Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing

Bilberry lake restocked

The local rag is reporting that Bilberry lake has been restocked this week. Here is the report from the Connaught Telegraph

‘THE scenic Bilberry Lake in Castlebar has today been restocked with 1,000 brown trout ahead of a busy summer angling season.

The restocking, which costs over €4,000, was funded by members of the Bilberry and Lannagh Anglers Club.

Local election candidate Eugene McCormack said the investment was required because fishing stock in the lakes had declined to low levels.

He stated: “This is not just an investment in local angling, it is an investment in local tourism.

“Those involved with the club deserve the highest plaudits for putting their hands into their own pockets to cover the cost of the restrocking programme.

“I understand they were very disappointed when assistance was not forthcoming from the inlands fisheries authorities for whatever reason.

“But the club members could not let another summer pass by without the lakes being alive with brown trout.

“It’s a tremendous initiative and I am sure we will see the level of anging activities increasing around Castlebar in the months ahead.”

https://www.con-telegraph.ie/news/roundup/articles/2019/05/16/4174194-scenic-mayo-lake-restocked-with-1000-brown-trout

Billberry lake, december 2012

This is good news and is a refection on the hard work put in by the very active committee of the Bilberry angling club. It is only 1000 fish which is not a lot when you consider the challenges they will face from the huge population of pike in the lake. I would recommend you try your luck sooner rather than later on this pretty wee lake. Usual lough flies all work but I used to like something bright on my leader such as a Dunkeld or Silver Invicta

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Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing, wetfly

Robe trout

I wanted a break for salmon fishing so today I took myself off to the Robe near Hollymount to try for a few wild brownies. With no rain to speak of lately I knew that water levels would be low and so I avoided the streamier sections of the river.

Parking up, I strode over to the bridge to take a peek at the river. Sure enough, I was confronted with a shrunken stream. Rafts of weed decorated the pools and thick slimy algae encroached from both banks. Recent higher temperatures have caused this explosion of vegetation and my hope was that the warmth would also encourage the flies to hatch. By mid-May we should be seeing a wide range of flies hatching but the cream of the fishing is often when the blue-wing olives make an appearance.

I set up the gear and tied up a new leader. Three small wets were added, a size 16 Greenwell on the bob, a size 18 black spider in the middle and size 16 PT on the tail. I don’t use Greenwell’s too often but when I do it often produces a good fish for me. My plan was simple, work my way down the left bank casting into all the likely spots. A harsh, gusty upstream wind rippled the surface of the pools and the excellent drying conditions would assist any newly hatched flies to dry their wings and escape the surface. The wind was cold and this might make the session difficult.

I commenced operations in the bridge pool and was quickly into a small trout. A second soon followed and both were released. The next pool down seemed to be quiet but as I worked my way down the line tightened and a good fish splashed on the top of the water. This was a much better class of trout but after a few darts and more rolling on the top the hook pulled out and my prize swam off no doubt wondering what that was all about. I checked the hooks but they were fine, just bad luck in not getting a good hold. As that fish was on the top a lot I got a good look at him and I estimate it would have gone close to two pounds.

Some flies were hatching but not in any great numbers. I saw an occasional trout rise but to be honest not enough to encourage me to switch to the dry fly. Each pool I came to received the same treatment, start at the neck with short casts then fan out longer casts through the main body of the pool and down to the tail. Frequent stops were needed to clear weed from the flies.

There is a Greenwell somewhere in the middle of that snot!

Fish came to hand steadily but the bigger fish continued to elude me. The hatch was poor and never really got going. Could that cold wind have been the cause? It did warm up a bit after midday but the fly life seemed to reduce rather than increase after lunchtime.

By now I had gone to the end of the section I had planned to fish and with less and less action I turned back and started to head back to the bridge and the waiting car. I barely noticed while fishing my down river just how many electric fences I had crossed but the return trip seemed to be a succession of crossings, either hopping over at low spots on some electric fences or rolling under the higher ones.

