fishing is getting to know the river and its ways. Just being out on a small Irish river as a summer flood recedes is a wonderful experience. Swallows swooping as they hunt flies, the odd splash of a running salmon, the stunning green foliage on the banks or the smell of the new cut fields all combine to assault your senses. It is a very different experience to fishing the big, well tended rivers of Scotland. You should try it sometime!
OK, so the obvious schoolboy error here is I am a full 24 hours late in posting this! I was wrapped up at work all day then busy with household stuff when I got home yesterday so it is only now I have a spare minute or two and can post this to you all. Just imagine it is yesterday!
This date was always one of the major highlights of the angling year for me when I lived in Aberdeen all those years ago. 11th February was the opening day of the salmon season on the river Don. I was very lucky to have easy access to some of the prime water on the lower river and for a few seasons before I moved away from the area. A time of chasing pretty girls, drinking beer, riding motorbikes and catching salmon, what a life! In those marvelous days of my late ‘teens I enjoyed some amazing sport.
As a lad I had fished the local association water which back then came as far down river as the road bridge at the end of the Upper Parkhill beat. While the occasional salmon might make its way that far upstream in the opening weeks it was the hard fished beats from Stoneywood to the sea which offered the best chance of a springer. As luck would have it, I began my working life in Mugiemoss papermill and that factory backed on to a short but very productive stretch of the river, including the famous Saugh pool. The Saugh had been created by a pair of weirs which were part of the scheme to provide vast quantities of water for the mill. These weirs also had the unintended effect of creating a thermal barrier for the migrating salmon. Fish swimming up-river would halt in the Saugh pool and wait there for the water to warm up before continuing their journey. Thus the pool would literally fill up with prime spring salmon.
For the weeks before opening day my fellow anglers and I would watch the pools to see if the fish were coming in. A four story building called the beaterhouse was where I often found myself working and on night shifts a huge security light shone down on to the pool. This was there for safety reasons but also to illuminate the whole pool to deter poachers. Not that the poachers took much notice and they were always very active at this time of the year. One night I recall being told to go and look out at the pool. Someone had seen some movement on the far bank and a few of us opened the door on the top floor of the beaterhouse to see a gang of poachers at work. They had equipped themselves with a very small dinghy which one of them had rowed across the fast flowing water, dragging a net behind him. The bold enterprise degenerated into farce though as the flashing blue lights of the local constabulary caused panic in their ranks. Someone let go of the rope which held the boat and it shot out of the tale of the pool, its occupant screaming blue murder as he disappeared into the white water and out of sight. We heard later there had been arrests and the unfortunate boatman had been recovered, soaked but alive some way downstream.
Most years we would see some salmon from our vantage point, the odd fish turning at the tail of the pool or a resounding splash as one showed in the neck. One season though we could not believe the number of fish that built up in the pool. It was like looking into a giant tin of sardines they were packed so closely together! There was a booking system for the fishing with only 3 rods allowed to fish on the whole beat at any one time. It was the second week of the season that year before I cast a line in the ‘Saugher’ and I managed a couple of fine springers but by then the shoal had largely dispersed.
The fishing itself was pretty ‘agricultural’ shall we say. This was not classic fly water by any stretch of the imagination. The mill owned the right-hand bank. The river poured over the two weirs (which were only 30 yards apart). A deep, fast neck of the pool dug in to the left bank and this had been strengthen by huge blocks of granite. The main current hugged the left bank and a big back-eddy was created on our side. The water was very deep in the middle of the pool and it shallowed as it flowed to the tail. The salmon lay in all areas of the pool depending on height. This was spinning water, pure and simple. In very high water the fishing was better from our side while in what would be classed as the best conditions the flow meant the opposition had the best of it. Strong gear was required and there was nothing subtle about the angling in the Saugh pool! Devon minnows and a wye lead 3 feet above it was the order of the day. The weight would range from 3/8ths to an ounce, depending on conditions. The bottom of the pool was very rough and as we all know, spring salmon fishing means scraping the bottom with your lure. Tackle losses were horrendous! It was nothing to lose 8 or 10 minnows in a session. Sometimes you might retrieve a minnow lost by another angler but it never made up for the immense losses. I used 20 pound breaking strain line but many anglers preferred 30 pound. This was long before Braid was on the market so this was thick, curly mono we were using.
