Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trout fishing

Reflections so far

We are in the last week of April and  I have been thinking about the season so far and any lessons I need to learn. By now I would normally have landed my first salmon of the year and brought some decent brown trout to hand. Neither of these things have come to pass and the 2015 spring fishing has been very poor for me. I don’t think that I am alone and from the reports I hear other anglers are experiencing a similarly difficult time. So what has gone wrong?

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Cold air and low water are not a good combination

To my mind there is more than one cause for the poor fishing. The weather has certainly played a part. We have had very low temperatures followed by a period of unusually fine, bright conditions then a return on Saturday to a bitingly cold northerly wind. Our prefered conditions of a steady south/south-westerly air flow bringing cloudy, mild and wet weather have been conspicuous by their absence. Normally good levels of fly life which are a feature of April have failed to materialise so far and we can only hope that this is a delay in the hatches rather than the loss of them in total. A few hardy olives and Iron Blues have hatched out and the small stoneflies have shown up as normal but I have yet to witness any significant numbers of flies on the surface so far. With not much to eat on the surface the brownies are hugging the bottom for now.

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Water levels were high during the month of March, something which usually provided good fishing. I like to think that the higher flows push food out into the open where the trout can prey on them. But March failed to meet expectations and April has been no better. With the water level on the Robe now down to summer heights the advantages of high flow have gone. Yesterday I fished two stretches of the river, both of which should be in good fettle at the end of  April. I gave up on the first stretch after only a 20 minute session. The runs I fished 2 weeks ago were now ankle-deep and weeding up fast. One half pounder fell to a PT but it was clear more rain was needed urgently for this part of the river. I decamped for a deeper section some miles downstream.

A change of flies and a reduction in leader thickness, based on the low clear water, and I was soon up and running again. The air was full of midges but the water was apparently devoid of ephemerides. A lot of wading and tramping and casting followed without any response. This has been the theme for the season, very little signs of life in the river. I genuinely don’t get too upset when I am not catching but a lifeless river is difficult to stomach. The bitterly cold Nor-Easter could be partially to blame but I believe it goes much deeper than that. I suspect that the numbers of trout in the river at much lower than normal. Pollution, poaching or natural selection are all possible reasons for the drop in the trout population. The river has an eerie quietness about it, bird life seems to be quiet and I have seen none of the animal tracks in the margins that I would expect.

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Clear water on the River Robe

In total I brought about a dozen trout to hand, but most of them were in the small to tiddler range. I managed one good fish of around the pound from a very skinny piece of water at the tail of a gravelly pool. I swear there was no more that 3 inches of water covering him when he took my Francolin Spider.

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The hot weather sandwiched in between the periods of cold gave has given the algae a head start this year and margins of pools are bedecked in rafts of green slime. Chunks of it break off and can be seen floating down the river and hooked fish usually manager to cover themselves and the flies in a coating of the stuff when fighting. In itself I am not aware that the algae is harmful but it is an indication of the nutrient levels in the system.

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So what will the rest of the season bring on the rivers? If I am right and stocks of trout are well below normal then there will obviously not be much of an improvement in the fishing this year. The rivers around here are all natural and there is no stocking carried out, so nature will have to come to the rescue if possible but that will take time. With (hopefully) milder weather in May and June the evening fishing should start and I am planning on fishing the sedge hatches through the summer in the hope that some of the better fish which have been hiding in the deepest pools will move out and feed under the cover of darkness.

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My salmon fishing so far has been both low level and unsuccessful. Very few salmon have been caught in the area this spring with poor angling conditions again largely being blamed. I fished Carrowmore Lake on saturday but we came back to the shore with clean boards. Seamus reported 4 fish boated on that day but there were 17 boats out in reasonably good conditions so the lake is still not fishing very well.

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I am reading reports from Scotland and the lack of fish over there seems to echo our woes on this side of the Irish Sea. All over it looks like a dramatic collapse in salmon stocks, the kind of doomsday scenario which environmentalists have been warning us about for years. In Ireland the spring salmon were decimated years ago by the government sponsored environmental vandalism of  drainage works on just about every river in the country, so we have been struggling to catch many early fish for a long, long time. How will this year pan out? I expect a few more springers to turn up with the next spate and the grilse will show up beginning in May and gradually building in numbers if we have a wet summer. A dry summer will spell an angling disaster for us though.

I don’t have any answers to our lack of fish, the problems are complex and we humans seem to be adding more every year. Fish farming is a horrible business and it has added to the loss of wild fish here. More farms are at planning stage and if they are successful (which I have no doubt they will be) it could be the final nail in the salmon’s coffin. I plan to try hard to catch a few this year – there may be none to catch in 2016.

