Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

32 – Episode 9, Mayo

I blanked on my last visit to Carrowmore so I was hoping for better luck this time around. The lake has been a bit hit and miss so far this year with some anglers catching regularly while others are struggling to meet fish. A storm is forecast for the end of this week which will churn the bottom of the lake so this trip was aimed to put in a few hours before the lake became unfishable. I had been thinking about where to fish as part of my ’32’ project and plumped for Carrowmore, so this was going to be a big day for me.

The usual preparations were made and I arranged to meet Ben in Bangor as we still have to travel separately. I drove up under bright sunshine and with hardly any wind to shake the roadside trees and bushes. In the end, we met up in the car park at the harbour and nattered about the fishing as we tackled up. A few other cars were there too which is normally a good sign. I tied on a 3 fly leader with a Goats Toe Muddler, Claret Bumble and a Golden Olive hairwing creation of mine to start with. Clouds began to roll in from the west and the there was enough of a wind to give a ripple as we motored up the lake in improving conditions.

By judicious use of the oar Ben guided us along the mouth of the Glencullin river over prime lies but there were no takers apart from a few small brownies. We repeated the exercise then moved over to the Barney Shore as the wind was favorable for that drift. I had a small sea trout and a brownie and Ben added another pair of small trout but the salmon were still eluding us. We could see other boats around us and none of them were meeting fish either. With the fishing quiet we adjourned for lunch, wolfed down as we sat on the shore with sky larks serenading us from on high. Why do sandwiches and tea taste so good when eaten on the edge of the water? I took the opportunity to change all the flies on the cast, going for a Green Peter on the bob, a Wilkinson in the middle and a Beltra Badger on the tail. I figured the bright flies suited the day that was in it.

The clouds had burned off by now and we were treated to blue skies and a fierce sun which reflected off the surface of the lough making it hard to watch the flies. Another drift over the Glencullin lies was fruitless so we fished the shallow further out which is marked with an orange buoy. Not a stir. This is typical of salmon fishing, long hours flogging the water with no signs of fish. It takes a strong will and a hefty dose of self belief to keep going some days.

Ben suggested the Barney Shore again and I did not object. We set up on the drift close to the shore. Stonechats were singing that familiar weird song of theirs and I was watching some Sand Martins swooping over the fields out of the corner of my eye. Then it happened………………………

Ten yards from the boat the water broke and the tail of a fish lashed the surface as it turned down. Simultaneously, the line tightened and I lifted into solid resistance. ‘Salmon’ said Ben but I was not so sure. ‘Feels small, maybe a sea trout’ I countered, reeling in the slack and watching what the fish was doing. She swam towards the boat at first, staying deep and shaking her head. I stamped on the wooden boards, our usual tactic to keep the fish away from the boat and potentially swimming right under it. She moved off to my left and very obligingly kept going round to the back of the boat. This is where you want a fish to be so that you have room to play it out. By now Ben had reeled in his line, stowed his rod and had grabbed an oar which he used to move the boat away from the shore. These actions as so well rehearsed that neither of us need to ask the other, we simply get on with the jobs while the lucky angler is concentrating on playing the fish.

The ratchet sang as the salmon went off on a short run but it did not go far, instead turning and coming back towards the boat under heavy pressure from me. I don’t like to see fish being allowed to run too far and possibly drowning the line so I play salmon quite hard. My rod was hooped over and the line disappeared into the water almost vertically as the fish swam near the bottom. Another short run ended with the fish rolling just under the surface and we both got our first good look at it. ‘Fresh fish’ said Ben, not wasting words unnecessarily. ‘Bigger than I thought’ I chipped in. Yet another short run, this time to my right then back down to the bottom she went again. My wrist was aching by now!

