Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

An evening on Beltra

I will leave the photos to tell the tale of an evening spent on Lough Beltra in the company of Ben and Pat. The fish did not cooperate but it was great just to be afloat on a pleasant Spring evening.

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deep in concentration

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Pat helping to make some space in my fly box!

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You can just make out the marker buoy below Nephin

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I had a bag of reels with different lines on them but I stuck to my slow sinker all evening

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Drifting in towards the dock (a good lie for salmon)

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A heavy shower passed over us

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Great conditions as the sun dipped but nobody told the fish!

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End of the day and we head back to the shore

We all want to catch fish when we head out to the lough or river but blanks are a part of our sport and we need to accept them as the opportunity to enjoy our surroundings.

Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, salmon fishing

Green Highlander for Lough Beltra

I always have some Green Highlanders in my box but it is a fly I rarely use. The feather winged ones are fun to tie and look good but the hair winged versions have more movement in the water and are more likely to attract salar. Deeply conservative (like most salmon anglers), I tend to reach for the same old patterns or at least close variations of them. Cascades, Willie Gunn’s, black and gold shrimps are my staples. After that I am venturing into new territory! So the poor old Green Highlanders spends each season languish in a corner of the box beside other equally unloved patterns. Colours fade, hooks grow rusty and before you know it the old flies are jettisoned in favour of newer tyings. Some of my flies never see the water, they just hang around for a few season before they depart for the waste bin. It has happened to Green highlanders many times. In an effort to give the venerable old fella a new lease of life I have tied up some with a muddler head.

My thinking is that a muddler headed Green Highlander might just do the trick on Lough Beltra. That extra bit of movement and disturbance in the water, combined with the somewhat unusual colours may get the attention of a springer. I am always looking for a pattern for those ‘intermediate’ days when it is neither light nor dark. My normal mantra of bright day – bright fly, dull day – dull fly has served me well over the years but what do you do when it is somewhere in middle? If in doubt I put one bright fly and one dark one on my cast, but maybe switching to a green coloured fly could pay dividends.

Looking out over lovely Lough Beltra

Here is how I put this variant together:

I started with some green 6/0 tying silk on a size 6 single iron. At the start of the bend I tied in and wound a tag of fine oval silver tinsel. I confess that I simplified the rear end of the fly and omitted the yellow floss, ostrich herl butt and reduced the tail to just a single Golden Pheasant topping.

GP tail tied in and the rib has been attached too

Next. a length of fine oval silver is tied in and then the yellow floss silk which will form the rear quarter of the body.

The body has been formed and the body hackle tied in, ready to be wound

I used green floss silk instead of fur to make the rest of the body. tie in and wind a nice, even body then remove the waste end. Catch in a prepared cock hackle , dyed green highlander shade.

Now wind the hackle in open turns over the green part of the body only. This is secured by open reverse turns of the silver tinsel which has been previously tied in at the tail. Time now to tie in a wind 3 or 4 turns of a long fibred, softish cock hackle dyed yellow

hackles wound

The wing is formed out of three skinny bunches of dyed bucktail. In order from the bottom, I used yellow, orange and green highlander.

Wing tied in, notice that I have kept it very slim. Still plenty of space left for the head!

Now for the fun part – spinning two colours of deer hair to make the head. I used a small bunch of green first and followed that up with some yellow deer hair. Don’t go overboard with the deer hair, I was aiming for a small head, just enough to create a bit of disturbance.

Deer hair wound, ready for trimming

After I had been busy with the scissors!

Take your time trimming the head so it is neat and tidy. Make a whip finish and then varnish the exposed silk a couple of times.

All ready for 20th March

There we go, not too difficult to tie and a nice pattern to have in the box for the new season.



Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

update from Mayo

Still suffering a serious lack of water here but some showers over the last few days have brought some salmon in at last.

Beltra has produced a few-

The river Moy is seeing some action too with the Ridge and Cathedral beats fishing well and beats right up as far as the East Mayo Anglers water giving both salmon and grilse.

The forecast is for more showery weather over the weekend so there are hopes more fish will run. With low water conditions the fly will do well so think small flies and careful wading. Indeed, stay out of the water completely if possible.

Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, sea trout fishing

Beltra boat maintenance

One of the tasks to be undertaken each winter is to sand and varnish the woodwork on the fleet of angling boats for the Glenisland Coop. The way we manage this work is to identify the scruffiest boats and leaving those ones inside the boathouse to dry out over the winter. The rest of boats are overturned and left outside, propped up to prevent them getting too wet. The boathouse can accommodate 4 boats so that is the size of the task for the committee members to attack. Four boats doesn’t sound like much but that equates to a fair old bit of rubbing down and painting!


Over the past two weeks we have been hard at it in the evenings tidying up the boats in readiness for the coming season. Even just getting into the car park proved a challenge as the rains had lifted the level in the lake to the point where the water was in the car park itself.


None of the boats required any structural maintenance, just a thorough sanding and a couple of coats of varnish. The point of keeping them inside the boathouse is to let the woodwork dry out completely over the winter. Damp wood is useless and any varnish you apply to wet timber will peel off in no time at all.


Nice and dry


This seat could use a lick!


Another one of John Paddy’s boats


Sanding completed, it is time to start work with the brushes


Varnished boats

The next time you hire a club boat for a day on the lake remember the hours of sanding and painting that went into keeping these boats in good condition. As with all angling clubs, there is a lot of work which goes on behind the scenes by a small group of dedicated individuals. I think I have said before in this blog that I am not really a ‘club fishermen’. I prefer to just get up and go fishing at the drop of a hat, selecting the times which I feel are going to be the most rewarding. Organised days, set fishing times and competition rules are not really my thing. But the Glenisland Coop is an excellent club run by genuinely good people with only the best interests of Lough Beltra at heart. A few hours here and there of my free time to help out on jobs like this are no loss. And of course there is always plenty of craik and banter going on too.


That’s better!


This high water should have helped the kelts to drop back downstream


Not long now until 20th March and start of the 2017 season


Later…………Some more pics here from the Beltra FB page:


Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

Tactics for Lough Beltra

It is just over a month until Lough Beltra opens (20th March to be exact) so I thought I would share some thoughts about tactics and tackle for this wonderful fishery. I fish it from the Glenisland Coop side, so I will restrict my comments to fishing from that side of the lake but as far as I know the same will hold true for the other side too.


Heading out on to the Lough

Let’s start with the basics, when will there be fresh fish in the lough? Geography comes into play here and specifically the Newport River which drains the lough and up which all the salmon and sea trout have to pass. The Newport river is not big but it is relatively deep in most parts, meaning that the fish can move upstream more easily than is sometimes appreciated. A small rise in the water level usually encourages fish into the system and with only 8 miles to travel fresh salmon can be in the lough a few hours after the spate. Beltra acts as a buffer for fresh water after rain so the river is not as ‘spatey’ as you might expect. By the start of the season in late March there will have been a few spates and fresh salmon will be in the lough. Maybe they won’t be there in great numbers but there will be a few. Each successive rise in the water should bring a few more fish to top up the stock and this pattern will continue through the spring months. March, April and May are usually the best months of the whole season.


Grilse begin to arrive in June with the sea trout coming in from July onwards. While there are fish in the lough until the last day of the season it is lightly fished after July unless there is a big spate. So from this you can see that Beltra is primarily a spring fishery.


Beltra sunset

Non-anglers will never understand why us fishers need so many different rods. We do tend to go overboard I guess, but the huge range of different scenarios we face do provide a degree of mitigation for our excesses. Lough Beltra is going to provide you with a challenge because it has been my experience that to be consistently successful on the lough in Spring you will need to use a sinking line and a heavy one at that.To put his into perspective, most loch/lough angling for salmon is a top-of-the-water game with relatively light, floating lines and smallish flies. I am thinking about AFTM#6 or 7 floaters and size 8 to 12 flies dibbling and bobbed through the waves. A raw April day on Beltra is no place for such pretty fishing. Instead, we use AFTM 8 or 9 full sinkers and a cast of 2 or even 3 meaty irons in sizes 4 down to 8. Add in the best conditions are a strong South Westerly wind whipping up a 3 or 4 foot wave and you can see that delicate tackle is not going to be up to the task in hand.


