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, 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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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, fly tying

A couple of old spiders for this time of year

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OK so there is nothing even remotely new about these two patterns but they are so effective that I think there is no harm in reminding you about them both.

Let’s start with the Poult Bloa. Yellow tying silk with the faintest mist of water rat or mole’s fur dubbed on it form the body and the hackle is a turn or two of the shiny under covert feather of a waterhen. That’s it, the only hard part of making this fly is making sure you don’t put too much fur on the silk or take too many turns of the hackle feather. Light and slim are the order of the day with all spiders. This is a really excellent pattern when the Large Dark Olives are hatching so please make some up and have them in you box.

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Next up is the Plover and Hare’s Ear which has been particularly good already this season for me. Yellow silk again (Pearsill’s for preference) this time dubbed with fur from a Hare’s ear and then ribbed with fine oval gold tinsel for the body. the hackle comes from the outside of a Golden plovers wing, a lovely gold spangled feather with a natural curve in it. Only one turn or one and a half at the most. I think this fly is taken as hatching stonefly but it is a general copy of a wide range of insects.

Give both of these flys a try over the next few weeks.

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As good as it gets

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The bridge, good water below here

19th March. The bright and warm weather is unusual for this time of year and I decide to go fishing, hoping the good weather will have raised water temperatures and brought the trout on the feed. So with Bob Seger blasting out on the CD in the car I motor down to the River Robe again.

I park up near a bridge and take a peek over the parapet. The water is at pretty much at a perfect height and colour and even at the first glance I see Stoneflys hatching. There are lots of them in the air already and it is only 10.30am, so it could be a heavy hatch today. I set up a team of wets, tying on the same three I used the last time I was out, then I head down to the first pool.

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The first pool below the bridge

Half way down the pool the line tightens and a 12 oz trout comes easily to hand. It had taken the Plover and Hare’s ear on the middle dropper. A good start.

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The first of the day

I work my way downstream, fishing carefully and searching out all the likely spots. Having fished this stretch many times I know these pools well and am full of confidence that more trout will come along. This confidence begins to evaporate though as no further offers are forthcoming. More of a concern is the total lack of surface activity despite the now heavy hatch of stoneflys and a steady stream of Large Dark Olives. One or two Iron Blue Duns are also hatching so it is unusual for the trout not to feed on or near the surface. By now the sun is very strong and maybe this is keeping the trout near the bottom.

Break through!

I change the top dropper for another beaded nymph and try to pay more attention to any shaded lies under the far bank. This requires a lot of concentration to avoid hanging the flys up on bushes and branches on the other bank. I am absorbed in this task, watching where each cast lands and making small adjustments to angles, mends and speed. I’m happy the flies are fishing properly and I slowly make my way down river either crouched down to keep of the skyline or wading close to my own bank when required. It’s hot and bright and I am in a world of my own here.

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I cast as close to the far bank as I dare (the actual spot is above) and as soon as my flies touch the surface a large brown head appears and then promptly disappears as my line tightens. It is obviously a good fish and he tugs and runs with spirit but I get him to the net without much hassle.

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The Plover and Heare’s Ear has done the business again. I was lucky on this occasion as my cast must have landed just as he was looking up. I estimate his weight at nearly a pound and a half and after a quick couple of pics he is popped back into the water.

I continue to work my way down the river. A kingfisher darts past, a flash of azure and orange. Another couple of smallish brownies are caught and released, then one of nearly a pound comes to the net. 5 so far and it is not even noon yet.

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 Poult Bloa. This one is heavily dressed for fast water

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have only seen 2 fish rise so far, hence the reason I am sticking with the wet fly.

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I lose two fish in quick succession, both of them hooked at reasonably long range (for a small river). To mitigate this I find a gap in the thick gorse and bramble bushes and try again but this proves to be a mistake. The line catches on a bramble bush and I spend ages retrieving line and flies.

I pick up a small trout and lose another of similar size and I push on down to a good pool I know.

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Another small lad is landed quickly after only 3 casts in the neck of the pool and I rise another soon afterwards. I cast again and the fish has another go at the fly but fails to make contact. Lift, cast, mend and lengthen the line so I can try to induce a take with a slow pull as the cast reaches the trout’s lie. Bang, it works like a dream and the reel loses 5 yards of line in one rush. But there is something wrong – I see the trout as he comes to the surface and he is no more than 8 inches long. Then is dawns on me, I have hooked two at the same time!

