Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing, wetfly

Decisions, decisions

It was a very last minute decision. Given the choice I would have been in South East London, at the Valley to be precise, watching Burnley play Charlton Athletic on the last day of the season. Instead, I was at home after working in the morning and felt an hour on the River Robe might be worth a look. Even as I joined the traffic I was unsure of exactly which stretch would receive  my attention. Running the options over in my mind I finally settled on a rough and under fished part of the river between Claremorris and Ballinrobe.

Parking up on the verge one field from the river the conditions looked to be favourable. A light mist veiled the countryside and a steady wind was cool but not cold. Through the grass to an impressive new barbed wire fence which barred access to the bankside. I found a gap and wriggled, worm-like under the wire. The river looked very low but my first glance upstream showed the fish were rising. It was now a I made a poor decision and headed off downstream to some inviting looking water.

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I new this stretch of the river was not developed and the banks would be rough, but the next couple of hours developed into an assault course rather than a peaceful distraction. I elected to get into the river to avoid the vegetation but this  strategy came with its own hazards. While most of the river was only a few inches deep there were some nasty holes in the bottom , making progress ‘interesting’. I slid down into one of these holes and only prevented a ducking by grabbing a tree branch. I can recall how many times I hooked up in bushes, trees or other bankside vegetation but it felt like a never ending saga.

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one of the many hawthorns 

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Trees all the way to the waters edge

Spiders, cast upstream or down caught plenty of trout but nothing of any great size. Large Dark Olives hatched continually for an hour after my arrival, inducing a great rise and a feeding frenzy among the swallows and martins.

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Partridge and Orange in his mouth

The mist gradually morphed into steady, soaking rain and while the river badly needed lots of fresh water it was taking the edge off of my enjoyment. That and the lack of any deep water combined to cut short the afternoon for me and I retraced my steps back up to the gap under the fence. Looking upstream there seemed to be a slow, deep pool just on the next bend, exactly the kind of water I had been searching for in the other direction. The rain drummed on the hood of my jacket – was it worth another ten minutes? To hell with it, I waded up through some thin water, taking another three brownies on an upstream wet fly before I eased into the tail of the deep pool. I picked up another couple of small lads then had the bright idea of dropping the cast into a little pocket just where the water broke at the tail. just as expected a trout pounced on the spiders and thrashed on the surface as he felt the hook – a nice trout of around the pound and a half. This wily character shot around an underwater rock and snagged the line which parted after some tugging from my end of the connection.

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The one that got away was in this little corner below a deep pool

I had suffered sufficient humiliation for one afternoon and wound in for the last time. The lesson was plain to see, more diligent observation before starting to fish would have led me to decide on exploring upstream instead of down. Ah well, you cant win them all. Unless you are Burnley football club, who soundly thrashed Charlton while I was catching tiddlers and hooking trees.

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Remains of crayfish, probably eaten by an otter

postscript……..

And Burnley did win. 3 -nil. Finished the season as champions. UTC

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Google maps and dead presidents

After another fruitless day trolling for salmon yesterday I was ready for some fly fishing today. I felt like a change of venue so I turned to technology and consulted Google maps. At the highest resolution you can discern water features such as bends, weirs and rapids and I use this to guide me to new spots on the local rivers. I spent some time this morning going over parts of the River Robe which I had not fished before looking for just these kind of features and I liked the look of a short stretch near Crossboyne. I’ve fished upstream of Crossboyne many times but between there and Robeen was virgin water to me. I knew a lot of this part of the river is deep, slow and canal-like, very poor water for trouting. But the maps seemed to show some weirs and bends around Curraghadooey. I planned to give them a try after a quick look further upstream at Castlemagarret.

IMG_1771[1] I know the Castlemagarret stretch in great detail and started at the first good pool. Water level was good and the river was obviously slowly dropping after the recent rains. I set up with a team of 3 wets to search the water. An experimental size 18 Iron Blue Dun pattern went on the bob, one of my own ‘Benjamin’ spiders occupied the middle position and a Beaded Endrick Spider was the point fly. After a handful of casts an 8 incher grabbed the Iron Blue, a good start! I fished a couple of pools and runs without any further offers so I legged it to a long pool further up river, bypassing less likely water.

The remains of a Pike were lying in the grass at the high water line. The Robe has a big population of these and I keep meaning to fish for them during the winter but somehow never quite get around to it.

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Remains of a Pike. I reckon this one was around 6 pounds when alive

I slowly fished downstream, flicking the flies into the little bays and around any rocks in the river. I missed 3 fish before finally landing another smallish lad, this time on the Endrick Spider. With no fly life and certainly no fish rising this was looking like it was a day for wet flies so I plugged away with the team of three, ending up with a tally of 7 trout only two of which would have been worth keeping.

