Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling

Red Rapalas

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

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

5cm red rapala

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

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

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

magnum.jpg

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

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

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Gold of Lapland Scatter Rap

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling, wetfly

Choices

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

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

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

Looking down to Massbrook in the distance

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

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

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

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

nasty mess of heavy braid

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

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

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling

Around Conn

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

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

start of the day

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

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

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

on the troll

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

Knotted braid

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

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

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A nice Tay-rigged Rapala

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

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

 

 

 

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

Getting ready

‘Tis the end of January and the time to prepare for the upcoming season is upon us game anglers in Ireland. I know that some early rivers opened weeks ago but for me and most of the lads I fish with the months of February and March mark the true beginning of another year on the water. In truth, I have been fiddling away all winter getting my tired old gear (both fresh and salt water) into better shape. There is something very satisfying about doing these small jobs, a feeling of pent up excitement mingled with the realism that previous poor seasons have beaten you down with. Hope springs eternal in the heart of every fisher. Here are some of the tasks which I have either completed or am still in the middle of.

fly lines hanging up

Rods have all been checked and any minor repairs such as re-whipping rings undertaken. With so little fishing done last season there were no issues on this front other than cleaning some muck and scales from the sea rods. I always give my rods and reels a good hose down with fresh water after a day’s sea angling but even still there seem to be scales and slime lodged in some nooks and crannies. The rollers on my boat rod also got a bit of lubrication while I was at it. The fly rods just required nothing more than a cursory wipe down as the rings, handles and reel seats were all in good nick.

Looking after reels is a big job when you own as many as I do. Regular readers will be aware that I have been re-building some old multipliers this winter, something I find deeply satisfying. I’ve also cleaned and lubricated all my other reels so they are fit for the rigours of the new season. I know that some anglers send their reels off to have this job carried out for them but I like to do it myself and it engenders a degree of confidence in my tackle if I know how they work and that I have the oil and grease in the right place (and in the right amount). Mine are all in fine fettle now and ready for the off next month.

Fly lines which had been unwound from the reels and cleaned in October are now being loaded back on to the self same reels, a laborious job punctuated by swearing at the not infrequent knots I seem to incur. I am thinking about investing in some new fly lines as most of mine are many years old now. The bewildering array of tapers and densities mean I have to do my homework first though. Why is fishing so complicated these days?

A big chunk of my winter evening were spent sorting out and fixing my unfeasably large collection of baits what with cleaning them and fitting new hooks and swivels. That task was completed a couple of weeks ago bar a few strays which keep cropping in in jacket pockets, old tobacco tins and other odd corners.

I also rationalised the boxes of baits so I know where most things are. The same went for the other small items such as swivels and hooks. Hopefully the unedifying sight of me tipping the contents of my bag out on to the bottom of the boat to track down missing items is not going to be repeated this coming season!

Speaking about the bags, I gave the various tackle bags a good clean and then reorganised them all. Fishermen’s tackle bags are akin to Pandora’s box, opening them up unleashes powerful forces, especially smells. When going through the contents of my old blue bag I found gear I’ve been lugging around for years which were never used, so a drastic reorganisation was called for.

I have owned my black shore fishing tackle box for a few years but have never really managed to organise it properly. It is either overloaded and unwieldy or spartan to the point where it contains nothing that I need. I can’t find that happy medium it seems. I’m now contemplating an internal modular system so that I can switch it around depending on what type of fish I am after on any given day. For example, there is no point in lugging float tackle with me when I am fishing off a beach. It needs more thought but I need to be better organised that I am just now. I must ‘7S’ my black box!

