Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

Salmon at the double

Carrowmore. Just the name sets the pulse racing of salmon fishers. Today we would try our luck on this shallow lake set in the bogs of Bangor Erris.

This is very different fishing to the ‘classic’ beats of the Scottish east coast rivers. Modern Skaggit heads and tube flies have no place here. Instead we fish from boats and use heavy trout gear. Flies are tied on size 8 or 10 trout hooks usually. On its day Carrowmore can be spectacular – was today going to be one of those days for us?

With all angling the weather plays a big part, but on Carrowmore the wind in particular can decide if you even take a boat out or not! On almost every other Irish salmon lough the higher the wind the better the fishing is. 5 foot high waves – not a bother! The bigger the better. Not so on Carrowmore lake though. The bottom of the lake is a thick soup of fine particles and any serious wave action stirs this up, turning the lake brown and pretty much unfishable. Here abouts we know this phenomenon as ‘churning’ and a churned lake is not worth the effort to fish. The last few days have seen settled weather with light wind winds meaning the water clarity was going to be good today. In addition, we had heard on the grapevine that fresh salmon were in the lake. The omens seemed to be good.

A trip to Carrowmore involves rituals for us. Firstly there is the small matter of breakfast, to be eaten at the ‘greasy spoon’ in Bangor. Huge plates of grub, washed down with copious mugs of coffee consumed amid chatter about the day ahead. Then across the road to the West End Bar where Seamus Hendry furnishes us with permits, keys for a boat and all the local news. Occasionally this is a quick visit but more usually there is the fine detail of all the latest catches to digest and that can take a while. Eventually we gather ourselves and head off to the lake to begin the days fishing. And so it was today.

No salmon had been caught the previous day but there had been no wind at all, leaving the boats static and struggling to tempt the fish. No such worries today though as a light but steady Nor-easter ruffled the surface of the lake as it hove into view from the road. This is a good wind direction for our favourite drifts. Confidence soared.

Tackled up and settled in the boat, we set off for the mouth of the river. With the light wind slowly pushing us along it took a while to cover the first drift, Ben correcting any tendency to drift too close to the shore with some deft stokes of an oar. No stir on the first drift though. We doubled back to cover the same water a second time.

Nearing a point on the shore marked with a post, Ben rose a salmon. It splashed at the fly but failed to make contact and we drifted on, discussing what might have gone wrong. Only a few minutes later it was my turn. Dibbling the bob fly through the waves I saw a dark shape loom up below the fly. Then there was flash of silver and a splash as the salmon turned away, without touching my fly! We conferred and decided to cover the same drift yet again. Then again. Not a fishy fin stirred on those last two drifts so we broke off for a short time to grab a snack on the bank.

Back out on the water again we drifted further along the shore, chatting about this and that when suddenly Ben’s rod bent and a fish splashed 10 yards from the boat. Fish on! The well versed movements of experienced boat partners sprang into action and as Ben wrestled with the fish I cleared the decks and got the net ready. Stamping on the bottom of the boat kept the fish from diving underneath and scraping the line against the rusty keel. Ben worked the fish around the back of the boat and tired it out so I had an easy task to slip the net under it. A beautiful clean springer of around 6 pounds in weight.

Carrowmore allows you to take one salmon each so this fish was dispatched quickly and we got back on to the drift pretty quickly. The details of the take, the fight, the fish itself – we were still in the throws of discussing all of these details when my line tightened. My turn had arrived. Another exciting battle with a strong fish which ended with it successfully netted after about ten minutes. This one turned the scales at a shade under eight pounds and, like Ben’s, it was as fresh as paint.


We fished on for a while but the action was over for the day. It had been a day of long periods of casting/retrieving with no signs of fish, interspersed with short bursts of activity. Typical of salmon fishing!

Any day when you have salmon in the boat is a great day. A double is twice as nice!

