dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing, wetfly

Old school on the Keel

Sunday morning:

No wind. Not even a faint zephyr. Glassy surfaces on the loughs meaning every cast causes fish scaring ripples. The thought of a day spent chasing corduroy ripples across the vastness of Lough Conn did not appeal so I demurred on my planned visit to the Massbrook shoreline. I needed a plan ‘B’ so I made some coffee and mulled the options. Recent rains have enlivened the rivers and there seem to be a few salmon in the River Moy. The problem is that a weekend day on the Moy after a rise in water levels attracts anglers in their hundreds. Health and Safety professionals would have a heart attack seeing quantities of sharpened treble hooks being flung around with so little regard for human flesh. Pushing through crowds of rod wielding fishers is both unproductive and testing. I can find little in the way of relaxation when confronted with lines of anglers casting into the pools. Sure fish will be caught but when the river is so busy I’d rather toddle off to somewhere less infested.

Wickhams

The river Robe saw some much-needed water and this will have livened up the local trout population no doubt. Half way through June means the BWO hatches will be in full swing and there is every chance of some hectic sport as the westering sun dips below the Partry hills. A possibility…….

The Keel Canal. This enigmatic stretch of unlikely looking water is also on my radar at this time of year. The main road from Ballinrobe to Castlebar (N84) crosses the Keel and the visitor could easily miss it. The channel is narrow and straight. Reeds crowd the banks where the water exits Lough Carra and these give way to high banks for the rest of the passage to Lough Mask. Its crystal clear water is populated with wild trout equipped with telescopic eyesight. If you enjoy a challenge then the Keel canal is ready to provide it both in terms of technical difficulty and the potential size of the quarry. I have landed trout to nearly 5 pounds here and lost fish that have simply disappeared at the end of scintillating runs, leaving me shaking and awestruck at their power. Yes, I think I will hit the Keel this evening. Fist though, I need to get the right gear together.

The most important piece of equipment every angler needs for an evening’s trout fishing in Ireland is insect repellent. Don’t even think of venturing out on the river bank without some. Trillions of biting midges are out there waiting for your succulent blood. Failure to prepare accordingly will ruin your fishing, so invest in some good insect repellent and apply liberally.

Leaders need to be made up too. I generally don’t make up leaders ahead of time as I have had experience of catastrophic failures when using old casts with all the strength of cotton thread. But an evening on the Keel requires quick changes in the darkness, so I want to keep knots to a minimum. 5x casts for earlier on and some 6 pound mono ones for the sedge fishing in the dark.

my Ginger Sedge

Normally I get by with very few patterns, especially dry flies. An Adams, a small red sedge, a red spinner – I’d be pretty confident if I only had these three in my box for ‘normal’ dry fly fishing on Irish rivers. The Keel is different though and the fish seem to switch quickly between different food forms, meaning you have to keep watching and adjusting your approach constantly. One pattern I have used to good effect is a small dry Black Sedge. I have tried this pattern elsewhere with a conspicuous lack of success, but on the Keel it works and occasionally works extremely well. I tied this fly up after seeing a trout feeding on the naturals one evening a few years ago. We have all seen those small dark/black sedges in large numbers dancing over the surface but the trout steadfastly ignore them. I have read about this and my own observations concurred that the fish simply did not like these insects, until I clearly saw that fish on the Keel chomping them.

My plan is simple, arrive on the water around 8pm and await developments, possibly amusing myself by targeting roach on tiny nymphs until the trout come on the feed. Fish into the darkness with dries until I can’t see them and switch to skating sedges. It is like a game of two halves; the first is sight fishing, casting to specific trout on a short line. The second half is completely different, inky blackness enveloping you, listening intently for the noise of a rising fish and directing your casts accordingly. The big lads come out to play once the sun has completely set so the excitement is cranked up a few notches knowing any take is liable to be from a monster.

Sunday evening:

The day, which had started dull and overcast but very warm, had blossomed into a glorious summer’s afternoon. We went to Westport, had a bite to eat and enjoyed the grand weather. I had some things to do around the house and it was nearly 9pm before I hit the road. As I was setting up at the roadside an old work colleague stopped for a chat and so it was gone 10pm before I cast my first line.

very low water on the Keel

The air was alive with flies, buzzers, some empherid spinners and a host of small sedges. I fished dry with spinner patterns and took some small trout off the top. Although the fish were small this was very challenging fishing as the flow moved around constantly, making drag a huge problem. I missed dozens, pricked a good few and half-a-dozen or so came to hand.

small but still hard to catch!

