Fishing in Ireland, trolling

Cold day on Cullin

It looked for all the world like one of those days in mid-winter when the sky fills with menacing clouds and snow falls thickly, snarling up traffic and turning the pavements into streams. That was Saturday and the cold snap continued into Sunday.

Between the snow showers three of us flipped my boat over and loaded it on to a trailer, ready for Sunday morning’s journey to Lough Cullin. An inch of ice in the boat greeted me the next day and it had to be hacked off before we hit the road. The snow had retreated to the hill tops but the bitter wind remained to test our resolve. Rods and gear had been brought along but with such coldness we remained undecided to last minute if we would venture out. Cullin looked blankly uninviting, the wind blustered and blew out of the freezing east and even the strenuous effort of launching the boat failed to generate any heat in the pair of us. The moment for decision came once the boat was safely in the water and we managed to convince ourselves there was a chance of a fish. So the outboard spluttered into life and we motored off to the favourite spot to troll for a while.

A small but steady hatch of buzzers came off the lake all the time we were afloat but not a single fish rose. I didn’t blame them. We were threading our way between the pins when my rod buckled and the reel woke me from what I considered to be the early stages of hypothermia. A ten yard dash and then………….nothing. Just a heavy weight and the odd head shake. Pike. A stone of teeth and slime came to the boat, hooked conveniently in the corner of the mouth.


Ben boated another Essox around the 7 pound mark before we stopped for a bite to eat on the shore near Pontoon Bridge. As usual, the prawning brigade were hard at it but enquiries showed they were fishless like us.


Pulled in near the bridge

We changed baits, switching to plugs instead of spoons but all to no avail. The cold and rising wind made it unpleasant to be out in so we decided to call it a day around 2pm. Hardly an exciting day’s sport but the boat is now in place for when the fishing does eventually pick up.


Fishing in Ireland, Pike, salmon fishing, trolling

Spring but no Springers



Rain over the bank holiday weekend has pushed up water levels a bit so we decided to try for a springer today. Waiting for Ben outside the house in warm sunshine it really felt like spring was here at last. The trees were filled with chirping birds amid the early blossoms.


Lovely spring morning, for a start at least

I caught up on all Ben’s news on the short journey out to the river  (he had a 10 pounder off Lagduff on the Owenduff on Saturday) and we assessed the chances for today. The river had risen over a foot but was now dropping back . Word was that a couple of salmon had been caught on the Moy system recently, one at Pontoon bridge and another at Foxford. All of this sounded good and we were pretty hopeful there was going to be a fish or two in the river today. Peering over the bridge the water was tinged, but not too coloured. Gear was hastily stowed on the boat and we motored up river in good spirits.

An hour later and we were beginning to flag. No signs of fish at all and the warmth of the morning was disipating as clouds rolled in from the south west. A thin drizzle began to fall, washing our confidence away. Conversation died and we sat hunched in the boat, each  of us lost in our own thoughts. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ, off went Ben’s rod as something fishy grabbed his Kynoch. After the first run everything went dead and we both knew what that meant – PIKE.


Note how the Kynoch has slid up the line and out of harm’s way

This lad headed for the weeds and had to be bullied back out into open water before he could be boated.


Coming to hand

By the time we pulled in to have a bit of lunch we had 3 pike between us, all between 4 and 5 pounds in weight. Of the silvery salmon there was no sign. After a soggy lunch, consumed behind a brier in a cold and wetting mist, we met some fellow anglers who were bait fishing with similar results as ourselves. And so we turned for home and headed back the way we had come. Another pike and then 2 trout were boated as we retraced our steps. Both trout were, just like the ones we had on Friday, in perfect condition, deep bodied and well fed. I suspect these are fish from Lough Cullin which came up the river to spawn and have hung around due to the good food supply.



trailing some weed, another Pike comes to the boat

We called it a day when we got back below the bridge and tackled down at a leasurely pace. Salmon fishing is a numbers game, the more often you fish the more salmon you will catch. Today was not our turn but that wont stop us from trying again soon.


Get out of those weeds!


Snow on Nephin today

With work beckoning tomorrow and the forecast of cool, wet weather for the whole week I am now resigned to no more fishing until next weekend.






