Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling

Hopes of a salmon

Today there is an air of excitement around the town as the Mayo GAA team are in semi-final action against Tipperary this afternoon. Cars bedecked with green and red flags are heading across the country to watch the game in Dublin, full of hope and anticipation. I on the other hand, am off to try my luck on the Cashel River. Recent rain has pushed water levels up in the Moy system and I hope to intercept some late running grilse.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On the Cashel

Later…………….

OK, so that didn’t quite go to plan. The weather was perfect and the fiver was dropping after a small flood. All in all the conditions could not have been better for salmon fishing. Pulse suitably quickened, the boat was emptied of water in double quick time and the gear safely stowed before motoring upstream to troll over the likely lies. I clipped on an orange and gold Rapala to start with and trailed it 30 yards behind the boat. Soon enough the rod gave a rattle but it was only a small Perch. More of these followed throughout the session.

Ben got off the mark with a tiny Pike followed by  couple of reasonably big perch which I claimed for supper. Not many people eat perch but they are very good and I would encourage you to try them. I don’t know what stocks are like elsewhere but in these parts there are large shoals of these lovely fish, so one or two for the pot won’t cause too much of a problem.

The fishing was a bit slow so i decided to give a small copper Toby a swim. We have a great fondness for the old original Tobies, the ones which were made in SWEDEN by ABU. The newer ones just don’t seem to be as effective and I would have a tarnished old original before a bright new copy any day of the week. Unfortunately the fish shunned this theory and the copper Toby was substituted later on for another Rapala.

An original Toby

The rain started around noon and with the wind grew stronger. By then we had turned right at the meetings of the waters and were trying our luck on the Clydagh River. Again, our hopes of meeting salar were dashed and in the gathering gloom we about-turned and headed back down river. There seem to be very few salmon around this season, a very worrying trend indeed. I’m going trout fishing the next time I am out.

Standard
Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Hold your horses

The trend these days is for more and more synthetics in fly tying. While I use a wide range of these wonders of the chemical industry I still fall back on more natural materials for most of my tying. Let’s take a look at a very old material which has fallen out of favour, hair from a horse’s tail.

More years ago than I care to remember I discovered that hair from the tail of a horse made a good body material for trout flies. I recall there used to be an early type of buzzer pattern called the Footballer which had an abdomen made from a single strand of black horse hair wound alongside a single strand of white horse hair. If memory serves me correctly, the thorax was of dubbed mole’s fur and the head was a couple of turns of bronze peacock herl. I have no recollection of ever catching a fish a Footballer but I was keen to try horse hair on other flies. I liked the segmented effect hair gives when wound and the ‘glow’ of  the under body if you use clear hair on top. Since those far off days I have used horse hair in a number of trout flies, so here are some ideas for you.

  1. My Horse Hair Partridge. A general copy of an olive, this one used to be almost ever present on my springtime casts, but for some reason I haven’t used it for years now. Tying silk/underbody is Pearsall’s olive (no. 16) or Yellow (no. 4) and the hackle is a Brown Partridge feather taken from the back of the bird, tied sparse. The over body is of a single strand of clear horsehair and you can add a couple of turns of bronze peacock herl for a thorax. Varnish the horse hair to give it a bit of strength. I nick Helen’s clear ‘Hard as Nails’ for the job. I must give this one a swim again this season. A variant uses a strand of clear wound with a strand of black horse hair and a golden plover hackle. 

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    Maybe a bit too much hackle on this one…………….

2. A dry variation of an Adam’s which consists of replacing the grey fur body with strands of clear and black horse hair wound together and then varnished. This fly works well in a hatch of small olives when tied on a size 16 hook.

3. Connemara Gold Spider – Tied in sizes 14 to 18, Pearsil’s Yellow silk is used to tie in a flat gold tinsel under body which is then over wound with clear horse hair before varnishing the lot. A sparse hackle of either a starling body feather of a hen hackle dyed black is wound at the neck. Connemara Gold spider4. You can make a good dry copy of the Yellow Dun by winding clear horse hair over an under body of yellow tying silk and varnishing it. The hackle is sparse cock hackle dyed yellow and the tails are some fibres from the same feather. By using hen hackles and adding wings made from the secondary wing feathers from a thrush you have a reasonable wet version of the Yellow Sally

5. Mike Harding gives a spider pattern called the Grouse and Gold in his excellent book ‘A Guide to North Country Flies’. This wee pattern has a dark grouse hackle and a body made of Pearsall’s no. 6A (Gold) over wound with clear horse hair (varnish as usual). A lovely looking fly but as yet untried by me. Maybe later this season…………..

