Stevie Munn is a man who probably needs no introduction. There’s no doubt he is one of the biggest names in Ireland and indeed internationally when it comes to fly fishing and fly tying . He has agreed to take part in our first of a series of monthly interviews. And no better choice for our first interview than with such a modern day angling legend!
Hi Stevie, could start off by introducing yourself and telling us a little bit about yourself?
Not sure where to start, you can’t pick where your born. I was born in Belfast a long time ago and grew up in the north of the city on the shore road in the shadows of the Cave Hill with my two sisters Lorna and Elaine and my Mother Maureen and my late Father George who was the man that got me into fly fishing when I was very young, probably about 6 or 7 years old and this was probably to keep me off the streets and out of trouble as at the time we lived in a place of turmoil. I worked in the shipyard from when I was sixteen until I was in my mid-twenties and I have now been working full time in fly fishing just over 26 years. I have worked for a few companies over the years including a long spell with Hardy and Lennox fly rods and now work full time in angling as a fully insured fishing guide, writer and teacher. I have also appeared in many angling books, magazines and DVDs and give casting demonstrations at angling events all over the world as far as the USA and Argentina. I have been lucky to have fished many places in the world with my job and grew up fishing on the rivers and loughs of Ireland where I now often guide. I run teaching courses in fly fishing in Ireland and host groups to fish in Norway and other parts of the world. I am now Pro Staff for English company Fishing Matters, who own Partridge hooks and sell Regal Vices and Marryat Fly Rods among their various brands. I am also the Irish Rep for Costa Glasses from the USA, which are simply the best and I am also a member of the Semperfli pro team. I am in many fishing clubs and have been a member of The Antrim and District Club nearly all my life which run the largest part of the Co. Antrim river the Sixmile water where I am a club official guide and fish often as it is my home river. I am a fully qualified fly casting and fly-tying game angling instructor and have passed top casting and tying teaching qualifications with GAIA and APGAI -Ireland. I hold a World Record in Fly Casting which was done for charity at the CLA game fair at Blenheim Palace in 2011. I also won fly casting competitions including 2 Accuracy Casting Championships in England in the 1990s. But that is all work stuff I am basically a guy that loves to fly fish, music, a pint with my mates and motorcycles and hiking in the hills.
What are your earliest memories of fly fishing Irish rivers for trout?
I remember myself and a pal had an old fly rod hidden in a hedge row near our local river the Sixmile water, many times we walked up Grey’s Lane to the Antrim Road to get the bus which we paid for with our dinner money to go to the river instead of going to school, hidden in our school bags we would have a fly reel and a tobacco tin full of flies, we would take it in turns to use the rod, one of the things I have always liked about fly fishing is that you can travel pretty light. We got away with playing truant like this many times until one day I bumped into my father on the river also fishing but at a time when he was meant to be at work and had also sneaked off, in those days in the shipyard they had a saying “chuck me board in” , every worker had a small wooden board with their own personnel number on it, if you wanted to sneak out early you got one of your work mates to throw your board into the time keepers office for you , which clocked you out at the end of the day, so you lost no pay, you would return the favour for him some day if he needed to go early. Of course if you were caught doing this you would be sacked, but even though it was instant dismissal it was a very common practice. So luckily for me when I did get caught up the river by my Dad, he should not have been there either so we both nodded and fished on as if we were strangers as we both knew if my mother found out both of us would have hell to pay. I must say very luckily for me my father was fly fishing mad and he started my training at a very early age, probably about six, he also taught me to dress simple trout flies on a fly tying vice that he made in the shipyard. He was good with his hands although at times too quick with them, he also made a fly rod from a WW2 tank aerial which I still have, this was heavy but worked and with this rod I learnt to cast, which now sounds quite amazing when you think how light today’s rods are made from modern materials like carbon fibre. My Dad taught me to fly cast in a field. I had to cast a fly into a bucket while holding a book under my rod arm. If the book fell I got a wee clip round the ear or if I ducked which I often did, he told me off until I got it right, maybe not the way you would teach kids today or even how you would now teach fly casting but it worked for me and I spent many very happy hours casting at a tin bucket on Grey Mount Girls School hockey pitch, which was at the back of my house, to the amusement of many of the other kids in the area, some of them would shout at me while I practiced my casting ‘ Hey Manner are you having any luck’ or ‘if you get a fish keep us one ye prick’ of course these kids where only messing about, in Belfast you call it banter, but they would not have shouted if my Dad was there. In those days kids really were afraid of their elders, as your elder would often hit you a kick up the ass or even worse bring you round to your parents by the ear and let them deal with you for giving back cheek, but I did not care what the other kids thought or said I knew that fly fishing was for me and was a noble and beautiful thing to do even at a young age.
