Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

Salmon at the double

Carrowmore. Just the name sets the pulse racing of salmon fishers. Today we would try our luck on this shallow lake set in the bogs of Bangor Erris.

This is very different fishing to the ‘classic’ beats of the Scottish east coast rivers. Modern Skaggit heads and tube flies have no place here. Instead we fish from boats and use heavy trout gear. Flies are tied on size 8 or 10 trout hooks usually. On its day Carrowmore can be spectacular – was today going to be one of those days for us?

With all angling the weather plays a big part, but on Carrowmore the wind in particular can decide if you even take a boat out or not! On almost every other Irish salmon lough the higher the wind the better the fishing is. 5 foot high waves – not a bother! The bigger the better. Not so on Carrowmore lake though. The bottom of the lake is a thick soup of fine particles and any serious wave action stirs this up, turning the lake brown and pretty much unfishable. Here abouts we know this phenomenon as ‘churning’ and a churned lake is not worth the effort to fish. The last few days have seen settled weather with light wind winds meaning the water clarity was going to be good today. In addition, we had heard on the grapevine that fresh salmon were in the lake. The omens seemed to be good.

A trip to Carrowmore involves rituals for us. Firstly there is the small matter of breakfast, to be eaten at the ‘greasy spoon’ in Bangor. Huge plates of grub, washed down with copious mugs of coffee consumed amid chatter about the day ahead. Then across the road to the West End Bar where Seamus Hendry furnishes us with permits, keys for a boat and all the local news. Occasionally this is a quick visit but more usually there is the fine detail of all the latest catches to digest and that can take a while. Eventually we gather ourselves and head off to the lake to begin the days fishing. And so it was today.

No salmon had been caught the previous day but there had been no wind at all, leaving the boats static and struggling to tempt the fish. No such worries today though as a light but steady Nor-easter ruffled the surface of the lake as it hove into view from the road. This is a good wind direction for our favourite drifts. Confidence soared.

Tackled up and settled in the boat, we set off for the mouth of the river. With the light wind slowly pushing us along it took a while to cover the first drift, Ben correcting any tendency to drift too close to the shore with some deft stokes of an oar. No stir on the first drift though. We doubled back to cover the same water a second time.

Nearing a point on the shore marked with a post, Ben rose a salmon. It splashed at the fly but failed to make contact and we drifted on, discussing what might have gone wrong. Only a few minutes later it was my turn. Dibbling the bob fly through the waves I saw a dark shape loom up below the fly. Then there was flash of silver and a splash as the salmon turned away, without touching my fly! We conferred and decided to cover the same drift yet again. Then again. Not a fishy fin stirred on those last two drifts so we broke off for a short time to grab a snack on the bank.

Back out on the water again we drifted further along the shore, chatting about this and that when suddenly Ben’s rod bent and a fish splashed 10 yards from the boat. Fish on! The well versed movements of experienced boat partners sprang into action and as Ben wrestled with the fish I cleared the decks and got the net ready. Stamping on the bottom of the boat kept the fish from diving underneath and scraping the line against the rusty keel. Ben worked the fish around the back of the boat and tired it out so I had an easy task to slip the net under it. A beautiful clean springer of around 6 pounds in weight.

Carrowmore allows you to take one salmon each so this fish was dispatched quickly and we got back on to the drift pretty quickly. The details of the take, the fight, the fish itself – we were still in the throws of discussing all of these details when my line tightened. My turn had arrived. Another exciting battle with a strong fish which ended with it successfully netted after about ten minutes. This one turned the scales at a shade under eight pounds and, like Ben’s, it was as fresh as paint.

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We fished on for a while but the action was over for the day. It had been a day of long periods of casting/retrieving with no signs of fish, interspersed with short bursts of activity. Typical of salmon fishing!

Any day when you have salmon in the boat is a great day. A double is twice as nice!