5. In the same book, Mike also gives the dressing for an olive spider. Pearsall’s olive gossamer (no. 16) forms the underbody with clear horse hair over wound and varnished. Hackle and tails are grey partridge hackle dyed olive. The illustration in the book shows the colour of olive to be light, but I suppose it is a case of matching the colour to the naturals which are hatching.

Using Horse Hair as a rib has a very long history. An early copy of the the Downlooker featured a strand of black horse hair as a rib over a yellow silk body. I personally have never seen a trout take a Downlooker (natural or artificial) and I am unconvinced it is a fly you need to carry around with you, but it fun to tie.

It can be hard to find good quality horse hair, especially the lovely translucent kind. Buying on line can be a bit hit and miss and I advise you to get yours from a retailer who will allow you to examine the product closely before you buy it. Brittle, poor quality hair is a nightmare to use, constantly breaking under the slightest pressure. I know many of you are thinking ‘I can use stronger/more translucent/easier to work with synthetic materials now’. Yes, you can, but I like the old ‘traditional’ approach sometimes and horse hair is a nice material to work with. Try it yourself sometime, it is cheap, readily available and nice to use. Oh, and the trout seem to like it.

 

 

Standard
Fishing in Ireland

The trouble with work

This has been a terrible year so far for me when it comes to fishing. As you can tell by the dearth of posts I simply have not had the opportunity to get out and spend time on the loughs and rivers. Work has been busy and even when I have sneaked away from the shackles of employment there have been commitments at home to attend too. My previous job as a self-employed consultant allowed me to manipulate my calendar, creating pockets of time off to go and fish. My current job is not so flexible and I am struggling to make the necessary time for my angling. I am guessing that many of you who are reading this post are in a similar position and feeling the same frustration that I currently am.

So how do we anglers create the time required to partake in our sport? This vexed question has been occupying my mind of late. The answer is going to be planning. Now let me make it very clear from the outset that I have never been particularly good at planning my fishing. I habitually change my plans based on the rainfall, wind direction, cloud cover, tides, reports from other anglers and a dozen other variables. So my best laid plans usually fly out of the window at the drop of a hat. I love the flexibility and challenge of selecting just the right venue for a few hours with rod and line. I frequently set off for one stretch of a river and end up on a completely different one altogether based on little more than a hunch. The satisfaction of catching some fish under those circumstances is very fulfilling to me, much more so than turning up at a pre-appointed spot and flogging it to death (you can see now why I don’t fish competitions). Back to the planning thing though…………….

Windows of opportunity are now very rare for me so I need to take advantage of even very small gaps in my diary. That means reducing travel to a minimum. Time behind the wheel is time lost on the river bank. I am also postulating that using the boat is just too time consuming. Gathering up engine, tank, pins etc then launching the boat and motoring to the hot spots takes time – time I don’t have. So instead I will either fish the rivers or from the shore over the month of August. Just by removing all thought of boat fishing the planning process has become simplified. The impossible looks achievable for a change.

my-boat-in-muphys-field

The boat

With the decision to forsake the boat taken the choice of venue had been simplified and narrowed down to a couple of options. The most obvious is the Moy which is not far from me and at this time of the year has a run of grilse. This has another advantage for me as the tackle required is minimal, a fly rod and reel, a box of small shrimp patterns and chest waders. That lot can be stashed in the car ready for use at a moments notice.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Shrimps and Cascades

The Moy is but a shadow of the great fishery it used to be and the massive runs of salmon the river used to support are a thing of the past nowadays. A rise in the water during the summer still encourages some grilse to run so my new plan is to fish the Moy when the opportunity arises in the evenings after work. I will keep you posted………..

