dryfly, trout fishing, wetfly

Memory lane

So, the flying visit to Scotland is over and I am back in Ireland once again. The catch up with family and friends now over, I can reflect on the last couple of days. The weather was pretty terrible on the journey north but the East of Scotland basked in lovely near summer conditions for the rest of the weekend. Aberdeen looked well in the sunshine, its granite sparkling for a change (it can look very dull on a cold, grey day). Saturday was spent in the relaxing company of family but on Sunday I found myself in Inverurie.

As a boy I learned a lot of my angling skills on the borough waters here on the rivers Don and Urie. A lifetime has passed since those far of days and the town of Inverurie has changed out of all recognition. The once sleepy country village has now become a bustling commuter town for Aberdeen, replete with the usual trappings of the change in status such as industrial parks and shopping centres.

Shallow water above the bridge

Lunch in a garden centre restaurant over, I drove down to the Urie to see how the river has fared in the intervening years. Back in the day I would catch the first country bus from the city every Saturday morning to Inverurie. Dropped off on the main street, clad in waders and smelly fishing coat, I’d wait for the tackle shop to open so I could buy a permit. A few shillings changed hands and I would march off back down the main street, bound for the Urie. I almost always followed the same plan, start on the Urie and fish down the where it meets the Don, hopefully just as the main hatch got under way. I’d then fish the dry fly and work my way upstream on the Don.

The bridge pool on the Urie

Tackle back then consisted of a nine-and-a-half foot glass fly rod, a short spinning rod and a bag full of everything from a tin of worms to tiny dry flies. Early in the morning I’d fish the pools and runs with spiders, casting ‘around the clock’. On days when that didn’t work the tin of worms came out and I would search the deeper pools. I was never much of a bait fisherman and the eels which were so common back then seemed to be my usual catch as I recall. I never had enough worms with me. The tiny square of poor earth which passed for a garden at the back of our council house yielded only a handful of tiny wrigglers that I dug between the scrawny lettuces. Often I was reduced to turning over stones on the river back to augment the contents of the bait tin during the fishing.

If my bait ran out I’d turn to spinning tiny Mepps or metal minnows but even at a young age I realised this was too easy. Flicked upstream and wound back over the fish’s heads, these lures virtually always caught me a trout or two.

an old box of tiny spinners dating from my youth

My selective memory lulls me into believing there was always a hatch around lunchtime. I’m sure there must have been days when the empherids didn’t appear but that is beyond my recall. The bridge pool was my favourite spot on the Urie and I have many happy memories of exciting times casting to rising trout as the olives and iron blues hatched out in April and May.

I parked beside the graveyard on Sunday. Already I could see the changes with more human interventions on the side of the road than there used to be. New houses and businesses were there and an ominous sign which said something about no access. Walking up to the bridge over the river was a strange experience, the years weighing heavily on me. Over the parapet I peered and there below was the river, wider than I had remembered it and very low for the time of year. It looked decidedly fishy, running clear over still lush, verdant weeds and brown olive gravel. I was instantly transported back to a more innocent time, a time when feeling the tug of a half-pounder was all I lived for. A time when the very idea of being anywhere other than here in the North East was simply impossible to comprehend. An altogether simpler time.

The golds and reds of the autumn leaves reflected the waning years of my own life. Growth and vigour have been replaced with introspection and reflection. I (hopefully) reach 60 next spring, battle scarred and weather worn. Lessons learned but still largely clueless about this world which seems hell bent on self-destruction. Fishing, the common thread woven through the very fabric of my existence, kept me sane through the dark days and nourished my soul in ways no religion ever could. I hold places like the bridge pool on the Urie very dear.