It looks OK in this shot but trust me, this shore fishing box is a perpetual disaster area

One change I am going to make this coming season is to carry a few made up leaders with me. This is a simple expedient to work around my failing eyesight and reduce lost time on the bank. Many years ago I was drifting the west shore of Lough Conn one May morning when I happened across some rising trout. Earlier that day I had tied on a leader from my bulging cast wallet. A nice sized trout walloped my tail fly and soon after setting the hook he jumped and the leader parted at the knot. Annoyed at myself for tying a shoddy half blood I tidied up the end of the leader and tied on another fly. Fish were all around me now and I placed the fly perfectly in front of a cruising fish a few casts later. The offer was accepted and a large wild trout set off at pace for the deep water close by. My smile faded quickly from my face when that fish snapped me too. Winding in a gave the leader a tug and it snapped like cotton thread. The nylon had aged in the years that leader must have been lurking in the cast wallet. Lesson learned, I vowed then and there to stop carrying made up leaders and I have stuck to that rigidly – until now. From now on, the simple expedient of scribbling a date on the cast carrier will let me know how old the leader is and when I should dispose of them.

Conn shoreline

The various fly boxes are looking a bit healthier now after some fly tying over the winter months. After a bit of rationalisation I was able to ditch two boxes that I used to take on trips to the rivers for trout. That still leaves me with six boxes though!

There is time yet to tie up a few more killer patterns and the only type I feel seriously under gunned is emergers. I’ll rattle up a few this week and have them ready for those exciting days when the fish are on the top of the water and flies are hatching. With a storm blowing outside and the windows rattling those balmy days seem a long way off. I will also tie up some shrimp copies for the trout. With so little in the way of fly life last year I will make more effort to fish deep with grammus patterns this time around. While I do a fair bit of deep nymphing I am planning a much more targeted approach with a greater focus on shrimps rather than stoneflys and empherid nymphs which seem to be in such short supply these days.

So while the days oh so gradually lengthen I will continue my making and mending, fiddling and foostering and generally edging my way towards the new season in the sure and certain hope that there will be some days in amongst the blanks.

The boat and engines need some work but I’ll go over them in another post.

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, salmon fishing, trolling

Single hooks?

Any of you tried single hooks on your salmon baits? I have not (yet) but plan to give them a go this coming season so that returning fish is going to be easier

Here is an ABU Killer which I have changed the hooks on. To me it looks a bit odd but that will just be due to the newness of seeing a bait I have spent a lifetime altered like this.

I am not going to do all the baits in my box, just a handful of them and see how that works out in terms of hooking and holding fish as well as ease of release.

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, salmon fishing, trolling, trout fishing, wetfly

2019

With Christmas behind us now and the old year only hours left to run my thoughts are firmly fixed on the 2019 season. What will it bring? This used to be a time of mounting excitement but the collapse of fish stocks in and around Ireland mean there is more trepidation rather than anticipation these days.

A drift on Beltra

Looking back over many years, my angling year fitted into neat sections with the focus on wild brown trout and Atlantic salmon from February right through until the end of September. Only when the game fishing ended would I make any concerted effort to go sea fishing and piking was something I only did once a year. How things have changed! Lack of water early in the season reduced the rivers to a trickle of cold water and the trout went into hiding. Fly life was pretty much non-existent, so the joys of fishing a hatch of duns or a fall of spinners never materialise these days. Salmon too have become scarce with even the once prolific runs of summer grilse a now distant memory.

The Ridge pool on the Moy

Much as I try, it is hard to be optimistic about salmon fishing in 2019. Salmon fishers are used to disappointment, it’s part of our DNA. Long hours on the water without so much a tug on the line are the norm and we all accept this as part and parcel of our chosen sport. Dwindling stocks have turned the empty hours into empty weeks, months and seasons for most of us now. I know many good fishers who put in the hard hours over the past couple of seasons but failed to even hook a fish, let alone land one. Why should 2019 be any better when nothing has been done to help the salmon? There are more fish farms with all their pollution and sea lice. Industrial fishing continues unchecked, wiping out the food sources for the fish. Changing weather patterns seem to be having a detrimental effect of the fish and cycle of high/low water has been replaced with flood/drought. I fear another poor salmon season is about to start. Let’s hope I am wrong.

I’m hoping for more like this next season!

