Fishing in Ireland, sea angling, shore fishing

The end of the strand

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Sunday presented a small window of opportunity to fish, but the timing was not going to be exactly as I would have liked. With few salmon around and the trout loughs in the doldrums decided that a couple of hours sea fishing was going to be the best option but the tides were a bit tricky. The low water marks around here generally fish for Huss and Thornies, but both of those species feed much more avidly in the dark. I was free between 6 and 9, meaning the fishing should just be getting going as I was packing up. So instead I opted for a short session feathering for mackerel off the point of Bertra.

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My faithful old Daiwa reel

Truth be told, I had little expectations of sport. Reports suggested the Mackerel were holding in deeper water beyond casting range from the shore. My plan was to ambush some of them as they passed through the narrow gap at the end of Bertra beach. This has worked for me before but the fishing could never be described as hectic, just the odd stray fish now and again. I roped Ben on this scheme and we headed west into the setting sun soon after 6pm.

A new car park has been built at Bertra, a welcome addition as this is a very popular spot for tourists. The crowds were thinning out as we landed and trudged off up the strand in glorious weather.With hardly a breath of wind Clew Bay stretched out before us, shimmering in the heat.

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The inner bay with Westport in the distance

The water rushes through the gap between the point of the strand and an island. Extremely strong currents mean entering the water is an absolute no no. I much prefer to fish here either side of high water, but there are usually a few fish hanging around at any state of the tide. We fished for a while with out success but the views more than made up for the lack of action.

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Croagh Patrick

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Sunset over Clare island

We had rigged up with feathers and were casting across the channel. The flow of water swept the terminal gear around rapidly, meaning there was a lot of casting going on. I lost two sets of gear on the bottom and floating weed was a constant pain. Eventually though Ben gave a shout and he reeled in a small Mackerel. Some 20 minutes later he repeated the exercise, this time with a larger fish. We fished on but no more bites were forthcoming. I took a few photos before we packed up a headed off.

Bertra is an interesting place to fish but I believe it is over rated in the angling guides. I have read about Skate and Monkfish being accessible from the shore at the back of the beach but nobody I know can verify these fish have ever been landed here.The beach itself is open, gently shelving and looks to be pretty sterile to me. I regard Bertra as a reliable mark for a few mackerel during the summer but there are many better marks around here. Having said that, the views are stunning and if you are a visitor to the area it is well worth  visit if you have family.

It was starting to get dark by the time we regained the tarred road heading for the car park. we had both worked up a considerable thirst so a short stop in McBride’s pub in Westport was called for. Hard to beat a pint of Guinness after a walk along the beach.

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Well that has sorted out dinner tomorrow at any rate!

Ben kindly donated both Mackerel to a good cause (me) and I quickly filleted them and popped them into the ‘fridge when I got home. OK, so we didn’t catch a huge bag of fish, but it was 3 hour well spent in good company and in gorgeous surroundings. I’ll leave you with some more photos from the evening…………….

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Hold your horses

The trend these days is for more and more synthetics in fly tying. While I use a wide range of these wonders of the chemical industry I still fall back on more natural materials for most of my tying. Let’s take a look at a very old material which has fallen out of favour, hair from a horse’s tail.

More years ago than I care to remember I discovered that hair from the tail of a horse made a good body material for trout flies. I recall there used to be an early type of buzzer pattern called the Footballer which had an abdomen made from a single strand of black horse hair wound alongside a single strand of white horse hair. If memory serves me correctly, the thorax was of dubbed mole’s fur and the head was a couple of turns of bronze peacock herl. I have no recollection of ever catching a fish a Footballer but I was keen to try horse hair on other flies. I liked the segmented effect hair gives when wound and the ‘glow’ of  the under body if you use clear hair on top. Since those far off days I have used horse hair in a number of trout flies, so here are some ideas for you.

  1. My Horse Hair Partridge. A general copy of an olive, this one used to be almost ever present on my springtime casts, but for some reason I haven’t used it for years now. Tying silk/underbody is Pearsall’s olive (no. 16) or Yellow (no. 4) and the hackle is a Brown Partridge feather taken from the back of the bird, tied sparse. The over body is of a single strand of clear horsehair and you can add a couple of turns of bronze peacock herl for a thorax. Varnish the horse hair to give it a bit of strength. I nick Helen’s clear ‘Hard as Nails’ for the job. I must give this one a swim again this season. A variant uses a strand of clear wound with a strand of black horse hair and a golden plover hackle. 