IMG_2392 (2)

Ben’s fish on the left and my one on the right

Oh, and the successful fly for me – the Claret bumble of course!!!!

the same fly once it had dried out

Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, salmon fishing

Spate river fly design

What makes a good spate river fly?

I tie hundreds of flies every year. I used to tie much, much more but these days a few hundred come off my vice and most of those are tied during the quiet winter period. Due to the nature of the fishing in the West of Ireland these flies fall readily into groups, trout: river dry, wet and nymph, lough trout dry and wet and finally salmon river and lough. I have never really thought too much about the distinction between the salmon flies I use in flowing water as opposed to the ones for the loughs but they are fundamentally different and here is my reasoning.


Hairy Mary, classic pattern for spate rivers

A large part of my reasoning for using differing lough vs river patterns is due to the movement of the flies in the water. On rivers there is a flow which acts on the hook and materials and causes the fly to move both in the current and within itself. Lough flies have a different role in that they will be moved largely by the angler drawing in the line and also in the ‘Z’ axis as the waves in the lough rise and fall.


Shrimps and Cascades

Perhaps the greatest difference is the hooks I use. On the river I still favour trebles and doubles with a small single occupying the dropper position on the leader. I like the weight of the trebles and doubles and the way they ’grip’ the water much better than singles which travel much higher in the water.


An Eany Tailfire tied on those lovely Loop doubles


Fly design for spate rivers

I normally fish with two flies on the river and accept I may lose the occasional fish when the trailing/dangling free fly snags on a bush /tree/bottom (in practice I find this happens so rarely that it can be disregarded). I like to be able to offer the fish two different patterns on the same cast and will take a lot of convincing that this is more effective than the normal single fly approach. The only downside of fishing a dropper for me is the inevitable tangles suffered when casting into high winds.

Now picture the scene on a typical west coast spate river. Small, often deep pools, occasional long deep canal like stretches and short fast runs connecting these features. River width can vary from 3 to 30 yards and there will be lots of obstacles like trees and bushes. All in all, a world away from the beautifully tended, wide, smooth running ‘classic’ rivers of the Scottish East coast. As you can imagine, this has a big bearing on the flies I use here.

high water water on a spate river


The Dee at Cairnton, a world away from my local spate rivers

There is very little in the way of spring salmon fishing here, so grilse are the target from May to September. Always on the move, these fish are often encountered is small groups and sport can be brisk when you bump into these pods of fish. Your flies need to be presented at a level in the water to attract their attention and the received wisdom is that needs to be in the top foot or so of the water column. There are minor tactics like skating flies but generally speaking you present the flies sub-surface. This is why I prefer my river patterns dressed on trebles and doubles. These flies sink immediately they hit the water, unlike single hooked patterns which have a nasty tendency to skate on the surface due to their much lighter weight. I have experimented with weighted flies and even adding weight to the leader but met with poor success so far.

Sinking lines or sink tips are useful to a degree and I admit a fondness for homemade sink-tips. My argument against them is based on that critical first few second after the flies hit the water when I need them to sink instantly instead of waiting for them to be dragged under by the line. On narrow, heavily overgrown spate rivers fish are often found lying hard against the bank, so casts need to be accurate and the fly simply must sink immediately it hits the water. I have experimented with small brass tubes in the past and found them to be pretty useful but I still prefer trebles or doubles for this work.

So my preferred set up on spate rivers when fishing for salmon is a small treble on the point, usually a size 10 down to a 14 with a small single hooked pattern on the dropper. Dropper length is roughly 4 to 6 inches. I will talk about patterns in another post.


A small,coloured grilse from a spate river about to go back

Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, sea trout fishing, trout fishing, wetfly

Three flys from my table

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

Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, sea trout fishing

Casting practice

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

Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, salmon fishing

Spate river tactics, part 2

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.

Standard Cascade

Standard Cascade. This one is dressed on a size 12 treble

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.


Black and Gold Shrimp

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!


Eany Tailfire (Light)

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.


Hairy Mary

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.


Gold Bodied Willie Gunn (GBWG)

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.


