Fishing in Ireland, Nymphs, trout fishing, wetfly

Green with envy

I seem to recall it is one of the seven deadly sins. Envy. That gnawing wishing that someone has something better than you and you want it – badly! I am not generally prone to this particular sin, others come way higher up my list of deadly vices. Usually I take life pretty much on face value and simply  get on with it. Material wealth and goods don’t float my boat. Well, not beyond a good trout rod and matching reel I suppose. But these past two weeks or so have seen me descend into the dim, dank underworld of envious thoughts. Let me expand.

Looking upsteam

Social media has played a large part in my unedifying fall. Twitter an FB are full to the brim of reports from rivers across the UK and Ireland and they all seem to herald the same event – hatches of upwinged flies. The Usk appears to be teeming with LDO’d and March Browns. The Aberdeenshire Don is fair polluted with the damn things. And so it goes on, images of sub-imagos with their wings daintily splayed, hatching nymphs breaking the surface and the fish! Oh lord the photos of huge brown trout that have succumbed to artificials so very similar to those in my own fly boxes. Surely I have no need to be envious of my fellow anglers when the River Robe is practically on my doorstep?

Here is the rub. The Robe is bereft of any discernable fly life. Two weeks ago when I fished it the river was in spate and obviously out of ply, fair enough. This past Sunday I ventured out again in what was close to perfect conditions. The water was a bit above normal and carrying a little colour but this should have had no effect on hatching olives or stoneflies. It was warm and bright with passing cloud cover and a good wind to ruffle the surface. Confidence welled up in me and I was sure this would be ‘der tag’.  Alas, the gods turned their heads and smiled in another direction.

I fished hard between noon and 3.30pm. In all that time and over a couple of miles of prime fishing water I saw not a single stonefly or ephemerid. Of course the fish were not in evidence either. They were resolutely hugging the bottom and even down there they seemed disinclined to take anything I offered. As I say, I fished hard and winkled 10 small trout out of the water. This may sound like a good day’s fishing but trust me, on the Robe, in the first week of April, this is not great. The total lack of surface activity is troubling. There was a some foam on the river, not a huge amount, but enough to get me thinking there may be more agricultural pollution in to this watercourse. The river flows through rough pasture and bogland for the first few miles before cutting across the wide flatlands of the plains of Mayo enroute to Ballinrobe and thence into Lough Mask. Those flat lands are pretty intensively farmed, mainly growing grass to feed cattle.

Beaded hare’s ear when wet

Seven of the fish I did catch fell to deeply fished nymphs, tungsten headed jobs which caught on the bottom far more frequently than lodging in the scissors of any passing trout. I had all but packed up and was walking back to the car when I stopped at an unremarkable run. I watched for a while but saw nothing. Somehow I felt there was a fish to be caught in that run. I took off the nymphs and tied up a cast of wets as this part of the river lent itself to swinging a cast down and acrosss rather than casting upstream. Flies and leader checked I lengthened the line. Sure enough the line tightened and a lively three-quarter-pounder was landed. Safely returned, I repeated the cast a couple of steps further down river. Bang, another one on the very next cast. Not content with that I repeated the feat a third time! Then – nothing. The next 50 casts yielded not a nibble. The spot which produced the three trout looked absolutely identical to the water immediately above and below it, yet the fish would only take in that one spot.

This where the three fish were lying

Plans are afoot to launch the boat next weekend, most probably on Lough Cullen. Maybe I’ll have better luck with the big fellas on still water. I am off to check who is catching what on twitter now. So if you hear any wailing and gnashing of teeth, it will be me.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Half Stoned

One of the great benefits of living and fishing in these parts is the lack of pressure to catch something. There is a strong and highly organised competitive angling scene in Ireland but I am not competitive in life and certainly not when it comes to angling. For me the simple joys of a few hours fishing for wild trout and salmon with no great expectations of success are all I want. This in turn creates a freedom to experiment, be that with tactics or patterns. One of these experiments is my variant of the the Half Stone.

