Fishing in Ireland

Will Cullin come good?

Lough Cullin has been fishing very poorly for many years now which is a great pity as it has a character all of its own and used to be a favourite venue for me. Will it’s fortunes change for the better this season?

dark skies over Cullin from a few years ago

The whole area around Pontoon has fallen on hard times with both of the local hotels now shut down and the fishing on Loughs Conn and Cullin hitting an all time low. The may be a flicker of hope for lough Cullin though in the shape of an ugly concrete and steel construction a few miles away.

I quote directly from ‘A Review of Changes in the Fish Stocks of Loughs’ Conn and Cullin over time (1978 – 2001)’

Cultural eutrophication problems have been evident in Lough Cullin in recent years (McCarthy et al, 2001). While the enrichment of Lough Cullin may have contributed to the demise of the trout population there is another very obvious reason for the collapse of this stock. A baseline fishery survey of the Moy Catchment (O’Grady, 1994) illustrated that three particular sub-catchments were likely to be of significance as spawning and nursery areas for the Lough Cullin trout population – the Castlebar, Manulla and Clydagh River systems. Further investigation of fish stock in these sub-catchments indicated that, of the three systems involved, the Castlebar River was, by far, potentially, the most important spawning and nursery area for the L. Cullin trout population. Recognising this fact the Nw.R.F.B. expended significant monies in enhancing the capacity of the Castlebar River to optimise trout production. This programme failed because of declining water quality problems in the river to-date (2001) (Appendix II). Currently (2001) the river supports a very poor trout stock – several substantial fish kills have also been noted in this river in recent years (Nw.R.F.B., pers comm). A failure of trout to recruit, in significant numbers, from the Castlebar River to Lough Cullin is undoubtedly a major factor in the demise of the lake trout population – a small number of trout were tagged in the Castlebar River in 2000 while carrying out fish population estimates. It is noteworthy of the total catch of 15 trout in the 2001 L. Cullin survey three fish were individuals which had been tagged in the Castlebar River the previous year.

This is interesting because a fine new sewage treatment plant was built for the town of Castlebar a couple of years ago, right on the bank of the Castlebar river. From the above you can gather that this unimposing stream was in fact the main spawning river for the trout in lough Cullin. Water quality in the river has improved markedly and it now holds a fine head of resident brown trout as far up as the outskirts of the town itself. Could it be that the trout in lough Cullin are also benefiting from this long awaited piece of infrastructure?

The Castlebar river is now much improved

The other big problem for Cullin is the immense shoals of Roach which now pollute the lough, competing with the native trout for food. The direct descendants of live bait which Pike anglers released into the system 20 years ago, the roach outnumber the trout by a huge amount. Good news for the Pike who swallow up the Roach but make little or no impression on their numbers. Bad news for the trout though.

Roach

It is hard to tell if the trout will make a comeback or not. I fear there are just too many factors against them but nature usually finds a way of reaching a balance so there is hope yet.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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, trolling, wetfly

Boat out today

My boat was kindly moved from the yard to Lough Conn for me yesterday while I was at work so today I partly repaid the debt by helping Ben to launch a boat on Lough Cullin. We like to keep a boat there for those times when we just have an hour of two to spare and can nip out the road to fly fish for trout or do some trolling for salmon. Cullin is not nearly as productive as the Conn but it is grand for a short session.

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At this time of the year we would expect huge hatches of duckfly on Cullin. The muddy bottom is ideal for the midges and April is the height of the season for the buzzers on this particular lake. But I spotted precisely two tiny duckfly today in 3 hours on the lake. Maybe everything is just running a bit later than normal.

The rumour doing the rounds in the local area is that Healy’s Hotel has been bought and will reopen under new management in about 18 months. If true, this is great news for the parish of Pontoon which needs all the local business it can muster. There also seems to be some movement in the sale of the Pontoon Bridge hotel too.

There was little wind this morning and coupled with no hatch of duckfly we were left with the options of simply launching the boat or going for an hour’s trolling. Deciding to drag some metalwork around for a while, we headed off towards the bridge and get it an auld lash around the pins there. Sad to report we drew a blank but it was lovely to be out in the fresh air and to have the boat safely launched.

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

The first day of May

Still dark. Awake, I decide to go online and check out the news in the hope my brain will tire and sleep becomes feasible again. One of the disadvantages of advancing years is sleep becomes erratic so these nocturnal forays into cyberspace feature more frequently now. Chaos in Iraq, a building collapse in Nairobi – the usual mix of death and fear. Maybe this constant bombardment of negativity is one reason I love angling so much. The total immersion in casting and the countryside leaves no space for the nasty things in this life. For a few short hours immersed in natures timeless cycles calms the savage breast. The natural world envelops me, draws me in and opens my eyes to a different, soothing and familiar place.

The first day of May should be a fishing day. Here we are on the very cusp of the highlight of the Irish anglers year so I simply have to fish. April will not be mourned; she was a cold mistress, largely barren and cloaked in dull, grey disappointment. She has handed Spring’s baton over to what I hope will be an altogether more virile and fruitful partner. May sometimes defines the whole season for me. A good month can be exciting, setting the mood for the rest of the year. Memories of good fishing are a well we draw from. We anglers revisit these memories of the good spring days regularly when low water reduces our sport in high summer.

