Connemara’s golden treasure – Wild browns in Ireland’s western wilderness

I so often pose the question – why do I fish? Looking over my rather loose fishing career to date. There are no stand out catches. No remarkable tales. No incentive to indicate any reason that I should still have a passion for the sport, and yet I do. There is something a lot deeper to wetting a line than landing a monster that draws me to the edges of loughs and rivers. That something is the very force that draws me away from concrete walls, and into the bliss of wilderness beyond the gloom of man-kind’s increasingly ruthless destruction. I like to think of it as a sense of adventure, a need to explore the undiscovered, the untamed. To me, adventure represents an escape route to a free mind, empty of the stresses and problems brought by the modern world. Fishing is merely my excuse to start an adventure.

Over the past few years, I have developed an affinity for wilderness escapes. I constantly find my attentions torn from the messy sprawl that has overcome of much of our country. My want is always to search and find those hidden corners of Ireland that haven’t yet been savaged by thoughtless farmers, cold businessmen, and the iron wave of industry that continues to roll and break, sweeping up everything in it’s path and leaving behind an almost unrecognisable wreck. I found myself turning further and further west, in an effort to suss out the least tampered, most wild fringes of the world, far from the hustle and bustle of human destruction. To where the steep mountains rise high, the fresh water flows cold and fast, through glens and marshes, around softer hills, hugged tight with a thin blanket of slowly browning grasses, tufts of cotton and bursts of rocks. An expanse stretching for many miles long and wide at the most western tip of Europe. This is Connemara.

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Connemara’s wild landscape

Connemara has a long, golden reputation among huntsmen for the abundance of salmon and sea trout that have run through it’s rivers since the last ice-age. Ballinahinch, Invermore, Kylemore to name but a few of the mighty systems that sprawl so ruggedly across it’s moors and mountains. Although runs, particularly sea trout, are now much depleted on their former glory, they still consistently attract anglers from across the world. I however, having a rather soft spot for the humble brown trout was keen to delve deeper into the heart of Connemara’s treasures, beyond the draw of the ‘big game’.

We were staying near the town of Clifden at the very western limit of Connemara. The bog just to the east of Clifden is home to a plethora of sprawling lough systems dotted peacefully amongst rolling hills and moorland. Most of them hold brown trout, some of which grow to 2lbs and more. Some of the larger systems hold sea trout and salmon in small numbers. It would take the best part of a lifetime to explore every lough between the Corrib and Clifden, and with such a limited amount of time at my disposal, it was almost like pulling from a hat full of lough names. I fished two separate loughs over the course of an evening and the following morning, as that is all the time I had.

And so, my journey begins in the town of Clifden. A small, beautiful town blending perfectly into it’s surroundings and filled to the brim at this time of year with tourists. My business here was solely associated with the tackleshop where permits and boat hire can be arranged for the surrounding lakes run by the Clifden anglers association. With each lake just as similar as it is different to the next, I could not wait to get moving.

Lough Aune:

Lough Aune is an immensely pretty lake located just to the north of Clifden. It is signposted from the main road, and the little byroad winds it’s way up through the centre of a rather mute valley. Here the hills surrounding the lough rise rather gently and are covered in golden bog grasses. There are a further two loughs further downstream of lough Aune, one of which the road runs along. These no doubt hold fish too but alas, as is the case with many bog lakes, their margins are quite heavily grown in with various sedges and reeds. Beyond the top of the valley, the western edges of the twelve bens reach skyward, greatly dwarfing the immediate hillside scenery.

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It was evening time when I finally set off for the lough. Having spent a magnificent day cycling on the sky loop from Clifden, the heat was now ebbing slowly and the sunlight slinking behind the hilltops. The golden brown backdrop set the scene for a memorable hour of fishing. The little byroad runs right around the southern shore of the lough. It’s more of an obstacle course than a road really! It could do with a good coat of tarmacadam and the Outlander got it’s first real taste of off-road experience.

I soon found out that Lough Aune holds a very large stock of very small trout. About four or five to the pound, and they’re not particularly fussy. There was a nice cloud of sedges dancing merrily in the shelter of the reeds along the shoreline, so I put up a size 10 green peter, coupled with a green george hopper and a black pennell. I caught fish on all of the flies, raising a small dark head every couple of casts or so. Sometimes the rises would come two or three at a time, though I would only ever connect with one or none of the culprits. I worked my way along what exposed part of the shoreline I could (a lot of shoreline is covered by reeds), casting across the wind and picking up fish as I went. The trout seemed to be clustered in larger densities in the pockets at the edges of the reeds but I caught over clear water too.

As the wind slowly receded, the little rings became apparent over the slicks that formed across the water surface. The lough’s finned inhabitants were now feeding readily on the abundance of insect life that dotted the surface. With the sun now blinking behind the horizon, it was soon time to head back to the jeep. All of the trout I caught were the same finger-length size, but I had no reason to complain. Wild fishing in wild places has many other charms that keeps you at ease!