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A good job they were not bigger!

They are like 2 peas in a pod and both are safely returned. It has been years since that has happened to me. The rest of the pool is fished out with further action and I trudge on again to a tricky little pool below. There are very few flies hatching now and I have already decided to call it a day after I fish this one

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Half way down the pool I catch a lovely 12 incher on a Poult Bloa which I had just tied on. Every fisher knows that warm glow of self satisfaction when a newly wetted fly does the business. It must be like a football manager making a substitution and the new striker goes and bangs in a goal right away.

I check everything is in order and re-cast. This is an awkward pool, there are multiple flows and a big back eddy at my side. Keeping the flies moving and controlling the line is difficult. To get under the bushes on the far bank I have to side cast too, so this rapidly degenerates into some kind of technical examination of my skills. To be honest I had all but forgotten about the trout until an almighty wallop brought me back to reality. Fish on!

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Safely in the net

This turns out to be a cracking brownie of around a pound. Back he goes and I wind in and start the long walk back to the car. As I re-trace my steps I ponder the day. 11 trout, all on wets. No surface activity. A good ratio of hooked to landed. I pack the gear into the car and take one last look at the river. For a river trout fisher days like today are just about as good as it gets.

Warren Zevon seems like a suitable choice of music for the journey home and I join in heartily as I head first west to Ballinrobe then north to Castlebar. I don’t think the smile left my face the whole way!

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A typical spring day on the river

16th of March. A Monday, blessed with an overcast sky and light winds from the North East. By 11.30am I have cleared the desk and can hit the river for a few hours. A west wind would be better but beggars can’t be choosers at this time of the year so any day that is not frosty or stormy can be considered a fishing day. I make my excuses and check the gear is all in the car. Then it’s on the the N84 and the short trip to the River Robe.

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The wet fly accounted for a nice wee trout in the first pool I fished and a couple of others splashed at the flies without holding on. A sprinkling of Large Dark Olives were hatching, always a welcome sight at this time of year. I fished down through the next pool and then the one blow that without further action despite the trickle of duns on the surface. Out of the lee of the bridge the temperature dropped as the wind cooled the air and I felt this was what was putting he fish off. I re-traced my steps and headed off upstream to find a warmer spot.

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A trudge across a couple of fields brought me to a good pool which has given me big fish in the past. A few minutes watching for signs of life revealed some LDO’s and also a hatch of stoneflys. A small trout was rising steadily below me and another fish was taking flies off the surface some yards upstream. Time for a change.

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On went a dry fly, a size 14 Olive Klinkhammer to be exact. I managed to fool the trout in front of me and he was carefully returned to the water after a brief fight. Great! My first trout on the dry fly this year. I worked my way up river looking for more rising fish but none were forthcoming. Searching the water with the dry fly produced nothing and after a promising start I was beginning to struggle. I had not fished this part of the river before and the going became harder as trees and fences barred my way.

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Perseverance brought me to a nice pool which I fished through with the dry fly without response. A change to a nymph was equally unsuccessful and since there was no sign of rising fish I wound in and pushed on upstream once more.

Time to change the setup again so I swapped back to the wet fly and a three fly cast of Olive Partridge, Plover and Hare’s Ear and a Beaded PT occupying the tail position.

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By now the wind had swung East and it was cold. Fly life has ceased too, so things were not looking too optimistic for me. However, the team swung around perfectly in the current as I worked down the pool and eventually the line tightened as a perfect Brownie grabbed the PT.

The very next cast produced another trout to the Olive Partridge and one more fell to the charms of the Plover and Hare’s Ear right at where the water breaks at the tail of the pool.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Enough was enough and I plodded back to the car going over the days events in my head. The trout were keen to take but only in certain pools. Other spots failed to produce a single take. Maybe I had stuck with the dry fly too long today and I should have gone back to a team of sunk patterns sooner. Ah well, we are always wiser after the event.

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The fields were well populated with new lambs and the daffodils are in full bloom now adding a splash of colour to cheer the heart. So ended a typical spring day’s trouting. No monsters but a few problems to solve and the old familiar tug on the line and a wink of bronze under the surface. Spring is here at last!

This post is in memory of Ally Skinner, a great fisherman who would have been 40 years old on this day. His loss at such an early age is keenly felt by all who knew him. Rest in Peace Ally.

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