Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

Speed of the fly

The question of the speed the fly should travel through the water is one which seems to perplex beginners who are fly fishing for salmon. I know that many years ago when I was starting out with the double-handed rod I read avidly every scrap of information I could lay my hands on to build up my knowledge on all aspects of salmon fishing but the co-joined questions of speed and depth received little coverage at the time. Nowadays, there is a wealth of detailed knowledge available, indeed it could be argued there is too much! The advent of variable density sinking lines has opened up a new world of opportunities to the big river salmon angler. I am no expert on these wonders of modern technology. Old fashioned tapered fly lines are more my forte! Today I want to talk about fly speed on small spate rivers.

A long, slow pool on a west of Ireland spate river – how fast should your flies be moving? This is the wonderful Owenduff

Why is speed important? Most of the fish we are targeting on spate rivers will be grilse. These wonderful fish can be incredibly finicky about how fast the fly moves, some days they want something to chase while at other times a more sedate pace is demanded. Finding the speed can be as important as the pattern on some occasions so we need to understand how to control fly speed. The angler who develops that ‘feel’ for the river will catch more fish in the long run. Spate rivers tend to be small, intimate waters where every cast is slightly different to the last one. Angles and fly control need to be at the top of the anglers agenda when fishing the fly through the pools and runs of a narrow river. Let’s start by looking at fly lines and how they influence speed.

The straight run from below

The Bunowen river. Grilse hug the opposite bank on this stretch

The coming of modern heavy, fast tapered fly lines has made only small inroads into Irish spate river fly fishing. Specific lines which combine with specialist rods are not only available but are eminently suitable for some situations on the larger spate rivers like the Owenduff and Owenmore. Full floating skaggit lines work well and my only reservation is the large diameter of these lines but this is only a minor issue in all but low water conditions. Floating lines of any profile will tend to skate slightly on the surface and this can be used to your advantage when controlling fly speed. Any sinking line absorbs more of the energy you apply when pulling the line because it is below the surface. The floater will respond more quickly if you draw in some line so there is an opportunity to control fly speed with more finesse. This can be important in tight corners such as in quick running water where small lies need to be covered. Think of streams where rocks provide lies and you want to fish the fly across them. A sinking line may be too ‘dead’ to do this effectively and the floater can be handled more deftly to meet your needs.

Floater, sinker, somewhere in between?

Sinking line have their place in our armoury too and controlling fly speed in high waters is a real challenge for us all. I like to use a slow sinker or fast glass line in most high water situations. I think many anglers see the sinking lines as a way of controlling depth and while this of course very true, the question of speed is also paramount. Water speed varies depending on a host of factors including height, fall, the bottom, weed growth, rocks and temperature. Of course every turn in the course of the river alters the speed of the water and creates back eddies. Sinking lines are good at keeping the flies travelling in a steady and level plane through the water column so in the buffeting of a fast flowing spate they make a good choice for controlling speed.

Deep slow, flat water means you have to move the fly with no help from the current. The River Ray in Co. Donegal

So how fast should the fly be moving? As anglers we are not going to get all scientific and measure fly speed. I am sure that any good inventor could devise a method of measuring fly speed, maybe incorporating a digital readout for good measure. Heaven forbid that we ever get to that stage and lose the essential tactile nature of our sport. For me the flies need to be moving slightly faster than water and our handling of the rod and line decides just how much greater that is going to be. On a short line the simple expedient of lifting the rod can be amazingly effective at times. This has the effect of speeding up the flies and I use this often on a short line to give the impression that the flies are trying to escape. While they do not feed in fresh water I harbour the suspicion salmon react to such stimulation. It has worked too often for me over the years to disregard it.

Fish lie in front and at the side of this rock, a floating line helps to give you the control required to move the flies accurately

On narrow spate rivers the need to control speed as quickly as possible when the flies hit the water is something I don’t think is given enough attention. Lies are at a premium for the fish and some of these can be tight against the bank, just a matter of a few inches sometimes. These are tricky to cover and some thought needs to be devoted to how you present the flies effectively. Controlling speed is going to be decided by two main factors, angle and mending. I’m no mathematician so you will be spared a lesson in trigonometry, but the reduction in angle of casting downstream will slow the passage of the flies as they track across the stream. A cast square across the stream will result in the flies being whipped away from bankside lies far too fast and the rest of that cast will also be too quick until the flies slow as they get well below the angler. A word of warning here though – on a couple of occasions over the years I have caught fish using exactly this ploy! It just goes to show how varied the fish’s response can be but I regard the square cast/big downstream belly as a very minor tactic. So 99% of the time your aim when covering bankside lies your aim is to cast to within inches of the far bank at a narrow downstream angle. The speed of the flies is then controlled by hand-lining back some fly line. In fast water this can be very minimal while slow water requires a quicker retrieve.