A typical morning would start by signing in at the lodge. This was a security gatehouse where you solemnly wrote your name and angling club number down in a A4 hard-backed book. Pick up a key to the hut while you are there. The walk through the mill, dressed in waders and fishing coat, waving or chatting to fellow workers before descending into the bowels of the mill. Past the huge water pumps and out of the noise and smells of the mill by a door which led to a bridge over the lade (a lade is a man-made waterway for feeding water to a mill, its like a small canal). Down to the wooden shed which was used as the fishermen’s hut and open the door. Time to tackle up as the excitement rises within you. ‘The Opposition’ would be busy already on the other bank, two rods heaving their heavy tackle into the slack water at our side. What would they be like today? Sometimes there was great banter between both sides but there were often heater arguments too!
It is hard to describe what it felt like fishing the mill pools. The constant hum of the huge machines was only a few yards behind you so this no country ideal. The bed of the river was coated in thick, smelly, brown scum caused by generations of waste from the other mills upstream of Mugiemoss. Waste treatment in all the mills was rudimentary back then and the river stank, turned different colours and looked like an open sewer some days. The situation is much better now but back then it was amazing any fish at all could live in those conditions.
Two rods could fish at any one time on the Saugh from our side, a third rod could rotate or go and fish any of the other water. When it was your turn you started at the lower end of the neck and fished down, roughly one step per cast. The total fishable water was less than 100 yards in length. Cast square across, keep the bale arm open to let the bait sink as fast as possible, close the bail arm when you judged the minnow was near the bottom. Hold the rod high and let the minnow work around in the current until it was below you then wind in fast. You might change weight if you were sticking on the bottom or were too light and not feeling the ‘bump, bump’ of the lead/minnow on the rocks. ‘Stickers’ brought a fine array of cuss words and much tugging until the hooks pulled out, straightened under the pressure or the line snapped with a sound like an air rifle.
There was no mistaking it when a salmon took the bait. The rod hooped over and the reel screeched. ‘FUSH’ you would yell in your finest Doric dialect, indicating to the other rods they had to wind in to give you space to play the salmon. In such deep, strong flowing water a fresh salmon usually out up a terrific struggle. A large net was on hand but I often beached a fish on the fine golden sand bar near the tail of the pool. After reading Hugh Faulkus’s book I practiced hand tailing them too and really enjoyed that way of landing a salmon. With such a density of fish in a pool it was inevitable the odd fish would be foul-hooked and that led to some protracted battles. These days we release most of the fish we catch but it was not like that back in the 70’s. Any salmon landed were the property of the mill and had to be killed and handed over. I understand the fish were then sold. The fish were stored in a disused dog kennel near the lodge (they had a number of German Shepherds as security dogs).
Some days the opposition would completely out-fish us, their rods continually bent into another fish. There were days though when we could do no wrong and for whatever reason the fish preferred our baits. I have endless tales of derring-do from those far-off days. Some great characters fished there and got up to the height of nonsense. Huge catches, days when every single fish escaped, lads falling in, rows with the opposition, hip-flasks of whiskey to warm us up on freezing mornings, there was always something going on at down the Saugh pool.
It started fishing there back in 1976 (I joined the mill in May that year) and apart from one day many years later I didn’t fish it once I left Mugiemoss in 1981. During that time the mill water gave me a couple of 20 pounders, very many in the ‘teens and a host of smaller salmon to my rod. Now I look back on the killing of so many fine fish with regret but in those days we had not even heard of conservation. In our view, the bad guys were the netsmen who took a huge toll on the returning salmon. The nets have thankfully been bought out and anglers practice C&R but the salmon numbers continue to decline.
I don’t know who owns the fishing rights to the right bank of the Saugh these days. Granholm still have the left bank as far as I know. Mugiemoss mill shut down and the land cleared years ago. There are smart new house now where the massive machines used to rumble and thunder. With Covid-19 restrictions I doubt if any of us will see spring fishing in 2021 and the best we can hope for is we get access to some angling in the autumn. Our memories will need to tide us over for now and I have those in abundance!
I try not to get involved in arguments about fishing. It is a gentle sport and no place for heated fights but if there is one subject guaranteed to raise hackles it is the choice of running line. Somewhat against my better judgement here are my own thoughts on the thorny subject.
I grew up in the era when there was only a very limited choice of line. Everyone used nylon, the only exception was sea anglers who used stuff called Dacron. Dacron has, rightly, been consigned to the dustbin of angling gear. It was not good mainly because it was so thick. I fished with for a few years back in the day but the claimed benefits of low stretch and good strength were comprehensively outweighed by the way it caught the tide and lifted you bait/lure off the bottom.
So nylon was your only option back in the 70’s and 80’s. Maxima was very popular with salmon anglers and while I caught more than my fair share of salmon it I switched to Stren when it came on the market. I don’t know if it is still available but I liked the golden yellow Stren and I can’t recall it ever letting me down. Then along came a new line – braid.