A fly with its origins in the South West of England, this is a pattern I have meant to try for years now and simply never got around to it. One winter evening I was contemplating emerger patterns and though about this fly. I am unsure if it was originally meant as a copy of a hatching fly but the palmered thorax looked good to me so I set about tying a few.

Half Stone ‘normal’ dressing:

Silk: primrose yellow

Tails: a few fibres of blue dun cock hackle

Body: in two halves, primrose yellow silk at the rear, moles fur dubbed on to the tying silk at the front

Hackle: a blue dun hackle palmered over the moles fur

While I liked the overall shape of the fly I felt the colours were too bright for the rivers here so I set about making a few alterations. I wanted to retain the half palmered look but felt adding a second hackle would give the fly more ‘life’ so I added a ginger cock hackle and wound it with the blue dun. Then I added a rib to lock the hackles in place. I also figured the primrose silk was a bit too bright for what I wanted – an imitation of a hatching ephemerid. So I swapped the primrose for gossamer no. 6, a much more muted shade of yellow.

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Both hackles tied in together

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Tail fibres tied in

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A pinch of mole’s fur

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Gold wire tied in and the thorax dubbed

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAhackles wound down over the thorax

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finished fly, my Half Stone variant

I am planning on using this fly during Large Dark Olive hatches and by fishing it wet on the top dropper position I can keep it fairly close to the surface where I hope it will fool the brownies mopping up emergers. There is a very particular situation which I have in mind for the pattern. Much of the rivers where I fish are heavily wooded and some pools are only accessible from above, meaning normal dry emerger fishing (casting upstream) is out of the question. The half-palmered wet idea is my way of combatting this problem. We will see if it works soon!

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trout fishing

Reflections so far

We are in the last week of April and  I have been thinking about the season so far and any lessons I need to learn. By now I would normally have landed my first salmon of the year and brought some decent brown trout to hand. Neither of these things have come to pass and the 2015 spring fishing has been very poor for me. I don’t think that I am alone and from the reports I hear other anglers are experiencing a similarly difficult time. So what has gone wrong?

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Cold air and low water are not a good combination

To my mind there is more than one cause for the poor fishing. The weather has certainly played a part. We have had very low temperatures followed by a period of unusually fine, bright conditions then a return on Saturday to a bitingly cold northerly wind. Our prefered conditions of a steady south/south-westerly air flow bringing cloudy, mild and wet weather have been conspicuous by their absence. Normally good levels of fly life which are a feature of April have failed to materialise so far and we can only hope that this is a delay in the hatches rather than the loss of them in total. A few hardy olives and Iron Blues have hatched out and the small stoneflies have shown up as normal but I have yet to witness any significant numbers of flies on the surface so far. With not much to eat on the surface the brownies are hugging the bottom for now.

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Water levels were high during the month of March, something which usually provided good fishing. I like to think that the higher flows push food out into the open where the trout can prey on them. But March failed to meet expectations and April has been no better. With the water level on the Robe now down to summer heights the advantages of high flow have gone. Yesterday I fished two stretches of the river, both of which should be in good fettle at the end of  April. I gave up on the first stretch after only a 20 minute session. The runs I fished 2 weeks ago were now ankle-deep and weeding up fast. One half pounder fell to a PT but it was clear more rain was needed urgently for this part of the river. I decamped for a deeper section some miles downstream.

A change of flies and a reduction in leader thickness, based on the low clear water, and I was soon up and running again. The air was full of midges but the water was apparently devoid of ephemerides. A lot of wading and tramping and casting followed without any response. This has been the theme for the season, very little signs of life in the river. I genuinely don’t get too upset when I am not catching but a lifeless river is difficult to stomach. The bitterly cold Nor-Easter could be partially to blame but I believe it goes much deeper than that. I suspect that the numbers of trout in the river at much lower than normal. Pollution, poaching or natural selection are all possible reasons for the drop in the trout population. The river has an eerie quietness about it, bird life seems to be quiet and I have seen none of the animal tracks in the margins that I would expect.