The smooth tail of a pool, a downstream mend can sometimes work a treat on water like this

Mending is a fundamental skill you need to learn. This is the act of using the rod to re-position the fly  line after it has landed on the water (OK, I know there are ways of mending the line while it is in the air but I lack the writing skills to give this advanced technique full coverage). The normal mend is upstream, executed by a sharp sweep up-river just as the fly line touches the water this will allow the flies to sink briefly then begin to swim slowly away from the bank. The mend is also used on those windy days when the gusts force your fly line down in the wrong place altogether.

The angler on the far bank is spinning but these are great conditions for the fly

The obvious variation in mending is the downstream mend where the sweep of the rod is down-river and this has the effect of speeding up the passage of the fly made making it track squarely across the current. Some spectacular takes happen when using this tactic on slow pools or at the smooth tails of pools. Grilse will sometimes clearly show as they turn and pursue the flies before grabbing them – very exciting fishing indeed!

Back eddies need a mention too as they yield salmon as well. For some reason I have found that some back eddies are productive while other don’t seem to hold fish at all. The crease in the water which divides the two opposing currents is the best place to fish through and I like to pull the flies through that crease at a fair old lick. In saying that, I have taken my share of salmon with slow, steady pulls through the main part of the eddy itself, especially in very high water. Watch out for debris in back eddies, bits of trees etc. congregate in these spots making them traps for your flies and a fish you may hook.

Hanging flies at the end of a cast are a well-known way of catching salmon, keeping them virtually stationary in one spot at the end of the cast. Problems related to poor hooking from a position directly upstream of the fish are obvious. I have tried throwing a loop of hand-held line when I felt the fish but this did not make a whit of difference from what I could see. I now impart a gentle bounce with the rod tip when hanging the fly in the fervent hope it will encourage the fish to take more boldly on the dangle. Does this actually work – I don’t know. Plenty of fish still fall off when hooked but at least I feel I am trying something more pro-active.

To summarise, there is no single ‘right’ speed for your flies on a spate river and it can range from stationary to stripped fast. The successful angler should aim to try different speeds and depths until he/she finds the one that works. Just casting out and hoping for the best may work sometimes, but in general maintaining a pace slightly faster than the flow of the water is often more effective. Mending is your friend, so learn to mend the line with the minimum of fuss.

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

TxE=S

Met Eireann forecast

Met Eireann forecast

Rain is a-coming! The weather gurus are sure the heavens are going to open over the next day or two, meaning I will be out and about chasing the silver tourists with the fly rod. There are lots of posts on this branch of our sport already on this blog but here is a quick refresher on the do’s and don’ts of river fishing for grilse.

Big spate on the Bunowen river

Big spate on the Bunowen river

Rain is everything to the summer salmon angler. While it is not impossible to winkle out the occasional fish in dead low conditions a shot of water makes a huge difference to all the rivers. Here in the west of Ireland many locals turn to their spinning rods or worming gear when the spate eventually arrives but I firmly believe that the fly will do the business on most days. So my first piece of advise is to stick to the fly.

Timing is all important and is probably the one thing that the visiting angler finds the hardest to achieve. Spate rivers by their very nature rise and fall quickly, much quicker than many visitors realise. Peering over the bridge in the morning and seeing a raging, mud coloured flood the angler suspects there will be no fishing until the next day. Wrong! Depending on the catchment area a small west coast river will probably be in fine fettle by that evening and may well be back to its bare bones within 24 hours. On all the rivers I fish I have these ‘markers’, some are stones, others are trees or fenceposts. Whatever they are I look to see where the water has reached in relation to them. I am also looking for one more vital clue – is the river still rising or (joy of joys) starting to fall. It is the falling water we want because that is when we can expect some action with the grilse.

perfect for backing up

Backing up a pool can be productive for summer salmon, especially on those long, deep, normally stagnant stretches so common on west coast rivers. A strong wind to ruffle the surface improves your prospects no end. Even if the wind is blowing up the river that a normal cast across/down and across is not possible (or safe) simply angle your casts upstream and allow the line to settle as you take a couple of steps up the bank. You may be surprised how effective this is.

Water colour is an issue that some anglers seem to get hung up on but I have seen salmon caught in absolutely filthy conditions and I am less concerned about colour and more worried about the fact the river is dropping. I happily fish in very high and dirty water, safe in the knowledge that the salmon will take in those conditions.

