Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, salmon fishing, sea trout fishing, trout fishing, wetfly

Watson’s Fancy

A few small spaces remain to be filled in the fly boxes and I made a couple of big Waton’s fancy this afternoon and the heavy mist turned the garden a silvery mossy colour outside the window.

The Watson is not a fly I have caught a huge number of fish on but I find it seems to be attractive to larger trout. I used to fish them tied on size 12 or 14 hooks early in the season for brownies but these days I prefer them in much bigger sizes for sea trout and even salmon. I’m thinking here of dark days after a summer spate, high water and grilse running hard. A Watson on the tail and something brighter on the dropper above it have been a winning combination for me over the years. For this job I like to use a size 6 or 8 hook.

Jungle cock eyes, these are indispensable for the Watson’s fancy

This is an easy fly to tie once you have mastered wet fly wings. In smaller sizes the Jungle Cock cheeks can be a bit fiddly but apart from that this is a good pattern for beginners to cut their teeth on.

Proportions are important to make the fly look ‘right’

Only a few small gaps to fill now and I’ll be ready for the new season.

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

Why do we go fishing?

Many anglers and writers have addressed this question over the years but I thought I would chip in with my own thoughts on the matter. People who have never fished frequently fail to see what all the fuss is about and it can be hard for us anglers to articulate exactly what we see in our sport. The image of the dedicated angler, alone on the bank in all weathers, usually catching nothing or at best the occasional slimy, smelly fish are firmly stuck in the national consciousness. Anglers are seen as either working class coarse anglers, all maggots and flat caps or toffs with split cane rods and garbed in Barbour jackets. I personally don’t know anybody who fits either of those outdated stereotypes!

For me, fishing is about communing with the natural world. Being part of the natural order. Immersing oneself totally in a world older than our own. As a kid I used to think it was all about catching fish, bent rods and screaming reels. A blank day was a disaster and I fished very hard to avoid the ignominy of returning home fishless. The basic hunter gatherer was near the surface with me and I really loved the actual ‘catching’ part of the sport. That excitement when a good fish took the fly or bait was like a drug to me and the long, seemingly empty hours between those hallowed moments were the price I had to pay. Yet just under the surface there was an altogether deeper set of emotions which kept me returning to the river or sea. A longing to be immersed in nature. I strongly suspect this is a key driver in many fishers so let us examine this in greater detail.

the Claddy river before the dam

There are lots of pursuits which take us humans back into the natural world. Some of us live in the countryside either through choice or birth. Other work in the great outdoors, making their living on the seas or from the very land itself. For these people the countryside is the backdrop to their every day, they cannot help but be immersed in the ever-changing dramas of the natural world. For the rest of us, time in the countryside is usually at a premium. Let’s just take a moment to let that sink in – modern life has moved the vast majority of us humans into towns and cities and away from the natural world. We possibly experience nature more through the medium of television rather than first hand. Watching David Attenborough may be highly entertaining and informative but it cannot replace actually feeling the full force of nature. Angling brings us back to nature.

The recent upsurge in ‘urban’ fishing is to be applauded as it provides an introduction to angling for countless thousands of predominately younger, city dwelling anglers. I have never been drop-shotting on an industrial canal but it does look like fun. A world removed from my playgrounds like Lough Conn or the small spate rivers of western Ireland maybe but if it encourages young people to pick up a rod and try to catch a fish then it is no bad thing in my book. Does this negate my argument that it is the interface with nature that attract us to the water’s edge? I don’t think so as there is a common thread here – the water itself. Be it a rushing mountain stream or a concrete channel through an industrial estate, if there are fish swimming in it the water will always keep us anglers coming back. That natural element and all its mysteries is a world we only barely understand. The lives of our quarry and all the small creatures therein fascinate us. Nature, it’s all about nature.