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Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing

Hail, drains and trees

The weather is all over the place. After a couple of days of unseasonably warm, dry weather the rains came back yesterday evening. Temperatures dropped overnight and today dawned cool and breezy. Showers, some of them of hail, added to the feeling that winter was sneaking back again and I had to push myself to go down to the Robe for a few casts. The gear was chucked into the car and I headed south by east to my ‘new’ spot.

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This is a very deceptive photo – it was bloody freezing!

My plan was to run down the pools below the bridge quickly with the wet fly then switch to the dry and fish back upstream again before prospecting above the bridge for the last hour or so. As it turned out I stuck fairly closely to this plan but it could have worked out better I think.

The most notable feature of the day was the very strong, gusting wind. At its worst the near gale force wind ripped and tugged at everything and fired hail at me like shotgun pellets. The cold during the squalls was intense and it really felt more like February than mid-April. This did not deter the Large Dark Olives from hatching and they appeared in good numbers for the 3 hours I was fishing. The trout showed their appreciation by rising occasionally to the duns. I can’t say it was a good rise today but it was the best surface action I have witnessed so far this season. If we had not suffered the cold wind I suspect today could have been a wonderful day’s fishing.

I gowned up at the car and decided that a fleece hat was called for in the conditions instead of my usual baseball cap. I was glad that I sacrificed sartorial elegance for warmth as the hail showers came frequently and each one seemed to be more severe than its predecessor.  At times my hands were frozen and I had to break from fishing to rubs some warmth back into them. Ah, the joys of spring fishing!

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In between the hail showers

I cut off the old leader which was on my line and built a new one with only one dropper instead of my normal two on a wet fly cast. The wild conditions would be challenging enough without the added problems of trying to stop 3 flies tangling. As it was, a number of flies became victims of bankside vegetation with around a dozen meeting their end on the far bank due to the gusting wind. I opted for a copper beaded PT on the tail and my experimental Iron Blue Dun on the bob, but Partridge and Olive Spiders, Beaded Endrick Spiders and P&O all made cameo appearances during the afternoon.

The first pool below the bridge gave me a flavour of just how difficult this session was going to be. After  dozen cast the line was whipped into the far bank by a big gust of wind and the flies lost on a branch. A new cast was tied up and a hail shower chucked frozen water down on me. I could see olives on the surface so I figured it was still worth the effort, so I fished down the pool. Sure enough, I started to rise fish but hooking them was a problem. I checked the hooks – all OK. I altered my casting so I was fishing more squarely to the current but that didn’t seem to make any difference. I swapped the tiny size 18 IBD and put an Olive Partridge Spider size 14 on the bob (thinking the small hook was maybe not getting a good hold). That still didn’t make a difference. Time to try another piece of water.

The pool broke into a fast, shallow run and off the far bank there was a rock under the surface. This chunk of limestone pushed the flow out and created a likely looking lie. The gale was proving to be tedious to fish in and more flies were left in reeds before I eventually got things together and made a good cast just ahead of the rocky lie. I wish I could say there was a powerful take and I struck it perfectly but the truth is the trout just ‘appeared’ on the end of the line. He fought well in the fast water and I was relieved to bring him to hand, a handsome fish of around a pound. The PT was wedged in his scissors. Leader and flies were checked and after a few more casts I rose, hooked and landed another fish of the same size.

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First fish of the day

By now the hatch was well under way and some fish were showing on the top of the water. I fished the wets down the river casting into likely spots and keeping moving the whole time. By the time I reached the bottom of the fishable water I had taken 5 trout, all between three-quarters and a pound. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself because the conditions were challenging. I switched to the dry fly as I had planned and fished my way back up the river. If fishing wet had been hard trying to fish the dry fly in the windy conditions proved to be next to impossible. Admittedly I did rise a few trout but none of them were hooked due to the large loop in the line between the rod and the fly caused by the wind. I regained the bridge and paused to consider the options.

Standing on the bridge the view upstream didn’t look overly impressive. The right bank was steep and topped with a barbed wire fence. Getting as far as the bank looked daunting as there was a big drop over the side of the bridge on that bank. The water looked deep and slow as far as the bend, far from ideal. On the left bank a large drain came in about 50 yards above the bridge.

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Your average Irish drain

Ireland is criss-crossed with drains like this. Without them much of the agricultural land would be bog, so I can see why they are so necessary. I do have misgivings about draining every square inch of land though and these drains funnel large volumes of water into river systems, creating problems further downstream. From an anglers point of view drains are a royal pain. While some of them have been bridged the vast majority have to be navigated by wading or in the case of the smaller ones, jumping. Some drains are death traps; deep and with soft, silty bottoms. This one would have been very hard to cross but luckily there was a good bridge over it so I decided to fish the left bank for an hour.