One brand new style has been added for this season, a smart green affair which replaces a horrible partly fallen dry stone wall and cluster of barbed wire. This is a huge improvement and it would be great to see more of these styles on the Robe. Access is a big problem on the river, especially for those (like me) who are not as young as they used to be!

the new style, simple yet effective

I ended up catching eight trout, none of them any great size but it was an enjoyable few hours on the riverbank. A shot of rain is need to put a bit more life into the rivers around here but the forecast is for dry, sunny weather this week. It’s maybe as well that I will be away in Europe on business until Thursday!

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trout fishing

Boat launch

Later than normal, we dropped my boat off at Pike Bay on lough Conn this morning. It is usually some time in late March or early April that my old grey boat is unearthed from the depths of the shed and dragged up to the Conn, but this year the gods conspired against me and here we are in the month of May before the boat got launched. I was away last weekend so the planned date had to be pushed back and as a further complication there is a big charity race on in Castlebar today. That meant a reasonably early start was required so we did all our bits before the roads were closed off.

A beautiful morning with only high, thin clouds in an otherwise azure sky meant there would be no fishing today. I have spent too many long, fishless hours under a blazing sun to want to repeat that exercise, so this morning was confined to the launch only. The road up through the green countryside was a pleasure. Ireland is looking well in the late spring sunshine. We turned off at Healy’s, taking the road to Crossmolina. This piece of road badly needs some attention from the local council, potholes and bumps abound, making the driving unpleasant and tricky, especially when towing a boat trailer. The boreen down to the lake was even worse but we arrived safely and took in our surroundings before beginning the task in hand. With no rain lately the level of the lough has dropped back. The water is still cold though.

The place I tie up the boat was still vacant and there are only a handful of other boats in the bay yet. It will fill quickly now that the first mayfly are hatching though as anglers gather from around the globe to try their luck. Here’s hoping this season will be more productive than last year!

There is a gently sloping gravel bank where it is easy to slip the boat into the water only a few yards from the place she would be berthed, so we set about our jobs and got the boat ready for the water. I donned a pair of chest waders and once the boat was in the lough I hopped in and rowed her around. It felt good just to be back on the oars again.

ready for launch

A shiny new chain was used to secure the boat to a thick tree trunk and she was safely tied up. Gone are the days when a a boat and engine could simply be left on the shore, safe in the knowledge that nobody would touch them. Now there are criminal gangs who target fishing boats and do huge damage to boats to remove any engine which has been left attached. There are stories of the gangs using chain saws to chop the end off a boat to get the engine.

Soon it was time to head back home but there is great comfort knowing the boat is in a safe place and ready for use at any time. With work taking so much of my time these days I only have short sessions available to me. Now the boat is on the lake I can pop up there after work and spend a couple of hours with rod and line.

Conn has produced a couple of salmon so far this season and I hear the trout fishing, while not spectacular, has yielded some nice fish. I’m itching to get out and try it for myself.

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salmon fishing, trout fishing, wetfly

First fish

Close season Saturday afternoons are sacrosanct for me. I endeavour to get all my tasks and odd jobs out of the way by 2pm so that I can disappear into the fishing room for the remainder of the afternoon. I am just too old school for the blandishments of SKY TV sports channels and I actually prefer to listen to radio commentary of the soccer, so I hunker down with steaming mugs of coffee and potter about making flies or repairing tackle listening to the premiership commentary. Cocooned in the wee room like this spares the rest of humanity the pain of listening to me cursing when my beloved Burnley lose a goal or the girlishly high screeches of a pure joy when we hit the back of the net.

Where the magic happens most Saturday afternoons

Saturday afternoons are also a time for both looking forward and back, planning for the next season and reminiscing about times past. Being an angler, this inevitably means recalling the capture of fish so I thought I would share some of these cherished memories with you.