One of the reasons I have not been fishing recently was that we fitted in a short family holiday to Tenerife. A lovely island and one I would recommend to those who have not been there. While there I took a stroll down to the local harbour to watch local anglers fishing. I must have spent the best part of an hour observing these guys and only saw them land one small fish. Tackle was the same for each of them, a longish rod of maybe 12 feet and a medium sized fixed spool reel. The business end consisted of either a large bubble float or a truly enormous sea float. Below the float was either a weight or what looked like big split shot and a single hook baited with slivers of fish or squid. I don’t understand why their floats had to be so big. It was presumably for weigh to aid casting but they could have achieved that with smaller floats and better weights. They all seemed to be suspending the bait around 3 or 4 feet below the float in a water depth of maybe 10 – 20 feet. The one fish I saw landed was a tiny Wrasse, which left me thinking that a longer trace fished near the bottom would have a better chance of success. I can only think they were fishing for mullet in mid water instead. Nobody was using heavy gear to fish into the surf which surprised me too. The rough ground looked like it should produce good fishing but the locals just concentrated on the harbours instead.

 

Standard
Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling, wetfly

All quiet on the western lakes

Sunday was a fishing day. Thick clouds scurried across the sky, driven by a strong south-westerly. The air was warm and moist. There had been rain last week and the ground was still damp. Yes, Sunday was most definitely a fishing day. The only trouble is that nobody had explained this to the fish.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Clouds on Nephin

 

We rendezvoused at 9.30am and I tossed the gear into the back of the van, glad to be out in the fresh air again after a long period separated from the fishing by work and other commitments. I used to always manage to make time for fishing but this year that ability has deserted me, leaving me wistfully imagining days on the river or lake but never actually making to the bank or boat. The mayfly season has come and gone without me being able to cast a fly and the spring salmon were spared my dodgy casting and poor fly choices this year. So the drive out to Lough Cullin was an enjoyable catch up of all the local fishing news, who caught what and where.  The plan was simple, move my boat from Cullin, drive it under the bridge at Pontoon and relocate her in Brown’s Bay on the Conn. From there we would head up the lake to cover the usual salmon lies with the fly and the trolling rods were taken along in case we lost the wind.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The move was accomplished easily enough and Ben saw three salmon showing on Cullin as he motored up. The area these fish were occupying was covered in weed, making any thoughts of casting to them redundant. They were to be the only salmon we saw all day! A new berth was found in the bay and we loaded the gear before setting off in confident mood. The wind had slackened but there was just enough of a wave to give us hope. And so we started, rhythmically casting an retrieving, deft strokes on the oar keeping us on or close the contours of the bottom. Weed beds had spread in some parts of the drift and a new reed bed is growing rapidly some distance out into the lake now where once it was open water.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Notice how calm the lake had become

A small brownie leaped two feet into the air close to the stern as we drifted but of the silver lads there was not a trace. After a few drifts the wind dropped to a mere zephyr so we opted for dragging the ironmongery around. Tobies were the obvious choice so 10 and 18 gram models were given a swim. On dark days like this I like to use a copper spoon, but on Sunday it failed to elicit any response. A silver Toby was given its chance to shine but was similarly ignored. This was hard going!

18gr Copper Toby, most effective on dark days in my opinion

Agreement was reached that it was time for a bite to eat. We pulled into the shore and brewed up, dissecting the intricacies of our demise. Very few other boats  were on the water, a sure indication that fish were in short supply. Salmon were coming into the Moy system of which Lough Conn is a part, but in small numbers for the time of year. It looked like very few of these fish were running in Conn. Sandwiches were munched and tea slurped but there was no urgency to return to the water. Ben changed his cast while I took some photos, all at a snail’s pace. Funny how enthusiasm wanes in the face of blank sessions. As experienced fishers we know that any cast can bring a fish but today we expected to at least see some salmon showing and the emptiness of the lake was hard to face. Lunch over we returned to the fray but our hearts just were not in it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A rather damp Connemara Black

By mid-afternoon we decided to call it a day. Conditions had been good but with few fish in the lake we were always going to be up against it. At least the boat had been moved and we had caught up on the fishing gossip. Maybe next time…………….

