Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing, wetfly

A beginner’s guide to trouting in Mayo

First I have to say a heart-felt ‘thank you’ to all of you who read my ramblings on this blog. I guess I must infuriate some of you as I roam across a vast swathe of different angling genres, never settling on just salmon fishing or fly tying. I jump around from topic to topic as the fancy takes me, perhaps an insight into my disturbed mind and legendary short attention span. Today I am wandering off down another path, this time to offer some thoughts to those of you who are new to fly fishing for trout and live or are planning on visiting County Mayo.

Nice, streamy water on the Robe at Hollymount

I can still recall my early attempts to catch trout on the fly. The sheer impossibility of hooking and landing one dwarfed all my efforts. There was so much to remember from the books I was reading. So much I had to learn about the fish, what they ate, how to cast, what gear to use. The list was endless and the job in hand assumed Herculean proportions. I honestly believe learning to do anything is so much easier these days, what with the internet and access to all manner of knowledge, but still catching those first trout can be tough for a newcomer. Let’s see if I can help you to cut some corners.

Here is a nice pool with some quicker water which can be accessed from the other bank

  1. This is the golden rule which you must always remember! You can only catch fish if they are there in the first place. Sounds very simple but there is more to this statement than meets the eye. You see wild brown trout inhabit most of the rivers loughs and streams in Mayo but some places have more than others. Let’s take the River Robe as an example. Books and websites galore will tell you that the River Robe is an excellent river for trout fishing. This is a true statement but for the beginner this is simply not precise enough. You could waste hours casting into parts of the Robe which hold very limited stocks of trout while a mile up river there are plenty of the spotty wonders. As a beginner to fly fishing you need to find some streamy water. Avoid smooth, flat water. Avoid very deep, slow moving water. Find some ‘runs’ or ‘riffles’ as we fishermen call them. Why? Because that is the kind of water trout like to feed in. As you gain experience and knowledge you can explore the deep, slow stretches with different methods but for a start stick to streamy runs. To be even more specific, the runs and pools around Hollymount offer some superb trout water for any new angler to hone their skills.

A succession of pools and runs on the Robe, perfect trout water for the beginner

2. Following on from step 1 (and closely related) is know when to go fishing. If I had to choose the best time to start learning to fly fish in Mayo I would plump for April or May, between the hours of 11am and 3pm. Sure, you can catch fish outside those times but here I am talking about giving yourself the best bet of connecting with some trout. The spring months see the water temperature rise which in turn triggers the small water bourn insects to be more active. This increase in food supply awakens the trout and they become much more active. As a general comment the trout are active in the middle of the day early in the season and again towards the end in September. During the summer months the best of the fishing is often in the evening just as the sun sets or again at sunrise. 

a small trout caught one spring day on the Robe

3. OK, so you have sold your soul to get a day off and you are now standing on the bank of the Robe around lunchtime one day in late April. What do you do now? Get you tackle sorted out, and assembled and then have a good look around you. Don’t rush into the river flailing around like a lunatic, take some time to absorb what is going on around you. A lot of people remark on how little time I actually spend fishing as opposed to watching the world around me. This is because I am looking for clues as to the particular dietary requirements of the fish at that time. Trust me, time spent observing the natural world is time well spent. Some things are obvious such a big, splashy rise of a fish or a few mayflys floating down the river. I note the wind direction, strength and its effects of the surface of the river. I look around the banks in case there are insects there which could fall into the river, I look at the level of the water and how that effects potential spots for fish to lie. Is the sun shining on the water, if so are there areas which are shaded? Just take a few minutes to look at the clues which are all around you and then decide what to try first.

An Iron Blue Dun, easy to miss these on the water as they are so small but the trout love ’em!

4. We will continue with this mythical day and let’s presume there are no clues that you can see. The more experienced you become the easier it is to spot the smaller details but we will go along with the idea that there are no flies to be seen, the river is completely quiet with no signs of any fish and the wind/air/sun are all within normal parameters. Now what! No need for despair, you turn to a general pattern to search the water with.When I go trout fishing I bring hundreds of flies with me. I love making flies and then trying them out so I don’t mind my pockets bulging with boxes full of weird and wonderful tyings. As a beginner though this will lead to confusion and reduce your chances of catching trout. For Spring fishing on the Robe all you need for a start is:

Partridge and Orange

Plover and Hare’s ear

Beaded Pheasant tail

Buy (or better still learn to make) some of these three patterns. They will serve you well. All of these are fished wet. You can worry about dry fly fishing once you have mastered the basic with the wet fly.

