Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, salmon fishing

Tying for Carrowmore

‘Tis the season for fly tying and my thoughts have turned to what to try on Carrowmore next season. When fishing that lake I firmly believe I could get by with a cast of a Claret Bumble, a Green Peter and a Bibio and catch just the same number of fish but that would take away from the joys of trying out different patterns and the sweet moments of success when a salmon imbibes one of my own designs. So I sit, hunched up to the vice, for long hours each winter. New materials are tried out, variations on old reliables given a trial and occasionally some fresh ideas are brought to life. Here are some of this winter’s offerings so far………….

On a bright day early in the season, what would you reach for on Carrowmore Lake? Maybe something with a tinsel body? How about some bright hackles? I would normally go down the route of a Magenta Bumble of something similar but maybe a white fly might be worth a try instead. This one doesn’t have a name but it looks so different I think it might just work on a cold, clear day.

Hook: A small salmon iron

Silk: Black

Tag: Several turns of oval or flat silver tinsel

Tail: Fl. red floss

Rib: oval silver tinsel

Body: white baby wool (the same stuff that is used to make the Baby Doll lure)

Body Hackle: a white cock hackle, palmered

Hackle: A long fibred white cock hackle tied in front of the wing

Wing: White bucktail

 

 

At the other end of the spectrum, a dull day often requires a dark, sombre fly. Like you no doubt, my fly box bristles with Bibio’s and Watson’s Fancy variations for just such conditions. What if we add another colour to the palette though? Would a dash of purple make the difference? I like purple on the darkest of days, when the sky is low and the wind makes the boat scud across the wave tops. On Carrowmore that sends anglers scuttling back to the bar as the lake quickly churns, but in those few minutes before the colour comes in the water you can sometimes hook a fish. This pattern is tied with just that scenario in mind. I suppose you could call it a Purple Dabbler

Tag, tail and rib all tied in

Hook: A strong trout wet fly hook like the Kamasan B175 or similar. An 8 would be a good size I think.

Silk: black

Tag: Opal mirage, a couple of turns at the bend of the hook.

Tail: Bronze mallard fibres

Rib: Red wire

Body: Ballinderry black fur with a turn of purple fur under the cloak if desired

Body Hackle: Black cock hackle, palmered

Wings: Golden pheasant tippets dyed purple under a cloak of bronze mallard. Optional 2 or 3 strands of flash over the wing

Hackle: Tied in front of the wing, lots of turns of a long fibred cock hackle dyed purple.

 

This is a deadly trout fly but I fancy giving it a try in larger sizes for salmon on the lake. It is just your bog-standard Invicta with a red tail and tag. I added an extra couple of head hackles for some additional movement.

Hook: 8 or 10 trout hook

Silk: Yellow

Tag: Glo-brite no. 4

Tail: A good sized tuft of bright red wool

Rib: oval gold tinsel

Body: yellow seal’s fur

Body Hackle: dark ginger or red game cock hackle, palmered

Wing: Hen pheasant tail

Head Hackles: A red game cock hackle with a grizzle cock hackle dyed blue in front

I confess that I have yet to catch a salmon from Carrowmore on any shape or form of a daddy. A late season fly on an early season lake does not sound like a smart move but this Green Daddy might be sufficiently  different to entice a fish fed up of the endless Bibio’s and Green Peter’s. It looks nothing like a natural daddy but then it is not supposed to. I just wanted that leggy outline combined with shades of green. A Green Peter is deadly on Carrowmore and the Green Highlander takes a few fish every season so why not a Green Daddy?

Hook: size 8, normal shank wet fly

Silk: black

Tail: Formed with a bunch of cock pheasant tail fibres which have been dyed green and each one knotted twice. About a dozen fibres in total. You can add a couple of strands of krinkle flash too if you want.

Rib: Fl. Green thread

Body: Peacock tinsel

Legs: multiple cock pheasant tail fibres, dyed green and double knotted. 2 or 3 strands of green flash on top

Hackle: lots of turns of a grizzle cock hackle dyed green

You could also add a head of deer belly hair dyed green and spun muddler style if desired.

Look, none of these patterns has so much as been tied on to a leader never mind given extensive trials so they may be a total flop. But then again………………………..

 

 

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, salmon fishing

Repurposing

€5. A fiver. That’s all I spent to buy a box of old flies and lures on fleabay. There were some  photos to accompany the listing and staring at it I homed in on one fly in particular. It was tied with feather which are rarely available these days. The blue elver fly is a pattern now difficult to make as the Vulturine Guinea Fowl which supplies the feathers is a very rare bird, so when I saw this one in the corner of a box in the photos I placed a bid. All I really wanted was that one fly, anything else that I could salvage would be a bonus. Although a little bit of the electric blue barbs were missing from the wing feathers the elver was in good shape and it will be given a swim on Carrowmore next season. Who knows, it could be a good fly for the sea trout on Beltra?

Blue Elver a la Arthur Ransome

When the package arrived it turned out to contain no fewer than 6 metal tins, one full of old baits and the other five all filled to the brim with flies. I know it is not everyone’s cup of tea but rummaging through forgotten fishing tackle is a great pleasure to me. Finding old fly patterns, using ancient baits after they have been cleaned up and simply handling gear which was once used on famous beats or lonely lochs off the beaten track gives me a lovely feeling of connection with the past. Now the fun could start!

First up was the biggest tin which contained old baits. Now most of them were junk, badly damaged or rusty beyond redemption. However there was an ABU Tylo which could be cleaned up and used again (18 gram, Zebra coloured). There were 4 thin plastic sandeels which I will try out next summer when the mackerel are shoaling in the bay. A pair of Mepps with plastic fish were given a swift clean up and deposited in my box of Pike baits. A small wooden plug, two wooden devons and a big silver wobbling spoon were thrown into my big plastic box marked up ‘REPAIRS’ to be dealt with later. Then there were a pair of enormous spoons, chromed on one side only. I’ve never seen metal spoons this size before and they appear to have been handmade. No swivels or hooks adorned these giants and I really don’t know what use they would have. For now they have been put aside. I’m toying with the idea of painting the concave faces and trying them for pike. Bloody BIG pike! The rest of the contents of the large tin went in the bin.

