“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!