  1. What about the gear I require? Pretty much any basic fly fishing outfit with a rod between 7 and 10 feet in length, a fly reel to match and a forward tapered floating fly line (the rod will be ‘rated’ for a given line size. Something around AFTM 5 or 6 is a good starting point for beginners). The leader is the fine line attached to the end of the heavy fly line and you want this to end in a piece of nylon of 3 or 4 pounds breaking strain. There are clearer, finer and stronger materials for making leaders out of but stick to nylon for a start, it is much more forgiving of bad casting and other general abuse.

6. How many flies do I tie on my leader? ONE. I will say this again ONE. ONLY FISH WITH ONE FLY UNTIL YOU HAVE GAINED SOME EXPERIENCE. One of the great frustrations of our sport is tangles. We all suffer them but when you are learning you tangle your line a lot. Trying to cast and fish with more than one fly when you are only learning invites a world of hurt. Stick to one fly and the whole process becomes that bit easier.

nice water on the Robe

A nice water on the Robe. I have caught dozens of trout from this run.

7. All ready? Now you can begin casting. Fishing by casting facing upstream is a magical way of catching trout, it is also damn hard to do! So, for the tyro it is better to cast across the current and let the fly swing across and down. You can add some movement to the fly if you want, gently jiggling of the rod may help to fool a fish some believe. Don’t try to cast long lines, on a river like the Robe a 5 yard cast will put your fly over trout. Move slowly downstream, covering the water with successive casts. Relax, enjoy the feeling of the water around your feet, the fresh spring air in your lungs, the birdsong, the gentle rhythm of your casting. Ease yourself into the natural world again.

A beautifully marked trout about to go back

8. Sooner or later it will happen, maybe on the first cast or on the one hundredth. That electrifying tug on the line that signals a trout has snapped at your fly! The chances are you will not hook it. Why am I so pessimistic? You see you fly is winging down the river and the trout is probably facing upstream. When it grabs the fly it normally turns back downstream again. A high proportion of trout hooked when fishing downstream simply tug on the fly without being hooked at all. Don’t be deflated by this minor irritation, keep casting and searching the water for the next lad.

9. Change the fly if you are not having any luck but avoid stopping every 5 minutes to tie on another pattern. Keep a look out for insects on the water, in springtime they can appear suddenly. Sometimes even a small hatch of flies can bring the trout on the feed.

10. When you do hook a trout try not to panic. Remain as calm as possible and guide the fish towards you. Most trout will be between 6 and 10 inches in length and so easy to bring to the hand but some very large trout live in the Robe so if you hook one of these monsters you need to let it run when it wants to start with and only when it begins to tire you can reel it towards you. While the rules and regulations allow you to keep some trout I urge you to release them again. A quick photo and then pop the fish gently back into the water.

The reason I am being so exact in my wording today is that I want you to catch some trout. Failure to catch a fish is common for us all but when you are new to the sport the feeling of that fish on the end of the line is what you yearn for. Success breeds success and you will learn to love your days on the river for more than just the catch, but catching is important at the outset. Spring days on the Robe in Mayo are a wonderful experience for all anglers, but it is a perfect place for beginners to take their first faltering steps towards joining the ranks of us afflicted souls – dedicated trout fishers.

They can’t all be monsters!

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Fishing in Ireland, Nymphs, trout fishing, wetfly

Fishing on the Robe picks up

 

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We went to our favourite restaurant last night, my better half and I. Luckily I had booked a table as the place was packed with others similarly engaged in eating and drinking. The food as superb (the spinach gnocchi with clams and prawns was to die for) and we washed the meal down with lashings of red wine and we talked and laughed. It was a great night. We are in the habit of lingering over our dinner and our conversation turned the dangerous world out there beyond Ireland’s shores. Fears of nuclear war, Trump’s tweets and imbecility, children dying in Syria, Westminster’s ineptitude, Brexit; the list seems to grow with each passing day. It made us both realise just how lucky we are to live in the West of Ireland.

This morning I was tied up with odds and ends around the house and it was after 1pm before I decided to go to the Robe for an hour. I had to shake the doom and gloom I have been feeling for the past week and which was heightened in light of the after dinner conversation last night. A short session swinging small wets in the stream would be just the ticket.

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As you can see from these photos the wild browns were in a cooperative mood for a change and a total of 11 of them came to hand in a little over an hour. A couple of them would have nudged a pound in weight. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I only used 3 flies, a size 14 Partridge and Orange on the bob, a wee size 16 midge pattern int he middle and Hare’s ear with a copper bead head on the tail. Honours were even between all three.

