A lovely day here in the West of Ireland so I threw Nessie into the back of the car and we went to watch the fish leaping the falls at Carrowkeel. The water is low but there were still a few trout and salmon attempting this natural barrier.
At the end of each season the boats have to be taken out of the lake and safely stored for the winter. Today was the day for this task on the Glenisland Coop side of Lough Beltra. Yesterdays heavy rain had passed and the evening was cool and bright as the club members gathered on the shore.
All the boats were partially filled with water and the first task was to bale each of them out. As each boat was emptied it was rowed around to the beach were it could be dragged out by a combination of willing hands and Phil’s 4×4.
Glenisland boats sport 4 ‘removable’ thole pins but these can be the very devil to extract after spending the season in-situ. Vice grips and muscle power removed them all but some required a degree of persuasion.
A boat lift is all about team work and we all ‘mucked in’ to drag the boats out in good time. Using the 4×4 to drag the boats the few yards up from the beach was a great help. Phil was a bit heavy with the right foot and he set off like he was starting the Paris to Dakar rally each time, but sure that’s young lads and fast cars for you! (Below, here is Phil giving his grand-daughter a spin in a boat)
We worked on for an hour or more as the sun sank towards the western horizon and the hills of Mayo turned deep, solemn indigo. We spaced the boats carefully so we can get at them for sanding and varnishing later on. Some went in the boat house while the remained were overturned and raised on old tyres outside.
By the time we had nestled the final boat on some worn out Goodyear’s it was getting dark and the lads began to drift off home. I clicked the shutter a few more times to catch some photos and said my farewells to the others. There is a sadness at this time of year when the boats and gear are stowed away. The nip in the air, shortening days and partings on the lake shore signal the beginning of another close season. As much as missing the fishing we all miss the camaraderie, the messing and the craik.
And so we left lovely Lough Beltra for another year. Those of us spared to see next March will be back to tackle up at the boathouse, filled with anticipation and no doubt braving cold winds/high water/scarce springers. I can’t wait!
Herself wanted to pick up a few things in Ballina so we drove up there yesterday. For those who don’t know this area Ballina is a bustling little town on the River Moy and the famous Ridge pool is right in the middle of the town only a few yards from the main street.Helen went off to do her bits and I took a wander down to the river to see what was happening there now the season is over.
With no rain to speak of recently the Moy was low. During a spate the river rumbles impressively under the bridges but in low water it loses much of its splendour. On an overcast day like Saturday with the hum of activity from the local shops and businesses the river felt almost forgotten, the casting and wading over for another year and the the waters looking lonely,empty and cold.
Some tiny fry were jumping in the shallows as I scanned the cathedral beat for signs of life. The Cathedral Beat is immediately below the Ridge Pool and is a nice piece of water in terms of flow and structure but it is very busy so I don’t bother fishing it (I like a bit of elbow room when wielding a fly rod). A heavy swirl well below where I was standing caught my eye so I moved down river to see what had caused the commotion. It looked to be too big a disturbance to be a salmon and sure enough a head appeared some 30 yards from me in the current – a seal.
These lads often chase the salmon up the river as far as the Ridge pool and they can do a lot of damage in the confined spaces of a river. Nothing can be done about this, as culling seals is not an option. Large numbers of seals live in the Moy estuary and can be seen sunning themselves on sandbanks further down river. I watched as he swam up to the bridge before he disappeared from view. I checked the time – I had to go and meet herself. Like the seal, I was due to get a bite to eat.
I was trying (unsuccessfully I might add) to tidy up the mess of feathers, hooks and other assorted odds and end which have accumulated on my fly tying bench. In amongst the detritus I found some flies so I thought I would share them with you.
First up is a Grey Winged Salmon Gosling. Goslings are widely used in this area for trout and the occasional salmon has grabbed one in passing before now. The difference with this one is the hook, a large bronze double (size 6 or 8). Tied on the tail of a cast for salmon it can do the business on lough or river. It looks so radically different to other salmon patterns I am sure it is taken sometimes just because the fish haven’t anything like it before.
Next we have a variant of the Clan Chief, this one is tied in Fiery Brown colours. It is sporting a couple of strands of twinkle in the tail too and the head hackle comes from a grouse body feather. I tie this on a size 8 for salmon but there is no reason why it would not work for brownies on a size 12.