These days boat anglers are using braid more and more. Skippers generally hate the stuff as sorting out tangles with braid is the devils own work but some anglers love the bite detection and thinness of braid. I have used braid on my big multipliers for a few years now and aside from the afore mentioned tangle issue I find it excellent line. I still have nylon on my feathering reel though as constant jigging up and down seems to suit the stiffer nylon better.
I have flirted with braid on and off. I use it now on my trolling rods where I want strong line to cope with vicious takes and rough treatment when trying to prize baits from the bottom when they become snagged. Braid has been a godsend for this type of fishing and most of the other troll fishers I know swear by braid. By local standards I fish light with 30 pound braid on my trolling rods. Many of the lads use 70 pound! Would I go back to nylon for trolling? No, I don’t think I would. I have grown accustomed to braid and will stay with it from now on.
I have tried using braid on my spinning rods but have to admit I swapped back to nylon again. I didn’t enjoy casting with braid, it seemed to ‘dig in’ to the spool and any advantage I gained from low diameter was lost by the stickiness of it as it came off the spool during a cast. I reverted back to 15 pound nylon for my salmon fishing and have not regretted it (so far).
I wish I could say I like using the modern co-polymers, fluorocarbons, etc but in truth I have no faith in them. I have a habit of giving my line or trace a sharp tug before using it and when I did this with those ‘double strength’ and other new products they snapped in my hands. The only one I like is ‘Riverge’ which is horribly expensive but is an excellent product. I often see visiting anglers using extremely long fluorocarbon leaders when fishing the local loughs, maybe around 20 feet or more in length. This might be required on English stillwaters but I doubt they will bring you many additional trout here in Ireland. I personally use nylon for most of my leaders and am happy to stick to that. Many of the top anglers around here use a nine foot leader made out of 8 pound nylon!
Looking at my filled reels here is what is on them right now:
Both ABU Ambassadeur 7000’s – 20 pound nylon. Used for shore fishing
Daiwa PM9000H Fixed spool – 20 pound nylon. As above
ABU Ambassadeur 6500C – 18 pound nylon. As above
Winfield multipliers x 6 – 18 pound nylon. As above
ABU Ambassadeur 10000C – 50 pound braid. Used for boat fishing.
Penn Del Mar – 20 pound nylon. Used for feathering mackerel from the boat.
ABU Ambassadeur 4500CB, 5500C, 5000D’s and 6000’s – 30 pound braid. All used for piking, trolling etc.
Light fixed spools – mainly 6 pound nylon but lighter lines on some coarse fishing reels
Baitcasting reels – 6 pound nylon
Looking at that list there is obviously some rationalisation required. The 20 pound nylon on the big beachcasting reels is a hangover from a bulk spool I bought a while back. Similarly the 10 pound nylon I have habitually filled my 3500 series fixed spools could be upgraded to 15 pound to simplify things a little. The minor loss of distance would not be a big issue for me.
I have gravitated to braid on my trolling and boat fishing multipliers and nylon for everything else. I didn’t set out to do this, it just grew organically over time as I tried different options and ended where I am today. This may not suit everyone but it seems to work for me and I am happy to keep going like this.
With time on my hands I have been thinking a lot about my fishing. Of course I am missing getting out with rod and line something terrible. I snuck out once in December but apart from that I have not fished for 3 months now. With lockdown set to continue well into the spring this year I am brooding over what I am missing. Which led me to contemplate, what exactly am I longing for so much? Today I thought I would write down what Irish angling is all about, hopefully to give you visitors, and potential visitors, an insight into what makes Ireland such a great place for us anglers. Being non-Irish and having fished here initially as a tourist before pitching up in a full time capacity I kinda have two very different perspectives on the subject.
Anglers have written whole books about fishing here so my paltry few words will not add greatly to the subject but one day this pandemic will ease and we will regain the ability to travel and I hope this post generates some interest in coming to Ireland.
Let’s get the downsides out of the way first. Ireland should be the premier angling destination in the world. I honestly believe that! 100 years ago the rivers and loughs were full of fish and the seas teemed with everything from sprats to tuna. Destruction of habitat, pollution, over fishing and neglect have destroyed vast swathes of the aquatic habitat and fauna. Thousands of miles of rivers were dammed, dredged and straightened in the name of hydro-electric power, flood prevention and land reclamation.
I understand the need for electricity, huge parts of the country did not have mains electricity well into the 1960’s so there was some justification at that time but those days are long gone and the mighty dams like Ardnacrusha on the Shannon and the Erne barrage have outlived their usefulness and could be removed. Ardnacrusha was completed in 1929 so it is nearly 100 years old. The last Model T Ford rolled off the production line when this dam was being built. Would we be happy running about in a Model T these days? I think not and these dams on Irish rivers are similarly out dated. For comparison, could you imagine the River Tay in Scotland being dammed at Perth? Both rivers are of a similar size but the Tay has a healthy run of Atlantic salmon, whereas only a handful of fish evade the turbines on the Shannon and the once prolific upstream beats are now devoid of life.