I negotiated some wire and electric fences and got into the water in a large, slow moving pool. I would have prefered to fish it from the throat of the pool but trees on my bank prevented access. I had changed back to the wet fly and was quickly into a lovely trout of better than a pound. A second one followed and then a third, the last one being a bit smaller.

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The smallest of the three

I turned to face upstream and fished upstream wet for a while, landing 3 more fish in truly deplorable conditions of gusting wind and hail showers. Timing the strike fishing upstream is something I find hard to get used to this early in the season. Practice is the only answer to this deficiency and it is worth the effort as the upstream wet fly is so deadly.

The trees were getting closer and closer together and it got to the point where is simply wasn’t possible to fish the fly any more from the left bank.

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Now how do you cast in this little lot?

It was now obvious I had made a wrong move by electing to fish from the left bank. The trees lined this bank as far as I could see while the right bank was open and clear. Worse still was the sight of some lovely fly water just up river, water which was completely unfishable from the bank I was on. By now it was nearly 3pm and the hatch was slackening off, so hiking back to the bridge then up the far bank would be a lot of effort for little reward. Better to leave it for another day.

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Can’t wait to try this stretch out

I went back to the deep pool and tied on a dry fly again. With still one or two trout showing I thought I could maybe winkle out a brace but it wasn’t to be. I rose a couple but the same old issue of slack line due to the wind beat me. Fishing wets meant I could tighten up on the flies once they were in the water and drag was not an issue. Fishing dry removed the option of tightening the line as it caused the fly to drag. I wound up and trudged back to the car. Eleven landed and a lot more trout risen, pricked or lost. Not too bad for 3 hours of hail, drains and trees I think.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

The Iron Blue Dun

I want to discuss the Iron Blue Dun (it is too much hassle to write Iron Blue Dun all the time so I will refer to it as ‘IBD’ in this post). For such a tiny insect it has generated a huge amount of words in  angling literature, and rightly so. From the earliest history of fly fishing the IBD has been recognised as a hugely important species. I won’t bore you with the minute differences between the three separate species as they so closely resemble each other it requires a magnifying glass to differentiate. I am more concerned with the practicalities of catching trout when the IBD hatches out.

IMG_6875 There is a common misconception that the IBD only hatches out on cold, windy days when no other fly life is active. While I have certainly seen them hatch in just such conditions I have also seen them coming off the water on mild and calm days too so I am inclined to treat the whole ‘bad weather fly’ theory as highly dubious. What is not in doubt is the high regard the fish have for the IBD. Back in the days when I fished the Aberdeenshire Don it was not unusual to see heavy hatches of Large Dark Olives, March Browns and IBDs on the same day. The Olives would come down the rivers in a pretty steady trickle and the March Browns would just appear in explosive bursts, none on the surface one minute then a host of them like miniature speckled sail boats the next. Within the space of a few moments the March Browns would be gone again only for the process to repeat itself  20 or so minutes later. The IBD hatch can vary widely. Some days they would gradually build from one or two flies to a heavy hatch over the period of up to an hour while on other occasions they never seemed to appear in more than a trickle.

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The problem for the fly fisher is to initially spot the IBD when the hatch starts. They are tiny and in moving water can be hard to spot, especially when other species are present at the same time. I have been guilty of missing the start of an IBD hatch more than once because I simply didn’t see them. Surely an experienced fisher would not not caught out like this? Well, let me tell you that when olives and March Browns are drifting down the stream and trout are rising all over it is very easy to fix your concentration on what seems to be the obvious and automatically cast your olive or March Brown copies at the risers without stopping to study the water for the possible appearance of something else. I have been fooled many times into thinking I knew what was happening because I had seen fish actually take a few olives. Trout will accept the olives all right but they much prefer the IBD when it is available in my experience.

Iron Blue spider pattern

That brings me to the question of tactics and fly patterns for fishing the IBD hatch. There are a number of traditional spider patterns which imitate the IBD such as the Snipe & Purple and the Dark Watchett. Fished up or downstream as the situation dictates these are very effective cathers of trout. Avoid the temptation to use flies bigger than a size 16. the naturals are very small and size seems to be one of the triggers for the fish. Some IBD patterns sport a crimson tag and while I have netted numerous fish on flies with this adornment I remain sceptical they add significantly to the success rate.

Personally I prefer to tackle trout rising to IBD’s with a dry fly. I find that they take a floating dun imitation well and will come to it even if the hatch is light. Tiny klinkhammers and parachutes are ideal for this job. Brightly coloured wing posts are a real help to those of us with dodgy eyesight.

You can expect to find the IBD in numbers from now until mid-May so be prepared to scan the water closely for them. It is so easy to miss them but you can be sure the trout won’t. Those minute flies which resemble spots of ink in the water can provide you with some unforgettable sport if you keep your eyes peeled.

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