Fishing in Ireland, Nymphs, trout fishing, wetfly

Endrick Spider does the trick


It was too cold yesterday for trout fishing, the east wind had a raw edge to it and so I kept my powder dry for today instead. At 8am the cloud cover was good and the temperature was beginning to rise a little, so I fed and walked the dogs before heading south to the river Robe for a few hours fluff chucking. I was torn between the stretch at Castlemeggaret or the pools above Hollymount and as I travelled the N84 I settled on the Hollymount water for today’s outing. I stopped off in Ballinrobe to get something to eat before bouncing along towards Claremorris and turning off to the small bridge above the village of Hollymount.


Looking downstream from the bridge

I was greeted with a low river; surprisingly low after the winter floods. The past week has been dry and the water levels have receded rapidly. Clouds were thinning as I tackled up and by lunchtime clear blue skies were overhead, making things a little tricky. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


I planned to work my way downstream, searching the lies with a team of wets to start with and then change to nymphs if necessary. That wonderful feeling of getting back into the river again after the close season is such a joy! Birds were singing and the fields beginning to green up, so the whole experience of being out on the river in spring seemed to envelop me.


Tail of a pool

It was obvious that fly life was sparse and all day I only saw a handful of olives and a couple of large Stoneflies. With nothing to attract then to the surface the trout were staying deep but my beaded spider was failing miserably to pull anything. I swapped patterns a couple of times but all I had to show for my efforts after an hour were a couple of half-hearted plucks from small fish. I kept working my way down river and stopped just above the village for a re-think. Checking the water again I found only a few olives, not enough to induce a rise from the fish.



I sat on the bank for a while, taking in the vista and pondering the situation. I knew I should change to nymphs but instead I decided to stick with the wets for now.


Down river, near Hollymount village


throat of a pool


I carefully fished through the best pool in this section of the river, then the pool immediately below that, meeting 3 more tout, both of which managed to throw the hooks before I could land them. Time for another change and I put a beaded Endrick Spider on the tail.


The Endrick Spider

Some more fruitless casting ensued before I decided to head off to the water immediately below the next bridge. There is always a few trout hanging around in this area and sure enough, I rose one on my second or third cast.  I covered him again and was rewarded with a firm take to the spider. I played him gingerly, not wanting to lose this one too! he was only a half-pounder but I had broken my duck and landed my first of the 2016 season. A bonnie wee trout, the fly lodged in the point of his nose. I flicked the fly out and took a couple of snaps before easing him back into the water.


The harsh sunlight was not helping the fishing so I decided to call it a day. From now on the fishing should pick up as the water heats and fly life increases.




Old weir with a fish pass


Lovely water on the Robe



Fishing in Ireland, Pike, salmon fishing, trolling

And we’re off!

A text from Ben asking for help to launch the first boat actually took me by surprise. I have been so busy at work lately that the thought of going fishing had not slipped into my awareness. That text changed all of that and I bundled some gear into the car and headed off to hitch up the boat trailer. A few minutes work and then we were off down the Pontoon Road with a 17 footer bobbing along merrily behind. The mild weather of yesterday continued today and the job of launching the boat was performed amid a backdrop of lovely spring vistas across the flat lands edging Lough Cullin. In no time at all the boat was afloat and our tackle loaded for a couple of exploratory hours.

We soon settled into the normal rhythm of this type of day and we caught up on all the gossip and fishing related stories and news. Ben’s rod was first to  bend into a fish but some head-shaking quickly loosened the Toby and the fish escaped. the scenery slipped by and the changes to the river after the winter floods were apparent with a lot of small trees either washed away or flattened on the bank.

It was my turn next when a solid thump converted into a dour struggle, obviously just a Pike. In this case a fish of around 6 pounds which had taken a fancy to a 24gm copper spoon. On up the river we pushed, past willows now covered with catkins and the first buds of the year.

My next take was initially encouraging as the fish hit hard and took line immediately, but it soon thrashed on the surface and was clearly just another Pike. This was a slightly better fish of around 10 pounds or so.

After that one we turned and began to head back down stream. We had not gone too far when Ben’s reel let out a screech and he was fast to something a bit better. The Pike ran into a drowned tree and it took some strong arm tactics to drag it back out into open water where it was subdued and landed, a fish of 14 pounds and as fat as a butchers dog. That was enough for one day and we motored back, well pleased with our opening session of 2016.


Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Monkey business

Fly fishing is a strange sport when you think about it. We deliberately set out to make the process of catching fish as difficult as possible so we get the maximum pleasure when we actually hook something in the face of the overwhelming odds we have placed upon ourselves. I am sure we all agree that the occasional red letter day is welcome, but if we hauled out bags of fish every time we went fishing, or if every trout/salmon we hooked stayed on the line and never came off at the net we would rapidly take up another sport. Imagine soccer if the goals were 30 yards wide and 20 feet tall, no one would go to watch a game if it was too easy to score. We humans are an odd bunch.

Taking the soccer analogy further, we anglers also delight in dropping our star centre forwards, ie our flies, in a very cavalier manner. Each season some new ‘wonder fly’ using synthetics which were probably invented for astronaut’s jock straps, appears on the scene and last season’s prodigies are relegated to the spare fly box or unloaded on ebay. When I was knee high to a grasshopper the killing fly was the Grey Monkey. Nowadays this great pattern is almost forgotten, which is a shame as it still fools trout. So let’s take a look at this venerable old campaigner and try to give it a new lease of life.

My introduction to the Grey Monkey took place in Somer’s tackle shop in Aberdeen. Not the fine establishment in the west end that is doing such great business these days. No, this was in the old shop at the end of Thistle Street, run by Jim Somer (may he rest in peace) and his side-kick Horace. I was in my mid-teens and as keen as mustard to improve my fishing. My fly tying was pretty good and Jim asked me if I would tie some flies for the shop, an opportunity I grabbed with both sweaty paws. Soon I was making Greenwell’s, Dunkelds and the like, mainly on size 16 double hooks for use on the local sea trout. Jim would give me the materials and tell me the patterns required. One day, not long after I had started this ‘job’, Jim gave me some rather odd materials and explained he needed some Grey Monkeys. What the hell were they!

Somers Fishing Tackle shop on Bon Accord Street in Aberdeen

It turned out that the Grey Monkey was THE pattern that season and they were disappearing from the shop as fast as Jim could buy them in. It is an easy fly to tie with one exception, the Jungle Cock cheeks on each side of the wings. Back in those days though Jungle Cock was impossible to come by, so I was tasked with making them without cheeks. A few days later I dropped in the couple of dozen Monkeys and received a repeat order. So it continued for the next 3 or 4 seasons as the GM seemed to be the only fly Aberdeen anglers wanted to use. I confess to being heartily sick of tying those damn Monkeys.

The odd name is derived from the material used to make the body. Apparently the original dressing asked for fur from a grey monkey to be dubbed on to the silk but this, quite rightly, is unobtainable so some substitute fur dyed light grey does the job in these more enlightened times.

The reason for bringing up this fly when I live and fish in Ireland now is that it works well here too when the Grey Boy buzzer is hatching. I mentioned earlier about omitting the cheeks but over here I regards the Jungle Cock as vital.

To construct the fly start by securing some yellow tying silk behind the eye of a number 10 or 12 hook. Prepare and tie in a grey cock hackle and continue to wrap the silk towards the bend, stopping opposite the barb.

The tails are made of a few fibres of teal breast feather and after catching them in cut and tie in a length of gold coloured floss silk. At the same time catch in a piece of oval silver tinsel.

Wind the tying silk towards the eye and stop at a point opposite the hook point and then wind the floss to make a tag; tie in and remove the waste end of floss.

Dub the grey fur thinly and wind up to just behind the eye, leaving sufficient space for the hackle, wings, cheeks and head. I don’t like a heavy body on this pattern, so don’t overdo the dubbing.

Run the oval tinsel up the body in open turns, tie in and snip of the waste end. Now wind the hackle, about 3 turns is sufficient. Prepare matching slips of blae coloured primaries and tie in wet fly style. I like Jay for this pattern as it is lighter than other wings such as moorhen or starling.

Now we come to the cheeks, a pair of matching Jungle cock are prepared and tied in by doubling the stems back to stop them pulling out. Trim the waste and form a neat head, then whip finish and varnish.