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The fishing took my mind off of the rest of life for the hour and a bit. Refreshed and grounded, I headed back home to enjoy what was left of the holiday weekend.

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Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing, wetfly

Decisions, decisions

It was a very last minute decision. Given the choice I would have been in South East London, at the Valley to be precise, watching Burnley play Charlton Athletic on the last day of the season. Instead, I was at home after working in the morning and felt an hour on the River Robe might be worth a look. Even as I joined the traffic I was unsure of exactly which stretch would receive  my attention. Running the options over in my mind I finally settled on a rough and under fished part of the river between Claremorris and Ballinrobe.

Parking up on the verge one field from the river the conditions looked to be favourable. A light mist veiled the countryside and a steady wind was cool but not cold. Through the grass to an impressive new barbed wire fence which barred access to the bankside. I found a gap and wriggled, worm-like under the wire. The river looked very low but my first glance upstream showed the fish were rising. It was now a I made a poor decision and headed off downstream to some inviting looking water.

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I new this stretch of the river was not developed and the banks would be rough, but the next couple of hours developed into an assault course rather than a peaceful distraction. I elected to get into the river to avoid the vegetation but this  strategy came with its own hazards. While most of the river was only a few inches deep there were some nasty holes in the bottom , making progress ‘interesting’. I slid down into one of these holes and only prevented a ducking by grabbing a tree branch. I can recall how many times I hooked up in bushes, trees or other bankside vegetation but it felt like a never ending saga.

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one of the many hawthorns 

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Trees all the way to the waters edge

Spiders, cast upstream or down caught plenty of trout but nothing of any great size. Large Dark Olives hatched continually for an hour after my arrival, inducing a great rise and a feeding frenzy among the swallows and martins.

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Partridge and Orange in his mouth

The mist gradually morphed into steady, soaking rain and while the river badly needed lots of fresh water it was taking the edge off of my enjoyment. That and the lack of any deep water combined to cut short the afternoon for me and I retraced my steps back up to the gap under the fence. Looking upstream there seemed to be a slow, deep pool just on the next bend, exactly the kind of water I had been searching for in the other direction. The rain drummed on the hood of my jacket – was it worth another ten minutes? To hell with it, I waded up through some thin water, taking another three brownies on an upstream wet fly before I eased into the tail of the deep pool. I picked up another couple of small lads then had the bright idea of dropping the cast into a little pocket just where the water broke at the tail. just as expected a trout pounced on the spiders and thrashed on the surface as he felt the hook – a nice trout of around the pound and a half. This wily character shot around an underwater rock and snagged the line which parted after some tugging from my end of the connection.

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The one that got away was in this little corner below a deep pool

I had suffered sufficient humiliation for one afternoon and wound in for the last time. The lesson was plain to see, more diligent observation before starting to fish would have led me to decide on exploring upstream instead of down. Ah well, you cant win them all. Unless you are Burnley football club, who soundly thrashed Charlton while I was catching tiddlers and hooking trees.

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Remains of crayfish, probably eaten by an otter

postscript……..

And Burnley did win. 3 -nil. Finished the season as champions. UTC

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Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing, wetfly

A few hours on the Robe

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Spring has sprung at last

I was late. The morning just seemed to slip away and it had gone noon before I set off for the Robe. With no wind, overcast skies and the temperature hovering around a pleasant 11 degrees conditions seemed to be favourable. I had decided to try the river at Castlemaggaret, close to Claremorris. The river here flows through pasture and was developed by the fisheries board a number of years ago, providing styles and creating some lovely pools and runs. Since then, little work has been done to keep the river in good order and access in some places is a bit difficult nowadays.

The car parked, I tramped off along the riverbank and after a half mile tackled up at a favourite run. The usual lies failed to produce any fish but right at the tail of the pool a small trout grabbed the stonefly imitation on the dropper. A small fish, he was safely returned and swam off strongly. Another trout splashed at the flies on the next cast but that was all the action and I moved on upstream to the next pool.

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The first of the day, only a small lad

Soon I was catching fish every few casts but they were on the small side, averaging only 8 or 9 inches. Everything was coming to the Partridge and Orange Spider with the other two flies on the leader contributing nothing. I stopped and changed the bob fly, tying on a Partridge and Yellow. Three casts later and a slightly better trout took the newly wet bob fly, this one being near the 12 ounce mark.