Do you think there’s a difference between how prolific fly hatches are now on Irish rivers compared to when you first got into fly fishing and is there a difference in the numbers, quality and average size of trout on the rivers you fish? What’s your favorite Irish river to fish and why?
Sadly, on some but not all the rivers we have pollution and have lost in places good trout habitat due to bank erosion and importantly including loss of water crowfoot weed beds from some river stretches. This has influenced parts of the rivers I fish which of course effects fly life and in turn trout size. Luckily my local rivers like the Sixmile water get a run of Lough Neagh trout called Dollaghan which run our rivers from summer to spawn. These trout can provide great sport at times and can grow into massive trout with every year some double figure fish caught. I have fished for these fish all my life and have landed 1000s of them. As for my favourite river My family always considered the Six Mile Water as our river, I latter found out this is something that happens to anglers the world over, they become attached to a piece of water and there is a part of themselves that then claims it. It’s a kind of strange ownership, the great American angling writer John Gierach also explains this weird phenomenon in his book Sex, Death and Fly-Fishing in a chapter called “Id fish anyone’s St Vrain.” If you read that book you will know exactly what I mean when I say the Six Mile Water is my St Vrain.
You are well known throughout the world for the work you have done in fly fishing with your writing, fly tying and casting demos. But also, importantly in the last eight years for being the man behind the fantastic Irish Fly Fair in Galway’s Salthill every year. Can you tell us how that came about?
For numerous years I wanted a high-quality fly fair and game angling show in Ireland. I always thought that our art and passion was never well enough represented in this part of the world, though many have tried and done their best and I must say some have been very good that I worked at. Although normally game angling and fly dressing have continually shared with other angling disciplines, I always thought the country deserved a proper game angling and fly fair like those I had demonstrated at many times in the U.K , Holland and Germany. After all it’s one of the biggest sports in the country. So, several years ago I bought the domain name Irish Fly Fair and started thinking how I could make this dream come true. I have worked at hundreds of angling and country shows over the years, so I had the contacts, I knew so many wonderful fly tyers, fly casters, traders and well-known names in the angling world and they knew me, so I had the basic plan, but what I needed was funders and sponsors or even better very good event organizers to team up with me. I wanted a top class to show but never had the money to put into it to make it what I required. This opportunity arose when I was working at a show in Dublin , the Angling Ireland Expo , and met Hugh Bonner from Mara Media who were running this show; I must say they are excellent event organizers and impressed me immensely. The old Irish Angler magazine editor David Dinsmore knew I owned the name and suggested I talked to Mara Media, so I did and our first meeting which went pretty good though Hugh did not agree to anything there and then but suggested we should meet again after he got his head around the idea. On the next meeting Hugh and Grace McDermott from Mara’s sales team both attended and we all agreed that we should work together on the show. We then started thinking about venues I originally wanted to have the show in Belfast or Dublin because of their large populations as I wanted a good turnout at the door as I knew this is how to keep the traders and everyone connected with the event happy as I have had a lot of experience from that side of the fence. I wanted it when the game fishing season was over also for that reason but Hugh suggested that perhaps Galway would be an excellent venue for a game angling show and the more i thought about it ,the more it seemed to make perfect sense. The West, although it is in the midst of so much great game angling with world famous names like Corrib, Mask, Conn, Galway weir ,the Moy and the Delphi to name just a few, this part of Ireland had never had a great angling show and this one would be dedicated to Game Angling which the West of Ireland has been a Mecca for hundreds of years for Trout and Salmon anglers.