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By now it was well after 1pm and I walked back to the car and set off to execute the second phase of my plan for today. Some dodgy map reading notwithstanding, I eventually discovered the tiny concrete bridge over the river I had identified on the computer and parked up nearby.

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I had planned on fishing my way upstream from the bridge as I had seen a weir and some fast water on the map up there, but when I looked over the bridge it was clear there was some good water immediately below the bridge. The only problem was going to be how to get to the water’s edge. The farmer had his fence as close to the river as possible and the bank was pretty much vertical and around 10 feet high. I decided to try fishing from inside the field, casting over the barbed wire fence and accompanying each cast with a prayer I wouldn’t hook anything too big. The water looked perfect with excellent flow and depth. Only a few casts in and the first trout snatched at the flies. I got him on the next cast, a shade under a pound in weight and a nightmare to swing up to my hand through 3 yards of thin air. He had fallen for the Benjamin. Within a few minutes I was in action again when first one and then a second fish took the flies but they both fell off during the fight (the Lord be praised). The fishing was hectic for the next half-an-hour with trout coming steadily to all three flies.

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Access  became worse as the bankside vegetation increased. I managed to slither under the barbed wire to get closer to the water which helped slightly but the going was tough and I nearly took a ducking when a fencepost I was using for support came away in my hand. Some Sandmartins appeared, the first of this seasons swallows and the fields were home to a number of very vocal larks.

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A bit of bank erosion

Time spent on the river always passes quickly and today was no exception. Sport slowed and finally died away just after 3pm so I trudged back to the car which had by now settled into the soft verge and was sitting at a somewhat alarming angle. Loaded up, I was able to extract it from the muck without too much drama but I will need to find another spot to park when I go back to this stretch again.

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Looking downstream

‘What has all this got to do with Dead President’s’ I hear you ask. Well, my Benjamin fly is named after Benjamin Franklin. The hackle is made from a body feather from an African Francolin, so ‘Francolin’ morphed into ‘Franklin’ in my head and fly got the forename of the great man. The full dressing of ‘Benjamin’ is:

Hook: 12, 14 or 16

Tying Silk: Pearsall’s no. 6

Body: the tying silk covered with touching turns of clear horse hair

Thorax: one strand of Bronze peacock herl

Hackle: the small body feather of an African Francolin.  These are pale tan with lovely dark barring.

I also tie a dark version of the Benjamin with claret tying silk and use both versions when small stoneflies are on the water.

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A Francolin, the hackle feathers are on the chest of the bird

I will definitely be back to give this stretch another try soon. There is some excellent water and it fished very well despite the lack of a hatch today. And I have yet to venture upstream as was my original plan. My final count of trout for the day was 16 with 4 or 5 of them being in the 14 to 16 ounce class. All the flies I tied on produced fish, so they were not too fussy (for a change). I had better make up  a few more Benjamins this evening and I have an idea that a Hare’s Ear variant might be worth a try!

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

A typical spring day on the river

16th of March. A Monday, blessed with an overcast sky and light winds from the North East. By 11.30am I have cleared the desk and can hit the river for a few hours. A west wind would be better but beggars can’t be choosers at this time of the year so any day that is not frosty or stormy can be considered a fishing day. I make my excuses and check the gear is all in the car. Then it’s on the the N84 and the short trip to the River Robe.

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The wet fly accounted for a nice wee trout in the first pool I fished and a couple of others splashed at the flies without holding on. A sprinkling of Large Dark Olives were hatching, always a welcome sight at this time of year. I fished down through the next pool and then the one blow that without further action despite the trickle of duns on the surface. Out of the lee of the bridge the temperature dropped as the wind cooled the air and I felt this was what was putting he fish off. I re-traced my steps and headed off upstream to find a warmer spot.

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A trudge across a couple of fields brought me to a good pool which has given me big fish in the past. A few minutes watching for signs of life revealed some LDO’s and also a hatch of stoneflys. A small trout was rising steadily below me and another fish was taking flies off the surface some yards upstream. Time for a change.

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On went a dry fly, a size 14 Olive Klinkhammer to be exact. I managed to fool the trout in front of me and he was carefully returned to the water after a brief fight. Great! My first trout on the dry fly this year. I worked my way up river looking for more rising fish but none were forthcoming. Searching the water with the dry fly produced nothing and after a promising start I was beginning to struggle. I had not fished this part of the river before and the going became harder as trees and fences barred my way.

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Perseverance brought me to a nice pool which I fished through with the dry fly without response. A change to a nymph was equally unsuccessful and since there was no sign of rising fish I wound in and pushed on upstream once more.

Time to change the setup again so I swapped back to the wet fly and a three fly cast of Olive Partridge, Plover and Hare’s Ear and a Beaded PT occupying the tail position.