Eventually I decided to change to sedges as they seemed to be by far the most numerous species on the wing. My Ginger Sedge occupied the dropper position while a size 14 Wickham’s Fancy was attached to the end of the leader. I dropped down to the lower pool and on the very first cast hooked a nice trout.

a good fish on the Wickham

The Wickhams was buried in his scissors. Fishing out the pool proved to be unproductive so I went back upstream to find the surface pock-marked with rising trout. Great sport ensued as fish hurled themselves at the flies I dragged over them. None were massive but each was welcome in this season of poor fortunes. By now it was getting pretty dark so once again I sauntered down stream and combed the lower pool with the cast of two.

The take, when it came, was the stuff of fishing dreams. Out of nowhere the line tightened as the surface broke. All the slack I was holding vanished in the blink of an eye and the reel gave a screech. The rod bent as out there in the darkness a hefty trout dashed for cover. It didn’t jump but I reckon it tried very other trick in the trouts repertoire. I stumbled across some large limestone boulders to gain a landing spot on a narrow gravel bar, unhitching my net as I went. The landing went according to plan and a fine fish slid over the rim and into the mesh.

I was in a hurry to get this lad back into the water so I am afraid the photos do not do him justice. This was a fine fish of perhaps a couple of pounds, beautifully marked and the shape of a rugby ball. And the successful fly? That old school Wickham’s again!

I fished on for a bit more but without any further success. The midges were beginning to bite despite my insect repellent (why do they always bite my ears?) and I had work in the morning so I called it a day and negotiated  the meadow between the river and the car accompanied by numerous bats enjoying a midnight feast. I mulled the events of the evening as I drove home. I had done OK but I should have done better. My ratio of fish risen to landed was very poor. As it used to say on my school reports ‘Colin can do better’

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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

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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!).

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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.

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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/

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Matt’s Midge

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing

Hail, drains and trees

The weather is all over the place. After a couple of days of unseasonably warm, dry weather the rains came back yesterday evening. Temperatures dropped overnight and today dawned cool and breezy. Showers, some of them of hail, added to the feeling that winter was sneaking back again and I had to push myself to go down to the Robe for a few casts. The gear was chucked into the car and I headed south by east to my ‘new’ spot.

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This is a very deceptive photo – it was bloody freezing!

My plan was to run down the pools below the bridge quickly with the wet fly then switch to the dry and fish back upstream again before prospecting above the bridge for the last hour or so. As it turned out I stuck fairly closely to this plan but it could have worked out better I think.

The most notable feature of the day was the very strong, gusting wind. At its worst the near gale force wind ripped and tugged at everything and fired hail at me like shotgun pellets. The cold during the squalls was intense and it really felt more like February than mid-April. This did not deter the Large Dark Olives from hatching and they appeared in good numbers for the 3 hours I was fishing. The trout showed their appreciation by rising occasionally to the duns. I can’t say it was a good rise today but it was the best surface action I have witnessed so far this season. If we had not suffered the cold wind I suspect today could have been a wonderful day’s fishing.

I gowned up at the car and decided that a fleece hat was called for in the conditions instead of my usual baseball cap. I was glad that I sacrificed sartorial elegance for warmth as the hail showers came frequently and each one seemed to be more severe than its predecessor.  At times my hands were frozen and I had to break from fishing to rubs some warmth back into them. Ah, the joys of spring fishing!

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squally

In between the hail showers

I cut off the old leader which was on my line and built a new one with only one dropper instead of my normal two on a wet fly cast. The wild conditions would be challenging enough without the added problems of trying to stop 3 flies tangling. As it was, a number of flies became victims of bankside vegetation with around a dozen meeting their end on the far bank due to the gusting wind. I opted for a copper beaded PT on the tail and my experimental Iron Blue Dun on the bob, but Partridge and Olive Spiders, Beaded Endrick Spiders and P&O all made cameo appearances during the afternoon.

