dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, Nymphs, trout fishing, wetfly

Crossboyne

I want to focus on a specific stretch of the River Robe in this post. There are two reasons for this; firstly one of my followers tells me he fishes in the area and has struggled to catch much. Secondly I want to run through some basic techniques which have been successful for me in the past and show the type of water where they work. This post will therefore be much longer than my normal ramblings, so please do bear with me.

The bridge over the Robe at Crossboyne. A handy spot to park and enter the river

I’ll start off with a brief description of the river as many of you will be unfamiliar with this stream. The Robe rises about 3 miles outside the town of Ballyhaunis in Co. Mayo and it winds its way down to where it empties into the mighty Lough Mask, some 40 miles in total length. This part of Ireland rests on a big slab of limestone, so the river is very fertile. Pike, perch and roach live in the river alongside native wild Brown Trout but I have no interest in any of the other species, I only fish for the brownies. It is important to understand the topography of the river as there are long stretches which, while they probably support pike and perch, as pretty much useless for trout. This is due to the low flow and deep water which don’t seem to suit the trout. Some of these slow, deep parts are natural but others as are a result of man’s tinkering with nature and dredging the river in the hope it would alleviate flooding. So, if you are visiting please bear this in mind and pick your spot carefully (this blog may be of assistance).

You can cross the river here at the tail of the pool

The part of the Robe in question is centred on the hamlet of Crossboyne, just outside Claremorris in County Mayo. This part of the river boasts a number of different habitats and really challenging angling. Don’t think this is somewhere that you can easily drag out 8 or 10 good trout in a few hours fishing. No, this is fishing which will test the best of fishers, water that makes you think and when your best efforts prove fruitless will show you big, fat trout which rise just to annoy you. I have landed and returned 4 pound trout here and I have blanked more often than I can remember.

Lovely pools under the trees

This is very much wild fishing, none of the pools on the river are named (as far as I know anyway). Forget manicured banks and cosy fishing huts. Here you scramble down slopes and into the water to try and sneak up on your quarry. I spend much more time trying to figure out how to get into a position to cast than I do actually fishing. Crossboyne is actually one of the easier stretches on the Robe, I know some other bits of the river that would test the resolve of a Himalayan Sherpa! While there are some large fish here the vast majority of the catch will be between 6 and 10 inches. This may sound like small fry but trying to tempt these fish from a narrow, overgrown stream is a real challenge.

Access is easiest either at the bridge in Crossboyne itself or along the tiny road which leads out towards Castlemaggarett. The river hereabouts is roughly 5 or 6 yards wide, so the fishing is going to be short range with no need for long casts. Leave your heavy rods and powerful reels behind, a 3 wt set up is fine and if you want to go lighter that is OK too. Gear is going to be basic with some spools of line for leaders and tippets (I cart about everything from 6 pound nylon down to 7x carbon). I use a wide range of flies and techniques so my pockets are filled with boxes of every sort of fly. I am growing increasingly ambivalent towards nets, some days I carry one but on others I can’t be bothered with the hassle of them catching on every twig and bush. I return all I catch anyway so there doesn’t seem to be much point in taking one with me. The choice is yours…….

An additional hazard to look out for!

With a season stretching from 1st of March right through to the last day of September you can expect a wide range of conditions and responses form the trout. The early season is usually good and then the summer is difficult but rewarding. I must admit I rarely fish the Robe after August so it might be fabulous in September but I would not know. Fly hatches include olives, midges, sedges and stoneflies and there are always terrestrials too. The bigger fish feast on crayfish and small fish.

Stonefly

20170422_135508

Tail of a pool, expect to catch fish here early in the season

Let me run through some specific techniques and illustrate them in use on the river around Crossboyne. I will start with early season, March and April and in high water.

Imagine it is the middle of March and the river is running a couple of feet above normal level due to a prolonged period of rain. With no hills in the catchment and mild winters snow melt is never an issue nor is freezing at this time of the year. The water will be cool and the fish reluctant to stir from the bottom of the river. That means we have to go down to them and weighted nymphs are the answer. Expect to find trout off the main flow and hunting for food which is being swept right to them. Backwaters, easy lies behind rocks and the smooth water at the tails of pools are usually a happy hunting ground in these conditions. I find normal upstream nymphing most productive, changing the weight of the nymphs to keep them near the bottom in different flows and depths. Fish the slower water carefully and at very short range. If you have more than a couple of yards of fly line outside the tip ring you are probably not in control of the flies. Due to the nature of this kind of fishing on such a small river I find I change the weight of the flies often. I am not too bothered about patterns, anything with hare’s ear or pheasant tail will do, but the weighting of the fly so it is very near the bottom is critical.