Next I opened a battered old flat metal fly box which was lined with cork. First impressions were none too positive, there seemed to be nothing exciting inside. But some poking around the 50 or so old patterns in there revealed a handful of hidden gems.

the pair of Green Highlanders

There was a pair of huge Green Highlanders tied with yellow bucktail wings. I wonder which pools this was fished through all those years ago? Flies this size might have seen action in the deep flowing waters of the river Tay or maybe the rock-girt runs on the river Awe. Like most the flies in the boxes these Highlanders were not going to be useful for actual fishing anymore. The colours had faded with the throat hackles in particular showing signs of age.

Hairwing Green Highlander

 

A salmon March Brown. Nice hook.

A big March Brown was in remarkably good condition but the hackle was well worn and was now too short in fibre. Not a pattern I would have any faith in, I plan to salvage the large, bronzed up-eyed single hook. The mottled grey turkey wings can be cut off and used on a Grey Murrough.

looks like this was a Jock Scott once-upon-a-time

Some of the flies were chewed to bits, either by fish or moths! There were broken bends and dulled points aplenty but some of the hooks could be reused once the old dressing had been removed.

One for the bin…………..

Another large fly was lurking in the flat box, it had once been a Beauly Snow Fly, something you don’t a lot of in these days of modern tubes and articulated shanks. Not many patterns boast a blue body. Sadly this example was beyond repair so I took a photograph before wielding the scalpel to free up the big old iron.

A large Beauly Snow fly

Next up was a river Dee favourite of yesteryear, the Akroyd. The simple strip wing made of cinnamon turkey tail and the downward pointing Jungle cock made this fly easy to identify.

An Akroyd tied on a gut-eyed hook. I’ll salvage the Jungle Cock and maybe the cinnamon wings too.

The next two tins I opened up contained tube flies. Some were well tied examples of standard patterns but there were a lot of homemade efforts mixed in with them. On the plus side, many of the tubes were adorned with Jungle Cock cheeks. Some were a bit tatty but still useful after a bit of trimming here and there.

I got some Veniard ‘slipstream’ tubes out of this lot, the plastic ones with the hidden hook connection point on the end. They are on the long side but I will tie up some flies on them. There was a lot of good hair which I salvaged too, using it to make a variety of salmon patterns. Then there was the embossed tinsel which had been used as a rib on some of the tubes. I carefully unwound this and then used it to make some Delphi’s. I’ve never landed a salmon on a Delphi but it works well for sea trout around here.

A quick rub up with a cloth and the old embossed tinsel was as good as new

and used to tie a Delphi on a salvaged size 8 double hook

A triple hook ‘demon’ type arrangement had been residing in one of the round tins. Three size 10’s, the one on the tail an eyeless double, were joined withe stiff wire. Gold metal tinsel bodies on all three hooks was actually in really good condition so I kept the dressed bodies and clipped off the orange cock hackle wing. I was reminded of a dressing I had seen years ago so I unearthed my old Tom Stewart books and found the fly I was after, something called a ‘Mary Ann’. I made a small change to the pattern in Tom’s book and swapped out the red cheeks for a pair of salvaged Jungle Cock. I’m quite chuffed with the result!

old triple hook fly

 

Two more old tobacco tins remained. More dodgy old flies were in residence inside them, again a mixture of trout and salmon patterns from long ago. I recognised many of them but some had me baffled.

A simple hairwing tied on an offset bait hook!

useless tubes, but look at the Jungle Cock!

Articulated salmon fly

the hinge looks a bit rusty

some palmers dressed on size 10 sneck hooks

Half-a-dozen nicely tied palmers caught my eye and I plan to try them next season. They are tied on wonderful sneck hooks! I can see them working on a windy day on the lough, ploughing through the waves leaving a tempting wake for the trout to see.

a well chewed Mosley style dry mayfly

Judging by the range of patterns I suspect the previous owner had a long angling career and he or she fished mainly on big Scottish rivers. The predominance of feather winged flies leads me to suspect they date from the 1950’s, around the time that tube flies and hair wings started to appear. They (or someone close to them) also tied flies as many of the patterns were non-standard and some were roughly tied. The trout patterns suggested he/she also fished on Scottish lochs too. In amongst the bigger flies there were a sprinkling of tiny doubles, size 16 and smaller. These reminded me of similar sized flies which were so popular in the North East when fishing for sea trout. Had this angler fished the lower Dee or Ythan?

I ended up with about 100 flies which were too worn to use but were tied on good hooks, mainly salmon singles and doubles. I’ll work my way through them, stripping off the old dressing and reusing the hooks to make new flies. Another 30 or so flies were in good order and are now in my fly boxes. I rescued around 80 Jungle Cock eyes a pair of kingfisher feathers, lots of bucktail, a little bit of bronze mallard and the embossed tinsel. Not a bad haul for a fiver!

 

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling, trout fishing

Oddball baits

I own a ridiculous number of old baits, most of which will, in all probability, never see the water. They dangle from racks on the walls of my fishing den, jostle for position in numerous tackle boxes or lie sedately on the bench awaiting refurbishment. Plain silver or gold ones, brassy and coppery ones, multi-hued creations or bright flourescent ones, they are all somewhere in my fishing collection.  I confess that just have too many lures and not enough time to try them all out. The vast majority of them are your bog-standard Toby and Rapalas, but there are a few oddballs kicking around in my collection. For those of you who share my passion for slivers of old metal and plastic here are some of yesterday’s baits that you may not be familiar with.

Tommy

The Tommy spoon is an unusual shape with a wee ‘lug’ on the end of one side which the hook is attached too. This off-centre attachment makes it wobble around in an unusual fashion, one which generations of fish must have found attractive as ABU manufactured and sold this spoon for a long time last century. They made the Tommy over a period of about 30 years from what I can gather which suggests to me that it must have been a productive bait for the anglers who invested in them.