Lough Fadda:

Lough fadda differs greatly in character to lough Aune. It is a large, shallow lough with rocky shores, many islands, headlands and reefs. It is located in the middle of a large expanse of bog and lakeland to the south-east of Clifden, and it too flows into a chain of smaller loughs. There is a boat on the lough, which we decided to avail of, and explore the full length of water.

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Of particular interest are the vestiges of stone age woodland which seem to thrive greatly upon the lough’s isles, contrasting starkly with the blanket, empty moorland that grasps tight to the shoreline surrounding it. It is further interesting to note how the entire countryside was once a rich temperate woodland, and that over many years, stone age farmers did what farmers do, and tore the trees to the ground using their slash and burn tactics, with the intentions of exposing fertile soils. Over thousands of years of heavy rainfall, these once lush forests have become the bog that we see today, and the pockets of trees that remain on these small lough islands are distant reminders of the change that our planet is constantly undergoing.

We only had a couple of hours after midday, having to be back in Mayo for five that evening and I was keen to explore as much of the lough as possible in the time I had. On arrival, we found the boat tied to a pair of stakes on the high, undercut peat bank to the right of the car park. Here the outflow from the lough – a clear, fast little burn – cuts its way downhill and out of sight. It is crossed via a small wooden plank and rail just a few yards downstream of the lough. The boat was in need of a good teeming and once all of the formalities were addressed, the south west wind caught the boat and we were drifting steadily towards the top end of the lough.

Though quite peat stained, it’s obvious that the lough is shallow for the most part. There is every lough feature imaginable present – headlands, rocky shallows, islands, drop offs. I was expecting rather easy fishing. Conditions were ideal, the features were there, the only thing that was missing was a few insects but that started as the least of my worries. I had seen a daddy long-legs on the shore, but as I opened my fly box, it suddenly dawned on me that all of my daddy patterns were in a small green plastic box in the garage back in Mayo.

Not to worry, I had my never fail terrestrial green george, and a traditional black pennell. That ought to do the trick I thought. How wrong I was. I fished hard for two hours, stripping wets through the grey waves of lough fadda and not one brown head did I turn. The entire contents of my fly box were emptied in a conveyor belt fashion. With no naturals at all in the air, each fly was given a fifteen minute swim in the hope I’d eventually stumble upon what was on the menu on this August afternoon, each one left just as idle as the last. Muddlers, invictas, peters, butchers, bibios, black pennells, dabblers, golden olives, normal olives, zulus, and even the small brown sedge that often gets me out of a tricky blank failed miserably to rise fish.

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Searching out another likely drift

The situation did not change the further down the lough I went. Around islands, across shallows, along headlands I drifted before I finally reeled in for the umpteenth time as my brother took to the oars once again, this time to row is back to the top of the lough in time for one last drift before departing Connemara. I was stumped. How could such an ideal venue fail to throw up even a rise. Always eagle eyed, a brief disturbance woke me from what was otherwise a grey day that just kept getting greyer. A swift movement that just looked out of place. A shade of gold that stood out from the backdrop. About fifty yards to the starboard side of the boat leapt a rather large brownie – maybe around the pound mark -, in salmon like fashion, clean out of the water and then down with a big splash as it re-entered the water. So there was trout in the lake.

I immediately called a halt to my brothers rowing and put a line out over the place that the fish had just showed but again, no reaction. What did it take? It definately wasn’t jumping for the sake of some fresh air. Something about the ferocity of the rise lead me to think that a terrestrial was the culprit, but with no daddies and the green george having been retired to the subs bench after an hour of failure, there was little else staring me back with legs that I felt confident using.

Fly box open in my lap, I scoured every nook for some bright spark that might just save a blank. There was one fly that I could try. Forgive me, I cannot for the life of me remember it’s name, but it is one I procured in a tackleshop somewhere that I thought would work well on Conn. I had retired it after a day last year when it failed to rise a fish while I caught well on other flies. The ‘black leggy fly’ I’ll call it for now, for want of a better name, had a red rib and a small red tag at the bend of the hook. It went on the middle dropper. It was the last fly I could try that might possibly elict a response from the otherwise stubborn lough fadda trout.

We decided to repeat the first drift, starting at the moorings moving around the headland and towards the top of the lough. Again each cast went unnoticed in retrieve. Hope draining fast as we rounded the headland for the second time today I sent yet another normal 15 yard cast out infront of the boat. I retrieved with no response, dibbled the top dropper with no response, and then for whatever reason which I cannot fully remember I decided to drag the middle fly through the wave too. The top dropper suspended in the air, the rod behind my head almost at a one o’clock position and the fish took. A small boil, but such was my surprise and edge given the day so far I struck with all I had and felt the resistance I wanted. With the rod almost horizontal and pointing out the back of the boat, I was able to recover my line quick enough to keep in contact and land my prize – half a pound of Connemara trout. In his mouth was the ‘black leggy fly’ which I had just pulled through the waves.