If the water is very, very high at this time of year some of the long, dead flats I mentioned in the first paragraph can produce a trout or two. Big, coloured water should be tackled with large crayfish or sculpin type pattern of streamer fished near the bottom and swung in the current. Buggers and woolly worms work too. On this stretch of the Robe there are limited places to practice this kind of method but the long flats below the trees downstream of the bridge at Crossboyne are ideal. The streamers need to be well weighted so they get down to the fish very quickly. This is when that spool of 6 pound mono comes in handy. Partly because you are casting heavy flies which will crack off if you slightly mis-time a cast and also because you are likely to attract the biggest fish in the river.

Crayfish remains

a small trout taken on a wet olive

Some days the nymph does not seem to be effective but swinging a team of wets can work instead. I like to use a weighted nymph type pattern on the tail early in the season partnered with a couple of traditional spiders on droppers. If you have been following this blog you will be familiar with my choice of spiders. The Partridge and Orange and Plover and Hare’s Ear are staples of mine but there are a host of old patterns which all work on their day. In March and April the trout will hold near the tails of the pools but as the water warms up they tend to spread out and into faster water. You need to be adaptable when fishing wets in small rivers and the ability to fish upstream is key if you are to maximise catches. For me, taking a trout on the upstream wet fly is very satisfying. Half the time when I strike I do so through instinct rather than any physical evidence there is a fish. Trying to describe how this works is beyond me and I have not read any other angling writer do this ‘art’ justice. All I can do is recommend you practice, practice and practice some more with fishing upstream wets. Trust me, it is worth the effort.

Let’s move on a few weeks and into the glorious month of May. By now there should be good hatches of flies in the Crossboyne stretch, enough to tempt the trout to take food from the surface. Like many other anglers I am always itching to fish dry. Flicking a tiny floating fly at rising trout is right up there with the finest methods of angling. Once again, the Robe fish are not too demanding when it comes to specific patterns and an Adams, Grizzled Mink or similar ‘general’ dry flies will work on most occasions. If you encounter a very picky fish you might have to go through your fly box to find a better copy. Over the years I have found that switching to an emerger pattern and fishing it ‘damp’ will often fool these difficult fish. I tie up very simple CDC emergers in grey, olive and yellow and they have worked well.

My olive emerger. Fur body and CDC looped over the back

The stretch of river immediately upstream of Crossboyne bridge is lovely dry fly water. You will need to wade here to get into good positions, so I better say a bit about wading in the River Robe.

The new church just visible from the water

For me, wading is an intrinsic part of fly fishing. There is something deeply satisfying about getting into the river, feeling the power of the water and the coolness of the different environment. The Robe, while small, demands respect when wading. These limestone rivers can be tricky and you need to be aware such hazards as:

  • Steep shelving bottoms. The water can plunge from a few inches to many feet deep very quickly and due to the colour of the water and the dark nature of the bottom this can be really hard to spot.
  • Silty bottom. Look out for pockets of deep silt which can be hard to extricate your feet from. These are often encountered in slow stretches.
  • Slippery rocks. The bottom of the river is covered in slippery weed and algae. I always use a wading stick for extra support and to give me that ‘third leg’ for when I slip on the rocks. I urge you all to do the same, it has saved me from many a ducking.
  • Difficult access. This rough fishing and just getting into the water can be among the biggest challenges. High banks are the order of the day and selecting the right spot to enter the river is an art in itself.

Back to the dry fly. Also in May the evening fishing starts to pick up on this part of the Robe. Dry fly reigns supreme during these late spring and summer evenings and matching the hatch is the name of the game. Falls of spinners are often the cause of the evening rise but watch out for fish taking small sedges and other insects. It is really hard to be specific about patterns due to the variety of fly life available to the fish so I will leave it up to you to decide on what to try. I will do a separate post of patterns which have worked for me (this post is already getting out of hand!).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Some years we get huge falls of Black Gnats and the fish go crazy for them. This can be wonderful fishing. Normal small, dark patterns fished dry or in the surface film work a treat. Look out for hawthorns too, they are never plentiful but the fish seem to love them so I carry a copy in my dry fly box just in case (I saw the first Hawthorn of the year today at Crossboyne).

