Fishing in Ireland

My adopted home town

Since there is no fishing now I thought some of you might like a quick look around my adopted home town of Castlebar here in county Mayo. How I came to end up here would require a large book on its own but suffice to say it involved a potent mix of fishing, pretty Irish girls, a disaffection with my then circumstances and the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Anyway, I moved to Castlebar initially in November 1997. I left again in late 2004, went to university in England and ended up in London only to return to Ireland again in 2008 and I have been here ever since. It is home to me and I have no wish to leave this small Irish conurbation.

Castlebar is one of the main towns in county Mayo the others being Westport, Claremorris and Ballina. Westport is a very attractive town and its economy is based on the huge numbers of tourist who flock there every year. Ballina was always a popular town for anglers as the river Moy flows through the middle of it. Castlebar on the other hand had a reputation as the business heart of the county but sadly this has changed over the last couple of decades with the loss of many employers. It it the administrative centre for the county and the headquarters of the county council is situated in the town. Both Castlebar and Ballina have populations of around 10,000 people, Westport and Claremorris are a bit smaller.

Clare Lake, Claremorris

From an angling perspective, Castlebar is ideally placed in the middle of the great western lakes. The northern end of the Corrib, loughs Mask and Carra are all within 40 minutes drive to the south of the town, while roughly the same distance to the north lie loughs Conn and Cullin and the river Moy. My beloved River Robe flows quietly to the south of me within easy striking distance. Lough Beltra is near at hand to the west and Carrowmore Lake and the Owenmore river are about 45 minutes away by car to the north-west. Add to that a large number of small lakes and rivers, most of which I have yet to explore. There is even some coarse fishing around Claremorris. For sea angling the delights of Clew Bay and Achill Island are nearby. I am pretty sure I could fish a different place every day of the year if I wanted. I really am very, very lucky to live here.

The Trimogue, a small river which flows into the Moy eventually
The Robe at Hollymount
The mouth of the canal, Lough Mask
A nice wave on Cullin

So what is it like living in a small Irish town? I am sure for many of you this sound like an idyllic existence and to a large extent it is. Having said that, life here does not suit everyone and there are some limitations which need to be considered. The main one is work. There are limited opportunities unless you work in the hospitality or medical devices manufacturing industries. There are a few factories in the area but they are almost all involved in pharma or life sciences. Construction has its peaks and troughs but it is a big local employer. Being a largely rural county many people work the land with beef and sheep farming being by far the most common use of the land. Working from home is growing here just like everywhere else but high speed broadband coverage is poor. Personally, I have at different times worked in local factories, run my own business and (most often) worked away from home.

You also need to get to know what it takes to fit in to a society which is quite insular and self-aware. People here want to know who you are, who you are related to, where you work, who your friends are etc. It can come across as being nosy but in truth this is just the most obvious facet of the ‘glue’ which binds this society together. Up until relatively recently this part of the world suffered from war, hunger, foreign ownership and all the panoply of hardships these things bring. The potato famine, the black and tans, emigration, you name it the chances are the Irish were on the wrong end of it. It all combined to leave its mark on the people and while they themselves don’t see it I can, as an outsider, traces the hurt in them all. The need to know who you are is born of this background. My guess is that the younger generation, who have known much more affluent times, will be more open to new experiences. Ireland has changed enormously even in the twenty years I have lived here, some of it for the better but in some ways for the worse.

Ireland as a country is a very expensive place to live. Taxes are high and basics such as housing and transport are eye-wateringly pricey. After a while you sort of get used to it but visitors are frequently shocked by huge price tags. Again, living in the rural west has some benefits and the cost of living is cheaper here than in Dublin. My biggest gripe is the cost of running a car here. You pay VRT (a tax on every imported car) and an annual motor vehicle tax (commonly referred to as road tax). My ancient and basically worthless VW is taxed at €760/annum! Healthcare is another area where the bills soon rack up and most people have health insurance but this too is very expensive.