The first pool below the bridge gave me a flavour of just how difficult this session was going to be. After  dozen cast the line was whipped into the far bank by a big gust of wind and the flies lost on a branch. A new cast was tied up and a hail shower chucked frozen water down on me. I could see olives on the surface so I figured it was still worth the effort, so I fished down the pool. Sure enough, I started to rise fish but hooking them was a problem. I checked the hooks – all OK. I altered my casting so I was fishing more squarely to the current but that didn’t seem to make any difference. I swapped the tiny size 18 IBD and put an Olive Partridge Spider size 14 on the bob (thinking the small hook was maybe not getting a good hold). That still didn’t make a difference. Time to try another piece of water.

The pool broke into a fast, shallow run and off the far bank there was a rock under the surface. This chunk of limestone pushed the flow out and created a likely looking lie. The gale was proving to be tedious to fish in and more flies were left in reeds before I eventually got things together and made a good cast just ahead of the rocky lie. I wish I could say there was a powerful take and I struck it perfectly but the truth is the trout just ‘appeared’ on the end of the line. He fought well in the fast water and I was relieved to bring him to hand, a handsome fish of around a pound. The PT was wedged in his scissors. Leader and flies were checked and after a few more casts I rose, hooked and landed another fish of the same size.

around the pound

First fish of the day

By now the hatch was well under way and some fish were showing on the top of the water. I fished the wets down the river casting into likely spots and keeping moving the whole time. By the time I reached the bottom of the fishable water I had taken 5 trout, all between three-quarters and a pound. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself because the conditions were challenging. I switched to the dry fly as I had planned and fished my way back up the river. If fishing wet had been hard trying to fish the dry fly in the windy conditions proved to be next to impossible. Admittedly I did rise a few trout but none of them were hooked due to the large loop in the line between the rod and the fly caused by the wind. I regained the bridge and paused to consider the options.

Standing on the bridge the view upstream didn’t look overly impressive. The right bank was steep and topped with a barbed wire fence. Getting as far as the bank looked daunting as there was a big drop over the side of the bridge on that bank. The water looked deep and slow as far as the bend, far from ideal. On the left bank a large drain came in about 50 yards above the bridge.

drain

Your average Irish drain

Ireland is criss-crossed with drains like this. Without them much of the agricultural land would be bog, so I can see why they are so necessary. I do have misgivings about draining every square inch of land though and these drains funnel large volumes of water into river systems, creating problems further downstream. From an anglers point of view drains are a royal pain. While some of them have been bridged the vast majority have to be navigated by wading or in the case of the smaller ones, jumping. Some drains are death traps; deep and with soft, silty bottoms. This one would have been very hard to cross but luckily there was a good bridge over it so I decided to fish the left bank for an hour.

I negotiated some wire and electric fences and got into the water in a large, slow moving pool. I would have prefered to fish it from the throat of the pool but trees on my bank prevented access. I had changed back to the wet fly and was quickly into a lovely trout of better than a pound. A second one followed and then a third, the last one being a bit smaller.

nice one

The smallest of the three

I turned to face upstream and fished upstream wet for a while, landing 3 more fish in truly deplorable conditions of gusting wind and hail showers. Timing the strike fishing upstream is something I find hard to get used to this early in the season. Practice is the only answer to this deficiency and it is worth the effort as the upstream wet fly is so deadly.

The trees were getting closer and closer together and it got to the point where is simply wasn’t possible to fish the fly any more from the left bank.

my bank

Now how do you cast in this little lot?

It was now obvious I had made a wrong move by electing to fish from the left bank. The trees lined this bank as far as I could see while the right bank was open and clear. Worse still was the sight of some lovely fly water just up river, water which was completely unfishable from the bank I was on. By now it was nearly 3pm and the hatch was slackening off, so hiking back to the bridge then up the far bank would be a lot of effort for little reward. Better to leave it for another day.

upriver

Can’t wait to try this stretch out

I went back to the deep pool and tied on a dry fly again. With still one or two trout showing I thought I could maybe winkle out a brace but it wasn’t to be. I rose a couple but the same old issue of slack line due to the wind beat me. Fishing wets meant I could tighten up on the flies once they were in the water and drag was not an issue. Fishing dry removed the option of tightening the line as it caused the fly to drag. I wound up and trudged back to the car. Eleven landed and a lot more trout risen, pricked or lost. Not too bad for 3 hours of hail, drains and trees I think.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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My Adams variant with an olive hares fur body

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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!

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