Multi Species Sea Fishing

Last summer (2018) due to the unusually hot summer and drought conditions on the rivers in Ireland I practically stopped fishing for trout and other freshwater fish. The waters were too low and too warm for catch and release fishing.

After a few weeks of frustration from not being able to fish locally I turned my attention to the only type of fly fishing that would be any good in those conditions – saltwater fly fishing!

My brother and I had talked a few times about doing a camping trip with some saltwater fly fishing so with the freshwater fishing out of the question this seemed like a good time to finally get around to doing it. Our plan was to do a bit of mixed sea fishing for various species and a bit of saltwater fly fishing for Pollock, mackerel and wrasse in between.

We decided on going to a mark that we used to fish together and go camping there when we were kids. I hadn’t been back there in 23 years!!! The place we chose was Carrigaholt in County Clare. Carrigaholt always provided the opportunity to catch a wide range of sea fish. The most common species found there are; mackerel, Pollock, wrasse, dogfish, bull huss, conger eel, thornback ray, dab and flounder. Carrigaholt is situated in South Clare, just outside the popular seaside town of Kilkee along the mouth of the Shannon Estuary. From where we were camping you could clearly see across the Estuary to County Kerry. Not a lot has changed here in the 23 years since I’ve been there except for the windmills across the Estuary in County Kerry.

Carrigaholt was always one of Ireland’s lesser known gems and never really gets that busy even in the height of the summer. And like anywhere in Ireland it is steeped in local history and unique landscape. But more of that later.

We set off from my brothers house early on the Thursday morning and our first stop was to Kilkee to catch some mackerel from the cliffs for bait for the next few days. Or at least that’s what we thought! The cliffs we went to are among the best in the country for mackerel but surprising to us there was none around! This is highly unusual for that time of year. We met a couple of Polish lads who spent two days there and said they caught absolutely nothing between them. We persevered for a couple of hours casting our feather rigs off the cliffs but we decided to cut our losses and head into Kilkee town and buy some bait. Before we left I had a good look around and took in the familiar sights that I haven’t seen in years. I took a moment to remember some of the friends and people I knew that I used to fish up there with but sadly are no longer with us. It was lovely being back there after all these years but the rubbish from anglers littering the rocks put a dampner on it.

So on we went into Kilkee town for to buy some fresh mackerel. The street vendors that normally sold fresh mackerel on the corner were not there and the small seaside town seemed eerily quite. I went into the local butcher shop and asked if he had any mackerel or if he knew anywhere I could buy some. He told me that the mackerel were very scare that year and said when the hot weather came the mackerel seemed to vanish. They usually come in with hot weather so we were taken by surprise. From there we drove out to the fish mongers in Carrigaholt village but they had none either and said there was none to be got anywhere. This was a disaster as we badly needed fresh mackerel for the congers. We decided to take a chance and drive back to Kilrush and try Tescos. We were in luck and managed to buy mackerel fillets. I prefer heads and tails for conger but it would do.

Back we went to Carrigaholt full of optimism. We headed straight to where we were going to camp – the wreck. Parts of the wreck are visible at low tide as can be seen in the pic below. It is a wreck of a steamship from Panama called the Okeanos which ran aground in 1947. It was transporting grain from the River Plate (now the area of Argentina and Uruguay) to Limerick. On its way back up the Shannon Estuary after delivering its cargo of 5000 tonnes of grain she hit a rock and sounded her siren. The Okeanos was wedged on two ledges 60 feet from the shore which was lucky for the crew onboard who were easily rescued from the ship by local farmers. Of course the incident is surrounded in mystery and many locals believe it was deliberately ran aground. To read a good colourful account of the events click this link: https://clarechampion.ie/70th-anniversary-of-okeanos-shipwreck/

After we got our tents pitched we quickly went to our place on the rocks overlooking the wreck. Despite our problems in the morning we were bang on schedule and timed our arrival well as the tide was just about to start coming in. Edd set up a couple of rods for the conger close to the wreck but I was too anxious to start fly fishing so after a quick bottle of beer I headed off along the rocks to try a few casts for pollock. My set up was simple, my 10wt pike fly rod with a fast sinking di10 line, a relatively short leader of Amnesia in 15lbs b/s and a few bright coloured weighted clouser minnows for the Pollock. It didn’t take long before I was into some Pollock.