What about the weather, doesn’t it rain all the time? No it does not, but we do see a a fair bit of rain compared to lots of other places. Today for example is very wet and windy but dry weather is promised for the end of this week. We tend not to get extremes of any weather in Ireland because it benefits from being on the edge of the Atlantic and the warming effects of the gulf stream. Temperatures are generally between 10 and 20 degrees with a mixture of sunshine and rain. We do get prolonged periods of precipitation, usually in autumn and again in the spring but to be honest we just get on with it here. You can buy good waterproof clothes now to keep you dry. Winters are variable, some being open and mild while some are very cold if high pressure from the continent gets ‘stuck’ over the country. I have seen -20 degrees a couple of times but that is rare.

Let’s take a look around, here are a few photos from around the town.

The main street has the same mix of banks, small shops and businesses as any other similar sized town in the country. Sadly, we have more than our fair share of derelict buildings even here on the busiest street. I can remember when the main street was bustling and vibrant but these days things are different. The big nationwide supermarkets are largely grouped around a redeveloped part of town off of Market Square. Tesco, Aldi, Argos, Boots etc. are all here.

The Harp bar, a busy wee pub

Socialising is a big part of life in Ireland and Castlebar has its fair share of pubs and restaurants to pick from. There are not as many pubs as there used to be and those that are left have often changed to include serving food as well as drink. Being of a certain age(!) Helen and I enjoy a meal out and maybe a couple of drinks in one or two of the pubs in town of a Friday night but that is about our limit. Big drinking sessions are a thing of the past for us! Here in the west we speak about going ‘out’ for a night which means a few drinks then home at a reasonable hour, or going ‘out out’ when all bets are off and you have no plans to return home until the early hours (if at all). Younger people must find small town Ireland difficult and many move away for employment but also to enjoy greater freedom and entertainment in the cities. Galway city has always had a huge draw for Mayo people and many leave to work there and never return.

The big sport in Mayo is football. GAA football that is! The county team evoke huge passion and the supporters are known across the country for their fierce loyalty and willingness to travel anywhere to watch their heroes in action. McHale park is where the big games takes place and although I take only a passing interest in the game the town is always buzzing when Mayo are playing at home. Unlike soccer in the UK football fans here revel in the bonhomie when rival teams meet.

A popular walk is around Lough Lannagh on the outskirts of the town. It was developed a few years ago and has proved to be exceedingly popular with walkers, joggers and cyclists. You often see fishermen trying their luck for the small pike which infest this shallow lake. There are shoals of tiny roach in there too. The best part for me is the view out west to the reek, it is magical as the sun is setting.

The Castlebar river

The town river flows from Lough Lannagh and winds its way to a confluence with the Manulla river east of the town. Both rivers have healthy stocks of brown trout. Salmon run the Moy and up the system as far as the meetings of both rivers but don’t make it to the town. A path was created recently which stretches from the town to the National Museum of Ireland out at Turlough, most of it hugging the river. It is a lovely walk on a nice day.

The mall is situated at the end of the main street. It was originally laid out as Lord Lucan’s cricket pitch. The Lucan family owned large tracts of western Ireland and made their money from the rents paid by the crofters. Nowadays the mall is a pleasant open space for a stroll and in the winter an ice rink is erected here.

The courthouse is on the Mall, scene of much drama over the years. I was only ever in it once, to get divorced (another long story). Just along from the courthouse is the Garda barracks. An Garda Siochana are the Irish police force.

Mayo University Hospital is always busy and even more so during the pandemic. Those whom are too ill to be treated here are moved to Galway or to specialist hospitals in Dublin.

The rebellion of 1798 was partially played out in and around Castlebar. French troops disembarked at Killala and they marched to confront the English garrison in Castlebar. Here they fought a running battle with the redcoats who were driven from the town. The English departed in such haste and with the French on their heels it became known as the Castlebar races. Much of the fighting took place on this small hill called Knockthomas. There are monuments all across the area to the rebellion which was really just an extension of the wider European wars of that time. The French had no real interest in Ireland breaking away from the British Empire, they simply saw an opportunity to tie up significant numbers of English troops in Ireland. As is the way in all wars, many innocent people lost their lives while the leaders played out their games.

