With the season officially started I need to wrap my head around where I’m going to fish during 2019. Last season was a disaster for me so I need to think carefully about these plans to avoid yet more disappointment.
Some venues are just too special to ignore, so the likes of Lough Beltra and Carrowmore Lake will be on my hit list for the spring salmon fishing. I’ll admit that I am worried how many springers will actually return this year with already worryingly low numbers of fish around in both Scotland and Ireland. All we can do is hope and pray the fish have escaped the nets and pollution in sufficient numbers to populate our rivers and lakes once more.
Lough Conn didn’t fish worth a damn last year for trout or salmon so I will cut back my efforts there unless the fishing picks up considerably. The same applies to Lough Cullin which appeared to be devoid of life last year. Instead, I might turn to the River Moy for some sport. It is a river I used to fish and indeed one where I caught a number of salmon but I gravitated more to the loughs than the river for many years. Maybe it is time to enjoy the running waters again?
My beloved local spate rivers were empty of grilse last summer so to prevent further heartbreak I am planning on skipping my normal trips to them in 2019, unless I hear reports they have recovered. I think that is going to be highly unlikely with the blatant netting which is carried out at the mouths of the rivers. I used to love fishing a fining spate and experienced some fabulous fishing in past years but, alas, these are only memories now.
Then there is the river Robe, what do I do about the Robe? Again, the fishing was very, very poor last spring but conditions were bad. Low, cold water combined with non-existent hatches meant that normal fly fishing was severely curtailed in March and April. This year I will expect less from the river and only fish in good conditions when possible. I suspect I have become somewhat blinkered in my fishing and not spread my efforts widely enough. Less time on the Robe and more time on streams like the Glore or Pollagh may reap rewards this coming season.
I am also toying with fishing some of the less well known waters around here too. The Castlebar river and the Clydagh are on my doorstep and both hold reasonable stocks of wild brown trout, potential targets for the odd free hour or two.
I am also going to break a habit and enter one or two competitions this coming season. Not that I am expecting to win anything, nor am I in the least interested in any possible financial gain. I just feel ‘out of touch’ and miss the contact with good angling friends, most of whom regularly partake of the lively competition scene in the West of Ireland.
There are other venues which I hope to try. Maybe an evening on Lough Carra for old times sake for example. Or a summer’s evening on the Keel (I hear it has been fished out but you never know…….). Then there is the sea angling which I’ve not even begun to consider yet. All in all it looks like a busy year ahead of me!
‘Tis the end of January and the time to prepare for the upcoming season is upon us game anglers in Ireland. I know that some early rivers opened weeks ago but for me and most of the lads I fish with the months of February and March mark the true beginning of another year on the water. In truth, I have been fiddling away all winter getting my tired old gear (both fresh and salt water) into better shape. There is something very satisfying about doing these small jobs, a feeling of pent up excitement mingled with the realism that previous poor seasons have beaten you down with. Hope springs eternal in the heart of every fisher. Here are some of the tasks which I have either completed or am still in the middle of.
Rods have all been checked and any minor repairs such as re-whipping rings undertaken. With so little fishing done last season there were no issues on this front other than cleaning some muck and scales from the sea rods. I always give my rods and reels a good hose down with fresh water after a day’s sea angling but even still there seem to be scales and slime lodged in some nooks and crannies. The rollers on my boat rod also got a bit of lubrication while I was at it. The fly rods just required nothing more than a cursory wipe down as the rings, handles and reel seats were all in good nick.
Looking after reels is a big job when you own as many as I do. Regular readers will be aware that I have been re-building some old multipliers this winter, something I find deeply satisfying. I’ve also cleaned and lubricated all my other reels so they are fit for the rigours of the new season. I know that some anglers send their reels off to have this job carried out for them but I like to do it myself and it engenders a degree of confidence in my tackle if I know how they work and that I have the oil and grease in the right place (and in the right amount). Mine are all in fine fettle now and ready for the off next month.
Fly lines which had been unwound from the reels and cleaned in October are now being loaded back on to the self same reels, a laborious job punctuated by swearing at the not infrequent knots I seem to incur. I am thinking about investing in some new fly lines as most of mine are many years old now. The bewildering array of tapers and densities mean I have to do my homework first though. Why is fishing so complicated these days?
A big chunk of my winter evening were spent sorting out and fixing my unfeasably large collection of baits what with cleaning them and fitting new hooks and swivels. That task was completed a couple of weeks ago bar a few strays which keep cropping in in jacket pockets, old tobacco tins and other odd corners.
I also rationalised the boxes of baits so I know where most things are. The same went for the other small items such as swivels and hooks. Hopefully the unedifying sight of me tipping the contents of my bag out on to the bottom of the boat to track down missing items is not going to be repeated this coming season!
