Fishing in Ireland, Pike, salmon fishing, trolling

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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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trolling, trout fishing

Killer on Loch Cluanie

With no fishing right now due to the ongoing drought I have been amusing myself by sorting through some old gear which was jumbled into an old biscuit tin. There were lots of Mepps and other small spoons which I am unlikely to ever use again but an ABU Killer was tangled up in amongst the French spoons. I think these plugs are deadly, an appreciation which can be traced all the way back to my childhood.

Summer holidays back then in the late ‘60’s involved the family plus some suitcases wedged into a Triumph Toledo and we all headed off to the North or West of Scotland. These were simpler times, no notion of passports, theme parks or cheap sun holidays laced with red wine. No, instead we three kids spent a couple of mid-summer weeks in the outdoors being bitten by midges, splashing about in rivers or bouncing about on the back of poor old trekking ponies. My two sisters loved the trekking bit while I just wanted to have a fishing rod in my hand. Looking back on it now I wonder at the patience of my long suffering parents as they did everything possible to keep us all happy and safe.

My love affair with the ABU Killer was complex. Pocket money certainly did not stretch to the purchase of these very expensive ABU plugs. The silver example I was so proud of had been recovered from the bottom of the river Don at Inverurie sometime before when my worming gear had stuck on an underwater object which turned out to be the branch of a tree. The blackened, knarled limb must have been washed down in a flood from the expensive beats up river because nobody I knew who fished that cheap, local authority stretch could afford a Killer. However it got there it was now the centrepiece of my collection of spinners. I had never actually used it, being far too afraid it would get stuck on the bottom again. So it languished in the old tobacco tin, biding its time.

I must have been about 11 or maybe 12 years old when the Killer showed its true metal. The family holiday that year was a week in a rented cottage in Wester Ross. The oft travelled A96 up to Inverness, down the shore of Loch Ness through Drumnadrochit to Glenmoriston where the road turns off to the west and the amazing drive through Kintail with the Five Sisters towering over the road. The cottage was an old house with some basic appliances but it was all we needed and I have many fond memories of that vacation.

I had extracted a promise from my father that he would take me fishing on one of the big lochs. I think it might have been the second last day of the holiday before that promise was honoured, so anticipation had been building to fever pitch. The mighty River Moriston had at one time been one of the great salmon rivers of Scotland. It drained the wild lands of Kintail, pouring itself into Loch Ness after a tumultuous journey through the giant cleft in the land. Then, in the late 1950’s the surveyors and engineers arrived, bringing with them the plan for cheap electricity and the death warrant for the river. Great dams throttled the Moriston and the salmon were exterminated from the upper river. Huge reservoirs were created to feed the ever hungry turbines and the splash of leaping salmon was replaced by the low hum of the generators. The salmon are long gone but the little brown trout from the river found better pickings in the newly created still waters and they grew to a better size. It was these brownies I wanted to catch.

A Tay-rigged ABU Killer

I recall the Cluanie Inn was where you could hire a boat for a day (maybe it still is for all I know).  Few shillings changed hands and we set off in the car to the end of the loch where the boat was moored. I suspect it was only when my dad saw the cockleshell 12 footer that the enormity of the day ahead really struck him. We were going to fish a 10 mile long loch from a wee rowing boat with the emphasis very firmly on the ‘rowing’ part. I had been doing my homework and I knew what to do, father had to row the boat while a trolled a bait behind us. I was so full of excitement! Dad looked utterly dejected.

We set off and I got myself sorted, a wooden devon (silver in colour with a deep blue back to it) was lowered into the water and the line paid out until a good 30 yards separated the rod from the bait. I hunkered down to concentrate of the rod tip, snake-like concentration being required on my part. Dad pulled gamely on the oars, steady strokes which I had to tell him to increase in speed as we were not dragging the devon through the water quickly enough in my estimation. He muttered something inaudible through gritted teeth and picked up the pace slightly. My cobra’s stare deepened.

My faded copy of the 1965 ‘Game fishing in mainland Ross and Cromarty’

 

The entry for Loch Cluanie

We kept this up for maybe an hour before the rod gave an almighty lurch and the reel screamed. A half-pounder was soon in the boat and one wee boy was thrilled to say the least. Even dad managed a smile before I announced that the other shore might be a better spot to try next. He suggested that we eat our sandwiches first before covering the width of the loch (again). I was enjoying every minute of this most magical of days, dad on the other hand seemed to be wilting ever so slightly.