Like so many other spoon baits the Tommy is scaled on one side. Does this make a difference? We will never know but the idea of mimicking fish scales appears to us to be a good move. It catches anglers even if it does not fool the fish. Manufacturers stamp the scales on the convex side of spoons for some reason. All Tommy spoons that I have seen also sport a thin red or orange strip along one edge on the concave side. ABU obviously thought this added to they spoons fish catching ability as they used it on a number of their products.

That off-centre wobbling motion could suggest an injured fish to predators. ABU made the Tommy in a wide range of sizes and colours, including the tiny ‘Lill’ version which weighed in at a paltry 7 grams. ABU made Lill versions of a host of different lures over the years, mainly for targeting smaller species like perch and trout. I have one only of the Lill Tommy versions in silver and gold. It is a bit knocked about but what else can you expect for a lure which is at least forty years old? I can’t recall having ever tried this one out in anger- maybe next year…………..

Then there is the big copper Tommy which came to me sans hook, sans swivel, sans everything except for the spoon itself, liberally coated in a layer of grime. Once cleaned up and re-armed it looks good and it should tempt the odd Pike on a frosty late autumn morning. My 30 gram copper one is at least 50 years old! I like the idea that it will still catch the occasional fish after half-a-century.

 

Torsjo (also marketed as the Daffy in America)

With its orange ‘fins’ on each edge this is an instantly recognisable spoon made by ABU. To me it looks like a very old design. I can’t imagine some hip young fella on his PC drawing the crazy outline of the Torsjo on a CAD programme. Was this spoon supposed to look like a small flat fish? Who can tell? The ‘fins’ on the edges don’t seem to impart any particular action that I can see but perhaps they act as some sort of stabilizer.

The Torsjo first made an appearance way back in 1949 and ran right through until 1972 when it was discontinued.

I have one all silver Torsjo which weighs in at 15 grams. Given its age, it is in good condition. My issue with this spoon is what is it supposed to be used for? I guess it would tempt a grilse but I am not 100% sure what else would grab it. If it was heavier I would use it in salty water but at 15 grams it is a tad too light for that craik. Sudden revelation: would the Torsjo be any good spinning for sea trout in estuaries? I am used to trying longer, thinner and heavier baits like the ABU Krill when spinning for estuary sea trout but maybe the Torsjo is an alternative?

An interesting aside is the influence of the Torsjo on the legendary Toby design. When ABU started to make prototype Toby spoons (or the Tobis as it was then called) the lure did not have those distinctive little fins on the rear of the bait. The designers were not happy with the lures action in the water and someone had the idea the ‘fins’ on the Torsjo might be a clue to stabilising the Tobis as it was retrieved. Small fins were added and an improvement was seen immediately, so after some further tweaking the pair of fins became one of the instantly recognisable features of the Toby for generations to come.

Fins on a Toby, inspired by the Torsjo!

Then one day while on holiday I was mooching around a supermarket in Poland. I was supposed to follow the carefully written shopping list but I stumbled upon a whole aisle dedicated to fishing tackle, so I ditched the shopping list and got down to a closer inspection of what was on offer. Surprise, surprise – on a rack of metal lures made by a company called ‘POLSPING’ I spotted a copper coloured spoon named the CEFAL. Was this a copy of the old ABU Torsjo?

On the same rack there was another copper bait which looked like a skinny ABU ‘Tylo’, this one being called a PERKOZ. These baits are equipped with strong split rings and good quality VMC treble hooks. The only issue I have with them is they do not come with a swivel but it is only the work of a few minutes to add barrel swivels to them. After parting with a few more zlotys, both of these baits were in my basket, starting the long journey which would see them tried out on the Conn next season.

 

 

Pep

Looking somewhat like a Toby spoon the Pep had a short and undistinguished life. Stamped out of thick metal, the Pep looks like it should be a good catcher but I have yet to hook a damn thing on them! I suspect that this lack of success on the end of angler’s lines translates quickly to poor repeat sales and lures which are ineffective don’t last too long. We fishers see our baits as vital items in our armoury which we lovingly look after and consider. To the hard-headed business people who manufacture fishing tackle each SKU must generate a profit. The Pep fell short when it came to catching fish and this led to its demise.

Both of my examples weigh in at 18 grams which I would have thought was the most popular size for a bait like this. One is gold and the other one is silver and each has a lick of red paint on one edge and blue or green on the other. I am toying with the idea of trying the Pep for Mackerel since they are not too fussy when it comes to baits. I’d like to catch something (anything) on a Pep!

 

 

 

Hogbom

Now this is a real odd-bod! Manufactured in Sweden by another company the licence was bought by ABU back in the 1940’s. I understand the lure was designed for use on the famous River Morrum in southern Sweden by an engineer named Mr. Hogbom. The bold Mr. Hogbom created a lure unlike any other that I have seen. The folded metal body is roughly fish-shaped. There is up-tilted, flat, angled ‘tail’ gives the lure its action. ABU dropped them for many years then they made a comeback between the mid-sixties and 1976 when they disappeared for good. I only have one of these strange baits, a gold pre-ABU one which weighs 20 grams.

If the Hogbom was designed for use on the Morrum it was made to be attractive to salmon and sea trout – and big ones at that! The river Morrum has a global reputation for big salmonids as any online search will show. Photos and videos abound of massive sea-trout and gigantic salmon caught there. What interests me is the way the treble hook is attached to the Hogbom if it was being cast in front of these huge fish. A piece of stainless steel wire passes through the middle of the bait, out of sight for most of its length. Maybe I worry too much but I would like to see that vital couple of inches of wire are in perfect condition before I chuck it at a fish of a lifetime!

The treble hook on  my Hogbom is dressed with a rakish looking orange hackle. It softens the otherwise hard lines of the Hogbom. Other examples I have seen are adorned with only bare hooks.

The question is does it work? Disappointingly it has failed to produce the goods so far but I will keep giving it an occasional swim.