A solitary half pound brownie may not seem like a very memorable fish but when it was the first trout I caught on the fly I think you will agree it stays in my memory for a very good reason. I had just turned thirteen when I caught this fish which seems to be quite old to try fly fishing but there were no anglers in my family so I had to find the inspiration and drive from within. The venue was the river Don at Kintore, Aberdeenshire. Those of you who know the Don will be aware the river is mainly a series of slow, deep loops on that beat. It is not classic fly water. Funnily enough, I can only recall fishing Kintore on a few occasions in total as I quickly found that the Inverurie club waters just upstream offered much better fly water. Anyway, on this particular late spring day I was wandering the high banks searching for trout, my solitary fly box poorly stocked with only a handful of wet flies.

the Don

I recall the conditions were good with a damp, dull day and no wind to speak of to hamper my inept casting. These days I would have tried the deeply sunk nymph as there were no fish rising during the morning. But back them I knew nothing of nymphs and certainly did not possess any weighted patterns. Fishing industriously all morning brought no success and by lunchtime I was fishless. A spot in the grass beside some trees on the edge of the river was the ideal place to eat my lunch. The couple of sandwiches, wrapped in tin foil and coffee from a small thermos flask tasted wonderful in the fresh air, as they always do. It was while I was munching on the slightly soggy tomato and white bread combination that I saw it. A trout rose in the middle of the river. Non-anglers will never understand the thrill of seeing a fish showing. Only we anglers, and especially fly fishers, know that tingle of excitement when you see a fish break the surface. The day is instantly transformed into one of opportunity. Excitement rose and the flask was packed away in the old brown fishing bag with undue haste.

Bridge over the Don in Kintore. The run I am talking about is about half a mile below this bridge

The next 3 hours was an education for me. The books I was avidly reading at home had explained the life cycle of flies and here, right in front of me, a hatch was taking place ( years later and I can reflect the trout were almost certainly feeding on Large Dark Olives despite the sprinkling of March Browns which were also hatching that day). It was not a big hatch, more of a steady trickle of duns but the trout rose steadily along a short section of shallower water below the trees. Although the water was shallower than the pool above it was still too deep for me in my wellingtons. Stuck on the bank I found it hard to cast and control the fly (mending a line was completely unknown to me). So the trout rose and I cast again and again without so much as a pull from the fish. I stuck doggedly to my task, flicking out the line across the current and letting the fly swing across and below me. Different flies were tried, each one as useless as the last.

The take when it came was electrifying. A sharp tug, a splash, the line in my hand pulled out a few feet then that dreaded slackness as the fish threw the hook. I couldn’t believe it! After all my efforts the trout had simply fallen off. Now I know that the ratio of fish hooked to landed when swinging flies down and across is not good and I expect to lose a good percentage of trout when fishing like this but back then to lose my hard earned prize in that way was nothing short of a disaster. I wound in, not sure what to do next. OK, check the hook in case it is damaged. No, nothing wrong with the hook of the size 14 Coch-y-Bondhu. I tugged the leader to make sure my knots were OK. Looking around there seemed to be fewer trout rising now, maybe my only chance had come and gone? I started casting again, my mind racing still about what I had done wrong. I was still deep in this maze of self-examination when the line tightened again. This fish was well below me in fast water so it felt much bigger than it actually was but after a spirited fight I scooped it up in my cheap folding net. I had caught my first trout on a fly! Today that small trout would be admired and safely returned to the stream but back then there were no thoughts of C&R. My previously unused priest lost its virginity and the fish was wrapped in a plastic bag. By the time I had attended to all these details the rise had all but petered out and I stopped fishing after another blank half hour.

