Going back home

Getting back to Scotland twice in one year must be a record for me! 2018 was packed full of trips both for work and for pleasure but it was back in March the last time I popped across the North Channel to visit my family. I had hoped to make it over in October and squeeze in a day’s salmon fishing but work got in the way (I was in Holland instead) so I finally booked the ferry for a weekend in November instead.

These rare trips home always bring up a swirling mixture of emotions. I left the land of my birth 21 years ago at a point in my life where I was questioning the very fundamentals of my existence. All my working life had been spent in one industry and I walked away from a career which had stumbled and felt somehow alien to me. In my youth I had climbed the mountains, tramped across miles upon miles of Scotland’s wonderful land and fished so many of her bountiful rivers and lochs. Now I boarded a big blue boat and left it all behind to start over in a country I knew, but didn’t know (if you get me). The emigrants sense of loss, the self questioning ‘what if’ are always just under the surface. Looking back is always a risky business for those of us who got on our bike and peddled off to a new country. It requires an introspection and evaluation of one’s motives which can be uncomfortable. Every time I board another big boat to make the short trip from Ulster that backward looking questioning seeps into my consciousness once again. Edging noisily from the quayside in Belfast or Larne the throbbing diesels bring me back to a similar scene played out in November 1997 in Stranraer. Should I have staying in Scotland or was I right to make the move to Eire? Half a lifetime has passed and although I am 99% sure I was right to leave Scotland that pesky 1% still can still itch like a hair shirt sometimes.

These dark and unsettling thoughts are of course tempered by the knowledge I am on my way to see my kith and kin. It takes only 12 hours to get from Mayo to Aberdeen, quicker sometimes if the traffic gods are smiling down on me. You would think that I should be able to fit in more trips to the North East but remember that is 12 hours to get there and another 12 to get back. That is essentially two days driving. Two or three days in Scotland and you are looking at virtually a week away from work. It is a heavy commitment when free time is so short.

the lights of Belfast receding

The road journey across the Ireland never ceases to delight me, no matter how often I make the trip. There is a good road all the way to Sligo these days with little traffic and only a few speed cameras so I can judge the time this leg will take fairly accurately. An hour and five minutes sees me turning right on to the N15 just after I cross the Garvogue river. The tarmac twists like a writhing snake as it climbs up to the edge of the hill overlooking Glencar. If time allowed it would be lovely to stop and take in the spectacular views but that particular luxury is rarely if ever afforded. Instead the 40 kilometres to the border require some concentration as the bends and road works through Leitrim are probably the most hazardous part of the whole journey. Late one night many years ago I lost the first power steering, then the hydraulic suspension and finally the brakes on an elderly Citroen on this part of the trip back from the ferry. I limped home in the blackness using the gears and hand brake to slow the car. Thankfully most journeys are usually less perilous.

The road between Sligo and the border is being improved with some of the worst bends being bypassed or straightened. This will help a lot  as it has been common to find yourself stuck behind slow moving traffic on this stretch with few places to overtake.

Good road and the sun rising as I head East through the North

I reach the border where Cavan looks across the river to Fermanagh at the village of Blacklion. I thought I would never again see a hard border there, feel the trepidation of rolling down the window for the armed Guard to ask the pointless questions such as ‘where are ye going’? Brexit will inevitably see the paraphernalia of a hard border return to an area which really does not need any more problems. The watch towers, the guns, the suspicion and, sooner or later, the violence. Westminster will get its blue passports and Ireland will get crimson blood on the streets.

Stenna ferry

Waiting in the queue for the Stenna ferry, Belfast harbour

A few miles further on (yes, miles now, we left kilometers back at the border) I pass through the tidy little town of Enniskillen. From here on the roads are good and you can feel the change all around you as the neat fields and well-tended villages of the Clogher valley slip by. There are the flags of course, proclamations of Ulster Scots identity so nobody is an any doubt that this is their land.

40 miles from Belfast the A5 becomes the M1 at Dungannon and the pace of travel changes again. Depending on the time of day it can either be a straight run to Belfast or rush hour snarl up in tailbacks nearer to the city. When I working in Belfast I could judge the fine points of the tailbacks to a minute degree and duck through the many rat runs to get to work on time. Nowadays I try to avoid catching a ferry which departs near rush hour. indeed, I find the night sailings much handier and a lot less hassle.

