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!
There can’t be many Irish lough fishers who don’t have this fly or something very like it in their fly box. Perhaps one of the earliest variations on the Dabbler theme, this one is a good early season pattern for trout.
Use black tying silk, an 8/0 for preference. Hook sizes vary depending on what you will be fishing for and I go all the way from teensy-weensy 14’s right up to gigantic size 4’s for use on Lough Beltra. Tied on a size 8 or 10 it is a great pattern for the salmon in Carrowmore lake.
Start the silk near the eye of the hook and catch in a black cock hackle. Now run the silk to the bend in touching turns.
Make the tail out of a few fibres of nice dark bronze mallard. Tie them in so the tails are about the same length as the hook shank. This is important as short tails will upset the balance of the fly and makes it look odd. I you feel like adding a bit of bling then a couple of strands of pearl flash can be added to tail at this stage.
Tie in a length of oval silver tinsel which will be used for the rib and dub the tying silk with seals fur a similar rough fur. Begin with black at the tail end, then a band of red in the middle and finally black near the head.. Leave plenty of space at the head.
Palmer the black cock hackle down the body and tie it in with the oval silver tinsel. Wind the rib up through the hackle, carefully binding it down in open turns.
I like to add a couple of turns of a long fibred hen hackle dyed red under the wings but you may decide not to bother with this refinement.
The wings are your normal bronze mallard tied in cloak style around the hook. Finish off my making a neat head with the silk and applying your favourite cement or varnish.
The real beauty of this fly is adaptability. It can occupy any position on the cast and can be fished with confidence on a floater of sinking line. It’s well worth tying a few up if you are doing some fishing in Ireland or Scotland.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
Only a few small gaps to fill now and I’ll be ready for the new season.
I’ve been bust at the vice again and the fly boxes are filling up nicely now. For me, Saturday afternoons are my preferred time to tuck myself away with the radio on, happily snipping and whipping away. Steam rising lazily from my umpteenth mug of coffee while the room around me gradually fills with half used packets of feathers and reels of silk as I swap from pattern to pattern. Then an all mighty tidy up at the end of the session to restore a degree order once again. There are often a small pile of scraps of paper on the bench beside me, hastily devised patterns which popped into me head and I noted down on whatever was handy at the time. Lately I have been churning out Dabbler patterns. Some have been your bog-standard clarets and golden olives but I’ve also created some new ones too.
This handsome fly is a variation on the standard silver dabbler. Simply add a Glo-drite no.4 tag under the tail and use a badger hackle dyed green-olive instead of the usual red game. This fly has caught me plenty of fish in the past.
Here’s one I guess you could call a rhubarb and custard dabbler. Untried as yet, I have high hopes for it on Lough Mask. Yellow body and hackle with a blood red hen hackle wound in front of the wing, there is more than a hint of the Mayo Bumble about this one. It should work as a pulling fly when the trout are on the daphnia in the deeps on Lough Mask.
This bright dabbler looks to be a bit of a long shot to me but I guess you never know until you try it. Flat silver tinsel or Opal Mirage for the body and a teal blue dyed grizzle hackle under the cloak combine with a red tail to give a fry imitation look to it. It will either blank or give me the biggest trout of the season!
Why am I tying so many dabblers right now? There just seemed to be so many gaps in that part of the fly box is the only answer. I have not been doing much in the way of lough fly fishing for a few seasons now and as a result there has been a lack of focus on my part on what there is in there. I am forever handing my fly boxes around to others that I am fishing with and letting them help themselves to whatever takes their fancy. This of course leads to popular or interesting patterns disappearing, which is fine by me. I like to hear other anglers are catching fish on my flies.
I’ll need to address some major gaps in the lough dry fly box next. I have neglected this box too and there seems to be a lot of very old flies in there which need to be cleared out and new patterns added. Wulff’s in particular are conspicious by their absence.
With Christmas behind us now and the old year only hours left to run my thoughts are firmly fixed on the 2019 season. What will it bring? This used to be a time of mounting excitement but the collapse of fish stocks in and around Ireland mean there is more trepidation rather than anticipation these days.
Looking back over many years, my angling year fitted into neat sections with the focus on wild brown trout and Atlantic salmon from February right through until the end of September. Only when the game fishing ended would I make any concerted effort to go sea fishing and piking was something I only did once a year. How things have changed! Lack of water early in the season reduced the rivers to a trickle of cold water and the trout went into hiding. Fly life was pretty much non-existent, so the joys of fishing a hatch of duns or a fall of spinners never materialise these days. Salmon too have become scarce with even the once prolific runs of summer grilse a now distant memory.
Much as I try, it is hard to be optimistic about salmon fishing in 2019. Salmon fishers are used to disappointment, it’s part of our DNA. Long hours on the water without so much a tug on the line are the norm and we all accept this as part and parcel of our chosen sport. Dwindling stocks have turned the empty hours into empty weeks, months and seasons for most of us now. I know many good fishers who put in the hard hours over the past couple of seasons but failed to even hook a fish, let alone land one. Why should 2019 be any better when nothing has been done to help the salmon? There are more fish farms with all their pollution and sea lice. Industrial fishing continues unchecked, wiping out the food sources for the fish. Changing weather patterns seem to be having a detrimental effect of the fish and cycle of high/low water has been replaced with flood/drought. I fear another poor salmon season is about to start. Let’s hope I am wrong.
The long, painful drought of last spring and summer, combined with a near total lack of fly life ruined my trouting season on the rivers. I need to be more flexible this coming year, look for new venues and try new methods to winkle out the odd fish. So much will depend on the weather of course but the loss of natural flies means the trout must be feeding on other food forms such as small fish and crustaceans.
On the loughs I am planning on doing more trolling and have geared up accordingly. Not my favourite pastime by any means but when faced with otherwise hopeless conditions I needed to have a ‘plan B’.
I am also thinking about doing more Pike fishing if the trout and salmon are a wash out again. This will be a stretch for me as I have never really enjoyed Pike angling but I suppose any fishing is better than none at all. Again, I have invested in a range of lures and will give them a swim when the water warms up sufficiently.
So as this years ebbs away I still have much to be thankful for and a lot to look forward to. I hope the same applies to each of you who have taken the time to read some of my ramblings on this blog. See you all next year!
On holiday now so I am busy tying flies for the upcoming season. I have lots of ideas floating around in my head and one of them took shape this morning in the form of a Bloody Dabbler. This is loosely based on the Bloody Butcher, a great old pattern which used to work for me in either the standard feather winged form or busked on a longshank 8 and fished off fast sinker at night for sea trout.
I made the body of the fly from flat silver tinsel body, ribbed with fine oval silver and a palmered hen hackle. This hackle came from a hen cape I dyed flourescent scarlet. Tails of cock pheasant, a cloak of bronze mallard and a pair of jungle cock cheeks were added and the head was formed from the fire orange tying silk. I have high hopes this one will work when the pin fry are on the go in June/July.
I have been reading some ideas from Rob Denson and in particular his use of hen hackles for palmering dabblers and bumbles. This gives a very different look to these flies and I like the idea they will move better in the water than our normal stiff cock hackles.