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Finally hooked up with a brownie!

Unfortunately I had left it too late. With three o’clock fast approaching and a two hour drive back to Mayo before work, I had to start making tracks. Fishing out the few casts at the end of the drift, careful to drag the middle fly through the water as well as the bob fly, I rose another and hooked a third fish. This one was slightly better than the first and scrapped about quite a bit, but it was coloured much darker.

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So in ten minutes I had moved three fish having gone fishless for almost three hours before that. If only things weren’t so rushed and I had more time, it would appear that I had finally cracked the menu of the day. After hurriedly bundling my gear back into the boot of the car and starting off down the old bog lane, I left lough fadda slightly disappointed, yet hugely satisfied at having finally cracked the code to catching a few of its spotted inhabitants.

So that was my Connemara experience. I fell in love with the scenery, the towns and of course the wildlife. I have merely broken the surface of the deep world of game fishing destinations in the area, but I will be back. Maybe next year i’ll get a chance to go in search of some larger, silver fish on some of the more renowned fisheries but for now, I leave you with a few wee brownies and another average tale.

 

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Conn update

So, after a couple of weeks of neglect, the old anglers fancy was teemed, pushed off and drifted across several shallows. It was a good, overcast morning on the sixth of July with a healthy westerly whipping it’s way across the lough. With word of a few salmon about, I set up a team of size 8 salmon flies with the intention of sitting it out and hoping for a big silver lad rather than targeting fussy trout. Things didn’t quite go to plan and instead of a grilse, I had five decent trout all take the top dropper – a Claret bumble muddler. Three of which were between twelve and thirteen inches, and one was slightly larger at an estimated 14-15 inches. All were returned unharmed, and I also managed to dust off the old GoPro and captured one of these beauties on camera.

Keep an eye out on my youtube channel for more!

Lough Ben

There is no doubting the temptation and potential that the large western loughs possess. The reputation of large fish, big hatches is what draws us year after year to pull lines through the frothy waves of Conn, Cullin, Mask and Corrib. The draw of the big game fisheries often blinds us to the array of smaller loughs and rivers that dot and scour the surrounding countryside. As the intensity of the mayfly fishing sputters snail-like to a close, I often find that June and July are the perfect time to explore some of these smaller, rarely if ever mentioned wild fisheries. Little loughs tucked away in pockets on the hillside or dips in the bog. Dark , peaty waters that often resemble a lifeless swamp, yet under the cover of their dark surfaces an entirely unique and unseen ecosystem thrives. Many look on the resident trout of such places as stunted fingerlings struggling to find their place in an environment that doesn’t seem to want to support them. I find that this is far from the case.

With the afternoon off work and a desperation to get out of the house burning, I buried my head in a map of the area and picked out several likely loughs in the greater Castlebar area. After a quick spot of research, I figured that lough Ben, between Castlebar and Glenisland would be my destination for the day. I tossed rod, reel and a box of flies into the back of the jeep and started off. Forty minutes or so passed before I came to my destination – A small turn off the road that passed by the lough. There was a small area resembling car park at the turn and so that is where I left the car. I tackled up rather quickly and set off.

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While the byroad does run rather close to the western side of the lough, unfortunately that shoreline is heavily forested with coniferous pines as far down as the lakeshore. It would be futile trying to cast a line there. Instead I opted to follow the little brook that flows out of the lough up until I came to the shore. The stream is quite heavily overgrown and seems to have eroded a very deep, covered channel for itself making for a rather dangerous feature to cross and follow.

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To my dismay, I found young forestry planted on the hill to the south and along the east shore and I feel that only too soon the entire lough will be surrounded by tall conifers that have no place in the backdrop. That aside, I found lough Ben to be quite a pretty little pool. It looks to be quite a deep lough despite it’s small size (covering no more than a couple of acres). The south side is not forested right down to the shore and so I felt that was my best bet. However I now met yet another obstacle. There is a shallow marshy plateau extending right along the shoreline and it is lined with reeds, lily pads and weeds, all in full bloom now that it is nearing the end of June. I figured I would have to wade out quite a bit for my casts to clear the vegitation. The bottom, as I found the hard way, is very marshy in places and care needs to be exercised while wading.