I love this fly. The Charlie MacLean hails from the outer isles and does well here on the small brown trout bog lakes. There is a bit of work required fitting all the materials on the hook but when you see this fly in the water and how those long hackle work with every pull of the line you will forget that it took you 20 minutes just to make one. I am toying with the notion of adding a glo-brite no4 head to this pattern
Friday morning and the weather vane on top of Lagduff Lodge is still firmly set in a Northerly airflow. Dry again today so the fishing will be little more than casting practice, leaving me less than overjoyed
I fished from pol Garrow down to the Rock Pool but the only fish I saw was a large resident who made a terrific splash in the Brigadier’s pool. Small flies like the Black Pennel, Blue Charm and Stoat’s Tail were all given a swim but without success. Time to head back to the comforts of the lodge.
The walls were decorated with old photos of past glories and the fishing register had pride of place on the table in the sitting room. 155 salmon had been landed from the beat this season but we were not going to be adding to that impressive total this week!
Gawn, who had been fishing down river returned to say he had an offer from what he was fairly sure was a salmon but the fish didn’t stick and we remained fishless apart from Julian’s early success with a Sea Trout
The Owenduff. Just the name is enough to set the pulse of any salmon fisher racing. This lovely stream flows through some stunning scenery in North Mayo and I am lucky enough to be fishing it for a few days this week. I’m staying at Lagduff lodge in the company of 3 other like minded souls and casting small flies for salmon and sea trout.
I drove up in the morning and met the rest of the guys as they were tackling up outside the fine old lodge. The news was not good however as the river was at extreme low summer level with no forecast of any rain to come. This was not unexpected but disappointing all the same as the river has fished well this season when there has been a spate. High pressure has settled over the country and any chance of rain looks to be remote. The river is down to its bare bones.
Undaunted by the challenges I set off to the top of the beat. The river is well managed and provided with bridges to cross the river.
I fished down from the top of the beat to the famous Rock Pool, covering some lovely water with the flies but there was no signs of fishy activity beyond a couple of yellowfin (junior sea trout). The low water levels meant the flow was weak and the flies had to be hand-lined back to impart some degree of life to them.
Julian (that’s him in the photo at the top of this post) saw a small fish move in the Rock Pool when he approached it first thing in the morning and covered the rise without any reaction. He had a lovely 3 pound Sea Trout last Saturday but the river was showing 6 inched on the gauge that day, now it was below the gauge completely.
I fished on through the middle pools and then headed back tot he lodge for a bite to eat. Julian had beaten me back to the lodge and was catching up on some work beside the fire.
After a spot of lunch it was time to try some pools further downstream. My arthritic ankles precluded much in the way of exploring and I had to be satisfied with a short walk down the river casting into the likely looking spots where a salmon or sea trout could be sheltering. I was using my faithful old hardy rod – the one which I repaired the handle on earlier this year.
For flies the choice was tiny single hood offerings like the Black Pennel.
At the end of the day we all gathered back at the lodge, each with the same tales of no water and no fish. A hearty dinner and a few glasses of wine restored some degree of hope for the next day and we retired for a good night sleep. Tomorrow would be another day……………….
OK, so in the first part of this post I discussed my views on the basics of rod, reel and line for fishing small spate rivers here in Ireland. Today I want to talk about what we tie on the business end of our lines – the flies to use and how to fish them effectively.
Choice of fly is purely personal and what works for one angler may be useless for another, so all I can do is give you some patterns which have worked for me over the years. Some you will be familiar with, others may be new to you. Let’s start with an old reliable – the Cascade.
There are more variations of this fly than you can shake a stick at, but the standard half black/half silver bodied original with yellow and orange hackles and a slim, long tail of yellow and orange bucktail is as good as any and better than most. A couple of strands of pearl flash in the tail add something I think but any more than that just looks wrong to me. If you really have no idea what to tie on you can do a lot worse than plump for this guy.
I suspect this is actually a recognised pattern but I have not seen it written down anywhere so I just call it my Black and Gold Shrimp. A wound GP body feather tail, half black and half gold body with an orange cock hackle wound at the joint and both halves ribbed with oval gold. A head hackle of soft black cock and optional JC cheeks. Finish off with a red head. I love this fly!
I save this one for high/dirty water and tie it with a very long tail. It has been a great executioner for me tied on size 8 and 10 hooks and fished off a slow sinker.
They don’t come much more traditional than the Hairy Mary. I like to wind my hackle after applying the wing so there is plenty of movement in the fly. Small sizes are definitely the best.