9am. There is a loose arrangement to fish ‘somewhere’ today. A sprinkling of salmon have entered the river systems, enough to engender that rarest of qualities – hope. Sandwiches are carefully prepared and stowed safely away in a waterproof container. Recently tied flies are added to the flybox and a new leader tied on the end of the fly line. The minutest of tasks are undertaken with forensic attention to detail. At the allotted hour we set off through the quiet streets and out into the countryside. The decision has been made – Lough Cullin today.

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The shores of Cullin

A steady Southerly wind and overcast skies bode well and the real possibility of meeting a salmon looms large in our thoughts and conversation as we tackle up and load the boat. With the wind from this quarter we can drift across the best lies in comfort with little work on the oar.

We fish steadily, methodically casting and retrieving tick-tock, tick-tock. To the untrained eye we are repeating the same cast again and again but in reality each cast varies slightly from the last. The boat never drifts in an absolutely straight line so casts are directed to take advantage of the sideways slip so as to impart a curve in the retrieve. Eyes are glued to the surface looking for signs of movement, tell tale swirls left by fish as the turn below the waves. At the end of each drift we wind in and start the engine to motor back up wind, usually to drift a slightly different line so we cover new water. We are largely silent, wrapped up in our own world of concentration.

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Nearing the shore, time to start up the engine

On Cullin our drifts are easily recognisable as we find the fish lie in shallows dotted with marker poles. These metal rods, topped with orange floats, mark dangerous submerged rocks so unwary boaters don’t run into them. As we motor upwind I spot a small salmon rolling on top of the water. That flash of silver transforms the mood in the boat and we redouble our efforts, expecting that electrifying pull on the line with every cast now. Close to the outermost pole another fresh fish shows, this one is a bigger fish of maybe 8 or 9 pounds by the look of her. Our flies comb the water around that spot but to no avail. Drift completed, we head back up and repeat the whole process once again. As we are closing in the the shore Ben lifts to re-cast for the umteenth time. His flies are out of the water and in mid-air when the salmon boils but a yard from the boat. She was following but didn’t take and the boil was her turning sharply as the flies disappeared. Sometimes, dropping the cast back into the boil results in a positive take, but not today. We drift one more time then head to the shore for a cuppa.

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the view to the south across Lough Cullin

My apple and cinnamon tea, coupled with the cheese and tomato sandwiches revive me after what has been a solid few hours of fishing. As we entered the small bay I noticed a solitary Mayfly so I scoured the shore and sure enough came across another greendrake.

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Mayfly

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A local angler was walking his dog along the shore and he stopped to chat with us. Notes were compared and the news of fish caught or lost swapped. The dog seemed to be totally unimpressed with all this talk. 

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Bored

Lunch over we pushed back out on to the water once more. I changed the tail fly, substituting the Connemara Black for a Willie Gunn. Cast and retrieve, cast and retrieve….

When he came to the fly it was a carbon copy of Ben’s chance that morning. I lifted the line out of the water and was well into the back cast when the water boiled very close to the bow of the boat. It wasn’t a large salmon judging by the disturbance he left. Soon after we lost the wind  and the lake surface became flat and useless for fishing. We fished on but the day petered out without further excitement.

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Start her up and head for home!

So we had moved two fish to the flies between us. On another day one or both of them could have stuck and we would have repaired to Johnnies to celebrate, but not today. Salmon fishing is a tough sport on the mind. Confidence is everything, much more important than fly choice or the make of rod you use. Steely self-belief is you armour against misfortune. The first day of May reinforced this truth, testing our resolve. We will be back again soon.

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trout fishing

Angling update

A wee update for you on the fishing in these parts.

Beltra -the odd spring salmon being caught but to be honest the lough needs a good shot of water in it now to encourage a run of salmon.

River Moy – a trickle of fish seem to be entering the system now and catches, while still low, are beginning to pick up. East Mayo Anglers water is producing an occasional fish including a 10 pounder on the fly last week.

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The Moy in Ballina

Lough Mask – continues to fish well. All the normal spots are seeing some action but a lot of very thin trout showing up

Lough Conn – It is still very quiet on Conn but the angling pressure has been virtually nil so there could be more chances for sport than people realise. Should be worth a cast from now on.

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Trolling for salmon on Lough Conn

Lough Cullin – good buzzer hatches and the first olives now hatching.

Carrowmore Lake – Fishing very well when conditions allow. Ben Baynes took a 4 pounder there last week and followed up with a 9 pounder which he released on Lough Beltra on the same day!

In summary, the cold weather and East wind have not been doing us any favours this month so far, but if we get a spell of wet and mild weather things will liven up and the fishing will be good here in Mayo. Carrowmore is the hotspot right now!

 

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Fishing in Ireland, trolling

Cold day on Cullin

It looked for all the world like one of those days in mid-winter when the sky fills with menacing clouds and snow falls thickly, snarling up traffic and turning the pavements into streams. That was Saturday and the cold snap continued into Sunday.

