The morning slipped away from me but by 11.30 I was behind the wheel and heading off to spend a few hours trout fishing on the River Robe. All the rivers around here are high and this usually improves the fishing on the Robe, so hopes were high as the old green VW rumbled down the road filled with rods and reels. The target area was going to be the fast water below the bridge at Hollymount. I didn’t know it then, but this was going to be an eventful day.
As it turned out, the river level was even higher than I had presumed, meaning the three pools below the road bridge were just too fast for easy fishing. I slung heavy nymphs into the flow but even the tungstens were swept away quickly in the rush of water.
There was no sign of any fly life down here but a pair of swallows showed up, the first I had seen this year. By the time I had reached the lower pool I had made up my mind to try upstream of the bridge where the flow was much more friendly. That was when it all started to go pear-shaped on me.
To access the water above the road bridge you can either wade under the bridge (crossing a number of barbed wire fences in the process) or cross the road, hop a stone wall and head across a field. I always choose the latter option as the barbed wire below the bridge is a proper pain in the b__t. This time I placed my rod over the wall and as I drew my hand away there was a sharp pain in one of my fingers. The middle dropper had sunk into the flesh. I swore!
I poked about at the fly to establish that, yes, it was well past the barb. For those of you who have never had to deal with this scenario here is how you extract a barbed hook from your flesh. Only try this in places you can access easily and NEVER if the hook is in a sensitive area (such as around your eyes). If in doubt, get yourself to a hospital where they will have it out in no time. So, here I was with a size 14 spider stuck in the middle finger of my left hand. Pulling it out is not going to work as the barb just digs in where you try that.
Instead, you need to push the hook point back out through the skin, then flatten the barb so it can be withdrawn. I am not going to gloss over it, this nips a bit. But it is never as bad as you think it will be and a little pinch is worth the speed of getting back to the fishing. Holding the hook very firmly, angle it up and push the point back through the skin. Feed the hook through until the barb is clear.
That is the hard part past, all you need to do now is flatten the barb on the hook. I always keep a pair of de-barbing pliers at hand so this was only the work of a few seconds to mash the barb down. Yes, I know – I should have done this before I started fishing!!!!
Pushing the hook back out was easy with the aid of the pliers. Blood dripped from the tiny wound but I soon had that cleaned up and a plaster stuck over the hole. I carry a small first aid kit in the car at all times and I would urge you all to do the same, you never know when a small mishap could require patching up.
That minor drama over I made my way up river. By the old footbridge there are sometimes a few trout feeding but not today. With no flies hatching the river was dead so I decided to change venue. An hour had elapsed and all I had hooked was myself!
I didn’t even dismantle the rod, just stuck it in the car as it was and drove a few miles to the stretch I fished last week. I felt way more confident here. The air was warmer and the flow of water, while still fast, looked to be much more manageable. The net had caused me nothing but grief at the last spot. This stretch has never produces a fish of more and a pound-and-a-half to me so I decided to leave it in the car this time (you know this is going to end in tears!). I tied up a new leader and started to fish down through the pools. In this type of water I like to flick out a short line with three flies, taking a step each cast. This allows me to cover a lot of water quickly. A few stoneflies were fluttering about in the air so I tied a size 12 Plover and Hare’s Ear on the bob, and March brown spider in the middle and a flashback Endrick Spider on a curved size 12 hook occupied the tail position.
No takers in the first pool, so I started down the next one. There was a difficult fence to negotiate and as I pushed past the jumble of barbed wire and rocks the line tightened. The reel screamed as the fish made a dash for the tail of the pool and 20 yards were stripped from the reel in a flash. He stopped at the tail of the pool and leapt, clearly a very good fish! I could see the fish had taken the bob fly and he seemed to be well hooked so I gingerly played him back up to me, taking my time and countering his darts and runs. Only as he was tiring I recalled the net was still in the car. When I figured he was played out I reached down but as soon as he felt my touch he turned and shot off, snapping the line. He was gone. I estimate that trout was between two and three pounds!