Fish have never really been very high on the list of considerations in this country. Unlike many European countries there has never been a tradition of eating seafood and most of what is caught commercially goes for export to mainland Europe. Fish were just a resource to generate some money but beyond that nobody cared much about them. Poaching was always a part of rural life here. A salmon netted out of the local river was a welcome addition to meagre diets for the poor farmers back in the day and who could blame them when you lived close to starvation all the time. These days poaching is a much more sinister business involving organised gangs, sometimes armed, netting and poisoning rivers at night. Some river systems are notorious for the poaching effort and are not worth fishing as a result.
Apart from the dams, the huge expanses of bog across the country were destroyed by state agencies in the name of progress. Peat has a very low calorific value but in a country where there was no coal, apart from a very small coalfield in the north, the decision to build peat burning power stations seemed to make sense. A huge industry grew up around the collection, drying and burning of the peat which is only winding down now. Narrow gauge railways snaked across the bog for miles and huge machines ripped the sodden ground apart to remove the ancient turf. Rivers were damaged or re-directed and the spawning beds became unusable for the fish as the fine particles of peat clogged the gravel. It was environmental vandalism on a grand scale. No attempts were made to mitigate all this destruction. It was just bog and seen as little more than useless.
Arterial drainage. Those two words strike terror into the hearts of anyone who cares about the environment. Here in Ireland the government has a department called the Office of Public Works or OPW. Let me be very clear here – these people operate above the law. It doesn’t matter what EU legislation says, the OPW will just do what it wants with impunity, and what the OPW likes more than anything is to dig. Oh how they love digging things up! Show them a winding, natural watercourse and they will have that dredged, straightened and even encased in concrete at the drop of a hat. They have been at this for years and the level of wanton destruction is almost beyond belief.
I will end this litany of woes with fish farming. A disgusting, nasty business which has made a handful of Norwegians extremely rich and damaged the fauna of the west of Ireland beyond repair. A tiny number of poorly paid jobs was the bait and the government fell for it. The tortured and malformed creatures in the cages often escape and add further pressure on the already struggling rivers of the west. Sea lice in their billions ravage the native trout, eating them alive. We are stuck with the farms as nobody in government has any interest in closing them down.
On the bright side
OK, that is enough doom and gloom. I wanted you to see both the good and the bad to see that there are two sides to fishing here. Now we move on to the good stuff! Let’s start with brown trout fishing on the great loughs.
I don’t have any figures but I would suspect that the majority of anglers who come here do so to fish the great lakes. Corrib and Mask are the obvious ones with some anglers trying their luck on Sheelin, Conn, Cullin or Carra. Maybe some venture to Ennel or Owel in the midlands or the huge Erne system which straddles the border. What is all the fuss about then?
There are so many facets to fishing these hallowed waters it is difficult to know where to start. I suppose the biggest attraction is you are fishing for completely wild trout. The fish spawn in all the small rivers and streams which flow into these loughs and are direct descendants of the fish which colonised the loughs after the last ice age. They are truly beautiful creatures and it is a joy to catch even the smallest of them. Not that they are all small! Every season double figure trout are caught on the fly from the Corrib and Mask. A three pounder will not turn anyone’s head on those waters. Wet fly is the preferred method, a cast of three flies, flicked ten yards in front of a drifting boat. Some of the fishing is out in the deeps while at other times you can scrape the keel of the boat on the tops of jagged limestone rock as you search out fish in the shallows around the shore or the islands. Dry fly is good, especially during the mayfly season. Dapping is hugely popular on the Corrib, less so on Mask. Carra used to respond well to a dapped grasshopper in August. I rarely see a dapping rod on Conn or Cullin though.