Blue Winged Olives are the mainstay of the evening fishing and you must have a range of different patterns to cover these little beauties. Some evenings the fish was yellow-ish olive duns, other times it has to be an orange bodied spinner. When the trout switch on to a fall of BWO spinners the river seems to be covered with the rises of the fish. Stretches which you though were barren suddenly come alive with trout. As usual, these impressive rises are all to short and the failing light puts an end to the sport. You will do well to land 3 or 4 trout in the short space of time between the start of the action and ‘lights out’.

4 pounds plus

The old trusted technique of skating a biggish sedge on the top of the water as the light fades usually produces a fish or two and sometimes a good one. I remember dong this late one summer evening when a huge trout appeared out of nowhere and grabbed the size 10, he shot upstream, jumped and smashed my tippet. He was four pounds if he was an ounce! That fish was lying in less than a foot of water. Red sedge, Balloon Caddis and dry Green Peters all work well as the sun goes down.

Dry flies

High summer is always a challenging time for any river fisher and the Robe shrinks to meagre, weed encrusted trickles by July. Small, dark flies and terrestrial patterns are what you need. If you stand on the bridge at Crossboyne and look down stream you see trees. Lots of trees, overhanging the river and almost totally enclosing the river. While these trees are obviously going to be a headache when casting they are also a larder for the fish. All kinds of creatures fall into the river and keep the fish well fed. The secret to fishing this short stretch is to go down to the tail of the last pool and enter the river. By slowing and very carefully wading upstream you can just cast under the branches. You will lose flies and leaders aplenty but you just have to accept that as the price you pay for this ‘jungle fishing’. Take care when wading, the bottom in these pools is very uneven and there are some small but deep holes to be avoided. I have never had any monsters out of these pulls but it is satisfying to catch even a 10 incher from difficult spots like this.

Stimulators, like this green one, catch fish on summer evenings when sedges are on the wing

I can’t say that I have fished the Crossboyne stretch after August so I may be missing out on spectacular late season trouting. For me, this is an early season and summer evening sort of spot. I hope this has been of some help to you and that you are able to give this piece of water a try sometime.

Advertisements
Standard
dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing

Keeping it simple: a good midge pattern

Check out the excellent video from T. Flagler which I found on Chi Wulff’s blog. This style of midge works exceptionally well in Ireland when tiny black flies are on the water in May and June.

http://chiwulff.com/2016/11/18/tie-one-on-matts-midge-from-tightline/

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Matt’s Midge

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Olive Matt’s Midge with a poly wing

He ties this fly  on a size 22 but I find it works all the way up to size 14 (we must have bigger midges here in Mayo!). The colour combination can be varied too. An olive midge has worked well for me in the past and I have a red version which has still to be tried but should do the business.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Red ‘Matt’s Midge’

i also vary the wing material and use white polypropylene sometimes. This material lies much flatter and so gives a different outline tot he fly but it seems to work equally well.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

You can rattle these flys out in no time at all and in a wide range of colours to meet local conditions. I recommend you have a few in the box, they are a steady producer of browns.

Standard
dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling

Quiet day on Conn

Addergoole Cemetry

Out for a few hours on Conn today but the lake was extremely quiet. No signs of any salmon and very few trout moving to a small hatch of mayfly.

Chocolate CDC sedge

Chocolate CDC sedge

I trolled for a bit to start with as there was very little wind. One fish gave the rod a heafty thump but didn’t hang around. I suspect it was a large trout rather than a salmon. Then set up the fly rod and tied on a mayfly emerger and  chocolate CDC sedge. On the second drift I had a small trout on the sedge. This is pretty common towards the end of the mayfly, smallish brown sedges hatch out the the fish can sometimes be easier to fool on a sedge than a mayfly.

Mayfly emerger

The trout showing were all small again, no signs of good fish. At least it was a lovely day to be out with a steady breeze eventually settling over the lake and a bit of warmth for a change.

Clouds over nephin

Clouds over nephin

I motored up to the mouth of the Addergoole River which seems to be an area where a few salmon are hanging around at the moment and fished the fly for them for a few drifts, alas without success.

looking out from the Addergoole

looking out from the Addergoole

The river itself is small and very overgrown but the salmon use it for spawning.

Addergoole River

Addergoole River

The day was wearing on now and the number of boats had increased alarmingly. Looking down to Massbrook it had the appearance of a Spithead review! Time to call it a day and leave the lake to those who can put up with the crowds. So the lesson for today was remember to have some small dark sedges in your box at this time of year. I will make a few more up this evening!