OK, with nobody else to blame I had to pick up the pieces and try again. Another new leader, three more flies. Back on the water, I repeated the same method of presenting the flies and was rewarded quickly with another firm take. A 12 incher came to hand, swiftly followed by some more, smaller fish. This was better!
Working my way down the river I skipped some of the faster water and concentrated on the slower pools.
Trout number 5 stuck me in a weedbed but I managed to prize him out. Number 9 jumped a couple of feet in the air when he felt the hook. By the time I reached the bottom of the stretch I had landed ten wild brownies and lost another 4 or 5.
I did not see a single rise but the fish were feeding near the bottom. With a bit more attention to detail I could have landed a very good fish today but still caught a nice bag of fish. Prospects are good for the next few days!
And the moral of this simple tale is ALWAYS BRING YOUR NET!!!!!!
I want to focus on a specific stretch of the River Robe in this post. There are two reasons for this; firstly one of my followers tells me he fishes in the area and has struggled to catch much. Secondly I want to run through some basic techniques which have been successful for me in the past and show the type of water where they work. This post will therefore be much longer than my normal ramblings, so please do bear with me.
The bridge over the Robe at Crossboyne. A handy spot to park and enter the river
I’ll start off with a brief description of the river as many of you will be unfamiliar with this stream. The Robe rises about 3 miles outside the town of Ballyhaunis in Co. Mayo and it winds its way down to where it empties into the mighty Lough Mask, some 40 miles in total length. This part of Ireland rests on a big slab of limestone, so the river is very fertile. Pike, perch and roach live in the river alongside native wild Brown Trout but I have no interest in any of the other species, I only fish for the brownies. It is important to understand the topography of the river as there are long stretches which, while they probably support pike and perch, as pretty much useless for trout. This is due to the low flow and deep water which don’t seem to suit the trout. Some of these slow, deep parts are natural but others as are a result of man’s tinkering with nature and dredging the river in the hope it would alleviate flooding. So, if you are visiting please bear this in mind and pick your spot carefully (this blog may be of assistance).
The part of the Robe in question is centred on the hamlet of Crossboyne, just outside Claremorris in County Mayo. This part of the river boasts a number of different habitats and really challenging angling. Don’t think this is somewhere that you can easily drag out 8 or 10 good trout in a few hours fishing. No, this is fishing which will test the best of fishers, water that makes you think and when your best efforts prove fruitless will show you big, fat trout which rise just to annoy you. I have landed and returned 4 pound trout here and I have blanked more often than I can remember.
This is very much wild fishing, none of the pools on the river are named (as far as I know anyway). Forget manicured banks and cosy fishing huts. Here you scramble down slopes and into the water to try and sneak up on your quarry. I spend much more time trying to figure out how to get into a position to cast than I do actually fishing. Crossboyne is actually one of the easier stretches on the Robe, I know some other bits of the river that would test the resolve of a Himalayan Sherpa! While there are some large fish here the vast majority of the catch will be between 6 and 10 inches. This may sound like small fry but trying to tempt these fish from a narrow, overgrown stream is a real challenge.
Access is easiest either at the bridge in Crossboyne itself or along the tiny road which leads out towards Castlemaggarett. The river hereabouts is roughly 5 or 6 yards wide, so the fishing is going to be short range with no need for long casts. Leave your heavy rods and powerful reels behind, a 3 wt set up is fine and if you want to go lighter that is OK too. Gear is going to be basic with some spools of line for leaders and tippets (I cart about everything from 6 pound nylon down to 7x carbon). I use a wide range of flies and techniques so my pockets are filled with boxes of every sort of fly. I am growing increasingly ambivalent towards nets, some days I carry one but on others I can’t be bothered with the hassle of them catching on every twig and bush. I return all I catch anyway so there doesn’t seem to be much point in taking one with me. The choice is yours…….