One from my homeland now. The GBWG has landed me many, many salmon over the years tied on tubes, waddington shanks and normal doubles and trebles. I now tie it cascade style for small rivers.
Another exiled Scot now – the Silver Garry. I like this one on bright days when the silver body looks good in the water.
This fly is an ‘all or nothing’ pattern for me. I tie it on not really expecting any results and that is normally the case. BUT, some days the fish go mad for it so it earns it’s place in my box for those red letter occasions.
I have mentioned this fly elsewhere in my blog but it bears repeating just how good this simple fly is. A Black Pennel on a size 10 Kamasan B175 with a slim tail made of a few fibres of red bucktail will catch you grilse until the cows come home. I almost always fish it on a dropper where the small fly doesn’t seem to tangle the leader as much as larger flies.
Enough about patterns, how do you fish these flies? Simple down and across with a very slow retrieve works most of the time. Some days the fish prefer a quicker retrieve, so it pays to vary it a bit until you find what is working. Backing-up a pool can be extremely effective, especially on the long, deep flats we have on some stretches here. A strong upstream wind can make fishing these pools difficult but here is a wee trick which sometimes works – cast up and across for a change. I know this goes against everything you know about salmon fly fishing but trust me, on the flats in a big wind the upstream cast followed by a brisk retrieve works a treat.
Mending line is also something which I don’t see too many anglers doing and this is a pity as it can make the difference between success and failure. The mend is usually upstream (to allow the fly to travel slower through the pool), but when the grilse are in the mood to chase the fly a downstream mend can work a treat.
So, to sum up – Timing is everything, dropping water is best. Wear chest waders so you can access the river when required. Keep it simple, no need to swap line densities or flies every five minutes. Use small flies. Drop into the local pub for a pint or buy something from the shop in the village (they depend on passing trade). Talk to the local anglers, they have that vital knowledge and are usually willing to share it. That is about all I know!
One of the great joys of salmon angling is the sight of a fly in the scissors of a fresh fish you have just landed. The hours/days/weeks and months of abject failure melt away when you see your fly in the corner of the king of fishes mouth. We all love the scenery, the company of fellow fishers and the hundreds of other facets to our sport, but those fleeting moments when your prize is in your hands and that scrap of fur and feather is lodged in his mouth makes all the effort and expense worthwhile. I am going to discuss a fly with you today which can make that wonderful vista a reality for you – the Goat’s Toe
The Goat’s Toe is very much a fly for the North and West of Scotland and Ireland. It is an excellent pattern for Carrowmore Lake in Erris. I read many years ago that it could be used as an adult damsel imitation on lowland waters but I have serious doubts if that is the case. It might well catch a fish or two in those types of waters but even the most short sighted of us would mistake it for a damsel! No, this is one for wild waters and wild fish.
A very old one I found in my fly box (the red wool rib has been chewed off)
The basic pattern is very easy to tie and the Peacock provides most of the materials. A tail fashioned from red wool, a peacock bronze tail herl body ribbed with a single strand of the red wool and a hackle from the neck of the peacock. As it stands this is still a good pattern but as with all good flies we fishers have played around with it to make it even better.
Basic materials for the Goat’s Toe
The red wool was the first thing to be substituted and Globrite no.4 fl. floss was introduced as a direct replacement for the red wool in both tail and rib. I am aware that other colours of floss have also been tried but to my mind no.4 is the most deadly. One of the most commonly seen variants replaces the red wool with chartreuse and has a further refinement in that the head is formed with red silk.
Note the red head on this Chartreuse version
Next came the addition of a second hackle. A black cock hackle was wound behind the peacock neck feather and this is a feature which gives the fly more life in the water. The Peacock hackle is very soft and went wet it clings to the body. The stiffer cock hackle reduces this tendency and I think it is a valuable addition. Some tiers have gone further and palmered the cock hack the full length of the body. Around the same time some bright spark thought it would be a good idea to stick a couple of Jungle Cock eyes on the fly and I have to admit these do seem to look right.
A JC Goat
By now most of you will be aware of my addiction to deer hair (my name is Colin and I am a dyed deer belly hair addict). A black deer hair head on a Goat’s Toe turns a very good salmon fly into a real killer. Unlike some of my monstrosities, I keep the head reasonably small and retain only a few strands of full length hair so that the all important iridescent blue peacock hackle is not covered up.
