The Year Ahead – Cautious Optimism!

First off, it’s been a while since I have had blogged about anything fishy but I decided to take a little break after a fairly hectic end to the 2016 season.  I didn’t do a whole lot over the closed season except tie a few flies including some intruder style flies for my pal Ned for his trips to Canada.  One of these years I will join up with them as the whole experience seems mega.

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September 2016 was a bit of a scramble with the river trout and salmon seasons coming to an end combined with some fantastic bass fishing tides!  The weather was good and the bass fishing continued to provide decent sport right through November.

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I didn’t do anything like as much winter reservoir fishing as I have done in previous seasons and 2017 kind of crept up on me and before I knew it I was off to Dublin for the Ireland Angling Expo in February.  This is always a great event and this year was no exception although if anything there was more for the predator (bass/pike) angler to see than some previous years.  There was still a lot there for the trout and salmon angler too with top brands like Simms, Redington, Mackenzie, Airflo, Nautilus, Hardy/Greys etc etc all on display.  The attendance at my talks each day was brilliant and as always it was epic to meet up with the Mackenzie Pros and all of the various people who make the show tick in one way or another.  I always say this show is much much more than just tackle sales.

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March is now upon us and things are already starting to get busy.  I have been out giving tuition and guiding and later this month I have two stillwater courses running, a Match the Hatch course in Wicklow with Ken Whelan and a Stillwater Tactics course at Ardaire Springs in Mooncoin.  In the meantime I am putting a lot of effort into testing the absolutely awesome prototype for the new 10ft 6wt Mackenzie FX1 Graphene single handed rod.  So far the results have been superb.  It casts really well and everyone who tried it at the show in Dublin gave great feedback.  Trials have indicated that this will be a great buzzer/nymph rod that can also be used for some dry fly and small lure fishing if needs be.  I am enjoying the testing so much with this weapon that it will take another while before Scott will be getting it back!!!!

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So everything is looking great so far for 2017.  While some salmon rivers in Ireland had a disastrous start the Munster Blackwater seems to be performing quite well.  The quality of trout in Ardaire and the Waterford Reservoirs is excellent.  Initial reports on the river trout fishing in the Blackwater and surrounding rivers that are already open suggest that fish are in excellent condition.  With lots more courses running during the year including our new Saltwater Fishing Course in June and the North West Angling Fair in Strabane in April not too far away it is difficult not to be positive.

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However, in spite of this optimism it is still early in the year to get carried away as to what the salmon season here will produce.  The same can be said as regards sea bass. It will be interesting to see the effect of current conservation measures over a long period of time. Many rivers in Ireland are now classed as ‘closed’.  This seems to be causing great confusion as to whether an angler can still fish them for brown trout and indeed sea trout under 40cm.  Factor in the complete confusion as to what the rules are about fishing for sea trout in saltwater and you have something of a Gordian Knot.  More on this to follow in my next blog (not to be missed)!!!!

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Stillwater Trout Course 2016

Our stillwater course at Ardaire Springs has been very popular for the last few years.  This is ideal for someone new to fly fishing or if you have done some stillwater fly fishing but want to learn some new techniques.  Ardaire is a perfect venue that is fishing well with fish well into double figures caught regularly. Date March 13th. Fee €65

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APPS-solutely Bloody Squirmy-ish – Winter Stillwater Tactics!

Finally, after an unprecedented spell of mild and rainy weather we are starting to see temperatures drop.  At this time of year most of our angling opportunities are going to be at stocked stillwater fisheries, like Ardaire Springs in Mooncoin.  If it is really cold then a spot of bank fishing is on the cards.  Walking around on the bank keeps the body from freezing!

Into a fish at Ardaire Springs

So what about tactics for these venues in cold weather.  Of course there is always the chance of a few fish rising and fishing dries or subsurface but the window of opportunity tends to be very small when the water is cold and the fish are lethargic.  Moreover, natural food items can be scarce and those that are around will also have slowed down in their movements.   Stripping lures back at speed might trigger a response, particularly if there are some sticklebacks in the the margins but is it going to be realistic and very productive to the trout – probably not.  You could inch back boobies of course, but that’s a tactic for another blog!

Typical Bloodworm

Typical Bloodworm

One food item that is definitely going to be on the menu at this time of year is the bloodworm or midge larva.  These guys are drifting around near the bed of the lake not moving a whole lot and trout love them.  BUT remember they move really slowly, even when they ascend in the spring as what we anglers call Buzzers, they still move really slowly.  So you have to fish them really really slowly or static.  I think you might be getting the really slowly bit at this stage!!  As far as equipment goes something like a 9ft6 6wt would be good.  A full floating line and a long leader.  You could fish two flies but on some of these waters where trout are well into double figures I usually fish a single fly.