I never did catch any monsters from the bridge pool, a few pounders sprinkled among a host of lesser fish was my lot. That didn’t matter to me back then because it was a consistent spot. If I was going to catch a fish anywhere on that river the chances were it would come out of that pool. These days I would fish it in the gloaming of a late spring evening when the spinners return to lay their eggs and the better trout come out of hiding to feed, but back then the last bus home would have long departed by then! My love of motorbikes which freed me from the bonds of the bus timetable unfortunately coincided with my burgeoning attraction to the opposite sex and so the banks of the Urie were swapped for the bright lights and blandishments of the city. I could have become an expert fisher instead of a mediocre lothario. Ah well………………..

I snapped a couple of photos then took my leave. Maybe next year I might come back with a feather-light carbon wand and spend an hour casting on this nice piece of water for old-time sake. More likely, I will spend far too much money on a beat of the Dee chasing elusive salmon and catch nothing! It was a relief to see my old haunt was not yet succumbed to the relentless march of progress just yet. Who knows what the next few years will hold though?

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salmon fishing

Toby, Sinky and the net

Not really about fishing at all, but I thought this tale of modern life was worth the telling……….

ABU Toby, this one is the copper K version

eBay is great, isn’t it! Any old tat turns up on it and if you are like me then simply trolling through the various categories is entertaining enough without even making a purchase. There are bargains galore and rip offs in equal quantity. While I have personally never made any large purchases on eBay, I do enjoy perusing it for old lures. Not your collectable stuff now (way too expensive for a poverty-stricken angler like me), just old fashioned work-a-day lures that I have used for all my angling life.

I have this theory which may or may not hold water. Old ABU lures are better at catching fish than the new ones (sorry ABU Garcia). The exact reasoning for my long and dearly held suspicions lacks any scientific basis, so this remains very firmly in the realm of theoretical hypothesis. The modern lures don’t feel right to me somehow. They appear to me to be manufactured from cheap alloys and their action in the water does not seem to me to be so energetic. I am not alone is this view and I know other anglers who share my ill-defined beliefs when it comes to comparing Scandinavian and far eastern metalwork. Of course, a happy hunting ground on the net for original Swedish ABU lures is eBay. That is where this modern day tale starts………

18gm Gold Toby in good condition. I don’t like the silver hook though so I will change that

I was at it again you see. In a hotel room after work with time on my hands and a good internet connection. eBay beckoned and I started clicking through the fishing lures on offer. Rare! Vintage! Very Scarce!!! All the usual sales techniques were being fully deployed to ensnare the unwary. Toby’s which on closer inspection turned out to be Shanny’s (a copy made in the Far East for Woolworths), ‘Vintage’ devons at eye-watering prices which you can still buy new online for a few bob,  Rapalas with wonky diving vanes and a host of boxes containing varying amounts of angling rubbish. In amongst this piscatorial flotsam and jetsam there were some gems and I latched on to a box of old lures which were reasonably priced. A few clicks with the mouse and I was done. I would have forgotten about the old box I had bid on but eBay kindly sends you reminders to keep old duffers like me to keep me on the ball. To cut to the chase, I won the auction!

My prize consisted of a grand total of 16 old ABU spoons contained in a neat little bronze coloured plastic box with a clear lid and internal divisions. Most were Toby’s but there were also a couple of old ‘Salar’ spoons too. I must confess that I was pretty chuffed at acquiring this bargain, even if a couple of the spoons were ones I already had in my box. For whatever reason there is a glut of Zebra coloured Toby’s out there and I have enough of that pattern to last me several lifetimes. Then again, that grand old angler, George Gordon swore by an 18 gram Zebra Toby and did great execution with it back in the day on the Mugiemoss beat of the Don. Here is a photo of George with his best ever salmon, a whopping great 35 pounder!

And here is where this everyday tale of modern shopping takes a funny turn. When paying for my newly purchased trove I noticed the name of the seller ‘denisthefish’ and his address – Aberdeen. A couple of emails soon established the truth, ‘denisthefish’ was none other than Sinky Sinclair! Long, long ago I used to work and fish with Denis ‘Sinky’ Sinclair. I left Aberdeen in my twenties, never to return and lost touch with most of my friends and workmates up there. Yet, after all these years here I was, back in touch with the bold Sinky. Denis, now in his seventies, still fishes the lower Don but he tells me the fishing is but a shadow of what it used to be. He only managed to catch two salmon last season on beats where we would have previously classed two fish in a day as a reasonable outing.