I wanted this show to have some of the best attractions for game anglers not just a show that the public paid into to browse angling shops, although trade stands are a major part of any show and it’s a great place for the anglers to get a deal on some new tackle but also with a large foot fall good for the trade stands who want to show off their products. I wanted a mix of top quality trade stands, fly casting demos, common interest stands, teaching, talks, fishing simulators, competitions and at its core a large host of the best fly dressers in the World that would keep the public entertained and pass on their knowledge. So, this is what the Mara Media team and I went about trying to create.
The Venue for the show had to be impressive too. I wanted elegance, style and comfort for all that attended the show, the guys and girls that were working and demonstrating and the public alike, so Hugh suggested we used the Galway Bay Hotel in Salthill, and what a venue it is overlooking Galway Bay and the Clare Hills. It is an Award winning 4-star hotel considered by many to be one of the top hotels in Galway. It has a massive function room which would be prefect for trade stands and a huge conservatory which would be fabulous for fly dressers to give demos. So that’s where we have it .On the first morning of the show everything was in place we had an impressive list of fly tyers from all over the world, though with a strong Irish back bone, we had a large number of trade and interest stands, we had our fly casters and angling instructors, we had our well known angling celebrities, we had our experts like Dr Ken Whelan to give talks. We had everything in place to run our event, after many months of planning and hard work by me, my sister Elaine who built the web site and the Mara Media team. We had promoted it to the best of our ability at great expense to Mara Media, with me pulling some favours from my contacts in the angling world. I remember standing at the front door alongside Hugh silently praying for the game angling public to arrive. I had not slept the night before the show, I was so worried that all our hard work, effort and money was going to be in vain, I remember standing at 10.15am 15 minutes after the doors had opened thinking “S##t’ what have I done!”. But then suddenly people started turning up and the door numbers became great , the interest in the show from anglers was incredible and they came from all corners of the Isle and many even from overseas. Mara Media left the event after two years simply to work on their other events and on good terms. Then it was up to me solely. I pulled in my family and some of my friends and together with their invaluable help from this Team was able to run the show the last 7 years. It is now hailed as one of the major fly fishing events in the world and every year goes from strength to strength. It’s not easy though as it takes a year to organise, but it is worth it when you see the joy it brings to so many. You can read the feedback on our web site http://www.irishflyfair.com. See you all there in November dates are now booked 10th & 11th at the Galway Bay Hotel.
You have a great reputation for guiding both at home and abroad. How would you compare the fishing in Ireland to places like Norway or Iceland?
We have great fishing in Ireland and are very lucky .I can only really talk about rivers I fish or guide on and there is many I have not fished in Ireland that this won’t apply to them. Our local rivers can be quite busy as they are very accessible , of course you can’t blame anyone for wanting to fish and it works if the anglers treat each other with respect and use some common sense and learn to use some angling etiquette and do not hog the best spots . Places like Iceland and Norway where I host guided fishing each year are sparely populated not as busy and don’t suffer as much or at all from pollution. It’s really wilderness fishing and wonderful this said we still have fabulous fishing at home and as I have stated I love my home rivers more than most.
Would there be anything positive with Irish rivers that you might not get in other countries?
We are very lucky to have very affordable fishing that is very accessible, it really can be a sport for everyone. This has a lot to do with the great work that many fishing clubs do to look after the rivers and we should not forget that, and the highest praise must be given.
You are now sponsored by Marryat Fly Rods. I can tell you genuinely believe their rods are excellent and the Marryat Tactical Pro nymphing rod has a great reputation with nymphers in Ireland and abroad. Would you tell us a little about their range of rods?
Marryat series of rods are the fusion of years of technical research by the Institute of Technology Lausanne, fishing know-how from world champions fly fishers Pascal Cognard and Jérôme Brosutti and the touch master rod builder Alain Ourtilani using innovative components. First and foremost, these are fishing rods! They are good at casting a long line with tight loops but don’t be fooled, there is more to fishing than just distance. From the moment you get a Marryat rod in your hand you can tell that it is different – it is very light and quite tippy when you feel the action but also, they bend in the butt section which is very important and many anglers seem to forget that this makes them great for roll casting also, so you can cast it all day. Its modern action makes it powerful, fast and accurate , yet it is sensitive and responsive enough to fish dry fly and nymph on the fine tippet at close quarters. When you hook a fish, you will immediately realise why these rods are different – sensitivity, unlike other good casting rods, Marryat rods are designed to play a trophy fish on fine tackle without the risk of losing it to stressed tippet! I really love some of them. I am very lucky to work with these great rods now and if anyone is interested in them you can email me at : firstname.lastname@example.org
You are obviously a man who likes to keep himself busy with your love for angling. Could you tell us a bit more about other stuff to do with fly fishing that you are involved in?