There needs to be an acknowledgement that actually catching something is a huge driver when it comes to getting out of a warm bed in the early hours to brave inclement weather. A bent rod is always in the thoughts of any angler, that glorious moment when battle is joined with a good fish. The scenery suddenly fades when you set the hook, the glories of the natural world take a back seat until the fish is safely in the net. Yes, the catch is part of the picture. I am guessing that most anglers were mad to catch fish as youngsters and as the years roll by the need to catch a fish at any cost diminishes somewhat. Possibly the competition anglers buck this trend as they live for catching more than the other guys, but the majority of us lose that edge, that necessity of bringing the corpse of a fish home with us.

this one was around 7 pounds

A coloured fish about to go back

The advent of C&R shows us that the catch is not the main driver for us anglers. We still spend huge sums of hard-earned cash on the latest tackle, travel inordinate distances, brave inclement weather and then return any fish we do happen to catch back to the water unharmed. That all sounds like a definition of madness! Yet the basics of being a part of nature remain the same. The assault on our senses which accompany every fishing trip combine to provide experiences which resonate with something deep inside us. The push of a swollen river in spate, the high, blue skies of August, mysterious tangled vegetation, the stars shimmering over an October beach or the Atlantic swell under the keel. Evocative sights, sounds and smells which connect us with a common past, long-lost but still remembered.

Doo Lough

Of course there is more to it than just the reconnection with nature. The company of good friends, the craik, learning new skills, the joys of boat-handling and all the myriad other facets of our sport are part of the mix. You could sum it up by saying ‘its complicated’.

Boats at Cushlough

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

Portacloy

Just for a change there was some drizzle this morning. You could not dignify the gently falling moisture with the title of rain, it was just descending wetness which barely kept the dust down. Today was going to be a good day, today I was fishing in North Mayo.

High tide at 2pm meant a leisurely start to the day. No need for an alarm, strong black coffee in bed, thick slices of hot, buttered toast. Bliss! Then an hour or so spent sifting through the sea fishing gear to make sure I had everything to take with me. Don’t you hate it when there is a little, niggling voice in your head questioning if you have packed this or that? Today I had time to eliminate all of those negative thoughts and the battered black tackle box was stuffed to overflowing with all manner of goodies to tempt the fish.

Ben was going to be my companion on this jaunt and we rendezvoused at 11 am as planned. The road was quiet as we drove up that well trodden road to North Mayo. The heat was building already so we motored with the windows down, the bird song brightening the journey for us as we sped through the gorgeous countryside. It takes the guts of an hour to get to Portacloy, past the foot of Nephin, across the bog to Bangor then down the ever narrowing roads until the lovely bay comes into sight.

The plan was for Ben to spin and fly fish from the beach while I tried bait fishing from the inner pier. Ben was targeting sea trout and Bass while I was hoping for flat fish on the sandy bottom. Tackled up, we went our separate ways. Ben worked the waters close to the sand, methodically casting and retrieving all the way along the strand to the rocks at the far end. He repeated the exercise by returning to his starting point but the fish were not responsive. Meantime, I set up a pair of beachcasters and hurled sandeel baits as far as I could, then waited………………… And waited some more…………………. Nothing!

One beachcaster out, I am re-baiting the other one

Now this was more than a little perplexing as Portacloy is quite possibly the most productive mark in the whole county. I have never landed a big fish here but there are usually plenty of smaller fish to keep you busy. Today there seemed to be no fish hanging around at all. Even a cormorant which was fishing right next to us came up with an empty bill each time he dived. He swam off in the end and I couldn’t blame him. By now Ben had come back to the pier and explained he had managed to wade too deep for his boots and was soaked. He removed the offending socks and promptly went to sleep. I fished on, grimly determined to show Ben and that bloody cormorant that there were fish there. I was wrong.

time for a wee nap…………….

The tide reached high water and I roused Ben from his slumber. We needed a plan B. He suggested a mark he had seen but not fished, Carrowteigh. It was only a short drive away so I agreed. Let’s give that a lash so.

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Head of a Launce

It was only the work of a few minutes to load up the Jeep and drive over to the new mark. Rods re-assembled, we were quickly back fishing again in crystal clear waters. The scenery was breathtaking, golden beaches and azure waters, Surely we would have more luck here?

First fish of the day!!!!!

Well, yes we did. We actually caught lots and lots of fish. The only issue was that they were Launce (Greater Sandeel). They are superb for bait but catching them on medium spinning rods cannot really be classed as sport. We fished the tide down the afternoon punctuated by the silvery eels grabbing our tiny feathers. I reckon we landed about 20 of them, enough for a number of baits as some of the Launce were huge.