Speaking about the bags, I gave the various tackle bags a good clean and then reorganised them all. Fishermen’s tackle bags are akin to Pandora’s box, opening them up unleashes powerful forces, especially smells. When going through the contents of my old blue bag I found gear I’ve been lugging around for years which were never used, so a drastic reorganisation was called for.
I have owned my black shore fishing tackle box for a few years but have never really managed to organise it properly. It is either overloaded and unwieldy or spartan to the point where it contains nothing that I need. I can’t find that happy medium it seems. I’m now contemplating an internal modular system so that I can switch it around depending on what type of fish I am after on any given day. For example, there is no point in lugging float tackle with me when I am fishing off a beach. It needs more thought but I need to be better organised that I am just now. I must ‘7S’ my black box!
One change I am going to make this coming season is to carry a few made up leaders with me. This is a simple expedient to work around my failing eyesight and reduce lost time on the bank. Many years ago I was drifting the west shore of Lough Conn one May morning when I happened across some rising trout. Earlier that day I had tied on a leader from my bulging cast wallet. A nice sized trout walloped my tail fly and soon after setting the hook he jumped and the leader parted at the knot. Annoyed at myself for tying a shoddy half blood I tidied up the end of the leader and tied on another fly. Fish were all around me now and I placed the fly perfectly in front of a cruising fish a few casts later. The offer was accepted and a large wild trout set off at pace for the deep water close by. My smile faded quickly from my face when that fish snapped me too. Winding in a gave the leader a tug and it snapped like cotton thread. The nylon had aged in the years that leader must have been lurking in the cast wallet. Lesson learned, I vowed then and there to stop carrying made up leaders and I have stuck to that rigidly – until now. From now on, the simple expedient of scribbling a date on the cast carrier will let me know how old the leader is and when I should dispose of them.
The various fly boxes are looking a bit healthier now after some fly tying over the winter months. After a bit of rationalisation I was able to ditch two boxes that I used to take on trips to the rivers for trout. That still leaves me with six boxes though!
There is time yet to tie up a few more killer patterns and the only type I feel seriously under gunned is emergers. I’ll rattle up a few this week and have them ready for those exciting days when the fish are on the top of the water and flies are hatching. With a storm blowing outside and the windows rattling those balmy days seem a long way off. I will also tie up some shrimp copies for the trout. With so little in the way of fly life last year I will make more effort to fish deep with grammus patterns this time around. While I do a fair bit of deep nymphing I am planning a much more targeted approach with a greater focus on shrimps rather than stoneflys and empherid nymphs which seem to be in such short supply these days.
So while the days oh so gradually lengthen I will continue my making and mending, fiddling and foostering and generally edging my way towards the new season in the sure and certain hope that there will be some days in amongst the blanks.
The boat and engines need some work but I’ll go over them in another post.
Conn (again) today. Like some sort of a piscatorial junkie I had to go back there again to get another ‘fix’. Previous disappointments were pushed to the dark recesses of my memory and I packed tons of gear and even more optimism before setting off.
Let me get this off my chest straight away – I failed to catch anything of any consequence today. Conditions were good and the weather was kind for a change so I don’t really have any excuses. I tried hard and used all my knowledge of the lough but still came up short. My hopes were initially pinned on the first of the years salmon showing up but there was no sign of them today. After trolling and fly fishing over a couple of normally productive lies I pulled into the shore to swap over to a cast of trout flies.
I met a pair of experienced fishers from the midlands who were on the last day of a three day trip to the Conn. They had not caught a fish during their stay! A few mayfly were hatching out so I decided to drift the edges of Castlehill Bay. A number of other boats had the same idea, making for a busy day on the oars to keep clear of everyone else.
With a steady breeze behind me I drifted right across the bay, then repeated the exercise for good measure. Two small trout nipped at the flies and I saw only three natural rises in the distance during those lengthy drifts. Maybe some of the other boats saw some action but I didn’t see anyone bending a rod into a fish. The few mays which were hatching seemed to thin out and the hatch stopped altogether. Time to move on!
I set up the trolling rods again and turned into the wind, the engine pushing me slowly southwards. A Toby on one line and a nice copper ABU Salar on the other, it was time to hunker down as the mist rolled in.
mist coming down over Nephin
The long haul down the Massbrook shore was fishless and the return journey equally unproductive. No trout rose and no salmon jumped clear of the water. In these conditions it was hard to believe this was Lough Conn. the only action came in the shape of a tiny 8 inch trout which grabbed a 12 gram Toby. Luckily. the wee fella was lightly hooked and soon returned.
an out of focus mayfly!
With the mayfly hatch finally underway there must be hopes the lough will start to fish soon. I will probably back next weekend to mainline on the Conn!