 

 

Morrum Spinner

While we are talking about the legendary river Morrum I will show you my only example of the ABU Morrum Spinner. I love these mad-looking baits! The unusual head which acts as a keel is placed in front of the spinner blade on a separate piece of wire. Behind that are a set of beads which form the main body of the lure. The problem I have with the Morrum spinner is that it tangles when casting. Maybe this is a function of my bad technique or maybe it is a function of the articulated nature of the lure. It is so unlike any other lure in my box that it catches my eye every time I lift the lid. Trolled behind the boat it has only tempted small Pike so far.


 

 

 

Glimmy

Ah, the Glimmy! I really like these old spoons and snap them up if I ever see them for sale. A very old lure, they are hard to find these days which is a shame as they are mighty fish producers. The smallest ones are fatally attractive to perch for some reason so on a very slow day I clip a Lill-Glimmy on and run the boat over one of the noted spots for perch. It almost always produces a bend in the rod for me!

The first Glimmy’s appeared in 1951 and back then they came in only two sizes, a meaty 30 gram version and whopper of a spoon that weighed in at an impressive 38 grams. These early examples were both the same length (90mm), just stamped out of different thicknesses of metal.

Years passed and ABU expanded the range of sizes to include the 18 gram and 12 gram Glimmy. These ones are both a nice size for salmon trolling, so if you are keen on that branch of the sport look out for Glimmy spoons and give them a try. These are not easy to find as ABU only made the 18 and 12 gram Glimmy for three years from 1973 until 1976. Those nice wee Lill-Glimmy’s can be as old as 1952! I’m currently looking out for a gold Lill Glimmy as my last example wedged itself on the bottom of lough Conn a couple of seasons ago. The gold coloured ones seem to be particularly effective.

A pair of silver lill Glimmy spoons

 

 

Facette

I only have one of these spoons and it probably takes up the space of a more useful lure if I am honest. Angular in shape, they do have a lively action in the water. My sole example was once black in colour but it is faded now to a marled grey. The outside sports some sort of a reflective material. I got my hands on this spoon just to see what it was like on the end of the line and it does hop around a fair bit when trolled at even a slow speed. Unfortunately the fish seem to be seriously unimpressed with the Facette, or at least with the flashy 18 gram one that I own.

Originally released on to the market in the 1950’s this spoon came in the standard 7/12/18 gram formats but it vanished again at some point in the 1960’s. I think I am right in saying that the Facette then re-appeared back in the late 1970’s. Now it was clad on one side in the reflective tape like my one. With that added bling it looked like a ‘70s lure. I think of it as the Morris Ital of the lure world. It is pretty much crap!

Morris Ital 1.3 HL

 

Safir

a bit worn maybe but they still work just fine

The Safir was a small spoon which ABU made during the period from the late 1940’s through to the end of the 1950’s. I have only ever seen them in 7gr and 10gr weights but maybe they produced bigger ones for all I know. The lads in southern Sweden seem to have had a problem deciding on the colour scheme for these wee spoons as they came in a wide range of variations, most (but not all) had a red or orange painted inner side. The convex face could be silver, copper or gold or some were a mix of different metallic colours.

That 10 gram silver/copper Safir in the photo above can be accurately dated because the weight is stamped on it below the word ‘Sweden’. This was only done by the factory in 1957 apparently.

So are they any good? The Safir is a bit on the small side for most of my fishing so they tend to lead a quiet life, snuggled into a compartment of a big tackle box. On the rare occasions I snap one on to the end of a trace they have brought in Perch and jack Pike. Nice wee spoons though………….

7 gram silver/gold Safir

 

Plankton

Closely akin to the Safir  is another ABU spoon, the Plankton. Deeply concave and semi-scaled, this spoon has a great action in the water. During its 30 year life the Plankton went through remarkably few changes to the colour. The basic silvers and coppers are available in the 7gm, 12gm and 20gm sizes and are still for sale on the secondhand market these days. I have only recently acquired some 12’s and 20’s for my box but one of them is a lovely silver and copper which looks great in coloured water. I’ll try them for Pike, confident that they should do the business.

trio-of-planktons.jpg

Not sure about the BG coloured one I own, I’ve never been a fan of that Bluegill pattern for some reason.

a pair of 20 gram silver Planktons

 

ABU-draget

These are an old design which A.B.Urfabriken introduced around the end of the second world war. With ABU stamped on the top of the convex surface we fishers of a certain vintage have grown up simply calling this one the ‘ABU spoon’. I only possess a copper 15 gram and a silver 20 gram but it came in a wide range of colours and some were even equipped with an additional treble at the head end too.

The ABU-draget has a lovely slow, rolling action in the water. The 15 gram size measures about 50mm, a fine size for summer salmon.

Production of the ABU-draget ended in 1975 and this unimposing little spoon was consigned to history. I like this one though and I keep an eye out for them on the secondhand market. I’d like to find a 20 gram copper version – I’s suspect it could be a killer!

 

 

Barramundi Mauler

Always a sucker for a good name, I had to buy one of these when I came across it. Marketed in Australia (hence the name) this a well-made plug, one which should stand up to a lot of punishment. I have never tangled with a Barramundi but I’m guessing they are tough customers which can destroy poorly made baits. This is another deep diver and it came equipped with stout treble hooks and hefty split rings for battling big, aggressive fish.

Similar to a lot of other plugs already ensconced in my tackle bag, it may be just the lure to give me a salmon someday. Then again, maybe it won’t. Great name though!

 

 

Risto Rap

The hot Alabama sun beats down on the lily pad fringed pond where the old angler is flipping his bait out. It catches the rays of the sun as it sails 20 yards through the moist air before landing with a resounding ‘plop’. The snapping turtle watches him from the sunken log it is hiding behind as the short baitcasting rod twitches during the retrieve. Small Bluegills and crappies shoal in the shallows, constantly moving as they search for food while keeping an eye out for their enemy – the largemouth bass. The angler fans his precise casts out to cover the deep water, sweat on his brow under the weathered John Deere baseball cap. Just as he thinks he is wasting his time the rod slams over into a sharp bend and battle is joined with a stubby four pounder. The Risto Rap has worked again.

