Fishing in Ireland, Nymphs, trout fishing, wetfly

Monday, bloody Monday

The morning slipped away from me but by 11.30 I was behind the wheel and heading off to spend a few hours trout fishing on the River Robe. All the rivers around here are high and this usually improves the fishing on the Robe, so hopes were high as the old green VW rumbled down the road filled with rods and reels. The target area was going to be the fast water below the bridge at Hollymount. I didn’t know it then, but this was going to be an eventful day.

The road bridge at Hollymount, looking upstream

As it turned out, the river level was even higher than I had presumed, meaning the three pools below the road bridge were just too fast for easy fishing. I slung heavy nymphs into the flow but even the tungstens were swept away quickly in the rush of water.

There was no sign of any fly life down here but a pair of swallows showed up, the first I had seen this year. By the time I had reached the lower pool I had made up my mind to try upstream of the bridge where the flow was much more friendly. That was when it all started to go pear-shaped on me.

To access the water above the road bridge you can either wade under the bridge (crossing a number of barbed wire fences in the process) or cross the road, hop a stone wall and head across a field. I always choose the latter option as the barbed wire below the bridge is a proper pain in the b__t. This time I placed my rod over the wall and as I drew my hand away there was a sharp pain in one of my fingers. The middle dropper had sunk into the flesh. I swore!

I poked about at the fly to establish that, yes, it was well past the barb. For those of you who have never had to deal with this scenario here is how you extract a barbed hook from your flesh. Only try this in places you can access easily and NEVER if the hook is in a sensitive area (such as around your eyes). If in doubt, get yourself to a hospital where they will have it out in no time. So, here I was with a size 14 spider stuck in the middle finger of my left hand. Pulling it out is not going to work as the barb just digs in where you try that.

Past the barb, this will have to be pushed through

Instead, you need to push the hook point back out through the skin, then flatten the barb so it can be withdrawn. I am not going to gloss over it, this nips a bit. But it is never as bad as you think it will be and a little pinch is worth the speed of getting back to the fishing. Holding the hook very firmly, angle it up and push the point back through the skin. Feed the hook through until the barb is clear.

Here, I have pushed the hook back out through the skin and you can see the barb which now can be flattened

That is the hard part past, all you need to do now is flatten the barb on the hook. I always keep a pair of de-barbing pliers at hand so this was only the work of a few seconds to mash the barb down. Yes, I know – I should have done this before I started fishing!!!!

Out it comes!

Pushing the hook back out was easy with the aid of the pliers. Blood dripped from the tiny wound but I soon had that cleaned up and a plaster stuck over the hole. I carry a small first aid kit in the car at all times and I would urge you all to do the same, you never know when a small mishap could require patching up.

handy wee tool

That minor drama over I made my way up river. By the old footbridge there are sometimes a few trout feeding but not today. With no flies hatching the river was dead so I decided to change venue. An hour had elapsed and all I had hooked was myself!

The fateful pool

I didn’t even dismantle the rod, just stuck it in the car as it was and drove a few miles to the stretch I fished last week. I felt way more confident here. The air was warmer and the flow of water, while still fast, looked to be much more manageable. The net had caused me nothing but grief at the last spot. This stretch has never produces a fish of more and a pound-and-a-half to me so I decided to leave it in the car this time (you know this is going to end in tears!). I tied up a new leader and started to fish down through the pools. In this type of water I like to flick out a short line with three flies, taking a step each cast. This allows me to cover a lot of water quickly. A few stoneflies were fluttering about in the air so I tied a size 12 Plover and Hare’s Ear on the bob, and March brown spider in the middle and a flashback Endrick Spider on a curved size 12 hook occupied the tail position.

No takers in the first pool, so I started down the next one. There was a difficult fence to negotiate and as I pushed past the jumble of barbed wire and rocks the line tightened. The reel screamed as the fish made a dash for the tail of the pool and  20 yards were stripped from the reel in a flash. He stopped at the tail of the pool and leapt, clearly a very good fish! I could see the fish had taken the bob fly and he seemed to be well hooked so I gingerly played him back up to me, taking my time and countering his darts and runs. Only as he was tiring I recalled the net was still in the car. When I figured he was played out I reached down but as soon as he felt my touch he turned and shot off, snapping the line. He was gone. I estimate that trout was between two and three pounds!