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Clear water on the River Robe

In total I brought about a dozen trout to hand, but most of them were in the small to tiddler range. I managed one good fish of around the pound from a very skinny piece of water at the tail of a gravelly pool. I swear there was no more that 3 inches of water covering him when he took my Francolin Spider.

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The hot weather sandwiched in between the periods of cold gave has given the algae a head start this year and margins of pools are bedecked in rafts of green slime. Chunks of it break off and can be seen floating down the river and hooked fish usually manager to cover themselves and the flies in a coating of the stuff when fighting. In itself I am not aware that the algae is harmful but it is an indication of the nutrient levels in the system.

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So what will the rest of the season bring on the rivers? If I am right and stocks of trout are well below normal then there will obviously not be much of an improvement in the fishing this year. The rivers around here are all natural and there is no stocking carried out, so nature will have to come to the rescue if possible but that will take time. With (hopefully) milder weather in May and June the evening fishing should start and I am planning on fishing the sedge hatches through the summer in the hope that some of the better fish which have been hiding in the deepest pools will move out and feed under the cover of darkness.

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My salmon fishing so far has been both low level and unsuccessful. Very few salmon have been caught in the area this spring with poor angling conditions again largely being blamed. I fished Carrowmore Lake on saturday but we came back to the shore with clean boards. Seamus reported 4 fish boated on that day but there were 17 boats out in reasonably good conditions so the lake is still not fishing very well.

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I am reading reports from Scotland and the lack of fish over there seems to echo our woes on this side of the Irish Sea. All over it looks like a dramatic collapse in salmon stocks, the kind of doomsday scenario which environmentalists have been warning us about for years. In Ireland the spring salmon were decimated years ago by the government sponsored environmental vandalism of  drainage works on just about every river in the country, so we have been struggling to catch many early fish for a long, long time. How will this year pan out? I expect a few more springers to turn up with the next spate and the grilse will show up beginning in May and gradually building in numbers if we have a wet summer. A dry summer will spell an angling disaster for us though.

I don’t have any answers to our lack of fish, the problems are complex and we humans seem to be adding more every year. Fish farming is a horrible business and it has added to the loss of wild fish here. More farms are at planning stage and if they are successful (which I have no doubt they will be) it could be the final nail in the salmon’s coffin. I plan to try hard to catch a few this year – there may be none to catch in 2016.

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Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing

Hail, drains and trees

The weather is all over the place. After a couple of days of unseasonably warm, dry weather the rains came back yesterday evening. Temperatures dropped overnight and today dawned cool and breezy. Showers, some of them of hail, added to the feeling that winter was sneaking back again and I had to push myself to go down to the Robe for a few casts. The gear was chucked into the car and I headed south by east to my ‘new’ spot.

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This is a very deceptive photo – it was bloody freezing!

My plan was to run down the pools below the bridge quickly with the wet fly then switch to the dry and fish back upstream again before prospecting above the bridge for the last hour or so. As it turned out I stuck fairly closely to this plan but it could have worked out better I think.

The most notable feature of the day was the very strong, gusting wind. At its worst the near gale force wind ripped and tugged at everything and fired hail at me like shotgun pellets. The cold during the squalls was intense and it really felt more like February than mid-April. This did not deter the Large Dark Olives from hatching and they appeared in good numbers for the 3 hours I was fishing. The trout showed their appreciation by rising occasionally to the duns. I can’t say it was a good rise today but it was the best surface action I have witnessed so far this season. If we had not suffered the cold wind I suspect today could have been a wonderful day’s fishing.

I gowned up at the car and decided that a fleece hat was called for in the conditions instead of my usual baseball cap. I was glad that I sacrificed sartorial elegance for warmth as the hail showers came frequently and each one seemed to be more severe than its predecessor.  At times my hands were frozen and I had to break from fishing to rubs some warmth back into them. Ah, the joys of spring fishing!