 

 

Standard
dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing

An easy mayfly pattern

May came and went with unreasonable haste. I hardly wet a line during the merry month, a combination of work commitments and Mediterranean weather kept me occupied and the fish unmolested. Reports suggest the mayfly was late but is still hatching in good numbers as I write in the first week of June and as usual some trophy-sized trout are being landed on the big loughs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

3 pounder from lough Conn

So in keeping with the time of year here is a pattern for a dry/hatching mayfly imitation which I dreamt up a few seasons ago. It works well when the fish are mopping mays off the top and Lough Conn trout in particular seen to like this one. Tied on a size 10 hook, different colours can be used such as yellow, olive and green to meet the requirements on any given day. I will show you the yellow version here today.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mayfly Emerger

Tying silk can be either olive or fl. yellow. If you use the yellow it creates a very bright fly so it pays to have some of both in the box.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Floss for the rib and fl. yellow tying silk

Run the silk down the hook to the bend where you tie in 3 or 4 fibres from a moose mane. I much prefer this material for making tails to the more traditional pheasant tail fibres because they last so much longer. Even up the ends of the moose hair before tying them in and aim to flair them out (a small ball of the body fur under the tail can help here). Now fix in a piece of rib which is globrite no. 4 floss. Dub a body of seals fur in the colour you desire. Leave plenty of space at the neck of the hook for tying in the wings and hackle. Wrap the floss forward in even spirals and tie it in at the head.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

CDC.

Now for the wings which are made of 4 CDC feathers. These are tied in over the back of the hook, almost in wet fly style. Tie in a matched pair of grey CDC with yellow or green CDC flanking them. I especially like the ‘dirty yellow’ CDC from Veniards. Take time to get these wings sitting just right, nice and straight.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The hackle should be good quality

The hackle is made from a good quality grizzle cock hackle dyed green or yellow. Tie it in and make at least 5 turns before tying it off and snipping off the waste. Form a head and whip finish. I make the hackle quite thick because this is a pattern which will be fished in a wave so it needs to be fairly robust.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Finished fly

The fly can be fished either well greased and riding high on the waves or ‘damp’ with just the CDC keeping the fly in the surface imitating a hatching insect. I use it on the loughs but there is no reason why it wouldn’t work on the rivers during a hatch. I like to fish this one on a cast with a spent gnat imitation in the evening. Sometimes the trout will prefer one fly over the other but often both will take fish in equal proportions.

Standard
Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Féile na Tuaithe, Day 1

The rain woke me from a deep sleep. It thundered against the glass reminding me more of a February storm than a morning in May. Today was the first of two days demonstrating fly casting and fly tying and the last thing I needed was heavy rain. I grumpily fed the pets and made my porridge; the thought of getting soaked was not appealing to me at all. The rain had eased off by 9 so I packed the car in relative comfort, did some chores and then drove out to Turlough.

I found my own tent but it was devoid of the promised table, so a quick dash up to the organisers was called for and the missing table was soon replaced. It’s always hard to know what to demonstrate at this kind of event. Do you concentrate on casting or tying? I had been asked to cover both but I figured most people who don’t know about fishing would find casting more interesting and so I set up a couple of single handed rods.

Just as I was thinking I would get away without getting wet while setting up the heavens opened again. It poured out of steel grey clouds for the next 30 minutes while I set up the table and the rest of my gear.

I had time to take in my surroundings while waiting for the gates to open and admit the visitors. The river ran close by and had lots of mature trees surrounded me. Not a bad wee spot to spend the next two afternoons.

Gradually the rain eased up and then stopped altogether. The sun appeared just in time for the gates opening and the crowds came in in good form. Right from the start I had a steady stream of people, some wanting to watch me make flies while the rest were more interested in learning to cast. There were old and young in equal measure and it was lovely to meet so many foreign visitors.

Some seasoned anglers popped by to say hello and discuss recent catches. The rain which was never far away swept in again and didn’t really clear until after 2pm, making for a damp afternoon. During quiet spells I messed around with the camera, photographing flies in different light conditions.

 

Casting, talking and demonstrating kept me busy right up until the official finishing time and then some. I met lots of interesting people and really enjoyed the whole experience, which is just a well as I will be back there bright and early tomorrow to do it all again! Drop in by if you happen to be in the area, it’s a great way to spend a family afternoon.