Just some bits and pieces from the Conn/Cullin area to give you a feel for this part of Ireland. Let’s kick off with some figures shall we?
The Conn/Cullin catchment drains roughly 800 square miles of north County Mayo
Conn is a big lough, it covers roughly 48 km2 and has a maximum depth of 40 metres
Cullin, which sits to the south of Conn, covers just over 10 km2
The loughs are joined by a cut which replaced the old river and this is spanned by a bridge on the R310 road. The village of Pontoon is situated on the narrow isthmus which separates the two bodies of water. Two hotels in the village are currently both closed. There were hopes that at least Healy’s would open again next year but the existing building may have to be demolished and a new one built.
Healy’s hotel, Pontoon
The Pontoon Bridge hotel changed hands last year but it too is still shut. The local economy badly needs both of these hotels to open up.
The water level on Lough Conn was lowered by 1.83 m (6 feet) in the autumn of 1966 as part of the Moy Arterial Drainage Scheme. There is a general opinion in the area that this scheme had a negative effect on fish stocks in both loughs.
the Lough Conn drainage area
In Irish folklore these loughs were created when the Celtic hero, Fionn MacCumhaill was out hunting boar with his two hounds named Conn and Cullin. The dogs were chasing a boar when water began gushing from the boar’s feet. The chase went on for days but eventually the steady flow of water from the boar drowned the poor dogs while simultaneously forming two lakes: Conn and Cullin.
The huge bulk of Nephin towers over Conn
Back in the 1960’s there was a dance hall in Pontoon. Hugely popular in its day, people flocked to it to dance the night away. Legend has it that one night, towards the end of the evening, a girl was asked for a dance by a handsome young man. She stepped out with him and he turned out to be a superb dancer. She was having the time of her life until by chance she happened to look down. Instead feet the bold young fella walked on hooves – the devil himself was abroad in Pontoon!
Lough Conn stretches all the way from Crossmolina in the North to Pontoon in the south with fishing all over the whole body of water. As with most Irish loughs, the best fishing is in the shallows around the shoreline, island and offshore reefs. Unlike Mask and Corrib there is virtually no angling in the deeps.
Mayfly time and Brown’s Bay on Lough Conn is busy with anglers preparing to go out for the day
Fish stocks are but a shadow of what the were, Indeed, the population of Char seems to have died out completely. Surveys carried out many years ago suggested that a big majority of the trout from Lough Cullin spawned in the Castlebar river. Nowadays there are very few trout in Cullin and they have been replaced with coarse fish.
the Castlebar river
An angler trolling for salmon in the shallow waters of Lough Conn, off the mouth of the river Deel, Crosmolina
It is bitterly cold again today but the call of the lough was just too strong so I gave Conn a lash after lunch. A bright morning had given way to dull and breezy afternoon as I set off, the back of the car jammed full of all manner of gear.
How much gear do I need!
I heaved my prehistoric 9.9 out of the car and on to the boat. Hooking up the petrol tank I pulled the starter cord – nothing! Every year I suffer the same ritual with this old motor. I try to start it and it refuses to budge for about 20 minutes and then, without warning on the hundredth pull it flickers into life. Clipping a couple of Toby’s on to the rods I headed out into the lough. The North-Easter was bloody freezing and the waves topped the side of the boat a few times, requiring some swift bucket action to keep my gear relatively dry. Three lads were worming from the bank, huffing and puffing as they tried to keep warm. Not a method of fishing I subscribe too but it is a tradition in these parts and people who never normally come near the loughs drown earthworms for a few days each Spring.
I trolled for a while but to be honest I was more intent on seeing the engine in action and looking for any signs of life on the water. The prolonged cold weather has set nature back and there is still no sign of the trees and shrubs greening up with new foliage. Disappointingly, I saw no fly life or any signs of fish while out today.
Motoring up into Castlehill bay I could see a boat in the distance. Thinking at first they were trout fishers I headed in their direction, hoping to ask if they had any sport today. As I got closer it became clear the boat contained 4 Pike anglers. It became even more obvious that they were moored exactly over the lie I hoped to troll over! All four were busily hurling gigantic swim baits towards a reed bed so I left them to it and turned back for home.
Not even the Pike were biting this afternoon
It was always going to be an uphill battle to find a salmon today. There are fish in the system, between 20 and 30 have been landed so far in total. Most of those have come from the Ballina area but a couple have been caught at Pontoon Bridge so there is a chance one or two have penetrated further into the lough.
Just being out in the fresh air was a tonic. We anglers spend large chunks of each year dreaming of being out on the water with rod and line so we need to make the best of every opportunity that arises. On the plus side for me today the old engine ran perfectly once we had overcome the initial starting problems. I feel much more confident in my lures after the big clear out over the winter and the replacements which now fill my tackle bag. All we need now is for the weather to warm up a bit.