That’s better!

OK, with nobody else to blame I had to pick up the pieces and try again. Another new leader, three more flies. Back on the water, I repeated the same method of presenting the flies and was rewarded quickly with another firm take. A 12 incher came to hand, swiftly followed by some more, smaller fish. This was better!

a tiddler

Working my way down the river I skipped some of the faster water and concentrated on the slower pools.

lovely pool which gave me some smallish trout today

Trout number 5 stuck me in a weedbed but I managed to prize him out. Number 9 jumped a couple of feet in the air when he felt the hook. By the time I reached the bottom of the stretch I had landed ten wild brownies and lost another 4 or 5.

I did not see a single rise but the fish were feeding near the bottom. With a bit more attention to detail I could have landed a very good fish today but still caught a nice bag of fish. Prospects are good for the next few days!

And the moral of this simple tale is ALWAYS BRING YOUR NET!!!!!!

still there in the back of the car.

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Fishing in Ireland, Nymphs, trout fishing, wetfly

First day of 2018 season

We all love that feeling of expectation when planning our first fishing trip of the season. Work commitments this year have meant my own plans were constantly being re-jigged as my contract dragged on for much longer than expected. The hoped for early outing for salmon fell victim to the great lord of work. A necessary trip to London then got in the way and I only returned to Ireland from a well-earned holiday in Prague yesterday. But today  was ‘der tag’. Today I was going fishing.

Prague was beautiful, but there was no sign of any trout in the river!

The river Robe today

I mulled over the options as I drove down to Claremorris. Settling on a short stretch I know near the water works, I found a spot to park up just a field away from the river. The first challenge of the day soon became apparent when I pulled my leaky old waders from the bag instead of my nice new ones! This would mean no wading across the river as I usually do. Not to worry, the river is only 5 or 6 yards wide on this stretch so access would not be a huge issue for me. I tackled up and plodded off across the field.

A commotion in a drain caught my eye and further inspection revealed that the local frog population were being frisky.

Frog spawn in a drain

here are the wee critters responsible

Onward to the river and my first casts of the new season. I flicked the flies into the usual spots but there was a noticable lack of fishy interest. No flies were present and the cold air didn’t help matters any. I swapped flies a few times and changed from wets to nymphs. Still no joy.

The local farmer must have been busy as there were lots of new fences around each field. At the bottom of the stretch though I found some damaged fences so I guess he/she has just been making repairs. I spotted a Thrush’s anvil close to a gap in the fence, the end of the line for a lot of snails!

The far bank was pitted with the holes made by our local Crayfish. I’m not sure if these holes are still in use of if they are abandoned once the water level drops, leaving them high and dry.

With still no signs of any fish I took stock of the situation. It was 1.30pm and if there was going to be a hatch of any sort it would have started by now. The only insects I had seen were a couple of tiny midges on the wing. What I needed was some deeper water where I could trundle heavily weighted nymphs on or at least very close to the bottom. All around me were shallow, streamy runs. It was time to move.

Nice fly water but the water here is only a few inches deep

I walked up river until I reached the limit of the water I have previously fished. A deep, heavily fenced drain barred my path so I followed it away from the river to try to find a way across. A startled Snipe exploded from under my feet – they don’t normally let you get that close to them!

I reached an old metal gate which had been rudely lodged in position at a corner of the field. I could see a battery with wires too – were they connected up? Only one way to find out, so I braved touching the cold grey metal – no current thank God.

I hopped over and made my way back towrds the river holding tot he edge of the field all the while. I gained the river and was greeted by more of the accursed barbed wire blocking my way to the water’s edge.

OK, so maybe the wire was not as bad as this!

I changed to a Czech nymph set up (how appropriate) and set about my business. Bumping the bottom, extending the lift, rolling the set up back upstream and repeating again and again.

I worked my wy upstream as the few gaps in the bankside trees allowed me. I seriously doubt if anyone has fished this part of the river for years, it is so remote and hard to access. At the neck of the long pool I was fishing I finally had a take, the line gave a short, shap stabbing motion and I lifted smartly into a trout. Success at last!