Fished in the traditional wet fly manner from a drifting boat and cast to rising fish this fly will work from April right through to the end of the season. I have toyed with the idea of tying some on bigger hooks than the 10 – 14’s I normally use and trying a size 8 during the mayfly hatch.

There is also a green version of the monkey, tied originally with fur from a green monkey no less. Now you can use dyed substitutes and green highlander shade seems to be the right colour. I have never used the Green Monkey but it should work during a hatch of olives you would imagine.

Link to Somers Fishing Tackle video:

dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing, wetfly

Small river fly fishing

Tackling small streams can prove a challenge for anglers who are more used to wide open spaces and plenty of elbow room for casting. Here in the west of Ireland we have a number of small streams, most of which are never fished, yet contain a reasonable head of wild Brown Trout. Rivers like the Pollagh, Glore and Trimogue which are all tributaries of the River Moy can be excellent on their day, so learning a bit about how to fish smaller Irish rivers is worthwhile.



The Keel which joins Lough Carra to Lough Mask

Firstly, what can you expect to catch in these rivers? Unfortunately we don’t have any Grayling in Ireland, a fish I miss a lot. They pretty much all contain Roach, Pike and Perch but I can’t say that I fish for any of these species intentionally but they do grab the flies some times. Salmon are a possibility in some small rivers any time after a flood in July, but fishing specifically for them is very hit and miss. So that leaves us with the wild Brown Trout, one of the greatest sporting fishes. Size wise in these parts brownies run from a few ounces right up to 3 or even 4 pounds. The vast majority will be around 8 to 12 ounces though. That means tackle needs to be sized down to get the best sport.



Rods casting 2 – 5 line sizes will cover most situations you are likely to encounter. For my own part I use two very different rods for small river work. The first is a seven footer rated AFTM 3 and this is the one I use most of the time. Or specific conditions, such as high water or high winds, I turn to a ten foot Orvis which casts a size 5 line. How come I go for such a long rod? In my experience the biggest trout are active either late in the evening or in high water, so I like to have a rod with plenty in reserve if there is a greater likelihood of meeting a trophy sized fish.



The Orvis bent into a good sized trout

An additional aspect of fishing in these parts is the state of the banks. Long stretches of small rivers are thickly wooded meaning access is going to be by wading and then casting under the overhanging branches. For obvious reasons this means a short rod is going to be a distinct advantage and is the reason for my trusty seven-footer. I occasionally drool over 6 foot glass wands which must be a pure delight to fish with, but I digress…………….

Reels are whatever you like as long as it matches the rod and has room for the fly line and some backing. You will usually be fishing at short range and if you do hook a trout which can run for 50 or 60 yards you are not going to land it anyway due to the rough nature of the unkempt banks and river beds. I have an itsy-bitsy little reel made by Grey’s which has given years of trouble free service.


Limestone, the reason the fishing can be so good on these small rivers

Fly lines are simple, all you are ever going to require is a floater, full stop. I personally buy a double tapered floater one size heavier than the rod is rated (so my seven foot rod which is rated AFTM 3 is loaded with a number 4, chopped in half). I lose a little in the way of presentation but I make this up by building a steeply tapered leader.

Bridge pool

The Pollagh near Kiltimagh

Leaders are the only complicated part of the set up. Casts will in general be short so it is vital that every scrap of energy you impart in your casts is transmitted through the line and leader to the fly. That means a stiff butt section and a steeply tapered leader. I nail knot eight to ten inches of stiff 20lb b.s. nylon to the end of the fly line and add 12 inch sections of reducing thickness (usually 4 sections is about right), the last one being 6 pound breaking strain. My leader is then attached to the end. That leader can vary in length depending on conditions and whether I want to add droppers. For most of my small river fishing I use 3 pound b.s. nylon as I find it forgiving and the fish tend not to be overly line shy.

See how clear the water is on the Keel

A brownie putting up a good fight

While that is my usual leader set up I do vary it from time to time. For instance, I have had some success hurling ultra-heavy nymphs into deep holes and these tungsten loaded monsters need a beefier leader to fish properly. In a spate with a team of heavy nymphs I would go as heavy as 6 pound nylon without feeling at any great disadvantage.