That unfortunate trout was a turning point I guess. It proved to me I could catch trout on the fly and the feelings of that day have stayed with me over a long life. Today, an afternoon surrounded by rising trout and only a solitary half pounder to show for my efforts would be a poor return for me. I would have nymphed in the morning and been pretty confident I would catch a few before the rise got going. Then a switch, probably to the dry fly, should yield some more action. I would be working on leader set up, methods and pattern selection and, most importantly of all, watching what was happening around me in terms of the hatch, where individual fish were lying and how to best attack each lie. In other words I have learned so much over the years since that 10 incher grabbed my fly a lifetime ago. But for all of that I will never again experience the utter thrill of my first trout on the fly.

The road bridge which marks the lower limit of the Upper Parkhill beat

Everyone remembers their first salmon. The capture of his/her first Atlantic salmon is perhaps the ultimate experience for any angler. Here is how mine came about.

I was not even supposed to be there that day. April 5th, 1974 was a day when 3 of us regular fishing buddies were going to fish a small dam. We used to set out rods with worms ledgered on the bottom while we fly fished. There was a small feeder burn too which held some impressive trout but these were hard tempt. Trout, Perch and eels were the targets. Plans had be laid during the week at school and I was all set for an enjoyable day with the lads. Then on Friday two other fishing mates suggested we head for the Upper Parkhill beat of the river Don instead. This was (and indeed still is) Aberdeen & District Angling Association water and I was a proud member. Alan and Micky suggested we try for the large trout in the river there and I was swayed by their argument that we would catch bigger trout in the Don than in the wee loch. I switched my plans, little knowing how dramatic this would turn out to be.

Rendezvous was early the next morning and we three fairly bristled with rods and gear when we met up at my house on the council estate. At that time I was reading a lot about salmon fishing, especially those written by Ogilsby and  Faulkus. I didn’t own a salmon fly rod but I had a spinning rod which looked like it could handle a salmon if it came to a push. So I set off that day with my head full of images of wooden devon minnows spinning over the heads of springers and some heavier than normal line on my reel.

It was one of those lovely spring days that seem to have been so common in my youth. The country bus had dropped us off in Dyce and we three proceeded to tramp out to the river where it flowed strongly under Parkhill bridge. The ‘Lawson’s of Dyce’ bacon factory was still in full operation in those days and the stink of blood and guts hung over the lower pools which we quickly passed by. I recall there used to be an open drain which flowed from the factory into the river and it regularly ran red with blood. Changed days! Once we were past that abomination the countryside opened up in front of us. Springtime in Aberdeenshire is lovely. That day was warm and cloudy with the air full of the scents of the wild flowers along the banks and hedgerows. We fished our way up the river, the three of us spread out trying different methods and covering the well known trout lies without any particular success. A couple of very small trout fell to the fly but of their larger brethren there was no sign.

Late morning found the three amigos at the neck of Coquers pool. A wonderful place, this long, deep pool gave me many memorable experiences over the years. Some years later it would give up my then largest brown trout one June evening, a whopper of 2pound 10 ounces. On another pitch black night I hooked something which although light seemed to fight in a very odd way after taking the fly just as it was hitting the water. I wound ‘it’ in and reaching down the leader in the stygian blackness I encountered something with skin and fur! I dropped it and stood, shaking in my boots trying to figure out what the hell was going on. Whatever it was it had taken to the air above my head so I reasoned it was a bat. Sure enough, when I had raised the courage to pull it in again there was a tiny bat which had been hooked though the skin on its wing. He was quickly released without further harm but I had had enough and packed up there and then. It was a mercifully short walk through the blackness back to where my bike was parked.

My old A.D.A.A. permits

But back to the 5th of April……………. I set up my spinning rod and tied on a two-inch brown and gold wooden minnow, sure that Ogilsby and co. would be in full approval of my choice. I started casting, throwing the minnow squarely across the river and allowing it to swing back towards my bank before winding it back in again. One step downstream then cast again. The other lads were above me and I could hear some high-jinks going on up there. The quiet morning had sapped their enthusiasm but I was concentrating hard now. Cast, hold the rod high, follow the bait round in an arc, feel for the bottom, wind in quickly at the end of the cast. Repeat. The blackbirds were in full voice, the burnished yellow of the gorse flowers on the far bank shone in a lemon blaze. Cast again, and again. Then it happened.