Small grilse on the floating line

Due to the small size of my local rivers I use either a full floater or a slow sinking fly line for all my summer salmon fishing. If I want to fish deeper or counteract a strong current I switch to a small brass tube fly to give me that bit more depth rather than reaching for a fast sinking line. I carry a sinking poly leader too just in case I really feel the urge to go deep.

The Bunowen river in Co. Mayo at a nice height

The Bunowen river in Co. Mayo at a nice height

What about fly patterns? If you restricted me to some form of a cascade, a black and gold shrimp and an Eany tailfire it would not bother me too much. A Hairy Mary is always reliable and a Wilkinson is good on sunny days. Every year there are new, brighter and more complex patterns to pick from but don’t get into the bad habit of constantly swapping flies.

Black and Gold Shrimp

Black and Gold Shrimp, a favourite of mine for the grilse

Eany Tailfire

Eany Tailfire

Fly fishing for grilse can be a mixture of long periods of inactivity interspersed with short bursts of high octane action as a small pod of them pass by. As with all salmon fishing the angler who spends the most time with their flies in the river will catch the most fish.

T (time on the river) x E (experience) = S (success) when it comes to summer grilse fishing with a fly rod!

3 pounder

 

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling

Sunday

It looks increasingly likely that my planned time off work will come to a shuddering halt way too early so I have been packing in some fishing over the past two days. Last Sunday I did some trolling for salmon.

It started of grey. Very grey. A thick mist had turned the world silvery and damp as I waited to be picked up. At least the daffodils are blooming. We were dropping a boat off on the river and had agreed to fish during the morning. These simple plans were predicated on the rise on water levels due to recent rainfall. Salmon have been nosing into the Moy system in small numbers for a couple of weeks now so there seemed to be a chance they had penetrated far enough upstream for us to intercept them. With dry, settled weather forecast for the coming week Sunday looked like the best opportunity to catch a fresh springer.

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We launched the boat and tackled up. The river looked perfect, high but dropping and clarity was even better than we had anticipated. Confidence high, we motored off upstream to cover the best lies. The winter spent re-equipping my trolling gear now stood me in good stead, new rod, line and lures were all at hand and ready for action. Unfortunately nobody had informed the fish that we were properly armed. The stillness of the weather was perfectly reflected by the comatose fish.

Tried a sliver Salmo first………………

Next I tied on a Zebra Toby

And finally a gold Toby Smash got a swim

The early mist lifted to leave a lovely Spring day. The trees and shrubs are still a long way behind where they should be but with the increase in air temperatures there should be a spurt in growth over the next few days. Now is wonderful time to be out and about in the Irish countryside. New life will blossom very quickly as winter finally retreats. The swallows will return this week after their arduous journeys from Africa and the trout will start to feed on the newly hatched flies. That dread coldness which has haunted the country since last October will lift and warmth from Europe will envelope us in Ireland. Optimism is returning along with new plans and ideas. It is amazing what benefits some good weather can bring!

On the troll

Even the improved climatic conditions failed to liven the salmon for us this morning though and we returned to the launching site near the bridge empty-handed. This is not unusual for the river these days as the runs of salmon grow smaller and smaller each year. By noon we were bumping along the road home.

This is not the most taxing way to fish but on days like Sunday it gives you an opportunity to sit back and take in the wonders of the natural world around you. A kingfisher flashed past us at one point, a blur of petrol blue and burnt orange. Larks were high above the fields and a huge cock pheasant broke cover close by us on the bank. Some days it is about more than  just catching a fish.

audience

The afternoon was spent doing family stuff then off for a walk along the beach out at Mulranney. Tired, I went to bed early. I planned to fish the River Robe on Monday., maybe the trout would be more responsive!

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling

Hopes of a salmon

Today there is an air of excitement around the town as the Mayo GAA team are in semi-final action against Tipperary this afternoon. Cars bedecked with green and red flags are heading across the country to watch the game in Dublin, full of hope and anticipation. I on the other hand, am off to try my luck on the Cashel River. Recent rain has pushed water levels up in the Moy system and I hope to intercept some late running grilse.

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On the Cashel

Later…………….

OK, so that didn’t quite go to plan. The weather was perfect and the fiver was dropping after a small flood. All in all the conditions could not have been better for salmon fishing. Pulse suitably quickened, the boat was emptied of water in double quick time and the gear safely stowed before motoring upstream to troll over the likely lies. I clipped on an orange and gold Rapala to start with and trailed it 30 yards behind the boat. Soon enough the rod gave a rattle but it was only a small Perch. More of these followed throughout the session.

