Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

TxE=S

Met Eireann forecast

Met Eireann forecast

Rain is a-coming! The weather gurus are sure the heavens are going to open over the next day or two, meaning I will be out and about chasing the silver tourists with the fly rod. There are lots of posts on this branch of our sport already on this blog but here is a quick refresher on the do’s and don’ts of river fishing for grilse.

Big spate on the Bunowen river

Big spate on the Bunowen river

Rain is everything to the summer salmon angler. While it is not impossible to winkle out the occasional fish in dead low conditions a shot of water makes a huge difference to all the rivers. Here in the west of Ireland many locals turn to their spinning rods or worming gear when the spate eventually arrives but I firmly believe that the fly will do the business on most days. So my first piece of advise is to stick to the fly.

Timing is all important and is probably the one thing that the visiting angler finds the hardest to achieve. Spate rivers by their very nature rise and fall quickly, much quicker than many visitors realise. Peering over the bridge in the morning and seeing a raging, mud coloured flood the angler suspects there will be no fishing until the next day. Wrong! Depending on the catchment area a small west coast river will probably be in fine fettle by that evening and may well be back to its bare bones within 24 hours. On all the rivers I fish I have these ‘markers’, some are stones, others are trees or fenceposts. Whatever they are I look to see where the water has reached in relation to them. I am also looking for one more vital clue – is the river still rising or (joy of joys) starting to fall. It is the falling water we want because that is when we can expect some action with the grilse.

perfect for backing up

Backing up a pool can be productive for summer salmon, especially on those long, deep, normally stagnant stretches so common on west coast rivers. A strong wind to ruffle the surface improves your prospects no end. Even if the wind is blowing up the river that a normal cast across/down and across is not possible (or safe) simply angle your casts upstream and allow the line to settle as you take a couple of steps up the bank. You may be surprised how effective this is.

Water colour is an issue that some anglers seem to get hung up on but I have seen salmon caught in absolutely filthy conditions and I am less concerned about colour and more worried about the fact the river is dropping. I happily fish in very high and dirty water, safe in the knowledge that the salmon will take in those conditions.

Small grilse on the floating line

Due to the small size of my local rivers I use either a full floater or a slow sinking fly line for all my summer salmon fishing. If I want to fish deeper or counteract a strong current I switch to a small brass tube fly to give me that bit more depth rather than reaching for a fast sinking line. I carry a sinking poly leader too just in case I really feel the urge to go deep.

The Bunowen river in Co. Mayo at a nice height

The Bunowen river in Co. Mayo at a nice height

What about fly patterns? If you restricted me to some form of a cascade, a black and gold shrimp and an Eany tailfire it would not bother me too much. A Hairy Mary is always reliable and a Wilkinson is good on sunny days. Every year there are new, brighter and more complex patterns to pick from but don’t get into the bad habit of constantly swapping flies.

Black and Gold Shrimp

Black and Gold Shrimp, a favourite of mine for the grilse

Eany Tailfire

Eany Tailfire

Fly fishing for grilse can be a mixture of long periods of inactivity interspersed with short bursts of high octane action as a small pod of them pass by. As with all salmon fishing the angler who spends the most time with their flies in the river will catch the most fish.

T (time on the river) x E (experience) = S (success) when it comes to summer grilse fishing with a fly rod!

3 pounder

 

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, salmon fishing

Spate river fly design

What makes a good spate river fly?

I tie hundreds of flies every year. I used to tie much, much more but these days a few hundred come off my vice and most of those are tied during the quiet winter period. Due to the nature of the fishing in the West of Ireland these flies fall readily into groups, trout: river dry, wet and nymph, lough trout dry and wet and finally salmon river and lough. I have never really thought too much about the distinction between the salmon flies I use in flowing water as opposed to the ones for the loughs but they are fundamentally different and here is my reasoning.

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Hairy Mary, classic pattern for spate rivers

A large part of my reasoning for using differing lough vs river patterns is due to the movement of the flies in the water. On rivers there is a flow which acts on the hook and materials and causes the fly to move both in the current and within itself. Lough flies have a different role in that they will be moved largely by the angler drawing in the line and also in the ‘Z’ axis as the waves in the lough rise and fall.

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Shrimps and Cascades

Perhaps the greatest difference is the hooks I use. On the river I still favour trebles and doubles with a small single occupying the dropper position on the leader. I like the weight of the trebles and doubles and the way they ’grip’ the water much better than singles which travel much higher in the water.

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An Eany Tailfire tied on those lovely Loop doubles

 

Fly design for spate rivers

I normally fish with two flies on the river and accept I may lose the occasional fish when the trailing/dangling free fly snags on a bush /tree/bottom (in practice I find this happens so rarely that it can be disregarded). I like to be able to offer the fish two different patterns on the same cast and will take a lot of convincing that this is more effective than the normal single fly approach. The only downside of fishing a dropper for me is the inevitable tangles suffered when casting into high winds.

Now picture the scene on a typical west coast spate river. Small, often deep pools, occasional long deep canal like stretches and short fast runs connecting these features. River width can vary from 3 to 30 yards and there will be lots of obstacles like trees and bushes. All in all, a world away from the beautifully tended, wide, smooth running ‘classic’ rivers of the Scottish East coast. As you can imagine, this has a big bearing on the flies I use here.

high water water on a spate river

deeside

The Dee at Cairnton, a world away from my local spate rivers

There is very little in the way of spring salmon fishing here, so grilse are the target from May to September. Always on the move, these fish are often encountered is small groups and sport can be brisk when you bump into these pods of fish. Your flies need to be presented at a level in the water to attract their attention and the received wisdom is that needs to be in the top foot or so of the water column. There are minor tactics like skating flies but generally speaking you present the flies sub-surface. This is why I prefer my river patterns dressed on trebles and doubles. These flies sink immediately they hit the water, unlike single hooked patterns which have a nasty tendency to skate on the surface due to their much lighter weight. I have experimented with weighted flies and even adding weight to the leader but met with poor success so far.

Sinking lines or sink tips are useful to a degree and I admit a fondness for homemade sink-tips. My argument against them is based on that critical first few second after the flies hit the water when I need them to sink instantly instead of waiting for them to be dragged under by the line. On narrow, heavily overgrown spate rivers fish are often found lying hard against the bank, so casts need to be accurate and the fly simply must sink immediately it hits the water. I have experimented with small brass tubes in the past and found them to be pretty useful but I still prefer trebles or doubles for this work.

So my preferred set up on spate rivers when fishing for salmon is a small treble on the point, usually a size 10 down to a 14 with a small single hooked pattern on the dropper. Dropper length is roughly 4 to 6 inches. I will talk about patterns in another post.

no.5

A small,coloured grilse from a spate river about to go back

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