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    Maybe a bit too much hackle on this one…………….

2. A dry variation of an Adam’s which consists of replacing the grey fur body with strands of clear and black horse hair wound together and then varnished. This fly works well in a hatch of small olives when tied on a size 16 hook.

3. Connemara Gold Spider – Tied in sizes 14 to 18, Pearsil’s Yellow silk is used to tie in a flat gold tinsel under body which is then over wound with clear horse hair before varnishing the lot. A sparse hackle of either a starling body feather of a hen hackle dyed black is wound at the neck. Connemara Gold spider4. You can make a good dry copy of the Yellow Dun by winding clear horse hair over an under body of yellow tying silk and varnishing it. The hackle is sparse cock hackle dyed yellow and the tails are some fibres from the same feather. By using hen hackles and adding wings made from the secondary wing feathers from a thrush you have a reasonable wet version of the Yellow Sally

5. Mike Harding gives a spider pattern called the Grouse and Gold in his excellent book ‘A Guide to North Country Flies’. This wee pattern has a dark grouse hackle and a body made of Pearsall’s no. 6A (Gold) over wound with clear horse hair (varnish as usual). A lovely looking fly but as yet untried by me. Maybe later this season…………..

5. In the same book, Mike also gives the dressing for an olive spider. Pearsall’s olive gossamer (no. 16) forms the underbody with clear horse hair over wound and varnished. Hackle and tails are grey partridge hackle dyed olive. The illustration in the book shows the colour of olive to be light, but I suppose it is a case of matching the colour to the naturals which are hatching.

Using Horse Hair as a rib has a very long history. An early copy of the the Downlooker featured a strand of black horse hair as a rib over a yellow silk body. I personally have never seen a trout take a Downlooker (natural or artificial) and I am unconvinced it is a fly you need to carry around with you, but it fun to tie.

It can be hard to find good quality horse hair, especially the lovely translucent kind. Buying on line can be a bit hit and miss and I advise you to get yours from a retailer who will allow you to examine the product closely before you buy it. Brittle, poor quality hair is a nightmare to use, constantly breaking under the slightest pressure. I know many of you are thinking ‘I can use stronger/more translucent/easier to work with synthetic materials now’. Yes, you can, but I like the old ‘traditional’ approach sometimes and horse hair is a nice material to work with. Try it yourself sometime, it is cheap, readily available and nice to use. Oh, and the trout seem to like it.

 

 

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Fishing in Ireland

The trouble with work

This has been a terrible year so far for me when it comes to fishing. As you can tell by the dearth of posts I simply have not had the opportunity to get out and spend time on the loughs and rivers. Work has been busy and even when I have sneaked away from the shackles of employment there have been commitments at home to attend too. My previous job as a self-employed consultant allowed me to manipulate my calendar, creating pockets of time off to go and fish. My current job is not so flexible and I am struggling to make the necessary time for my angling. I am guessing that many of you who are reading this post are in a similar position and feeling the same frustration that I currently am.

So how do we anglers create the time required to partake in our sport? This vexed question has been occupying my mind of late. The answer is going to be planning. Now let me make it very clear from the outset that I have never been particularly good at planning my fishing. I habitually change my plans based on the rainfall, wind direction, cloud cover, tides, reports from other anglers and a dozen other variables. So my best laid plans usually fly out of the window at the drop of a hat. I love the flexibility and challenge of selecting just the right venue for a few hours with rod and line. I frequently set off for one stretch of a river and end up on a completely different one altogether based on little more than a hunch. The satisfaction of catching some fish under those circumstances is very fulfilling to me, much more so than turning up at a pre-appointed spot and flogging it to death (you can see now why I don’t fish competitions). Back to the planning thing though…………….

Windows of opportunity are now very rare for me so I need to take advantage of even very small gaps in my diary. That means reducing travel to a minimum. Time behind the wheel is time lost on the river bank. I am also postulating that using the boat is just too time consuming. Gathering up engine, tank, pins etc then launching the boat and motoring to the hot spots takes time – time I don’t have. So instead I will either fish the rivers or from the shore over the month of August. Just by removing all thought of boat fishing the planning process has become simplified. The impossible looks achievable for a change.

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The boat

With the decision to forsake the boat taken the choice of venue had been simplified and narrowed down to a couple of options. The most obvious is the Moy which is not far from me and at this time of the year has a run of grilse. This has another advantage for me as the tackle required is minimal, a fly rod and reel, a box of small shrimp patterns and chest waders. That lot can be stashed in the car ready for use at a moments notice.

