Many of you are familiar with the great western lakes. Conn, set below the heights of mighty Nephin, the wild Mask with shallows and reefs rising from the depths, beautiful Carra with the near tropical look of the green water and Corrib, huge and daunting too the newcomer. Less well known is Lough Cullin, the little sister to Conn and a pleasant place for a few hours fishing.
Pulled in near the bridge on Lough Cullin
Cullin lies to the North of Castlebar, close to the village of Foxford in County Mayo. It is part of the River Moy system and it is joined to Lough Conn by a short channel at Pontoon Bridge where the R310 road crosses. I am no expert on celtic mythology but I think I am right in saying that loughs Conn and Cullin were named after Fionn MacCoul’s hunting dogs who both drowned while chasing a wildboar.
Pontoon Bridge from Lough Cullin
In addition to the waters pouring in from Lough Conn at Pontoon the lough also receives the flow from the Cashel River, itself an amalgamation of the Castlebar and Manulla rivers. This can lead to the strange phenomenon of the flow at Pontoon changing direction when there is high water on the Cashel. Most anglers will agree that when this happens the fishing will be useless.
The Cashel River which flows into Cullin
Cullin is a shallow water with a high pH due to the underlying limestone bed. In the past the lough has suffered from pollution both from the agricultural run off of fertilisers and muck spreading as well as sewage from the towns and villages in the area. It is only recently that some improvements have been made in waste water treatment in the county and this will take time to be reflected in the quality of water in Cullin. The eutrophication of the lough has harmed the trout fishing and at the same time improved the environment for coarse fish such as roach and pike. These two species are now present in huge numbers and grow to a good size. Many pike are caught by accident when fishing for salmon and I have seen huge roach caught on the fly by trout anglers (I have only managed very small specimens though)
A pike from Cullin. They grow much, much bigger than this!
So what is the fishing like on Cullin? It is a shadow of the former fishery with a greatly reduced stocks of both trout and salmon now present. Salmon numbers have declined alarmingly in the whole Moy system over the recent past and this has been obvious on Cullin with very few springers landed. Cullin was never much good for grilse as the lough weeds up in the warm months of the season making vast tracks of the lake unfishable. Some early grilse are boated each year and they seem to favour the same lies as their larger brethren.
Any of these spoons will work on Cullin
There are a few noted salmon lies in the lough and these are hard fished by locals trolling spoons and plugs. In the shallow water it is easy to get hung up on the bottom and in weeds, so some losses are to be expected. Dangerous underwater rocks are generally marked with pins but take care when the water is high as it is easy to run into shallows which are normally visible. Salmon like to lie in shallow water, so time spent trolling around rocks and reefs is time well spent.
A small springer taken on the troll on Cullin, note the sea lice near the ventral fin
The lies are pretty well defined on Cullin so there is a lot of boat handling to keep the baits working over the fish, making this a less boring day out than some other trolling venues. Tobies, Swinford Spoons and Rapalas are all widely used here. Salmon can also be fished for off the shore at Pontoon Bridge but this has been the site of a number of unsavoury incidents over the years when ‘anglers’ dispute who has the right to fish from certain spots. I can’t say I recommend any visitors to try try and fish at the bridge.
Looking out on to Cullin
The trout fishing is at best patchy. The huge numbers of chironomids which live in the lake now mean there is ample feeding for the fish on the bottom or in mid-water. That means they have little interest in coming to the surface for a meal and the traditional wet fly is largely unproductive. There are some exceptions and the mayfly gives us the best chance of surface sport on Cullin. April and May are by far the best months for trouting on this lough. I am sure there are great hatches of sedges during the summer but we never see them as Carra and Mask hold our attention at that time of year. Fighting the weeds on Cullin is not a great option compared to the other lakes.
The size of trout was always smaller than those encountered in neighbouring Lough Conn and a trout of a pound is a good one for Cullin. That said, there are much bigger trout in the water but they cruize the bottom and are very difficult to find. Fishing a buzzer from an anchored boat can provide sport but I find this a tedious way of fishing on the big lakes so I tend to stick to wet or dry fly most days.
I don’t think that the trout on Cullin are particularly fussy when it comes to flies. Claret Bumble, Connemara Black and Green Peter are usually on my cast here and they seem to do as well as anything else. I prefer smaller sizes on Cullin though with a size 12 used in favour of the normal size 10s. Mayfly patterns are in legion, so pick one or two favorites and don’t be tempted to change too often when the greendrakes appear.
A Mirage Gosling will work on bright days on Cullin
I concentrate my efforts for trout in Healys bay and the rocky north shore. Even when there is a good hatch on the trout are slow to show on top so don’t expect too much in the way of casting to rising fish on Cullin. Takes when they do come are fast, very different to Carra fish who take with a degree of leisure. I use a light 11 foot rod throwing a number 6 line on Cullin to get the best of the smaller fish you are most likely to encounter. The length gives me better control of the bob fly which I consider useful in attractive the fish up to the cast.
No day out on Cullin would be complete without a pint in Healys. The bar is full of old fishing relics and there are some rods and stuff on the walls too! The beer is grand and there is always a bit of fishing chat in the bar.
So there you have it, Cullin is a nice lough to fish, especially for those not familiar with the big waters. It is less demanding of boat handling skills than Mask or Corrib and can often produce a nice trout early on in the season. Give it a lash if you are in the area in April or May and bring a trolling rod in case the salmon are running.