Fishing in Ireland, Pike, salmon fishing, trout fishing

Around Conn and Cullin

Just some bits and pieces from the Conn/Cullin area to give you a feel for this part of Ireland. Let’s kick off with some figures shall we?

  • The Conn/Cullin catchment drains roughly 800 square miles of north County Mayo
  • Conn is a big lough, it covers roughly 48 km2 and has a maximum depth of 40 metres
  • Cullin, which sits to the south of Conn, covers just over 10 km2

The loughs are joined by a cut which replaced the old river and this is spanned by a bridge on the R310 road. The village of Pontoon is situated on the narrow isthmus which separates the two bodies of water. Two hotels in the village are currently both closed. There were hopes that at least Healy’s would open again next year but the existing building may have to be demolished and a new one built.

Healy’s hotel, Pontoon

The Pontoon Bridge hotel changed hands last year but it too is still shut. The local economy badly needs both of these hotels to open up.

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The water level on Lough Conn was lowered by 1.83 m (6 feet) in the autumn of 1966 as part of the Moy Arterial Drainage Scheme. There is a general opinion in the area that this scheme had a negative effect on fish stocks in both loughs.

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the Lough Conn drainage area

In Irish folklore these loughs were created when the Celtic hero, Fionn MacCumhaill was out hunting boar with his two hounds named Conn and Cullin. The dogs were chasing a boar when water began gushing from the boar’s feet. The chase went on for days but eventually the steady flow of water from the boar drowned the poor dogs while simultaneously forming two lakes: Conn and Cullin.

The huge bulk of Nephin towers over Conn

pontoon

Back in the 1960’s there was a dance hall in Pontoon. Hugely popular in its day, people flocked to it to dance the night away. Legend has it that one night, towards the end of the evening, a girl was asked for a dance by a handsome young man. She stepped out with him and he turned out to be a superb dancer. She was having the time of her life until by chance she happened to look down. Instead feet the bold young fella walked on hooves – the devil himself was abroad in Pontoon!

pontoon

 

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Lough Conn stretches all the way from Crossmolina in the North to Pontoon in the south with fishing all over the whole body of water. As with most Irish loughs, the best fishing is in the shallows around the shoreline, island and offshore reefs. Unlike Mask and Corrib there is virtually no angling in the deeps.

Mayfly time and Brown’s Bay on Lough Conn is busy with anglers preparing to go out for the day

Fish stocks are but a shadow of what the were, Indeed, the population of Char seems to have died out completely. Surveys carried out many years ago suggested that a big majority of the trout from Lough Cullin spawned in the Castlebar river. Nowadays there are very few trout in Cullin and they have been replaced with coarse fish.

Ballyvary river

the Castlebar river

An angler trolling for salmon in the shallow waters of Lough Conn, off the mouth of the river Deel, Crosmolina

 

 

 

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling, wetfly

All quiet on the western lakes

Sunday was a fishing day. Thick clouds scurried across the sky, driven by a strong south-westerly. The air was warm and moist. There had been rain last week and the ground was still damp. Yes, Sunday was most definitely a fishing day. The only trouble is that nobody had explained this to the fish.

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Clouds on Nephin

 

We rendezvoused at 9.30am and I tossed the gear into the back of the van, glad to be out in the fresh air again after a long period separated from the fishing by work and other commitments. I used to always manage to make time for fishing but this year that ability has deserted me, leaving me wistfully imagining days on the river or lake but never actually making to the bank or boat. The mayfly season has come and gone without me being able to cast a fly and the spring salmon were spared my dodgy casting and poor fly choices this year. So the drive out to Lough Cullin was an enjoyable catch up of all the local fishing news, who caught what and where.  The plan was simple, move my boat from Cullin, drive it under the bridge at Pontoon and relocate her in Brown’s Bay on the Conn. From there we would head up the lake to cover the usual salmon lies with the fly and the trolling rods were taken along in case we lost the wind.

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The move was accomplished easily enough and Ben saw three salmon showing on Cullin as he motored up. The area these fish were occupying was covered in weed, making any thoughts of casting to them redundant. They were to be the only salmon we saw all day! A new berth was found in the bay and we loaded the gear before setting off in confident mood. The wind had slackened but there was just enough of a wave to give us hope. And so we started, rhythmically casting an retrieving, deft strokes on the oar keeping us on or close the contours of the bottom. Weed beds had spread in some parts of the drift and a new reed bed is growing rapidly some distance out into the lake now where once it was open water.

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Notice how calm the lake had become

A small brownie leaped two feet into the air close to the stern as we drifted but of the silver lads there was not a trace. After a few drifts the wind dropped to a mere zephyr so we opted for dragging the ironmongery around. Tobies were the obvious choice so 10 and 18 gram models were given a swim. On dark days like this I like to use a copper spoon, but on Sunday it failed to elicit any response. A silver Toby was given its chance to shine but was similarly ignored. This was hard going!

18gr Copper Toby, most effective on dark days in my opinion

Agreement was reached that it was time for a bite to eat. We pulled into the shore and brewed up, dissecting the intricacies of our demise. Very few other boats  were on the water, a sure indication that fish were in short supply. Salmon were coming into the Moy system of which Lough Conn is a part, but in small numbers for the time of year. It looked like very few of these fish were running in Conn. Sandwiches were munched and tea slurped but there was no urgency to return to the water. Ben changed his cast while I took some photos, all at a snail’s pace. Funny how enthusiasm wanes in the face of blank sessions. As experienced fishers we know that any cast can bring a fish but today we expected to at least see some salmon showing and the emptiness of the lake was hard to face. Lunch over we returned to the fray but our hearts just were not in it.

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A rather damp Connemara Black

By mid-afternoon we decided to call it a day. Conditions had been good but with few fish in the lake we were always going to be up against it. At least the boat had been moved and we had caught up on the fishing gossip. Maybe next time…………….

