trout fishing, wetfly

Last day for the trout

I was tied up on 30th of the month so my last opportunity to fish for trout was on 29th. I snuck off to the Robe for a couple of hours, more in hope than expectation. Yo-yo water levels this month have seen the rivers burst their banks only to shrink back to mere trickles. I would normally have fished the Robe on numerous occasions from March until now but the 2020 season was anything but normal. I had to round up some errant fly boxes before setting off in windy and cool conditions.

I arrived at the river to find a car parked in my usual spot, a very unusual happening indeed. Tackling up I could see an old leader still attached to the end of the fly line and it seemed to be in good condition so I left it there and tied on a couple of flies. The farmer had installed a fine new gate to the first field since I was last there, one that was nice and easy to get over.

The river really was desperately low with thick slime at the edges of the water. The wind was blowing directly upstream, hampering every cast as I wanted to swing the wets down-and-across. Commencing operations at the bridge pool I worked my way downstream, planting my flies firmly into the lies along the opposite bank. It didn’t take too long for a small fish to grab the dropper fly and I had landed the first of what would turn out to be 5 brownies.

I pushed on down the river, crossing fences and casting into odd corners where I had caught fish before. I know this stretch like the back of my hand and didn’t waste any time on the pools where I rarely do well. Below the old weir I spotted a fellow angler, intent on his sighter and he fished klink-and-dink in a fast run. As I neared him I could see it was an old acquaintance of mine, Tommy Carroll. Tommy is a fine angler and one of the few who live around here who fishes the Robe. I stopped and we chatted for a while, catching up on recent fishing. Tommy said he was catching more trout today on his sighter fly than on the nymph so he decided to change and put up a dry fly only. Leaving him to it I sauntered off down the river to my favourite pools.

Beginning at the neck I carefully searched the long pool first but without so much as a touch. I shortened the line and fished ever so carefully through the fast run on the corner pool but again without interest from the fish.

Laziness got the better of me and instead of walking to the tail of the pool and fishing back upstream I simply lengthen the line, punching it hard to cut against the strong wind. Concentrating hard I sought to drop the flies as close as possible to the far bank without catching them on the bushes and grass. I was so absorbed in this work the take when it came was something of a surprise. A solid thump was followed by a short run and then some head shaking. This was a much better fish! Back and forth she swam and I gave or retrieved line as required. Tired out, she slid smoothly into my waiting net and I had her, a lovely fish of about a pound-and-a-half. After the usual snaps I popped her back into the water and she swam off strongly.

The leader was in a fankle so I snipped it off and tied a new one. A few desultory casts later though I decided to pack up. I had caught a beautiful fish and that was a fitting end to my season. Back up the river I walked, taking in the sights and sounds of a late September day. As I neared the last field I saw an angler in the river. I could tell it was not Tommy so who was this guy? He was fishing very intently so I walked past him and only spoke when he stopped casting. He turned to me and I recognised Johnny, a man I had not set eyes on these past 5 years or more! Johnny Moroney and his brother Brendan were regular visitors to these parts for many years. Skilled anglers and lovely fellas, I used to fish with them both in days gone by. We chatted about the fishing, the covid and life in general. In the end I took my leave and plodded back to the waiting VW.

And so ended not just my day on the Robe but my trout fishing season. It was short but I have had worse times chasing wild trout. Conn fished better than it had for many years and while I did not fish terribly hard I enjoyed some good days. Fingers crossed there is a further improvement in the angling on Conn again next season. The Robe seemed to be average according to the information I could glean, with a few bigger trout caught this season. So much rests on how we tackle the pandemic but I hope to be back on the Robe next spring.

For now, the whole country has moved to level 3 meaning no unnecessary movement outside your county. I’m really glad that I made the effort to start my 32 county odyssey during August/September but that will be on hold for the foreseeable future. I have some Pike fishing loosely organised locally weather permitting over the coming weeks.

Stay safe!

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32, Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing

32, episode 1, county Sligo

Lough Talt

From my notes of 6th August 2020

Those of you who followed my blog will know that I have a madcap plan to catch a fish in every county in on the island of Ireland. Covid-19 blew a huge great hole in that venture but I made a start to this odyssey today by visiting Lough Talt in neighbouring county Sligo.

Lough Talt sits in a glen amid the Ox Mountains just inside the Sligo border. Those of you unfamiliar with the west of Ireland will be amused to know the Ox Mountains are a range of low hills a few hundred feet high. There are no towering crags, steep slopes of loose scree or hanging corries, only mist shrouded rounded hills clad in heather and sheep nibbled grass. It may lack alpine grandeur but it is a very scenic area much loved by walkers and hikers. Indeed, today the path was busy with family groups and dog walkers out enjoying the fresh air. I had trout on my mind though!