A 16lb Ardaire Springs Rainbow caught on a Bloodworm

A 16lb Ardaire Springs Rainbow caught on a Bloodworm

A typical approach is to cast out the bloodworm imitation and retrieve it back with a really slow figure of eight.  Just keep the slack out of the line and keep in touch with your fly.  When fishing like this I like to fish into the wind if it is not too strong.  Firstly, lot of food can be blown into one corner of a small stillwater with the breeze and secondly, as you are retrieving at the same speed as the line is drifting towards you the imitation looks more natural.  If you think about it ,when you are casting with the wind behind you and retrieving the imitation against the wind it is moving in the opposite direction to the natural food items.  Will this fool a wary trout that has been caught and released several times before?

This beauty had seen a lot of flies before

This beauty had seen a lot of flies before

So what do bloodworm imitations look like.  Well they could be just red buzzers really, often tied on curved hooks.  These are good but they lack any subtle movement when they are drifting. One option is to add a red marabou tail that will move underwater as the fly is retrieved. A very popular fly is the Apps Worm.  This fly makes use of long strands of elastic material that adds movement in the water.  When you look at it first an Apps Worm looks like something scary with long red ‘legs’ protruding front and back.  However it is when the fly is wet and the elastic strands stick together that the fly really looks like a worm.  There are many variations of this fly with some having more ‘legs’ than others.  The one I prefer is with two strands front and back.

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The natural bloodworm has distinct segments (as in the photo above) and a great version of the Apps Worm uses red glass beads along the body. These also add translucency.  A great tip I was given by an international competition angler was to tie this one on a gold hook as it adds greatly to visual effect of the fly.  Us anglers are always looking for an edge and in recent times another fly (if we can call it that) that has really taken off is the squirmy worm.  This worm fly uses a really soft stretchy material that moves unbelievably in the water even when the fly is fished static.  The material can break easily so make sure you have plenty spare flies.

Squirmy worms and a home made indicator

Squirmy worms and a home made indicator

If you are new to this type of fishing then the way to fish a worm static is under an indicator (unless these are not allowed at the fishery). Indicators are a massive help in bite detection.There are many types of indicators including the very controversial ‘bung’.  What’s a bung?  Well to keep things simple it’s a very large and visible indicator that can support heavy flies, including lures.  Earlier this year an angler was fishing a bung when practicing for a bank competition and from the distance I thought his hat had blown onto the water!!  You don’t really need anything that big to support the weight of an apps worm or size 12 beaded squirmy worm.  I use a colorful foam indicator that I make myself from some booby cord glued onto a size 10 blob hook. It’s easy – cut the foam to length, spit it with a scalpel and glue it to the hook shank!  You can cut the hook at the bend afterwards. I slide it up the leader before I tie on the worm fly and I keep it fixed between two power gum stop knots.  If I want to change the depth the worm is fishing at I just move the stop knots.

Another one that couldn't resist the worm

Another one that couldn’t resist the worm

Worm fishing is not for everyone.  It requires a lot of patience to fish the flies slowly enough.  Some anglers I know won’t fish them (they think it’s like coarse fishing!), but there are days when they considerably out-fish everything else.  Other guys I have fished with will fish them but they won’t use an indicator.  This is sometimes because they are so confident in their abilities that they believe they won’t miss any takes!  For others, they won’t use indicators because they feel there is a stigma attached to fishing with them (especially because of anglers using big bungs).  The only comment I will make is “each to their own” and there is no denying that worms work, especially when fished static.

All in the Hands!

On many of our stillwaters at this time of year the fish are well acclimatized residents used to natural feeding and the water temperature is dropping steadily.  In other words the fishing often gets that bit tougher.  In recent weeks I have noticed rod catches dropping on our local reservoirs even though fishing continues to be good and the quality of trout is excellent.

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The obvious question is why are anglers that were doing so well in the summer suddenly not catching.  A few things come to mind:

  • are they using the wrong flies/not matching what the fish are feeding on?
  • are they concentrating on the wrong areas?
  • are they presenting the right flies at the wrong depth or speed?
Shrimp and hoglouse should be on the menu

Shrimp and hoglouse should be on the menu

To my mind most anglers now know the various food sources fish are likely to feeding on at various times of year.  They also have a good grasp of where the fish are  in their local lake.  That just leaves the third possibility – they are not presenting their flies correctly.  Quite often when I am guiding beginners they think that presentation is only important for dry fly fishing – MISTAKE, BIG MISTAKE!  Presentation is ALWAYS important.