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The trout that inhabit lough Ben reputedly average around the half pound mark with some larger fish present. Sheltered by the hills and barely a puff of wind on the lake, I knew that fishing was going to be tough today. I could see a few trout moving out towards the middle of the lough, though they seemed to be preoccupied with a hatch of small midges which in turn seemed to be preoccupied with any part of my skin that was exposed. Nevertheless I gave it a bash with some traditional wets, rising the occasional small fish and I did see some rather larger fish splashing out of casting range. Long story short I got what I came for – some wild sport in a tranquil, scenic backdrop. Though the trout I did manage to hook up with weren’t exactly of noteworthy size, they made the journey worth it. With the prospect of some larger fish very real, I feel like it will only be a matter of time before I return.

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A pretty trout from lough Ben that took a black pennell

 

Drummin Wood, Garrison, Pontoon – Exploring Cullin

“It’s the 22nd of May, if you don’t do it now, you mightn’t get a better chance this year to explore” I had to repeatedly iterate to myself as I reluctantly turned my back on the shallow that had just turned up my tenth trout in the space of two early afternoon hours, with nearly three times that number of missed rises. The fishing was great. There was a good hatch. There were fish hitting the surface all around me. Big and small – boiling, swirling, leaping two feet clear of the lake as they chased the freshly hatched duns to and beyond the surface. This was mayfly fishing as it should be. This is what I have spent the last 11 months reminiscing, imagining, dreaming about. And yet part of me wanted to just ignore this surface frenzy, forget about it and move to pastures new, search out the hidden, forgotten corners of the lough with no guarantees.

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Here we go again!

I was fishing my favourite haunt on lough Cullin. I’ll not specify a location but I will say that it is some of the safer, more accessible water along the North-West shore. The rocks and shallows here always hold a good head of browns, and offer the best shot at a salmon. That said, the fishing on this particular day was superb. By two in the afternoon I had boated plenty of trout up to just under two pounds, and the action was continually picking up. I had it on my mind from the moment I emerged from the lough Cullin side of Pontoon Bridge, however, as I steered the boat cautiously downstream from Conn, to try some other areas of the lough that I had never visited before. Yes, I wanted action, but deep down I guess I also longed for something new. What I really wanted was an adventure.

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Another stunning trout from Cullin. This one was a shade under two pounds. Spare a thought for the effort that went into taking this photo! (I was alone in the boat with quite a rough swell!)

After that tenth fish (not a monster but a fine buttery brownie of twelve inches) was hauled in over the side of the boat, put through the rigors of having a barb removed from its scissors and caressed back to consciousness enough to allow him to dart desperately below the waves once more, the argument that had been silently rolling around at the back of my mind suddenly roared to life. To leave or to stay? I had come with an inkling of a plan to wander about, but I had not budgeted for this mayfly madness. After mulling the possibilities over during the course of several casts, missing another fish in the process of my absentmindedness, I finally opted to fire up the old Johnson and head for the challenge of something new. I was getting hungry after all, and Garrison Island stared tantalisingly upwind at me. An ideal picnic spot, and an even better starting point for my lough Cullin adventure to begin.

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Garrison Island:

The hatch of mayfly seemed to peter out the further down the lough I motored and by the time I pulled up on Garrison there were no green drakes to be seen. I ate my lunch rather quickly as I was more interested in what the water here held. I made one adjustment to my cast. A Green peter replaced the second mayfly on the middle dropper.

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Readying another cast!

Garrison is the largest island on lough Cullin. It is located about 50 yards off the shore and the channel between island and shore is very rocky and shallow. With the south west wind, I opted to drift from the eastern shore outwards through the few pins that mark dangerous rocks and into the open vista of shallow that extends right down to the railway bridge. That half of the lough is not generally touched ever as it is simply one large bank of sand. I had no intention therefore of fishing very far downwind. As I racked up a nice count of casts and reached the outermost verge of the area marked by the few poles I began to rise fish. Big fish. Certainly pounders, with one significantly larger fish showing too. Every second cast a large spotted flank would slash at the surface behind the peter but my not so lightning quick reflexes were just not oiled enough to connect with anything. I must have raised four or five different trout in a short spell. Each as devillish and uncooperative as the last. And then as the strengthening wind whisked me swiftly away from the action I was left drifting over seemingly fishless water once again. I held out for maybe ten minutes but my heart was now set on that spot. I was going to hook one of them. Two times I repeated the same short drift and tried another drift slightly further down the lough but I didn’t rise another fish. Nor did I see a mayfly.

By now it was nearing four o’clock. My chances of meeting a trout here seemed to be slimming quite fast and there was another large area of the lough that I was very keen to cover and so I turned my back on Garrison, fishless.