I played the fish out, nothing dramatic happened and he was soon ready to be lifted out for a quick photo. A handsome lad, a bit over the pound in weight I’d guess.

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I popped him back into the water and he rushed off, none the worse for our brief meeting. I decided I had enough for the day as there were chores to be done at home. At least I was off the mark and I felt I had done OK given the poor conditions on the day. Let’s hope the weather warms up and the flies begin to hatch.

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

Getting down

A lot of my own fishing in the spring takes place on smallish, wild rivers. There are no carefully manicured lawns sloping gently to the water’s edge here in Mayo! Access to the river ranges from ‘interesting’ to down right life threatening. When you do arrive, sweating and breathless at the river you are faced with an endless variety of problems to solve when you when trying to present your fly to the trout.

lovely water but access is difficult

The sheer variety of water means to be successful you must be flexible in your approach. Anglers who are used to wide open river banks often become frustrated by small overgrown rivers. You will drive yourself insane unless your mental approach to the challenges is correct. I find that a day on a wild river is best treated not as one session but as a series of short, individual angling vignettes. Each pool, run or potential lie will require its own specific issues to be addressed. Around the next bend will be yet another, probably very different set of circumstances for you to adjust too. It varies of course, but a typical spring day probably sees me spending only a quarter of the time actually fishing, the rest of the time is taken up with getting into position,  changing set up / flies, and simply just watching.

One of the big questions when fishing in the Springtime is how to get the flies or nymphs down to the right depth. In these days of heavily weighted flies you may think this is not really an issue. Most of us carried an array of differently weighted patterns, enough to cover just about every conceivable scenario. That is fine and grand when you have easy access to the river and can pick the angle to cast and fish. In tight corners this is not always the case, so what do you do when confronted with a hard to reach lie?

Tight spot on the Manulla

Tight spot on the Manulla

In the corner of a box I carry a couple sacrificial nymphs. They are rarely used but when I need them they have proved their usefulness. Precise pattern is unimportant, these flies are not meant to copy anything in particular so I use hares ear to cover the heavy wire underbody which has been wrapped on a jig hook.

Leader construction is important. Keep the sacrificial fly close to you other patterns, I like to have it only 8 – 12 inches below my ‘proper’ fly/nymph. My preferred method of attachment is New Zealand style and the trick is to use a weak link of lower breaking strength nylon to join the flies. This will allow you to break off the sacrificial fly if it becomes snagged without losing the whole leader.

How to tie the sacrificial nymph

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Tungsten bead has been threaded on to the jig hook and yellow silk started

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tie in some lead wire then wind the wire back up to the bead and break off the tag end

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Wind the silk over the wire and back to the end of the body

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dub with hare’s fur and wind over the lead, whip finish behind the bead and varnish

I have also used the sacrificial nymph on a dropper above a ‘normal’ pattern. This works too but for some reason I find I have more tangles when using this configuration. I bet some of you Grayling fishers who are reading are amused at these feeble attempts to control nymph depth. I now there are experts who can control their flies to within inches of where they want them. The problem on the rivers I fish is simply getting the fly down as fast as possible once it hits the water before the whole shebang is whipped away by the current. The sacrificial nymph allows me to do that and at the same time know I can break off easily if the nymph becomes lodged on the bottom.

I use this set up when I am faced with difficult access to tight lies. For me it is the last option as there is a high risk of losing the fly. The bonus is that you could be fishing a lie which is rarely or even never fished by other anglers.

 

Another issue with depth…………………………..

fast, smooth and deep

There a couple of stretches I fish where there is the opposite problem. Open, fast flowing straight runs with deep water. Here the trick is still to get down quickly but I also want to hold the depth as I swing a team of wets across the current. Normally, I tackle this kind of water using an upstream nymph but some days the fish just don’t respond and over the years I have found that swinging wets works instead. To help to keep the team of flies low down in the water column I carry a couple of sinking tips which take only a few minutes to add between the line and the leader. They don’t get to see the water very often but they are damn useful on occasion, so I recommend you have one in a pocket of your fishing jacket. Beaded or weighted patterns on the point of the leader are a must to keep the team low down.