Johnnies (that’s Helen wearing the sunglasses)

When I fancy a pint of porter I usually head here, to Johnnie McHale’s pub. A lot of work has gone into expanding this fine old establishment and the back of the pub is now a popular spot for the younger set. The front of the pub though remains unchanged and you could say the same for the ‘mature’ clientele who frequent it. If you ever find yourself in Castlebar you simply must visit Johnnies for a pint of Guinness, it is as good as any I have tried in Ireland (and I have tried a few let me tell you).

The biggest pub in town is Rocky’s, owned by that great fisherman Rocky Moran. A larger than life character, Rocky owns a few businesses in the town including a Funeral Director’s. This was a very common combination in rural Ireland for many years and Rocky is carrying on the tradition set by his father. Rocky’s is hugely popular and always busy what with sports on the telly or live music in the evenings. When he is not making lots of money in the pub you can usually find him on the banks of a river or out on a lough.

As I said earlier, we do enjoy an occasional meal out and out favourite restaurant is Al Muretto. Great food, lovely staff and a relaxed atmosphere add up to a lovely spot for a night out. Café Rua do some lovely food and they have two outlets in the town. Of course there are plenty of cafes and coffee shops scattered around too so there is always somewhere to stop for a coffee.

The catholic church
The Protestant church in town

While a number of different faiths have places of worship in the town the catholic congregation are served by the impressive church.

I am no expert but I am told that Castlebar has the best shopping in the county. The usual suspects have shops here for those who enjoy that sort of thing.

The only shops I have any real interest in are tackle shops. Pat Quin on the main street has some tackle downstairs and this is where you can buy the salmon licence. Frank Baynes presides over the most eclectic tackle shop I know of there on New Antrim Street. It always looks as if he has three times as much gear as the shop can hold with stacks or rods, piles of boots and shelves overflowing with reels, hooks and lures. Frank himself is a mine of local angling knowledge, always helpful to visiting anglers.

Transport to and from Castlebar is hugely reliant on roads. The N5 stretches from Longford to Westport and it passes the edge of town. There is a railway connection on the line between Dublin and Westport but as with the rest of the country many of the old railway lines were ripped up many years ago.

Of course, St. Patrick’s Day (17th March) is an excuse for a parade and some serious revelry. It is all very professional in the cities like Dublin and Galway but it is a wee bit more homespun in Castlebar. The parade consists largely of a few tractors, some floats put together by local businesses and a couple of young marching bands from the schools and youth clubs in town. here are a few snaps from the parade a few years ago.

So there you are, a wee look at the place I call home. It has its faults but then you can say that about anywhere. It is largely peaceful and quiet here, the people are friendly and the weather is mild. I have lived in so many places over the years and I could have settled down in any of them but somehow I gravitated to this small county town on the edge of Europe and don’t regret that decision. I recall popping over to Mayo while I was living in London, I was just taking a short break away from the city and the west was calling. It had been three years since I set foot in Castlebar. I parked the hire car and set off down the main street but every 20 or 30 yards I was stopped by someone for a chat or just to say hello. Coming from London where nobody makes eye contact let alone talks to you, this felt like an assault on the senses. But that is the west of Ireland for you, one of the nicest places I have been and the place I call home.

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Fishing in Ireland

Will Cullin come good?

Lough Cullin has been fishing very poorly for many years now which is a great pity as it has a character all of its own and used to be a favourite venue for me. Will it’s fortunes change for the better this season?

dark skies over Cullin from a few years ago

The whole area around Pontoon has fallen on hard times with both of the local hotels now shut down and the fishing on Loughs Conn and Cullin hitting an all time low. The may be a flicker of hope for lough Cullin though in the shape of an ugly concrete and steel construction a few miles away.