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Ben’s fish on the left and my one on the right

Oh, and the successful fly for me – the Claret bumble of course!!!!

the same fly once it had dried out

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

Holiday weekend (2) Two more patterns for Carrowmore Lake

I am frequently asked for salmon fly patterns for use on Carrowmore. I generally give the same answer – whatever you have in the box that you have confidence in on a size 8 hook. That may sound like a cop out but the truth is that I have seen salmon caught on so many different patterns it is hard to say which are the best ones. I remember being in the boat with Rocky Moran one day when the lake was not fishing at its best. In a small ripple he rose and hooked a salmon and as he was playing it out I asked him what he was using. He smiled and said ‘you will see’. Sure enough, the grilse was duly landed and there in his scissors was a variation of a Green Highlander of all things! I would never have tied that on the end of my line in a thousand years but it just goes to show that you can’t be too dogmatic on Carrowmore.

Good conditions for Carrowmore

On a bright day something with some yellow can do the trick, especially if it is cold as well. I don’t carry too many flies with yellow in their make up as I almost invariably turn to a Lemon Shrimp if I want a yeller’ pattern. It is a handy one to have in the box for spring fishing and I dare say it works for the grilse during the summer too. I vividly recall fish a wee spate river during a falling spate one May many years ago. Salmon were running through and I had already landed a couple that day. I was fishing a tiny pool, only a few yards long and I turned a fish to the cascade I had on. He didn’t touch the fly, just rising like a trout to it instead then rolling away showing his side to me as he turned. I chucked the fly back at him a few more times but without response so I went back upstream a few steps and changed to a Lemon Shrimp. For once everything came together perfectly and the fish took the Lemon Shrimp with an ostentatious head and tail, a lovely fresh salmon of six pounds.

6 pound bar of silver on the Lemon Shrimp

6 pound bar of silver on the Lemon Shrimp

The Lemon Shrimp works on Carrowmore too so here is how to tie this fly;

Tag: Oval silver tinsel

Rear hackle: GP red breast feather, wound. Some anglers prefer the tail to be made of bucktail dyed red.

Rear body: yellow floss ribbed with oval silver tinsel

Middle hackle: Yellow cock, doubled

Front Body: black floss ribbed with oval silver tinsel

Eyes: Jungle Cock (Optional in my opinion, I have caught salmon on flies with and without JC eyes)

Head hackle: a well marked badger cock hackle, doubled

Head: red varnish

Lemon Shrimp

Lemon Shrimp

The exact shade of yellow is up to you. I have seen some which are almost golden olive the yellow is so dark but I much prefer a bright lemon shade for the floss and the middle hackle. I have also seen this fly tied with the front body formed of bright red floss but I haven’t tried that variation so can’t say if it works or not.

Lemon Shrimp on a Loop double

Lemon Shrimp on a Loop double

I mentioned the colour green earlier. There is a fabulous version of the Green Peter which catches a lot of fish on Carrowmore each season. The pattern itself is simply a standard Green Peter, the big difference is the hook it is tied on and the number of hackles used. Here is the tying I favour:

Hook: A size 8 long shank. Something like the Kamasan B830.

Rib: fine oval gold tinsel

Body: Pea green seal’s fur. You can add a butt of red seal’s fur if desired.

Body hackle: Red game, palmered. Give it plenty of turns.

Wings: A bunch of brown squirrel hair as an under wing to give strength and then hen pheasant tail tied over the hair.

Head hackles: red game cock. Tie in and wind as many hackles as required to cover 1/3 of the hook in front of the wings.

B830 hooks

Brown squirrel underwing tied in

This is an easy fly to tie but pay attention to the proportions. This fly works because of the disturbance it causes in the water so the multiple turns of cock hackle at the head are vital.

I fish this fly on a different Leader too. I prefer to fish only two flies when using the long shank Peter, with this fly on the dropper. I then add a tail fly relatively close, say about 16 inches behind the Peter. The tail fly is always a small size too, maybe a size 10. Fished on an intermediate or slow sink line and retrieved vary fast, this can produce explosive takes so I use a minimum of 12 pound b/s for the leader.