A sinking leader with loop to loop connections

The cast is made across and down and I like to throw a loop line line as the flies hit the water so there is slack. This gives the team a chance to sink before the current grabs them.

 

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Fishing in Ireland, Nymphs, trout fishing

The drought continues

Sunday saw me out with rod and line not once but twice in one day but I am still waiting for a good fish in my net.

Loose plans had been agreed for a short session on the Cashel River later on, leaving me time for an exploratory trip to the River Robe. I knew the stretch immediately below this bridge intimately but upstream of road was virgin territory as far as I was concerned. The map suggested some interesting bends but a large portion of the river was shrouded in trees. What delights were hidden from view?

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I normally thoroughly enjoy my drive to the fishing. It has a completely different feel to the everyday commute, beyond what could reasonably be attributed to less stress. Just the act of driving the car in the direction of a river is part of the whole experience. Thoughts and ideas about the fishing are pondered as the car zips along the tarmac. I’m permeated by feelings of well-being and gratitude for my luck to be living in a free and safe country where I can fish whenever I want. For me the journey along these well-worn byways, rods in the back seat, are an integral part of the days’ fishing.

30 minutes after pulling out of the driveway I turned left on to a narrow road which had not seen a shot of tar for many a long day (council cutbacks no doubt). Bumping along, all the time scanning the road in front for pot holes, I wound round some bends and found a convenient parking place. This alone was a small victory; finding somewhere safe to leave the car can be difficult. Soft verges are the norm here-abouts so finding any hard ground roughly car sized and within walking distance of the water has to be a good start to the day. I tackled up and set off for the river a couple of fields distant.

The Mayo/Galway region is not blessed with the infrastructure of mass transportation. I guess my description of the pot-holed bumpy roads kinda gave the game away on that front. There are precisely 2 railways in Mayo, the one from Dublin which reaches out to Westport and a spur line off of that one which swings north and follows the Moy on up to Ballina. Train spotters would lead lonely and deeply disappointing lives this side of the Shannon. There used to be more tracks but these have all long since fallen into disuse, reminders of busier times. I hiked along the skeletal remains of one such track which led to an old bridge over the river. I had hoped there may be some fishable water above the bridge but it was choked with rushes and enclosed by steep banks. I clambered down the other side, squeezing through a small gap between a barbed wire fence and the ancient iron work and finding a stable bank a few feet above the water.

The river has dropped to near summer level over the last week but it is still quite coloured. I confess that I am puzzled by this browny-greyish hue to the water. The Robe is never in clear but there seems to be a change in water quality since last season and not a change for the better. Heavy nymphs were the order of the day and I worked my way through some likely looking water but to no avail. Trying to flick the flies under an overhanging branch to fish a likely looking pocket cost me a leader and pair of nymphs. Cast and flies replaced I skipped the next bit of dead looking water and emerged at a road bridge. Hopping the wall, I crossed a field and regained the river bank at a short, fast run which screamed Trout! Sure enough, a small lad grabbed the hare’s ear and another of similarly modest proportions fell off as I swung it to hand. It only took a few minutes to run through all the fishable water then it was off across another couple of fields, criss-crossed with the inevitable electric fences.

My next obstacle was a small wood. I knew that it was only a few hundred yards across but this was a very old stand of trees and they had not been tended, meaning the ground was littered with fallen boughs, tangles of brambles and hidden dips and troughs. I surveyed my surroundings and thought I could make out the remnants of a disused pathway same yards back from the river. Scrambling up a steep but mercifully short slope I found myself on a path which could have come straight out of a Tolkien book. The purpose or reasoning for this once fine path is lost in time but it was very welcome to this by now tired and sweaty angler. A few fallen willows and ash had to be hurdled but otherwise it was pretty good going. I emerged from this enchanted wood at the corner of a large field with the river flowing more purposely on my right.

The nymphs swung enticingly near the bottom but only two small trout intercepted them. This was lovely water, a series of short pools with occasional trees and bushes to provide cover but not thick enough to cause me problems. Early April, good water and a hatch of flies – no hang on just a minute, that was the only thing missing (again). No fly life. No LDO. None of those stoneflies which the trout love so much. Not even midges. Nothing to tempt the fish to look up for a meal.