I heard the net being extended as I applied more pressure to bring the fish up to the top. There she thrashed, always a nerve-wreaking moment but the hook held. I could see she had taken the bob fly. Circling now, the fish was beginning to tire but she still managed to dive once more then head of to my right again. I checked Ben was ready and led the fish towards the net. She shied away at first but I maneuvered her back and with her head up she slid into the waiting meshes. The relief was palpable and grinning like a pair of lunatics, we shook hands and quickly dispatched the salmon. The whole battle had probably lasted less than ten minutes. Ten minutes of doubts, fears and anxiety. I have fished most of my life and landed hundreds of salmon but the thrill of the fight never leaves you.

I put the fish into a bass to keep it fresh after fitting both tags through the gills. Now we had to get the boat back in order to resume fishing. The net was stowed, my tackle checked after the rigors of the fight and the oar put back into the right position. We set up to fish the balance of the drift and started casting again as we discussed every minute detail of the battle. In salmon fishing, it is often the case a second fish can be lured soon after the first one so it pays to fish hard when one is in the boat. Today though the lough was not going to play that game and we fished out the long drift without any further action.

We did the same drift again, then back out to the buoy and over Glencullin once more too. Not a fish stirred so we decided to stop for another cuppa. We both felt the conditions, while very bright, meant there was the chance of another fish so we next headed off for Paradise Bay. A couple of drifts failed to produce anything and so I decided to call it a day. I was tired and my wrist was aching. Under an azure sky dotted with cotton wool clouds we drove back to the harbour, both deep in thought. Today it had been my turn but is could just as easily been Bens. Why that fish had taken my fly and not his we will never know but that is part of the attraction of salmon fishing.

Gerry, one of the local Fisheries Officers, was at the harbour when we pulled in and he checked my catch to see everything was in order. We chatted for a while about fish and fishing and Ben decided he would go back out to fish on a while longer. I got out of the fishing clothes and packed everything into the car. The wind was dropping now and the sun was starting to sink in the west. The long road home seems much shorter when there is a salmon in the back of the car!

So there you have it, Mayo has been crossed off my list of the 32 counties. I had fished hard all day, kept persevering in marginal conditions and never gave up hope. This does not always work but I believe persistence is critical to being a successful salmon angler. I will sleep soundly tonight, trust me!

The successful fly

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Fishing in Ireland

Carrowmore, May ’21

Yesterday I opted for a day chasing silvery salmon; I was off to North Mayo and the holy grail of lough salmon fly fishers – Carrowmore Lake. Carrowmore sits to the north of the village of Bangor in the old Earldom of Erris. Wild lands of hill and bog, this is a sparsely populated part of the country where scratching a living from rough pasture or the stormy Atlantic has been the lot of generations. The famine decimated the area and many more left to try and build a new life across the oceans. Here, on the very edge of Europe, there used to be few opportunities for the locals but that has at least partly changed as technology has allowed people to work from home.

The village of Bangor consists of little more than two streets. A few pubs, a couple of shops and some small businesses make up the buildings and the place has a sleepy quality about it. The angling plays a big part in the local community and many of the locals fish the river and lake. The Bangor Erris Angling Club has the rights to the lower section of the Owenmore river and Carrowmore lake (the upper river is in private hands). Permits are freely available and are a reasonable cost. Any visitors who want to come and fish in the area will find excellent B&B accommodation in and around Bangor itself so it is well worth considering if you are thinking about an angling holiday once we are all free to travel again.

What can I say about Carrowmore that has not already been said? Anglers have been waxing lyrical about this piece of water since sport fishing started here in Ireland hundreds of years ago. It is very much a ‘one off’, I know of no other lake which has such unique characteristics. Over the years it sounds like it has changed from being predominately a sea trout fishery to a spring salmon lake and that alone is very unusual. Beltra has followed that route to a degree I suppose but those two lakes are completely different in almost every other way. Beltra is deep and the fishing is confined largely to the narrow shallow margins while Carrowmore is universally shallow with some areas even being too shallow for boats to drive through.