Weather today was just about ideal for fishing this lake, a good strong south wind was whipping up the length of the lake and cloud cover was not too low, at least when I was fishing. I reached the lough after a quiet drive via Ballina and the little village of Buniconlon. The road twists and turns as it gains height then drops again as the lake comes into view. There is good parking at the south end of the lake with room for a dozen cars. Tackling up with a three fly cast of a Bibio on the bob, a Jungle Wickhams in the middle and a small claret Bumble on the tail I set off on the track around the lough. The stretch of shoreline near the car park was uninspiring so I plodded on in my thigh waders. I was not sure what the shore would be like so I had donned the waders to cope with any stream crossings or to get out past any weed beds. The waders proved to be a bit of overkill and my hiking boots would have been a better option as the banks were firm and the path along the shore was well maintained (I will know for the next time).

Eventually I reached a spot which looked fishy so I set about my business in the strong cross wind. Casting up to about 15 yards was fairly comfortable, after that the wind gave me some issues so I stuck to the medium length of line all day. No offers for the first while but then I lightly hooked a small trout which promptly fell off. Bugger! Only a few casts later I rose another trout but felt no contact. Was I going to have one of those days? I eyed the flies on the leader with some doubt, especially that Claret Bumble on the tail. Tied on a size 14, it might be a bit too small for today I pondered. What the hell, I will leave it there for now. I marched up the path a bit further and found another likely looking spot.

Out shot the line, steady retrieve back to about 5 yards out then lift off and cast again. I was getting into the rhythm now and concentrating hard so I was diligently covering the water. A splash followed by a tug and I was into a trout at last. Not the biggest fish I have ever hooked but he was very welcome indeed. Of course he had taken the wee Claret Bumble I had so little faith in! A quick pic then he was popped back into the water. Two cast later and the exercise was repeated with a slightly larger specimen. Then it went quiet again.

I moved once more and picked up another trout and lost one too. That pattern was repeated often with only one or two offers at any one place. The trout seemed to be spread out with nothing of any note to keep them in one spot. I did find a large sunken rock about ten yards out from the shore and by carefully placing my flies just in front of it I lured the best trout of the session. I had removed the Bibio which had unusually failed to register a single offer. In its place a tied on a Welsh Partridge, a fly that I have not used in many a long year. The Wickham also failed to attract any interest so I substituted it with a small Soldier Palmer. In the end, the Welsh Partridge, Claret Bumble and Soldier Palmer shared the honours with each of them catching about the same number of trout.

The water looked ‘fishier’ further towards the north end the lough. Occasional large rocks jutted out of the water and fish were to be found near to them. I ended up with about a dozen brownies ranging in size from tiddlers to respectable three-quarter pounders. I guess I fished for about three hours before turning and retracing my steps. I got the car and stowed the gear way just minutes before the heavens opened and a heavy mist descended. Perfect timing for once!

I can heartily recommend Lough Talt to you for a few hours gentle fishing in lovely scenery. The trout may not be large but that to me is insignificant. Flies tied in small sizes seemed to do best and claret or red were the colours which got a reaction today. Anything small and dark should do the job though. There was a wind there today and that was a bonus both for the ripple on the water which is always a help and, probably more importantly, it kept the midges at bay. It looks like a place where you would be eaten alive on a calm day. Don’t expect solitude on this water, there were many walkers on the path all the time I was there. I can tick Sligo off my list of counties now. One down, thirty one to go!

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing

A dozen for the Robe

I will add a couple of final posts to this blog before it shuts down.

I had a request today for some help regarding what flies to use when fishing the river Robe in Mayo so here is a rough guide to twelve of the patterns I use on a regular basis. Other anglers will have faith in many other flies but these have all served me well over the years.

Beaded Pheasant tail.

I guess this is my ‘go to’ nymph pattern for the Robe in the early part of the season. It is a multi-functional fly that can be fished in the usual nymphing techniques or added to the tail of a wet fly leader and swung down-and-across. Some days a gold bead is better, on other days the duller, copper beaded version catches more.

Partridge and Orange.

I have used this fly since I was a boy back in Aberdeen and have probably caught more trout on it than any other pattern. During an early season hatch of olives it can be deadly. A great all-rounder it works best in streamy water early in the season. Don’t be without it if you are going to fish the Robe in springtime.

I like to add a peacock herl thorax to my Partridge spiders

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Olive Partridge Spider

This is one of my own patterns that does well from the start of the season through to the month of June. It has caught me many trout over the years and I still recall losing a huge wild trout at Hollymount a few years ago. I only got  brief look at it after it had emptied the reel twice; I got it close to me then it thrashed on the surface and threw the hook. How big? I reckon it was about eight pounds!

Olive Partridge spider

 

Adams

The Adams is by a long way my favourite dry fly for the Robe. I use different variations as circumstances dictate but the original with the grey fur body is hard to beat.