My first love is trout on rivers as that’s what I grew up doing. This said I love catching all migratory species like Salmon, Sea trout or Dollaghan. I also love fishing the big Irish Loughs every year such as Erne, Corrib and Sheelin (which I have fished for over 20 years) . This all said I also like a spot of fly fishing for pike and saltwater fly fishing. I guess I like anything that I can use a fly rod for “the tug is the drug” as they say.
It’s certainly not easy for anyone to earn a living out of fly fishing currently. At what point did you decide to take the brave step to give up your day job and try to make a go at trying to earn a living out of the sport that has become your whole life?
That’s a very long story and it was not out of choice I fell into it perhaps I can tell you some day, but after having an accident in the shipyard at 27 I could not go back due to injury. I was tying a lot of flies and started selling to a few shops, just trying anything to pay bills and survive I also started guiding around then. I was also tying at a few local country fairs and it was at one of these I met an English man called Dave Havers. He runs a company called Tackle Bargains and at the time we also sold tackle for Mitchell’s of Pitlochry, Dave asked me if I wanted to tie at his stand at Scone Palace at the Scottish Game Fair. I went with him and he paid me, and I could sell my flies . He sold everything from knives to rods and everything in between. At Scone he got busy, so I helped selling and then he asked me “can you cast? Take that guy and let him try that rod”, which was a Scott. Once Dave saw me casting he said “right no more fly tying , you sell rods and I will pay you for working at the shows”. In those days in the U.K you could be on the road all summer doing country fairs, we did loads of them for years maybe 20 to 30 per year. I met many people then Dave became too busy with his on-line business to do many shows, but we knew many people by then that worked in the industry from the shows. So, I took a job with Lennox fly rods which was then run by the late Allen Brown who also worked for Bruce and Walker, after Allen passed away I worked with World Sport Fishing selling fishing holidays for a while Stared Angling Classics which my sister helped me with. Then was asked to join Hardy and ended up doing a lot of their casting demos. Then after a long time moved to Partridge and Marryat where I am now as well as running the Irish Fly fair and teaching fly casting and guiding.
In recent years it can really seem like it’s all doom and gloom with declining fly hatches, pollution, poaching etc. Is there anything positive that you can see in recent times?
Yes, most anglers now seem to practice catch and release only taking the occasional fish for the pan. If this is done right it certainly helps wild stocks. When I was young everyone fished for food.
Would you share with us a couple of your favorite flies for Irish river trout?
I have many and love lots of patterns new and old. I also love the tradition and history of old patterns too and I think this is something that is wonderful about our sport. I am , like many fishing for feeding trout in rivers , all about matching the hatch. My favourite river fly is still and always has been the Greenwell in all its variations, probably not only is it still a great fly when olives are on the water but because it was my fathers favoured fly and I have so many great memories of us fishing it together.
I know you used to sing when you were young in rock bands and like myself you have a passion for music. Is this a big part of your life too and are there any other non-fishing activities you also enjoy doing?
Music is a massive part of my life and always will be, though now it’s more going to gigs and listening to it. I love all types of music still it can be Folk, Rock, Blues, Metal, Soul, R&B, Classic and Punk. The well-known American singer song writer Steve Earl, I think hit the nail on the head when he said “there is only two types of music , good and bad “. I also love as I have said motorcycles, cars, hiking in the hills with my wife and weekends out with my mates in Belfast. Pretty Normal stuff.
Thanks very much for taking the time to answer these questions, that’s great. The last word is yours. If there’s anything you would like to add please feel free. And tight lines for 2018!!!
Just look after the country side the best you can never litter and try to be kind to your fellow man, oh and try not to judge others and tight lines to you for 2018.
Stevie Munn. can be contacted for guiding on the Sixmile Water or hosted trips to Norway. And for casting demos for events and shows and teaching fly casting.