I was due to be home for 4pm and by now I had wandered a distance from the car. A good looking lie under the far bank required my attention before leaving so I dropped the nymphs in to the corner with a resounding ‘plop’. A final six-incher tugged at the tail fly and that was that for the day.

Crossing another fence, I cut across the expanse of rapidly growing grass and made for the road which was the other side of a cattle crush. A brisk march along the road brought me back to the car, red-faced and slightly out of breath. The drive home was used to reflect on another poor day when judged simply on results. No good fish, very little activity of any sort and a worrying lack of flies on the river were my lot for the day. But the walk through the wood and the sight of those pretty little six-inchers made up for any disappointment I might have otherwise felt.

I will scribble some more about the second trip of last Sunday soon…………….

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Fishing in Ireland, Nymphs, trout fishing, wetfly

Green with envy

I seem to recall it is one of the seven deadly sins. Envy. That gnawing wishing that someone has something better than you and you want it – badly! I am not generally prone to this particular sin, others come way higher up my list of deadly vices. Usually I take life pretty much on face value and simply  get on with it. Material wealth and goods don’t float my boat. Well, not beyond a good trout rod and matching reel I suppose. But these past two weeks or so have seen me descend into the dim, dank underworld of envious thoughts. Let me expand.

Looking upsteam

Social media has played a large part in my unedifying fall. Twitter an FB are full to the brim of reports from rivers across the UK and Ireland and they all seem to herald the same event – hatches of upwinged flies. The Usk appears to be teeming with LDO’d and March Browns. The Aberdeenshire Don is fair polluted with the damn things. And so it goes on, images of sub-imagos with their wings daintily splayed, hatching nymphs breaking the surface and the fish! Oh lord the photos of huge brown trout that have succumbed to artificials so very similar to those in my own fly boxes. Surely I have no need to be envious of my fellow anglers when the River Robe is practically on my doorstep?

Here is the rub. The Robe is bereft of any discernable fly life. Two weeks ago when I fished it the river was in spate and obviously out of ply, fair enough. This past Sunday I ventured out again in what was close to perfect conditions. The water was a bit above normal and carrying a little colour but this should have had no effect on hatching olives or stoneflies. It was warm and bright with passing cloud cover and a good wind to ruffle the surface. Confidence welled up in me and I was sure this would be ‘der tag’.  Alas, the gods turned their heads and smiled in another direction.

I fished hard between noon and 3.30pm. In all that time and over a couple of miles of prime fishing water I saw not a single stonefly or ephemerid. Of course the fish were not in evidence either. They were resolutely hugging the bottom and even down there they seemed disinclined to take anything I offered. As I say, I fished hard and winkled 10 small trout out of the water. This may sound like a good day’s fishing but trust me, on the Robe, in the first week of April, this is not great. The total lack of surface activity is troubling. There was a some foam on the river, not a huge amount, but enough to get me thinking there may be more agricultural pollution in to this watercourse. The river flows through rough pasture and bogland for the first few miles before cutting across the wide flatlands of the plains of Mayo enroute to Ballinrobe and thence into Lough Mask. Those flat lands are pretty intensively farmed, mainly growing grass to feed cattle.

Beaded hare’s ear when wet

Seven of the fish I did catch fell to deeply fished nymphs, tungsten headed jobs which caught on the bottom far more frequently than lodging in the scissors of any passing trout. I had all but packed up and was walking back to the car when I stopped at an unremarkable run. I watched for a while but saw nothing. Somehow I felt there was a fish to be caught in that run. I took off the nymphs and tied up a cast of wets as this part of the river lent itself to swinging a cast down and acrosss rather than casting upstream. Flies and leader checked I lengthened the line. Sure enough the line tightened and a lively three-quarter-pounder was landed. Safely returned, I repeated the cast a couple of steps further down river. Bang, another one on the very next cast. Not content with that I repeated the feat a third time! Then – nothing. The next 50 casts yielded not a nibble. The spot which produced the three trout looked absolutely identical to the water immediately above and below it, yet the fish would only take in that one spot.