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standard dressing of the Adams

 

BWO spinner

The Robe gets good hatches of Blue wing olives, usually starting in early June and going on for the rest of the summer. When the spinners return to lay their eggs the trout feed hard on them and this simple dry fly has worked a treat during those hectic late evening rises.

Grey tippets, orange fur body and a small grizzled cock hackle, simple but effective BWO spinner

 

Rusty Spinner

When the Lark Dark Olives return to lay their eggs the Rusty Spinner comes into its own. Using the same design but changing the colour of the body you can produce a range of spinner patterns to cover most occasions. Claret, red and pale olive have all caught me trout.

Rusty spinner with a pink sighter to help in low light conditions

Iron Blue Dun

The Robe get small hatches of Iron Blue duns and I can’t say I have ever seen them in big numbers. The trout do seem to pick them out though when they do hatch so having a good copy can save the blank. Always tied on a small hook like a 16 or smaller. Sometimes you get a hatch of IBD in September too.

Standard dressing of the Iron Blue Dun

Wickhams Fancy

Summer evenings, the setting sun and fish slashing at sedges on an Irish river, the stuff dreams are made of! The Wickham’s Fancy is a poor copy of anything in the natural world but the trout love it. A brilliant fly you simply MUST have in your box.

 

Elk Hair Caddis

An American fly now, the Elk Hair Caddis. Again, you can fool around with the materials but I find a hare’s ear body is very good. Tied very small it is a great searching pattern on difficult days in the summer.

My Ginger Sedge

This is one for fishing into the dark on summer evenings. Either fished singly on a stout leader or on the tail of a two fly cast with a Wickham on the dropper this fly can often produce the best trout of the day. You can also grease it up and fish it dry.

Ginger sedge

 

Hawthorn

Falls of Hawthorn fly happen each May on the Robe, eliciting exciting rises from the fish. There are lots of patterns to pick from and they will no doubt all catch fish on their day. I like this one though.

Rubber legs on this Hawthorn.

 

Goldhead Hare’s Ear Nymph

Trout feed below the surface for 90% of the time so you need a good nymph pattern in your box. In different sizes this one will catch you trout on the Robe all season long.

Goldhead hares ear

As I say, this is just a dozen of my favourites, there are many other patterns which succeed on the river Robe. Size is important and a size 14 or 16 is usually about right.

Here is a very rough guide to when these 12 flies usually give their best:

pattern type size Mar April May June July August Sept
Beaded PT nymph 14 X X X
Partridge and orange wet 14 X X X X
Olive Partridge spider wet 14 X X X
Adams dry 14-18 X X X X X X
BWO dry 18 X X
Rusty spinner dry 14-18 X X X X
Iron Blue Dun wet 16 X X X
Wickhams Fancy wet 12, 14,16 X X X X X
Elk hair caddis dry 12, 14,16 X X X
Ginger sedge wet 12, 14 X X X X
Hawthorn dry 14 X
Hare’s Ear Goldhead nymph 12, 14,16 X X X X X X X
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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

covid-19, welsh flies, boats and Mulranny

Please excuse my ramblings, this is a bit of a catch up over a few busy days.

All the pubs, clubs and restaurants are shut now and other amenities are closing daily either by instruction from the government or through lack of business or staff. Ireland has not yet been fully locked down but that event can’t be far away with more cases of the covid-19 virus being reported every day.  Going by the experience of other countries such as Italy and Spain we can expect that number to increase sharply over the coming weeks. So what is an angler to do during these difficult times?

Obviously confinement to home means lots and lots of time for fly tying. Now I really do not need any more flies, the boxes are full to bursting as it is. However, I will try making some new patterns which I never seemed to have time to tie before. In particular I want to make some of the welsh patterns from a book called ‘Plu Stiniog’ which I picked up at the fly fair in Galway at the end of last year. Written by a gentleman by the name of Emrys Evans, there are some nice looking sedge patterns in it which could possibly work in Ireland.

Here are a few I have tied up so far.

Rhwyfwr Cochddu Bach (small red/black sedge)

Rhwyfwr Bach Tin Gwyrdd (small green-arsed sedge)

Egarych Felan (yellow corncrake

Rhwyfwr Robat Jos Shop

Rhwyfwr Mis Awst Pen-ffridd

Rhwyfwr Mawr Gwyrdd (large green sedge)

Egarych Gochddu

Apart from making a few flies and keeping away from everyone else the other day I took the opportunity to give the woodwork on my old boat a lick of varnish. The local paint shop were not allowing anyone into the actual shop when I went to get a pot of varnish. Instead, the staff came out to a cordoned off area at the front of the premises, took your order and brought the tins out to you. It was a nice morning so it was no hardship to wait patiently in the sunshine. The boat has suffered some damage over the last season but it will last for another season or two before in needs re-timbering. An hour saw a nice heavy coat of varnish applied, now I need to wait for it to dry.