The lower beats of the river Don in Aberdeenshire have waxed and wained as salmon fisheries over the years. The waters of the Don were harnessed to provide power and process water for a large number of mills, leaving the river scarred and altered to meet the needs of the industrialists. The salmon dwindled in numbers to the point where the only way fish could survive was to run through the lower beats during high water. The river became little more than an open sewer for many years. Yet, somehow the fish kept returning to spawn and by the seventies new environmental legislation began to force the mills and utilities to add better waste treatment plants. Amazingly, the river healed itself, spates scoured the filth accumulated over centuries from the bottom. Weed growth returned and with it the invertebrate life to support trout and young salmon. Salmon numbers surged and the seventies saw some spectacular angling on the lower beats. As I worked in the papermills during that time I had access to a couple of beats which produced memorable days fishing. One of those beats was at the back of Donside, where Sinky and I searched the depths of the pools with minnows and spoons. The mills have gone now, replaced with smart new houses. All just a memory now.

The Millionair’s pool on the Mugiemoss beat

The Saugh pool with Mugiemoss mills on the opposite bank

The wee bronze coloured box and its contents duly arrived. I was delighted with them but even more pleased to have been in touch with Sinky again. It just shows how interconnected we in the western world are to each other. You can bet that when I tie on one of those spoons and drag it through the waters of Lough Conn this season my thoughts will drift back to those halcyon days when me and Sinky used to fish at the back of the mill.

Nether Don and St. Macher's cathedral

Nether Don and St. Macher’s cathedral

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

Wish list

It’s all over for 2017 and I am stuck in another hotel room a long way from home, thinking about next season already. It is a nice hotel, comfortable and warm with an excellent menu in the restaurant downstairs. However, it is not home and so it pales when measured against my abode in the west. I’m lucky in that I don’t suffer from loneliness or sink into morbid thoughts when separated from loved ones, instead I use my time to reflect and think about the future. I don’t usually overthink my fishing trips but, maybe on the back of a poor season, I have been contemplating my options for 2018 in an unusual level of detail. Everything will depend on how the gods of work treat me, too little and I will have lots of time but no money while too much work will keep me away from home and with no time to go fishing. I need to jot down where i want to go. I need to write a list!

8NX6EPAWCB

I guess my train of thought is neatly divided along geographical lines. Irish angling will obviously be uppermost in any plans but I’m going to wet a line in Scotland too. So let’s take a look at the possibilities which I currently have under review.

Angling for salmon starts early over here with a handful of rivers opening on 1st January. The Drowes is close by, only a bit over an hour’s drive from home. The opening week sees large numbers of fishers descending on this river in an attempt to catch the first salmon of the season. Crowded banks are not my idea of fun but I may just venture up there for a change of scene. Much of the fishing is worming or spinning but there are some nice stretches for the fly and I like the idea of clearing away the cobwebs and casting an early line there.

the Drowes has some good fly water

The River Robe failed to produce the goods last Spring but horrendously low water levels ruined any chances of success. Undeterred, I will return to the banks around Claremorris in March and April when the stoneflies and olives should be hatching. Daffodils and bird song, the greening grass in the fields, the nip still in the air that turns your breath to silver in the early morning all combine to form the unmistakable feeling that winter is over and spring has arrived. The excitement of those initial casts, those first tugs of a small trout as the team of spiders swing in the current, sloshing though the shallows to cross at a ford, munching a sandwich with the sun on your face – all the immensely enjoyable minutia of a day on an Irish river. Happiness!