With a season stretching from 1st of March right through to the last day of September you can expect a wide range of conditions and responses form the trout. The early season is usually good and then the summer is difficult but rewarding. I must admit I rarely fish the Robe after August so it might be fabulous in September but I would not know. Fly hatches include olives, midges, sedges and stoneflies and there are always terrestrials too. The bigger fish feast on crayfish and small fish.
Let me run through some specific techniques and illustrate them in use on the river around Crossboyne. I will start with early season, March and April and in high water.
Imagine it is the middle of March and the river is running a couple of feet above normal level due to a prolonged period of rain. With no hills in the catchment and mild winters snow melt is never an issue nor is freezing at this time of the year. The water will be cool and the fish reluctant to stir from the bottom of the river. That means we have to go down to them and weighted nymphs are the answer. Expect to find trout off the main flow and hunting for food which is being swept right to them. Backwaters, easy lies behind rocks and the smooth water at the tails of pools are usually a happy hunting ground in these conditions. I find normal upstream nymphing most productive, changing the weight of the nymphs to keep them near the bottom in different flows and depths. Fish the slower water carefully and at very short range. If you have more than a couple of yards of fly line outside the tip ring you are probably not in control of the flies. Due to the nature of this kind of fishing on such a small river I find I change the weight of the flies often. I am not too bothered about patterns, anything with hare’s ear or pheasant tail will do, but the weighting of the fly so it is very near the bottom is critical.
If the water is very, very high at this time of year some of the long, dead flats I mentioned in the first paragraph can produce a trout or two. Big, coloured water should be tackled with large crayfish or sculpin type pattern of streamer fished near the bottom and swung in the current. Buggers and woolly worms work too. On this stretch of the Robe there are limited places to practice this kind of method but the long flats below the trees downstream of the bridge at Crossboyne are ideal. The streamers need to be well weighted so they get down to the fish very quickly. This is when that spool of 6 pound mono comes in handy. Partly because you are casting heavy flies which will crack off if you slightly mis-time a cast and also because you are likely to attract the biggest fish in the river.
Some days the nymph does not seem to be effective but swinging a team of wets can work instead. I like to use a weighted nymph type pattern on the tail early in the season partnered with a couple of traditional spiders on droppers. If you have been following this blog you will be familiar with my choice of spiders. The Partridge and Orange and Plover and Hare’s Ear are staples of mine but there are a host of old patterns which all work on their day. In March and April the trout will hold near the tails of the pools but as the water warms up they tend to spread out and into faster water. You need to be adaptable when fishing wets in small rivers and the ability to fish upstream is key if you are to maximise catches. For me, taking a trout on the upstream wet fly is very satisfying. Half the time when I strike I do so through instinct rather than any physical evidence there is a fish. Trying to describe how this works is beyond me and I have not read any other angling writer do this ‘art’ justice. All I can do is recommend you practice, practice and practice some more with fishing upstream wets. Trust me, it is worth the effort.
Let’s move on a few weeks and into the glorious month of May. By now there should be good hatches of flies in the Crossboyne stretch, enough to tempt the trout to take food from the surface. Like many other anglers I am always itching to fish dry. Flicking a tiny floating fly at rising trout is right up there with the finest methods of angling. Once again, the Robe fish are not too demanding when it comes to specific patterns and an Adams, Grizzled Mink or similar ‘general’ dry flies will work on most occasions. If you encounter a very picky fish you might have to go through your fly box to find a better copy. Over the years I have found that switching to an emerger pattern and fishing it ‘damp’ will often fool these difficult fish. I tie up very simple CDC emergers in grey, olive and yellow and they have worked well.
The stretch of river immediately upstream of Crossboyne bridge is lovely dry fly water. You will need to wade here to get into good positions, so I better say a bit about wading in the River Robe.
For me, wading is an intrinsic part of fly fishing. There is something deeply satisfying about getting into the river, feeling the power of the water and the coolness of the different environment. The Robe, while small, demands respect when wading. These limestone rivers can be tricky and you need to be aware such hazards as:
- Steep shelving bottoms. The water can plunge from a few inches to many feet deep very quickly and due to the colour of the water and the dark nature of the bottom this can be really hard to spot.