Looking a bit tired and worn

Starting to varnish one of the seats

That’s better!

With Helen’s hours at work curtailed due to the virus we decided to go for a spin out to Mulranny and have a walk down at the beach there. It was a lovely sunny afternoon and we really enjoyed getting out in the fresh air and away from all the depressing news for a while. Just being dry and seeing the sun lifted our spirits. The views across Clew bay to the Reek on the south side were as impressive as always and we both felt blessed to be living in this part of the world. I for one can’t begin to imagine how it must feel to be living in a big city like London during these days of crisis. At least we have some escape here in rural Ireland.

The reek from Mulranny

Hopefully the rain will hold off for a few more days and let the land dry out a bit so I could get out on my own and do some fishing. All the lakes and rivers are still high but they are dropping slowly as the rain has eased off slightly this past week. High pressure is due to build from this week onward, bringing drier and more settled weather to the region. Trout will be close to the bottom and hard to tempt but just getting out in the fresh air will be a tonic in these difficult times. The moorings at Brown’s bay and Pike bay on lough Conn are both still well under water as of today but my boat should be on the lake by the end of next week if we get dry weather and the water levels drop. Stay safe!

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Mayo Bumble

The Mayo Bumble used to be a very popular fly during the mayfly season here in the west of Ireland but its popularity seems to have waned of recent years. I don’t understand why this is as it is a grand fly when the yellow drakes are hatching out in a good wave.

looking towards the canal

The mouth of the canal on Lough Mask, an area where the Mayo Bumble does good work

As Bumble patterns go it is fairly easy to tie but I throw in an extra hackle at the head which means you need to leave plenty of space there for winding all the feathers.

The body is formed form the tying silk dubbed with the brightest yellow fur you can lay your hands on. I personally used fl. yellow silk and think this helps a bit to keep the fly as bright as possible. Rib is fine oval silver tinsel and the tail is a golden pheasant crest feather. Body hackles are a red and a yellow cock hackle palmered together down the body. The ‘extra’ hackle I like to add is a french partridge dyed lemon and in front of that there is a guinea fowl feather dyed bright blue.

In use, cast to rising fish when possible but keep the fly moving briskly. Some days the trout will hammer this fly and yet on other days it will be completely ignored. Loughs Mask and Carra are the natural home for this pattern, I have never caught a fish on lough Conn on it!

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

Club waters

It’s that time of year again, angling AGM’s are in full swing here in Ireland. There is always a rush to hold the annual general meetings just before the serious fishing starts. I recall that back in Scotland these meetings generally took place at the end of the previous year so that all the agreed changes could be brought into force well ahead of the fishing starting again. Things are much more relaxed in Ireland and AGM’s pepper the months of February and March despite the season being open for weeks before that.

I have been thinking long and hard about which clubs to join this year. The Glenisland Coop is a certainty for me as I love fishing Lough Beltra and find the club to be well run and focused on improving the fishery. It is so handy for me, being only 15 minutes drive from home and while salmon numbers are low there are still a few fish to chuck flies at on Beltra.

setting off for a day on Beltra

After that though I need to think about where else I want to spend fishing time this season. Despite the disastrous fishing I have endured on Lough Conn over the past few years I will no doubt keep heading back to that lake again this season. Again, it is close to home and easy to access. One positive of the poor fishing is that anglers have voted with their feet and even the best drifts are only lightly fished these days. I will no doubt moan and groan about the lack of fish but I will be back drifting and trolling the shallows on Conn again this season, God willing.

pulled in on the shore of Lough Conn

What about the Moy? Here is where it gets a bit tricky for me. I have been lucky enough to fish some of the finest beats of the Dee and Tweed in my time and at the other end of the scale joined the queue to fish down pools on hard pressed association waters both in Scotland and Ireland. Not being a wealthy man I need to accept that club waters will be a big part of my angling experience these days. The East Mayo Anglers waters are a fairly typical angling association with access to a lot of the river Moy. I have been a member in the past and I need to make up my mind if I will join again this season. Although the river opened for salmon fishing last month it has been unfishable due to the continued high water levels this spring. Will there be some springers around when the water recede? Probably yes.Will there be a lot of them? Almost certainly no! And so here is the conundrum, lots of angling pressure from a large and very active membership chasing a small number of fish. Space is going to be at a premium when conditions are favourable. Last season I abandoned trying to fish on a couple of occasions not because it was so busy on the bank but because I couldn’t even find a parking spot! That was at the start of the grilse run, the time when you really have the best chance of contacting a salmon. Instead, I spent ages driving the length of the beats and still couldn’t even nose the car into a space. God knows what the best fishing spots were like on those days.