Standard
dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling, trout fishing, wetfly

Conn tricks – catching trout on ham sandwiches

The word on the street was that there were salmon being caught in Lough Conn so I decided to head out today and give it an auld lash. My boat is on Cullin so it meant driving it across Cullin, under the bridge at Pontoon and motoring half way up lough Conn. The journey was uneventful and I was fishing an hour after leaving Healy’s Bay.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fellow trollers on Lough Conn today

I had a couple of trolling rods set up and with the engine turning over slowly I set about following the contours of the Massbrook shoreline in the company of a few other like minded souls.  Two hours later and there had been no action at all, not even a salmon jumping in the distance. However, the mayfly had been hatching in ever increasing numbers and the trout decided to put in an appearance. The air was full of swallows, martins and swifts chasing the unfortunate greendrakes and now the brown trout started to hammer them from below. Time for me to set up a fly rod, so I pulled into the shore.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The first line of attack was a team of three wets. A good, rolling wave and a brisk westerly wind coupled with an overcast sky seemed to point towards the wet fly and sure enough I started to catch a few trout on a yellow hackled Green Peter, one of my own patterns which I especially like for Conn.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My yellow hackled Green Peter

Trout were showing all over the lake now and takes were coming thick and fast. The only problem was the size of the fish, they were all between 12 and 14 ounces. This took me back a few years to when Conn produced great fishing for trout of this size. Later the average size increased dramatically but the fish were much more scarce. Maybe nature is reverting back to the old days. Anyway, I decided to change to the dry fly as the trout were obviously taking the duns as the sat on the surface drying their wings. I changed the cast and tied on a couple of dries. When I reached into my bag for floatant I came up empty-handed – no Gink! OK, I would try fishing the heavily hackles flies without waterproofing. I flicked out a short cast with untreated lies and the Yellow Wulff was snapped up immediately by a lively three-quarter-pounder. The Wulff was a bedraggled mess by the time I had freed the tout and popped it back into the lake. I needed to find some floatant urgently.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ham sandwiches, that staple of the anglers lunchbox came to my rescue. I had a couple of rather sorry looking examples of porcine slices ‘twixt granary bread lurking in a box. The bits of pig were not my focus of attention, it was the butter which fired my imagination. Surely a dab of butter worked into the dressing of the flies would aid them to float? I had never tried it before but lacking any other suitable material it was worth a bash. I scraped some butter from a sandwich and rubbed into a Wulff. At first it looked to be a disaster but when the butter melted it soaked into the yellow fly and seemed to be OK. Feeling rather pleased with myself I set off on the next drift.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A Yellow Wulff lathered in butter!

There was a good wave now and the flies would sometimes disappear from view behind a wave. After only a few casts the Wulff disappeared OK but in the middle of an impressive swirl. I tightened into the fish and played him out but the fly came out of him mouth at the side of the boat. No matter, it was only a small lad. The question was was the fly still going to float? You bet it did! It fairly bobbed about on the surface and tempted another half-a-dozen trout before I called it a day.

As I was tidying the boat to prepare for the long run home to Healy’s Bay I noticed a large, brownish fly on one of the seats. The first Murrough of the year.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A Murrough that thought he was a mayfly

OK, so I didn’t catch a salmon and the trout I boated were of humble proportions. But still it was a great day to be out between wind and wave (just where Admiral Lord Nelson liked his grape shot to arrive). I will be dropping into Frank Baynes tackle shop for some Gink before I venture out again though!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A very out of focus pic of a trout with my Green Peter in its mouth

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Muddler headed Golden Olive

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Nephin cloaked in mist

Standard
Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

The Iron Blue Dun

I want to discuss the Iron Blue Dun (it is too much hassle to write Iron Blue Dun all the time so I will refer to it as ‘IBD’ in this post). For such a tiny insect it has generated a huge amount of words in  angling literature, and rightly so. From the earliest history of fly fishing the IBD has been recognised as a hugely important species. I won’t bore you with the minute differences between the three separate species as they so closely resemble each other it requires a magnifying glass to differentiate. I am more concerned with the practicalities of catching trout when the IBD hatches out.

IMG_6875 There is a common misconception that the IBD only hatches out on cold, windy days when no other fly life is active. While I have certainly seen them hatch in just such conditions I have also seen them coming off the water on mild and calm days too so I am inclined to treat the whole ‘bad weather fly’ theory as highly dubious. What is not in doubt is the high regard the fish have for the IBD. Back in the days when I fished the Aberdeenshire Don it was not unusual to see heavy hatches of Large Dark Olives, March Browns and IBDs on the same day. The Olives would come down the rivers in a pretty steady trickle and the March Browns would just appear in explosive bursts, none on the surface one minute then a host of them like miniature speckled sail boats the next. Within the space of a few moments the March Browns would be gone again only for the process to repeat itself  20 or so minutes later. The IBD hatch can vary widely. Some days they would gradually build from one or two flies to a heavy hatch over the period of up to an hour while on other occasions they never seemed to appear in more than a trickle.