Since I have been talking to so many fishermen over the weekend I got updates on the local catches. Seems like the Mayfly is late on all the lakes but is hatching now in good numbers so the fishing should be terrific for the next week or so.Cullen is producing larger than average trout this year which is great to see. Expect trout to a couple of pounds if you find them feeding. Conn has bee gradually picking up with the Kelly can catching well as usual over there at Cloghans. I heard Seamus had four right good ‘uns during the week.

It sounds like Corrib has been slow despite increasing numbers to fly hatching but that should change this week if the weather gods behave and give us reasonable conditions.

 

Standard
Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, salmon fishing, sea trout fishing, trout fishing, wetfly

The Soldier Palmer

 

I like old patterns. Something nostalgic is awakened when you tie on one of the classic flies from the last century or the century before. That link with the past offers reassurance and knowledge if a fly has been around for this long it must catch fish. So my fly boxes bulge with old-stagers either in their original, undiluted form or with the addition of newer materials. Sure, I have lots of glittery/flashy/fluorescent newbies in there too but I often resort to using the old lads and will continue to do so, basking in their reflected glory. Here is one that you all know but maybe have not fished for a while. The Soldier Palmer.

Soldier Palmers

It is widely described as a variant of a very old fly called the Red Palmer which is thought to be a copy of a hairy caterpillar. The simple addition of a red tail turned that fly into something much, much more effective. I used to have great success with this fly for rainbows back in Scotland and have no reason to doubt that it still kills ‘bows back in my native land. I even recall catching a rainbow on a Soldier palmer fished dry one evening! The trout were rising all round me but I couldn’t tempt one until I greased up a size 12 soldier and fished it static. Sure enough, a two pounder slurped it down, saving a blank for me. Here in Ireland I use it for a very different species, Salmo Salar. Tied in big sizes for the roughest days a Soldier Palmer can be just the medicine for springers and grilse alike. Go as big as you dare, size 4 is about my normal but there are one or two even bigger in my box, just in case…………..

Most of you know the dressing already so I won’t bore you with the details of tying the fly but here are a few tips which I think are important. Firstly, the colour of the body and tail need to be a bright red, not dull and lifeless. I have seen the body tied with florescent wool but this is a step too far for me. Just bright vermillion red wool is perfect. A fl. tail is good though.Next the colour of the hackles needs to be a deep, rich, dark ginger shade. I don’t mind if the hackles are a wee bit too dark but find lighter ginger does not work for me. Lastly, I use an additional hackle at the head to give the fly a better shape.

The flats on the Bunowen

The Soldier Palmer is a great fly for spate rivers like this one

Do not be tempted by such fripperies as bodies made of Peacock herl, red Lite-brite or (heaven forbid) flat red tinsel. If you really must interfere with this old timer try adding a wing of gold flashabou. I have not tried this variant for Salmon but Scottish rainbows used to push each other out of the way to snaffle this gaudy creation.

The only drawback I can see with the SP is that it proves to be next to irresistible to Perch. These little stripy fellows absolutely love the palmer and can be a real nuisance when you are trying for bigger game.

The grilse are due any day now so think about giving the old Soldier Palmer a swim.

Standard
dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing

The lost dry flies, mystery solved

I bet you were all worried. Did you lost sleep over the mystery of the missing fly box full of dry spinners. Was there an act of criminality? The revenge of a fellow angler, envious of my deadly spinners? Or perhaps something altogether darker. Was Big Brother at work, taking these subversive patterns for the good of the nation? Could alien abduction be ruled out?

Rest easy followers,  the missing fly box  turned up eventually after a mammoth hunt in every jacket pocket, tackle bag and compartment in the car. I had simply put it away in my salmon reel case. Why, will forever remain a complete mystery to me as there was no earthly reason to deposit dry flies in that case.

This getting older is no laughing matter. My memory seem to dim a little more every day now. What on earth was I thinking sticking this wee fly box in with my dirty great salmon reels in the first place?

I peeked inside the box hoping to find some large red spinners but the biggest were tied on 14’s. The chances are they would have not been significantly more effective than the size 16 BWO I used last night.

