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

Apres fishing

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

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

The Key West, Derrycoosh

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

Matt Molloys, Westport

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

Stauntons, Lecanvey

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

an Bhun Abhainn, Louisburg

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

West End bar, Bangor Erris

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

Paddy’s, Tourmakeady

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

Johnnies, Castlebar

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

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, salmon fishing, trolling

Aberdonian spends Three Euro!!!!!!!

While mooching around in a small tackle shop down an alley in Athlone the other day I happened upon a basket full of odd and ends of tackle sporting the tempting sign ‘half price or less’. So I plunged into the task of sifting through the assorted rigs, floats, baits and sinkers. Luminous poppers, bouncing bettys, zoomer floats and myriad other angling oddities were closely examined and rejected. Then, right at the very bottom of the basket my eye fell on a huge shiney plug. Ah ha! Now this was interesting. I asked the shop owner ‘how much? ‘Three Euro for that – it is supposed to come with a special mount but it’s missing’ As this lure normally retails around €12 I had bagged myself a real bargain. All I had to do was make up a new trace and I was in business.

This is a an American version of what we Scots call a ‘Lucky Louis’, a much loved harling lure from the lower reaches of the mighty river Tay. Another version was called the ‘Kynoch Killer’. What makes these lures so successful is the incredible action when trolled behind a boat. They dart around with an extreme action which has to be seen to be believed.

Another advantage of this lure is that when you hook a fish on it the body slides up the line and out of the way so the fish can’t exert any leverage on the hooks. All I had to do now was make up a short trace for passing through the lure. There are different designs of trace, some featuring two lethal looking trebles linked with flexible braid. I much prefer a simple trace with just one treble.

When picking the swivels and beads for making this trace you need to be aware of the sizes required. The swivel needs to be small enough to pass through the hole in the plug (so the body can slide right through and up the main line). The beads however need to be bigger than the hole as they are going to act as ‘stops’. OK, here is what to do:

I use stainless steel wire for the trace and wrap it to the swivel. Now slide on two beads (I like red ones, but use whatever colour you prefer).

Measure the length of the trace by offering it up through the hole and marking the point where the eye of the hook needs to be. You want the swivel to poke out of the head end of the hole.

Now attach the hook by threading the wire through the eye, passing it around the bend of the hook and wrapping it back up the shank (see below). 

What you end up with is a short trace with a swivel at one end, two beads in the middle and a treble at the end.

Here is how the hook looks when it is in position:

Why two beads? I like to have the hook sitting a little bit away from the large body, I think it gives better hooking.

Now I am going to have to sit down in a dark room for a while after parting with THREE EURO.

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, trolling

October Piking

I snuck off for an afternoon’s piking today. The weather was so mild it seemed a pity to spend it indoors so I gathered up some gear and borrowed a boat for a few hours. It always amazes me how much gear I require for even just a short outing. Engine, fuel tank, tackle boxes and all the rest of it adds up to a mountain of stuff to be packed into the car, unpacked at the river and then loaded into the boat only for the whole damn process to be reversed once the fishing is over.

  The boat was moored across a field from where I parked the car and the normally empty field had a couple of inhabitants today in the shape of fairly sturdy cattle who couldn’t resist a close inspection of my portable mountain of gear.

I tackled up and headed upstream trailing two baits 20 yards behind the boat. A jointed plug adorned one rod and a big copper spoon was on the other. It was the spoon which did most of the damage today and the plug was replaced with a green and gold Toby at some point. Three pike were boated pretty quickly before it all went quiet and I was left to motor through the deep channel in perfect peace.

The unseasonably warm weather was tempered by an awkward wind which made handling the boat in the narrow river a bit tricky. One tiny jack took the spoon up near  the top part of the river but apart from that it was quiet, time to turn around and head back to where I had started. First I pulled into the side to stretch my legs and have a bite to eat.

Back on the water again the fish seemed to have woken up as I meandered downstream. Hits came fast and furious as Pike up to 7 pounds smash into the big copper spoon. Most of them are smaller lads of only a couple of pounds but it is great sport.

I called it a day after boating the tenth fish of the afternoon and moored up just before 4pm. Driving home I reflected on the day and in particular on the distribution of the pike. All bar one tiny Jack had been taken on the lower part of the river. was this an indication the Pike were dropping down towards the lake?

This calm spell of weather can’t last much longer so today may have been my last fishing trip for a while. If it is, at least I can say the rod was well bent!

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, trolling

The Blair Spoon Project

So I have a few old Blair Spoons knocking around in my tackle box. Not those poor copies which you buy online these days; no – these are the real thing, hand made on Royal Deeside. I bought them when I was in my teens and they gave me a few salmon fished slow and deep in cold spring water. They cast well and flutter beautifully in the current but my examples have not seen action for decades. Maybe that is about to change…………………..

The lower Dee, home of the Blair Spoon

The lower Dee, home of the Blair Spoon

For those of you unfamiliar with the Blair Spoon it is a salmon lure, about 3 inches long, copper on one side and silver on the other. I have this mad idea that by changing the colour scheme it could work for Pike around here. Some ferreting around in my endless boxes of disused rubbish unearthed some ancient tins of Humbrol enamel paint. A nice dark green, a pale, watery yellow and a rather fetching fl. orange were prised open to reveal some still usable liquid. God alone knows what Humbrol made this paint out of – these tins a forty years old if they are a day!

