Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing


Met Eireann forecast

Met Eireann forecast

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

Big spate on the Bunowen river

Big spate on the Bunowen river

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

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

perfect for backing up

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

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

Small grilse on the floating line

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

The Bunowen river in Co. Mayo at a nice height

The Bunowen river in Co. Mayo at a nice height

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

Black and Gold Shrimp

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

Eany Tailfire

Eany Tailfire

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

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

3 pounder


Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, salmon fishing, wetfly

The Carrowmore Bumble

This fly reminds me of a Mark 2 Ford Escort 1300. A reliable if unexciting run-around which has been tarted up by an enthusiast and is now all bling. The bells and whistles have been grafted on and it is now a much more exciting package all together.

The basis of this new fly is of course that wonderful old campaigner, the Claret Bumble. Originally tied to fool sea trout and brownies, the ever inventive Irish minds went to work on it years ago and it morphed into a very good salmon pattern by tying it on much larger hooks than the normal 12 and 10’s. Other refinements such as a flat gold tag, dying a topping sunburst and using that for a tail and adding knotted pheasant tail legs all made an appearance relatively lately. But the Carrowmore Bumble was born when the DNA of the Claret Bumble and Clan Chief was deliberately mixed. I personally have a hunch this could only be achieved after imbibing a large volume of Guinness but hard facts to support this supposition are scarce. The Clan Chief can be deadly for salmon, so mingling the attributes of the two flies was an excellent idea.

I have seen a couple of variations of this fly in other anglers boxes so I will give you two of these here today. The first one is probably the most common and is available commercially.

Hook: sizes 6 to 10 heavy weight trout hooks

Silk: black or brown 6/0

Tag: fine oval gold tinsel, about 5 turns

Tail: a Golden Pheasant crest feather with a doubled length of Globright no. 4 on top

Rib: oval silver tinsel

Body: medium claret seals fur

Body hackles: a black and a red cock hackle wound together

Head hackle: Guinea Fowl dyed blue

The second variation is the one I prefer.

Hook and silk are the same as above. I like the extra movement provided by the legs but they are optional.

Tag: Opal Mirage tinsel

Rib: oval silver tinsel

Body: medium claret seals fur

Body hackles: a black and a red cock hackle wound together

Legs: 6 cock pheasant tail herls knotted and tied in on each side and slightly raised. Can be natural or dyed claret

Head hackles: a long fibred claret cock hackle wound first followed by a grizzle cock hackle dyed blue.

Did you know there is a Green Peter version of the Clan Chief too? The Clan Peter it is called and while I have yet to use one it looks like it should work. Here is the dressing I was given last year.

Hook:  6 – 12

Tread: Fl. Yellow

Tag – Opal mirage

Tail: Globrite yellow under red

Body: Green seals fur

Rib: Oval gold

Body hackles: A grizzle cock hackle dyed green olive and natural red game cock hackle wound together

Wing: Hen pheasant tail

Head hackle: Red game cock

Head: Formed with the tying thread and coated with clear varnish

All of these flies will produce a salmon on Carrowmore on their day. I don’t class myself as any sort of an expert when it comes to fishing Carrowmore but I know my way around the place so I will write a short post on the fishery soon.

The title photo is Ben Baynes with a nice little salmon off Carrowmore a few seasons ago.

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.


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.


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.


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