The photo does not do this gigantic sandeel justice, it was well over a foot long

I tried a small, rocky mark located across a field but only succeeded in losing lots of gear on the tackle hungry rocks. So I returned to the pier again my pockets lighter now as a few traces and lures were lost to the underwater rocks. All afternoon I was plagued with crabs stealing the bait. In the blink of an eye they could strip all the hooks of bait and even avoided being caught themselves. Until the very last cast!

A sandeel after only a few minutes attention by the crabs

the culprit

into another eel

We called it a day at 6pm, having not registered a single bite to the bait rods all day. Only the Sandeels saved the blank but we both enjoyed the fabulous weather and the fresh air. Shore fishing is often like this, a process of eliminating the places where the fish are not until you find where they are. I will be back on the edge of the sea again very soon, only this time I will head for the other end of the county. Until then…………….

 

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

A wee wiggly thing from Sligo

We were in Sligo at the weekend and I purchased a couple of lures. One of them is a straight forward gold and silver spoon with a hammered finish on the gold side. It should work for salmon I guess. Called a ‘Mozzi’ and made up in Omagh.

Gold on the outside and silver on the reverse.

The other one is unlike anything I have seen before. It is long and thin, made from copper and has a silver finish on the reverse side. The interesting thing is the ‘wiggle’ on it. Don’t ask me what it is intended to catch, I have no idea. Maybe spinning in the sea for sea trout?

Dear enough for a scrap of copper and a treble hook, but hey, who could resist one of these?

The Garavogue tumbles through the town centre, looking decidedly ‘fishy’. Salmon run the river to get into Lough Gill but I don’t know if it is any good for fishing. A few lake boats were moored up on the river but none of them looked as if they had been used for months.

looking upstream

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Looking down-river from the footbridge

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

Happily married

Fashions change. Clothes which were de-rigour only a few short months ago now languish in a bin liner awaiting the next trip to the charity shop. This is not always a bad thing, those ridiculous flared trousers of my own youth are not mourned (and no, there is no photographic evidence of me so attired).

It’s the same with flies, yesterday’s killer patterns fade away into obscurity, their past successes quickly forgotten and their place in the fly box now occupied with the latest poly/glitzy/foamy killer. A Luddite at heart, I find this sad and I like to fish with the old patterns  from time to time. As you all know, I love simple spider patterns made of little more than a hackle, real silk thread and maybe a pinch of fur. The recent resurgence in interest in the old spiders has been both heart-warming and instructive. As more anglers tied and use the spiders the more their versatility become apparent and the range of applications where the can be effectively used broadened significantly.

Now let me float an idea past you. I think some of the old, mixed wing patterns deserve an occasional swim. Yes I know they are time-consuming to tie. I get the disappointment when, after only a couple of fish the wings are reduced to a mangled shambles. I certainly empathise with you all when that damn thread snaps just as you are tightening it down to secure the oh-so-carefully built wings in position. Surely those built wings are only for show at fly tying competitions these days? Well I beg to differ. I love using mixed winged flies and at times they can be pretty good at tempting the fish. Would a modern fly catch more fish? Probably, but that’s not the whole story. Keeping traditions alive in our sport is a good thing in my book.

I don’t have boxes full of patterns by Kelson nor do I possess a range of exotic feathers garnered from nearly extinct species. Just a few pairs of dyed swan of goose, available from Veniard at very little cost, that’s all you require. That and some imagination goes a long way to creating some variations of standard flies. So here are a couple of patterns to test your tying skills and add some tradition to a corner of your fly box.

Let’s start with a pattern for brown trout. The Welshman’s Button has been copied so many times over the years that you could tie on a different fly every day of the season and still not use them all. I use this one on days when there is a high wind and a good wave on the loughs. I would wager that is no use at all in a flat calm but, a rolling wave hides many indiscretions and this lad does the business in a force 5 or above.

Hook: I like a size 10

Tail: a golden pheasant topping dyed red or orange

Tying silk: Olive

Rib: fine oval gold tinsel

Body: make this from golden olive seals fur

Body hackles: a golden olive and a red cock hackle palmered together

Throat hackle: Natural blue jay

Underwing: paired slips of Woodcock secondary

Overwing: matching slips of green, yellow and orange swan or goose (in that order from the bottom).

Keep the slips of swan or Goose narrow and don’t hide the Woodcock. Does this fly look like some sort of winged Golden Olive – yes, I think it does, but no harm in that.

