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.

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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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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Sooty Olive

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?

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, salmon fishing, trout fishing, wetfly

A stretch in the days

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.


This Balloon Caddis is a bit worn

OK, time to get going. I will post again soon.

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dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, Nymphs, Pike, salmon fishing, sea angling, shore fishing, trolling, trout fishing

A look back in…………….disappointment

Pike on the Rapala

Pike coming to hand. No big ones this season but the usual sprinkling of jacks grabbed various spoons and plugs. This lad took a shine to a Rapala

It’s over. The trout season that is and much of the salmon fishing too. The 2017 season coasted to its finale last weekend and, for me at least, it was a season to forget. Yesterday we fetched the boat in and over the next couple of weekends we will repeat the process with everyone else’s boats. Autumn will bring some sea fishing and maybe a couple of derisory outings to troll for Pike, but the game fishing is over for us in the West of Ireland until next spring. I thought I’d quickly run through the season, disappointing though it most certainly was for me.

The Carrownisky as it exits the lough

very low water on the Carrownisky river

Water levels were all over the place this season, not enough in the spring and too much later in the year. A dry spring does nobody any good and both salmon and trout fishing suffered greatly due to a lack of water. I have never seen the rivers so low in April and May! Is global warming taking effect here as well as in other, more exotic climates? I suspect it is and the changing weather patterns are having a negative impact on the fish and our fishing. Given the we in Ireland are nowhere near meeting our commitments on greenhouse gas reduction it is hard to climb on to any moral high horses. Sure, we are a small country and relatively speaking make little difference compared to the huge carbon footprint of other, larger and more densely populated nations. That does not exonerate us from our duty as world citizens to reduce our effects on the planet, indeed I would argue it should be easier for us that for the likes of India or China.

My olive emerger. Fur body and CDC looped over the back

My olive emerger. Fur body and CDC looped over the back. Normally this pattern catches me lots of springtime brownies but not this past season!

So, it was dry and cold to start with and the spring salmon were scarce. Work sucked me dry every week. Time spent in Mayo was infrequent and I totally failed to make it to the riverbank for the spring salmon fishing. By all accounts I didn’t miss much. Instead, I was able to squeeze some trouting in during March and early April, usually very productive times for me. This year however I could (and did) walk across some parts of the river Robe without the water reaching above my ankles. Northerly and Easterly winds combined with low water are quite possibly the worst conditions for the springtime fly fisher, but that was exactly what I met during those trying March outings. Fly life was non-existent. No Iron Blues or Large Dark Olives. No stoneflies or Diptera. I tempted a few small fish to wets and nymphs but it was hard work with little reward.

Tiny Brown Trout from the river Robe

Anglers fishing the fly on a shrunken river Corrib at the Galway Weir

Anglers fishing the fly on a shrunken river Corrib at the Galway Weir

Great plans to fish hard during May came to nothing and others made use of the boat in my absence. By now I was becoming concerned the whole season would pass me by with work hungrily consuming me. Returning home after time away requires ‘catching up’ with family and all the tasks which have been left unattended need to be addressed in the fleeting few hours with loved ones. Fitting a day or even a few hours fishing into this complex mosaic proved be beyond my organisational skills. Then the rain started to fall.

one from the Robe

small but very welcome!

From June through to September we endured frequent periods of sustained precipitation. The heavens unloaded water on Ireland in biblical quantities. Rivers rose then burst their banks. Each time I found a chink in my diary it coincided with filthy brown spates. My fishing buddies who did venture out with rod and line found the grilse late and well scattered. Salmon fishing is always a case of being in the right place at the right time but this year it seems that maxim was even keener than normal. Tiny windows of opportunity presented themselves when the water was right for an hour or less and experienced rods who knew where to be connected with resting runners. I fumed and shook my head with every text or FB post from friends as they celebrated successes. I never even made it out with the salmon rod after June. A film of dust covers my salmon gear in testimony to my inaction.

Barely used all last season, I will strip the reels down lubricate them all before tucking them away for the winter

So what positives were there this past season? I had a nice brownie in the gloaming from the Keel canal which grabbed a small Wickham then charged around the pool like a fish twice its size. Then there was introduction to the tiny river Griese down in Kildare. The sheer joy of trying to fool those wee trout in difficult conditions was wonderful balm to bruised angling ego and I am already planning on fishing this gem of a river next season. For me, size means nothing, angling is all about being immersed in nature and trying to solve the problems in front of me. A hard-earned 8 incher can be more rewarding than a dozen fish which fling themselves at the flies.

