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!

 

 

 

The Great Western Greenway – A gateway to some of the best game fishing in the world?

Cycling is not one of my favourite sports by any stretch of the imagination. As a means of transport, it has been my only means of independent movement for the last 18 years. Occasionally, I have attempted to rig up my bicycle for short exploratory fishing trips, only to discover the discomfort of cycling with a fishing rod under my arm as I try awkwardly to dodge passing cars on the main road. With a little investment, I eased the discomfort with a 4 piece rod and a travel case though I never actually put it to the test. But away from all of the sweat, muscle aches and water breaks, there is something sweet and relaxing about soaking in views of mountains and Ireland’s western scenery from a simple two wheeled transporter.

 

 

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The Greenway near Nwport

 

 

As the last days of the summer drew quickly to a close and the next chapter in my life entered it’s dramatic opening, my fishing days became significantly numbered. I was hoping to get a good long session on Conn before departing for my first year in college, and on the last weekend, it was suddenly decided that we were to make the trek up to Newport, hire out a couple of bikes and cycle the greenway to Achill Island. You can imagine my dismay. I knew it wasn’t going to aspire to be much of fishing day anyway, what with temperatures of over 23 degrees and bright sunshine, but still I exercised my right to protest vehemently. It wasn’t going to change any minds I knew and so off I went – the last Saturday of my summer, unfortunately hiring out a few bikes instead of boats as I would have liked.

As I said, I wouldn’t have been missing out on much with the scorcher of a day that was in it. As we set off from Newport, it suddenly dawned on me that this would have been an excellent opportunity of test out my 4 piece rod. Just a shame that these useful thoughts always come that bit too late. Perhaps it was time to turn my mind off fishing and simply enjoy the day that was in it. That was when another thought crossed my mind. On looking at the ordinance survey map, I soon realised that there were actually quite a few little and rather large lough and river systems that cross the cycle path. A little scouting wouldn’t  hurt a fly and so my day had indeed a little purpose to it.

THE GREENWAY:

Westport to Achill island by bike. That was the goal when the plans for this cycle way commenced. A little bit of funding later and now a world famous, scenic cycling path exists. It is built along the remains of the old railway line that ran the same length many years ago. Even as someone who is not particularly amused by biking, this path really and truly opened my eyes to what Ireland has to offer. The scenery overlooking Clew bay is just fantastic. The path itself is for bike and foot use only, and it crosses the main road on just a handful of occasions, making cycling it as safe as any path in the country. Bicycles can be hired from each of the towns on the path – Westport, Newport, Malranny, and Achill, and a return bus service is operated by each bike hire shop. While cycling is the obvious intention of this wild track, I thought it would do no harm to look a little into the fishing that it’s depths has to offer.

The trip from Westport to Newport is pretty much barren of fish. We began our trip in Newport and so I didn’t actually see this part of the cycleway. From looking at the map, I guess that if you veer slightly from the course, you’ll find yourself at Ballin Lough which is stocked by IFI with Rainbows. The fishing is by boat only and so it wouldn’t be a great idea to travel by bike.

I’m going to properly start just after Newport, travelling towards Malranny. A twenty minute cycle will bring you to the very southern tip of the Burishoole fishery at Furnace Lough. This is one of the most important salmon fisheries in the west. A salmon research centre is operated on the shore of Furnace. The lough itself contains brackish water, a mix of fresh and salt water which seems to stimulate the salmon to take flies that bit better as they are fresh. There is a good run of salmon into the system, and lough Feeagh which is a larger, though purely freshwater lough situated to the north contains a resident stock of brownies. I believe Feeagh is closed for fishing as a conservation measure. I could only look on from the shore today at what is a wonderful wild lough set amidst the most stunning of backdrops. A thin layer of blanket bog hugs the mountains around it giving a stunning golden brown colour to the world in the afternoon sun.