The prize, a fine March springer in the net before returning

Having established that heavy sinking lines are de-rigour for Spring time on the lough you now need to consider the rod required to lift and cast it all day. Many Beltra regulars avail of the power of a double-handed rod, between 12 and 13 feet in length. Rods which would not look out of place on the banks of the Dee or Spey can be seen in action here and they certainly are great weapons when lifting a heavy sinker out of the water in front of a fast drifting boat. They also keep the flies that little bit further away from you too which is no bad thing as size 4 salmon irons are not nice when they are whizzing around your head in a semi-gale. I personally have tried both single and double handed rods on Beltra and have settled on using a heavy single-handed rod over a double handed one. This is purely a personal choice and I would encourage first time anglers on the lough to bring both types of rod with them until they find which one suits them the best. I find casting with the double-hander from a boat uncomfortable and instead use a 10 footer with ‘a bit of backbone’ and the power to cast a 9/10 line. Think of the type of rods used to hurl big lures on the English reservoirs and you get the idea.

Let’s turn to the lines themselves now. As I said earlier, full sinkers are widely used and are very successful. Some anglers opt for sink-tips and these catch fish too. Then again I have seen full floaters used with 9 foot fast sinking tips added, and I must admit I have one of these spooled and ready for use on a spare reel. I would be lying if I said I knew exactly what the difference in depth these different set-ups can achieve. I suspect they all get the flies down to roughly the right depth. Ah, but what is the right depth I hear you say? I believe it doesn’t matter too much beyond the need to get below the surface of the water. All the salmon I have seen hooked on this type of set up take without showing, meaning they are at least a foot or so beneath the surface. They could be three or four feet down but it is hard to be exact due to the ever-changing dynamics of angle of line to drift of the boat + speed of drifting boat + rate of retrieve + sink rate of the line + height of wave + depth the fish is at + upwards movement of the fish to intercept the fly (I could go on). My point is that the salmon will take the fly as long as it is below the surface in the cold water during Spring.

Does this mean that you will never, ever catch a salmon during the Spring on Lough Beltra on a floater? No! Maybe you can. I just trust in my experience that sinkers are better. Look, once the water warms and we get into May/June a floater and smaller flies are both nicer to fish with and more productive, meaning you can scale down the rod and reel to match. But for the Springtime think big and strong and down below the surface. You wont go far wrong that way.


Golden Olive Shrimp

I have written before about fly patterns for the lough so I won’t bore you all by going over that again. As regards to lies, there are well-known spots where the salmon take up  residence and these are marked on the map. For those new to the lough I strongly suggest using the services of one of the excellent boatmen who will put you over fish. If you out on your own then simply stick to within 50 yards of the shore. Some spots you drift over hold fish and others don’t but the ‘hot spots’ are all close to each other so don’t waste time motoring around looking for fish, just drift along the shore as best you can in the prevailing winds. Beltra is a safe lough to fish with no hidden rocks to worry about. There is shallow water as you come out of the river mouth at the boathouse but no sharp rocks to damage the boat. Don’t drift too far out into the main body of the lough as it deepens quickly and the salmon prefer the shallows to the inky depths.


Heading home as the light fades. Ben Baines is at the helm.

The weather here in west changes very quickly so if the wind rises to gale force or drops to a zephyr leaving the surface glassy calm just motor ashore and take a break. The chances are the wind will change soon and fishing can resume. My final advice is to enjoy your day. Too often I see anglers becoming frustrated with a lack of success. Try to relax and soak up the amazing sights a day on Lough Beltra provide. A spring day spent fishing for salmon is something to enjoy, even if salar is uncooperative!

In summary:

  1. Fish the shallow water within 50 or 60 yards of the shore
  2. Use a heavy sinking line for spring fishing and switch to a floater from May onwards
  3. Flies in size 4 down to 8 tend to be productive but use whatever you are happy with
  4. Don’t waste time motoring around the lough, fish steadily and concentrate at all times
  5. Use a local boatman if possible
  6. Relax and enjoy you day


I will write a bit about boat handling and drifts on Lough Beltra in my next post.