 

 

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Fishing in Ireland, trolling

Cold day on Cullin

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

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

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

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

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Pulled in near the bridge

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

 

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trout fishing

Lough Cullin

Many of you are familiar with the great western lakes. Conn, set below the heights of mighty Nephin, the wild Mask with shallows and reefs rising from the depths, beautiful Carra with the near tropical look of the green water and Corrib, huge and daunting too the newcomer. Less well known is Lough Cullin, the little sister to Conn and a pleasant place for a few hours fishing.

IMG_1809[1]Pulled in near the bridge on Lough Cullin

Cullin lies to the North of Castlebar, close to the village of Foxford in County Mayo. It is part of the River Moy system and it is joined to Lough Conn by a short channel at Pontoon Bridge where the R310 road crosses. I am no expert on celtic mythology but I think I am right in saying that loughs Conn and Cullin were named after Fionn MacCoul’s hunting dogs who both drowned while chasing a wildboar.

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Pontoon Bridge from Lough Cullin

In addition to the waters pouring in from Lough Conn at Pontoon the lough also receives the flow from the Cashel River, itself an amalgamation of the Castlebar and Manulla rivers. This can lead to the strange phenomenon of the flow at Pontoon changing direction when there is high water on the Cashel. Most anglers will agree that when this happens the fishing will be useless.

Ballyvary river

The Cashel River which flows into Cullin

Cullin is a shallow water with a high pH due to the underlying limestone bed. In the past the lough has suffered from pollution both from the agricultural run off of fertilisers and muck spreading as well as sewage from the towns and villages in the area. It is only recently that some improvements have been made in waste water treatment in the county and this will take time to be reflected in the quality of water in Cullin. The eutrophication of the lough has harmed the trout fishing and at the same time improved the environment for coarse fish such as roach and pike. These two species are now present in huge numbers and grow to a good size. Many pike are caught by accident when fishing for salmon and I have seen huge roach caught on the fly by trout anglers (I have only managed very small specimens though)

16lb+ from Cullen

A pike from Cullin. They grow much, much bigger than this!

So what is the fishing like on Cullin? It is a shadow of the former fishery with a greatly reduced stocks of both trout and salmon now present. Salmon numbers have declined alarmingly in the whole Moy system over the recent past and this has been obvious on Cullin with very few springers landed. Cullin was never much good for grilse as the lough weeds up in the warm months of the season making vast tracks of the lake unfishable. Some early grilse are boated each year and they seem to favour the same lies as their larger brethren.

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Any of these spoons will work on Cullin

There are a few noted salmon lies in the lough and these are hard fished by locals trolling spoons and plugs. In the shallow water it is easy to get hung up on the bottom and in weeds, so some losses are to be expected. Dangerous underwater rocks are generally marked with pins but take care when the water is high as it is easy to run into shallows which are normally visible. Salmon like to lie in shallow water, so time spent trolling around rocks and reefs is time well spent.

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A small springer taken on the troll on Cullin, note the sea lice near the ventral fin

The lies are pretty well defined on Cullin so there is a lot of boat handling to keep the baits working over the fish, making this a less boring day out than some other trolling venues. Tobies, Swinford Spoons and Rapalas are all widely used here. Salmon can also be fished for off the shore at Pontoon Bridge but this has been the site of a number of unsavoury incidents over the years when ‘anglers’ dispute who has the right to fish from certain spots. I can’t say I recommend any visitors to try try and fish at the bridge.

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Looking out on to Cullin

The trout fishing is at best patchy. The huge numbers of chironomids which live in the lake now mean there is ample feeding for the fish on the bottom or in mid-water. That means they have little interest in coming to the surface for a meal and the traditional wet fly is largely unproductive. There are some exceptions and the mayfly gives us the best chance of surface sport on Cullin. April and May are by far the best months for trouting on this lough. I am sure there are great hatches of sedges during the summer but we never see them as Carra and Mask hold our attention at that time of year. Fighting the weeds on Cullin is not a great option compared to the other lakes.

The size of trout was always smaller than those encountered in neighbouring Lough Conn and a trout of a pound is a good one for Cullin. That said, there are much bigger trout in the water but they cruize the bottom and are very difficult to find. Fishing a buzzer from an anchored boat can provide sport but I find this a tedious way of fishing on the big lakes so I tend to stick to wet or dry fly most days.

I don’t think that the trout on Cullin are particularly fussy when it comes to flies. Claret Bumble, Connemara Black and Green Peter are usually on my cast here and they seem to do as well as anything else. I prefer smaller sizes on Cullin though with a size 12 used in favour of the normal size 10s. Mayfly patterns are in legion, so pick one or two favorites and don’t be tempted to change too often when the greendrakes appear.

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A Mirage Gosling will work on bright days on Cullin

I concentrate my efforts for trout in Healys bay and the rocky north shore. Even when there is a good hatch on the trout are slow to show on top so don’t expect too much in the way of casting to rising fish on Cullin. Takes when they do come are fast, very different to Carra fish who take with a degree of leisure. I use a light 11 foot rod throwing a number 6 line on Cullin to get the best of the smaller fish you are most likely to encounter. The length gives me better control of the bob fly which I consider useful in attractive the fish up to the cast.

No day out on Cullin would be complete without a pint in Healys. The bar is full of old fishing relics and there are some rods and stuff on the walls too! The beer is grand and there is always a bit of fishing chat in the bar.

So there you have it, Cullin is a nice lough to fish, especially for those not familiar with the big waters. It is less demanding of boat handling skills than Mask or Corrib and can often produce a nice trout early on in the season. Give it a lash if you are in the area in April or May and bring a trolling rod in case the salmon are running.

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