Then there is the question of the bottom of the lake. We salmon fishers normally appreciate a high wind. It seems to stir up the salmon and gets them chasing the flies. That is not the case on Carrowmore where the bottom is composed of fine peat silt which has washed off the land. A high wind whips up the shallow water, causing the peat silt to ‘churn’ turning the lake a filthy brown colour. This is useless for fishing. I don’t know is it the fish are blinded in the oxtail soup consistency of the churned water or if they find the taste of the silt unpleasant or if the silt chokes their gills and makes breathing hard. Anyway, a churned lake is the nemesis of Carrowmore angler’s and many days are lost each season to the phenomenon. It is worth noting that Carrowmore is a spring fishery, April and May are the prime months and the salmon fishing tails off after that. Sea trout are numerous during the summer months but realistically the fishing is over by August.

For me, a day on Carrowmore was always one of rituals. We have followed the same procedures for many years now and to break any of our self-imposed rules would feel like sacrilege. The drive up to Bangor, the first glimpse of the Owenmore river at Bellacorrick, parking up on the main street and the breakfast before chatting with Seamus and picking up our permits. From there we head off to the lake, usually to find other fishers tackling up and loading boats.

There are some boats moored on the west side of the lake but there is a fine harbour on the south eastern shore with ample parking spaces, a hut and toilets and floating pontoons. More tales of fish landed and lost are told and the conditions for the day examined in microscopic detail. But that was all pre-covid and now we are social distancing and the pub is shut.

Anyway, the day had arrived for Vincent and myself to chance a day on Carrowmore. Careful scrutiny of the weather, past, present and future, had led us to think today would be a good and we had heard recent stories of fresh salmon in the lake to boot. The previous night’s sleep had been punctuated with dreams of bent rods and large silver fish leaping on the end of my line. Were they a precursor to success?

Waking early I fed the cats and made myself a strong coffee. The sky is cloudless and the air is still. Dressed and packed, a last minute check I had everything then into the car. The engine wheezes into life and I hit the road. Motoring north along the shores of Lough Beltra, noting water levels Dead low) and the wind (none, flat calm). Snake past the foot of Nephin then across the flat boglands of Keenagh with the impressive Nephin Beg range off to the left. Across the infant river Deel and on to Bellacorick, the site of the old peat fired power station. White painted houses, small green fields amid the bog, old stone walls crumbling back into the turf, hawks and buzzards quartering the dun-coloured ground in the search of small furry prey. The wildness of the vistas is breathtakingly beautiful. Ever north by west l until I pass the statue by the river and rumble into Bangor pretty much on time.

Vincent rolls into town a few minutes later and we meet Seamus. The serious matters of the day are broached. A key on a large fob, the necessary paperwork and the exchange of coin. ‘How are ye all up here?’, Not so bad, and ye down there in Castlebar?’ ‘Any fish being caught?’ ‘A few’. The Irish way of saying a lot yet nothing at the same time. ‘Toby Gibbons had another fish’ and a photo on his phone of a smiling Toby is passed around. ‘Two fish caught yesterday’, not much for a Saturday. ‘Boat five lads’.

Back into our respective cars and off on the final leg of the journey and that first glimpse of the lake. There is the dreaded flat calm now but a wind is forecast to pick up later today. It is likely to be a challenging day with so little wind but we will give it a try anyway.

Tacking up, I make up a new leader out of ten pound nylon straight through. I don’t feel the need for anything fancy for this type of fishing. Casts will be 15 to 20 yards with the wind behind me so rolling out the flies is not really a problem. A Clan Chief catches my eye so he has the honour of filling the tail position. A Green Peter is next in the middle then a Muddler Claret Bumble on the bob. That will do to start with.

We fill the boat with all the gear and tug on the cord until the Honda bursts into life, and then we are off. We now needed to negotiate the narrow harbour to exit into the lake. Even for experienced anglers this is tricky in anything of a wind in the wrong direction. Once out in the lake you still face dangers as there is an extensive shallow just outside the harbour where many a propeller has come to grief. There are some marker poles but in low water the shallows extend beyond those poles so take great care. I personally would not use a long shaft engine on Carrowmore but a lot of angler do but they are very careful where they motor. There are also shallows which are unmarked in the middle of the lake. You have been warned!