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squally

In between the hail showers

I cut off the old leader which was on my line and built a new one with only one dropper instead of my normal two on a wet fly cast. The wild conditions would be challenging enough without the added problems of trying to stop 3 flies tangling. As it was, a number of flies became victims of bankside vegetation with around a dozen meeting their end on the far bank due to the gusting wind. I opted for a copper beaded PT on the tail and my experimental Iron Blue Dun on the bob, but Partridge and Olive Spiders, Beaded Endrick Spiders and P&O all made cameo appearances during the afternoon.

The first pool below the bridge gave me a flavour of just how difficult this session was going to be. After  dozen cast the line was whipped into the far bank by a big gust of wind and the flies lost on a branch. A new cast was tied up and a hail shower chucked frozen water down on me. I could see olives on the surface so I figured it was still worth the effort, so I fished down the pool. Sure enough, I started to rise fish but hooking them was a problem. I checked the hooks – all OK. I altered my casting so I was fishing more squarely to the current but that didn’t seem to make any difference. I swapped the tiny size 18 IBD and put an Olive Partridge Spider size 14 on the bob (thinking the small hook was maybe not getting a good hold). That still didn’t make a difference. Time to try another piece of water.

The pool broke into a fast, shallow run and off the far bank there was a rock under the surface. This chunk of limestone pushed the flow out and created a likely looking lie. The gale was proving to be tedious to fish in and more flies were left in reeds before I eventually got things together and made a good cast just ahead of the rocky lie. I wish I could say there was a powerful take and I struck it perfectly but the truth is the trout just ‘appeared’ on the end of the line. He fought well in the fast water and I was relieved to bring him to hand, a handsome fish of around a pound. The PT was wedged in his scissors. Leader and flies were checked and after a few more casts I rose, hooked and landed another fish of the same size.

around the pound

First fish of the day

By now the hatch was well under way and some fish were showing on the top of the water. I fished the wets down the river casting into likely spots and keeping moving the whole time. By the time I reached the bottom of the fishable water I had taken 5 trout, all between three-quarters and a pound. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself because the conditions were challenging. I switched to the dry fly as I had planned and fished my way back up the river. If fishing wet had been hard trying to fish the dry fly in the windy conditions proved to be next to impossible. Admittedly I did rise a few trout but none of them were hooked due to the large loop in the line between the rod and the fly caused by the wind. I regained the bridge and paused to consider the options.

Standing on the bridge the view upstream didn’t look overly impressive. The right bank was steep and topped with a barbed wire fence. Getting as far as the bank looked daunting as there was a big drop over the side of the bridge on that bank. The water looked deep and slow as far as the bend, far from ideal. On the left bank a large drain came in about 50 yards above the bridge.

drain

Your average Irish drain

Ireland is criss-crossed with drains like this. Without them much of the agricultural land would be bog, so I can see why they are so necessary. I do have misgivings about draining every square inch of land though and these drains funnel large volumes of water into river systems, creating problems further downstream. From an anglers point of view drains are a royal pain. While some of them have been bridged the vast majority have to be navigated by wading or in the case of the smaller ones, jumping. Some drains are death traps; deep and with soft, silty bottoms. This one would have been very hard to cross but luckily there was a good bridge over it so I decided to fish the left bank for an hour.

I negotiated some wire and electric fences and got into the water in a large, slow moving pool. I would have prefered to fish it from the throat of the pool but trees on my bank prevented access. I had changed back to the wet fly and was quickly into a lovely trout of better than a pound. A second one followed and then a third, the last one being a bit smaller.

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The smallest of the three

I turned to face upstream and fished upstream wet for a while, landing 3 more fish in truly deplorable conditions of gusting wind and hail showers. Timing the strike fishing upstream is something I find hard to get used to this early in the season. Practice is the only answer to this deficiency and it is worth the effort as the upstream wet fly is so deadly.

The trees were getting closer and closer together and it got to the point where is simply wasn’t possible to fish the fly any more from the left bank.

my bank

Now how do you cast in this little lot?

