dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing

Griesed lightening

Where has the season gone? Work has been frenetic and I’ve covered many hard miles criss-crossing the island between Mayo and Kildare since mid-August with little time left to pick up a rod. Now here we are near the end of September and the season is almost over. Looking back there have been scant opportunities to fish but I did manage a couple of hours on a river which was new to me.

August was a difficult month for us flyfishers in Ireland. The weather was often changeable and ranged from baking heat and bright sunshine right through to thundery downpours and high winds. It all combined to create challenging conditions.

This past August work brought me to the lush agricultural lands in south County Kildare. Work days are long and challenging with minimal free time in the evenings. As I drove from work at the end of the first day of the assignment I crossed the small River Griese. Up here in Kildare the Griese is tiny but it drains a fair old chunk of Kildare and Carlow before it joins the Barrow, growing steadily as it meanders between fields of ripening cereals. Importantly, small though it is, it has something of a reputation as a brown trout fishery.  I decided that I would make time to give it a lash some evening.

The Griese from a road bridge.

A little research with the assistance if Google brought me to the website of the River Griese Trout and Salmon Association. A veritable cornucopia of information, maps and photos of the upper Griese was available, including online booking for permits. All good so far but was the price of a day ticket going to be prohibitive? A fist full of Euros or your first-born child perhaps? I need not have worried, you can fish the Griese for the princely sum of €5 per day on one of the beats or €20 for a season. Come on now folks, have you ever seen a better piscatorial bargain? The association water is divided into a number of beats, the upper ones can be accessed by visitors on a day permit while the lower beats are reserved for season ticket holders. My first week at work was demanding so I would have to wait a little while longer to cast a line on this little gem. Over the weekend while back at home I consulted my angling books to glean some more detailed information about the river. I gathered up some gear and chucked it in the back of the car, all ready for a few hours chasing small trout on the Griese the next week.

Ballitore is a pretty little village and the Griese gurgles and glides through it, as clear as expensive gin. The ruins of an old mill sit next to the stream just outside the village and I parked up here to tackle up and access beat. Upstream the river flowed in a fairly straight line through a field with only one or two trees for cover. Downstream was more varied with a weir and some weed beds on a sharp bend. I leaned over the bridge (as you do) and peered into the water. Lo and behold! Fish were rising! Now not big fish you understand, just wee fellas sipping tiny midges but they were never the less fish. I tied on a suitable copy and started to cast – nothing. I changed fly, no joy. I changed again, this time to a teensy-weensy gnat which has often done the business for me – nope, they didn’t want that either. To cut a long story short I blanked. A small sedge rose plenty as the darkness fell but none of them stuck. Non-plussed I retired to lick my wounds.

The following week I was back on the Griese but this time on a lovely section further downs river where it flows through a golf course in the grounds of a hotel. I spent most of the evening just wandering along the banks spotting fish in the clear water but I at last settled into some proper fishing as the sun dipped below the horizon and the wee trout began to show themselves. I rose a huge number of fish but landed none of them. As our transatlantic cousins say – I skunked! They really are very fussy fellas in this river. My striking seemed to be too slow and I tried to adjust it to keep up with the pace of the trout but they were only laughing at my feeble attempts. I need a pattern they are more confident in and take their time to swallow. I will be back soon to give a couple of other patterns a try. Until then here are some photos of my recent dismal failures:

A nice run

The pool beside the ruined mill

Crystal clear water

sunset in Kildare

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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, trout fishing, wetfly

The Keel

The warm evening tempted me out. I abandoned the couch and searched for some odds and ends of gear before heading south to the river Keel. Three seasons have come and gone since I last wet a line in this fishery. Would there be any changes?

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Like the Robe last weekend the Keel is desperately low. In places it is badly weeded already, something you don’t expect to see for another month yet. The crystal clear water added to the undoubted challenges but even as I approached the water I could see the air was full of insects. Regardless of the water level there was plenty of trout food around.

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Wet fly was my first line of attack, casting as close as I dare to the bushes on the far bank and retrieved or swung in the current. This sound easy but the weeds and some rocks broke the surface in very awkward spots making presentation a real challenge. Near the tail of the second pool I tightened into the first take of the evening. A couple of Perch, for all the world looking like two kids in striped pyjamas, came to hand.

20160511_20203820160511_202045 More plucks and nibbles followed suggesting a shoal of coarse fish were in the pool so I upped sticks and tried the top pool instead. This is a small and fast flowing piece of water below the weir which invariably holds a big stock of smaller trout. The number of spinners in the air was reaching incredible proportions now and the trout were mopping up any that were on the surface.

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two trout rise close together

I fished the wets upstream and managed some small trout to a Red Spinner and one of my sedges on size 14 hooks. More and more fish rose and the sport became frantic with almost every cast yielding some response from the trout. Time to try a dry fly.

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Spinners in the air

In my haste I had neglected to look for my box of spinners when leaving the house and so I opted for a size 16 BWO pattern instead of something more accurately representative. Just a body made from the under fur of a Polar Bear dyed bright orange and a grizzle hackle, this has been a steady if unspectacular provider of sport for me over the years. Tonight it bit the business again but it looked to be too small for the job as the spinners on the water were huge in comparison.

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As always, the rise slackened of and the fish took a breather. With the sun sinking ever lower in the west it was time to switch tactics one more time and try a sedge.

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the BWO was looking the worse for wear!

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A new leader and three wet sedge patterns looked like a sound option. Cast in a way that they fished high in the water and dragged occasionally all three fooled some trout before I packed up. My experience of this river is that the really big fish don’t become active until it is dark, but weariness had set in long before that time so the monster browns were left in peace for another day.

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This river has been subject to heavy angling pressure from the bait and spinner brigade so fish stocks are a fraction of what they used to be but an evening here is still a magical experience.

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A slow trundle home in the car with the late and much lamented Rory Gallagher for company gave me time for reflection.I caught about twenty trout, none bigger than a pound and most considerably smaller. My eyesight continues on a sharply downward trajectory and seeing the size 16 dry was difficult and frustrating work. The price of advancing years can be heavy indeed. But what a glorious evening to be out in the Irish countryside, alive with birdsong and life.

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