The long, painful drought of last spring and summer, combined with a near total lack of fly life ruined my trouting season on the rivers. I need to be more flexible this coming year, look for new venues and try new methods to winkle out the odd fish. So much will depend on the weather of course but the loss of natural flies means the trout must be feeding on other food forms such as small fish and crustaceans.

On the loughs I am planning on doing more trolling and have geared up accordingly. Not my favourite pastime by any means but when faced with otherwise hopeless conditions I needed to have a ‘plan B’.

I am also thinking about doing more Pike fishing if the trout and salmon are a wash out again. This will be a stretch for me as I have never really enjoyed Pike angling but I suppose any fishing is better than none at all. Again, I have invested in a range of lures and will give them a swim when the water warms up sufficiently.

So as this years ebbs away I still have much to be thankful for and a lot to look forward to. I hope the same applies to each of you who have taken the time to read some of my ramblings on this blog. See you all next year!

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, trolling

Lucky Strike

With the collapse of all salmon stocks here in Ireland and the disastrous state of the trout fisheries I am turning more and more to Pike fishing so that I can at least get out occasionally with rod and line. I can’t be bothered messing around with dead baits so I spin or troll for pike in the loughs and my favourite lures are spoons. Big spoons.

I bought an old silver ‘Lucky Strike’ spoon the other day for a few cents. I’ve not owned one of these spoons before so I am keen to give it a swim. I imagine it will work for pike here in Ireland but they were designed for salmon trolling in Canada from what I can gather. This is a large lure, deeply indented to give it a flamboyant action in the water. Plain silver, front and back it looks to have the attributes of a spoon that our big Pike like to attack in cold water.

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This specimen, while in reasonable condition, needed some TLC before I could use it. Big Pike need to be treated with respect so any possible weaknesses in your gear need to be addressed.

Removing the old split ring

  • The swivel looked to be on the small side to me so I changed it for a more substantial one.
  • The top split ring was rusty and had to be changed.
  • The treble hook was in need of some TLC. Surface rust had to be rubbed off and the points sharpened.
  • To give the hook plenty of distance from the broad end of the spoon I added a second split ring between the spoon and the hook. I personally don’t think enough attention is paid to the relationship between spoon dimensions and the size of the hook attached to it. The simple expedient of adding an extra split ring takes only a few minutes but can make the difference sometimes. Pike hooks need to err on the big side in my book. When you open the mouth of even a modestly sized pike the gape is massive. It must be hard for a hook to find a good hook hold in there sometimes.
  • While I was at it I swapped the tiny red plastic tail and put a much bigger one on in its place. An old traditionalist at heart, I like a bit of red on my Pike lures. The wee red tail I took off was just the right size to adorn another, smaller spoon (waste not, want not).

 

The new, larger red tail

I don’t do a lot of pike fishing but this old spoon will be near the top of my list to troll during the coming winter. Silver spoons have always been a favourite lure of mine and they seem to do their best work in cold water conditions. Selecting the right spoon on any given day is far from an exact science and sometimes a different size, action or colour can do the trick when an old reliable has an off-day. A big snap link swivel on the end the trace allows easy and quick changes, something which is important on cold, wet days when any additional effort is best avoided.

Two other lures came in the same packet as the Lucky Strike, a big ABU Atom and a copper Toby. The Atom is one of those black and gold Zebra coloured ones in the 35 gram size. It will find a home in my box of Pike lures too. Over the years I have boated a number of Pike on Atom’s but can’t say they have been particularly effective. Smaller ones work well for jacks  but then those fish are not overly fussy.

The Atom, in reasonable condition

The copper Toby is a handy 30 gram Salmo version, the only drawback is that is is not a Swedish one. Not yet sure if I will hang on to this one or sell it on.

The weather is turning colder now and it is time for me to get back into fly tying mode. I have no excuses, the boxes of hooks and drawers full of feathers await my attention. Both salmon and trout fly boxes have ominous gaps in the serried ranks which need addressed before the next season starts. Old reliables will be tied but I have some new patterns in my head too. I’ll be sure to post my efforts here so keep an eye out for them.

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