Now we will take a look at a pattern for sea trout. The faithful old Teal, Blue and Silver is an excellent fly for fresh trout. After a day or two in the river though they begin to lose their rashness and with each successive day they grow more and more wary. This variation is something I tied up many years ago to chuck at sea trout when the TB&S begins to lose its charm and it still catches sea trout to this day.

Hook: from a size 6 all the way down to as small as you think you can tie!

Tail: GP tippets

Rib: fine silver wire

Body: flat silver tinsel

Hackle: bright green cock hackle, slightly long in fibre

Wings: Yellow, green and blue swan or goose. Teal over the swan, not too much though, you don’t want to hide your handiwork! I tie the wing slightly on the long side too.

Cheeks: Jungle Cock (optional)

hackle, tail, rib and tinsel have all been tied in and the silk returned to a little behind the eye

the green hackle has now been wound

 

3 colours of goose

 

the slips of goose cut and laid out ready to be married

 

The goose positioned on top of the hook and tied in with a soft loop

 

Narrow slips of teal on each side then a whip finish…………

Swapping the green hackle for the Cambridge blue one and adding the married swan creates a lovely fly, one which the sea trout seem to appreciate. Here in the west of Ireland the sea trout tend to be small and you must accept that your lovely creation will be well and truly ‘flittered’ by small lads in no time at all. But this pattern, nestled in the scissors of a 3 pounder is a thing of untold beauty, so persevere with it.

Not convinced yet? Imagine this – it’s winter, outside the wind batters the windows and the driving rain/hail/snow makes any thoughts of venturing outside seem like insanity. The fire is on in your fishing den, it’s warm in here and the bright light illuminates the bare hook in your vice. There may be a whisky in a tumbler within reach or possible just a strong coffee freshly brewed in your favourite mug. The door is shut, barring the rest of the world and you have a precious hour to yourself. 60 minutes to indulge in your guilty pleasure of fly tying. Now wouldn’t you rather spent some time lovingly crafting a beautiful married wing pattern or just whipping a piece of plastic/foam/glitz to the shank of that hook? I know which I would rather make!

 

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

Holiday weekend (2) Two more patterns for Carrowmore Lake

I am frequently asked for salmon fly patterns for use on Carrowmore. I generally give the same answer – whatever you have in the box that you have confidence in on a size 8 hook. That may sound like a cop out but the truth is that I have seen salmon caught on so many different patterns it is hard to say which are the best ones. I remember being in the boat with Rocky Moran one day when the lake was not fishing at its best. In a small ripple he rose and hooked a salmon and as he was playing it out I asked him what he was using. He smiled and said ‘you will see’. Sure enough, the grilse was duly landed and there in his scissors was a variation of a Green Highlander of all things! I would never have tied that on the end of my line in a thousand years but it just goes to show that you can’t be too dogmatic on Carrowmore.

Good conditions for Carrowmore

On a bright day something with some yellow can do the trick, especially if it is cold as well. I don’t carry too many flies with yellow in their make up as I almost invariably turn to a Lemon Shrimp if I want a yeller’ pattern. It is a handy one to have in the box for spring fishing and I dare say it works for the grilse during the summer too. I vividly recall fish a wee spate river during a falling spate one May many years ago. Salmon were running through and I had already landed a couple that day. I was fishing a tiny pool, only a few yards long and I turned a fish to the cascade I had on. He didn’t touch the fly, just rising like a trout to it instead then rolling away showing his side to me as he turned. I chucked the fly back at him a few more times but without response so I went back upstream a few steps and changed to a Lemon Shrimp. For once everything came together perfectly and the fish took the Lemon Shrimp with an ostentatious head and tail, a lovely fresh salmon of six pounds.

6 pound bar of silver on the Lemon Shrimp

6 pound bar of silver on the Lemon Shrimp

The Lemon Shrimp works on Carrowmore too so here is how to tie this fly;

Tag: Oval silver tinsel

Rear hackle: GP red breast feather, wound. Some anglers prefer the tail to be made of bucktail dyed red.