The river Moy, sept'08

A very quiet day on the Gub, EMAA

For me, fishing should be relaxing, almost meditative. I dislike any elements of competition in my angling and don’t really like crowds on the riverbank. Club waters are always going to be a challenge for me and I can accept that I need to be more flexible when on busy river banks. It is a question of just how crowded the beat is I suppose. Is a couple of hundred Euro money well spent on a very busy club membership? Last season I only landed one fish from the EMAA but that was entirely my own fault as I hardly fished the river. I managed some enjoyable high water spinning in March and April but largely missed the rest of the year when the fly is usually better. I see that a photo of that one fish is on the EMAA website: https://www.eastmayoanglers.com/gallery/2019-season

And there is the nub of the problem, staring me squarely in the face; I need to get out fishing more often! I body-swerved the Moy last year telling myself it was too crowded when I should have gone looking for quieter spots. While there were relatively few fish around there were still some there to be caught if I had applied myself more to the task in hand. Part of the problem is that I don’t know the upper part of the river at all and this could be the solution for me, at least when the grilse are running. Springers are rarely encountered in the streamier upper section of the EMAA beats and the fly only section sees very little pressure until May or June. So instead of joining the throngs at the bridge or the high bank I will target the fly only stretch further up the river in 2020. There, decision made!

This dislike of crowds has certainly increased over the years. I can recall fishing Newburgh and the Macher Pool on the lower Ythan in Aberdeenshire as a lad when you literally had to push your way into a line of anglers to have a cast for the sea trout. I don’t know what it is like now for ADAA anglers but you used to be able to fish the worm from the bridge down to a marker pole on the North Bank of the Macher but when the fishing was good there would be scores of anglers shoulder-to-shoulder there. Nobody used a net, fish were just unceremoniously dragged out as the lucky angler reeled in furiously while walking backwards out of the water and up the shingle. I suspect there are way fewer fish there these days.

Ythan estuary

A little bit of me is hankering to fish Lough Carra this season. To be brutally honest the fishing on that lovely lake has been poor for many years now but it is such a gorgeous place to fish I might be tempted to give it a try again. The huge mayfly hatches are a thing of the past but the summer evening fishing when the sedges are hatching might still be good. The Carra club AGM is to be held tonight in Castlebar so I might brave the risk of infection of Covid-19 and go along to see what is happening. As a club the Carra boys are usually very active and there is always something going on to try and improve the fishing there.

Wet mayflys for Carra

So, in summary, I will definitely join the Glenisland Coop and East Mayo Anglers. I may also join Carra too. I’ll go in search of quieter spots instead of braving the crowds and hopefully I’ll catch a few fish this year.

 

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

One of my Raymond variations

I mentioned the Raymond in a recent blog but my dressing of this old fly are a bit different to the ones you can buy in the shops. It has developed over the years and is a pretty successful fly for wild brownies in the big western lakes. There is a common acceptance that the original pattern was tied to imitate some kind of sedge fly and as such it was used from mid-season onward. My tying is much more impressionistic and is really just a pulling fly with bright colours to attract the trout. This is a fly you can get great satisfaction from tying, it looks great and it is one which always attracts comments from fellow anglers when they see it.

Hook sizes are 8’s or 10’s, heavy wet fly hooks. I use olive tying silk but any colour will do.

Tag is a couple of turns of silver tinsel and the tail is a golden pheasant topping.

Tie the body hackles in by their butts and take the silk down to the bend

The rib is fine oval silver tinsel (I use Veniard no. 14) and the body is made from pale olive fur dubbed on to the tying silk. I sometimes add a couple of turns of orange fur at the tail end of the body.

I like a long tail on my Raymonds

There are two body hackles, a crimson and a golden olive wound together. i sometimes use a claret hackle instead of red to give me  more subdued fly. The throat hackle is a pinch of fibres taken from a golden pheasant topping which is dyed red and tied in as a beard below the hook. In front of that wind a couple of turns of a bright green cock hackle. On smaller sizes it is easier to add the green as a second beard hackle instead of winding it (there is a lot going on at the head of this fly!)

The wings are a bit fiddly but worth the effort. Married strip of swan dyed yellow and red form the under wing and over that I tie in bronze mallard.

The head hackle is a grizzled cock hackle dyed bright blue. I give this many turns for a bushy effect.

claret body hackle mixed with golden olive makes a more subdued fly

 

This is a typical Irish style wet fly with many hackles to add the illusion of life. I can see no reason why it would not work on Scottish lochs too so maybe some of you Jocks might give it a try and let me know how you get on with it. I never seem to catch very many trout on this fly, but the ones which do take it usually seem to be bigger fish. Don’t ask me why that is!