IMG_0149

The problem for the fly fisher is to initially spot the IBD when the hatch starts. They are tiny and in moving water can be hard to spot, especially when other species are present at the same time. I have been guilty of missing the start of an IBD hatch more than once because I simply didn’t see them. Surely an experienced fisher would not not caught out like this? Well, let me tell you that when olives and March Browns are drifting down the stream and trout are rising all over it is very easy to fix your concentration on what seems to be the obvious and automatically cast your olive or March Brown copies at the risers without stopping to study the water for the possible appearance of something else. I have been fooled many times into thinking I knew what was happening because I had seen fish actually take a few olives. Trout will accept the olives all right but they much prefer the IBD when it is available in my experience.

Iron Blue spider pattern

That brings me to the question of tactics and fly patterns for fishing the IBD hatch. There are a number of traditional spider patterns which imitate the IBD such as the Snipe & Purple and the Dark Watchett. Fished up or downstream as the situation dictates these are very effective cathers of trout. Avoid the temptation to use flies bigger than a size 16. the naturals are very small and size seems to be one of the triggers for the fish. Some IBD patterns sport a crimson tag and while I have netted numerous fish on flies with this adornment I remain sceptical they add significantly to the success rate.

Personally I prefer to tackle trout rising to IBD’s with a dry fly. I find that they take a floating dun imitation well and will come to it even if the hatch is light. Tiny klinkhammers and parachutes are ideal for this job. Brightly coloured wing posts are a real help to those of us with dodgy eyesight.

You can expect to find the IBD in numbers from now until mid-May so be prepared to scan the water closely for them. It is so easy to miss them but you can be sure the trout won’t. Those minute flies which resemble spots of ink in the water can provide you with some unforgettable sport if you keep your eyes peeled.

Standard
Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Scratching a dry itch

The fickle March weather has turned cold and wet again. The balmy few days we had last week have been swept away by mean winds that seek out every opening to send a chill through me as if to remind me of my advancing years. Looking back over the season so far the rod has bent into a few nice trout already but I need more. That old itch to catch trout on the dry fly needs to be scratched. Like an addict missing a fix I prowl the house these days wishing for a break in the weather so I can sally forth with the dry line and actually see the fish swallow the fly.

Adams

The Adams, my favourite for the spring time

I managed to fool one trout on the dry last week and the feeling of satisfaction when he rose to the fly and I tightened into him remained as strong as ever. The process of spotting the rise, matching the natural, casting to the fish and finally setting the hook is surely one of the highlights of the fly fishing experience. The wet fly can be extremely effective and nymphing is an art unto itself, but the dry fly remains for me the most exciting branch of our sport. That visual element makes all the difference and engaging that sense turns an already absorbing pastime into something very special.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For dry fly fishing in these parts I use either my 10 foot, no. 5 Orvis or a 7 footer which is rated for a no. 3 line. I accept that the Orvis is over gunned in most situations but I have landed tout up to nearly 5 pounds on the Robe and lost bigger fish, so the longer rod has its uses. The seven footer is lovely to fish with but struggles badly with anything over a couple of pounds in weight. I use a heavy butt section on my leader set up to give me some assistance when trying to push a fly into the inevitable wind. I then steeply taper down to a tippet of between 2 and 4 pounds, depending on the situation.

Dry patterns are centered around the ever popular Klinkhammer design and the more traditional spider and upright winged flies. I like wings on some patterns as they help me to spot them in turbulent water.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A winged GRHE on a size 14 hook

Adams and GRHE tend to be the ones I gravitate to in the springtime. These are general patterns rather than specific imitations and they provide me with sufficient sport to encourage a high level of faith in them. I mess around a bit with both patterns so they can be found in my fly box as conventionally winged, spider, klinkhammer and even Irresistible versions to cover a wide range of situations.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Irresistible Adams, a high floater for rough water or a windy day

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My Adams variant with an olive hares fur body

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Adams/GRHE/klinkhammer thingy (it works too!)

Outside the trees are bent in the blustery westerly and the rain is hammering down. but by the weekend conditions should have improved sufficiently for me to dust down the dry fly box and give these lads a go. I am not looking for a cure to this particular itch, I just need to scratch it some more.

Tight lines!

Standard