Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing, wetfly

Planning for the new season

Don’t you just love technology? OK, so it kind of takes over our lives sometimes and swallows up too much of our free time (if we let it), but on the whole technology enriches our everyday lives. Here in the West of Ireland I use Google Earth to look for likely places to fish. Much of the fishing for trout on the small rivers around here is not recorded or easily available, even to locals. Trout are seen as inferior to salmon and nobody really pays them much attention, which is a bit of a double-edged sword. The rivers are in general lightly fished once you are off the beaten track but they are heavily overgrown and access to the banks is a royal pain in the bum.

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The Robe flowing through a wooded section

Today is a cold and miserable day outside, so after our normal walk Nessie and I are settled in the warmth of the sitting room. Laptop open and internet connected I am scanning Google Earth for tell tale signs of potential new fishing spots. There is a logical sequence to this process, the first question being can I even get to a part of the river? You see roads in Mayo are few and often end some distance for the riverbank. Even if there is tarmac close to the water, deep drains or rough ground can make the few hundred yards between the place the car is parked and the river difficult or even dangerous. And don’t even start me on parking! As a rule there is nowhere to park. Roadside verges are universally soft/boggy and more than once I have returned to find the old VW listing heavily to one side where she has sunk in the muck. Roads are very narrow and used by farm machines mainly, so you have to be very careful when looking for a spot to park up. Right now I am eyeing up a section of the River Robe I have never fished before and I can see why – there is no road close by and there are lots of wide drains in the area. I will keep looking……………..

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A very productive stream which I found thanks to Google Earth

Hang on, here is the remains of the old disused Sligo to Galway railway track which may just be OK for parking the car. It is still quite a long way from the river but in my experience the old railway is good for walking on and this could be just what I am looking for. A lot will depend on the ground and if it is solid enough for parking, but it looks promising so far.

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The river is off this map, just to the North along the disused railway track

Now comes the second step – is this stretch even worth fishing? These limestone rivers often have long, deep, slow stretches which hold very few trout. For example, the 4 miles immediately upstream of Ballinrobe are almost dead straight, 10 – 20 feet deep and resemble a canal more than a river. Great of you are fishing for Pike but pretty rubbish for Brownies.

Now for the final step. This is where technology really helps out. Zooming in to an eye height of about 200 metres there is sufficiently good resolution to make out key features of the river. Bigger stuff like weirs and bridges are easy to find of course, but I look for any feature which could possibly be of interest to the fish and therefore to me. Sharp bends, fallen trees, shallows, narrows etc could all possibly be spots worthy of a few casts.

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Above is a screen shot of a short section of the Robe which I have fished for several seasons now. The most obvious feature is the falls on the bottom left of the photo. I initially thought this would be a great pool but in practice it is very deep and turbulent and has only yielded an occasional trout for me. The river is shallow above that pool and holds mainly small fish, but wading upstream I found a good lie under that bright green tree in the bottom right of the shot. So your original target pools may end up not being that good but you can still find good fish in that area.

Depending on the time of year when the images were taken it is sometimes possible to make out weedbeds under the surface. Streamy water appears as lighter areas and while it is impossible to make out things like individual rocks which divide the flow it there is sufficient evidence to make intelligent guesses about where fish would lie. This is not an exact science and many, many times I have been disappointed to find upon arrival the river is not accessible/fishable. Then again, this usage of Google Earth has led me to some truly wonderful fishing that would have taken me much longer to find by simply wandering up or downstream from a bridge (the normal method hereabouts).

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Features like this weir as easy to find, see below:

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In summary, Google Earth is a valuable tool when time is at a premium and hours/days spent driving down country boreens (roads) and hiking across fields only to find barren water is a waste of time. With experience you can make a pretty good guess at where to try and save you a lot of time and hassle. Always remember to ask for permission from landowners before crossing fields and follow the country code, closing all gates behind you.

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Fishing in Ireland

Flies for Lough Conn, part 2

Following on from a previous post I will discuss a few more patterns which have worked on Lough Conn for me over the years.

  1. Malloch’s Favourite
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Malloch’s Favourite

Firstly we will take a look at a Scottish fly which has worked for me during the olive hatch. Each spring the Western lakes get good hatches of lake olives which in turn get the trout feeding high up in the water column. Many trout anglers will tell you this is the most frustrating time of the year with fish showing but unwilling to take the anglers flies. On a rough day Bumbles and various other bushy patterns will produce the goods, but in a small ripple things get a bit tougher. This is when I turn to the Malloch’s Favourite. Originally invented for use on the lochs of Scotland’s central belt, including Loch Leven, this old stalwart has fooled trout for me on days when little else would stir a fish. Back in Scotland I fished this fly in sizes 14 and 16, but a size 12 is about right for imitating Lake Olives.