It was now obvious I had made a wrong move by electing to fish from the left bank. The trees lined this bank as far as I could see while the right bank was open and clear. Worse still was the sight of some lovely fly water just up river, water which was completely unfishable from the bank I was on. By now it was nearly 3pm and the hatch was slackening off, so hiking back to the bridge then up the far bank would be a lot of effort for little reward. Better to leave it for another day.

upriver

Can’t wait to try this stretch out

I went back to the deep pool and tied on a dry fly again. With still one or two trout showing I thought I could maybe winkle out a brace but it wasn’t to be. I rose a couple but the same old issue of slack line due to the wind beat me. Fishing wets meant I could tighten up on the flies once they were in the water and drag was not an issue. Fishing dry removed the option of tightening the line as it caused the fly to drag. I wound up and trudged back to the car. Eleven landed and a lot more trout risen, pricked or lost. Not too bad for 3 hours of hail, drains and trees I think.

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Fishing in Ireland

A difficult day

Robeen Bridge as a handy entry point on the River Robe. Both banks are clear downstream of the bridge but there is a heavily wooded stretch immediately upstream and this means that you have to get into the water and wade upriver to fish this part. The bottom is very slippery and there are some deep holes to watch out for so it makes for exciting fishing. Well it did, because now some of the trees have been cleared from the left bank. I decided to give this newly cleared section a try today.

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Notice the stumps of the chopped down trees

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The branches were piled up in the field

This is always a challenging piece of water and today it proved to be even harder than normal. There was very little fly life and a horrible cold, blustery wind made the fishing uncomfortable. After an hour of fruitless casting I gave it up and packed the gear up. Time for a change of scene.

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A few miles upstream I parked up and headed down to a series of small pools which had provided good sport in the past. The wind had increased in strength and was now a major problem for me. Casts had to be kept short and each one finished with the rod point very low to push the line into the teeth of the gale. Some Large Dark Olives were hatching and some stoneflys were also being blown past me in the wind. Time was against me as I had been late in starting so I fished quickly downriver. Not long after I started I had a lovely take and a brightly marked brownie gave an acrobatic display on its way to the bank. He has taken a Partridge and Orange tied on the bob.

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With no signs of surface activity I stuck to fishing wet fly. I covered the water quickly and passed many smaller lies which would have taken time to access. Tangles were becoming a problem as I pushed each cast hard against the wind. I spotted most of them quickly and they were easy to clear but one took me ages to untangle and on reflection I would have been quicker to cut the old leader off and replace it with a complete new one. I also swapped flies a few times but nothing seemed to be working today. The already sparse fly hatch also seemed to be petering out. One LDO did land on me, giving me the chance of a decent photograph.

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I stuck a Plover and Hare’s Ear on the middle dropper and it produced a wee trout after only a few casts. Any thoughts that I had finally cracked it were cruelly dispelled during a 30 minute period of intense fishing without eliciting a single response. This was proving to be a tough day!

Off I went down to a long, deep pool which was slightly sheltered from the cold wind. I fished this carefully but once again came up empty handed. Around the corner was a deep run under a bush, hardly a pool really. I rose a fish (which I missed by a country mile) before finally setting the hook in a nice trout.

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Another smaller fish took me a few yards further down taking the total for the day to 4. I doubled back to go over the last two pools again but before starting I sat down and tried to think through what was happening. With no surface activity it was logical any trout on the feed were taking nymphs. I was seeing many more stoneflies than olives, so there was a reasonable chance that a wet stonefly copy could do the trick. I found one in the box and tied it on the bob, adding an Endrick Spider on the tail.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first pool was still dead. Down on the bottom pool it was a different story though. I rose half a dozen trout, losing a couple and landing two more. All were on the stonefly.

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The wind was blowing a gale by now and I had chores at home so it was time to call it a day. I failed to hook any monsters today. The problems were many and it took a bit of work to seek out some sport but it was satisfying to catch at least a few modestly proportioned fish. It’s still only March so there is time for the fishing to pick up.

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