The Drummin Shore

Drummin wood is a large area of forestry located between Foxford and Pontoon. It encompasses a rather large swathe of the Lough Cullin shoreline. The Drummin shore is essentially one big, shallow bay, but is semi cut off from the rest of the lough by a dangerous stretch of rocks, rocky islands and more rocks that is known as Queens. I like to think of it as the forgotten corner of the lough. It is rarely if ever fished outside the competitions, and from the limited local lore I’ve been able to eavesdrop upon, it is reputed to hold a few browns. The biggest challenge is navigating this maze of treacherous water. Most of the dangerous underwater rocks at Queens are marked by iron poles. Some of which have broken, and bent over with time and now pose more of a hazard themselves than the rocks they mark.

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The trick is to motor quite a length down along Queens in the open water (from Pontoon) until you find an large open patch of shallow water between two small islands. There are rocks here but they are marked and well spaced out making navigation quite easy. Nevertheless being my first trip to the area I was keen to take it at trolling speed. Once you pass through, it is easy enough to motor ‘down and around’ so to speak and I found that while the vast majority of the area was shallow, there were few hazardous rocks, leaving the possibility for some long safe drifts.

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I set up a drift at the cuingmore end, on the inside of Queens with the hope of covering a good scope of water between there and the beach along the road. Again it seemed that whatever mayfly hatch this wooded shore used to get was no longer a feature of this part of the lough. As I drifted over the shallow silty bottom, taking in the intriguing features around me – the piles of rocks rising from the lakebed, the lush green forest, and the contrast it offered with the yellow sand of the beach, I couldn’t help but miss the action. It seemed like every trout on lough Cullin was converging on that one area to feed on the mayfly hatch.

Conditions were increasingly favourable to traditional wet fly fishing and out of the blue (well, the grey really) the telltale splash, the distinctive tug, the mechanical whip, the “oh yes” uttered slightly more audibly and aggressively than I would have liked all seemed to collide at once, as the line tore away to the right. A feisty twelve inch brown trout leapt clean from the water and everything seemed to fall into place once again. As I had anticipated with the absence of mayfly here, it was the green peter that had caught this wee fellows attention. Delighted with my capture and proof that there was fish in the area I slipped him back over the gunnel after a photo.

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First one from Drummin!

Over the course of that first, long drift I raised three more heads. Each one again seemed slightly larger than the previous one but I missed them all.

Not to worry, there was a very likely looking new drift awaiting me over near Griffin island. I started a bit further out from the island than I would have liked but as I approached the boulder field located at the point of a small headland I began to turn spotted heads once again. In typical fashion I connected with the small ones and missed the big ones (pretty much the story of the day for those of you that are tired of my ramblings by this point!).

For the third drift I fished in the area that I would have liked to have covered for the second drift – in close to the island. I hooked a small fellow almost straight away. This time on the mayfly, despite not having seen one since I came this side of Queens!

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Six pm. I had hooked and released four trout in Drummin since my arrival. The day had lent itself perfectly to traditional wetfly tactics, and the finned inhabitants of the wooded shore had put on quite the show. Not the mayfly spectacle of earlier, but a spectacle nonetheless. I didn’t get the chance to fish half the drifts that I would have liked and there are hundreds of acres of water that I didn’t even touch. I saw some hefty trout strike out there too. There was one certainly over a pound in weight that grabbed the peter and let go again somewhere near the island. The best bit? I was the only person on the lough that day!

If trout didn’t migrate as much as they did, I would go as far to say that the trout in Drummin are the wildest trout in Ireland and that they never see an artificial fly from January to December with the exception of three or four days in May. But that isn’t quite the case. What I will say is that at the moment, lough Cullin seems to be the forgotten gem in Mayo’s crown! I don’t want to speak too soon, so I’m going to tread cautiously, but at the moment, the lake seems to have seen a small resurgence in trout numbers – particularly in small fish and seems to be tending once more towards the traditional large stock of quarter to half pounders, but now with the added bonus of larger fish. It is easy to forget that not too many years ago anglers could fish the lough for a week and not know by the end of it whether there was a fish in the lake or not. The abundance in small trout is a very positive sign for the present and future.

You’ll have to excuse me for squeezing another post out of lough Cullin this year. I have made the decision to dedicate a significant amount of time this year to try and get to know Cullin better, before the weeds come up, at the sacrifice of what has really been world class fishing over the last week on Conn. The mayfly on Conn seems to be a bit behind, but that hasn’t stopped the trout from feeding voraciously at the surface there and I have heard of some big bags particularly over last weekend with some large trout among them. Hopefully the green drakes will get properly going in the next day or two and the fishing will be spectacular!

 

Grey skies, rolling waves, gulls, mayfly and trout – A morning on Lough Cullin

There are days that stick out in my memory from years past of great trout fishing days. Last Saturday morning added to that collection. Not for the quantity or great size of fish, but simply for the day that was in it.