So what is the big attraction? The fishing is technically simple after all. I think it is the ‘total package’ which makes trout fishing here so wonderful. The day starts at 9 or 10 o’clock typically. Visitors staying in a hotel or B&B will have no doubt availed of a huge breakfast (the full Irish) to ‘set you up for the day’. If you have hired the services of a ghillie there will be the usual chat about prospects as the boat is loaded to overflowing with all manner of angling gear and then you are off under wide skies and (hopefully) in the face of a good breeze. Depending on your ghillie, drifts will be in total silence or with a running commentary of every topic under the sun. Tales of great fish caught and lost, the latest gossip from around the village, world events – they are all covered from the unique perspective of an Irish boatman. Those of sensitive disposition need to know that here the use of curse words is an integral part of the language. Around 1 o’clock you will pull into an island or sheltered bay for the lunch. Out comes a Kelly kettle or similar device and some hot reviving tea or coffee is handed around. Time to stretch your legs after being cramped up in the boat all morning. More chat about the fishing and plans for the remainder of the day. Relieve your bladder behind some bushes. Tie up a new cast maybe. All of this at a leisurely, unhurried pace. Indeed, on a slow days fishing there is a tendency to linger on shore and just enjoy being outside in the fresh air. The afternoon may produce a few fish, then again it may not. Cast, retrieve, cast retrieve. The ghillie strokes the water with one oar out the back of the boat, correcting the drift as he sees fit. Tangles are sorted out, rainwater baler from the bottom of the boat, sudden excitement as a trout shows close to the boat, waving to other boats as they pass by. Any luck? A slow sweep of a hand indicates they have not met any fish. The glorious countryside provides a backdrop you will long recall. By the end of the day, usually between 5 and 6pm but it does vary, you motor back to the harbour and unload the gear. Back at your accommodation the tiredness sets in and a pint of Guinness in your hand feels heavy. Another huge dinner is greedily consumed. If you are in or close to a town or village there is always the option of heading to a local pub for some drinks and craik with the locals. It really is a fabulous way to spend your days.
How about salmon fishing on the loughs? The situation here is patchy and some of the best fisheries now struggle to provide good fishing. Others are still plugging away and a day on Inagh, Carrowmore or Beltra will live long in your memory. The format is very similar to the day outlined above but the fishing is harder. Don’t expect to see fish jumping. Most days you won’t see any showing at all. This is a game of stoic determination and workmanship. On some loughs the ideal conditions are summed up as ‘a good wave’. To anyone but an Irish salmon fisher a ‘good wave’ is a terrifying ride in a small boat being tossed around in huge waves. You get soaked, no matter how good your expensive rain gear is. Waves top the sides of the boat and the ghillie battles with the oar to keep you broadside to the weather. Turning into the waves at the end of a drift he opens the throttle and the boat rises and plunges as you forge your way through the white tops. Just to be out on the water in this kind of a day is invigorating. The day-to-day existence which most of us live, commuting, the office, sitting in front of a television, all pale as you are tossed around in this maelstrom. You feel alive! Then, out of nowhere and in slow motion, a great silver fish ploughs through the waves, arrowing towards your flies. It seems to take forever to turn down and it takes all your experience not to strike immediately. The fish sinks down and the line tightens, you are into one! Those minutes as the fish runs, jumps, bores deep or simply sulks are priceless. The Ghillie’s deft swipe with the cavernous net and the fish is aboard. You hold him up for the obligatory photographs before slipping him back into the water. There is no other feeling like this. The rain pours down and the wind howls like the banshee but you care not a jot. As angling experiences go, a springer on the fly from an Irish lough is high up there as one of the best.
I think it is true to say that few visiting anglers come here to fish the rivers for wild trout and this is a great pity. For years I have fished my local rivers and have yet to meet a solitary visitor. I would dearly love to see some of the fine anglers from across the globe fishing my local Irish rivers. These little fished streams have a charm, and the fish, to make even the most jaded angler very happy indeed.
Unlike the loughs, there is little in the way of infrastructure for the river fishers. Access is notoriously difficult, often resembling hacking your way through a jungle rather than actually fishing, but there is some really great fly fishing to be had for those who persevere. I wear chest waders on the river so I can get into the water and wade upstream as required instead of negotiating the wild banks. Do not bring your expensive waders with you. Use a cheap pair you don’t mind about as the thorns, barbed wire and other hazards will almost certainly result in a tear in the fabric sooner rather than later. A wading stick is a necessity in my book, for wading obviously but also to help cross electric fences and a host of other obstacles. The trout you encounter are of course completely wild, there is no stocking of the rivers here. A competent fly fisher will delight in the variety of water to fish, the range of tactics to be deployed and the number/size of the trout. Your typical day on a limestone river will throw up may be a dozen trout between 8 and 14 inches. Trout grow to 5 or 6 pounds and some even bigger! You will most likely have miles of river to yourself. I consider the limestone rivers of the west of Ireland to be a hidden gem and well worth the effort. Even for you dyed-in-the-wool lough lads and lasses, packing a set of river gear when you come over gives the option of a day on the streams if the loughs are ‘off’ or the weather is against you. Tackle wise, your favourite 4 or 5 weight set up will do just fine.