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Shrimps and Cascades

The Moy is but a shadow of the great fishery it used to be and the massive runs of salmon the river used to support are a thing of the past nowadays. A rise in the water during the summer still encourages some grilse to run so my new plan is to fish the Moy when the opportunity arises in the evenings after work. I will keep you posted………..

One of the reasons I have not been fishing recently was that we fitted in a short family holiday to Tenerife. A lovely island and one I would recommend to those who have not been there. While there I took a stroll down to the local harbour to watch local anglers fishing. I must have spent the best part of an hour observing these guys and only saw them land one small fish. Tackle was the same for each of them, a longish rod of maybe 12 feet and a medium sized fixed spool reel. The business end consisted of either a large bubble float or a truly enormous sea float. Below the float was either a weight or what looked like big split shot and a single hook baited with slivers of fish or squid. I don’t understand why their floats had to be so big. It was presumably for weigh to aid casting but they could have achieved that with smaller floats and better weights. They all seemed to be suspending the bait around 3 or 4 feet below the float in a water depth of maybe 10 – 20 feet. The one fish I saw landed was a tiny Wrasse, which left me thinking that a longer trace fished near the bottom would have a better chance of success. I can only think they were fishing for mullet in mid water instead. Nobody was using heavy gear to fish into the surf which surprised me too. The rough ground looked like it should produce good fishing but the locals just concentrated on the harbours instead.

 

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling, wetfly

All quiet on the western lakes

Sunday was a fishing day. Thick clouds scurried across the sky, driven by a strong south-westerly. The air was warm and moist. There had been rain last week and the ground was still damp. Yes, Sunday was most definitely a fishing day. The only trouble is that nobody had explained this to the fish.

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Clouds on Nephin

 

We rendezvoused at 9.30am and I tossed the gear into the back of the van, glad to be out in the fresh air again after a long period separated from the fishing by work and other commitments. I used to always manage to make time for fishing but this year that ability has deserted me, leaving me wistfully imagining days on the river or lake but never actually making to the bank or boat. The mayfly season has come and gone without me being able to cast a fly and the spring salmon were spared my dodgy casting and poor fly choices this year. So the drive out to Lough Cullin was an enjoyable catch up of all the local fishing news, who caught what and where.  The plan was simple, move my boat from Cullin, drive it under the bridge at Pontoon and relocate her in Brown’s Bay on the Conn. From there we would head up the lake to cover the usual salmon lies with the fly and the trolling rods were taken along in case we lost the wind.

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The move was accomplished easily enough and Ben saw three salmon showing on Cullin as he motored up. The area these fish were occupying was covered in weed, making any thoughts of casting to them redundant. They were to be the only salmon we saw all day! A new berth was found in the bay and we loaded the gear before setting off in confident mood. The wind had slackened but there was just enough of a wave to give us hope. And so we started, rhythmically casting an retrieving, deft strokes on the oar keeping us on or close the contours of the bottom. Weed beds had spread in some parts of the drift and a new reed bed is growing rapidly some distance out into the lake now where once it was open water.

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Notice how calm the lake had become

A small brownie leaped two feet into the air close to the stern as we drifted but of the silver lads there was not a trace. After a few drifts the wind dropped to a mere zephyr so we opted for dragging the ironmongery around. Tobies were the obvious choice so 10 and 18 gram models were given a swim. On dark days like this I like to use a copper spoon, but on Sunday it failed to elicit any response. A silver Toby was given its chance to shine but was similarly ignored. This was hard going!

18gr Copper Toby, most effective on dark days in my opinion

Agreement was reached that it was time for a bite to eat. We pulled into the shore and brewed up, dissecting the intricacies of our demise. Very few other boats  were on the water, a sure indication that fish were in short supply. Salmon were coming into the Moy system of which Lough Conn is a part, but in small numbers for the time of year. It looked like very few of these fish were running in Conn. Sandwiches were munched and tea slurped but there was no urgency to return to the water. Ben changed his cast while I took some photos, all at a snail’s pace. Funny how enthusiasm wanes in the face of blank sessions. As experienced fishers we know that any cast can bring a fish but today we expected to at least see some salmon showing and the emptiness of the lake was hard to face. Lunch over we returned to the fray but our hearts just were not in it.