The following couple of hours were painfully blank and the solitary trout looked like a poor return for all our (sorry, his) efforts. I had changed the bait a couple of times but nothing interested the fish. Dad began to talk about heading back and how we better not be late. I needed some inspiration and as I poked around in my ‘Golden Virginia’ tin of baits I figured it was time to do the unthinkable – actually use the ABU Killer. With trembling hands I tied it on to the end of the line and tested the knot. I swear I was more afraid of losing the bait than any thought of catching a fish on it. I had read that some pike lived in this loch and in my mind’s eye I could envision a huge pike severing the line as he engulfed my lovely silver plug.

Dad rowed stoically on, nothing was said but I could see he had surreptitiously turned the boat in the direction of the far off mooring spot. Within minutes of immersion in the peaty waters my ABU Killer produced the goods! An alarming whack on the rod was almost instantly followed by the sight of a trout leaping clear of the small waves. A good trout, twice the size of the first lad. He fought well but not well enough and dad scooped him out of the loch and into the boat. My suggestion that we ‘take another run over that spot again’ was not well received and instead we picked up speed as we made a bee-line for the mooring.

It turned out to be the only fish that Killer caught. A few seasons later it did indeed snag on the bottom and the line parted when I tried to yank it free. I was sad to lose it just because of the memory of the day on Loch Cluanie but by then I was working and had money to buy a replacement if desired. Salmon have fallen for Killers fished by me over the years since then and even when I discovered Rapalas the old ABU plug still snuck on to the end of my trace from time to time.

The Abu Killer was in fact made in America (the same applied to Cello and Hi-lo plugs from ABU). These days ABU Garcia have them made in the Far East. I still pick up old ones second hand for not much money. I have less fear of losing them now! Funny how a couple of inches of plastic, moulded in the land of the free, can create such memories.

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling, trout fishing

Still quiet on Conn

Conn (again) today. Like some sort of a piscatorial junkie I had to go back there again to get another ‘fix’. Previous disappointments were pushed to the dark recesses of my memory and I packed tons of gear and even more optimism before setting off.

Hazy day on Lough Conn

Let me get this off my chest straight away – I failed to catch anything of any consequence today. Conditions were good and the weather was kind for a change so I don’t really have any excuses. I tried hard and used all my knowledge of the lough but still came up short. My hopes were initially pinned on the first of the years salmon showing up but there was no sign of them today. After trolling and fly fishing over a couple of normally productive lies I pulled into the shore to swap over to a cast of trout flies.

a very full boat!

I met a pair of experienced fishers from the midlands who were on the last day of a three day trip to the Conn. They had not caught a fish during their stay! A few mayfly were hatching out so I decided to drift the edges of Castlehill Bay. A number of other boats had the same idea, making for a busy day on the oars to keep clear of everyone else.

boats on Lough Conn

With a steady breeze behind me I drifted right across the bay, then repeated the exercise for good measure. Two small trout nipped at the flies and I saw only three natural rises in the distance during those lengthy drifts. Maybe some of the other boats saw some action but I didn’t see anyone bending a rod into a fish. The few mays which were hatching seemed to thin out and the hatch stopped altogether. Time to move on!

On the move

I set up the trolling rods again and turned into the wind, the engine pushing me slowly southwards. A Toby on one line and a nice copper ABU Salar on the other, it was time to hunker down as the mist rolled in.

mist coming down over Nephin

mist coming down over Nephin

The long haul down the Massbrook shore was fishless and the return journey equally unproductive. No trout rose and no salmon jumped clear of the water. In these conditions it was hard to believe this was Lough Conn. the only action came in the shape of a tiny 8 inch trout which grabbed a 12 gram Toby. Luckily. the wee fella was lightly hooked and soon returned.

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an out of focus mayfly!

Mayfly shuck

Mayfly shuck

With the mayfly hatch finally underway there must be hopes the lough will start to fish soon. I will probably back next weekend to mainline on the Conn!

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling

Bank holiday blues

low cloud and a good wave = fly fishing!

Bank holiday Sunday came around again so quickly. This year is flying by, each successive month whizzing  past faster than the last one. The decision where to fish yesterday was taken on the back of reports there were salmon sneaking up the river Moy and that the first of the grilse were being caught alongside the springers. Surely some of these fish would swim into the lough!

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Throwing back the bedroom curtains early on Sunday I was not a little surprised to find a dull, breezy day. The forecast had promised wall-to-wall sunshine and our plans had centred on a day trolling, not fly fishing. To cover all the bases some fly rods were tossed into the car and we rolled out of town.

It has been dry lately so the boat did not require much baling but we took an age to load it up with all manner of gear and tackle. Eventually we pushed off and started the engine. Three lines streamed out behind us as we swung south, hugging the shoreline.

