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

Tips for Beltra

 

Ben bending into a springer

Ben Baynes bends into a springer on Beltra a few seasons ago

March 20th marks the start of the salmon season on Ireland’s Lough Beltra. If you are one of the lucky few who will be fishing the lough this spring here are a few pointers which may help you to connect with one of those shiny springers.

  • Be prepared for the weather! Being cold or wet is going to ruin your day on the lough, so make sure you wear plenty of layers of clothing and have a good hat on your head. A proper waterproof jacket and leggings are a must. Whilst not a dangerous lake, you still need to wear a lifejacket at all times.
  • If you are fishing the Lough for the first time then consider using a boatman for your first trip out on the water. A boatman will know the lies and be able to put you over all the likely spots. They will also control the boat, allowing you to concentrate on casting and fishing.
  • Sticking to it. Every successful salmon fisher I know has a tenacity which earns them fish. A dogged determination to keep casting and retrieving hour after hour. On Beltra this trait is particularly vital in my opinion. Beltra can be very dour for long periods then suddenly switch on. The angler who spends as much time as possible casting over the lies stands the best chance of meeting a fish.
  • Don’t waste time fishing deep water. I know there are always exceptions, but the fish in Beltra like to lie in shallow water. If you are casting over water any deeper than the length of an oar the chances are you are in water devoid of taking salmon.
  • Use a sinking line. Again, I know of exceptions when floating lines have worked in the springtime but in general you need to get down to the fish on Lough Beltra. A wetcell 2 or similar line is fine.
  • Fish a good sized fly. I love fishing small flies for summer salmon but March / April on Lough Beltra means size 4 or 6 hooks. I am less worried about pattern than getting the size right and I would not think of using a small fly until the water has warmed up in May.
  • Move around to find the fish. Salmon can be scattered all over the lough so even if you hear there are fish in one particular spot I still think it is better to keep searching all likely water.
  • Don’t cross the line! Newport House fish the North side of the lough and the Glenisland Coop fish the south side with an invisible line running roughly down the middle of the water. Please stick to the side of the lough you have permission to fish and don’t stray on to the other side.
  • Ask the locals for advice. We have some very experienced Beltra experts who fish the lough frequently and know the moods of the water. Ask them for advice you will find them forthcoming and happy to help out in any way.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Green Peter Muddler

Some patterns work better with a big, bushy head while others require a smaller, neater head.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A round head on this Claret Bumble

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A tapered head with a cone added on this Yellow Muddler

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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).

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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.

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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.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Black Doctor

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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.

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