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A rather damp Connemara Black

By mid-afternoon we decided to call it a day. Conditions had been good but with few fish in the lake we were always going to be up against it. At least the boat had been moved and we had caught up on the fishing gossip. Maybe next time…………….

 

 

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Fishing in Ireland, sea trout fishing, wetfly

Sea trout flies for Beltra

Work has bottled me up for much of the year so far and there is no sign of that changing in the near future. To be honest the recent warm, dry spell all but shut down salmon angling around here with the rivers reduced to mere trickles between the stones. Some thundery rain has fallen over the course of this week, lifting levels just enough to encourage a few grilse in. With them have come the first of those wonderful nomads, the sea trout.

keeping the rod up

Lough Beltra used to be famed for the quality of its sea trout fishing but the near annihilation of the species during the 1980’s due to fish farms/sea lice infestations wiped out the fishery. For many years only the very occasional sea trout turned up and these were invariable skinny specimens, ravaged by the lice and clearly distressed. The battle against the foul and dangerous business of fish farming off the coast is far from won as successive Irish governments smell votes in rural communities by supporting the international fish farming companies. Every year brings new applications for ever bigger salmon farms to further wreck the marine environment; each one fought by those who value the seas and it’s creatures. Although sea trout numbers have shown signs of a modest increase they are still under threat.

A bushy Green Peter- as likely to rise a salmon as a trout

A bushy Green Peter- as likely to rise a salmon as a trout

Sea trout are an enigmatic fish at the best of times but here in the west of Ireland we have the odd case of he disappearing mature sea trout to add to the conundrum. Most of the sea trout caught are very small. In my native Scotland the immature sea trout (called finnock over there) averaged between 12 ounces and a pound in weight and I have caught many that pushed the scales to a pound-and-a-half. Mature fish started around a couple of pounds in weight and ran up to 5 or 6 pounds. West of Ireland finnock rarely reach half a pound. On top of that the mature fish are very rare in fresh water, yet large sea trout are frequently caught in the sea. I suspect the large fish run once the season closes but it is strange that so few are in the rivers and lakes during the summer and autumn.

The Delphi

The Delphi

Like I said earlier, sea trout are now running and Lough Beltra has received a few of these welcome visitors. So what to use on your cast for them? First and foremost you need those stalwarts such as the Claret Bumble,  Green Peter, and Watson’s Bumble. I like a Bibio with some added flash,  either tied in as a tail or at the head as a sort of hackle. The Jungle Bibio is also reliable. And a big Peter Ross too, a walloping great size 8 on the tail of the cast can sort out the better trout on some days.

Watson's Bumble

Watson’s Bumble

I like the Delphi or even a Blue Delphi when there are very fresh fish in the lake. Either the wingless version or one with well marked Teal for a wing. A muddler headed Katie is a good choice for the bob position on a sea trout cast.

Kate McLaren, muddler head and a bright yellow tail

Kate McLaren, muddler head and a bright yellow tail

Then we have daddies. These will certainly get a reaction from the trout but lots of rises will come short with the fish just splashing at the fly. While this can be exciting for  while the net result is often a disappointment with few trout being securely hooked. Still, on a day when sport is slow a daddy on the bob can illicit some reaction and maybe even tempt the fish to take another fly on the cast.

Jungle Bibio

Jungle Bibio

A word on hook sizes. 8’s and 10’s are the standard ones to go for but I like to have some 12’s and even 14’s handy for those times when the trout are hard to catch. Always fish with barbless hooks for sea trout and handle them carefully before popping them back into the lake.

Peter Ross, this lad is tied on a double

Peter Ross, this lad is tied on a double

 

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, Uncategorized

Feile na Tuaithe, Day 2

Now that’s better. Brilliant sunshine greeted me when I twitched back the bedroom curtains this morning. Forecasters unanimously agree there will be localised showers again today but for now it’s wall to wall sun. Hopefully that will encourage more visitors to Féile na Tuaithe.

Looking back on yesterday there were some common faults at the fly casting. Total beginners were easy – they picked it up quickly and in a few minutes could cast a reasonablably straight line. Some of the kids were just too small to handle the ten-footer properly though and they needed a bit of help from me to hold the rod. The tricky ones were those anglers who had tried fly fishing and given it up previously. The usual bad habits were there to be seen but getting these ironed out was a challenge.