Due to rapidly failing eyesight I sometimes use indicators when nymphing and like those ones which twist on to the line so they can be repositioned quickly.

just above the meeting pool with the Gweestion

This is the Trimogue

Let’s focus now on the methods to use on small rivers. The rivers I fish are, in general, only lightly polluted. Population density is low in rural Ireland and there is little in the way of household or industrial waste being flushed into watercourses. By far the biggest pollutant is the agricultural sector. This is cattle rearing country and slurry spraying is a problem. Most of the rivers flow over limestone and the higher pH encourages good weed growth. This means the fish have access to a wide range of invertebrates to feed on. So with all these factors in play you can see that our quarry has lots of food to pick from and our methods need to be flexible to meet the ever changing diet of the fish.

Nymphs are just as effective here as in every other region blessed with Brown trout. Small rivers lend themselves wonderfully to the technique and just about every conceivable form of presentation will work.

on a goldhead nymph

A Roach which fell to a nymph

Dry fly fishing is such a glorious sport at any time, but winkling out a trout from a tight lie on a difficult Irish river is one of angling’s most enjoyable experiences that I know of. There will be lots of opportunities to fish dry fly on the small rivers here, so make sure you bring a good range of dry patterns with you and don’t be afraid to fish blind, ie. When there are no trout rising. I have often caught good fish doing exactly that.

Wet fly fishing is often over looked as irrelevant these days. Fancy deep water nymphing seems to be de rigour among trout bums but I still catch a goodly proportion of my small river trout on wets either cast upstream or swung in the current. One tip I can pass on for this type of water is to consider using a weighted wet fly on the tail of your leader. This will sink the whole team of flies quickly and this can be important if you are fishing at short range.



I absolutely love fishing like this and it is a subject I will return to in future posts. In the meantime, please follow this blog so you can keep up to date with what I am up to on the rivers and loughs of County Mayo.


Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing

A small Stonefly nymph

Some seasons we get a reasonable hatch of early stoneflies on the River Robe, so in anticipation of next year I made up a wee stonefly nymph along the lines of those great big American patterns.

To get a bit of depth when using this pattern I have added a 2.8mm copper bead. Begin by threading this on to a size 12 wet fly hook (here I have used a Kamasan B170). Push the bead to the bend of the hook while you start some brown tying silk and then catch in a pair of goose biots, dyed dark brown. These point forwards and are positioned either side of the hook eye. Now bind down the ends of the biots and whip finish before cutting the silk and wastes ends.



Biots tied in and silk whipped to finish. Bead pushed back up to the eye. Then re-start the tying silk behind the bead

Now push the copper bead back up to the eye over the silk base. Re-start the tying silk behind the bead and run touching turns down to the bend.

Here you catch in another pair of biots but this time they face backwards to form a forked tail. Tie in a length of vinyl rib (I used rust coloured here) and take the silk up to about halfway between the bend and the bead.


Tails tied in

Wind the vinyl rib to form the body and tie it down.


Abdomen formed of vinyl rib

Next, take a section of herl from a Canada Goose body feather and tie it in. this will form the wing pads. Now dub the tying silk with a mixture of dark brown and dirty olive seals fur.


Goose herl tied in

Wind the dubbed silk to form a bulky thorax, then pull the goose herl over the back, securing it immediately behind the bead.


Remove the excess herl and whip finish. Now you get out the dubbing needle and tease out some fur from each side of the thorax to suggest legs.


Teasing out the seal’s fur


All it needs now is a slight trim with the scissors

Trim off any excessively long fibres and varnish the whip finish.

As yet untested, but this pattern should work next March! I will also tie up some with additional lead under the dressing for dropping into deeper holes.

Fishing in Ireland

After the rain

The weather Gods have pissed on us for more than a week now and the county of Mayo is sodden. Rivulets of water are still running across roads and the fields are flooded. Most of the rivers around here have burst their banks and spilled their contents across the landscape. And amidst this deluge we hoped and prayed the last boat still on the river would be safe. Miraculously it was and some baling (OK, quite a lot of baling actually) brought it into good shape for the trip back home for the winter. Today was the day for the task in hand.


Down the boreen (a small Irish road) and across the bridge to the mooring point. The other boat which is normally moored at the same spot had been lifted and turned last week. The river was full to overflowing.




The craik here is that the boat has to be driven across the lake to be taken out at the other side. At least today was a lovely day to be out and the trip over was a joy. Small groups of Whooper Swans have arrived from the far North this week and their constant honking made a perfect backdrop to this calm autumn day.