 

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Looking North over Furnace Lough

 

 

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The short channel that links Furnace lough to the Atlantic Ocean

 

Slightly to the west of Furnace lies what I really came to look at. There are a series of small loughs trapped amongst the hills north of the trail. The only lough that lies pretty much on the path is lough fadda (not to be confused with another lough fadda that I have written previously about). It is named appropriately for it’s elongated shape. The shore by the outflow near the path is heavily enclosed with sedge and weed but further up along both shores there are some fishable areas. It’s scenic backdrop is made all the more wild by it’s steepened, bare banks. I believe this lough holds a small stock of trout. There is plenty of food for them in any case – daddies, olives and sedges lined the grasses by the waters edge. If there was a fishing rod in a case on my back, it would certainly have come out from hibernation. On the Newport side of lough fadda, there is another turn that will take you up through a narrow byroad which runs along the shore of Furnace. I didn’t take it unfortunately but I believe that there are a few small loughs tucked in steep bog covered dips in the hill on your left. They both flow into Furnace and I think that I am safe in assuming that if the Burishoole system contains trout then these loughs must have their own small populations. These loughs would be perfect for a small travel fly rod. There proximity to each other would indicate plenty of varied sport for the day.

 

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Lough Fadda – It seemed quite heavily weeded at this end but there looked to be some clearer areas further away from the path.

 

A little further west along the trail and we came to the Carrowsallagh River. This jolly little mountain stream flows south into Clew Bay. It certainly looks trouty. I would safely assume there to be a small head of brown trout in it’s pools. It almost looks large enough to receive a run of sea trout and possibly salmon? It is quite overgrown with bushes and trees where the path crosses it and so casting may be slightly awkward.

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Further west as we near Malranny, a larger river – The Owengarve flows south under the track towards Clew Bay. I was quite saddened to see  viciously steep, undercut banks and slack, slow moving water that bore all the signs of arterial drainage. It seems like a very viable pathway for large migratory fish otherwise, even though I cannot find much solid information on it. In what was now a bakingly hot mid afternoon sun, I could have sworn I saw the gentle swirl of a small brownie in close to the left hand bank below the bridge.

Once through Malranny, the track runs tightly sandwiched between the main road and the ocean for most of the journey towards achill. About 15 minutes of pedaling after Malranny, I came across a rather large bog lake marked as lough Gall on the Ordinance Survey Map. It seems entirely possible that this small lough holds a head of small trout. I didn’t stop to examine it closely but I have seen similar, some even smaller loughs to hold a stock of trout so it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest.

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So what did I learn? For one I found out that cycling long distances is backbreaking work for a person of average fitness like myself. Having said that, the enjoyment that I took from being in such a glorious part of the world on such a glorious day was quite pleasing. As much of an enthusiast for fishing as I am, I think it’s fair to say that the greenway is best enjoyed from a bike. As for the potential for angling that it holds? Certainly worth a day, but maybe it should be kept seperate from the cycling.

Trout on Daddies

It has been quite some time since my last venture on lough Conn. About three weeks to be exact. At that time the lough had shrunken and settled to almost it’s peak summer low for the year. The frequent showers and broken weather was simply not enough to raise the water levels, and the last stragglers of this years mayfly could be seen, though only on occasion fluttering haplessly into shelter. It was becoming an increasingly futile venture chucking my standard team of summer wets – a mayfly on the bob, a peter on the middle and a dabbler on the point. When 24 hours of non-stop rain came last Wednesday, I thought nothing of it. I had it in the back of my mind that I may chuck the fluff at some point over the weekend, although that would depend on several things on an increasingly hectic agenda.

After a quick drive around the Pontoon road on Friday evening and I rounded the bend towards the milestone at Healy’s bay where the boat moorings are, it was clear that the height of the loughs has indeed come up significantly, for the first time this summer. The 5 remaining boats that are left there have been lifted askew, side on to the shore and if left untended some serious damage could be done. On the off chance that any of you reading this have a boat there, or anywhere else on either of the loughs you should check on it immediately.

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Healy’s Bay. Apologies for the poor photo (it was taken from a moving car). Nevertheless, these boats need to be checked if not done so already. Some serious damage could be done.