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One of the small trout had a deformed mandible:

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A deformed mouth on this trout

Very few flies were hatching and the occasional olive was not enough to tempt the trout to start rising and instead they were feeding deep today.

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The run where most of the action took place today

I was beginning to think today was only going to provide small fish when a strong take announced something a bit better had arrived. A good scrap ensued before I landed the best fish of the day, just a little below a pound in weight.

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The best fish

I decided to try a pool further upstream and ploughed through a waterlogged field and over some fences to get to it. Unfortunately it only yielded one small trout after all that effort.

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Hooked on the outside of the mouth, another one for the P&O

Retracing my steps I gave the best pool one more run through and I managed to land another small brownie, making a total of nine for the day. None of them would break any records but it was grand being out in the fine weather again. The lack of fly life was disappointing and we maybe just need to wait another week for the river to burst into life.

 

 

 

 

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Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing

Hail, drains and trees

The weather is all over the place. After a couple of days of unseasonably warm, dry weather the rains came back yesterday evening. Temperatures dropped overnight and today dawned cool and breezy. Showers, some of them of hail, added to the feeling that winter was sneaking back again and I had to push myself to go down to the Robe for a few casts. The gear was chucked into the car and I headed south by east to my ‘new’ spot.

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This is a very deceptive photo – it was bloody freezing!

My plan was to run down the pools below the bridge quickly with the wet fly then switch to the dry and fish back upstream again before prospecting above the bridge for the last hour or so. As it turned out I stuck fairly closely to this plan but it could have worked out better I think.

The most notable feature of the day was the very strong, gusting wind. At its worst the near gale force wind ripped and tugged at everything and fired hail at me like shotgun pellets. The cold during the squalls was intense and it really felt more like February than mid-April. This did not deter the Large Dark Olives from hatching and they appeared in good numbers for the 3 hours I was fishing. The trout showed their appreciation by rising occasionally to the duns. I can’t say it was a good rise today but it was the best surface action I have witnessed so far this season. If we had not suffered the cold wind I suspect today could have been a wonderful day’s fishing.

I gowned up at the car and decided that a fleece hat was called for in the conditions instead of my usual baseball cap. I was glad that I sacrificed sartorial elegance for warmth as the hail showers came frequently and each one seemed to be more severe than its predecessor.  At times my hands were frozen and I had to break from fishing to rubs some warmth back into them. Ah, the joys of spring fishing!

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squally

In between the hail showers

I cut off the old leader which was on my line and built a new one with only one dropper instead of my normal two on a wet fly cast. The wild conditions would be challenging enough without the added problems of trying to stop 3 flies tangling. As it was, a number of flies became victims of bankside vegetation with around a dozen meeting their end on the far bank due to the gusting wind. I opted for a copper beaded PT on the tail and my experimental Iron Blue Dun on the bob, but Partridge and Olive Spiders, Beaded Endrick Spiders and P&O all made cameo appearances during the afternoon.

The first pool below the bridge gave me a flavour of just how difficult this session was going to be. After  dozen cast the line was whipped into the far bank by a big gust of wind and the flies lost on a branch. A new cast was tied up and a hail shower chucked frozen water down on me. I could see olives on the surface so I figured it was still worth the effort, so I fished down the pool. Sure enough, I started to rise fish but hooking them was a problem. I checked the hooks – all OK. I altered my casting so I was fishing more squarely to the current but that didn’t seem to make any difference. I swapped the tiny size 18 IBD and put an Olive Partridge Spider size 14 on the bob (thinking the small hook was maybe not getting a good hold). That still didn’t make a difference. Time to try another piece of water.

The pool broke into a fast, shallow run and off the far bank there was a rock under the surface. This chunk of limestone pushed the flow out and created a likely looking lie. The gale was proving to be tedious to fish in and more flies were left in reeds before I eventually got things together and made a good cast just ahead of the rocky lie. I wish I could say there was a powerful take and I struck it perfectly but the truth is the trout just ‘appeared’ on the end of the line. He fought well in the fast water and I was relieved to bring him to hand, a handsome fish of around a pound. The PT was wedged in his scissors. Leader and flies were checked and after a few more casts I rose, hooked and landed another fish of the same size.

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First fish of the day

By now the hatch was well under way and some fish were showing on the top of the water. I fished the wets down the river casting into likely spots and keeping moving the whole time. By the time I reached the bottom of the fishable water I had taken 5 trout, all between three-quarters and a pound. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself because the conditions were challenging. I switched to the dry fly as I had planned and fished my way back up the river. If fishing wet had been hard trying to fish the dry fly in the windy conditions proved to be next to impossible. Admittedly I did rise a few trout but none of them were hooked due to the large loop in the line between the rod and the fly caused by the wind. I regained the bridge and paused to consider the options.