Long shank Peter

Long shank Peter

This fly also catches sea trout just to add to its general usefulness. I can thoroughly recommend you tie up a couple of each of these flies and keep them handy when on Carrowmore.

Carrowmore on a bright day

Carrowmore on a bright day

 

PS: latest reports from Carrowmore are they are still waiting for the first fish of the season. With strong winds yesterday and today I expect the water to be churned for the next few days. On the plus side there should be fish coming in with each tide now.

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trout fishing

Angling update

A wee update for you on the fishing in these parts.

Beltra -the odd spring salmon being caught but to be honest the lough needs a good shot of water in it now to encourage a run of salmon.

River Moy – a trickle of fish seem to be entering the system now and catches, while still low, are beginning to pick up. East Mayo Anglers water is producing an occasional fish including a 10 pounder on the fly last week.

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The Moy in Ballina

Lough Mask – continues to fish well. All the normal spots are seeing some action but a lot of very thin trout showing up

Lough Conn – It is still very quiet on Conn but the angling pressure has been virtually nil so there could be more chances for sport than people realise. Should be worth a cast from now on.

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Trolling for salmon on Lough Conn

Lough Cullin – good buzzer hatches and the first olives now hatching.

Carrowmore Lake – Fishing very well when conditions allow. Ben Baynes took a 4 pounder there last week and followed up with a 9 pounder which he released on Lough Beltra on the same day!

In summary, the cold weather and East wind have not been doing us any favours this month so far, but if we get a spell of wet and mild weather things will liven up and the fishing will be good here in Mayo. Carrowmore is the hotspot right now!

 

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

Wind and waves

It’s getting close now. The cold weather can’t disguise lengthening days. Daffodils are blooming, an incongruent splash of sulphur yellow against the washed out land. New buds are showing on the trees and bushes in the garden promising green foliage in the coming weeks. Yes, it is definitely getting close – the opening of the season on Lough Beltra.

In previous posts I have talked about fly patterns for Beltra but today I want to share some of the lies where you can expect salmon and the importance of the wind for sport on the lough. So let’s start with some basics of lough salmon fishing first.

 

Any angler here in the West of Ireland will tell you that the biggest factor for success is the wind when fishing still water. The premise of ‘no wind = no fish’ is not 100% accurate as the very occasional salmon can be tempted in flat calm conditions, but this is such a rarity that it can almost be categorised as a statistical anomaly. What you need is a good, strong wind whipping the surface up into waves. Some fishers will tell you that there is no such thing as a wind that is too strong but I disagree with that point of view. Fishing, or rather trying to fish in a gale is not my idea of fun as casting becomes difficult, tangles more frequent and the ability to move the fly how I want to is compromised. For me a steady force 5 or so is just fine; a gusting 7 or 8 is not my cup of tea.

 

Captain Ben!

Next in importance is the direction of the wind and nowhere is that more so than on the Glenisland Coop water on Lough Beltra. Wind direction is a topic which could fill a good sized book, but to keep it simple the wind needs to come from a direction which does not hinder the drifts over the salmon lies. Note that I did not say it must assist you. Sometimes all you can manage is a breeze which is sort of nearly in the right direction but vigarous work with the oars is required to keep drifting over the fish. The Glenisland Coop side of Beltra fishes best when the wind is in either a South West or North East direction, ie. blowing directly up or down the lough. A North westerly is very difficult as you will be blown directly on to the shore and as the fish lie within 30 yards or so of the rocks this means you only get one or two casts before pulling back out into the lake, obviously a huge amount of work for very little return. A South Easterly is even worse as the high ground on the Glenisland road side blocks the wind from that quarter leaving the fishable water in flat calm.

So where exactly do the salmon lie in Lough Beltra?