The dressing is:

Silk: Brown or black

Tail: a few fibres of bronze mallard

Tip: two turns of flat silver tinsel

Body: Stripped peacock herl. I varnish the body before winding the hackle

Hackle: Blue Dun

Wings: Matching slips taken from Woodcock primaries

Cast to rising trout this fly can be lethal. I probably fish it most often as a middle dropper.

2. My Ginger Sedge

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My Ginger Sedge

I first tied the next pattern as a general sedge imitation about 15 years ago and it has proved to be a consistent killer of fish. It’s easy to tie and uses materials which are readily available.

Hook: all sizes from 8 down to 16, standard wet fly hook such as the Kamasan B175

Tying silk: Brown

Body: Ginger seals fur, dubbed fairly heavily

Rib: UNI Fl. 1/0 thread in either yellow or chartreuse

Body hackle: A good quality ginger cock hackle, palmered

Wings: Cinnamon hen quill

Head hackle: Ginger cock, longer in fibre than the body hackle

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1/0 UNI thread

I like the yellow ribbed version better but the green ones are good in the gloaming. Tied on a size 14 hook and with Woodcock wings it works very well on the rivers too, often fooling large trout as the sun dips below the horizon.

3. Bloody Kate

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A size 12 Bloody Kate

Next we have the one of my patters which grew out of pottering about at the vice a couple of seasons ago. Back in my native Scotland the Kate McLaren enjoys almost universal use for browns, ‘bows and sea trout. Here in Ireland it is rarely used and while I have boated a few trout on it over the years I can’t say it was a consistent killer. So I started playing around with the tying to try to make it more attractive to the lough trout of Conn and Cullin. Different coloured head hackles were tried and rejected, as were new tails and additional tags. Adding some legs seemed to make an improvement but that is hardly a ground-breaking innovation. I finally hit on this pattern when I substituted the normal GP topping tail with a piece of Globrite no.4. The fly seemed to require more red and I swapped the usual red game hackle and replaced it with a hen hackle dyed fl. scarlet. The result was an instant success and this fly has been a steady supplier of trout for me since its inception. Dark, stormy days with big waves are when I reach for the Bloody Kate.

Hook: heavy weight wet fly, size 12

Silk: black

Tail: a piece of Globrite no.4 floss

Rib: fine oval gold tinsel

Body: black fur

Body hackle: black cock

Head hackle: a long fibred hen hackle dyed fl. scarlet, 4 or 5 turns.

So there you go, 3 flies worth a cast on Lough Conn. Feedback is always welcome so please let me know what you think of these flies and any others here on the blog.

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Brown’s Bay, Lough Conn with Nephin as a backdrop

 

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Fishing in Ireland

Dredging is not the answer

It is raining today. It rained yesterday and the day before that. The countryside around here in Co. Mayo is totally waterlogged and serious flooding is occurring as I write this post. People’s livelihoods and homes are threatened by this prolonged period of wet weather and they are understandably angry with a government who they blame for a lack of action after flooding last winter. Now voices are being raised to dredge the rivers. While I fully understand the desperate need of those under water, dredging rivers will not fix the problem.

Ireland has a long and ignoble history of dredging river courses. During the ’50’s and ’60’s the OPW systematically dredged most of the rivers in the country. Diggers scooped thousands and thousands of tons of gravel and rock from the bed and dumped it on the banks. Rivers were straightened so that the water could flow more quickly. What was left when the machines rumbled away was little more than a shallow drain, devoid of life and of no use to man or wildlife.

While all this was happening the government also introduce schemes for planting huge numbers of conifers on upland ground at the head of the rivers. These had the effect of allowing rain water to be very quickly funnelled into the rivers, both denuding the already poor soil of the last vestiges of nutrition and increasing the risk of flooding downstream. Towns and cities grew and they added tot he problems as efficient drains led more water into the rivers too. Lowland rough pastures have been ‘improved’ by digging deep ditches to drain new fields of grass for cattle production. In short, we have done everything possible to remove the ability of the ground to soak up water.