My favourite on a number 6 iron
I’m also experimenting with a new version for brighter conditions. i have changed the body from Peacock herl to mirage tinsel and added a body hackle of grizzle cock dyed bright blue. It looks nice but it is untried as yet.
Hook sizes for all of the above range from a whopping great size 6 right down to a size 12 and I use heavy wire hooks at all times for the GT as you never know when a salmon will grab it.
Proof of this fly’s effectiveness can be seen below!
I am a big fan of deer hair. It is versatile and hard-wearing and of course it is buoyant. I first became aware of it when I was given the first three volumes of Tom Stewart’s ‘Fifty popular flies’ by my uncle for Christmas one year. I consumed the contents avidly and can still remember being baffled how to make the ‘Muddler Minnow’. Deer hair was an exotic material back then and I had no access to it. Spinning deer hair would have to wait a while!
I had tied thousands of trout and salmon flies before I got to grips with the various deer hair techniques. I was making flies on a sort of semi-professional basis and was purchasing my materials directly from Veniards (as I still do). I bought some deer hair and sat down to figure out the methods required on my own (no step-by-step videos on Youtube back then). Working with deer hair is not difficult but it is messy and you need to be handy with the scissors to get a neat finish. The ‘loose loop’, tension control, packing and spinning were all mastered and I made up some muddlers for my own use. They went into the box along with some other ‘lures’ which I had read about like the Polystickle, Jack Frost and Appetiser. At a time when i was used to making size 16 winged dry flies these looked like monsters and I had my doubts whether they would work.
A club outing to Loch Fitty in Fife (now sadly gone due to pollution from mine workings) gave me a chance to try out these wondrous creations. Nothing worked until I tied on a Black Muddler. Low and behold I boated a rainbow on it! I think at that point I was as firmly hooked as the trout and muddler heads abound in my fly boxes to this day. I will stick deer hair heads on just about anything given the chance.
The Dunkeld receives the muddler treatment
The beauty of a deer hair head is it adds bulk without weight so that even small flies can create a disturbance in the water. This can be vital for bob flies in particular. These days there are a range of synthetics with excellent floating properties which you can use to form a head but somehow deer hair looks better and I am sure they catch more fish.
Deer hair comes in all sorts of different types depending on the species of animal and where on the pelt the patch of hair is located. In my opinion the best hair for spinning is deer belly hair. The fibres are relatively thick so they flare well under tension. Belly hair also takes dye extremely well so you can play around to get just the right colour you need.
I still use the Muddler in various colours for rainbows. I like the tail and wings to be made of marabou with a hint of some flash like the Red and Copper one above. I still have a soft spot for the simple all black muddler with a silver rib though and it still catches its fair share and more. White ones do well at any time of the season too.
Salmon flies can be given a new lease of life by adding a deer hair head. I use a muddler Goat’s Toe a lot and had fish on it. It’s not the prettiest fly I grant you, but it is effective so that will do for me!
A muddled Goat’s Toe
The ubiquitous Green Peter was an early convert to the muddler head and it is a useful addition to both the trout and salmon anglers armoury.
Green Peter Muddler
Some patterns work better with a big, bushy head while others require a smaller, neater head.
A Sunburst Bumble with a small deer hair head
I think the muddler head also has the advantage of creating a lifelike shape to a fly. Look at sedges and chironomids – they both have slim abdomens but bulbous thorax/heads. A spun and clipped deer hair head looks just like that shape and that may be at least part of the attraction for the fish.
Blue Zulu Muddler
The deer hair which has been clipped is pretty static but any training fibres which remain provide good movement as well as adding to the shape and colour of the fly. Hackle fibres and legs are given extra movement due to the turbulence created by the clipped head.
A Clan Chief tied on a size 6 iron and sporting a deer hair head. A mouthful for any salmon!
This brings me to the question of the shape of the head. Should it be spherical, a cone a wild straggly thing? The answer is all of these – it depends on the fly and the look you want for it. A small,neatly clipped ball shaped head may look fine and dandy or then again a shaggy shapeless one could be more in keeping with pattern so it pays to experiment a bit. I generally like to leave a few fibres as an extra hackle. This works very well when using blue deer hair and a blue Guinea Fowl hackle together.
A round head on this Claret Bumble
A tapered head with a cone added on this Yellow Muddler
The untrimmed black deer hair fibres add to the hackles on this Willie Gunn Bumble
Experimentation with mixed colours and other ‘additions’ to the deer hair have not proved successful for me so far, the only exception being mixed colours in a G&H sedge wing (but that is a different thing altogether).
