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, salmon fishing

The first day of May

Still dark. Awake, I decide to go online and check out the news in the hope my brain will tire and sleep becomes feasible again. One of the disadvantages of advancing years is sleep becomes erratic so these nocturnal forays into cyberspace feature more frequently now. Chaos in Iraq, a building collapse in Nairobi – the usual mix of death and fear. Maybe this constant bombardment of negativity is one reason I love angling so much. The total immersion in casting and the countryside leaves no space for the nasty things in this life. For a few short hours immersed in natures timeless cycles calms the savage breast. The natural world envelops me, draws me in and opens my eyes to a different, soothing and familiar place.

The first day of May should be a fishing day. Here we are on the very cusp of the highlight of the Irish anglers year so I simply have to fish. April will not be mourned; she was a cold mistress, largely barren and cloaked in dull, grey disappointment. She has handed Spring’s baton over to what I hope will be an altogether more virile and fruitful partner. May sometimes defines the whole season for me. A good month can be exciting, setting the mood for the rest of the year. Memories of good fishing are a well we draw from. We anglers revisit these memories of the good spring days regularly when low water reduces our sport in high summer.

9am. There is a loose arrangement to fish ‘somewhere’ today. A sprinkling of salmon have entered the river systems, enough to engender that rarest of qualities – hope. Sandwiches are carefully prepared and stowed safely away in a waterproof container. Recently tied flies are added to the flybox and a new leader tied on the end of the fly line. The minutest of tasks are undertaken with forensic attention to detail. At the allotted hour we set off through the quiet streets and out into the countryside. The decision has been made – Lough Cullin today.

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The shores of Cullin

A steady Southerly wind and overcast skies bode well and the real possibility of meeting a salmon looms large in our thoughts and conversation as we tackle up and load the boat. With the wind from this quarter we can drift across the best lies in comfort with little work on the oar.

We fish steadily, methodically casting and retrieving tick-tock, tick-tock. To the untrained eye we are repeating the same cast again and again but in reality each cast varies slightly from the last. The boat never drifts in an absolutely straight line so casts are directed to take advantage of the sideways slip so as to impart a curve in the retrieve. Eyes are glued to the surface looking for signs of movement, tell tale swirls left by fish as the turn below the waves. At the end of each drift we wind in and start the engine to motor back up wind, usually to drift a slightly different line so we cover new water. We are largely silent, wrapped up in our own world of concentration.

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Nearing the shore, time to start up the engine

On Cullin our drifts are easily recognisable as we find the fish lie in shallows dotted with marker poles. These metal rods, topped with orange floats, mark dangerous submerged rocks so unwary boaters don’t run into them. As we motor upwind I spot a small salmon rolling on top of the water. That flash of silver transforms the mood in the boat and we redouble our efforts, expecting that electrifying pull on the line with every cast now. Close to the outermost pole another fresh fish shows, this one is a bigger fish of maybe 8 or 9 pounds by the look of her. Our flies comb the water around that spot but to no avail. Drift completed, we head back up and repeat the whole process once again. As we are closing in the the shore Ben lifts to re-cast for the umteenth time. His flies are out of the water and in mid-air when the salmon boils but a yard from the boat. She was following but didn’t take and the boil was her turning sharply as the flies disappeared. Sometimes, dropping the cast back into the boil results in a positive take, but not today. We drift one more time then head to the shore for a cuppa.

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the view to the south across Lough Cullin

My apple and cinnamon tea, coupled with the cheese and tomato sandwiches revive me after what has been a solid few hours of fishing. As we entered the small bay I noticed a solitary Mayfly so I scoured the shore and sure enough came across another greendrake.

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Mayfly

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A local angler was walking his dog along the shore and he stopped to chat with us. Notes were compared and the news of fish caught or lost swapped. The dog seemed to be totally unimpressed with all this talk. 

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Bored

Lunch over we pushed back out on to the water once more. I changed the tail fly, substituting the Connemara Black for a Willie Gunn. Cast and retrieve, cast and retrieve….

When he came to the fly it was a carbon copy of Ben’s chance that morning. I lifted the line out of the water and was well into the back cast when the water boiled very close to the bow of the boat. It wasn’t a large salmon judging by the disturbance he left. Soon after we lost the wind  and the lake surface became flat and useless for fishing. We fished on but the day petered out without further excitement.

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Start her up and head for home!