That is how and where I image Rapala’s Risto Rap was supposed to work. I expect it was made with the American Bass fishing market in mind. It sports a gargantuan front lip to push the buoyant bait down to about 8 feet below the surface. My own one is a nice, flashy chrome example. Rapala stopped making them a while ago and they are hard to find these days.

I was looking around for a plug to dive that bit deeper when I came across the Risto Rap. Drop offs have always fascinated me and the thought that big fish are lurking in the black water just over the edge from the shallows sends shivers up my spine. I wanted a plug to troll deeply in that zone and I figured the Risto Rap was worth a try. Watch this space………………………..

 

 

Landa Lukki

Fancy a change from tossing Toby spoons? Then look out for Landa Lukki spoons. Made in UK in the late 70’ and 80’s these were good copies of the famous Swedish Toby. They work too! The best news is that you can find them easily on the second-hand market where they change hands for very little money. I recently bought half-a-dozen perfectly good Lukkis for less than a Euro each.

Sizes are similar to the Toby but the colour range is restricted to the basics. Lukki spoons with slashed sides, marketed as ‘Lukki Turbo’ can also be found out there. These can bend easily under pressure so check them if you have to free them from rocks or other stickers on the bottom. If they are out of shape simply bend them back again and carry on fishing.

As a side note, Landa used to make a really nice bait called the ‘Herring’. Now this did not look much to the untrained eye but by jingo they slaughtered Pollock and Mackerel. I have lost all the ones I used to own bar one tiny wee gold specimen which is too small to fish in the sea. I keep looking for more of them but with no luck so far.

 

All of the lures (even the Pep) will catch a fish on their day. Trolling can be a boring pastime so swapping baits helps to liven up an otherwise quiet day. The ABU spoons in particular were very well made baits. High quality metals must have been used in their construction because they have lasted so well.

I am a late comer to trolling and it will always be my second choice when fishing Lough Conn. On those days when the fly is not going to be effective, such as flat calm and brilliant sunshine, I turn to the trolling rods and trail the ironmongery behind the boat for a while. Using these old baits adds something to an otherwise boring day. If you left me to fish with only a single 18 gram silver and copper Toby I strongly suspect I’d still catch the same number of salmon but the enjoyment of a day cannot always be measured simply by the number of fish. When a silvery salmon grabs that oddly shaped few grams of metal, stamped out on a press in a factory in southern Sweden decades ago, I feel a tingle inside. Oddballs are good in my book.

On the troll

 

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, salmon fishing, trolling

Zoom

Wind the clock back many, many years to the 1970’s and you would find me on the banks of a Scottish salmon river clad in a worn Barbour coat and thigh waders. Depending on the conditions I’d either be wielding a 15 foot Hardy fly rod or my trusty ABU Atlantic 423 Zoom spinning rod. Sometimes I’d carried them both with me so I could switch between methods as required, my tackle bag bulging with boxes of flies and baits. I still have that old Hardy fly rod but the Atlantic went missing many moons ago.

The Aberdeenshire Don and the Cothal pool on Upper Parkhill. The old ABU subdued many fine salmon here

At the time I was living in a tiny flat in Aberdeen, so minute that there was no room for my rods and they were thus consigned to a cupboard under the communal stairs. I always fretted about their safety but the security system on the front door should have kept any thieves at bay. Alas it was not so! One day I noticed some of my rods were missing and among the haul the perpetrator had taken was my much-loved Atlantic 423. It was a disaster of immense proportions and  I mourned for that 9 feet of Swedish fibreglass for a long, long time. Soon after the theft I moved away and became very busy at work so by the time I got around to buying a replacement heavy spinning rod there were some new kids on the block and I went for something a bit longer. Over the years I amassed a range of rods but none of them really replaced that champagne coloured Atlantic. Until now.

Picked up in Glasgow for a small amount I am now, after a gap of 30 years, the very happy and proud owner of an original ABU Atlantic 423 Zoom. To some of you this may look like a dinosaur of a rod, with its thick fibre glass and metal ferrules but to me I now have possibly the finest spinning rod every produced. The balance, power and strength of this rod put it in a class all of its own for me.

This rod is ringed for use with a fixed spool reel (the ba….d who stole my original rod also got away with my trusty ABU Cardinal 77 as well). I have a nice 4000 sized Okuma fixed spool reel which will fit perfectly on the new rod for now. I am afraid that even I baulk at the cost of an old Cardinal 77. They were absolute tanks of reels and a pure joy to fish with, but a good example is changing hands for €200 – €300. That’s too rich for me I’m afraid!

Specification wise this beauty boasts a full cork handle, those lovely flexible stand-off rings, a keeper ring, shiny chromed metal male and female ferrules, a down locking reel seat and brown whippings over silver tipping. It is rated to cast 30 – 60 grams but trust me, it can hurl an 18 gram Toby clear across most rivers.

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Interestingly the rod bag states the casting range is 18 to 60 grams, different to what is on the rod itself

I’ll grant you that by modern standards the Atlantic is heavy. I personally don’t mind this in a spinning rod as I don’t have the patience to spin for hour after hour. Instead, I fish in short bursts and often stop to change baits (usually in an effort to keep close to the bottom). All that weight is nicely distributed and the rod is not top heavy, unlike so many beefy spinning rods. I willingly put up with increased weight for the security engendered by the thick fibreglass walls as opposed to a brittle, skinny wand made of cheap far eastern carbon.

I think that one of the big advantages this rod had over the competition was its ability to apply huge pressure when required. With such power in the butt section I always felt confident I could bully a fish out of difficult situations and only the biggest of salmon every got the better of it. My old one landed a good few 20 pounders back in the day.