The first one was that old chestnut of dropping the rod too low on the back cast. The line hits the ground or what ever herbage is around and the necessary tension in the rod blank is lost, leading to a poor forward stroke. Some guys knew this what they were doing wrong but couldn’t figure out how to stop it. Here’s my tip – go right back to the very start of the cast and focus on pointing the rod as low as you can. If you do this it goes a long way to curing the problem as you can stop the back stroke near to vertical much better.

Next most common fault had to be little or no pause between back and forward strokes. You must give the line sufficient time to straighten out behind you so the rod can be bent and store the necessary energy for the forward stroke. But how to figure out how long this pause has to be? The answer is neatly located on your face, either side of your nose. Yep, just turn your head and watch the line sail out behind you until it has almost straightened then commence the forward stroke. Trust me, just watching the line will really help you when you are learning to cast.

 

So the morning disappeared in a blur of activity and I was running way too late long before I even headed off to Turlough. I had to do some serious persuasion of the security staff on the gate to let me in but I made it, just and no more. Some friends were on hand to assist me (you know who you are – thanks a million guys) and I was ready for action as the first visitors streamed in at noon. Like Saturday, there was a lot of interest in casting by the younger attendees which was great to see. Our sport badly needs fresh blood and the more we can do to encourage youngsters to take up the sport the better.

Lots of old angling acquaintances dropped by to say hello and I met scores of lovely people out enjoying the day and interested to see what I was up to beside the lake. A fellow blogger (The Irish Angler) came down to meet me and we had a great old chat about fishing and blogging. Take a look at Richard’s blog, it’s a great insight to fishing on Conn and Cullen –  https://theirishfisherman.wordpress.com

The afternoon flew by and it felt like I was only just settling into the day when I looked at the time to find it had gone 5.15pm. Packing up consisted of hurling all my gear and tackle into the back of the car (to be sorted out at a later date) and then it was off home for a bite to eat and get ready for work in the morning. I really enjoyed the whole experience of being part of Feile na Tuaithe and hope I may have sparked some interest in people to try their hand at our sport. I’m planning on fishing for trout the next time I pick up a fly rod though!

 

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Féile na Tuaithe, Day 1

The rain woke me from a deep sleep. It thundered against the glass reminding me more of a February storm than a morning in May. Today was the first of two days demonstrating fly casting and fly tying and the last thing I needed was heavy rain. I grumpily fed the pets and made my porridge; the thought of getting soaked was not appealing to me at all. The rain had eased off by 9 so I packed the car in relative comfort, did some chores and then drove out to Turlough.

I found my own tent but it was devoid of the promised table, so a quick dash up to the organisers was called for and the missing table was soon replaced. It’s always hard to know what to demonstrate at this kind of event. Do you concentrate on casting or tying? I had been asked to cover both but I figured most people who don’t know about fishing would find casting more interesting and so I set up a couple of single handed rods.

Just as I was thinking I would get away without getting wet while setting up the heavens opened again. It poured out of steel grey clouds for the next 30 minutes while I set up the table and the rest of my gear.

I had time to take in my surroundings while waiting for the gates to open and admit the visitors. The river ran close by and had lots of mature trees surrounded me. Not a bad wee spot to spend the next two afternoons.

Gradually the rain eased up and then stopped altogether. The sun appeared just in time for the gates opening and the crowds came in in good form. Right from the start I had a steady stream of people, some wanting to watch me make flies while the rest were more interested in learning to cast. There were old and young in equal measure and it was lovely to meet so many foreign visitors.

Some seasoned anglers popped by to say hello and discuss recent catches. The rain which was never far away swept in again and didn’t really clear until after 2pm, making for a damp afternoon. During quiet spells I messed around with the camera, photographing flies in different light conditions.

 

Casting, talking and demonstrating kept me busy right up until the official finishing time and then some. I met lots of interesting people and really enjoyed the whole experience, which is just a well as I will be back there bright and early tomorrow to do it all again! Drop in by if you happen to be in the area, it’s a great way to spend a family afternoon.

Since I have been talking to so many fishermen over the weekend I got updates on the local catches. Seems like the Mayfly is late on all the lakes but is hatching now in good numbers so the fishing should be terrific for the next week or so.Cullen is producing larger than average trout this year which is great to see. Expect trout to a couple of pounds if you find them feeding. Conn has bee gradually picking up with the Kelly can catching well as usual over there at Cloghans. I heard Seamus had four right good ‘uns during the week.

It sounds like Corrib has been slow despite increasing numbers to fly hatching but that should change this week if the weather gods behave and give us reasonable conditions.

 

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