Sea anglers have been coming to Ireland for decades now. The surf beaches of Kerry drew them here as far back as the early ‘60’s. Sadly, our sea fishing is but a shadow of what it used to be. I don’t think I can in all honesty recommend you come here for a sea fishing holiday based solely on catches. By all means come for the experience. The craik after the day out, the hospitality and wonderful scenery are still the same as ever but there are less fish around than of old. I used to come to Ireland on holiday back in the ‘70s and ‘80s when catching 3 or 4 rays, dozens of wrasse, buckets full of mackerel and pollack were the norm. Now we rely on dogfish for most of our sport. The odd ray still puts in an appearance too. Until the overfishing off the west coast is addressed (don’t hold your breath) the situation is not going to change.
The English and European coarse anglers found Ireland to be a paradise many years ago and until the pandemic they made their way to the midlands every year. The small towns in the heart of Ireland rang with the voices of French, Italian and English visitors as they spent a couple of weeks in late spring or summer fishing the lakes for bream, roach, tench and pike. Please come back when you can! With only a handful of commercial coarse fisheries in the whole country this is primarily wild fishing and it can be exceptionally good. I am only a beginner at this branch of the sport but the experts make impressive catches. Regarding tackle, what you use at home will work here. Maggots and worms are by far the most popular baits. Once again though, it not just the fishing which makes it so attractive to come here. The soft Irish weather, the stunning greenery of the country, the friendliness of the locals. There is something unique about rural Ireland, something which endures despite the changes wrought by modern times.
So what is putting you off coming to Ireland on a fishing trip? You have probably heard it is expensive. Well it is! Yes, the cost of living is very high here, nothing is cheap. Living here you become used to it and don’t bat an eyelid at the ridiculous prices charged for everything. Hotel accommodation is very pricy. B&B’s offer slightly better value. Camping has never been a big thing in Ireland so there are only a few campsites around. Eating out is expensive too so you need to budget for that as well. I can’t gloss over it, you will have to pay a fair bit to holiday here but the experience is so unique I think you will find it worthwhile.
Bring good waterproofs with you. It does tend to rain a lot here so pack accordingly. Make sure your travel insurance is up to date as the cost of healthcare should anything go wrong while you are here is incredible expensive. This especially applies to UK visitors who are so used to the wonderful NHS they find it a terrible shock to be presented with a huge bill after an unplanned visit to an Irish hospital. The question of hiring a ghillie needs to be discussed. It is a considerable expense to hire a ghillie for a whole week. Normally a ghillie can be had for around €100/€120 per dayplus a tip. He/she will know the water you are fishing like the back of their hand, will help with setting up your tackle, control the boat on the drift and selecting the right flies. They handle the boat and help out at lunchtime. It does not sound like much maybe but as someone who ghillies from time to time I can assure you it is a hard days work. My personal recommendation is you hire a ghillie for one or maybe two days, you will learn a lot and be more confident if you go out on your after that. Over the years I have seen time and time again days when the boat with a competent ghillie catches fish while the other boats (with excellent anglers on board) come in dry. I think I need to add that the picture of old fashioned ghillies has receded into the mists of time. Gone are the days of a curmudgeonly old man in tweeds who tells you what to do and woe betide if you don’t do his bidding! All the ghillies I know are knowledgeable, friendly, helpful and, above all, expert anglers.
There are good tackle shops in most towns and cities so please avail of them. Spending a few Euro in them helps to keep them going (we have lost many over the last few years). Prices are maybe a tad higher then you are used to paying but it is nice to have a piece of tackle to take home from your trip here.
These days it is easy to do all the research necessary to find the right place to come. Blogs like this one, YouTube videos, endless publications all contain valuable information which will allow you to plan your trip. Take your time and plan so you have some alternatives if your chosen fishery(s) are not doing well. I used to make sure I had at least one day off from the fishing during a holiday, time to re-charge the batteries and have a look around the locality.
My apologies if I am sounding like I work for the tourist board! The lockdown has deprived us all of things we took for granted and it seemed to me that losing our annual influx of anglers from abroad has been a major loss. When travel restrictions are lifted, and they surely will be eventually, I urge you to consider a trip to Ireland. A warm welcome awaits you here.
I have been asked to go into the detail of how I make mounts for devon minnows so here is a short post on the subject. Devons used to be hugely popular. 2 – 4 inch ones for salmon and tiny 1 – 1.5 inch ones for the trout. They came in metal, wood or plastic, some were weighted and others were floaters. These days you can pick minnows up very cheaply secondhand and they still catch their fair share of fish. The usual problem is finding mounts to fit the devons and it is often the case you need to either buy mounts (expensive) or make your own. Let’s run through the process I use to fashion devon minnow mounts.
Tools and materials
You will need only a couple of basic tools.