The Robe at Hollymount, a favourite springtime stretch

The Robe at Hollymount, a favourite stretch in the springtime

If time allows I want to go back to Scotland in April. The fourth month of the year was always a lucky one for me for both trout and salmon. I cannot recall the last time I cast a line in Scotland during the month of April, 1996 seems to be most likely but I can’t honestly say it was with any sense of certainty. It was a heck of a long time ago anyway! If there has been some rain there should be a few salmon in the middle beats of the Aberdeenshire Don and even if it has been dry the trout will be feeding hard in anything but an east wind. The beats around Alford offer some wonderful fly water and if time allows I’d love to squeeze in a long weekend tramping the banks of the river where I learned to fish.

The middle Don and a fishy looking pool

 

I’ve not fished the mayfly properly for a couple of seasons now. I used to adore Lough Carra when the greendrakes were hatching but those days are firmly in the past now. Carra has not fished well for many seasons, despite some very good anglers giving a nostalgic try every year. The quantity of fly life has diminished alarmingly. Trout need to compete with the gulls for even hatching olives, let alone mayflies. Any trout still living in the lake keep their heads well down and those lovely, long rolling waves that you get on a windy day above on Carra still don’t attract the fish to the surface. I seriously doubt if I will bother with Carra next season unless the local ‘jungle drums’ tell me it has turned the corner.

Moorehall bay on Carra

Boats in Moorhall, Lough Carra

Most anglers would plump for the mighty Corrib for mayfly fishing but for me that hallowed water is principally a dapper’s paradise. I used to keep a boat in Salthouse bay at the northern end of the Corrib and learned to find my way around that part of the lake. I caught some nice trout on wets and dries but the real leviathans succumbed to other anglers using dapped naturals. I can’t explain why I don’t dap. I know how to do it, where and when to do it and yet I don’t bother. The dapping rod, reel and thick, unruly floss line, the wooden live bait box and even the little scoop for netting live flies from the surface for bait all nestle in a corner of the room, unloved and unused. Barring some sort of ‘road to Damascus’ moment I doubt if I’ll dap this coming season.

Cahir Bay

Cahir Bay, lough Mask

So for me it will be lough Mask for the mayfly. It will feel as if I am being unfaithful to my first love, Lough Conn, but Mask is a terrific fishery and I have missed drifting the shallows in a brisk wind. I lived in Ballinrobe when I returned to Ireland and spent many happy hours getting to know where (and where not) you can motor and drift. The boat picked up a few scars after encounters with unseen rocks but the rewards were many. These days much of the fishing on Mask is carried out over the deeps, pulling a team of wets on sinking lines. I’m not a fan of this type of fishing, effective though it undoubtedly is. I find it very hard to justify this disinterest as it looks to the untrained eye very similar to salmon fishing – combing the water with sinking lines and a team of flies. No signs of fish, just the rolling waves and the rhythm of casting. I love days like that on the salmon loughs but quickly succumb to boredom if the speckled lads are my quarry. So I must make time in late May or early June to fish the Mask, drifting the craggy shallows of the Rocky Shore or around the islands.

The mouth of the canal on Lough Mask

At some point during the summer I want to take the road south and motor down to the Kingdom of Kerry. Many, many years ago I fished down that way and it would be nice to try my luck in the salty waters around Dingle again. The only trouble is the holidaymakers are there in droves during the summer months and accommodation is hard to find and damn expensive when you do locate a B&B. Who knows, maybe I’ll camp instead, just like I did all those years ago when I rode a motorbike from Aberdeen to Fenit, pitched the tent near the pier and caught a bass on the second cast! There used to be some good Wrasse fishing from the shore too as I recall. That sport has completely changed nowadays with the advent of LRF.