- Silty bottom. Look out for pockets of deep silt which can be hard to extricate your feet from. These are often encountered in slow stretches.
- Slippery rocks. The bottom of the river is covered in slippery weed and algae. I always use a wading stick for extra support and to give me that ‘third leg’ for when I slip on the rocks. I urge you all to do the same, it has saved me from many a ducking.
- Difficult access. This rough fishing and just getting into the water can be among the biggest challenges. High banks are the order of the day and selecting the right spot to enter the river is an art in itself.
Back to the dry fly. Also in May the evening fishing starts to pick up on this part of the Robe. Dry fly reigns supreme during these late spring and summer evenings and matching the hatch is the name of the game. Falls of spinners are often the cause of the evening rise but watch out for fish taking small sedges and other insects. It is really hard to be specific about patterns due to the variety of fly life available to the fish so I will leave it up to you to decide on what to try. I will do a separate post of patterns which have worked for me (this post is already getting out of hand!).
Some years we get huge falls of Black Gnats and the fish go crazy for them. This can be wonderful fishing. Normal small, dark patterns fished dry or in the surface film work a treat. Look out for hawthorns too, they are never plentiful but the fish seem to love them so I carry a copy in my dry fly box just in case (I saw the first Hawthorn of the year today at Crossboyne).
Blue Winged Olives are the mainstay of the evening fishing and you must have a range of different patterns to cover these little beauties. Some evenings the fish was yellow-ish olive duns, other times it has to be an orange bodied spinner. When the trout switch on to a fall of BWO spinners the river seems to be covered with the rises of the fish. Stretches which you though were barren suddenly come alive with trout. As usual, these impressive rises are all to short and the failing light puts an end to the sport. You will do well to land 3 or 4 trout in the short space of time between the start of the action and ‘lights out’.
The old trusted technique of skating a biggish sedge on the top of the water as the light fades usually produces a fish or two and sometimes a good one. I remember dong this late one summer evening when a huge trout appeared out of nowhere and grabbed the size 10, he shot upstream, jumped and smashed my tippet. He was four pounds if he was an ounce! That fish was lying in less than a foot of water. Red sedge, Balloon Caddis and dry Green Peters all work well as the sun goes down.
High summer is always a challenging time for any river fisher and the Robe shrinks to meagre, weed encrusted trickles by July. Small, dark flies and terrestrial patterns are what you need. If you stand on the bridge at Crossboyne and look down stream you see trees. Lots of trees, overhanging the river and almost totally enclosing the river. While these trees are obviously going to be a headache when casting they are also a larder for the fish. All kinds of creatures fall into the river and keep the fish well fed. The secret to fishing this short stretch is to go down to the tail of the last pool and enter the river. By slowing and very carefully wading upstream you can just cast under the branches. You will lose flies and leaders aplenty but you just have to accept that as the price you pay for this ‘jungle fishing’. Take care when wading, the bottom in these pools is very uneven and there are some small but deep holes to be avoided. I have never had any monsters out of these pulls but it is satisfying to catch even a 10 incher from difficult spots like this.
I can’t say that I have fished the Crossboyne stretch after August so I may be missing out on spectacular late season trouting. For me, this is an early season and summer evening sort of spot. I hope this has been of some help to you and that you are able to give this piece of water a try sometime.
I seem to recall it is one of the seven deadly sins. Envy. That gnawing wishing that someone has something better than you and you want it – badly! I am not generally prone to this particular sin, others come way higher up my list of deadly vices. Usually I take life pretty much on face value and simply get on with it. Material wealth and goods don’t float my boat. Well, not beyond a good trout rod and matching reel I suppose. But these past two weeks or so have seen me descend into the dim, dank underworld of envious thoughts. Let me expand.
