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

As good as it gets

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The bridge, good water below here

19th March. The bright and warm weather is unusual for this time of year and I decide to go fishing, hoping the good weather will have raised water temperatures and brought the trout on the feed. So with Bob Seger blasting out on the CD in the car I motor down to the River Robe again.

I park up near a bridge and take a peek over the parapet. The water is at pretty much at a perfect height and colour and even at the first glance I see Stoneflys hatching. There are lots of them in the air already and it is only 10.30am, so it could be a heavy hatch today. I set up a team of wets, tying on the same three I used the last time I was out, then I head down to the first pool.

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The first pool below the bridge

Half way down the pool the line tightens and a 12 oz trout comes easily to hand. It had taken the Plover and Hare’s ear on the middle dropper. A good start.

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The first of the day

I work my way downstream, fishing carefully and searching out all the likely spots. Having fished this stretch many times I know these pools well and am full of confidence that more trout will come along. This confidence begins to evaporate though as no further offers are forthcoming. More of a concern is the total lack of surface activity despite the now heavy hatch of stoneflys and a steady stream of Large Dark Olives. One or two Iron Blue Duns are also hatching so it is unusual for the trout not to feed on or near the surface. By now the sun is very strong and maybe this is keeping the trout near the bottom.

Break through!

I change the top dropper for another beaded nymph and try to pay more attention to any shaded lies under the far bank. This requires a lot of concentration to avoid hanging the flys up on bushes and branches on the other bank. I am absorbed in this task, watching where each cast lands and making small adjustments to angles, mends and speed. I’m happy the flies are fishing properly and I slowly make my way down river either crouched down to keep of the skyline or wading close to my own bank when required. It’s hot and bright and I am in a world of my own here.

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I cast as close to the far bank as I dare (the actual spot is above) and as soon as my flies touch the surface a large brown head appears and then promptly disappears as my line tightens. It is obviously a good fish and he tugs and runs with spirit but I get him to the net without much hassle.

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The Plover and Heare’s Ear has done the business again. I was lucky on this occasion as my cast must have landed just as he was looking up. I estimate his weight at nearly a pound and a half and after a quick couple of pics he is popped back into the water.

I continue to work my way down the river. A kingfisher darts past, a flash of azure and orange. Another couple of smallish brownies are caught and released, then one of nearly a pound comes to the net. 5 so far and it is not even noon yet.

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 Poult Bloa. This one is heavily dressed for fast water

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have only seen 2 fish rise so far, hence the reason I am sticking with the wet fly.

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I lose two fish in quick succession, both of them hooked at reasonably long range (for a small river). To mitigate this I find a gap in the thick gorse and bramble bushes and try again but this proves to be a mistake. The line catches on a bramble bush and I spend ages retrieving line and flies.

I pick up a small trout and lose another of similar size and I push on down to a good pool I know.

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Another small lad is landed quickly after only 3 casts in the neck of the pool and I rise another soon afterwards. I cast again and the fish has another go at the fly but fails to make contact. Lift, cast, mend and lengthen the line so I can try to induce a take with a slow pull as the cast reaches the trout’s lie. Bang, it works like a dream and the reel loses 5 yards of line in one rush. But there is something wrong – I see the trout as he comes to the surface and he is no more than 8 inches long. Then is dawns on me, I have hooked two at the same time!

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A good job they were not bigger!

They are like 2 peas in a pod and both are safely returned. It has been years since that has happened to me. The rest of the pool is fished out with further action and I trudge on again to a tricky little pool below. There are very few flies hatching now and I have already decided to call it a day after I fish this one

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Half way down the pool I catch a lovely 12 incher on a Poult Bloa which I had just tied on. Every fisher knows that warm glow of self satisfaction when a newly wetted fly does the business. It must be like a football manager making a substitution and the new striker goes and bangs in a goal right away.

I check everything is in order and re-cast. This is an awkward pool, there are multiple flows and a big back eddy at my side. Keeping the flies moving and controlling the line is difficult. To get under the bushes on the far bank I have to side cast too, so this rapidly degenerates into some kind of technical examination of my skills. To be honest I had all but forgotten about the trout until an almighty wallop brought me back to reality. Fish on!

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Safely in the net

This turns out to be a cracking brownie of around a pound. Back he goes and I wind in and start the long walk back to the car. As I re-trace my steps I ponder the day. 11 trout, all on wets. No surface activity. A good ratio of hooked to landed. I pack the gear into the car and take one last look at the river. For a river trout fisher days like today are just about as good as it gets.

Warren Zevon seems like a suitable choice of music for the journey home and I join in heartily as I head first west to Ballinrobe then north to Castlebar. I don’t think the smile left my face the whole way!

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