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By now the wind had swung East and it was cold. Fly life has ceased too, so things were not looking too optimistic for me. However, the team swung around perfectly in the current as I worked down the pool and eventually the line tightened as a perfect Brownie grabbed the PT.

The very next cast produced another trout to the Olive Partridge and one more fell to the charms of the Plover and Hare’s Ear right at where the water breaks at the tail of the pool.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Enough was enough and I plodded back to the car going over the days events in my head. The trout were keen to take but only in certain pools. Other spots failed to produce a single take. Maybe I had stuck with the dry fly too long today and I should have gone back to a team of sunk patterns sooner. Ah well, we are always wiser after the event.

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The fields were well populated with new lambs and the daffodils are in full bloom now adding a splash of colour to cheer the heart. So ended a typical spring day’s trouting. No monsters but a few problems to solve and the old familiar tug on the line and a wink of bronze under the surface. Spring is here at last!

This post is in memory of Ally Skinner, a great fisherman who would have been 40 years old on this day. His loss at such an early age is keenly felt by all who knew him. Rest in Peace Ally.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Killdevil Spider (great name for a fly)

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What a name! ‘The Killdevil Spider’. It’s like something out of a 1950’s ‘B’movie. In practice it is a confusing little pattern which some anglers swear by and other rate as highly as Jeremy Clarkson’s diplomacy skills. Personally I think this is one which is misunderstood (the fly, not Clarkson) and you should make a couple up to try out.

A simple wet fly with not too many difficulties in the construction, the only real issue is getting the proportions of the body right. I favour one third silver at the rear and two thirds peacock herl at the front. The silver part should be made of oval tinsel wound in touching turns. Hackle and tails are fairly long fibred furnace cock hackle. Hook sizes are 10 down to 16. I say that this fly is misunderstood because there is another version which calls for a golden olive cock hackle instead of the furnace. I have not tried that pattern out but it looks as if that might be a good one for sea trout. I have also heard of some fishermen using a Killdevil with a teal blue hackle. I have more than enough blue hackled flies in my box already so I won’t add further complication to my life, but it would make a very pretty fly.

The way this fly is fished is also something to be aware of. For me it needs to be fished deep. I can’t recall taking a trout on it unless it was near the bottom. Like the Peter Ross, I fish it with a series of small pulls and jerks. I have never tried the Killdevil for Rainbow trout but it might be worth a try. Let me know if any of you have success with this one.

Tight lines!

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Fishing in Ireland

What to use in March?

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Early season mean low water temperatures and not much surface activity so my normal approach to trouting on rivers at this time of year is either upstream nymphing or wet fly fished up/down/across/anyway I can get it in the water. Let’s start with the nymph.

I fish almost exclusively with bead-headed nymphs these days. There are still some other designs in my nymph box but in practice I just grab a gold or copper headed hare’s ear or PT and fish away with that. There may be small variations in the pattern such as different ribs or additional thorax covers but I am much more concerned about the weight of the nymph than the dressing. That means I carry a range of sizes, from 10 down to 16 and also a range of weights. Normal brass beads, tungsten beads and additional weight under the dressing provided by either copper or lead wire mean I can vary the depth I am fishing at to meet the particular piece of water I am fishing. I also carry a lot of them because I tend to lose a lot in trees, bushes and stuck on the bottom.

Leader length is something I play around with a lot when I am nymphing, again I am trying to get to the correct depth for the fish to at least see the fly. I roam over fairly long stretches of the rivers so that means lots of chopping and changing to meet the challenges of each new pool and riffle as I work my way up river. We don’t have any Grayling here in Ireland (unfortunately) so I am concentrating solely on the Brownies. A normal day will see my nymph my way upstream and fishing a wet fly as I retrace my steps heading back downstream to where the car is parked.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA If I am fishing upstream wet fly I tend to use simple spider patterns like the Partridge & Orange or Black Spider, but when I am fishing down and across i prefer a team of three flies and often include a beaded thorax pattern on the tail (see the Hare’s Ear with a gold bead thorax, above). This gives me the bit of weight which is sometimes required to get down to the trout. Down and across is a lovely way to fish and can be very effective at times, but I find nymphing will generally produce more and better fish than the wet fly this early in the year.

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Even the faithful old Partridge & Orange gets a bit of an uplift from me. All that is required is the addition of a small bronze peacock herl thorax to the fly. I found this idea in a book by Mike Harding and since it sounded good I gave it a lash. Sure enough, peacock herl thorax flies do seem to be more effective. I think this could be due to the hackle being forced out more and thus pulsating more in the current giving a more life-like impression of a struggling nymph. Try it for yourself, it only adds a few seconds to the time required to tie up the fly and any fly dresser worth his or her salt has a stock of peacock herl at hand.

The heavy rain and howling wind outside appear to be abating. Time for a few casts?

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