Ben got off the mark with a tiny Pike followed by  couple of reasonably big perch which I claimed for supper. Not many people eat perch but they are very good and I would encourage you to try them. I don’t know what stocks are like elsewhere but in these parts there are large shoals of these lovely fish, so one or two for the pot won’t cause too much of a problem.

The fishing was a bit slow so i decided to give a small copper Toby a swim. We have a great fondness for the old original Tobies, the ones which were made in SWEDEN by ABU. The newer ones just don’t seem to be as effective and I would have a tarnished old original before a bright new copy any day of the week. Unfortunately the fish shunned this theory and the copper Toby was substituted later on for another Rapala.

An original Toby

The rain started around noon and with the wind grew stronger. By then we had turned right at the meetings of the waters and were trying our luck on the Clydagh River. Again, our hopes of meeting salar were dashed and in the gathering gloom we about-turned and headed back down river. There seem to be very few salmon around this season, a very worrying trend indeed. I’m going trout fishing the next time I am out.

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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, Pike, salmon fishing, sea trout fishing

How to fix a sticking net

A quick wee post that might be of some use to you……………

Ben’s extending salmon net was stuck fast, no amount of pulling would free it so I volunteered to try and fix it for him. I was confident I could do it as I have done the same before with my own nets over the years.

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The sliding collar

I took the net home and used clamps to move the collar up to the end of the shank. The expansion bolt was unscrewed and kept safe before forcing the frame off the shank. As suspected, the soft insert in the collar had deformed and was in need of re-profiling with a fine file. The temptation is always to take off too much so care is required and some restraint with the file. just smooth off any ridges and try to get back to the square shape. Offer up the frame to the shank again – it should just go on but still be tight. Now for the magic.

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The man on the black horse

Apply a very light coating of olive oil to the shank.I never use any other oil release agents like WD-40. And don’t try to put on too much oil, it will only cover anything it comes in contact with and attarct dirt.

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The insert after it was filed

Put it all back together and you are done. To maintain smooth operation simply apply a fine coat of olive oil once or twice a year or when there is the first sign of sticking.

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, salmon fishing, trolling

Spring but no Springers

 

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Rain over the bank holiday weekend has pushed up water levels a bit so we decided to try for a springer today. Waiting for Ben outside the house in warm sunshine it really felt like spring was here at last. The trees were filled with chirping birds amid the early blossoms.

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Lovely spring morning, for a start at least

I caught up on all Ben’s news on the short journey out to the river  (he had a 10 pounder off Lagduff on the Owenduff on Saturday) and we assessed the chances for today. The river had risen over a foot but was now dropping back . Word was that a couple of salmon had been caught on the Moy system recently, one at Pontoon bridge and another at Foxford. All of this sounded good and we were pretty hopeful there was going to be a fish or two in the river today. Peering over the bridge the water was tinged, but not too coloured. Gear was hastily stowed on the boat and we motored up river in good spirits.

An hour later and we were beginning to flag. No signs of fish at all and the warmth of the morning was disipating as clouds rolled in from the south west. A thin drizzle began to fall, washing our confidence away. Conversation died and we sat hunched in the boat, each  of us lost in our own thoughts. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ, off went Ben’s rod as something fishy grabbed his Kynoch. After the first run everything went dead and we both knew what that meant – PIKE.

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Note how the Kynoch has slid up the line and out of harm’s way

This lad headed for the weeds and had to be bullied back out into open water before he could be boated.

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Coming to hand

By the time we pulled in to have a bit of lunch we had 3 pike between us, all between 4 and 5 pounds in weight. Of the silvery salmon there was no sign. After a soggy lunch, consumed behind a brier in a cold and wetting mist, we met some fellow anglers who were bait fishing with similar results as ourselves. And so we turned for home and headed back the way we had come. Another pike and then 2 trout were boated as we retraced our steps. Both trout were, just like the ones we had on Friday, in perfect condition, deep bodied and well fed. I suspect these are fish from Lough Cullin which came up the river to spawn and have hung around due to the good food supply.

 

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trailing some weed, another Pike comes to the boat

We called it a day when we got back below the bridge and tackled down at a leasurely pace. Salmon fishing is a numbers game, the more often you fish the more salmon you will catch. Today was not our turn but that wont stop us from trying again soon.

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Get out of those weeds!

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Snow on Nephin today

With work beckoning tomorrow and the forecast of cool, wet weather for the whole week I am now resigned to no more fishing until next weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

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