Social media has played a large part in my unedifying fall. Twitter an FB are full to the brim of reports from rivers across the UK and Ireland and they all seem to herald the same event – hatches of upwinged flies. The Usk appears to be teeming with LDO’d and March Browns. The Aberdeenshire Don is fair polluted with the damn things. And so it goes on, images of sub-imagos with their wings daintily splayed, hatching nymphs breaking the surface and the fish! Oh lord the photos of huge brown trout that have succumbed to artificials so very similar to those in my own fly boxes. Surely I have no need to be envious of my fellow anglers when the River Robe is practically on my doorstep?
Here is the rub. The Robe is bereft of any discernable fly life. Two weeks ago when I fished it the river was in spate and obviously out of ply, fair enough. This past Sunday I ventured out again in what was close to perfect conditions. The water was a bit above normal and carrying a little colour but this should have had no effect on hatching olives or stoneflies. It was warm and bright with passing cloud cover and a good wind to ruffle the surface. Confidence welled up in me and I was sure this would be ‘der tag’. Alas, the gods turned their heads and smiled in another direction.
I fished hard between noon and 3.30pm. In all that time and over a couple of miles of prime fishing water I saw not a single stonefly or ephemerid. Of course the fish were not in evidence either. They were resolutely hugging the bottom and even down there they seemed disinclined to take anything I offered. As I say, I fished hard and winkled 10 small trout out of the water. This may sound like a good day’s fishing but trust me, on the Robe, in the first week of April, this is not great. The total lack of surface activity is troubling. There was a some foam on the river, not a huge amount, but enough to get me thinking there may be more agricultural pollution in to this watercourse. The river flows through rough pasture and bogland for the first few miles before cutting across the wide flatlands of the plains of Mayo enroute to Ballinrobe and thence into Lough Mask. Those flat lands are pretty intensively farmed, mainly growing grass to feed cattle.
Seven of the fish I did catch fell to deeply fished nymphs, tungsten headed jobs which caught on the bottom far more frequently than lodging in the scissors of any passing trout. I had all but packed up and was walking back to the car when I stopped at an unremarkable run. I watched for a while but saw nothing. Somehow I felt there was a fish to be caught in that run. I took off the nymphs and tied up a cast of wets as this part of the river lent itself to swinging a cast down and acrosss rather than casting upstream. Flies and leader checked I lengthened the line. Sure enough the line tightened and a lively three-quarter-pounder was landed. Safely returned, I repeated the cast a couple of steps further down river. Bang, another one on the very next cast. Not content with that I repeated the feat a third time! Then – nothing. The next 50 casts yielded not a nibble. The spot which produced the three trout looked absolutely identical to the water immediately above and below it, yet the fish would only take in that one spot.
Plans are afoot to launch the boat next weekend, most probably on Lough Cullin. Maybe I’ll have better luck with the big fellas on still water. I am off to check who is catching what on twitter now. So if you hear any wailing and gnashing of teeth, it will be me.
The rain finally stopped last week and the rivers have been slowly dropping back to more reasonable levels. I had a look at the Robe last weekend but she was over the banks and in the fields in most places so there was no chance of fishing. Today was a beautiful spring day though and so I fired up the old VW, put some CCR on the CD player and headed off in search of my first trout of 2017.
My initial look at the river was last Sunday when the rain was still falling. At Hollymount the Robe was charging under the bridge, a full five feet above normal level. Familiar runs and pools were invisible under the brown torrent.
I elected to fish a few miles above Hollymount today, an area I know well having fished for many years now. I had my eye on one particular pool which usually fishes in high water conditions. Parking up near a bridge I took a look at the water before starting to fish. The levels were certainly down, by the look of the banks some 3 feet lower than a week ago, but the river was still highly coloured. With an air temperature of 15 degrees and bright sunshine it felt like there should be some fly life on the water. I tackled up deep it thought about what to try.
This particular stretch features some nice runs and pools but most of them fish best a little later in the season and in lower water so I marched of down the bank to get to the slower water about a mile down river. The local farmers had been busy erecting new electric fences. It’s a feature of this part of the world that fences are placed as close to the edge of the river as possible, making it hard for us fishers to access the bank without the unpleasantness of occasional electric shocks. I have lost count of the number of those horrible numbing shocks I have had over the years as I tried to negotiate fences.