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Fishing in Ireland, Nymphs, trout fishing, wetfly

First outing

It kind of crept up on me, the realisation that I could possibly go fishing this week. I had become so inured to floods and gales that the opening of the trout season had come and gone without really registering in my mind. This week though saw a change in the weather with cold, bright mornings and a merciful lack of precipitation. On Tuesday it occurred to me that there might be the chance of an hour or two on the river bank if this good weather held.

Wednesday had been largely given over to rummaging for lost tackle and repairing my broken wading staff. Rod and reel were easy to locate but fly boxes and tippet materials had snuck off into all sorts of odd corners and it took me a while to corral the various small items and repopulate my waistcoat pockets. That small boy’s excitement of an anticipated fishing trip grew stronger throughout the day, thoughts of bent rods and fish sliding into the net filled any quiet moments. I found myself smiling as thoughts of the pleasures of a few hours on the riverbank sunk in.

20200305_120635[1]Thursday came around at last. I hardly dare peek out of the window this morning when the alarm went off, would the day be fine? Yep, frosty but dry was the answer with some high thin cloud to boot. A fishing day of sorts! Some chores had to be completed quickly before the last odds and ends could be tossed unceremoniously into the back of the car and I was off down the road. The last couple of dry days had tempted me to try my luck on the River Robe.

Pulling up at a parking spot after a short detour because I had taken a wrong turning, I stepped out of the warmth of the car into a cool wind. Layers of clothing were hastily applied but it was much colder than I had anticipated and this was not going to improve my chances of success. Numb fingers took ages to knot on the flies but undaunted and dressed like Nanook of the North, I hopped the five bar gate and strode purposefully across the rough pasture. The drain at the edge of the field was chock-a-block with frog spawn, a sure sign that spring is on its way.

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I had it in my head to try a short section of the river I had never fished before. It lay upstream of where I was parked but access immediately became a major issue. I huge drain, filled to the brim with stagnant water and mud barred any further approach. In something which would not have looked out of place in Passchendaele the far bank of the drain was topped with a high fence of vicious looking barbed wire. I worked my way along the drain for a while but it became obvious there was no easy way across. In the end I gave up and returned to the river. There must be a way across that drain and I will return to try again soon. I suspect any trout lying above that obstacle have not seen an anglers fly for many a long year.

Typical rough agricultural land here in Mayo

I began by flicking weighted nymphs into the roiling current and eventually persuaded one trout to nip, unconvincingly at the Hare’s Ear on the tail. He didn’t stick. I could only fish a short stretch as the river was too high for this section and below me looking like a raging torrent. Out of nowhere, a kingfisher sped downstream a couple of feet above the water, that glorious flash of azure lighting up an otherwise dull vista.  Time for a move.

tungsten beaded nymphs

I drove down river to a favourite piece of the river where there are a selection of pools to try. I changed the rig and switched on to wet flies for swinging in the current. On went a Pheasant tail goldhead on the tail, a Plover and Hare’s Ear in the middle and an ever reliable Partridge and Orange on the top dropper. By now the sun was breaking through the clouds but it was still cold. Gaining the river I started casting as tight to the far bank as I could. An olive floated by on the wind.

big water

The water is still very cold and the strong current pushed hard through each of the pools (do you sense some excuses?). I methodically worked my way downstream, casting into any likely looking spots but try as I might there was no response from the trout. The fields, normally so well-tended around this part of the river were in terrible condition, badly rutted and pock-marked with deep hoof prints and showing signs of agricultural run off. Some pools I completely bypassed as they were far too fast for trout to be feeding in them. Near the tail of one pool, just where the pace slowed slightly a trout rose. I covered it carefully a few times and sure enough up he came and took the fly with a confident swirl. I struck but he dropped off almost immediately. Damn! I knew I was not going to get too many chances today so losing that one was a blow. Next fishable pool down I had another knock but it too did not stick around. Ah well, at least I was getting some fresh air.

I skipped the fast section of water below the weir. It fishes well on summer evenings when the fish lie there to get some oxygen across their gills and feast on the flies which gather there. But in a flood the waters rage through the rapids making them unfishable.

Down towards the bottom of this part of the river there are a couple of good pools. At the first one it was obvious the top of the pool was too fast but near the tail it looked a bit more likely. I worked my way down, one step per cast, planting the flies as close to the far bank as I could then mending two or three times as the cast fished out. Sure enough, a solid pull soon had me in business and a small trout came to hand, my first fish of the new season. A quick snap and then he was released, all 8 inches of him! It turned out to be the last offer I would get. He had taken the P&O.

I fished on but lost the full cast of flies when an over ambitious cast tangled on a bush on the far bank. Setting up again I fished my way back upstream to the car.

not the biggest trout but a very welcome one never-the-less

Early season trouting is always a precarious affair. Conditions can vary so much and fly life is sparse to non-existent. In a few weeks there will be more flies around and the water will be both lower and warmer. By April I would expect much better fishing but for today a single small trout was the meagre return for my efforts. That is fine with me, today was more about just getting out to blow away the cobwebs and to get a feel for the river again. The trout was a bonus.