So we had moved two fish to the flies between us. On another day one or both of them could have stuck and we would have repaired to Johnnies to celebrate, but not today. Salmon fishing is a tough sport on the mind. Confidence is everything, much more important than fly choice or the make of rod you use. Steely self-belief is you armour against misfortune. The first day of May reinforced this truth, testing our resolve. We will be back again soon.

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, sea angling, sea trout fishing, trout fishing

Apres fishing

Angling in Ireland has many facets, some challenging but most pleasant and convivial. I want to talk about one of these additional joyous addendums to our sport today, the Irish pub.

I expect most (if not all) of you have visited a so called Irish pub close to you. They have, after all, polluted the whole world. Huge money making temples to poor quality beer and fakery of the highest order in my opinion. I dare say there are some excellent establishments in places like London and Boston, but the vast majority are but shadows of the real thing. So when anglers come to fish here in the West of Ireland they can partake of their favourite tipple in REAL Irish public houses and the ones whom I meet seem to thoroughly enjoy the special atmosphere. Here are some of my own favourite watering holes.

The Key West, Derrycoosh

As you know, I fish Lough Beltra a lot and a day on Beltra just isn’t complete without a pint in The Key West. Situated in Derrycoosh, just off the road between Castlebar and the lough this lively wee pub serves a grand pint of porter and there are always a few of the local worthies on hand to keep you entertained with stories and craik. After one of those typically hard spring days on Beltra when the lake holds on tightly to its silver fish a pint in the Key West is both a balm to weary bodies and a lift to deflated spirits. Creaking joints and frozen extremities are soon forgotten once you get your belly to the bar in the Key West. I used to live out the Newport Road close to the Key West and can vouch for the wonderful atmosphere in the pub of a weekend night.

Matt Molloys, Westport

Heading further west we come to Westport, one of the prettiest and liveliest towns in the whole country. There is always a great buzz in Westport and it is worth visiting even if you are not fishing. If we do happen to be fishing near the town then a swift glass in Matt Molloy’s is just the job (note: there is no such thing as a ‘half-pint’ in Ireland, you order a glass instead and it just happens to hold half a pint). I’ve never stepped over the threshold of Matt’s and found it anything less than busy. It is of course famous for the traditional music played in the back of the bar and this alone attracts numerous visitors. We tend to loiter near the front door, nursing bruised egos sustained during another blank session or else regaling each other with every twist, turn and leap of fish hooked and (hopefully) landed. If it is too busy in Matt’s there are numerous other watering holes in the town of Westport so you won’t go thirsty.

Stauntons, Lecanvey

Still further out the western road you will come to Staunton’s bar in the small village of Lecanvy. The small front bar is a lovely spot to nestle in front of the open fire with a pint in your hand. There is not much fishing in Lecanvey itself. The pier is strangely devoid of fish, despite rumours of conger eels holed up there. So don’t waste your time unpacking the fishing gear, just stop off at Stauntons for a relaxed glass or pint when you are passing.

an Bhun Abhainn, Louisburg

Louisburg is not short of pubs. There are plenty to go round and so making the choice of which one to frequent can be a challenge all of its own. If you are fishing out west then I can recommend dropping into Mrs. Duffy’s place for a quite one. Then there is an Bhun Abhainn which always seems to have a trad session filling the place any time I step over the threshold. Look, you can spend a lot of time (and Euros) visiting all the pubs in Louisburg and each one is as friendly as the last. A great wee town to visit, even for non-anglers.

West End bar, Bangor Erris

Carrowmore Lake in Erris demands you visit a pub before you even set foot on the shore of the lake! Permits are dispensed from the West End Bar in Bangor Erris. We make a point of returning to the pub after the fishing, partly to give Seamus the high up and low down of our day on the water and also to have a pint and hear all the news from the other fishers. There are usually a few locals in the bar too, so if you need to know about how the turf cutting is progressing or the price of lambs or just the local gossip and scandal you can avail of that type of information as well. There are flies for sales as well as permits and licenses so The West End Bar really is a one stop shop for fishers.

Paddy’s, Tourmakeady

If Lough Mask is you venue the whole lake is ringed with pubs. Ballinrobe obviously has a scatter of hostelries, many of them well used to catering for thirsty fisherfolk. On the other side of the lake sits Paddys, a great place with a fine thatched roof on it. It is nice to pull the boat into Churchfield at the end of the day and pop into Paddys for a black one.