Going ever so slightly overboard, around the same time that I bought the lovely Atlantic 423 I also acquired a somewhat less than pristine ABU Atlantic 443S Zoom. This rod was on offer at a very low price so I bought it to see how it compares to the Atlantic that I know so well. It will certainly handle differently as it is ringed for a multiplier reel and is equipped with one of those speedlock handles. I was confused when I saw this rod advertised as it was claimed to be 13 feet long and a beachcaster! I was sure these old 443’s were 9 feet long and cast 1-2 ounces and while they are grand for spinning in the sea you could not class them as beachcasters. Sure enough, when it landed in my sweaty paws it did indeed turn out to be a nine-footer.

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As I said, the 443 has some damage and the handle needs attention before it can be used in anger. Cosmetically, the deep mustardy-yellow of the blank is not attractive to my eye but that is just my taste. What is more important is the strength of the blank and this is another powerful rod. Once I have repaired it I plan to use it with my Ambassadeur 5500C for salmon spinning or possibly pair it with a bigger 6500C3 or even a 7000C for fishing off the rocks for Pollock.

Length is the only area where I think ABU could have improved on these rods. Nine feet is a wee bit short for my liking and an extra 12 or even 18 inches would have made a commanding weapon. I guess it would also have upset that perfect balance I was talking about so I will settle for just the 9 feet.

The 443 rod actually came with a reel attached to it when I bought it – an ABU Abumatic 350 closed faced spincaster. This seems to be an odd pairing of rod and reel to me, I would have thought a heavy spinning rod like the 443 would require a multiplier reel to get the best from it. Having never owned a spincasting reel like this before I am unsure about its capabilities. I always figured the Abumatics were grand for coarse fishing but would not be strong enough for salmon angling.

The 350’s were made from 1976 – 1982 and this particular one is dated June 1977, making it over 41 years old. Try as I might I can’t find out much more about the 350. There is lots of info online about the smaller and more popular ABU spincasting reels like the 120 or the 170 but this 350 remains a mystery. I’m guessing it will hold a descent shot of 10 pound line so I’ll try that for a start. First things first though, I will strip the Abumatic down, fix a dodgy return spring, the loose free spool toggle and the brake which is not functioning at all. It will then need a good clean and lubrication. Any other defects need to be found and repairs effected before I try to fish with it  (as long as I can source spare parts). All of this is an ideal job for a wet Saturday afternoon with the radio on, listening to the football and drinking copious mugs of steaming hot coffee.

As a rule I purchase this kind of old gear to fish with and not just to collect dust in a display. To some people it may appear sacrilege subjecting such fine pieces of angling memorabilia to the muck and water of a day’s fishing. I do understand that point of view and accept that for some collectors my wanton disregard for varnished whippings and lacquered finishes borders on criminality. But my view is that some of these old rods and reels are arguably among the finest tackle every made by human hand and I get my joy from their use. The smooth retrieve of a well serviced reel or the powerful curve in a fibreglass rod are only accessible on the water. I still regularly use an old ABU Atlantic 410 for lighter spinning duties and harbour a sneaking suspicion that fibreglass may just be a better material for spinning rods than carbon.

After the unmitigated disaster that was the 2018 season I am now actually looking forward to Spring 2019 and the chance to use my latest purchases. Let’s hope there are a few more fish around to put a bend in the fibreglass ABU’s!

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, salmon fishing, trolling

Level land

I’m healing. Slowly and painfully, but I am recovering. My balance is poor and I stumble like a ten o’clock drunk sometimes, fearful of falling. Mornings are the worst. It is so hard to keep level until the meds kick in and my internal gyroscopes eventually begin to operate fitfully. My days are punctuated by periods of bewilderment at this turn of events and a sense of loss. Life has changed and not for the better. With no reason for the sudden onset of my vertigo the medical profession have told me ‘this will take time to pass’. How much time? Will I ever get back to normality? No answers, just shrugs of white coated shoulders……………..

Our holiday, touring around Europe by train was a welcome distraction but marred by people’s well meaning efforts to help the old guy who could’t walk properly. ‘Over here, sir, let us help you’. ‘Are you travelling alone?’ Here, have this seat’. I felt sick to my core at the helplessness. I’m too young to be a cripple. I am healing, can’t they see that?

the square in Krakow

It’s the dying days of the season here in Ireland with most fisheries closing at the end of this month. My worst season ever is almost over, slithering to an ignominious conclusion. The drought of 2018 was bad. That long, hot summer completely dried up some rivers and devastated the stocks on others. Salmon were scarce across the country and trout rarely ventured to look up from their work hoovering the bottom of the loughs. It was a season to forget for every angler I know.

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Conn, another poor season on this water too

We trolled diligently but failed to hook a single fish of note on the snaking Cashel River and we were not alone, we heard of nobody else having any success. The Cashel flows sedately through the flat lands between Ballyvary and the village of Park, home to shoals of fat Roach and Perch, numerous toothy Pike, a few large trout and our quarry the Atlantic Salmon. Only the roach thrived this summer and the solid, silvery salmon failed to appear at all.

A stretch of the Cashel river

The Cashel is about as far from your classic salmon river as it is possible to get. The wide, shallow runs interspersed with holding pools so beloved by generations of fishers on the Dee or Tweed are replaced by a narrow, deep channel which barely changes pace as it wends between the tussocks of bog grass. The channel was straightened and deepened by the OPW many years ago with the aim of reducing flooding. It could be argued this has been a success as the low lying flat lands drained and became fields where they had once been wild bog, full of birds and animals of all descriptions. Now they are sterile fields full of grass to feed cows and sheep. The land still floods sometimes but not as often as it used to, that water now runs off fast and causes flooding further downstream. The bird song stopped when the diggers turned off their diesels and clanked off on flatbeds to their next place of destruction. The salmon fishing has never recovered from this act of government sponsored thuggery and these days a small number of springers nose up the Cashel in high water followed by a trickle of grilse if there are any summer spates. From June onwards the river is pretty much unfishable due to dense weed growth caused by agricultural run off.

the hills of the Windy Gap in the distance, the Cashel meanders through the level lands into Lough Cullin

For all its unlovelyness this small river draws us back each year because in the past it was productive. We managed a few salmon each season and there were always those autumn days when we boated pike after pike. Not this year though. The salmon never did run the river and even the pesky pikes were absent. We tried it a few times on days when the conditions were good  and all our senses told us we should be contacting fish but the rods did not bend nor the reels screech. Shimmering spoons wobbled and weaved enticingly through the murky water but we would have been as well propping up a bar with pints of black porter to sup. We blanked again and again.