I quote directly from ‘A Review of Changes in the Fish Stocks of Loughs’ Conn and Cullin over time (1978 – 2001)’

Cultural eutrophication problems have been evident in Lough Cullin in recent years (McCarthy et al, 2001). While the enrichment of Lough Cullin may have contributed to the demise of the trout population there is another very obvious reason for the collapse of this stock. A baseline fishery survey of the Moy Catchment (O’Grady, 1994) illustrated that three particular sub-catchments were likely to be of significance as spawning and nursery areas for the Lough Cullin trout population – the Castlebar, Manulla and Clydagh River systems. Further investigation of fish stock in these sub-catchments indicated that, of the three systems involved, the Castlebar River was, by far, potentially, the most important spawning and nursery area for the L. Cullin trout population. Recognising this fact the Nw.R.F.B. expended significant monies in enhancing the capacity of the Castlebar River to optimise trout production. This programme failed because of declining water quality problems in the river to-date (2001) (Appendix II). Currently (2001) the river supports a very poor trout stock – several substantial fish kills have also been noted in this river in recent years (Nw.R.F.B., pers comm). A failure of trout to recruit, in significant numbers, from the Castlebar River to Lough Cullin is undoubtedly a major factor in the demise of the lake trout population – a small number of trout were tagged in the Castlebar River in 2000 while carrying out fish population estimates. It is noteworthy of the total catch of 15 trout in the 2001 L. Cullin survey three fish were individuals which had been tagged in the Castlebar River the previous year.

This is interesting because a fine new sewage treatment plant was built for the town of Castlebar a couple of years ago, right on the bank of the Castlebar river. From the above you can gather that this unimposing stream was in fact the main spawning river for the trout in lough Cullin. Water quality in the river has improved markedly and it now holds a fine head of resident brown trout as far up as the outskirts of the town itself. Could it be that the trout in lough Cullin are also benefiting from this long awaited piece of infrastructure?

The Castlebar river is now much improved

The other big problem for Cullin is the immense shoals of Roach which now pollute the lough, competing with the native trout for food. The direct descendants of live bait which Pike anglers released into the system 20 years ago, the roach outnumber the trout by a huge amount. Good news for the Pike who swallow up the Roach but make little or no impression on their numbers. Bad news for the trout though.

Roach

It is hard to tell if the trout will make a comeback or not. I fear there are just too many factors against them but nature usually finds a way of reaching a balance so there is hope yet.

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dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, Nymphs, trout fishing

The Manulla river

A chilly wind is scattering the last of the leaves in the garden and the daylight rapidly fades to an inky blackness. Winter nights can be so depressing, can’t they? To cheer myself up I’ve been thinking about the coming trout season and places where I will ply the gentle art. One place where I am seriously considering is the rarely fished Manulla River here in Mayo.

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The Manulla is a small stream but one which holds a good head of wild brownies. Access is pretty good with entry points at the usual bridges. Why then is it so rarely fished? The answer can be summed up in one word – trees. Big, tightly spaced hardwoods line both banks of the river making casting an impossibility for much of its course. Alders, willows and whitethorn make up the bulk of the cover but there are oaks and sycamore plus a full range of smaller species to fill in any gaps. Fishing the Manulla is more like jungle warfare than a peaceful pastime. So why am I even contemplating risking my sanity by attempting to fly fish this water? Let me explain…………

looking-downstream-from-the-bridge

A heavily wooded section of the Manulla river

Due to the extreme difficulty in accessing the river the angling pressure on the Manulla has been virtually nil over the years. The meetings pool where it joins the Castlebar river gets a few wormers and I have seen some kids chucking spinners in at the N60 bridge, but apart from that the river is largely ignored by anglers. To me that spells the opportunity for trout to grow unmolested to a reasonable size and worthy of some effort to winkle them out. Of course there are going to be huge challenges but I firmly believe there are good trout to be caught with some perseverance.

Timing is going to be important as I will need low water to be able to fish. Low levels will allow me to get into the river and wade. This alone will be exciting as the river is narrow but deep and I can foresee some mishaps and wet feet as I explore the various pools under the canopy. Some stretches are just too deep to wade and so I may have to resort to poking the rod through the vegetation and ‘dibbling’ the fly over the fish.