Johnnies, Castlebar

I could go on and on but instead I will leave you with one last pub to consider – Johnnie McHales. Maybe not a true ‘fishing pub’ if one is going to be pedantic about such things, but sufficient anglers frequent its hallowed inner sanctum to include it here. John is now at the helm in this well known establishment and recent additions to the pub have only enhanced it further. A deadly spot!

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

Grilse still in short supply

July is often a wet month in Mayo. A little rain fell on Tuesday night and some more as the Wednesday morning wore on, so I decided it was worth a look at a small river I sometimes fish in North Mayo. Expecting a small rise in the water I was instead confronted with a bank high flood upon arrival. Bits of trees and other rubbish were being washed down river and I tackled up thinking I may have hit the water at exactly the right time (for a change). I marked the edge of the water where I entered it with a stick so I could see if the water was rising or falling.

stick

My stick to mark water level

A size 8 Tailfire and a Silver Garry were first up on the cast and I edged into the stream, feeling the pull of the flow and the gravel moving beneath my feet. Due to the high water I used a sinking line to try to get down a little. The rain was lightler now so I was hopeful the river would start to drop soon. Debris in the water was a real pain in the posterior and the flies had to be cleaned every few casts. No fish were showing but that is to be expected in high water and I fished down the initial short stretch without a stir. Other anglers were now appearing as word that the river had risen passed through the neighbourhood, mainly armed with worms and Flying ‘C’s. The rain kept falling…………..

Very high water

Very high water

I persevered for a while but the water level was still rising, albeit quite slowly. Salmon fishers will agree that a rising river is the hardest to catch fish on and today proved to be no difference. Rain further up the catchment area was still filling the river when I thought it would be dropping and any salmon who were there are running hard.

The gusty wind would die then spring up again and I mistimed a cast just as a gust blew up, landing my cast in a thicket of bushes behind me. I snapped the leader trying to pull them out so I marked the spot to retrieve the flies later. My arthritic ankles are in agony (deep wading seems to upset them no end) so I decide to exit the water and get back on to dry land.

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It’s time to rethink tactics so I headed off to a local pub for a pint and a chat with Ben (who was also fishing). Guinness is great for relaxing the mind and after a pint of porter and a final check of the river (still rising) it was unanimously agreed that operations would cease immediately and resume early the next morning.

next morning………………….

The alarm goes off and I hop out of bed to check the weather. No water in the little bucket I keep outside the back door meaning there was no further rain overnight. There is a a thick blanket of clouds and a steady westerly breeze. It is pleasantly warm already and my mind is made up-  time to get back over to the river! Country roads are quiet at this time of the day and I make good progress through the early mist. The river has dropped almost back to normal summer level and has thankfully cleared of the floating sticks and leaves which were such a pain yesterday.

I turn off the engine and start to tackle up. My jacket is still wet through from yesterday evening and it is unpleasant pulling it on. The sinking line set up is too heavy for the lower water level today so I change to a floating line and size 10 flies. Over the gate and down the lane, disturbing some cattle in the field who look less than pleased at my intrusion. More anglers appear downstream of me; it looks like I was not the only one with the alarm set this morning!

 A local spinning

A local spinning

I fish down a couple of pools without a touch then wade across the river and try my luck in a normally productive deep hole. A worm fisher is fishing there with a great bunch of lobworms suspended under a pike float. Gruff greetings are exchanged and it is clear he is fishless too. Cast, retrieve, cast, retrieve – the cycle continues as I fish steadily down to the tail of the pool. Still no signs of life and this is looking increasingly worrying. The flood of yesterday was sure to bring up some fresh grilse but nobody is catching them. I speak to another local who has been here since first light and we compare excuses (mine are definitely better than his in my opinion).

I decide to head way up river in case the fish have made a dash upstream in the high water. A short drive along some narrow, twisty roads brings me to a parking spot and I tackle up again. Swallows are darting around and a lark is high in the sky. The heavy black shape of a cormorant takes off from the big holding pool and turns towards the sea.

I walk up to the top of the fishable water and start casting. I fish through the best parts of the pool and again see no signs of life at all. I reach a narrow deeper section and hook a small Sea Trout on the dropper. At last, something to reel in! I noticed a second sub-surface flash when the sea trout took me and presume this is another trout which has grabbed at the tail fly (I have a size 10 Black Pennel on the dropper and a size 14 Black and Gold shrimp on the tail). The Sea Trout puts up a spirited scrap but it is soon obvious there is another fish on the tail fly after all. After a minute the Sea Trout has tired and I pull him towards me only for him to shoot off in the opposite direction – what ever is on the tail is much stronger. I pull back and a fresh grilse takes to the air. This should be interesting!