Belfast is an enigma to me. Full of salt-of-the-earth types rubbing shoulders with armed lunatics. It used to terrify me when I passed through during the troubles. The thought of taking a wrong turning and ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time used to flood my brain. I know people who still regard Belfast as the most dangerous place on the face of the planet. Later on I worked in Belfast city centre for a couple of years, affording me the opportunity to set aside my fears and get to look more closely at this complex wee city. Gradually I grew to like the city but can’t say I ever fell in love with it. It reminds me of Glasgow in many ways.

EOL staff feb 2013

The EOL guys from the time I was working in Belfast

The ferry is a welcome break from the driving and those couple of hours on the water gives me the chance to grab a quick bite to eat and, if it is a night sailing, some welcome shut-eye. With nearly 5 hours driving once I land in Scotland even an hour’s sleep has value to me. I pack a sleeping bag so that I can find a quiet corner to close my eyes for the duration of the crossing. I have often been awakened from my slumber by the juddering of the ships engines as it makes the final maneuvers before docking at Cairnryan. A mad few minutes ensues while I am scrambling out of the bag, rolling it up, pulling on my boots and a quick nip to the toilet to freshen up before scampering down to the car deck. Still rubbing the sleep from my eyes as I turn the key in the ignition and switch on the lights. Then the slightly surreal feeling of driving off the ferry and on to Scotland.

Cairnryan and the Stena terminal there

I lived in Ayrshire for about 4 years and got to know the Clyde coast during that time. Angling, work and socialising brought me to many of the local towns and I’ll admit to having a soft spot for this part of my motherland. Ayr was a lovely town to live in with some great eating and drinking spots to frequent. I tick off the villages and towns as I make slow progress up the tortuous A77. Ballantrae, Girvin, Maybole then finally Ayr and the blessed relief of dual carriageway. A couple of roundabouts between Ayr and Prestwick then slip into top gear and settle back for the cruise across Fenwick Moor and on up to Glasgow.

I love Glasgow, I always did. Oh I know it’s dirty and violent and is possessed by various other unpleasant traits but I can’t help loving it for the insanity of the city. It has been knocked about by everyone from Hitler’s bombers to the urban planners yet it still retains a character all of its own.

the view out of the front window of a flat I used to live in Glasgow many years ago

The motorways slice through the very heart of Glasgow, none of your ‘orbital’ shite here. Six lanes of reeking internal combustion engines, bumper to bumper, crawling and honking their way through the very guts of the city every day. If I happen to be passing through Glasgow during opening hours I peel off the M8 and spend a pleasant hour or so in the Glasgow Angling Centre, buying stuff I don’t need and marvelling at the complexity of my sport. As a kid I owned one rod and reel and got so much fun out of that simple outfit. Now I own dozens of rods and yet don’t get the same excitement that I did in the past. A lesson for me?

more rods than you could shake a stick at in the Glasgow Angling Centre

Leaving the M8 I pick up the M80 and swing north once again. This section of the road has been improved over the years so the dreadful tailbacks appear to have reduced somewhat. Past Cumbernauld, under the arches and over the brow of the low hill and the sight of the Ochil’s marching away to the east. When I lived in Fife these hills were my playground, happy hours were spent walking the paths and admiring the views over Central Scotland. Ancient Stirling, the very cockpit of Scotland with its castle and tower comes and goes quickly as I cross the Forth’s tortuous loops. Only a couple of hours now and I will be in Aberdeen.

The might Tay is crossed on the edge of Perth at the extremity of the tidal reaches. I’ll be getting tired by now, the window cracked open to let the cold air in to clear my head and keep my concentration levels up. Ticking off the bypassed towns after Dundee, edging ever closer to the granite city. This time around I will do the Scottish part of the journey in the dark,missing the sights around me but enjoying the freedom of uncluttered roads. Arriving in the early hours there will be hugs and a quick chat before the soft bed envelopes me and I catch upon my sleep. Come the morning my family will be there and the catch up can begin in earnest.







Fishing in Ireland, Uncategorized

Some pics

Holiday snaps for you guys:

We are travelling around central Europe for a couple of weeks, starting off in Budapest and ending up in Berlin.

I can highly recommend staying in the Mira and Spicy apartment in central Budapest.

Highlight for us was the outdoor spa.

Found some nice places to eat eventually but being vegetarians is a challenge in a city which loves meat so much!

I am sure that isn’t good for you!

Then it was on to Bratislava – a town we can recommend. A really nice feel to the place.

the UFO bridge

Found a tackle shop in Bratislava and picked up some baits I had never seen before.

A Lizard!!!

After a nightmare overnight train journey we visited in Krakow, Lesser Poland. While there we toured Auschwitz and a salt mine.