Fishing in Ireland, sea trout fishing, wetfly

Sea trout flies for Beltra

Work has bottled me up for much of the year so far and there is no sign of that changing in the near future. To be honest the recent warm, dry spell all but shut down salmon angling around here with the rivers reduced to mere trickles between the stones. Some thundery rain has fallen over the course of this week, lifting levels just enough to encourage a few grilse in. With them have come the first of those wonderful nomads, the sea trout.

keeping the rod up

Lough Beltra used to be famed for the quality of its sea trout fishing but the near annihilation of the species during the 1980’s due to fish farms/sea lice infestations wiped out the fishery. For many years only the very occasional sea trout turned up and these were invariable skinny specimens, ravaged by the lice and clearly distressed. The battle against the foul and dangerous business of fish farming off the coast is far from won as successive Irish governments smell votes in rural communities by supporting the international fish farming companies. Every year brings new applications for ever bigger salmon farms to further wreck the marine environment; each one fought by those who value the seas and it’s creatures. Although sea trout numbers have shown signs of a modest increase they are still under threat.

A bushy Green Peter- as likely to rise a salmon as a trout

A bushy Green Peter- as likely to rise a salmon as a trout

Sea trout are an enigmatic fish at the best of times but here in the west of Ireland we have the odd case of he disappearing mature sea trout to add to the conundrum. Most of the sea trout caught are very small. In my native Scotland the immature sea trout (called finnock over there) averaged between 12 ounces and a pound in weight and I have caught many that pushed the scales to a pound-and-a-half. Mature fish started around a couple of pounds in weight and ran up to 5 or 6 pounds. West of Ireland finnock rarely reach half a pound. On top of that the mature fish are very rare in fresh water, yet large sea trout are frequently caught in the sea. I suspect the large fish run once the season closes but it is strange that so few are in the rivers and lakes during the summer and autumn.

The Delphi

The Delphi

Like I said earlier, sea trout are now running and Lough Beltra has received a few of these welcome visitors. So what to use on your cast for them? First and foremost you need those stalwarts such as the Claret Bumble,  Green Peter, and Watson’s Bumble. I like a Bibio with some added flash,  either tied in as a tail or at the head as a sort of hackle. The Jungle Bibio is also reliable. And a big Peter Ross too, a walloping great size 8 on the tail of the cast can sort out the better trout on some days.

Watson's Bumble

Watson’s Bumble

I like the Delphi or even a Blue Delphi when there are very fresh fish in the lake. Either the wingless version or one with well marked Teal for a wing. A muddler headed Katie is a good choice for the bob position on a sea trout cast.

Kate McLaren, muddler head and a bright yellow tail

Kate McLaren, muddler head and a bright yellow tail

Then we have daddies. These will certainly get a reaction from the trout but lots of rises will come short with the fish just splashing at the fly. While this can be exciting for  while the net result is often a disappointment with few trout being securely hooked. Still, on a day when sport is slow a daddy on the bob can illicit some reaction and maybe even tempt the fish to take another fly on the cast.

Jungle Bibio

Jungle Bibio

A word on hook sizes. 8’s and 10’s are the standard ones to go for but I like to have some 12’s and even 14’s handy for those times when the trout are hard to catch. Always fish with barbless hooks for sea trout and handle them carefully before popping them back into the lake.

Peter Ross, this lad is tied on a double

Peter Ross, this lad is tied on a double


Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

Beltra is fishing very well

Latest news from Beltra today:

Great fishing on Beltra. Michael Dolan 7lb Salmon released, James Kenny 7lb Sea Liced salmon on the Newport River, Dr Cahill 8lb salmon, Jonas Romauld 9lb Salmon, Steven Howard 7lb Salmon released, Michael Gross 7lb salmon released, Eamon Kennedy 2 fish 8lb and 9lb both released, Maria Bunzel 6lb salmon, Richard McDowell 7lb Salmon and Pat McHale 9lb Salmon at Flannerys Dock.

I also heard that there were 5 fish caught on Carrowmore today.