When I practised wrasse fishing it was with a sliding float and lugworm for bait. I tried all kinds of other baits, especially crab which seemed to be the most logical choice, but lugworm out-fished everything else for me and the sight of the float disappearing into the depths as another big Ballan swallowed the hook was always a huge thrill.  Yes, Kerry would be nice for a change of scene.

my mate Chris with a shore caught Wrasse

I love the autumn. It is by far my favourite season. I am keen on returning to Scotland again to try for a late season salmon on one of the smaller back end rivers. Finding reasonable and affordable water on the Tweed or Tay is difficult but the Deveron used to see good autumn runs and rods were often available without having to win the lottery. So next October I am planning on a short trip to the Turriff area to try for a big back-ender. Many years ago I lost a huge salmon further upstream on the Huntly water. That brute turned and ran down through three pools before the hook pulled out. It was the last of three fish I had on in the space of a few hours and none of them made it to the bank. Sometimes it’s just not your day. I find the Deveron is a nice size, not too poky and yet not overly large and intimidating. Getting back to Scotland twice in one year is very definitely pushing my luck but this is a wish list so October on the Deveron has been pencilled in.

The Devervon near Rothiemay

2017 was an unmitigated angling disaster for me, mainly because work got in the way of time off. It was a poor season for many and maybe I didn’t miss much but I would rather have a poor day on the riverbank than a good day at work. So there is my wish list, I will review it in 12 month’s time see what I did and did not manage to achieve.

 

 

 

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trout fishing

Gone for good

lovely small grilse÷

It is never a good sound. Sometimes it is a loud, alarming crack, sometimes it’s a grating, snapping sound and then again it can be a deadly, barely audible ‘phut’. However it manifests itself the noise of your rod breaking is disturbing and emotional. We anglers grow so attached to those lengths of carbon fibre in a way which must seem very weird to normal, non-fishing folks.

My 10’6 Hardy has gone west. It broke at the top joint when casting the other day. It was a strange one as I wasn’t casting a long line or dragging a fast sinker from the murky depths at the time. Just flicking 15 yards casts with a floating line should not have stressed the old rod in any way, shape or form. But it did and with a soft sigh the venerable old girl became two useless, raggedy ended pieces of high tech tubing. She will be sorely missed.

this one was around 7 pounds

I bought that rod when I was living in London and fishing trips were rare events. It had it’s first outing on the Aberdeenshire Don one fine May day. Quarter-of-an-hour after I first set it up I was playing a ten pound salmon and by the end of the day a 12 pounder had been added to the tally. You quickly fall in love with a rod that delivers the goods so dramatically! A red letter day at Bewl followed with fiesty rainbows bending that Hardy into a hoop in a strong cross wind on the southern shore.

Soon after that day it was time to pack up my goods a chattels and head back to Eire and that’s when the rod really came into action. I had bought with the intention of using it as a grilse and heavy lough trout rod and here in the west of Ireland it has excelled in both roles.

2 pounder from Mask

A two pounder from Lough Mask, one of many that fell to the old Hardy 10’6

Many’s the day I wielded that rod on Loughs Mask, Conn and Beltra, not to mention Carrowmore Lake and most of the salmon rivers in Mayo. Paired with AFTM 7 lines it could handle most anything I threw at it and it was my ‘go to’ rod for an awful lot of my fishing. Like an old friend it was there when I needed it and demanded nothing in return other than an annual clean and overhaul. A whipping had to be re-tied here and there and a small hole in the handle had to be filled before it grew into a crater, but otherwise it was a great tool. I landed 5 fresh grilse one hectic September day on it. Then there was the epic battle with a dark seven pounder hooked on the very lip of a pool that dragged me around for a full ten minutes before I could gain control. The rod doubled, the wind sang though the line and the reel screeched that day I can tell you! Memories…………………

Number 2 of 5

one of the 5

I examined the damage, thinking there may be a repair of some sort which would get the old girl back into use, but no, the crack is too long and far too much would need to be cut off for any repair. I guess I could badger Hardy for a replacement section but my heart isn’t in it. No, I will save some pennies and buy a new rod. I’m contemplating something radically different but I’ll take my time before deciding to part with any cash. For now, the old rod has gone, gone for good.

Here is the wonderful Samantha Fish with a great blues number called (appropriately enough) Gone for good.

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