 

I am going to keep this very, very simple for those of you who are visitors to Beltra and are fishing the Glenisland Coop fishery (Beltra East). Look at the map above and note where the L136 road passes close the the shore. You want to be drifting along that shore between 10 and 30 yards out from the edge. That’s it. Locals all know exact spots along that shore to concentrate on but if you don’t know the water just drift the full length of the shore and you won’t go far wrong. You will hear of specific salmon lies such as Morrisons and the Red Barn (now confusingly painted grey) but in a good wind the boat will drift the full length of the shore in around 30 minutes, so time over unproductive water is not too great. Walshes Bay can also be good as can the buoy out from Flannery’s Pier which marks the dividing line between the east and West fisheries.

 

Now let’s turn to Carrowmore Lake in North Mayo for a very different set of circumstances and the effects wind will have on your day’s fishing. Carrowmore is set amid extensive bog land, largely flat with little to break the wind from any direction. You can see the Atlantic Ocean just a few hundred yards away so this is obviously a windy spot. That should be good, right? Plenty of wind for that all important wave? Well, ‘Yes’ but……………

 

The surrounding bog does not stop at the lake shores but continues under the water. Run off from the countryside deposits huge volumes of fine peat silt into the lake which settles on the bottom where it lies in clam weather. Problems start when the wind gets up and causes waves which stir up this fine silt, turning the lake the colour of Oxtail soup. This happens frequently as the lake is shallow and any wind above a fours 4 or so is going to turn the water cloudy. I don’t know if there is any proof the fish go off the take when the water colours but I have never seen a salmon caught in those conditions and the received wisdom is the fish become uncatchable in the brown water.

Glencullen

beginning to churn on Carrowmore

 

One possible ray of hope when confronted with the silt colour on Carrowmore is to look for other parts of the lake which are not affected. Sometimes the wind from a certain quarter churns one area but leaves another part of the lake clear. Local knowledge really comes to the fore here and visitors will find it hard to figure out where the clear water is without consulting the local guru’s.

 

More info on the Glenisland Coop water is available on the club website http://www.loughbeltra.com

The lough opens on 20th March

 

 

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, salmon fishing, wetfly

The Carrowmore Bumble

This fly reminds me of a Mark 2 Ford Escort 1300. A reliable if unexciting run-around which has been tarted up by an enthusiast and is now all bling. The bells and whistles have been grafted on and it is now a much more exciting package all together.

The basis of this new fly is of course that wonderful old campaigner, the Claret Bumble. Originally tied to fool sea trout and brownies, the ever inventive Irish minds went to work on it years ago and it morphed into a very good salmon pattern by tying it on much larger hooks than the normal 12 and 10’s. Other refinements such as a flat gold tag, dying a topping sunburst and using that for a tail and adding knotted pheasant tail legs all made an appearance relatively lately. But the Carrowmore Bumble was born when the DNA of the Claret Bumble and Clan Chief was deliberately mixed. I personally have a hunch this could only be achieved after imbibing a large volume of Guinness but hard facts to support this supposition are scarce. The Clan Chief can be deadly for salmon, so mingling the attributes of the two flies was an excellent idea.

I have seen a couple of variations of this fly in other anglers boxes so I will give you two of these here today. The first one is probably the most common and is available commercially.

Hook: sizes 6 to 10 heavy weight trout hooks

Silk: black or brown 6/0

Tag: fine oval gold tinsel, about 5 turns

Tail: a Golden Pheasant crest feather with a doubled length of Globright no. 4 on top

Rib: oval silver tinsel

Body: medium claret seals fur

Body hackles: a black and a red cock hackle wound together

Head hackle: Guinea Fowl dyed blue

The second variation is the one I prefer.

Hook and silk are the same as above. I like the extra movement provided by the legs but they are optional.