 

That pipe was not there last season! Looks like there is a site being cleared for a new house on the other bank.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Recommended flies for Mask

After a spell in England during the mid-noughties I returned to Ireland and came to live in Ballinrobe. During that time I kept a boat at Cushlough, learning a little bit about the trout fishing around that part of Lough Mask. Previously (we are talking the late ‘90’s) I kept a boat on the other side of the lough at Churchfield, a handy spot with good access to the whole of the western shoreline. It has been a few years since I seriously fished Mask but here are some of the flies I found useful in the early part of the season for that hallowed water.

I want to stress the importance of finding where the fish as the prerequisite for a successful day out on lough Mask. With 20,000 acres of water available to hide in the fish can take some finding. It won’t matter a jot what flies you tie on to your leader if you are fishing over barren drifts. On the vast expanse of a water like lough Mask it can be no easy matter finding the trout and this can be very disheartening for visiting anglers, especially if they are used to stocked fisheries where fish can usually be seen rising. If drifts are unsuccessful then move and try somewhere else. Always keep your eyes open for clues such as birds feeding or other boats congregating in a certain area. Be aware of changing conditions, especially the wind direction and strength.

When the season opens the fish will be on the bottom hoovering up shrimps. There will be very localised hatches of duckfly in some bays but the exact locations of these duckfly ‘holes’ are closely guarded secrets, known to the locals only. Around many parts of the lake you can often see large numbers of duckfly in the air in March and April but see very little surface activity. Given calm conditions normal buzzer tactics will take some fish. Otherwise, drifting over shallow reefs for the shrimp feeders will usually be your best bet.

Normal buzzer patterns on size 10 or 12 hooks will catch fish in calm conditions

‘Bits’ in black, claret, ginger and olive are handy for the times the fish are mopping hatching duckfly. Fish these in the surface film with a lick of floatant on the back of the fly

The Sooty olive. This is one of the staple flies for early season work. There must be dozens of different ties of the fly and all of them will work on their day. For me, size is important and I prefer a size 12 to the larger 10’s which seem to be more popular. Hackle colour is always up for debate with this fly but either a natural black or a red game dyed olive are your main choices.

Sooty Olive, this one is tied with a black hackle

Fiery Brown. Classic Irish wet fly which is a great producer in the early months of the season. It is just as effective when dressed dabbler style. While I have seen some anglers adding jungle cock to their Fiery Brown’s it is a pattern that does not need them in my humble opinion. Save those precious black and white feathers for other, more deserving flies! I do like to tie my Fiery Brown’s with an orange tag.

Fiery Brown

Bibio. It is hard to beat the original dressing but I do like the jungle bunny dressing earlier in the season. When the wind drops a skinnier version can be better than the bushy tying, something like the Bibio Snatcher .

Jungle Bibio

Bibio Snatcher

Some anglers like the Peter Ross but I can’t say I have had much luck with it on Mask. Having said that I have caught trout on a Silver Spider with a red thorax which is pretty similar.

Peter Ross Buzzer

The red/silver spider that I like

There are a seemingly endless array of buzzer patterns to pick from but these are a couple of fairly reliable ones:

Hatching Duckfly

Jennings Nymph

By April there will be olives hatching on lough Mask. What should be a period of excitement is frequently a lesson in frustration as trout rise in front of you but ignore your best flies. I have seen many of the best anglers defeated by a hatch of olives over the years. So what are your best options? In a very heavy hatch when the fish are sipping flies from the surface then dry the dry fly. A CDC dun or hatching pattern will sometimes work.

When there are flies on the wing but little in the way of surface activity the wet fly is your best option and there are a range of flies I would recommend.

Red tailed Invicta

Invicta. Yes I know, this is supposed to be a sedge pattern but nobody told the trout that and an Invicta tied with a red tail can be good medicine in a hatch of olives.

Claret Dabbler. It looks nothing like an olive but it has worked for me on many occasions in a hatch of olives.

Raymond. An old pattern but one which can do the job early in the season. The only change from the original dressing is that I wind claret and a light olive body hackles instead of the normal red one.

A small Green Peter

A small Green Peter fished on the bob has saved the day for me before now. A size 12, dressed lightly and cast to rising fish sometimes works. I like the RA version but one with a solid green body works too.

As the days lengthen and the water warms up the iconic mayfly start to make their annual appearance on lough Mask. Years ago these hatches were heavy and the fish could be seen mopping the duns from the surface across the shallows of the eastern side of the lough. These days the hatches are sparse and surface activity much less than of yester year. There are hundreds of mayfly patterns to pick from and rather than fill page after page here I suggest you read one of the best books on the subject, Irish Mayflys by Patsy Deery.