Further up river, beyond Belcarra, there are some open stretches of water where the OPW in their thoughtfulness dredged the river back in the 1960’s. Here it looks more like a canal and the numbers of trout are much lower than downstream. As with all of this type of water the fishing is tough. High banks (10 to 20 feet above the surface of the water) and no cover for the fish in the river mean they are well nigh impossible to approach from the bank. Once again, chest waders and an iron nerve are required as you slither into the deep water and work your way upstream, casting ahead with nymph or dry fly.

dredged-channel

A dredged section of the Manulla

The usual array of heavily weighted nymphs are going to be my mainstay when it comes to fly selection during the day, but the evenings will present the best chance of a fish and that’s when I will turn to the dry fly. The Manulla gets impressive hatches of sedges and a well placed G&H dragged over a riser will be my preferred tactic as the sun sets. there are other, similar streams in the immediate area. The Gweestion. Pollagh, Glore and a handful of others can all produce a trout or two to the persistent angler but I am going to persevere on the Manulla in 2017.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, Uncategorized

Feile na Tuaithe, Day 2

Now that’s better. Brilliant sunshine greeted me when I twitched back the bedroom curtains this morning. Forecasters unanimously agree there will be localised showers again today but for now it’s wall to wall sun. Hopefully that will encourage more visitors to Féile na Tuaithe.

Looking back on yesterday there were some common faults at the fly casting. Total beginners were easy – they picked it up quickly and in a few minutes could cast a reasonablably straight line. Some of the kids were just too small to handle the ten-footer properly though and they needed a bit of help from me to hold the rod. The tricky ones were those anglers who had tried fly fishing and given it up previously. The usual bad habits were there to be seen but getting these ironed out was a challenge.

The first one was that old chestnut of dropping the rod too low on the back cast. The line hits the ground or what ever herbage is around and the necessary tension in the rod blank is lost, leading to a poor forward stroke. Some guys knew this what they were doing wrong but couldn’t figure out how to stop it. Here’s my tip – go right back to the very start of the cast and focus on pointing the rod as low as you can. If you do this it goes a long way to curing the problem as you can stop the back stroke near to vertical much better.

Next most common fault had to be little or no pause between back and forward strokes. You must give the line sufficient time to straighten out behind you so the rod can be bent and store the necessary energy for the forward stroke. But how to figure out how long this pause has to be? The answer is neatly located on your face, either side of your nose. Yep, just turn your head and watch the line sail out behind you until it has almost straightened then commence the forward stroke. Trust me, just watching the line will really help you when you are learning to cast.

 

So the morning disappeared in a blur of activity and I was running way too late long before I even headed off to Turlough. I had to do some serious persuasion of the security staff on the gate to let me in but I made it, just and no more. Some friends were on hand to assist me (you know who you are – thanks a million guys) and I was ready for action as the first visitors streamed in at noon. Like Saturday, there was a lot of interest in casting by the younger attendees which was great to see. Our sport badly needs fresh blood and the more we can do to encourage youngsters to take up the sport the better.

Lots of old angling acquaintances dropped by to say hello and I met scores of lovely people out enjoying the day and interested to see what I was up to beside the lake. A fellow blogger (The Irish Angler) came down to meet me and we had a great old chat about fishing and blogging. Take a look at Richard’s blog, it’s a great insight to fishing on Conn and Cullen –  https://theirishfisherman.wordpress.com

The afternoon flew by and it felt like I was only just settling into the day when I looked at the time to find it had gone 5.15pm. Packing up consisted of hurling all my gear and tackle into the back of the car (to be sorted out at a later date) and then it was off home for a bite to eat and get ready for work in the morning. I really enjoyed the whole experience of being part of Feile na Tuaithe and hope I may have sparked some interest in people to try their hand at our sport. I’m planning on fishing for trout the next time I pick up a fly rod though!

 

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