Fishing in Ireland, Uncategorized


Leaving for work every Monday morning at the same time means I can see the days lengthening. Only a couple of weeks ago backed out of the driveway in pitch blackness which persisted until I was fully half way across Ireland. This Monday there was a paleness in the eastern sky as I crossed into Roscommon and by the time Athlone was behind me and I was speeding along the west bound lanes of the M6 the sky was light. Spring is coming; it is far in the distance yet but you can feel it edging closer.

The weather has been wet lately but no worse than we normally experience in the West of Ireland in January. All the rivers are full and some are slopping over their banks, oozing into the adjacent fields. Migratory swans are enjoying the wetlands, a welcome sight against an otherwise dreary background of dun-coloured earth and shimmering water. Crows seem to fill the sky at times, wheeling and cawing as if they enjoy this cold weather. And all the while, deep in turbid, boisterous flows, the fish wait for warmer conditions. Cold eyes, slowly rotating fins. Lethargic. Just waiting………….

Food supplies on the rivers must be tight but those fish who live in the loughs have an all-together easier passage through the wintertime. The great limestone lakes of the west are alkaline, and they support huge numbers of freshwater shrimps and hog louse. These highly nutritious snacks are hoovered up in immense quantities by the fish, allowing them to maintain condition through the short days of winter. Come the start of the season we fly fishers will reach for fiery browns and golden olives, both of which are good imitations of the louse and the shrimp. Our angling cousins in England and Scotland use excellent close copies of the crustaceans, but the style of fishing over there is very different to our lough style, plonking heavily weighted but perfect imitations in front of discerning rainbows is a different sport to short lining from a boat over wild brownies in a force six.


Sad news

It is sad to see Duffy’s of Headford have closed down after 60 years in business. I relied on them to keep my old Johnson motors running and the shop was always a hub of gossip for fishers, local and visitor alike. I popped in as I was passing last weekend but the shelves had been cleared and only a couple of local guys were picking over the bones of the stock before the front door slams shut for good. In this age of the internet I can only imagine how hard it must be to keep a small hardware shop open in a county town. It will be sorely missed.



Fishing in Ireland, Uncategorized

Sunday in Mayo

No fishing (again). The weather has been settled for weeks now with no rain to speak of. The rivers have been reduced to shrunken rivulets and the salmon are still out at sea waiting for the weather to change. So today we went for a walk on the beach to make the best of the fine weather.

The Carrownisky is a small spate river which enters the sea at a strand of the same name. A ‘strand’ in Ireland is a beach, this one is a particularly fine example of a sandy beach. It is popular with surfers as it faces almost exactly due west and so gets some surf even in calm conditions.

We parked up on the high shingle bank near the surfers and walked along the firm sand under brilliant sunshine. These Atlantic beaches are inhospitable places and the only life we saw were a few sandpipers and an energetic Ringed Plover who ran along in front of us. The views across to Clare island and the far off Innish Turk were jaw-droppingly spectacular. Afraid my photo’s don’t do it justice.

We walked as far as the point where the Carrownisky River flows into the sea. The tide was dropping and the paltry flow from the river all but vanished into the gravel. It was easy to see why no salmon were able to run the river now.

The Carrownisky emptying into the Atlantic. It is ankle deep here

Helen beside the shrunken Carrownisky

The lake is in the distance.

The Reek in the background

It’s hard to believe looking at these photographs that the Carrownisky can be a fine little river on it’s day. A summer spate can see salmon run the river and the flats above the lake seem to hold them for a while and gives the angler a chance of a fish or two. The sea pool is also worth a few casts but it fishes better from the other side and access is an issue in high water.

The Sea Pool.

As for flies for this river you just need something small and dark. The best of the fishing is always on dark, windy days and a size 10 or 12 with plenty of black in it’s make up will do the business.

But today was all about the sun and the fresh air. We walked back to the car, chatting and taking in the views. The neoprene clad surfers dotted the waves near the car park, it was a day for their sport, not mine. Louisburg was quiet, despite the lovely day so we drove on to Murrisk where we stopped to take in the views from the foot of Croagh Patrick. Neither of us felt energetic enough to tackle the Reek today so we settled for a quick drink in Campbells fine establishment instead.

At the foot of the Reek

The well worn path up the reek

Let’s hope there is some rain this week, I am itching to get the rod out again!

Fishing in Ireland, Uncategorized

alive and kicking

So today I finally made time to take a look at the sick Evinrude outboard which let me down so badly last weekend. When it failed to start on the lake I rowed ashore and whipped out the spark plugs, thinking the mixture may have been too rich and she had oiled the plugs. Both plugs were in perfect condition so I put them back into the head and called it day. By the time I had reached home there was a strong smell of petrol emanating from the boot meaning I had a fuel leak somewhere.