Not catching fish is the norm for us anglers. Hours slip past without anything much happening. We accept this because we anticipate the rare moments when a fish does bite. It’s that hope which is a vital but oft unspoken spur which keeps us fishing. Without hope we would not bother to fish. This season the flame of hope flickered and died on the banks of the Cashel amid the flat, silent fields. It feels like we have just done too much damage and there are not enough unfettered green spaces remaining.

Will we bother to fish the Cashel next season? At this stage we don’t think so. The hope which has been eroding since February doesn’t simply regenerate and the endless disappointments can’t be erased from the memory banks. Angling is all about hope and the belief that a fish will take your fly or bait at some point but that has been stretched to the limits of credulity this year on the Cashel river. Some late runners will swim up the river now the season is closing and the next spate will see them leap the falls at Carrowkeel as they head for the spawning redds. I doubt there are enough of them though to see the fortunes of this quirky fishery turned around.

Yesterday was a better day than the one before with only a couple of stumbles. A dizziness descended for maybe 20 minutes in the morning but it cleared it before anyone but me noticed. I am getting better!

Here is James McMurtry singing about another desolate flat landscape.

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

Speed of the fly

The question of the speed the fly should travel through the water is one which seems to perplex beginners who are fly fishing for salmon. I know that many years ago when I was starting out with the double-handed rod I read avidly every scrap of information I could lay my hands on to build up my knowledge on all aspects of salmon fishing but the co-joined questions of speed and depth received little coverage at the time. Nowadays, there is a wealth of detailed knowledge available, indeed it could be argued there is too much! The advent of variable density sinking lines has opened up a new world of opportunities to the big river salmon angler. I am no expert on these wonders of modern technology. Old fashioned tapered fly lines are more my forte! Today I want to talk about fly speed on small spate rivers.

A long, slow pool on a west of Ireland spate river – how fast should your flies be moving? This is the wonderful Owenduff

Why is speed important? Most of the fish we are targeting on spate rivers will be grilse. These wonderful fish can be incredibly finicky about how fast the fly moves, some days they want something to chase while at other times a more sedate pace is demanded. Finding the speed can be as important as the pattern on some occasions so we need to understand how to control fly speed. The angler who develops that ‘feel’ for the river will catch more fish in the long run. Spate rivers tend to be small, intimate waters where every cast is slightly different to the last one. Angles and fly control need to be at the top of the anglers agenda when fishing the fly through the pools and runs of a narrow river. Let’s start by looking at fly lines and how they influence speed.

The straight run from below

The Bunowen river. Grilse hug the opposite bank on this stretch

The coming of modern heavy, fast tapered fly lines has made only small inroads into Irish spate river fly fishing. Specific lines which combine with specialist rods are not only available but are eminently suitable for some situations on the larger spate rivers like the Owenduff and Owenmore. Full floating skaggit lines work well and my only reservation is the large diameter of these lines but this is only a minor issue in all but low water conditions. Floating lines of any profile will tend to skate slightly on the surface and this can be used to your advantage when controlling fly speed. Any sinking line absorbs more of the energy you apply when pulling the line because it is below the surface. The floater will respond more quickly if you draw in some line so there is an opportunity to control fly speed with more finesse. This can be important in tight corners such as in quick running water where small lies need to be covered. Think of streams where rocks provide lies and you want to fish the fly across them. A sinking line may be too ‘dead’ to do this effectively and the floater can be handled more deftly to meet your needs.

Floater, sinker, somewhere in between?

Sinking line have their place in our armoury too and controlling fly speed in high waters is a real challenge for us all. I like to use a slow sinker or fast glass line in most high water situations. I think many anglers see the sinking lines as a way of controlling depth and while this of course very true, the question of speed is also paramount. Water speed varies depending on a host of factors including height, fall, the bottom, weed growth, rocks and temperature. Of course every turn in the course of the river alters the speed of the water and creates back eddies. Sinking lines are good at keeping the flies travelling in a steady and level plane through the water column so in the buffeting of a fast flowing spate they make a good choice for controlling speed.

Deep slow, flat water means you have to move the fly with no help from the current. The River Ray in Co. Donegal

So how fast should the fly be moving? As anglers we are not going to get all scientific and measure fly speed. I am sure that any good inventor could devise a method of measuring fly speed, maybe incorporating a digital readout for good measure. Heaven forbid that we ever get to that stage and lose the essential tactile nature of our sport. For me the flies need to be moving slightly faster than water and our handling of the rod and line decides just how much greater that is going to be. On a short line the simple expedient of lifting the rod can be amazingly effective at times. This has the effect of speeding up the flies and I use this often on a short line to give the impression that the flies are trying to escape. While they do not feed in fresh water I harbour the suspicion salmon react to such stimulation. It has worked too often for me over the years to disregard it.

Fish lie in front and at the side of this rock, a floating line helps to give you the control required to move the flies accurately

On narrow spate rivers the need to control speed as quickly as possible when the flies hit the water is something I don’t think is given enough attention. Lies are at a premium for the fish and some of these can be tight against the bank, just a matter of a few inches sometimes. These are tricky to cover and some thought needs to be devoted to how you present the flies effectively. Controlling speed is going to be decided by two main factors, angle and mending. I’m no mathematician so you will be spared a lesson in trigonometry, but the reduction in angle of casting downstream will slow the passage of the flies as they track across the stream. A cast square across the stream will result in the flies being whipped away from bankside lies far too fast and the rest of that cast will also be too quick until the flies slow as they get well below the angler. A word of warning here though – on a couple of occasions over the years I have caught fish using exactly this ploy! It just goes to show how varied the fish’s response can be but I regard the square cast/big downstream belly as a very minor tactic. So 99% of the time your aim when covering bankside lies your aim is to cast to within inches of the far bank at a narrow downstream angle. The speed of the flies is then controlled by hand-lining back some fly line. In fast water this can be very minimal while slow water requires a quicker retrieve.