While mayfly patterns catch the bulk of the trout in May there are a number of other useful flies which also succeed.

Connemara Black

I love a small Connemara Black in the middle when mayflies are hatching. Don’t ask me why it works, all I know is that the ‘CB’ has caught me lots of fish over the years.

Colin’s Ginger Sedge

My own Ginger Sedge is a good fly at this time of the year too. I tied this fly initially after seeing trout selectively taking sedges in the middle of a mayfly hatch one year.

Cock Robin

The Cock Robin variant comes into its own around about now. Don’t be frightened to try it on a size 8 hook.

Fishing in the deeps really picks up in late spring and the use of flashy pulling patterns comes into its own. Gorgeous George, Octopus and other similar highly coloured flies will take fish on those long drifts over the deep water when the shallows are quiet. I will hold my hand up and say that I am no expert on fishing the deeps, I find it a very boring way of fishing and tend to keep to the shallows even when the fishing there is poor. Let’s run through a couple typical scenarios and think about how to deal with them.

Imagine you are fishing lough Mask and turn up to find a big wind blowing from the north. It’s April and the day feels raw with thick clouds scudding across the sky. White horses on the lough suggest a rough day on the water. Where do you start? I would possibly head for some shelter either at the north end of the lough or around the islands. I’d leave the deeps alone as the wind will push you along at a high speed and a drogue is out of the question on Mask (never be tempted to try a drogue here even out in the deeps, there are hidden pinnacles of limestone which will snag the drogue and swamp the boat). A team of wets on a slow sinking line is a good place to start and flies like Fiery Brown, Sooty Olive and Bibio are worth a swim. I would be more concerned about getting the depth and speed of the flies right ahead of any particular pattern.

On a day of little wind at the same time of year you can go searching for a duckfly hole and fish buzzers just like you would on an English reservoir. If that is not your style of fishing then keep looking for signs of wind rippling the surface. There is rarely a day when there is a dead flat calm in this part of the world so be prepared to move to find the ripple and the wet flies can be used again. If there is a bright sky with a bitter east wind then I’d prefer to be sitting in a warm pub rather than fishing in such poor conditions!

Books could be written on the tactics and flies for use on Lough Mask and similar tomes produced for the other great western lakes. It often comes down to local knowledge so take my advice and talk to the anglers you meet. Advice is willingly given and can often be the difference between a successful day and miserable failure.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Pearly Claret Bumble

My unbridled enthusiasm for the Claret Bumble is well known to you all, it has been one of the most consistent flies for me over the years in all sorts of places and for all kinds of game fish. I was rummaging in a fly box the other day and came across a variant of the bumble which I thought you might like to see. I think it is called the Pearly Claret Bumble in some quarters and here is the dressing.

I like to use red tying silk when constructing this pattern and I make it on hook sizes from size 6 right down to 16. The bigger hooks are for salmon fishing and the smaller sizes work for wild brownies and rainbow trout.

this is Fire orange silk but it will work just as well as red

Start the silk at the eye of the hook and catch in a guinea fowl body feather dyed bright blue. It winds easier and looks better if you tie it in by the tip of the feather. If you like you can use some blue barred Jay but I think the guinea fowl is a better choice. Next, catch in a black and a dark claret cock hackle by the butts and run the silk towards the bend of the hook, tightly binding down the ends of the hackles. Cut off any waste.

Now you don’t really need the next item, I have landed many fish on this fly without the tag but I do like to see a few turns of red at the end of the body. I like to think it goes well with the pearl tinsel of the main body of the fly. Some Glo-brite no. 4 is the colour I tend to use for the tag. The tail is next and it is made with some strands taken from a golden pheasant tippet feather.

tippet collar

Rib is fine silver tinsel and the body is made from flat pearl tinsel. Catch both of these materials in at the point where the tag and tail are tied in and then run the tying silk back up to where the hackles are sitting. Form a nice even body with touching turns of the pearl tinsel, tie down and remove the waste. Now for the slightly tricky bit, grab both cock hackles in your pliers and wind them down the hook shank on open spirals. This is not too difficult on the larger sizes of hooks but it is tricky on the smallest sizes. The hackles are secured with the silver rib which is wound in the opposite direction to the hackles in open spirals. Aim for 4 or 5 turns.

GP tail feather dyed claret

Take 6 knotted strands of pheasant tail which have been stripped from a feather dyed claret and add them on top of the hook. Trim off the waste ends.

Nearly there, now grab the guinea fowl hackle and give it 3 or 4 turns while stroking the fibres backward. Secure the end and trim away the waste. Make a small neat head with the tying silk and whip finish before giving the head a couple of coats of clear varnish. Viola! This is a really useful variation which I can highly recommend to you. It is a very good pattern for Lough Conn early in the season.

the finished Pearly Claret Bumble

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