A daddy with a large muddler head
When you need to create the maximum disturbance on top of the water a large deer hair head is the way forward. Look at the Daddy above. Without the muddler head the fly would be ok but the brown deer gives the fly the ability to push water away from in front of it as it pulled through the waves, leaving a big wake which the fish find so attractive. Takes to these flies can be savage on those wild days of scudding clouds and white horses.
The Peach Muddler
I will end this post with a small muddler which I rarely see used in Ireland but can do great execution with the brown trout here – the Peach Muddler. The lads in Orkney are very fussy about the correct shade of peach to use but I can vouch for this fly’s effectiveness when tied with seal’s fur dyed in Veniard peach dye. This is a great wee fly and a size 12 is about right for most conditions.
Trolling, the not so fine art of dragging spinning and wobbling lures behind a moving boat is not everyone’s cup of tea. If my fishing was confined solely to days spent trolling I would long ago have sold the rods and taken up computer gaming or amature dramatics instead. As it is though, I indulge in the occasional outing when conditions or specific situations arise based on the premise the some fishing is definitely better than no fishing at all.
Each season a few of us troll the lower section of one of the local rivers for salmon. This particular piece of water is deep and slow-moving with high banks intersected by large and deep agricultural drains. On top of these already formidable obstacles the river is a bit remote and hard to get near to by car. So to fish it from the bank would entail a long tramp in to fish a very short section, then a walk out back to the car, drive down some more lanes, park up and repeat the process. Instead of that messing around we troll the river from a small boat, thus negating the problems of access.
Trolling in my opinion is best performed by two in a boat. Handling the boat and the rods on your own does have its own satisfaction but the hours of not much happening are easier to bear when there is another living being in reasonably close proximity. And that is the thing with trolling, there tends to be a lot of nothing happening. As an exercise in getting some fresh air into your lungs and taking time to see the local wildlife it is very good but do not expect hectic sport.
Anyway, my mate and I launched the boat, fired up the engine and motored up to the starting point. The water level was high but clarity was pretty good with only a tinge of brown on the day. Rods were armed with suitable spoons and they were trailed some 20 to 30 yards behind us as we made our way upriver at a sedate pace. The rod tips dipped and nodded in response to the action of the spoons and there were occasional moments of action when one or other of the baits snagged on a sunken tree or other such impediment. Regarding baits we use things like Tobies, Swinford spoons, Rapalas and that sort of thing.
Typical baits for trolling
Bites were at a premium shall we say (ie non-existent) so once we had covered the water up as far as the confluence of a tributary we pulled into the back for a spot of lunch.
Here we are looking for somewhere to pull in
Out of the cold wind the air was pleasantly warm and springlike. Herein lies the attraction of a trolling session for me, it forces you to slow down. All actions until a fish strikes are unhurried and deliberate. Lunch was a leisurely affair of soup, sandwiches, coffee and chat. Different baits were tied on but to be honest neither of us thought the new ones were any better than the ones we had taken off. Then we pushed off back into the steady flow and continued upstream once again.
An unassuming straight stretch, no different from miles of similar water yielded a small pike to my rod and I had so sooner got that in the boat than a second, larger pike grabbed the other bait. This river is full of pike and it had been a surprise not to meet any before now. Before the day was out half a dozen small pike would be boated. I know some anglers love pike fishing but I fail to see the attraction. I have seen videos of fishermen in epic battles with pike but to me they are usually just a dead weight on the end of the line and an awkward customer to unhook without being bitten.
We pressed on up to the furthest extremity of the fishable water near a ruined castle then turned around and started heading downstream again. The afternoon was wearing on now so we motored down through some of the less likely looking water and then fished through areas where fish have been taken, lost or at the very least observed in the past. The baits wobbled seductively enough but no salmon were in the mood for seduction that afternoon. The wind was strengthening and growing perceptively colder so it was with some relief we gained the mooring point and called it a day.
It was hardly a day of frantic sport but it was nice to be out on an afternoon in March, seeing the willows beginning to bud and feeling the push of the river under the keel once more. Springers are a rare commodity these days and there is a high probability we did not even cover a fish all day. Rumour has it that one was caught down near the estuary earlier in the week but disinformation is a fine art in angling circles so a large dose of sodium chloride needs to be taken with such reports. Unless I hear that salmon have been seen or landed in the system I will return to trouting next week.