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We stuck to our guns and trolled the lies along the western shore. If the fishing was good we would expect to be jostling for position with upwards of twenty other boats but only two others were out. Clearly the salmon were not there in any numbers.

The promised sunshine breaking through

With no signs of life by the time we reached Mary Robinson’s we switched to the fly, working the bob fly over the excellent lies close to the shore there. Ben had a small trout which somewhat ambitiously grabbed a size 6 shrimp fly. Otherwise it graveyard quiet.

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The extensive shallows were then trolled again. Another boat joined us but they were blank too.

These lads definitely remembered to bring the net

By now it had become very bright and we decided to head for the shore and a welcome cuppa. I had a pleasant walk along the shore to stretch my legs.

At this time of the year the trees should be home to a wide variety to flies but everything is so late due to the cold spring that there were no olives or sedges to be seen when I shook the branches of the birch and whitethorns.

The low scrub at the very edges of the water are hardy plants. Covered by water in winter then dried out in summer, they cope with everything nature throws at them.

I spotted an old float and some line tangled up in the scrub and a few minutes work had it freed, along with a small piece of lead and a sharp bait hook.

I just went as far as the small river which flows into the lough mid-way along the bay. It doesn’t look much but salmon spawn in this tiny tributary.

The shore was littered with the bleached shells of Zebra Mussels. This small invasive species are present in their millions on the bottom of the lough. Who knows what the long term effects will be on the eco system.

With poor conditions and no sign of salmon we lazed in the sunshine. I spent some time rooting through my reels, checking/changing leaders. This is a chore I had been putting off so it felt good getting it out of the way, perched on a rock in the brilliant sunshine.

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Time to get back in the boat and we opted to troll our way back up the lake. Toby spoons were replaced with Rapalas and we slowly motored out across the Massbrook shallows, passing one lonely boat with a pair of flyfishers methodically casting into the shore.

All our efforts came to nothing and we came back fishless. What is more worrying is that we did not see a single fish jump all day. Usually, salmon and grilse show frequently when they arrive in Lough Conn, so it looks like they are not in the lough in any numbers yet.

The shrimp didn’t work today……………

and neither did the bumble

or even the normally deadly Rapala

 

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling

Sunday

It looks increasingly likely that my planned time off work will come to a shuddering halt way too early so I have been packing in some fishing over the past two days. Last Sunday I did some trolling for salmon.

It started of grey. Very grey. A thick mist had turned the world silvery and damp as I waited to be picked up. At least the daffodils are blooming. We were dropping a boat off on the river and had agreed to fish during the morning. These simple plans were predicated on the rise on water levels due to recent rainfall. Salmon have been nosing into the Moy system in small numbers for a couple of weeks now so there seemed to be a chance they had penetrated far enough upstream for us to intercept them. With dry, settled weather forecast for the coming week Sunday looked like the best opportunity to catch a fresh springer.

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We launched the boat and tackled up. The river looked perfect, high but dropping and clarity was even better than we had anticipated. Confidence high, we motored off upstream to cover the best lies. The winter spent re-equipping my trolling gear now stood me in good stead, new rod, line and lures were all at hand and ready for action. Unfortunately nobody had informed the fish that we were properly armed. The stillness of the weather was perfectly reflected by the comatose fish.

Tried a sliver Salmo first………………

Next I tied on a Zebra Toby

And finally a gold Toby Smash got a swim

The early mist lifted to leave a lovely Spring day. The trees and shrubs are still a long way behind where they should be but with the increase in air temperatures there should be a spurt in growth over the next few days. Now is wonderful time to be out and about in the Irish countryside. New life will blossom very quickly as winter finally retreats. The swallows will return this week after their arduous journeys from Africa and the trout will start to feed on the newly hatched flies. That dread coldness which has haunted the country since last October will lift and warmth from Europe will envelope us in Ireland. Optimism is returning along with new plans and ideas. It is amazing what benefits some good weather can bring!

On the troll

Even the improved climatic conditions failed to liven the salmon for us this morning though and we returned to the launching site near the bridge empty-handed. This is not unusual for the river these days as the runs of salmon grow smaller and smaller each year. By noon we were bumping along the road home.

This is not the most taxing way to fish but on days like Sunday it gives you an opportunity to sit back and take in the wonders of the natural world around you. A kingfisher flashed past us at one point, a blur of petrol blue and burnt orange. Larks were high above the fields and a huge cock pheasant broke cover close by us on the bank. Some days it is about more than  just catching a fish.

audience

The afternoon was spent doing family stuff then off for a walk along the beach out at Mulranney. Tired, I went to bed early. I planned to fish the River Robe on Monday., maybe the trout would be more responsive!

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