A small pair of fine nose pliers
Small side cutters or similar tool to cut the wire
For materials you require:
Wire. Use as strong, stiff wire. Anything too flexible will be very hard to work with. I use a thin stainless steel wire for my mounts. Avoid the supple multi-strand stuff used for making pike traces. Finding good wire is probably the hardest part of this job!
Small barrel swivels. These need to be small enough to pass through the hole in the middle of the bait. Check the swivels are small enough before making the mount!
Treble hooks. I use a size 4 treble for 3 inch devons and drop down in size for the small baits
Either beads or tulips. You can buy tulips online very cheaply and they hold the hook in position well so I recommend using them. They come in different colours so you can play around with them a bit.
1. Gather all the tools and materials together as well as the minnows you are going to making the mounts for.
2. Start by cutting a length of wire this needs to be 4 to 5 times the length of the minnow.
3. Thread a swivel on to the wire then fold the wire in half with the swivel at the bend in the wire. Now twist the wire a few times to keep the swivel in position.
4. Take a tulip and slip it up the twisted wires. The thin end of the tulip goes towards the swivel. Push it up to the swivel for now to keep it out of the way.
5. Select a treble hook of the right size. Feed one end of the wire through the eye from one side then the second wire from the other side.
6. Now for the tricky part. Lay the minnow in front of you and measure the wires so the hook is in the right position. Remember to allow for the tulip. With practice you get really good at judging this but to start with you will find this hard. You want the finished mount to have the body of the swivel at the end of the minnow.
7. Bend both ‘legs’ of wire around the hook and wind them up the shank. Use the pliers for this job. Try to be as neat as you can.
8. With the shank covered in the wound wire snip off the excess ends of the wire and dispose of safely.
9. Slide the tulip into position over the eye of the treble. Now twist the mount by holding the hook in one hand and the swivel in the other.
10. Finished! If the mount is very slightly too long give it a few more twists to shorten it by a few millimetres.
That is how I make my minnow mounts but there are plenty of other ways of doing it so look around if you don’t fancy my method. Key points are: choice of wire is critical, too soft or springy will make this method next to impossible and you will need to use whipping thread to keep everything in place. Use only good quality hooks, there are some very poor quality cheap trebles out there, avoid them like the plague. Treble hooks are fine for fishing but don’t mix with pets and smallies. Make mounts somewhere secure where little paws/hands can’t get at them.
I hope that helps a bit. Now is the time of year for doing these sorts of jobs. There is great satisfaction to be had mending/repairing/fixing bits of tackle in the winter so you are ready for the new season. Stay safe out there!
A cold start to the day so I am in the spare room which is filled with my fishing gear, sorting out some tackle for pike fishing which I hope to indulge in next week. Hot mug of coffee steaming in my hand, loosely organised chaos around me. School run traffic snarls along outside, the big white buses bringing the children in from the countryside. A normal late autumn day, well what passes for normal during lockdown. I had been tying some flies earlier in the week so there are packets of feathers and fur to be tidied away before I can pack a bag with the smaller items for piking. That got me thinking about the ancillary items we all bring along on a day’s fishing and how much of that we really need. My wide ranging angling exploits mean I am worse than most when it comes to carting a selection of bits and bobs around, usually on the basis that I ‘might’ need them.
We all carry too much gear with us when we go fishing. It is just a hazard of the sport. Here are some of the small items I have secreted about my person when I head off with rod and line. As you may have read before in other posts, I wear 4 different waistcoats for various types of fishing. One is for river trouting, another for salmon fly fishing. Then there is one for coarse angling and yet another for shore fishing. The smaller items listed below lurk in one or other of these waistcoats. The bigger items are in the different bags or boxes which I bring along.
1. Tools. As someone who fished the big Irish loughs with old outboard engines I routinely set off with a tool kit in a bag just in case of a breakdown. Over the years this got me out of a few scrapes and also allowed me to help other anglers who had broken down. Now the proud owner of a decent engine, I still bring with me the small tool kit which came with the Honda. These basic tools all live in a small pocket in my lough fishing bag. I know where to put my hand on them in an emergency but I hope to never need them in anger. In the same pocket live a spare spark plug and a couple of spare shear pins.
A pair of heavy pliers lurk in the bottom of my bag too, handy for pulling out a stuck thole pin or other heavy jobs.
2. Knives. I carry around a small blue Swiss army type knife in my pocket all the time. Then there is a pocket knife in the bag. When I am sea fishing I bring a filleting knife too so I can deal with the catch at the water side.
3. Lighters. For obvious reasons. There is a wee metal tin with a couple of firelighters too for firing up the Kelly kettle.