The bay on your right is called Bog Bay, a spot that has been good to me over the years. A hooked fish can easily stick you on the dead tree roots which litter the bottom here so try to keep the pressure on and his head up if possible. I recall hooking a small springer in this bay and he led me a merry dance including attaching my dropper fly on a sunken stump for a while. In the end, just as I thought he was tiring, he dived to the bottom then launched himself into the air not a yard from the gunnel of the boat. My fly lost its hold and the fish gained his well-earned freedom. We laughed like lunatics at his escape, who could grudge such a doughty fighter? On another day, a fish in the same bay rose to Ben’s fly but didn’t take it. Instead, he swam on a couple of yards and engulfed my fly (a Goat’s Toe as I recall) and was duly landed. A fine fish of over ten pounds weight. I like Bog Bay!

Next bay on the right side is Paradise Bay. I have found this to be a moody spot but many fishers swear by it and every season there are some fine fish caught in here. It is a large bay and most of the fish lie close to the shores.

I tend to fish a lot around the mouth of the Glenicullen River, as do a lot of other anglers. This is probably the hotspot on the lake for salmon (for sea trout the Barney Shore is possibly a better bet). There are extensive shallows here and the salmon can congregate in large numbers. Don’t expect to see many fish showing. Unlike loughs like Furnace, the fish in Carrowmore tend to keep their heads down and it is unusual to see a fish show other than to rise to a fly.

We bypass the other spots and head straight for Glencullin. The merest ripple begins to form providing a little encouragement for us. I set up on the first drift but judge the light breeze badly and have to double back and start over again. The drifts are slow with so little wind and I have to work the oar to keep us moving. I saw a couple of salmon jump in the distance and Vincent saw a very large fish show far out.

The day would be punctuated with bands of cloud coming in from the west and when that happened the wind would pick up giving us good conditions. It was during one of these spells that Vincent turned a fish. The rise looked good but as the fish turned down he seemed to turn and thrash the water. Vincent felt nothing and I suspect the fish turned away before actually taking the fly. We fished on.

After a calm period the wind picked up and I suggested a change of drift. As I rounded the corner I thought the wind had changed direction slightly and it should favour the gravel bank I know as the spit. It turned out I was wrong and the boat headed straight for the shore in a reasonable chop. I was pulling hard on the oar to give us some sea room when Vincent shouted. ‘Another fish’! I turned just in time to see a large boil not 5 yards from the gunnel and the rod pulled hard over.

Vincent is an experienced angler but new to this fly fishing craik so I kept up a stream of advice while working the oar to keep us out of danger of grounding. The fish showed a few times so we could see it was your average sized springer. It tended to stay close to the boat, only making one run which took ten yards or of line. Vincent played him like he had been doing this all his life and after about ten minutes the fish had tired sufficiently for the net. I dipped my venerable old gye below the surface and the salmon slid into the meshes in text book style. The fish was swiftly dispatched, hand were shaken and the details of the take and fight discussed in minute detail. Weighting the fish later and he tipped the scales and exactly 8 pounds. A small Beltra Badger was the killing pattern.

The wind dropped to a zephyr again and we fished hard but for no further return. A late lunch was called for so we pulled in to the shallow, sandy bay at the mouth of the river and hungrily ate our sandwiches amid the glorious Mayo scenery. Bladders relieved, we set off again amid variable conditions and now joined by at least 4 other boats. We flogged hard, Vincent raising another two fish which were most likely trout. Late on I had a pull accompanied by a boil on the surface, my only chance of the day but the fish did not take properly.

On our way back to the harbour we tried Bog Bay but it was lifeless so we called it a day around 7pm. By then I was very tired and emptying the boat/packing the car seemed to take me an age. We rendezvoused with Seamus to hand over the brown tag I didn’t use and to update him on our day. He knew of one other fish caught and another lost.

