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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.