Tag: Opal Mirage tinsel

Rib: oval silver tinsel

Body: medium claret seals fur

Body hackles: a black and a red cock hackle wound together

Legs: 6 cock pheasant tail herls knotted and tied in on each side and slightly raised. Can be natural or dyed claret

Head hackles: a long fibred claret cock hackle wound first followed by a grizzle cock hackle dyed blue.

Did you know there is a Green Peter version of the Clan Chief too? The Clan Peter it is called and while I have yet to use one it looks like it should work. Here is the dressing I was given last year.

Hook:  6 – 12

Tread: Fl. Yellow

Tag – Opal mirage

Tail: Globrite yellow under red

Body: Green seals fur

Rib: Oval gold

Body hackles: A grizzle cock hackle dyed green olive and natural red game cock hackle wound together

Wing: Hen pheasant tail

Head hackle: Red game cock

Head: Formed with the tying thread and coated with clear varnish

All of these flies will produce a salmon on Carrowmore on their day. I don’t class myself as any sort of an expert when it comes to fishing Carrowmore but I know my way around the place so I will write a short post on the fishery soon.

The title photo is Ben Baynes with a nice little salmon off Carrowmore a few seasons ago.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, salmon fishing

Golden Olive Shrimp

A confession first – this is not one of my own patterns. It was devised by my boat partner and top salmon angler Ben Baynes a few seasons ago. Since then, it has become a firm favourite with anglers on loughs such as Beltra and Carrowmor. As shrimp flies go it is pretty simple to dress and all the materials are readily available.

I use red tying silk and the rest of the original dressing is as follows:

Tag: 5 or 6 turns of fine oval silver tinsel

Tail: Long, slim bunch of bucktail dyed hot orange

Rib (both halves): Fine oval silver tinsel

Rear body: Hot orange seal’s fur

Middle hackle: A cock hackle dyed deep golden olive

Front body: Seals fur dyed black

Head hackle: A badger cock hackle of a black cock hackle (both seem to work equally well)

Eyes (optional): Jungle cock, not too large

Head: red varnish

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As you can see, this is a close relative of many other Irish shrimp patterns but the middle hackle seems to be key to the undoubted success of the fly. the shade of golden olive needs to be dark and intense.Think of the colour of olive oil and you are in the right ballpark. Finding capes or hackles this colour can be tricky as most commercially available cock hackles which claim to be golden olive are too light for this fly. I have tried tying the fly with lighter coloured hackles without success.

As always, I have fiddled around with the original pattern a little to see if it could be improved. Firstly, the tail can have a tendency to wrap around the bend of the hook, leading to poor results. I add a few fibres of stiff Polar bear hair under the bucktail to alleviate this. A couple of strands of orange or pearl flash can also be added to the tail. Don’t over do this though!

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Finally, I mix some black lite-brite in with the black seals fur to add a bit of zing to the front of the fly.

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So how do you fish this fly? It is a great all-rounder that can give you a salmon from the first day of the season to the last and on any position on the cast. It does sterling work when dressed on big irons sizes (4 – 6) on Lough Beltra in March and April and dropping down to an 8 or 10 it will still work later in the season there too. Carrowmore Lake requires small flies, so a size 8 or 10 is plenty big enough when drifting the Black Banks or Bog Bay. The Golden Olive Shrimp also works on running water. I only use this pattern on single hooks, but I guess there is no reason that it wouldn’t work when tied on doubles or trebles.

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Close to the shore on Lough Beltra, the Golden Olive Shrimp is worth a throw on this lake.

 

 

 

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

Apres fishing

Angling in Ireland has many facets, some challenging but most pleasant and convivial. I want to talk about one of these additional joyous addendums to our sport today, the Irish pub.

I expect most (if not all) of you have visited a so called Irish pub close to you. They have, after all, polluted the whole world. Huge money making temples to poor quality beer and fakery of the highest order in my opinion. I dare say there are some excellent establishments in places like London and Boston, but the vast majority are but shadows of the real thing. So when anglers come to fish here in the West of Ireland they can partake of their favourite tipple in REAL Irish public houses and the ones whom I meet seem to thoroughly enjoy the special atmosphere. Here are some of my own favourite watering holes.