The smooth tail of a pool, a downstream mend can sometimes work a treat on water like this

Mending is a fundamental skill you need to learn. This is the act of using the rod to re-position the fly  line after it has landed on the water (OK, I know there are ways of mending the line while it is in the air but I lack the writing skills to give this advanced technique full coverage). The normal mend is upstream, executed by a sharp sweep up-river just as the fly line touches the water this will allow the flies to sink briefly then begin to swim slowly away from the bank. The mend is also used on those windy days when the gusts force your fly line down in the wrong place altogether.

The angler on the far bank is spinning but these are great conditions for the fly

The obvious variation in mending is the downstream mend where the sweep of the rod is down-river and this has the effect of speeding up the passage of the fly made making it track squarely across the current. Some spectacular takes happen when using this tactic on slow pools or at the smooth tails of pools. Grilse will sometimes clearly show as they turn and pursue the flies before grabbing them – very exciting fishing indeed!

Back eddies need a mention too as they yield salmon as well. For some reason I have found that some back eddies are productive while other don’t seem to hold fish at all. The crease in the water which divides the two opposing currents is the best place to fish through and I like to pull the flies through that crease at a fair old lick. In saying that, I have taken my share of salmon with slow, steady pulls through the main part of the eddy itself, especially in very high water. Watch out for debris in back eddies, bits of trees etc. congregate in these spots making them traps for your flies and a fish you may hook.

Hanging flies at the end of a cast are a well-known way of catching salmon, keeping them virtually stationary in one spot at the end of the cast. Problems related to poor hooking from a position directly upstream of the fish are obvious. I have tried throwing a loop of hand-held line when I felt the fish but this did not make a whit of difference from what I could see. I now impart a gentle bounce with the rod tip when hanging the fly in the fervent hope it will encourage the fish to take more boldly on the dangle. Does this actually work – I don’t know. Plenty of fish still fall off when hooked but at least I feel I am trying something more pro-active.

To summarise, there is no single ‘right’ speed for your flies on a spate river and it can range from stationary to stripped fast. The successful angler should aim to try different speeds and depths until he/she finds the one that works. Just casting out and hoping for the best may work sometimes, but in general maintaining a pace slightly faster than the flow of the water is often more effective. Mending is your friend, so learn to mend the line with the minimum of fuss.

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

Dog days of August

Hallelujah, it finally rained here yesterday. Real rain with proper, fat raindrops that splattered on the tarmac. Precipitation of a quantity we have scarcely witnessed for many weeks. Farmers and horticulturists rejoiced but the anglers in this neck of the woods were the most happy. Now there was the chance of a salmon!

Every opportunity was grabbed through the course of the morning to keek out of the window to check on the downpour. It fairly hammered down until noon when it eased off somewhat, but the drizzle kept up for the rest of the day. Humid, murky weather, just what we wanted! Back at home after work I grabbed the gear and chucked it in the back of the car. Dinner was consumed in a rush and I was on the road heading West by 7pm. The small Bunowen river at Louisburg was my target for the last couple of hours of the day.

The first thing I noticed as I reversed into a parking space on the river bank was a young collie. She looked to be less than a year old and was very nervous, holding some distance from me while still curious about this newcomer on her patch. I suspected she belonged to the farm a little up the track. I tackled up with the dog for company, darting forward to sniff at the net or rod or my waders as they appeared from the back of the car. I shooed her away as I strode off down the lane which leads to the long pool but she stayed close to me until I got to the style which led into a field. Ducking under the style she shot off for a lap of the field. Memories of how Nessie loved to run in that same free-flowing way rushed back to me.

The river was dropping but was still very high so I fished my favourite lies diligently but with half an eye on the dog as she chased around behind me. She was fascinated by my casting and clearly thought I was throwing something for her to chase. Every time I moved to another pool she would follow me like a black and white shadow. I didn’t really mind, in truth it was nice to have some doggy company again. The fishing was slow though and I was approaching the little pool where I was sure there would be a taker so I drove the dog off. It slunk away, obviously unhappy our little game was over for the night. Changing flies I surveyed the pool and decided that backing it up was my best option. Entering the cool, brown water I felt the power of the flow and the excitement grew as I lengthened the line. A slow strip in, the hang at the end of the cast, the long draw to shorten the line in readiness for the next throw. All practiced thousands of times on rivers across Scotland and Ireland. Watching the creases in the flow for any signs of life or underwater obstructions which could provide refuge for a salmon. The next step upstream against the flow, gravel shifting under my feet. Line slippery in my hand, rod lifting to reduce the drag, aiming casts to within inches of the far bank. Utter concentration.

KERSPLASH!!!!!!!!!!!

From somewhere on the high bank behind me the dog had launched itself into the pool, landing a couple of yards downstream of where I was wading. In that tree fringed, near silent, ethereal world the effect of a Collie dog hitting the water from that height was akin to George Wubblu Bush’s ‘shock and awe’. It took me a few minutes to compose myself and gather my thoughts as the pooch swam back to the bank and shook herself vigorously. She seemed to be highly delighted with her belly-flop. I, on the other hand was not impressed as the tranquillity of the pool had been shattered and any salmon that may have been in there were by now in the next parish. I fished the pool back down to the tail, swinging the fly temptingly across the current and hand-lining it back through the smooth, flat water at the lip of the pool. Nothing stirred. Except for the dog rushing and yapping in the field behind me. I packed up and made my way back to the car, my new ‘friend’ (and I use that term very loosely) darting around me in the fading light.

Duffy’s fine establishment was calling so I dropped in for a very quick drink to round off the day. Traditional music filled the warm, moist air in the main street as musicians played their hearts out in the busier pubs. It was altogether more serene in Duffy’s where the talk was of the weather and the fishing and the farming. I heard of only one tiny grilse being taken that evening with a couple more having been caught the previous day. Next time………………………………….

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