Let me try and paint a picture for you. It’s quarter to ten in the morning when I’m climbing into the jeep, full of fishing gear. The merest whiff of petrol from the tank in the boot greets me as the car is started. I take one last look across the scenic panorama from the front of the house. My eyes fix on the large swathe of lough Cullin that is visible. It is sunny at the moment, but clouds are building fast and there is heavy rain forecast for the afternoon. No boats. But then that means nothing – the competitions usually kick off around 10am. I prayed that I would have the lough to myself as I have so often in the past, and made the five minute drive down to lough Conn where my boat is moored.

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Lough Cullin

Ten O’clock and the boat is loaded and ready for off. I notice a lone mayfly hatching in the shallows. If there’s fly up on Conn, there’s definitely fly up on Cullin. The six horse power Johnson engine is revved up to the max and I make my way steadily through the wave to Pontoon, around Cliff island and under Pontoon bridge. In the south wind, there is always a good wave rolling through into the mouth of the outflow from Conn. By now grey clouds are fast dominating the blue vista above. As I round the foot of the hill on the lough Cullin side of the bridge, I am greeted with the most fascinating of sights. One that only comes around once a year, and this is that once.

To start I am greeted with a battalion of boats that have just launched from Healy’s bay and made their way straight down to the pins at the mouth. This is the competition fleet that fish hard all day and kill all fish over 13 inches that fall victim to their respective teams. I will never support this type of fishing. It is a barbaric slaughter of wild trout for the sake of piece of silverware and whatever material item may be offered as a prize. My personal view – if all pike competitions are catch and release then why can’t all trout competitions be C&R? After all, the majority of fish caught will only be dumped. But that is an argument for another day. For now, we are going to appreciate the windswept nature of this perfect May morning for the spectacle that it is.

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Lots of angling pressure – if you look closely you can see seven boats in this picture (including mine)

Mayfly hatch in their numbers. There aren’t a huge amount of them, but there is a ‘steady trickle’ passing the boat as I motor on through the poles. Sea gulls dive and flutter  in and out between the ten or so boats that are drifting in the immediate vicinity, picking fresh duns off the water surface. I notice that their numbers are concentrated in one particular corner where the hatch is most dense. Trying my best not to disturb the water around the pins and around the boats, I carefully tread my way around each boat at half speed before finally finding the open water behind them. Where I can start my own drift down to the hot spot and replicate what they themselves are doing.

As great as it is to see such a large number of anglers on the lake, it just adds another level of discomfort, particularly when there are boats drifting through every angle towards the one spot. It makes motoring away difficult as it’s nearly impossible not to disturb some angler’s drift to get to where you want to be. But I decided to put up with it. It was probably the first time I’ve ever fished Cullin in such heavy competition.

As for the lough itself, I have developed a sort of love for it’s uniquely shallow waters, frequented with rocks features and much more over the last couple of years. The fishing can be very dour, even at the peak of the fly hatches, and the trout stock is but a fraction of the past. When you hit it right however, as I have done so on a select few individual days over the past couple of Mayfly seasons, you will leave with memories to do a lifetime.

My first drift began close to the point of Cuingmore and my plan was to work my way across the rocks and skerries, towards he pins, where all of the other boats were concentrating their efforts. Granted the water I was hoping to end up covering eventually would already have been fished and motored across a number of times, but I was hopeful that I would hit a fish before then. Frustration and disappointment built as cast after cast went worryingly unnoticed. I covered all of the spots on that drift where I’ve had fish before only to come to the shallow water at the pins with only one rise from a small fish.

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Onwards towards the flock of gulls I went before a boil and tug saw me connect with a feisty little brownie of about 10 inches. The first of the day, on a green peter rather than the mayfly as I had expected. Never mind. It seemed to fit perfectly in with everything in the picture so far. No sooner had I thrown him back and let a couple more casts fly when a larger trout swirled at the bob fly as I lifted it through the waves. Before I knew it, he was dogging his way around under the boat, fighting desperately for freedom. At 14 inches, I was left quietly satisfied with my efforts as I let him swim off again. I was now almost up on the shore and had to quickly start up the motor and tread my way through the other boats once again.

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A quality Cullin brownie on a mayfly. 

For the next drift, I opted to hit the dance floor shore. The last week in April before the balmy weather descended on us saw me meet a nice few fish here. On that particular day there were so many olives hatching that it was almost like someone had left a carpet of green lying across the lough. The fish I caught were very small on that occasion but I was hopeful that there’d be a few larger ones moving with the mayfly up. To my surprise, there were no greendrakes hatching, and not even olives were coming off. What a change from a couple of weeks ago! I drifted for a while, working my way through the piles of rocks carefully, but with no flies hatching I decided to abort and return to drift another angle across the pins.

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One of several small trout I had back in April at the dance hall.