The Key West, Derrycoosh

As you know, I fish Lough Beltra a lot and a day on Beltra just isn’t complete without a pint in The Key West. Situated in Derrycoosh, just off the road between Castlebar and the lough this lively wee pub serves a grand pint of porter and there are always a few of the local worthies on hand to keep you entertained with stories and craik. After one of those typically hard spring days on Beltra when the lake holds on tightly to its silver fish a pint in the Key West is both a balm to weary bodies and a lift to deflated spirits. Creaking joints and frozen extremities are soon forgotten once you get your belly to the bar in the Key West. I used to live out the Newport Road close to the Key West and can vouch for the wonderful atmosphere in the pub of a weekend night.

Matt Molloys, Westport

Heading further west we come to Westport, one of the prettiest and liveliest towns in the whole country. There is always a great buzz in Westport and it is worth visiting even if you are not fishing. If we do happen to be fishing near the town then a swift glass in Matt Molloy’s is just the job (note: there is no such thing as a ‘half-pint’ in Ireland, you order a glass instead and it just happens to hold half a pint). I’ve never stepped over the threshold of Matt’s and found it anything less than busy. It is of course famous for the traditional music played in the back of the bar and this alone attracts numerous visitors. We tend to loiter near the front door, nursing bruised egos sustained during another blank session or else regaling each other with every twist, turn and leap of fish hooked and (hopefully) landed. If it is too busy in Matt’s there are numerous other watering holes in the town of Westport so you won’t go thirsty.

Stauntons, Lecanvey

Still further out the western road you will come to Staunton’s bar in the small village of Lecanvy. The small front bar is a lovely spot to nestle in front of the open fire with a pint in your hand. There is not much fishing in Lecanvey itself. The pier is strangely devoid of fish, despite rumours of conger eels holed up there. So don’t waste your time unpacking the fishing gear, just stop off at Stauntons for a relaxed glass or pint when you are passing.

an Bhun Abhainn, Louisburg

Louisburg is not short of pubs. There are plenty to go round and so making the choice of which one to frequent can be a challenge all of its own. If you are fishing out west then I can recommend dropping into Mrs. Duffy’s place for a quite one. Then there is an Bhun Abhainn which always seems to have a trad session filling the place any time I step over the threshold. Look, you can spend a lot of time (and Euros) visiting all the pubs in Louisburg and each one is as friendly as the last. A great wee town to visit, even for non-anglers.

West End bar, Bangor Erris

Carrowmore Lake in Erris demands you visit a pub before you even set foot on the shore of the lake! Permits are dispensed from the West End Bar in Bangor Erris. We make a point of returning to the pub after the fishing, partly to give Seamus the high up and low down of our day on the water and also to have a pint and hear all the news from the other fishers. There are usually a few locals in the bar too, so if you need to know about how the turf cutting is progressing or the price of lambs or just the local gossip and scandal you can avail of that type of information as well. There are flies for sales as well as permits and licenses so The West End Bar really is a one stop shop for fishers.

Paddy’s, Tourmakeady

If Lough Mask is you venue the whole lake is ringed with pubs. Ballinrobe obviously has a scatter of hostelries, many of them well used to catering for thirsty fisherfolk. On the other side of the lake sits Paddys, a great place with a fine thatched roof on it. It is nice to pull the boat into Churchfield at the end of the day and pop into Paddys for a black one.

Johnnies, Castlebar

I could go on and on but instead I will leave you with one last pub to consider – Johnnie McHales. Maybe not a true ‘fishing pub’ if one is going to be pedantic about such things, but sufficient anglers frequent its hallowed inner sanctum to include it here. John is now at the helm in this well known establishment and recent additions to the pub have only enhanced it further. A deadly spot!

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