In my experience salmon taking a devon minnow seem to just ‘appear’ on the end of the line, there is no definable take as such. That is exactly what happened on that day. The line went tight and a heavy, slow pull drew some line from the reel. FISH!!!!! I screamed and the other two came rushing down to me. A stream of advice was now directed at me. ‘Don’t give him line’. ‘Get downstream of him’. ‘That’s jist a big troot’ said Alan but I knew better. ‘Nope, this a salmon but it will probably be a kelt’. In my heart I was praying it would be a fresh fish but I was trying not to get my hopes up. The fish was moving up and down for a few minutes, keeping his distance from the bank. Thinking I had to do something positive I applied a bit more pressure. This had two distinct effects. Firstly the salmon surfaced and rolled in full view of three awestruck teenagers. ‘Wow’ (or unprintable works to that effect). Secondly, my cheap fixed spool reel made a very unpleasant grinding / screeching sort of a noise. It quickly became obvious that the drag was no longer functioning. There is a fine line between excitement and panic and I was now astride that line!

I am guessing the fight lasted around 15 minutes but it felt like a lifetime to me. The fish made a strong charge up river at one point and I had to franticly wind the reel backwards to give him line. He didn’t jump but there were some rolls on the surface. I gradually gained line and got the fish within a few feet of the bank, at which point another problem came to mind – none of us had a net big enough to accommodate a salmon. Micky flourished a triangular trout net but it was obvious to us all there was no way the mighty salmon was going to fit in those meshes. The fish caught sight of us and turned away, swimming hard for the deep water further out. This put an alarming bend in the rod and I was slow to react before winding backwards once again. I knew I was lucky to get away with that but my slow reactions would have dire consequences soon enough.

There were floating weeds for about 4 or 5 feet out from the bank, meaning I would have to drag the salmon upon to the top of the weeds before I could grab it, hopefully by the tail. More minutes of too-and-fro pulling passed until I judged the fish was tired and I could risk the tricky manouver of sliding high on to the top of the weeds. More advice from the audience – ‘get his head up’, ‘dinae gee him slack’ and other solid suggestions delivered in broad Doric filled the moist air. As he circled once more I applied additional pressure and up came the salmons head and he slid gracefully on to the green weeds. I kept the pressure on until…………….the hooks pulled clean out. What followed can only be described as a moment of madness. In one fluid motion I hurled the rod over my shoulder and leapt into the river. I has no idea how deep the water was under the floating weedbed, it could have been 10 feet for all I knew. I threw my arms around the fish, clasping it to me as tight as I could. Meanwhile, the lads grabbed at me, catching hold of my arms/shoulders and dragging me and my prize back to the bank. I had come to close to disaster to take any more risks so, regaining my feet I stumbled to the top of the steep bank and into the edge of the field. The fish was indeed a fresh springer. No lice, but looking back it was a fish that had been in the river for maybe a couple of weeks. He was dispatched and endlessly admired by the three of us. I was soaked to the skin and had to remove my waders along with most of my clothes so they could dry off in the gentle breeze. It was then, and remains to this day, one of my happiest memories of a long angling life.

Interestingly, not long after I landed that fish an elderly angler came down the river and stopped to talk to us when he saw we had been successful. He questioned me closely as to where exactly I had hooked the fish. He explained that salmon sometimes travel in pairs or in small schools and there was a very good chance another fish could be caught from the same lie. He then proceeded to demonstrate this in the most emphatic way by landing an eight pounder from exactly the same spot!