With the addition of some fresh water to the loughs, a new hand of cards is dealt and more particularly as we enter the back end of the season, things begin to change on our waters. There is a rather large terrestrial fly that we are all to familiar with. It makes it’s way into our homes unwillingly throughout the month of August, dancing with a stumble of sorts. With such a vulnerable stance, and being a rather large insect, it is quite easy to see how such a fly would be considered a delicacy of sorts to a hungry trout should it cross it. This fly of course, is the daddy long legs.

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The daddy long legs alongside a rather large artificial

 

Now when it comes to fishing daddies, there are three approaches that one can take – dapping, wet flies and dry flies. Of course this could be the case for any substantial insect hatch. I have only dapped with daddies for one drift about mid way through August of last year. To collect them, a damp drizzly night, a torch and your back lawn are required. Leave the torch on the grass so that it’s beam illuminates a section of lawn and wait. You should have plenty of daddies in a few minutes. Any lunch box or plastic container will do for storage but just be sure to add some stalks of grass for them to cling to. Once you have your daddies collected, a standard dapping set up – 13-15ft rod, a length of floss and a size eight hook will do the rest. There is something rather awkward about projecting such a long pole in front of your boat, and as I neared the end of the drift despite having raised one fish (and struck too quickly, it is advised that you leave them a few seconds when dapping before striking), I returned to the gentle roll and wave of the fly rod.

I am a wet fly man through and through. So I could not tell you much about fishing a dry daddy except when it is the top dropper of a wet fly cast creating a wake through the surface ripples. What I can tell you is that the daddy long legs is by nature a terrestrial insect. By definition, it should never come into contact with water at all, but wind being the creature it is carries these insects from the shore out onto our loughs and rivers, where they are at the mercy of the water and oftentimes drown. Their large bodies draw trout from far and wide as they are easy pickings. Because they are blown from the shore, I like to concentrate my efforts on the sheltered shoreline where the insects are blowing from(ie. fish the south shore in a south wind), drifting from the calm out into the lake, or otherwise parallel to a shoreline. It helps if there is a shallow or a few islands where trout often congregate and this is where one should concentrate efforts. Of course the required chop to fish wet flies at their deadliest may be absent but wets will still work in even the slightest whimper of a breeze, although the results may not be as great. This is perhaps where a dry fly could be more effective.

 

So yesterday morning, after a brief glance at the met eireann rainfall radar and seeing that there was heavy rain inbound for the afternoon, I set about some preparations for a quick morning’s session. I had a bit of a cold, but the south breeze was rather warm. I had it on my mind to head straight back to Coleman’s Shallow. It is a 15-20 minute journey at best from where I’m based and I have not fished it yet this year. Coleman’s Shallow a rather large reef that extends a couple of hundered metres out from the shore in a south-north direction and there are 2 islands, one of which is quite sizeable and the other is really just a bit of lake bed that protruded over the surface when the Moy was dredged. The last time I was here was during the mayfly last year (2015) and experienced some positive fishing. Conditions were almost identical to that day – a soft warm breeze blowing from the south, good overcast conditions and of course the incoming rain for the afternoon. The only difference being that today, there was no hatch of mayfly. I tied up with a team of 3, consisting of a Claret Bumble Muddler, a Fiery Brown Bumble, and a sunken Daddy on the point. Five or six casts later amidst my usual dreamy gazing about for insects, I heard a slurp and then my rod bent into a nice brownie rather instinctively. About the 10 inch mark and on the Fiery Brown Bumble. Not a bad start. After a short period of disinterest, I seemed to hit a small shoal. In the space of about 4 casts I rose one, lost another and boated a third. This time on the Sunken Daddy Longlegs. I fished another couple of drifts around the shallow and picked up 3 more trout, the best going in at 13 inches, again on the daddy long legs.

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While the sunken daddy took it’s fair share of the fish for the day without a doubt, it does help particularly at this point in the year to keep a variety of flies on your cast as there is such a wide menu of sedges, fry, olives and even one or two straggling mayfly available to the trout. All three flies on the cast took fish.  As the mist and rain closed in and a strengthening chest cold, I reached the moorings at 3, having tried and failed to catch a few more trout on my way back. As I sat myself down by the fire this evening, now coughing my lungs out as a result of my daytime ventures and asking myself was it worth it, a little voice in my head called out ‘every second you can be sure!’.

