Fishing in Ireland

My adopted home town

The lockdown continues. Confined to within 5km of home I am unable to go fishing. I despise the 5km rule; I pose no threat to anyone when I am fishing alone on the pike lakes 20km from town but the idiot politicians in Dublin have dreamt up this insane rule so I must abide by it. There is no guarantee the lockdown will be eased on 2nd December and it could be next year before I am out with the rods again. That is a sickening thought.

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 bust 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 Mureto. 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 Quinn 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 reel, 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, 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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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Féile na Tuaithe, Day 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Féile na Tuaithe

Just in case any of you are in the area next weekend, here are the details of the Féile na Tuaithe event taking place at the Museum of Country Life just outside Castlebar, Co. Mayo. I will be there both days demonstrating fly tying and a little bit of basic fly casting. Lots and lots of other much more interesting activities  taking place too so it would make a nice afternoon out for the whole family.

I will be down near the lake on stand 4 so drop in by and say hello if you visiting.

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Fishing in Ireland

After the rain

The weather Gods have pissed on us for more than a week now and the county of Mayo is sodden. Rivulets of water are still running across roads and the fields are flooded. Most of the rivers around here have burst their banks and spilled their contents across the landscape. And amidst this deluge we hoped and prayed the last boat still on the river would be safe. Miraculously it was and some baling (OK, quite a lot of baling actually) brought it into good shape for the trip back home for the winter. Today was the day for the task in hand.

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Down the boreen (a small Irish road) and across the bridge to the mooring point. The other boat which is normally moored at the same spot had been lifted and turned last week. The river was full to overflowing.

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The craik here is that the boat has to be driven across the lake to be taken out at the other side. At least today was a lovely day to be out and the trip over was a joy. Small groups of Whooper Swans have arrived from the far North this week and their constant honking made a perfect backdrop to this calm autumn day.

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Glassy smooth waters meant the trip was hassle free. In no time at all the boat grated on the shingle in Healy’s bay.

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The usual process of backing in the trailer, winding the boat on and fixing the belly band and tail board went like clockwork and she was soon safely onboard, ready for the journey home.

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Time for a last look around and to feel the sun on my hands and face for the last time here this year. Cullen had a bad year for the fishing but its natural beauty remained undiminished.

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One final check that everything was secured and it was time to hit the road. There is always a certain sadness at this time of the year, no more fishing for what feels like an age (in fact we will be gearing up to start again at the beginning of February). For now, it is back to town. there’s a promise of more rain tomorrow…………….

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