Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling, wetfly

Choices

Saturday was a day of labour for me but I planned to sneak off for some fishing on Sunday. Modern life is so full it seems to get harder with every passing day to dedicate downtime for fishing or other relaxation. I had narrowed down my choice of venue to either the Moy or Lough Conn, leaving the final decision until the last minute. I knew both venues were producing a small number of fresh salmon so it would come down to the weather conditions on the day.

Sunday morning saw a gusty westerly wind blowing under thick clouds in a lead coloured sky, perfect for Lough Conn! Decision made, I loaded the car and pulled off, happy in the knowledge I had made the right move. The world seemed to consist only of grey as I motored North though drizzle and mist. So much for the Irish summer! It did ease off  bit by the time I parked the car on the verge of the boreen next the the boat. My mobile squawed into life and Ben was on the other end – with news he had just landed a very fresh grilse on a Hairy Mary. Of course he was fishing the Moy!

Well, here I was now so I bailed the boat, loaded up and scoured the car for a hat. No headgear was to be found so I set off bare-headed (if you ave read my last post you will know this is not an uncommon failing on my part). The west wind suited a good drift I often fish in Castlehill Bay so I headed there first. Green Peter, Claret Bumble and a Watson’s seemed to be reasonable choices given the overhead conditions and I fished them with a floating line due in part to the masses of weeds in the bay. It all looked quite promising as I fished a few short drifts in quick succession. Then i tried drifting further out in the bay but there were no takers. Flogging the waves with a cast of three flies was proving to be a waste of time so I pulled in to the shore and set up a pair of trolling rods.

Looking down to Massbrook in the distance

The wind by now had swung from dead West to southerly and it had picked up strength as well. Sunshine broke through the clouds and within the space of only a few minutes the whole feel of the day had changed. Down over the lies I fished but without response or indeed, even seeing a fish of any kind. I passed a fellow troller who signalled he had a fish so I stuck manfully to the task in hand. The wind changed direction again, this time backing westerly once more and turning very gusty. Holding the line was hard as the wind caught the bows and tried to swing the boat around.

Some items for the day. Coffee, keys for the boat locks, some swivels (in the old cigar box) and a few baits

The shallows at Massbrook extend out into the main body of the lake for some considerable distance and I ploughed up and down them for a good hour without eliciting any sort of a response form the fish. I headed next to ‘Mary Robinson’s’ shore (we still call it that even though the ex-President no longer owns that land). There is a good lie at the first pin but just as I was coming up to it the Rapala on the right hand rod snagged the bottom. Mild panic ensured as I cleared the other rod but found the Finnish plug was well and truly stuck. I heaved in some slack and wound it around a tholl pin and hey presto! something gave and I recovered some line. The reason for the solid connection soon became clear, I had snagged another line. More pulling/cursing on my part finally freed this old line and I hauled in about 30 yards of very heavy braid. Also attached was a Toby T but to my disappointment it was only a Garcia model instead of a good Swedish one.

I had no sooner got back into action when the same thing happened again! This time another chunk of heavy braid came in to the boat with an ancient and mangled Flying C. Both pieces of braid were very heavy, I’d estimate they were at least 60 or 70 pound breaking strain. One looked pretty recent but the other line had lain on the bottom for a long time by the look of it.

nasty mess of heavy braid

I turned for home, hope slipping away like the white foam trail from the engine. Then, at the most northern part of Massbrook shore the 12 gram copper Smash was grabbed by a grilse. Lifting into him I could tell this was a small fish but after only 30 seconds or so he shook himself free of the hook and he was gone. As it turns out that was the only action for the day despite another few drifts with the flies in Castlehill.

All in all it appears that I made the wrong choice and I should have headed to the river Moy instead of trying my luck on Lough Conn. This is what happens when I am not fishing often enough, I get rusty and miss out on opportunities because I have not been close to the river/lake. With detailed knowledge I may well have gone to the river instead of the lake today and had a better chance of contacting a fish as a result. On the plus side at least I removed some line which had been snagged on the bottom and or a few brief seconds the rod was bent and fish was on. I’ll settle for that today.

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

Typical weekend

I fished Lough Conn on Saturday morning before family commitments called me back to town then had a quiet hour or soon the Moy on Sunday evening. No fish but it was nice to be out. I’ll let the photos do the talking:

Down at Mary Robinson’s

the old 66

welcome mug of coffee

flat calm

what to try next?

Sunday and the Moy is running high

blue and silver devon

rumour is the fish are running hard and not stopping.

 

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, sea angling, trout fishing

Forward thinking

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 Cullin from Pontoon Bridge

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?

Fishing the fly through the Gub on the East Mayo Anglers water on the river Moy

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.

Carr’s pool on the Bunowen

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.

The Pollagh flowing through the woods. It can be quite challenging to fish!

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.

Pools and riffles, typical of the Castlebar River

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.

Start of a competition

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!

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, sea angling, shore fishing, trolling, trout fishing

Getting ready

‘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.

fly lines hanging up

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!

It looks OK in this shot but trust me, this shore fishing box is a perpetual disaster area

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.

Conn shoreline

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.

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling, trout fishing

Still quiet on Conn

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.

Hazy day on Lough Conn

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.

a very full boat!

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.

boats on Lough Conn

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!

On the move

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

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.

mayfly

an out of focus mayfly!

Mayfly shuck

Mayfly shuck

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!

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, salmon fishing, trout fishing

Around Conn and Cullin

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.

pontoon-bridge-hotel-20018

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.

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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

pontoon

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!

pontoon

 

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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.

Ballyvary river

the Castlebar river

An angler trolling for salmon in the shallow waters of Lough Conn, off the mouth of the river Deel, Crosmolina

 

 

 

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling

Conn this afternoon

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.

p4010025.jpg

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

Headin’ home

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.

Toby ‘T’

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