This where the three fish were lying

Plans are afoot to launch the boat next weekend, most probably on Lough Cullen. Maybe I’ll have better luck with the big fellas on still water. I am off to check who is catching what on twitter now. So if you hear any wailing and gnashing of teeth, it will be me.

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Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing, wetfly

After the rain

The rain finally stopped last week and the rivers have been slowly dropping back to more reasonable levels. I had a look at the Robe last weekend but she was over the banks and in the fields in most places so there was no chance of fishing. Today was a beautiful spring day though and so I fired up the old VW, put some CCR on the CD player and headed off in search of my first trout of 2017.

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High, coloured water

My initial look at the river was last Sunday when the rain was still falling. At Hollymount the Robe was charging under the bridge, a full five feet above normal level. Familiar runs and pools were invisible under the brown torrent.

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Last weekend, near flood conditions on the Robe

I elected to fish a few miles above Hollymount today, an area I know well having fished for many years now. I had my eye on one particular pool which usually fishes in high water conditions. Parking up near a bridge I took a look at the water before starting to fish. The levels were certainly down, by the look of the banks some 3 feet lower than a week ago, but the river was still highly coloured. With an air temperature of 15 degrees and bright sunshine it felt like there should be some fly life on the water. I tackled up deep it thought about what to try.

This particular stretch features some nice runs and pools but most of them fish best a little later in the season and in lower water so I marched of down the bank to get to the slower water about a mile down river. The local farmers had been busy erecting new electric fences. It’s a feature of this part of the world that fences are placed as close to the edge of the river as possible, making it hard for us fishers to access the bank without the unpleasantness of occasional electric shocks. I have lost count of the number of those horrible numbing shocks I have had over the years as I tried to negotiate fences.

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Electric fences; oh how I hate these things!

I initially set up with a weighted Hare’s Ear on the tail and a Plover and Hare’s ear on a dropper and fished them down and across. This is a good combination for searching the water normally but today it only seemed to interest small trout. My first of the season took at the very lip of a pool where the water gathered pace and shallowed. At only 6 or 7 inches it was little more than a baby but at least I had broken my duck.

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The first of the season.

A couple of other similar sized lads fell for the charms of the weighted Hare’s Ear too but the sport could hardly be described as hectic. I found a grassy bank to sit on and thought about what was going on around me.

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The beaded hare’s ear

With high water and a strong flow it felt like my flies were not getting down deep enough for the fish to see them. No flies were hatching despite the lovely weather so any action should have been happening on or very close to the bottom. A change to deeply fished nymphs seemed to be a logical option.

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I can’t for the life of me remember where I got those fancy green beads from but they sure work

A pair of tungsten bead weighted nymphs fished below an indicator was soon rigged up. With my failing eyesight the use of an indicator has sadly become a necessity for me these days. Anyway, on the fourth or fifth cast the indicator stabbed forwards and another smallish trout was duly landed. By now it was becoming very warm indeed and the sun beat down from near cloudless skies.

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I worked my way back upstream, fishing hard and with my eyes glued to that indicator. I covered the water carefully and methodically, fanning my casts out across the pool and only when I had covered every inch would I take another step upstream and repeat the process. Being so limited to the amount of fishable water I had to ensure I didn’t miss a single piece of it. Halfway up the pool my indicator gave what I can only describe as a small stutter in its progress back towards me and I struck with a sweep of the rod and a sharp pull on the line with my left hand. The hook found lodgement and a better fish charged off and leaped clear of the brown water.

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Maybe a couple of ounces over the pound

Safely netted and returned, I took stock of the situation and elected to call it a day. The afternoon had flown by, fish had been landed and there was no signs of any flies. The river was far from at its best and I felt that I could fish on for another hour without much improvement in conditions. Enough for one day!

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Spring at last

Spring days like these are treasures. Just to be out on the river bank as the warmth and life returns to the land is something not to be missed. There will be better days in the near future but for now I drank in the views across the Mayo countryside and happily walked back to the bridge and the waiting car. With the gear safely tucked in the back I turned the key and pressed ‘play’. The Fogerty lads were singing ‘Up around the bend’ which was more than appropriate for the day that was in it.

 

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