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.
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.
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.
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.
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.