Driving home slowly I reflected on the day. Obviously, the salmon was the highlight and for Vincent to be the successful angler was important. I am old and have caught plenty of fish, it really doesn’t matter if I get one. Vincent on the other hand is represents the future of game fishing here. Today the angling gods smiled on him and he took his opportunity with alacrity. I don’t think I could be any more happy if I had been the lucky one in the boat.

Dark rain clouds piled up on the western hills as I drove south, harbingers of a storm due to break overnight. Hopefully it will bring lots of rain as the rivers are all bone dry now. With my work assignment now completed, I have time to do a bit of fishing. Yesterday just whetted my appetite!

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

Messing about at the vice

So I was poking around in a drawer full of feathers and came across a packet containing the breast of a pheasant. I seem to recall buying this two or three years ago but the cellophane wrapping was unopened. The breast feathers are beautifully marked, a mix of dark brown and black barring with creamy coloured tips. In size they could make a good hackle on hook sizes ranging from 10’s up to 6’s, ideal for salmon lough flies. An idea for a Katie variation sprang to mind so I set about messing at the vice for  wee while.

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Using black tying silk I tied in one of the breast feathers and a black cock hackle then ran the thread down to the bend of a size 6 B175. Here I tied in a short silver tag and a tail made of a golden pheasant topping with a tuft of glo-brite no.4 floss. A rib of oval silver tinsel was caught before I dubbed a black fur body.

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Palmering the cock hackle and tying it in with the rib was bog standard but I wanted to add a couple of features. A short beard hackle consisting of some blue dyed guinea fowl was whipped in under the hook then half-a-dozen cock pheasant tail fibres dyed black went on top of the hook. Now I could wind the head hackle, giving it five full turns. I’m pretty happy with the result and pretty confident it will take a salmon or two on Carrowmore this season.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, wetfly

Bibio Dabbler

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.

hackle(s) tied in

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.

palmered black hackle is secured with open turns of tinsel

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.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, salmon fishing

2 for the Moy

Saturday afternoon, in the room listening to my collection of Pretty Things albums. I guess that is a sure sign of my advancing years! Got through all the classics and ended up at Savage Eye. Loved every minute of it. Oh, and I was making salmon flies too.

I have plans to fish the river Moy this season so I need to update my fly box with some flies for that famous river. I am OK for small flies which will be needed in the summer when the grilse are running but I seem to be a bit short of patterns for the spring fishing. Here are a couple of flies which should produce the goods for me.

Gold Ally’s Shrimp

A fly for a bright day, this is a variation on of the normal Gold Ally.

 Tail: long orange bucktail with a couple of strands of sunburst flash

Rib: Oval gold tinsel

Body: flat gold tinsel/mylar/lurex/whatever you’re having yourself

Under wing: tied below the hook, orange squirrel under natural grey squirrel tail

Over wing: tied on top of the hook and slightly longer that the under wing. Orange squirrel under Natural grey squirrel under GP body feather fibres dyed claret

Hackle; tied in front of the wings, long fibred Orange cock

Head: red varnish

I also tie a variant which has a split body, gold tinsel at the rear and Globrite no. 5 at the front.

The next fly is also a variant of a popular pattern, this time the Hairy Mary.

Tag: oval gold tinsel

Tail: a golden pheasant topping or a small bunch of yellow hair

Body: black floss

Rib: fine oval gold tinsel

Hackle: Blue cock or hen. you can wind the hackle on either before or after you tie in the wing. I like to double the hackle, it seems to lie better that way.

Wing: bucktail dyed red

Tied on a single………………..

or a double hook
Sorry about the colour, that wing is actually crimson red

Sizes for both of these patterns range from 6 down to 12, depending on conditions. I like them on either singles or doubles but there is no reason why you could not tie them on trebles. To me these are patterns I associate with the Moy but they would probably work elsewhere too. I may give them a swim on Carrowmore or Beltra this year.

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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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