I wanted to retain the copper so I spent some time burnishing that side of one of the spoons until it shone.

Then I gave the previously silver side a couple of coats of dark green and set it aside to dry. Once dry it looked a bit plain, so I dabbed on some yellow spots and livened the whole job up by further spots, this time using that racy hot orange.

Hmm, it looked OK but I felt it required a bit more ‘bling’. I like a touch of red on my pike lures so I went foraging for another appropriate bauble. I thought I would have one of those little red plastic tails you get on some lures in my gear but came up empty-handed. I could have robbed one of of another pike lure but that seemed to be defeating the purpose so, in the best traditions of ‘Blue Peter’ I decided to make a tail. Some old plastic tops from food jars would do the job nicely.

A few minutes work with a sharp knife and the drill gave me a perfectly serviceable tail which was then attached to the split ring on the end of the spoon.

All finished. To my eye this is a nice lure that should work for the green beasties. The trouble is that the fish usually see things completely differently. I will give it a swim the next time I am out anyway and report back to you all.

Update!

I have also tried painting the silver side of one of my Blair Spoons with fire orange paint. Three coats applied and it has come up a very interesting deep orange colour. what do you think?


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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, sea trout fishing

All hands on deck

At the end of each season the boats have to be taken out of the lake and safely stored for the winter. Today was the day for this task on the Glenisland Coop side of Lough Beltra. Yesterdays heavy rain had passed and the evening was cool and bright as the club members gathered on the shore.

All the boats were partially filled with water and the first task was to bale each of them out. As each boat was emptied it was rowed around to the beach were it could be dragged out by a combination of willing hands and Phil’s 4×4.

Glenisland boats sport 4 ‘removable’ thole pins but these can be the very devil to extract after spending the season in-situ. Vice grips and muscle power removed them all but some required a degree of persuasion.

A boat lift is all about team work and we all ‘mucked in’ to drag the boats out in good time. Using the 4×4 to drag the boats the few yards up from the beach was a great help. Phil was a bit heavy with the right foot and he set off like he was starting the Paris to Dakar rally each time, but sure that’s young lads and fast cars for you! (Below, here is Phil giving his grand-daughter a spin in a boat)

We worked on for an hour or more as the sun sank towards the western horizon and the hills of Mayo turned deep, solemn indigo. We spaced the boats carefully so we can get at them for sanding and varnishing later on. Some went in the boat house while the remained were overturned and raised on old tyres outside.

By the time we had nestled the final boat on some worn out Goodyear’s it was getting dark and the lads began to drift off home. I clicked the shutter a few more times to catch some photos and said my farewells to the others. There is a sadness at this time of year when the boats and gear are stowed away. The nip in the air, shortening days and partings on the lake shore signal the beginning of another close season. As much as missing the fishing we all miss the camaraderie, the messing and the craik.

And so we left lovely Lough Beltra for another year. Those of us spared to see next March will be back to tackle up at the boathouse, filled with anticipation and no doubt braving cold winds/high water/scarce springers. I can’t wait!

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Fishing in Ireland, sea angling, sea trout fishing, shore fishing, SWFF

Saltwater fly patterns

There is still time to enjoy a few casts in the sea before the winter gales arrive in earnest, so here are some of my favourite fly patterns for chucking into the briney. I don’t tend to go in for very complex patterns and even my range of colours is limited, but all the flies here will catch you Mackerel, Pollock and Saithe. Let’s start with the good old Clouser minnow.

This example is tied with white Bucktail, a couple of strands of flash and bead chain eyes. I also like Black, green and pink versions too. Bucktail is hard wearing and moves well in the water.

Next we have a Black Worm pattern:

I tied this up years ago to imitate a swimming Ragworm. The tail is made of Black or dark brown marabou and the body is of black fritz. A heavy gold cone head adds weight and makes the work move enticingly on a jerky retrieve. As there are very, very few ragworm on the west coast of Ireland this fly should not work – but it does and can be very good for Pollack early in the season.

A basic sandeel pattern now, one which won’t tax your tying skills to any great extent. Whip a slim bunch of fl. green hair and a couple of strands of your favourite flash to the top of a smallish hook and there you are! It works a treat when stripped back quickly.

Lefty’s Deceiver is a great fly and I always have a few in my box. Apart from my white/black/pink/green ones I also use this version. Tail is made of white cock hackles, back to back with some added flash, a tinsel body of either silver or gold and an under wing tied below the hook of white Bucktail. The top wing is yellow/orange/black Bucktail. Add eyes if you like.

Rogan’s Gadget is an unusual looking beastie but the sea trout love this fly. I make the body from flat braid to give it a little more shape than flat tinsel. Mallard flank (either natural or dyed) is tied in at the tail then pulled over the back and tied down. The head can be formed from either bronze Peacock herl or dubbed Glister (the later takes more punishment from the fishes teeth).

Sometimes the fish can be a bit picky and a more accurate imitation of baitfish is required. Something like this which is made from different colours of hair with dyed mallard flank cheeks a glued on eyes can sometimes save the day for you.

Here is an all-black Deceiver with JC eyes. One to use in the dark or in very coloured water.

And finally, the old reliable flash-on-a-hook. Look, there are days when the fish are shoaling and willing to grab anything which is pulled in front of them. There is no point in using complex patterns under these circumstances so have some simple flashy lures on hand for those red-letter days. Silver, Pearl or Blue all seem to work equally well.

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