I did not put a line in the water for the rest of that day. Anything else would have been an anti-climax. The journey home on the country bus must have been a sight to see, three excited teenagers, me only half dressed as most of my clothes were still wet and in my bag, and a fat silver salmon on my lap. There were pats on the back from my parents when I came through the door with that fine fish. These were pre-mobile phone days and only one photograph was taken with a very sheepish looking me holding the fish very badly so you can’t make it out very clearly. My spring balance showed it was a ten pounder despite me being convinced it weighed much more. Looking at the photo now it looks more like eight than ten pounder but I will just have to accept what those dodgy cheap scales told me. A ten pounder it will always remain!

The fish took my devon just off the end of the fence on the right of this photo

Some anglers are lucky enough to catch their first salmon on a wisp of a fly on some classic beat but mine fell for a lowly devon on association water. I don’t mind and in fact I take a certain pride in landing a fish in that way. The cheap spinning reel never did see action again and as soon as I could afford to I bought a lovely ABU Cardinal 77 which went on to serve me well for many years. I can’t recall where the spinning rod went; probably loaned to somebody and never returned. Nowadays, on Saturday afternoons when I am listening to the football my mind often drifts back to those halcyon days of my youth. First fish are special to all of us anglers.

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

Forward thinking

With the season officially started I need to wrap my head around where I’m going to fish during 2019. Last season was a disaster for me so I need to think carefully about these plans to avoid yet more disappointment.

Some venues are just too special to ignore, so the likes of Lough Beltra and Carrowmore Lake will be on my hit list for the spring salmon fishing. I’ll admit that I am worried how many springers will actually return this year with already worryingly low numbers of fish around in both Scotland and Ireland. All we can do is hope and pray the fish have escaped the nets and pollution in sufficient numbers to populate our rivers and lakes once more.

Lough Cullin from Pontoon Bridge

Lough Conn didn’t fish worth a damn last year for trout or salmon so I will cut back my efforts there unless the fishing picks up considerably. The same applies to Lough Cullin which appeared to be devoid of life last year. Instead, I might turn to the River Moy for some sport. It is a river I used to fish and indeed one where I caught a number of salmon but I gravitated more to the loughs than the river for many years. Maybe it is time to enjoy the running waters again?

Fishing the fly through the Gub on the East Mayo Anglers water on the river Moy

My beloved local spate rivers were empty of grilse last summer so to prevent further heartbreak I am planning on skipping my normal trips to them in 2019, unless I hear reports they have recovered. I think that is going to be highly unlikely with the blatant netting which is carried out at the mouths of the rivers. I used to love fishing a fining spate and experienced some fabulous fishing in past years but, alas, these are only memories now.

Carr’s pool on the Bunowen

Then there is the river Robe, what do I do about the Robe? Again, the fishing was very, very poor last spring but conditions were bad. Low, cold water combined with non-existent hatches meant that normal fly fishing was severely curtailed in March and April. This year I will expect less from the river and only fish in good conditions when possible. I suspect I have become somewhat blinkered in my fishing and not spread my efforts widely enough. Less time on the Robe and more time on streams like the Glore or Pollagh may reap rewards this coming season.

The Pollagh flowing through the woods. It can be quite challenging to fish!

I am also toying with fishing some of the less well known waters around here too. The Castlebar river and the Clydagh are on my doorstep and both hold reasonable stocks of wild brown trout, potential targets for the odd free hour or two.

Pools and riffles, typical of the Castlebar River

I am also going to break a habit and enter one or two competitions this coming season. Not that I am expecting to win anything, nor am I in the least interested in any possible financial gain. I just feel ‘out of touch’ and miss the contact with good angling friends, most of whom regularly partake of the lively competition scene in the West of Ireland.

Start of a competition

There are other venues which I hope to try. Maybe an evening on Lough Carra for old times sake for example. Or a summer’s evening on the Keel (I hear it has been fished out but you never know…….). Then there is the sea angling which I’ve not even begun to consider yet. All in all it looks like a busy year ahead of me!

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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, 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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