Glassy smooth waters meant the trip was hassle free. In no time at all the boat grated on the shingle in Healy’s bay.


The usual process of backing in the trailer, winding the boat on and fixing the belly band and tail board went like clockwork and she was soon safely onboard, ready for the journey home.


Time for a last look around and to feel the sun on my hands and face for the last time here this year. Cullen had a bad year for the fishing but its natural beauty remained undiminished.

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One final check that everything was secured and it was time to hit the road. There is always a certain sadness at this time of the year, no more fishing for what feels like an age (in fact we will be gearing up to start again at the beginning of February). For now, it is back to town. there’s a promise of more rain tomorrow…………….





Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, SWFF, trout fishing

Pass my hammer, it is getting cold

It’s mid-November and the year is showing its age. Leaves clog the drains around the house now and the heating boiler had to be coaxed into life again with some deft hammer blows to the pump housing and a liberal stream of expletives. We were blessed with an unusually calm period of high pressure during October but now the wind has veered westerly and the rain has started to fall in earnest. Just like people, years grow cantankerous as they age.

It’s the same every year, we moan about the terrible weather like it is some great surprise. I regard this is as more evidence of our disconnect with nature as western society leans ever more heavily on technology and less on grounding with the earth. Here in Ireland we live in a blessed corner of the planet where extremes of weather, significant geological events and the effects of global change are just items on the news. We pay more attention to what the female weather forecasters wear than the complexities of the weather they report. Our ancestors could read the patterns of weather and planned their lives around the changes. The cycles of crop planting, growth, harvesting and storage could decide if you had food to eat or you and your family went hungry. The migration of fish and animals and the climatic triggers for these annual movements were necessary skills for hunters. We modern humans have largely lost these skills which took countless years to learn.

The strong winds (by Irish standards) have stripped the dying foliage from the trees, giving the land a stark, lonely appearance. Fields are waterlogged and the drains which were dry only last week are now filled with running water. The rivers foam and from as the brown surge heads seawards. Our hopes are now pinned on the salmon who have made it to the spawning beds. High water is good in terms of allowing the fish to travel upstream more easily but continued high water can wash out new redds, destroying the eggs inside.

The Dee at Cairnton

The Dee at Cairnton

I have read with interest the final river reports for 2015 from the major Scottish rivers. In general it made for pretty depressing reading with the beautiful River Dee having suffered an especially awful year (catches were roughly 75% below the 5 year average). Every beat complained about the lack of fish. None were seen, let alone caught, so the presumption was there would be very little spawning activity. However, before the water rose, making redd counting impossible, there seemed to be a healthy number of spawning stock in the headwaters. It is hard to reconcile this difference but let’s hope the river can stage a recovery.

The Tay had a good enough season but the same cannot be said for the Tweed. Although it is still open, the numbers of fish landed is well below expected levels and the excuse of low water which blighted the 2015 season is only a small factor. The huge, deep pools of the lower Tweed can hold a big stock of salmon if they are there but the lower beats did not reap the reward you would expect in low water.

Catholes 1

The Tay at Catholes

On a more positive note, the River Spey had a wonderful year. That boisterous, challenging and technically difficult river produced the best season for some years. It just goes to show that salmon will forever confound us mere humans.

The rain is lashing down outside again. Nessie looks up at me in a clear attempt to persuade me to take her for a walk but she knows we will both have to wait for a gap in the showers before venturing out. There is a cycle to most things, and walking the dog is no different. For now, I am going to spend an hour at the vice making some trout flies for the next season.

Fishing in Ireland, Pike, trolling

Back to the rain

A couple of windy, rainy days this week seem to herald the onset of winter properly and the forecast is depressingly ominous with high winds and even some snow promised before the week is out. I went out on the Cashel River one more time today, more in homage to the past season than with any real expectation of fish. Only one small jack took the baits and the river seemed lifeless besides. Warm sunshine was interspersed with squalls of stunning malevolence, leaving hands cold and stiff and that horrible sensation of cold water dripping down my neck where it had sneaked inside the hood of my jacket. We can’t appreciate the good days unless the bad ones are endured. Here are some photos of the day.