Silver Garry

Another exiled Scot now – the Silver Garry. I like this one on bright days when the silver body looks good in the water.


Shadow Shrimp

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.

Black Pennel variant

Black Pennel variant

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.

4 lb grilse

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.

low water, looking upstream on the straight run

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.

all you need (plus some decent water)

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!

Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, salmon fishing

The Goat’s Toe

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.


Looks OK!

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!

10 pounder from Carrowmore lake

Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, salmon fishing

Deer Deer – muddled thoughts

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA Red and Copper Muddler Minnow

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.

Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

fr. Ronan

Despite the ecclesiastical name I don’t know of any particular connections with the church for this fly. It is a dabbler style pattern for use when fishing for sea trout and salmon but I can see no reason why it would not work for brownies too, especially around the time of the mayfly hatch.

Fr. Ronan

It is an easy fly to tie with the body in two parts, yellow seals fur at the front and red seals fur at the rear. A silver rib and a GP crest for a tail with a bronze mallard cloak and some JC cheeks complete the fly.


I like to think that the combination of yellow and red hackles is the key to this patterns success, but until we find a method of communication with the fish I will never really know. I tie this one up in sizes 8 down to 12 but you could rattle some up on bigger or smaller hooks if you so desire.


Keep the Jungle Cock cheeks small, if they are too big I think they detract from the yellow/red trigger.

Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Black Doctor


I think I would right in saying this is a fly which does not get used as much as it used to. More modern patterns has taken its place on the cast of most anglers and it is slowly but surely slipping into oblivion. This is a shame as the Black Doctor can still fool a fish on its day and I like to have one or two tucked away in the corner of my fly box for those times when I am unsure which dark pattern to try. Note that I like my Doctors with a claret body hackle instead of the more usual black one, I think the contrast between the black body and the claret hackle is important. I also retain the red butt, a detail which many commercially tied doctors seem to lack. I use dyed ostrich herl for the butt, accepting that the first fish will probably tear the butt asunder and render the fly beyond repair. Any fly which catches a springer has earned an early retirement and one which has been wounded in battle can still raise a smile when you come across it while poking about in your fly box during the long winter nights.

Look, there is a bit of tying involved when creating a Black Doctor but it is worth the effort in my opinion. A well tied Doctor nestled in the scissors of a large spring salmon is a thing of beauty and worth the cussin’ and swearin’ as you try to get those wings to sit just right. Make up a couple on biggish irons, 4 and 6 are good sizes, and stow them in the box for your next day out on the lough.

There are silver and blue doctors too, so maybe I will get around to adding them in a later post.

Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Fly patterns – the Claret Bumble


Since I tie lots of flies and use a small proportion of them actually fishing it seems only sensible for me to show you all the patterns that I and my fishin’ buddies use. Let’s start with the Claret Bumble since that is where the name for this blog comes from.

I use it in big sizes (6, 8 and 10) for salmon and sizes 12 and 14 for brownies on the local loughs. There are hundreds of variants of the original and just being told a fish was caught on a Claret Bumble is not going to be the whole story (this is Ireland, so the chances are it was actually caught on a Green Peter or a Watson’s Fancy anyway, but I digress). The basic claret fur body with a black and a claret cock hackle palmered and a blue jay or blue dyed Guinea Fowl hackle at the shoulder is pretty standard. The shade of claret ranges from nearly magenta right through to almost black. Personally I like a rich reddish claret usually. The rib is fine oval gold tinsel. Tails can be tippets or toppings (dyed or undyed) and there are sometimes tags of floss, fur or tinsel added to fool the fish and confuse the fisherman even further. Legs are also a common addition and other assorted fancy bits and bobs can also feature. Oh, and then we have muddler heads to consider – black, claret, brown or blue are all alternatives. All these variants will catch fish on their day so don’t stress out too much about exact patterns with this one. I think size is much more important and would never stray bigger than a 12 for Brownies.

Glister headed Claret Bumble