Standing on the bridge the view upstream didn’t look overly impressive. The right bank was steep and topped with a barbed wire fence. Getting as far as the bank looked daunting as there was a big drop over the side of the bridge on that bank. The water looked deep and slow as far as the bend, far from ideal. On the left bank a large drain came in about 50 yards above the bridge.

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Your average Irish drain

Ireland is criss-crossed with drains like this. Without them much of the agricultural land would be bog, so I can see why they are so necessary. I do have misgivings about draining every square inch of land though and these drains funnel large volumes of water into river systems, creating problems further downstream. From an anglers point of view drains are a royal pain. While some of them have been bridged the vast majority have to be navigated by wading or in the case of the smaller ones, jumping. Some drains are death traps; deep and with soft, silty bottoms. This one would have been very hard to cross but luckily there was a good bridge over it so I decided to fish the left bank for an hour.

I negotiated some wire and electric fences and got into the water in a large, slow moving pool. I would have prefered to fish it from the throat of the pool but trees on my bank prevented access. I had changed back to the wet fly and was quickly into a lovely trout of better than a pound. A second one followed and then a third, the last one being a bit smaller.

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The smallest of the three

I turned to face upstream and fished upstream wet for a while, landing 3 more fish in truly deplorable conditions of gusting wind and hail showers. Timing the strike fishing upstream is something I find hard to get used to this early in the season. Practice is the only answer to this deficiency and it is worth the effort as the upstream wet fly is so deadly.

The trees were getting closer and closer together and it got to the point where is simply wasn’t possible to fish the fly any more from the left bank.

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Now how do you cast in this little lot?

It was now obvious I had made a wrong move by electing to fish from the left bank. The trees lined this bank as far as I could see while the right bank was open and clear. Worse still was the sight of some lovely fly water just up river, water which was completely unfishable from the bank I was on. By now it was nearly 3pm and the hatch was slackening off, so hiking back to the bridge then up the far bank would be a lot of effort for little reward. Better to leave it for another day.

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Can’t wait to try this stretch out

I went back to the deep pool and tied on a dry fly again. With still one or two trout showing I thought I could maybe winkle out a brace but it wasn’t to be. I rose a couple but the same old issue of slack line due to the wind beat me. Fishing wets meant I could tighten up on the flies once they were in the water and drag was not an issue. Fishing dry removed the option of tightening the line as it caused the fly to drag. I wound up and trudged back to the car. Eleven landed and a lot more trout risen, pricked or lost. Not too bad for 3 hours of hail, drains and trees I think.

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Fishing in Ireland

First casts

The morning drifted past today with no chance of sneaking off to the river, but after lunch I grabbed the chance to fish for an hour on the River Robe. The weather was horribly bright but the river was running at a good level and colour after recent showers. It was after 3pm before I was on the water, too late for any serious thoughts of seeing a hatch of flies so this was always going to be a reconnaissance mission rather than a major fish catching session.

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I set up with a Hear’s ear goldhead  and fished upstream through a couple of pools without a touch. A sprinkling of small duns in the air suggested I had missed a hatch earlier in the day. Onwards and upwards though and I made my way upstream.

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A change to wet fly was called for so on went a Partridge and Orange on the dropper and a beaded Hares Ear on the tail. The flies fished nicely through the pool but again, there was no interest from the trout. It was very bright indeed so I was not too disappointed at the lack of success and was just enjoying being out on a day like this.

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The next pool upriver is deep and slow with trees overhanging along one bank. It usually holds a few big fish but with no hatch and blazing sunshine I decided to give it a miss this time. A tramp over a couple of fields brought me to a lovely run which has always been good to me in the past.

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Casting around the clock to search through the little pockets of water between bushes and then working the flies down and across eventually resulted in a soft take. It was obviously a small fish but I took my time in getting him to hand as I didn’t want to lose the first fish of the season. Sure enough it rolled on the surface and was lifted out for a quick photo before being released back to the stream. He had taken the hare’s ear and was nipped in the very front of the mouth. Only around 8 inches it was still a welcome start to the new season for me.

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I fished on down for a few more yards but there was no further action so I headed back to the car and the drive home. OK so it was hardly and action packed afternoon but it was good to be out in the fresh air again after a long winter.

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