The fight takes longer than it should as every time the grilse tired the Sea Trout would waken up and splash around in front of him. Finally I drew both fish over the rim of the net. The Sea Trout was hooked under the chin and was quickly released back into the river. Mercifully there were only a few lice on him.

The cheeky Sea trout being unhooked before release

The cheeky Sea trout being unhooked before release

The salmon had swallowed the shrimp and I could only just make out the eye of the hook away down the fish’s throat. A nice fresh grilse of around 4 pounds.

I fished on for a while but decided it was getting a bit crowded (word had spread rapidly of my success) so I went down to a pool I like, well away from the hustle and bustle. This is a tiny wee pool which most angler walk past without realising there is a good salmon lie there. Getting into the river here requires a leap of faith as the vegetation is dense and I have to slide down a bank into the water through 6 foot high reeds.

about to drop into the river through the reeds

About to drop into the river through the reeds

I fish down the pool without success but I am nearly back at the spot where I lost the flies last night. I wade across and fish down the run while at the same time looking into the dense undergrowth for my missing flies. Sure enough, I spot the Cascade first and manage to collect both it and the Pennel. Just as importantly I gather up the leader to prevent any wee creatures becoming entangled.

With some pressing jobs to take care of at home I call it a day and walk back to the car. Once again the fly scored when spinner and worm failed to produce. I am convinced that the ability to control the speed and depth of the fly gives it a huge advantage over other methods.

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If we get some more rain I will be out with rod and line over the weekend.

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling, trout fishing, wetfly

Mayo angling update

It has been generally quiet from what I can gather but here is the latest angling news from the area around me here in Mayo.

On Lough Conn

Loughs Carra and Mask are turning up the odd brown trout but the sport is far from hectic by all accounts. Evenings are best. Lough Conn is patchy with some anglers finding feeding fish and catching good numbers while others fish hard and fail to even see a trout all day.

sunset over Castlehill

I heard (third hand, so don’t take this as gospel) that one lucky angler had 20 grilse in the space of a couple of hours at Pontoon Bridge. It is highly likely these would have fallen for the charms of a prawn, or at best a bunch of worms. Certainly some grilse were jumping in Lough Conn on Sunday evening when I ventured out with Ben for a couple of hours. Despite our best efforts we failed to contact any fish but some perseverance should result in a fish or two.

Sea fishing seems to be picking up a little with some large mackerel beginning to show up. I hope to be out doing a bit of boat fishing later this week so watch this space for a report.

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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, salmon fishing

Fly patterns for Lough Beltra

After my posting some photos of Lough Beltra I thought I’d better give you some patterns to try if you are fishing there. Elsewhere in this blog you can find details of the Beltra Badger, Claret Bumble, Bibio, Goat’s Toe and Black Doctor. Those 5 alone would make a good selection for the lough, but here are some others to think of using.

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This is my own interpretation of the Jaffa. As far as I know this was originally tied by the redoubtable Eamonn Kennedy and the head hackle he uses is a silver badger one. I prefer to dye that yellow. This catches a lot of salmon on both Beltra and Carrowmore every season

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You simply can’t fish an Irish lough without trying a Green Peter. Variations abound of course, so picking the right one can be a bit of a lottery. The Red Arsed variant is pretty good and works a treat on Beltra. On days on mountainous waves a Peter with a muddler head is good for creating a disturbance too.

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Dark skies call for dark flies and the Clan Chief  is supremely good in these conditions.

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Beltra is known as a springer fishery and rightly so. We expect the best of the fishing to be over by July but there is a run of grilse through the summer and so there can be the opportunity to catch the silver lads on daddy imitations. Red Daddy and Silver Daddy will both work as will the more normal pattern with a Pheasant Tail body.

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A word now on hook sizes. The old adage of ‘the bigger the wave the bigger the fly’ holds good and we use some fairly meaty flies in the springtime. Size 4 salmon irons are definitely not too big in a decent wave in March or April. We scale down a bit in calmer conditions and as the water warms up, dropping down to 8’s and 10’s.

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