The Griese in Co. Kildare. Clear and stuffed with small trout. I’ll be back………….

My current contract ends early in November and there will probably be some free time from then until Christmas. I’ll do some sea fishing and tie lots of flies when I get to that point. I’ll also make my plans for the 2018 season and I’m going to do some work on this blog as well when I get some free time.

Not many gaps in the fly box but I will be busy at the vice over the winter regardless

The boat about to be hauled out of Lough Conn last weekend

part of an old roller conveyor which an angler uses to ease beaching his boat.

Last view of the lough for this year

There is always next season. At least I managed to get out a few times, walking and wading the rivers and taking the boat out for a look around the bays and shallows. It doesn’t matter how bad the fishing is, just being able to get out in the fresh air is a joy.

And finally…..

My beloved collie left this world in September after 15 years at my side. The sense of loss seems overwhelming sometimes and I am still struggling to come to terms with life without her. The pain will subside over the coming weeks and months but for now life is just ‘less’ in ways which are hard to form into words. So if you have a dog, go and give him/her a rub behind the ears and maybe a wee treat to chew on. You miss them something awful when they are gone.

Ness looking for waterhens

Nessie, 2002 – 2017

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trout fishing

Gone for good

lovely small grilse÷

It is never a good sound. Sometimes it is a loud, alarming crack, sometimes it’s a grating, snapping sound and then again it can be a deadly, barely audible ‘phut’. However it manifests itself the noise of your rod breaking is disturbing and emotional. We anglers grow so attached to those lengths of carbon fibre in a way which must seem very weird to normal, non-fishing folks.

My 10’6 Hardy has gone west. It broke at the top joint when casting the other day. It was a strange one as I wasn’t casting a long line or dragging a fast sinker from the murky depths at the time. Just flicking 15 yards casts with a floating line should not have stressed the old rod in any way, shape or form. But it did and with a soft sigh the venerable old girl became two useless, raggedy ended pieces of high tech tubing. She will be sorely missed.

this one was around 7 pounds

I bought that rod when I was living in London and fishing trips were rare events. It had it’s first outing on the Aberdeenshire Don one fine May day. Quarter-of-an-hour after I first set it up I was playing a ten pound salmon and by the end of the day a 12 pounder had been added to the tally. You quickly fall in love with a rod that delivers the goods so dramatically! A red letter day at Bewl followed with fiesty rainbows bending that Hardy into a hoop in a strong cross wind on the southern shore.

Soon after that day it was time to pack up my goods a chattels and head back to Eire and that’s when the rod really came into action. I had bought with the intention of using it as a grilse and heavy lough trout rod and here in the west of Ireland it has excelled in both roles.

2 pounder from Mask

A two pounder from Lough Mask, one of many that fell to the old Hardy 10’6

Many’s the day I wielded that rod on Loughs Mask, Conn and Beltra, not to mention Carrowmore Lake and most of the salmon rivers in Mayo. Paired with AFTM 7 lines it could handle most anything I threw at it and it was my ‘go to’ rod for an awful lot of my fishing. Like an old friend it was there when I needed it and demanded nothing in return other than an annual clean and overhaul. A whipping had to be re-tied here and there and a small hole in the handle had to be filled before it grew into a crater, but otherwise it was a great tool. I landed 5 fresh grilse one hectic September day on it. Then there was the epic battle with a dark seven pounder hooked on the very lip of a pool that dragged me around for a full ten minutes before I could gain control. The rod doubled, the wind sang though the line and the reel screeched that day I can tell you! Memories…………………

Number 2 of 5

one of the 5

I examined the damage, thinking there may be a repair of some sort which would get the old girl back into use, but no, the crack is too long and far too much would need to be cut off for any repair. I guess I could badger Hardy for a replacement section but my heart isn’t in it. No, I will save some pennies and buy a new rod. I’m contemplating something radically different but I’ll take my time before deciding to part with any cash. For now, the old rod has gone, gone for good.

Here is the wonderful Samantha Fish with a great blues number called (appropriately enough) Gone for good.

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