I initially set up with a weighted Hare’s Ear on the tail and a Plover and Hare’s ear on a dropper and fished them down and across. This is a good combination for searching the water normally but today it only seemed to interest small trout. My first of the season took at the very lip of a pool where the water gathered pace and shallowed. At only 6 or 7 inches it was little more than a baby but at least I had broken my duck.
A couple of other similar sized lads fell for the charms of the weighted Hare’s Ear too but the sport could hardly be described as hectic. I found a grassy bank to sit on and thought about what was going on around me.
With high water and a strong flow it felt like my flies were not getting down deep enough for the fish to see them. No flies were hatching despite the lovely weather so any action should have been happening on or very close to the bottom. A change to deeply fished nymphs seemed to be a logical option.
A pair of tungsten bead weighted nymphs fished below an indicator was soon rigged up. With my failing eyesight the use of an indicator has sadly become a necessity for me these days. Anyway, on the fourth or fifth cast the indicator stabbed forwards and another smallish trout was duly landed. By now it was becoming very warm indeed and the sun beat down from near cloudless skies.
I worked my way back upstream, fishing hard and with my eyes glued to that indicator. I covered the water carefully and methodically, fanning my casts out across the pool and only when I had covered every inch would I take another step upstream and repeat the process. Being so limited to the amount of fishable water I had to ensure I didn’t miss a single piece of it. Halfway up the pool my indicator gave what I can only describe as a small stutter in its progress back towards me and I struck with a sweep of the rod and a sharp pull on the line with my left hand. The hook found lodgement and a better fish charged off and leaped clear of the brown water.
Safely netted and returned, I took stock of the situation and elected to call it a day. The afternoon had flown by, fish had been landed and there was no signs of any flies. The river was far from at its best and I felt that I could fish on for another hour without much improvement in conditions. Enough for one day!
Spring days like these are treasures. Just to be out on the river bank as the warmth and life returns to the land is something not to be missed. There will be better days in the near future but for now I drank in the views across the Mayo countryside and happily walked back to the bridge and the waiting car. With the gear safely tucked in the back I turned the key and pressed ‘play’. The Fogerty lads were singing ‘Up around the bend’ which was more than appropriate for the day that was in it.
I have never liked Christmas. Even as a kid I found the whole thing a waste of time and once I had discovered fishing this time of the year became unbearable. No fishing to be had, terrible weather and still the seemingly never-ending month of January to suffer until the new season opens.
With nothing better to do I console myself with carrying out all the little jobs of repair and replace in my tackle boxes and fly wallets. Rusty hooks are discarded and replaced with nice, sharp ones. I review the serried ranks of trout and salmon flies like some sort of piscatorial Sergent-Major, weeding out those which are sub-standard. A chewed hackle or broken ribbing are sufficient reason for the axe to fall and the gaps created are an incentive for me to spend more time at the vice.
I didn’t manage to fish very much last season, so most of the fly boxes require only a cursory top-up. The exception this Christmas is the box of spiders which looked a bit forlorn last week. A couple of tying sessions has put that right though and along side the usual suspects there are a few of my new patterns to try out next Spring.
Spinning tackle, by the very nature of the technique, takes a hammering and so I go through the lures and replace rusty split rings, dodgy swivels and bend hooks. While others are immersed in ho, ho, ho-ing and other such nonsense I am beavering away with pliers and WD-40. About 20 Devon mounts had to be discarded and new ones made up this week, using those wonderful Owner treble hooks.
Next job for me is the shore fishing gear. I was horribly disorganised last summer and my box seemed to be full to overflowing but it contained practically nothing that I really needed. On one trip I could only find 2 four ounce weights at the bottom of the box. On another occasion I ‘lost’ both spools of elastic (only to find them the next day). I not only need to organise the box better but I need to drastically reduce the amount of gear I bring with me. Wish me luck!