Today I wanted to be 100% sure the spark was strong so I tested both plugs again and they were sparking away good-oh. I turned my attention to the fuel system and checked the fuel line from the tank to the carburetor. Although it looks a bit dirty it was intact and the clips at both ends were tight. All linkages on the carb were in perfect working order and I was about to remove the whole unit when I noticed one of the two mounting bolts was slightly loose. Checking the 4 screws which hold the float bowl to the body of the carb I found one of these was also loose. These faults could lead to air leaks and thus make the engine hard to start or run unevenly. I tightened up the offending bolt and screw and gave the engine a test. She burst into life on the third pull and idled reasonably well. Here is a clip of her running (sorry about the wrong title)-

To be perfectly honest the slack bolt and screw may (or may not) be the cause of the problems with starting. Certainly they both should have been tight, so I have not done anything wrong by applying the spanner and driver to them. The fuel leak was not obvious to me so I can only presume the bolt and screw had slackened off in use and the petrol was trickling out at those places. Only another trial on the water will confirm if I have solved the problem. I had better head out fishing tomorrow I guess (sigh).

Now to other matters: I was in Ballina today and the river Moy was very busy with anglers on all beats. There were salmon and grilse showing in good numbers in the Ridge Pool.


The ridge pool being diligently covered by anglers today

Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, Uncategorized

Feile na Tuaithe, Day 2

Now that’s better. Brilliant sunshine greeted me when I twitched back the bedroom curtains this morning. Forecasters unanimously agree there will be localised showers again today but for now it’s wall to wall sun. Hopefully that will encourage more visitors to Féile na Tuaithe.

Looking back on yesterday there were some common faults at the fly casting. Total beginners were easy – they picked it up quickly and in a few minutes could cast a reasonablably straight line. Some of the kids were just too small to handle the ten-footer properly though and they needed a bit of help from me to hold the rod. The tricky ones were those anglers who had tried fly fishing and given it up previously. The usual bad habits were there to be seen but getting these ironed out was a challenge.

The first one was that old chestnut of dropping the rod too low on the back cast. The line hits the ground or what ever herbage is around and the necessary tension in the rod blank is lost, leading to a poor forward stroke. Some guys knew this what they were doing wrong but couldn’t figure out how to stop it. Here’s my tip – go right back to the very start of the cast and focus on pointing the rod as low as you can. If you do this it goes a long way to curing the problem as you can stop the back stroke near to vertical much better.

Next most common fault had to be little or no pause between back and forward strokes. You must give the line sufficient time to straighten out behind you so the rod can be bent and store the necessary energy for the forward stroke. But how to figure out how long this pause has to be? The answer is neatly located on your face, either side of your nose. Yep, just turn your head and watch the line sail out behind you until it has almost straightened then commence the forward stroke. Trust me, just watching the line will really help you when you are learning to cast.


So the morning disappeared in a blur of activity and I was running way too late long before I even headed off to Turlough. I had to do some serious persuasion of the security staff on the gate to let me in but I made it, just and no more. Some friends were on hand to assist me (you know who you are – thanks a million guys) and I was ready for action as the first visitors streamed in at noon. Like Saturday, there was a lot of interest in casting by the younger attendees which was great to see. Our sport badly needs fresh blood and the more we can do to encourage youngsters to take up the sport the better.

Lots of old angling acquaintances dropped by to say hello and I met scores of lovely people out enjoying the day and interested to see what I was up to beside the lake. A fellow blogger (The Irish Angler) came down to meet me and we had a great old chat about fishing and blogging. Take a look at Richard’s blog, it’s a great insight to fishing on Conn and Cullen –  https://theirishfisherman.wordpress.com

The afternoon flew by and it felt like I was only just settling into the day when I looked at the time to find it had gone 5.15pm. Packing up consisted of hurling all my gear and tackle into the back of the car (to be sorted out at a later date) and then it was off home for a bite to eat and get ready for work in the morning. I really enjoyed the whole experience of being part of Feile na Tuaithe and hope I may have sparked some interest in people to try their hand at our sport. I’m planning on fishing for trout the next time I pick up a fly rod though!


bait fishing, trout fishing, Uncategorized

Early memories

Funny how some memories come back to you without any invitation. What makes the human mind decide to delve back into the past for no obvious reason? I can think of no ‘trigger’ for suddenly and unexpectedly thinking about Ord Dam the other day. I was not reminiscing about my angling past, nor my Scottish upbringing at the time. Just out of the blue I mentally leaped back to my formative years and a small pool of water by a back road just beyond the outskirts of Aberdeen. I can place the time of these recollections quite accurately as they coincided with one of life’s seminal decisions – I wanted (and received) a fly rod for my birthday. Ord Dam was to be one of the first places I used this weapon which was going to serve me so well as I took my first faltering steps learning the gentle art of fly fishing.