Picture the scene if you will; it’s early season on the Western lakes and the urge to fish has brought you to the shores of Lough Mask. Still too early for the gorse to bloom, everywhere in sight is coloured in sombre duns and greys. That joyous rush of prescient life, that hope and expectation of each new spring is still somewhere over the horizon. For now there is cold and rawness to battle, numb handed clumsiness on unfriendly waves to counter with layers of new-fangled, hi-tech clothing. No fish to be seen or flies hatching amid the acres of island strewn water to feed hopes of action. This is not fishing for the faint of heart but rather those of stoic resolution and sometimes just sheer bloody-mindedness.
Rod and reel assembled, line threaded with pale, unfeeling fingers and leader tied and tested, now you are faced with the big decision – what flies to tie on the end. Some fishers agonise over the choice of fly at this time of year but I am not one of them. Long ago I freed myself from the mental torture and physical handwringing when faced with the selection of flies for early season work. I stick to 4 patterns as a rule, swapping them around different positions on the leader if I want something to do but rarely, if ever, resorting to rummaging in the box for alternatives.
Today I am going to discuss that mainstay of early season trouting in Ireland, the Sooty Olive. For some inexplicable reason this pattern does not seem to have travelled well and is little used beyond Erin’s shores. Why? It is easy to tie and is effective at times when the fish can be hard to catch. It is probably taken for a number of different food items which scurry and crawl on or near the lake bottom but the general consensus is that the trout mistake it for a buzzer.
What colour is Sooty Olive? Ask a dozen different anglers that question and you will get a dozen different answers! To me it is a dark, brownish olive. Others will say it is a very dark olive while some avow it is the darkest shade of green olive. Some tyers mix some black fur in with dark olive to get the shade they require. If you want an easy way of solving this riddle then purchase some of Frankie McPhillips pre-mixed Sooty Olive fur. That narrows it down to just two shades and I prefer the darker one.
You can buy the pre-mixed dubbing in individual packs or as part of a dozen different Irish dubbing colours
As to the pattern itself, well here again there are a number of different claimants for the crown. For me the basic wet fly consists of sooty olive fur body ribbed with fine oval gold tinsel. The tail is formed of a few strands of Golden Pheasant tippet and the hackle is either a black hen hackle or one dyed sooty olive. Wings are always bronze mallard (probably the only thing our mythical 12 anglers would agree upon).
Adding a red fur section before the hackle is tied in makes a useful variant. Swapping the gold rib out for one of copper wire is also popular. I have seen a glo-brite no. 4 tag and rib added too. Dying the tippets red or orange is favoured by some.
I carry Sooty’s in a wide range of sizes, all the way from 8’s right down to teeny weeny 14’s. Here is how to tie this great lough fly.
Use black tying silk
Tie in a hen hackle of the colour you want to use – here I am making the fly with a natural black one
catch in tippets and some fine gold wire as you run the silk to the bend
Dub the fur on to the silk and wind it back to where the hackle was tied in. Rib in open turns with the oval gold and snip off the waste end
Wind the hen hackle – about three turns. Tie in and remove the waste
The only tricky part is forming the wings with paired slips of bronze mallard. Form a neat head and whip finish
Dabbler versions of the Sooty are also in legion. I’ll save those for another day!
Anyone guess what my other 3 early season patterns are?
The days are growing longer again as winter begins to lose her grip on Ireland. I took a drive around North Mayo today for a look around. The weather was cool but bright and (most importantly) dry. Water levels are up due to the heavy rain the west has endured lately. That is good, the high water will allow the kelts to move quickly down river and exit the systems. It should also attract in a sprinkling of fresh salmon too. The Moy was high and coloured as it powered through the Cathedral Beat in Ballina.
Springers have been in short supply across the country so far with only a couple of fish off the Drowes and ones and twos of the other early rivers. It is early days though and there is plenty of time the runs to strengthen.
The afternoon has brought increased cloud cover and the threat of more rain. Time to tie some flies and drink endless mugs of strong, aromatic coffee. I need to top up a few patterns before we get the rods out for the 2018 season. Firstly, I want to tie up some Fl. cascades with hackles from the capes I bought last year.
Standard Cascades, I want to make some fl. versions
My endless love for muddler headed salmon flies shows no signs of abating, so I intend tying up some more this weekend.
Deadly! A muddler Clan Chief
Early season nymphing is always one of the highlights of my season and I am planning on trying out some hot head versions this March/April
Murroughs – I am short of Murroughs too!
Fiery Brown Murrough
And Balloon Caddis dry flys. They are so useful in the summer months and I only have a couple left in the box right now.