At this time of year resident browns often switch to feeding on snails

At this time of year resident browns often switch to feeding on snails

To cut to the chase, as the water temperature drops and hatches slow down fish are more likely to be feeding deeper in the water on slow moving creatures, e.g. shrimp, hoglouse, snails.  This all seems fairly obvious but time and time again I see anglers ripping back every fly (buzzer, nymph, shrimp, etc) just as if it was a wet fly or lure.  Even when I say “slow down the retrieve” it often only goes from super fast to very fast!

A slow retrieve fooled this brown trout in cold conditions

A slow retrieve fooled this brown trout in cold conditions

So concentrate on your retrieve, try to incorporate slow short pulls, lots of pauses and of course the lethal slow figure of eight or static retrieve (just keep in touch with the flies as they drift).  Remember – it’s all in the hands! Enjoy your winter fishing.

 

“Spoiled for Choice” – South East Lakes Fishing Well

I finally got around to fishing Knockaderry for the first time on St Patrick’s morning. This lake is one of my favourite fisheries and I was really looking forward to wetting a line there.  The day itself started out cool but the day got warmer and by mid morning there was a great midge hatch. The sun shone and the breeze was gentle giving a lovely slow drift, ideal for buzzer fishing.

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By lunchtime my car was covered in small midge.  The big hatch really got the large rainbows moving and quite a number were rising and feeding on natural fly.  Fishing small buzzers through the layers was the effective tactic.

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There are some serious trout in this lake and the average size of the rainbows was 5 to 6lbs.

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These fish will take you to the backing and I was glad I decided to fish with a 10ft 7wt and not a lighter outfit.

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Ned Maher told me that Ardaire Springs also enjoyed a bumper day with the rise in temperatures.  The last time I called over there I managed a fantastic 18lbs rainbow.

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Looks like we are spoiled for choice for quality stocked fisheries here in the south east at the moment!

 

 

Full House

We had a full house today for our Stillwater Trout Tactics course at Ardaire Springs.  Eight hardy souls were at the fishery bright and early this morning and we set about going through various techniques in theory in the tackle lodge.  Before lunch I demonstrated a number of fishing techniques using the 9ft 6wt, 10ft 7wt and 11ft 5/6 Mackenzie Rods.  I managed to catch 4 nice rainbows during the demonstration session which was very pleasing.  The day turned cooler but we were not deterred as Ned had prepared burgers and sausages.  After lunch the participants tackled up and tried out some of the techniques they had learned.

Some cracking fish were caught on dries:

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Bloodworms:

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Wets:

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And Lures:

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A massive well done to all.  I hadn’t even made it home and I had received positive feedback by text from some participants which really made my day.  Our next course is our River Trout course on March 8th.

River Trout Flyer

Imitative Approach

Last Sunday I traveled to Courtlough Fishery in Dublin to tutor the Match the Hatch Course with Ken Whelan.  We had 14 participants on the course and Garrett the fishery manager and the staff at Courtlough were very welcoming to everyone.  In the morning Ken went through a PowerPoint presentation on the various important species likely to be living in the lake.

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We then headed down to the water to for a kick sampling session.  Everyone took part and Ken provided the required equipment for the session.

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It was great to see all the insect life collected and identified and it proved to be a real ‘eye opener’ for the participants who really enjoyed this aspect of the course, despite the very cold weather.

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Next it was time for lunch and we headed back to the bar (yes bar!) for soup and sandwiches.  The hot soup was very welcome and again Courtlough set the standard by providing additional sandwiches tea/coffee and biscuits.  With full tummies it was time for the afternoon session.  This was where I took over and showed everyone a series of imitative fly patterns designed to look and/or move like the insects we found in the lake.

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We headed back down to the water and I demonstrated a few fishing techniques for replicating the movement of the naturals.  The guys then had time to do some fishing themselves and try to put what they learned into practice.  I used two Mackenzie DTX single handed rods for my demo and the boys were keen to get their hands on them.  Ken had a go with the 10ft 7wt with a fast intermediate line and a damsel imitation.  Within the first few casts he was into a lovely rainbow.

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Everyone was very impressed with these rods. A few more fish were caught and as the sun and temperatures dropped it was time to call it a day.  The feedback afterwards was really positive and this was most satisfying for Ken and I.

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Our next Match the Hatch course will take place in Ratchon Fishery on March 1st.  In the meantime I am taking bookings for a Stillwater Tactics course at Ardaire Springs fishery in Mooncoin.  For more info click here.  As I have recently been appointed to the Mackenzie Pro Team for Ireland I will have a range of single handed rods with me for these courses.