4. Hook removal. All sorts of disgorgers depending on what I’m fishing for. Cheap plastic ones for removing tiny hooks from the mouths of roach and perch. Forceps for fetching flies from trout or salmon. A hefty ‘T’ bar for when I am out at sea and a proper disgorger for the pike.
5. Priests. It is rare for me to retain fresh water fish but I keep anything edible from salt water. An ancient chair leg with some lead in the business end lives in my sea fishing box. A small metal priest fashioned from a length of stainless bar by a papermill engineer 40 years ago comes with me when shore fishing.
6. First aid. When messing around with hooks and knives it is inevitable you are going to break the skin on your hands at some point so I carry a few plasters with me.
7. Towels. Discarded dish towels are handy to tuck away in the bag. Game angling is not too dirty but sea fishing is a filthy business and I am forever washing and wiping my hands after cutting up bait or handling slimy fish. Mixing ground bait when I am coarse fishing means I am constantly cleaning up afterwards too. Helen has commented on the impossible task of finding a dish cloth in the house, there may just be a correlation with my fishing!
8. I mentioned thole pins earlier, I always have a couple of spares in the bottom of my bag. My own boat has fixed pins but I sometimes borrow a boat from friends and they may or may not have pins. To be at the side of the lough, the boat fully loaded and engine fixed on only to find you don’t have any pins is the very height of frustration. I know because it has happened to me not once but twice! Lesson learned the hard way.
9. The small boxes of ‘bits’. Spare hooks, swivels etc. live in a wee plastic box which in turn lives in my waistcoat. In fact, I have two of these wee boxes, one for game fishing (link and barrel swivels, treble hooks etc) and another one for coarse fishing (shot, pop up beads, float caps, leger links etc).
10. Clippers, nippers and scissors. I like those retracting zingers and they festoon my waistcoats. On them are various nippers and other implements for cutting line.
11. Hook sharpeners. A small stone comes with me when I am fly fishing in case a killing fly loses its sharpness. In other forms of fishing I simply change any hook which becomes dull or gets damaged but I am loathe to change a fly that is working. A few strikes with the stone soon returns the point to full use again.
12. A roll of electrical tape, a couple of safety pins, a needle or two, some cable ties. At different times and for different reasons all of these have proved useful and for the small amount of space they take up I always have them stowed away in a bag or waistcoat pocket. I once used a safety pin to replace a tip ring on a rod which I broke while fishing. It was not pretty but it allowed me to keep fishing for the rest of the day. Likewise, I cable-tied my reel on to a beachcaster when an old Fuji reel seat broke one night years ago. Just recently I used a cable tie to attach a thin rope to a winch on someone’s trailer. They take up very little space and weigh next to nothing so I will keep a few tucked away, ‘just in case’.
13. A bucket. Yep, a cheap and nasty plastic bucket which used to contain paint. Battered and bruised it has served me well for years and while it lacks in any atheistic beauty it performs numerous functions for me. Primarily it is for baling water out of the boat. Then I chuck any loose odds and ends into it while afloat. When coarse fishing I use it to hold water scooped from the lake or canal which in turn is used to wet ground bait and to wash my hands in. When shore fishing it is used to transport smelly bait to the mark and then take the catch home with me. Maybe I should invest in one of those branded buckets but I can’t bring myself to agree it would do these jobs any better than my old 10 litre job.
14. A spring balance. Here is where I have to hold my hand up and say this piece of kit is literally NEVER used. I hear you cynics out there saying that is because I never catch anything worth weighing and there is a modicum of truth in that observation. Be that as it may, even when I do land a good fish the exact weight is of absolutely no interest to me what-so-ever. Records, PB’s and all that stuff are for others. I am happy just to see a good fish then pop it back in the water with as little fuss as possible. It is a very nice brass spring balance mind you, a lovely thing to own even if it is redundant.
Written down, this is an extensive list and I am sure I have missed out other things. The big question is do I need all of this junk? There is no clear cut answer in my book. Some things, such as the tools for the outboard engine are really safety items and as such are a necessity for me. Others are less clear. ‘Needing’ an item is too general and to me it more a question of does the tool add to my angling pleasure? I can just about bite through lighter lines for example but a pair of clippers is much neater and easier for me. Do I need clippers and scissors – probably not but I find the scissors are better for dealing with heavier lines.
I am a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde I suppose. When fly fishing rivers I only take what I can carry in my waistcoat pockets. But when boat fishing I take the bloody kitchen sink with me!
The school run has eased off and it is quiet outside now. Chaffinches are squabbling in the garden. No sign yet of the winter visitors like redwings or fieldfares. Today is the say we learn if the lockdown restrictions will reduce to level 3 or not. Fingers crossed they will and that I can get out pike fishing next week. As you can see, I am all prepared!