Billberry Lough

I have tried my best this year to keep the posts on this blog as varied as possible. There is always fascination for me in exploring new waters, discovering new tactics and catching different trout. This June past, I sat the Leaving Cert exams, which are the exams set by the state prior to the student’s progression to third level education and in a couple of days time, I will soon know whether or not I will be moving to Galway for the next four years. It is tough to finally have to turn my back on the home that I have known and loved so dearly for the past 18 years and of course the wonderful Lough Conn and it’s magnificent trout. I chose Galway as my destination for next year over the other cities partly because of it’s proximity to the Corrib and Connemara, so who knows – perhaps I’ll be afloat on some new waters next season! I have never fished the Corrib and so it would be particularly nice to do so.

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Billberry/ Islandeady Lough

 

Anyway, back to the present. There are a series of very scenic, lowland lakes immediately to the south of Castlebar. These being Lough Lannagh, The Castlebar Lough and Billberry or Islandeady lough. They are set in an area of low, rolling hills called drumlins, carved out by glaciers at the end of the last ice age as they melted. These loughs discharge through the Castlebar river which flows north into the bottom end of lough Cullin. They are not particularly deep loughs, but interestingly, Castlebar Lough once held a population of char. Of course like most of our other char populations these are now extinct as a result of environmental ignorance by humankind. These loughs were also once home to good populations of wild brown trout, but like the char, these fish have all but disappeared from their waters. They are now the victims of ignorant coarse fish introductions and are stocked with brown trout each year by the local angling club.

With the planned closure of IFI’s trout farms and the possibility of not catching a trout from their waters at all, I decided that it was time to investigate what these loughs held. We had a few errands to run in Castlebar in the morning but by lunch time, I had picked up the keys from Mrs McGrath at Windermere house for the boat hire and was now standing at the shore of Billberry lough. It is really and truly a sprawl of a lake, with plenty of shallows and good trout looking  areas. There were a couple of pike anglers at the shore near the jetty who managed to net a small jack on a deadbait before we launched. We began to drift straight away, as the wind suited it. August being the month that it is has left this lough choked to the brim with weeds and so, the shallows that had previously looked so promising unfishable.

We followed the drift down across some open water and over towards a rocky shoreline. It was here I noticed a rather large boil form behind my dropper, though unfortunately no pull. That was to be the only rise for the day. No matter what we tried – different drifts covering new water, faster retrieves, even emptying the contents of my fly box ( I gave almost every fly a swim), there was no other response. We did see a couple of large stocked fish belly – slamming out over the deeper water, I could not figure out what they were taking. There was next to no fly life on the lough at all. I didn’t even see the usual few sedges or terrestrials that would be present on Conn normally. Just a lone murrough in the evening scuttled across the water.

I have no doubt in my mind that August is definitely not the time to fish this lough for trout. I would think that earlier in the season – perhaps during the mayfly hatches, there would be some enjoyable sport to be had or after a stocking. I found out after the fact that the lake hadn’t been stocked in quite some time and so that certainly has to have played it’s part. The survival expectancy of fish that have been spoon fed pellets all their juvenile lives cannot be much more that a few weeks as they have not developed a sense of foraging or natural feeding. Perhaps I am simply not acquainted with stocked fisheries. I am used to trying to imitate what natural insects are on the water rather than fishing brightly coloured attractors, even though I did try both tactics. I could come up with a thousand excuses for not catching any fish, but then maybe that is just fishing. It wouldn’t be fun if I didn’t have some empty days. With the last drift of the day, I managed a tiny perch of my top dropper, so technically I didn’t blank!

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The only fish of the day! – Couldn’t go home without a photo of this little bugger

 

 

In all, I have to say it was a relaxing day even if there were no trout on the pan in the end. The scenery in the area is fabulous and it is well worth a visit purely for that.