I don’t know what Ord Dam was built for, the ‘river’ feeding it was little more than an agricultural drain and in summer the flow over the concrete spillway was a tiny trickle, easily negotiated by young teenagers in wellies. I guess it was intended to impound water so that the fields would be well watered. There was a good path around the whole loch except for a bay on the Northern end near the road which was heavily overgrown with brambles. And, most importantly, it was stuffed full of wild brownies. That inconspicuous puddle held an inordinate stock of fish, way beyond what would have been imagined or dreamt of. On summer evenings as the light faded and the creatures of the night came snuffling out of their dens and holes, the surface of Ord Dam became pock marked with the rises of countless fish. It was that mental image, seared into my memory banks, of the darkening skies and the frantic rise which flashed back to me across the years.

The rod was a glass fibre made by the Clan company in the Trossacks. Nine and a half feet long (all the better in case I hooked a sea trout George in Brown’s tackle shop earnestly informed me), you could nearly tie a knot in it, it was so soft. It was my present on the occasion of the celebration of my arrival on this rocky planet 13 years earlier. I loved that rod. Isn’t it funny how we become so attached to crappy tackle just because it was our first? Perhaps the same could apply to motor bikes, cars or even girlfriends but let’s not go there right now. Over the years that rod suffered an immense degree of physical abuse and by the time I gave it away to a young lad many years later it was a couple of inches shorter thanks to an unpleasant argument with a car boot and sported two very obvious extra joins where the normal two-piece set up was increased to four pieces when I fell off a bicycle while cycling home from the river Don one day. These days we would say it had ‘character’.

Ord Dam

Back to Ord Dam…………… I probably blanked more often that I landed fish there until I discovered the nefarious joys of float fishing maggots for trout. Perhaps I should feel deep shame admitting to this foul deed. Maybe there is help for reformed maggot drowners who hold meetings in drafty halls to support each other as they struggle to come to terms with the enormity of what they did. The thing is, trout are suckers for maggots and young lads who go fishing simply want to catch as many fish as they can, regardless of methodology employed. So floats and maggots became part of my armoury for fishing Ord Dam until the nine foot six fly rod entered my life. The timeless joy of watching the brightly coloured top of the float was replaced virtually overnight by the physical challenge of learning to cast a fly. Simple decisions such as one maggot or two were rendered obsolete when I was now confronted by the bewildering choice of artificial creations. In short, Ord Dam became a fly fishing classroom for me and while my fellow maggot drowners (yes you, Mickey Gibson, Alan Robertson, Bobby and Callum) stuck grimly to the float fishing slaughter I would wander the banks casting, getting caught on weeds, bushes, trees and very occasionally small trout. While my first fly-caught trout was taken on the Kintore beat of the Don most of the next few dozen were landed in Ord Dam. These fish were small, one or two of them might have made 12 ounces but most weighed half a pound or less and I longed to catch something bigger but in those days access to good water was beyond my reach so the tiddlers in the dam suffered my inept attentions instead.

I wish I could go back to those day of innocence and wonder when every trip to the dam was exciting and joyous. I can fish any number of first class lakes and rivers these days but that sense of unbridled fun I experienced as a thirteen year old learning to cast on the dam has long gone. Exactly when and how it slipped out of my life I can’t pinpoint, maybe it was gradually eroded like a pebble in a stream.

Many years later I returned to Aberdeen to visit family and as I was driving out the back road to Banchory I took a notion to look at the dam again. Something like 25 years had elapsed since I had fished there so I wasn’t expecting too much and unfortunately I was right to prepare myself for disappointment. The water level was considerably lower than before and the whole loch was a mass of weed with no clear water to be seen. I didn’t linger and drove off feeling chastised for even stopping there in the first place. Childhood fishing spots are, like old motorbikes and girlfriends, best left in corners of our memory rather than seen again in the harsh light of reality.

Footnote: All may not be so bad at Ord Dam after all. A quick google search has revealed that the dam is now under the control of Aberdeen City Council Countryside ranger service. The photo accompanying this post is the property of the service and it shows the water back to a good level and free of the weed.