Most spinner patterns I see are tied with very slim and tightly wound bodies. I take a different approach and use dubbed fur to imitate both abdomen and thorax, accepting that my spinners will look too ‘fat’. I want the fibres in my flies to catch the rays of light and glow (these flies are used almost exclusively for the evening rise). Tails are widely spread cock hackle fibres,  micro fibbets or trimmings from paintbrushes. Wings are constructed from poly yarn in white or grey. Hook sizes are generally 16 or 18 but after last night I an going to tie some larger examples in 14’s and even 12’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standard
Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing, wetfly

Decisions, decisions

It was a very last minute decision. Given the choice I would have been in South East London, at the Valley to be precise, watching Burnley play Charlton Athletic on the last day of the season. Instead, I was at home after working in the morning and felt an hour on the River Robe might be worth a look. Even as I joined the traffic I was unsure of exactly which stretch would receive  my attention. Running the options over in my mind I finally settled on a rough and under fished part of the river between Claremorris and Ballinrobe.

Parking up on the verge one field from the river the conditions looked to be favourable. A light mist veiled the countryside and a steady wind was cool but not cold. Through the grass to an impressive new barbed wire fence which barred access to the bankside. I found a gap and wriggled, worm-like under the wire. The river looked very low but my first glance upstream showed the fish were rising. It was now a I made a poor decision and headed off downstream to some inviting looking water.

P5070032.JPG

I new this stretch of the river was not developed and the banks would be rough, but the next couple of hours developed into an assault course rather than a peaceful distraction. I elected to get into the river to avoid the vegetation but this  strategy came with its own hazards. While most of the river was only a few inches deep there were some nasty holes in the bottom , making progress ‘interesting’. I slid down into one of these holes and only prevented a ducking by grabbing a tree branch. I can recall how many times I hooked up in bushes, trees or other bankside vegetation but it felt like a never ending saga.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

one of the many hawthorns 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Trees all the way to the waters edge

Spiders, cast upstream or down caught plenty of trout but nothing of any great size. Large Dark Olives hatched continually for an hour after my arrival, inducing a great rise and a feeding frenzy among the swallows and martins.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Partridge and Orange in his mouth

The mist gradually morphed into steady, soaking rain and while the river badly needed lots of fresh water it was taking the edge off of my enjoyment. That and the lack of any deep water combined to cut short the afternoon for me and I retraced my steps back up to the gap under the fence. Looking upstream there seemed to be a slow, deep pool just on the next bend, exactly the kind of water I had been searching for in the other direction. The rain drummed on the hood of my jacket – was it worth another ten minutes? To hell with it, I waded up through some thin water, taking another three brownies on an upstream wet fly before I eased into the tail of the deep pool. I picked up another couple of small lads then had the bright idea of dropping the cast into a little pocket just where the water broke at the tail. just as expected a trout pounced on the spiders and thrashed on the surface as he felt the hook – a nice trout of around the pound and a half. This wily character shot around an underwater rock and snagged the line which parted after some tugging from my end of the connection.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The one that got away was in this little corner below a deep pool

I had suffered sufficient humiliation for one afternoon and wound in for the last time. The lesson was plain to see, more diligent observation before starting to fish would have led me to decide on exploring upstream instead of down. Ah well, you cant win them all. Unless you are Burnley football club, who soundly thrashed Charlton while I was catching tiddlers and hooking trees.

20160507_140747[1]

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Remains of crayfish, probably eaten by an otter

postscript……..

And Burnley did win. 3 -nil. Finished the season as champions. UTC

Ch6q0JwWsAAXMJK

Standard
Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

The first day of May

Still dark. Awake, I decide to go online and check out the news in the hope my brain will tire and sleep becomes feasible again. One of the disadvantages of advancing years is sleep becomes erratic so these nocturnal forays into cyberspace feature more frequently now. Chaos in Iraq, a building collapse in Nairobi – the usual mix of death and fear. Maybe this constant bombardment of negativity is one reason I love angling so much. The total immersion in casting and the countryside leaves no space for the nasty things in this life. For a few short hours immersed in natures timeless cycles calms the savage breast. The natural world envelops me, draws me in and opens my eyes to a different, soothing and familiar place.