Rear body: yellow floss ribbed with oval silver tinsel

Middle hackle: Yellow cock, doubled

Front Body: black floss ribbed with oval silver tinsel

Eyes: Jungle Cock (Optional in my opinion, I have caught salmon on flies with and without JC eyes)

Head hackle: a well marked badger cock hackle, doubled

Head: red varnish

Lemon Shrimp

Lemon Shrimp

The exact shade of yellow is up to you. I have seen some which are almost golden olive the yellow is so dark but I much prefer a bright lemon shade for the floss and the middle hackle. I have also seen this fly tied with the front body formed of bright red floss but I haven’t tried that variation so can’t say if it works or not.

Lemon Shrimp on a Loop double

Lemon Shrimp on a Loop double

I mentioned the colour green earlier. There is a fabulous version of the Green Peter which catches a lot of fish on Carrowmore each season. The pattern itself is simply a standard Green Peter, the big difference is the hook it is tied on and the number of hackles used. Here is the tying I favour:

Hook: A size 8 long shank. Something like the Kamasan B830.

Rib: fine oval gold tinsel

Body: Pea green seal’s fur. You can add a butt of red seal’s fur if desired.

Body hackle: Red game, palmered. Give it plenty of turns.

Wings: A bunch of brown squirrel hair as an under wing to give strength and then hen pheasant tail tied over the hair.

Head hackles: red game cock. Tie in and wind as many hackles as required to cover 1/3 of the hook in front of the wings.

B830 hooks

Brown squirrel underwing tied in

This is an easy fly to tie but pay attention to the proportions. This fly works because of the disturbance it causes in the water so the multiple turns of cock hackle at the head are vital.

I fish this fly on a different Leader too. I prefer to fish only two flies when using the long shank Peter, with this fly on the dropper. I then add a tail fly relatively close, say about 16 inches behind the Peter. The tail fly is always a small size too, maybe a size 10. Fished on an intermediate or slow sink line and retrieved vary fast, this can produce explosive takes so I use a minimum of 12 pound b/s for the leader.

Long shank Peter

Long shank Peter

This fly also catches sea trout just to add to its general usefulness. I can thoroughly recommend you tie up a couple of each of these flies and keep them handy when on Carrowmore.

Carrowmore on a bright day

Carrowmore on a bright day

 

PS: latest reports from Carrowmore are they are still waiting for the first fish of the season. With strong winds yesterday and today I expect the water to be churned for the next few days. On the plus side there should be fish coming in with each tide now.

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, sea trout fishing

Beltra boat maintenance

One of the tasks to be undertaken each winter is to sand and varnish the woodwork on the fleet of angling boats for the Glenisland Coop. The way we manage this work is to identify the scruffiest boats and leaving those ones inside the boathouse to dry out over the winter. The rest of boats are overturned and left outside, propped up to prevent them getting too wet. The boathouse can accommodate 4 boats so that is the size of the task for the committee members to attack. Four boats doesn’t sound like much but that equates to a fair old bit of rubbing down and painting!

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Over the past two weeks we have been hard at it in the evenings tidying up the boats in readiness for the coming season. Even just getting into the car park proved a challenge as the rains had lifted the level in the lake to the point where the water was in the car park itself.

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None of the boats required any structural maintenance, just a thorough sanding and a couple of coats of varnish. The point of keeping them inside the boathouse is to let the woodwork dry out completely over the winter. Damp wood is useless and any varnish you apply to wet timber will peel off in no time at all.

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Nice and dry

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This seat could use a lick!

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Another one of John Paddy’s boats

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Sanding completed, it is time to start work with the brushes

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Varnished boats

The next time you hire a club boat for a day on the lake remember the hours of sanding and painting that went into keeping these boats in good condition. As with all angling clubs, there is a lot of work which goes on behind the scenes by a small group of dedicated individuals. I think I have said before in this blog that I am not really a ‘club fishermen’. I prefer to just get up and go fishing at the drop of a hat, selecting the times which I feel are going to be the most rewarding. Organised days, set fishing times and competition rules are not really my thing. But the Glenisland Coop is an excellent club run by genuinely good people with only the best interests of Lough Beltra at heart. A few hours here and there of my free time to help out on jobs like this are no loss. And of course there is always plenty of craik and banter going on too.

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That’s better!

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This high water should have helped the kelts to drop back downstream

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Not long now until 20th March and start of the 2017 season

 

Later…………Some more pics here from the Beltra FB page:

 

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