This time, once again I fished a completely fruitless drift into the shallow water until I reached the flock of gulls. I was just contemplating moving off when there was a flash and a boil. I let out a drawn out ‘oh’ of surprise as I’m not sure whether I felt a tug or not and I thought my chance had gone, but a second later my rod was bent nicely into a good trout. Adrenaline running fast through my veins I played him out carefully and slipped the net under a fine 1.5lbs fish, this time on a small wet may that I was fishing on the point.

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The biggest of the day.

I’ll be honest, they were the only three fish I connected with on Saturday morning, despite fishing another two drifts. With rain fast making it’s way across the lough and a 2pm curfew beckoning, I reluctantly made my way back under the bridge and home.

Now, I’ll admit that sport wasn’t as fast or as furious as I would have liked, but then of course that’s lough Cullin for you – a place where you have to work for your fish. The four hours of endless drifting will be forgotten. The four minutes I spent playing that fish will be remembered. Treasured. Tucked away in a corner of my mind for those cold winter days when I visit moments like this at the edge of sleep.

The big mayfly hatches are just beginning to get going on lough Cullin at the moment. Conn is still a little slow, but I did see the odd mayfly blowing out of some of the shallows on the southern shore as I made my way past. I haven’t wet a line on Conn in quite a while but I would imagine that with the recent change in weather conditions that there is sport to be had on wets. Tight lines if you’re heading out over the next couple of weeks!

Some things never change….

This is going to be a short post. Purely to keep the layer of dust from getting too thick on this blog, and to give update on the state of affairs on the loughs. We are now into the final week in April. The trees are green, the birds are singing, the cattle are in the fields, but more importantly, the trout are on the feed at last!

I have come to view Spring as a dim light at the end of a dark lonely tunnel. A lamp held aloft by the long arm of winter. The journey through the dark is long and tiresome, driven by a desire to reach this symbol of warmth. Every time the light comes within reach, it is maliciously whipped away by Winters frosty fingers, drawing out the journey, sapping at patience and fueling tempers.

Last Friday (21st April), I briefly grasped hold the lamp so to speak. The weather was mild, but by no means warm. There was a good bed of cloud and a tantalising north westerly blowing across Lough Conn. My boat has been moored on the shore of the lough for the last few weeks, although my best exploits thus far have been fruitless. In my typical fashion, there was an hour or two freeing up in the afternoon and the lough was all but calling me! I was hopeful as always, though fully expecting another blank and I was careful not to set my expectations too high despite the favourable conditions.

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‘Good’ conditions on lough conn

I began drifting out of the small, nameless bay as I have done so often before. It is more of a cove really, just an indentation of the main shoreline, sheltered slightly by a small headland and a line of large rocks put in place by a digger years ago, to keep the westerly winds from damaging the boats held there. The shelter muted the effects of the rolling wave roaring around the edge of the headland yet the wind rippled the surface of the water nicely. To my immense surprise a boil and a pluck appeared out of nowhere after a few casts. My rusty reactions painfully resulted in a loose rebound as the line sprung limp again.

I was fishing my drift parallel to the shoreline about 20 or 30 yards out, but aiming my casts in towards the bank and retrieving diagonally, into the deeper water. A matter of minutes passed before I had another rise. This time right at the point of the small bay, where the gentle ripple met the not so gentle wave. I lodged the bob fly firmly this time and fought my first fly caught Conn brownie of the year. It was fighting well above it’s weight, and it wasn’t until I had it in the net that I spotted why – a second trout had taken the middle dropper! Though they weren’t of any notable size, it was certainly a sweet moment to cherish after a myriad of blanks prior to this! I wandered over to 6 arch bay where I boated one other small trout which took to a sooty olive on the point, making it one fish to each fly on the team!

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Two for the price of one……all be they small!

Interestingly, it was the 21st of April last year when I caught my first trout on Conn on the fly, and it isn’t for lack of trying that it happened to be the same date this year!

Olives are in full swing on Cullin at the moment and there were a few about last Friday while I was afloat on Conn. As long as the cold snap forecast for later this week doesn’t last too long, I would hope this is the start of another good season on the lough.

On a personal note, I have little free time at the present for fishing, as I am caught up with college exams, work and other burdens. You may have to bear with the erratic silences for some time yet. But, for the first time in a couple of years, I will have no exams to worry about once the green drakes appear (my last test is on the 9th of May) and I am positively excited for the few weeks that will ensue!

Back to Basics – Worm Fishing for early season trout

So about ten days ago the trout fishing season re opened in this part of the world. Naturally, I feel the obligation to re lubricate the finger joints and de rust this blog once again in anticipation for what I can only hope will be another successful year. As I sat munching my cornflakes this morning and admiring the view of both loughs Conn and Cullin from my kitchen window, both of which have taken on an unforgivingly cold shade of grey and reflect the bleak colourless winter landscape that now rules, a number of things crossed my mind.