Between the snow showers three of us flipped my boat over and loaded it on to a trailer, ready for Sunday morning’s journey to Lough Cullin. An inch of ice in the boat greeted me the next day and it had to be hacked off before we hit the road. The snow had retreated to the hill tops but the bitter wind remained to test our resolve. Rods and gear had been brought along but with such coldness we remained undecided to last minute if we would venture out. Cullin looked blankly uninviting, the wind blustered and blew out of the freezing east and even the strenuous effort of launching the boat failed to generate any heat in the pair of us. The moment for decision came once the boat was safely in the water and we managed to convince ourselves there was a chance of a fish. So the outboard spluttered into life and we motored off to the favourite spot to troll for a while.

A small but steady hatch of buzzers came off the lake all the time we were afloat but not a single fish rose. I didn’t blame them. We were threading our way between the pins when my rod buckled and the reel woke me from what I considered to be the early stages of hypothermia. A ten yard dash and then………….nothing. Just a heavy weight and the odd head shake. Pike. A stone of teeth and slime came to the boat, hooked conveniently in the corner of the mouth.

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Ben boated another Essox around the 7 pound mark before we stopped for a bite to eat on the shore near Pontoon Bridge. As usual, the prawning brigade were hard at it but enquiries showed they were fishless like us.

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Pulled in near the bridge

We changed baits, switching to plugs instead of spoons but all to no avail. The cold and rising wind made it unpleasant to be out in so we decided to call it a day around 2pm. Hardly an exciting day’s sport but the boat is now in place for when the fishing does eventually pick up.

 

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Fishing in Ireland

Flies for Lough Conn, part 2

Following on from a previous post I will discuss a few more patterns which have worked on Lough Conn for me over the years.

  1. Malloch’s Favourite

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Malloch’s Favourite

Firstly we will take a look at a Scottish fly which has worked for me during the olive hatch. Each spring the Western lakes get good hatches of lake olives which in turn get the trout feeding high up in the water column. Many trout anglers will tell you this is the most frustrating time of the year with fish showing but unwilling to take the anglers flies. On a rough day Bumbles and various other bushy patterns will produce the goods, but in a small ripple things get a bit tougher. This is when I turn to the Malloch’s Favourite. Originally invented for use on the lochs of Scotland’s central belt, including Loch Leven, this old stalwart has fooled trout for me on days when little else would stir a fish. Back in Scotland I fished this fly in sizes 14 and 16, but a size 12 is about right for imitating Lake Olives.

The dressing is:

Silk: Brown or black

Tail: a few fibres of bronze mallard

Tip: two turns of flat silver tinsel

Body: Stripped peacock herl. I varnish the body before winding the hackle

Hackle: Blue Dun

Wings: Matching slips taken from Woodcock primaries

Cast to rising trout this fly can be lethal. I probably fish it most often as a middle dropper.

2. My Ginger Sedge

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My Ginger Sedge

I first tied the next pattern as a general sedge imitation about 15 years ago and it has proved to be a consistent killer of fish. It’s easy to tie and uses materials which are readily available.

Hook: all sizes from 8 down to 16, standard wet fly hook such as the Kamasan B175

Tying silk: Brown

Body: Ginger seals fur, dubbed fairly heavily

Rib: UNI Fl. 1/0 thread in either yellow or chartreuse

Body hackle: A good quality ginger cock hackle, palmered

Wings: Cinnamon hen quill

Head hackle: Ginger cock, longer in fibre than the body hackle

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1/0 UNI thread

I like the yellow ribbed version better but the green ones are good in the gloaming. Tied on a size 14 hook and with Woodcock wings it works very well on the rivers too, often fooling large trout as the sun dips below the horizon.

3. Bloody Kate

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A size 12 Bloody Kate

Next we have the one of my patters which grew out of pottering about at the vice a couple of seasons ago. Back in my native Scotland the Kate McLaren enjoys almost universal use for browns, ‘bows and sea trout. Here in Ireland it is rarely used and while I have boated a few trout on it over the years I can’t say it was a consistent killer. So I started playing around with the tying to try to make it more attractive to the lough trout of Conn and Cullin. Different coloured head hackles were tried and rejected, as were new tails and additional tags. Adding some legs seemed to make an improvement but that is hardly a ground-breaking innovation. I finally hit on this pattern when I substituted the normal GP topping tail with a piece of Globrite no.4. The fly seemed to require more red and I swapped the usual red game hackle and replaced it with a hen hackle dyed fl. scarlet. The result was an instant success and this fly has been a steady supplier of trout for me since its inception. Dark, stormy days with big waves are when I reach for the Bloody Kate.

Hook: heavy weight wet fly, size 12

Silk: black

Tail: a piece of Globrite no.4 floss

Rib: fine oval gold tinsel

Body: black fur

Body hackle: black cock

Head hackle: a long fibred hen hackle dyed fl. scarlet, 4 or 5 turns.

So there you go, 3 flies worth a cast on Lough Conn. Feedback is always welcome so please let me know what you think of these flies and any others here on the blog.

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Brown’s Bay, Lough Conn with Nephin as a backdrop

 

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