The first day of May should be a fishing day. Here we are on the very cusp of the highlight of the Irish anglers year so I simply have to fish. April will not be mourned; she was a cold mistress, largely barren and cloaked in dull, grey disappointment. She has handed Spring’s baton over to what I hope will be an altogether more virile and fruitful partner. May sometimes defines the whole season for me. A good month can be exciting, setting the mood for the rest of the year. Memories of good fishing are a well we draw from. We anglers revisit these memories of the good spring days regularly when low water reduces our sport in high summer.

9am. There is a loose arrangement to fish ‘somewhere’ today. A sprinkling of salmon have entered the river systems, enough to engender that rarest of qualities – hope. Sandwiches are carefully prepared and stowed safely away in a waterproof container. Recently tied flies are added to the flybox and a new leader tied on the end of the fly line. The minutest of tasks are undertaken with forensic attention to detail. At the allotted hour we set off through the quiet streets and out into the countryside. The decision has been made – Lough Cullin today.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The shores of Cullin

A steady Southerly wind and overcast skies bode well and the real possibility of meeting a salmon looms large in our thoughts and conversation as we tackle up and load the boat. With the wind from this quarter we can drift across the best lies in comfort with little work on the oar.

We fish steadily, methodically casting and retrieving tick-tock, tick-tock. To the untrained eye we are repeating the same cast again and again but in reality each cast varies slightly from the last. The boat never drifts in an absolutely straight line so casts are directed to take advantage of the sideways slip so as to impart a curve in the retrieve. Eyes are glued to the surface looking for signs of movement, tell tale swirls left by fish as the turn below the waves. At the end of each drift we wind in and start the engine to motor back up wind, usually to drift a slightly different line so we cover new water. We are largely silent, wrapped up in our own world of concentration.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Nearing the shore, time to start up the engine

On Cullin our drifts are easily recognisable as we find the fish lie in shallows dotted with marker poles. These metal rods, topped with orange floats, mark dangerous submerged rocks so unwary boaters don’t run into them. As we motor upwind I spot a small salmon rolling on top of the water. That flash of silver transforms the mood in the boat and we redouble our efforts, expecting that electrifying pull on the line with every cast now. Close to the outermost pole another fresh fish shows, this one is a bigger fish of maybe 8 or 9 pounds by the look of her. Our flies comb the water around that spot but to no avail. Drift completed, we head back up and repeat the whole process once again. As we are closing in the the shore Ben lifts to re-cast for the umteenth time. His flies are out of the water and in mid-air when the salmon boils but a yard from the boat. She was following but didn’t take and the boil was her turning sharply as the flies disappeared. Sometimes, dropping the cast back into the boil results in a positive take, but not today. We drift one more time then head to the shore for a cuppa.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

the view to the south across Lough Cullin

My apple and cinnamon tea, coupled with the cheese and tomato sandwiches revive me after what has been a solid few hours of fishing. As we entered the small bay I noticed a solitary Mayfly so I scoured the shore and sure enough came across another greendrake.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mayfly

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A local angler was walking his dog along the shore and he stopped to chat with us. Notes were compared and the news of fish caught or lost swapped. The dog seemed to be totally unimpressed with all this talk. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bored

Lunch over we pushed back out on to the water once more. I changed the tail fly, substituting the Connemara Black for a Willie Gunn. Cast and retrieve, cast and retrieve….

When he came to the fly it was a carbon copy of Ben’s chance that morning. I lifted the line out of the water and was well into the back cast when the water boiled very close to the bow of the boat. It wasn’t a large salmon judging by the disturbance he left. Soon after we lost the wind  and the lake surface became flat and useless for fishing. We fished on but the day petered out without further excitement.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Start her up and head for home!

So we had moved two fish to the flies between us. On another day one or both of them could have stuck and we would have repaired to Johnnies to celebrate, but not today. Salmon fishing is a tough sport on the mind. Confidence is everything, much more important than fly choice or the make of rod you use. Steely self-belief is you armour against misfortune. The first day of May reinforced this truth, testing our resolve. We will be back again soon.

Standard