To begin, I don’t think I can ever remember a winter that failed to raise the loughs’ water levels by more than a foot. There are old rocks that I usually watch in November and December as the water rises, darkens and cools that have stayed dry for the entirity of this winter. There is one particular stone in 6 arch bay that sits in about a foot of water during the height of summer. Above the water stands 7 feet of weathered granite, home only to resting cormorants and seagulls from time to time who paint it’s mossy faces white. During the usual blankets of thick rain and raging floods that we experience in November, this rock submerges beneath Conn’s menacing wintery waves. This year nought has changed since August, and seven feet of rock still stand where it has stood for the last 6 months.

As an angler, I don’t like change. The traditions that I have built up over the past few years now stand for nothing as I am presented with a brand new set of challenges. The old high water haunts are quite literally high and dry, while I am not sure if the fish will have moved into the areas that usually dont see dry daylight until April. Slightly warmer water temperatures, much lower water levels and much confusion reigns. The lack of salmon this year hasn’t gone unnoticed by my watchful eye either!

I know it’s all very pessimistic lingo, but I suppose it is simply my way of talking down the bubbly anticipation that I have for wetting a few lines again! The week just past has seen a subtle change in weather patterns. Storm Doris and a few of her smaller relatives visited our shores over the course of a few days and raised what had been a desperately low water table to a closer to normal height.

 

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Waiting for a bite….

 

The first early season forays usually see me employ a less delicate approach to trout fishing than that of a daitnty fly rod and elegantly dressed flies. No, at this time of year the fish are deep, the water is cold, the air even colder. The lake bed holds a slightly warmer environment than the surface during the winter months, and bottom dwelling food sources such as hoglice, shrimps and snails keep the fish away from what little fly life can emerge. Tackling up with surface gear is all but a futile excercise to de grease the casting skills. The humble worm fished on the bottom offers a much varied, yet effective approach to getting a look at a few finned characters.

Wednesday night, amidst the drenching rain and howling wind, I braved the darkness and begun my preparation. As tempting as it is to collapse comfortably into a fireside armchair, rainy nights offer us an insight into a world that we rarely ever glimpse. All of the worms and slugs and damp loving creatures that are usually hidden from sight emerge to make the most of the moisture. I took with me a torch and a small worm box and took a stroll around outside, keeping near the gardens and bare soil as I went. Collecting worms in the wet is nearly as exciting as using them to catch trout! Some can be picked off the path where they have come out of the ground and are travelling in search of new soil. Others, usually the bigger worms will just poke their tails out of the soil, and if you’re not quick they’re gone as soon as the light hits them. Twenty minutes in the right places will see a good 40 or 50 decent worms, possibly even more. It certainly saves some backbreaking shovel work!

With a good stock of ‘ammunition’, I strolled down to one of my favourite shore spots this morning. The mist that still lay on the hills was stubbornly, but slowy lifting and the drizzly squalls looked to be following suit. A typical ledger setup suffices for worming. I like to fish 8lb mainline with a 4-6lb breaking strain hook length and keep about a foot and a half between the lead and the hook. Two worms on a size 8 completes the business end of the setup, and then it is just a case of punching it out as far away from the shore as possible.

This morning I fished 2 rods to maximise my chances as bites are usually few and far between. There is no need really for bite alarms and quiver tips (even though I use one myself) as the takes are usually solid and furious as the trout moves off with the bait, pulling strongly on the rod tip. Every so often a wave or a gust of wind will catch the line and give a lurch to the stomach, keeping the interest only to be replaced by bitter disappointment as it slacks off again. After an hour or so, I spotted the line tighten properly on the right hand rod. Could it be? Tension, excitement as I paused with one hand on the handle, the other on the reel. Three seconds…..four…. then definitive jerk of the rod tip as the line moved off once again. Lifting strongly I hooked my fish. It came quite easily and for a moment I thought it had come off, before a small swirl and a splash just as the lead weight rose out of the water, and a wee brownie of 7 or 8 inches careered into the net without much ado.

 

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First of the season

 

I gave a chuckle when I saw the two lobworms stuffed into its tiny mouth, but the hook sat nicely in the scissors and I had him on his way back to the watery depths that he came from in no time. For the second time today I turned to my tin of worms which sat on the bank to my left, only to spot the left hand rod bouncing merrily about. I whipped it up fairly fast and straight away felt the pulsing of a slightly better trout. After a short fight I landed the second fish, no more than an inch or 2 bigger than the first but still nice to see on this chilly morning.

 

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And another!

 

I left soon after, content with my catch. Undoubtedly a nice way to open up the fishing season at this early point in the year. Although I had nothing for the frying pan, I managed to enjoy a return to the water with reasonable success. After such a dry winter, we are due a big fall of rain and I would expect it to come sooner rather than later based on the most recent weather patterns. That being the case, I may just return to hibernating for another month or two until things start to warm up properly!