I have little or no faith in the political system here in Ireland, whatever it takes to get a vote is going to be the new policy. With so many people clammering for rivers to be dredged I can see 2016 being the year when a lot of our rivers are once again turned into canals. The really sad part of this is that it won’t stop the flooding. Until the uplands are rehabilitated we will continue to see flooding and the resultant loss of property and homes. dredged channel

A dredged stretch of the Manual River.

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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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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, SWFF, trout fishing

Pass my hammer, it is getting cold

It’s mid-November and the year is showing its age. Leaves clog the drains around the house now and the heating boiler had to be coaxed into life again with some deft hammer blows to the pump housing and a liberal stream of expletives. We were blessed with an unusually calm period of high pressure during October but now the wind has veered westerly and the rain has started to fall in earnest. Just like people, years grow cantankerous as they age.

It’s the same every year, we moan about the terrible weather like it is some great surprise. I regard this is as more evidence of our disconnect with nature as western society leans ever more heavily on technology and less on grounding with the earth. Here in Ireland we live in a blessed corner of the planet where extremes of weather, significant geological events and the effects of global change are just items on the news. We pay more attention to what the female weather forecasters wear than the complexities of the weather they report. Our ancestors could read the patterns of weather and planned their lives around the changes. The cycles of crop planting, growth, harvesting and storage could decide if you had food to eat or you and your family went hungry. The migration of fish and animals and the climatic triggers for these annual movements were necessary skills for hunters. We modern humans have largely lost these skills which took countless years to learn.

The strong winds (by Irish standards) have stripped the dying foliage from the trees, giving the land a stark, lonely appearance. Fields are waterlogged and the drains which were dry only last week are now filled with running water. The rivers foam and from as the brown surge heads seawards. Our hopes are now pinned on the salmon who have made it to the spawning beds. High water is good in terms of allowing the fish to travel upstream more easily but continued high water can wash out new redds, destroying the eggs inside.

The Dee at Cairnton

The Dee at Cairnton

I have read with interest the final river reports for 2015 from the major Scottish rivers. In general it made for pretty depressing reading with the beautiful River Dee having suffered an especially awful year (catches were roughly 75% below the 5 year average). Every beat complained about the lack of fish. None were seen, let alone caught, so the presumption was there would be very little spawning activity. However, before the water rose, making redd counting impossible, there seemed to be a healthy number of spawning stock in the headwaters. It is hard to reconcile this difference but let’s hope the river can stage a recovery.

The Tay had a good enough season but the same cannot be said for the Tweed. Although it is still open, the numbers of fish landed is well below expected levels and the excuse of low water which blighted the 2015 season is only a small factor. The huge, deep pools of the lower Tweed can hold a big stock of salmon if they are there but the lower beats did not reap the reward you would expect in low water.

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The Tay at Catholes

On a more positive note, the River Spey had a wonderful year. That boisterous, challenging and technically difficult river produced the best season for some years. It just goes to show that salmon will forever confound us mere humans.

The rain is lashing down outside again. Nessie looks up at me in a clear attempt to persuade me to take her for a walk but she knows we will both have to wait for a gap in the showers before venturing out. There is a cycle to most things, and walking the dog is no different. For now, I am going to spend an hour at the vice making some trout flies for the next season.

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fly tying

Fly tying season

Now the angling is over for another year I will start to post some fly patterns and tying instructions on this blog. Here in Ireland we are quite conservative when it comes to different styles of fly but I use a wide range of different flies to meet the conditions so don’t expect just Dabblers and Bumbles.

If anyone would like information on a specific pattern please just drop me a line and I will add your request in my next post.

My brown Cat – a damsel imitation which works in small loughs (it would probably work for rainbows too)

Madam X, a popular fly in the States but not used much here. It works well when the Murroughs are hatching on the loughs.

Bugs and beetles in one of my boxes.

Spiders.

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, trolling

Back to the rain

A couple of windy, rainy days this week seem to herald the onset of winter properly and the forecast is depressingly ominous with high winds and even some snow promised before the week is out. I went out on the Cashel River one more time today, more in homage to the past season than with any real expectation of fish. Only one small jack took the baits and the river seemed lifeless besides. Warm sunshine was interspersed with squalls of stunning malevolence, leaving hands cold and stiff and that horrible sensation of cold water dripping down my neck where it had sneaked inside the hood of my jacket. We can’t appreciate the good days unless the bad ones are endured. Here are some photos of the day.

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