The conger fishing was still slow so Edd decided to do a bit of fly fishing for pollock too and he was also into a few pollock quiet quickly. Although we released the majority of the fish we caught, we kept just one 4lb pollock for us to fry up on a camping stove for our dinner and it was absolutely delicious.

After our feed of fresh pollock and an ice cold bottle of beer to wash it down the tide was just starting to turn and go back out so we decided this would be a good time to try for a conger so we put on some fresh strips of mackerel on a rod each and lobbed the baits just out in front of us between the rock we were sitting on and the wreck.

It wasn’t until the tide was nearly out before we got our first bite from a conger. It came to Edd’s rod and he had no trouble bringing it in and landing it at the side of the rocks. The main worry when you are fishing close to a wreck is that the conger will back up into the wreck which would then be a guaranteed lost fish. When you hook a conger they spin and swim backwards back into the snag they came out of. Another while past and the tide was well out when I got a solid tap on my rod. I hit it hard and held on. It was a very big conger and despite using 70lb braid as my mainline I couldn’t get the fish to budge. The sheer power of it was amazing. Definitely the biggest conger I ever hooked. I kept it there not giving it an inch but unfortunately it broke me off. The wire trace broke.

After that it was starting to get late so we done a bit more fly fishing this time trying for wrasse. I changed flies and tried everything from small baitfish patterns, sandeel patterns and shrimp patterns but unfortunately we couldn’t find any wrasse but had a few more pollock.

Then we put the rods away for the night and sat around drinking beer and reminiscing of days gone by. It really was a trip down memory lane. As we were chatting a ferry went past that was all lit up and it was lovely to watch. As it faded away into the horizon we called it a night and went into our tents to get our heads down for a few hours.

The next morning we woke early and cooked a fry up and made coffee on the camping stove. As we had breakfast we discussed our plans for our final day. We both wanted another go at the conger but we weren’t very confident of getting any from the wreck that day. So we decided we give it a try on the incoming and outgoing tide then after that we would try the beach at Carrigaholt village on our way home. As we were making our plans a boat tour were out past us on a dolphin watching trip. They must have been envious of us because the dolphins were swimming around just right in front of us.

Our suspicions were right about the conger. It was all too quiet so we decided that before we left early wreck we would fish along the other side of the rocks to see what we could pick up. But all we managed to get there was a good few dogfish.

Although it was another addition to our list of species caught on the trip , we soon got fed up with catching them and decided it was time to move and try the beach at Carrigaholt village.

The beach at Carrigaholt is known to produce thornback ray. And some pretty big ones too. Except for one other Polish angler there and a couple of swimmers we practically had the place to ourselves and this was a Saturday afternoon in the middle of July during a heatwave!

23 years ago when I last in Carrigaholt there would have been a good few anglers fishing especially along the beach and along the pier near the castle. But these days there’s just not anywhere near as many people fishing in Ireland anymore.

With a rod each out but baited with mackerel strips we waited in anticipation in the hopes of a thornback ray but unfortunately we didn’t get anything other than more dogfish.

After a few hours we called it a day and we stopped off on the way home at a popular chipper in Kilkee for some first class fish and chips. We both agreed that we would try to make this an annual thing of a couple of days camping and fishing together in the summer. We already have plans for this summer which is going to be in a few weeks. We are returning to Carrigaholt but we have a whole different plan for this time. I will do another article about this year’s trip.

North Country Spiders For Irish Rivers

Classic North Country Spiders : successful patterns for Irish rivers and the fly species they imitate

Many of you will know that I love fishing spiders. I recently made this as a post for my Facebook group Fly Fishing For Trout In Irish rivers after a couple of people asked me about doing it. I thought I would put it up on here for anyone else who might like to see it.

So I thought I would share some of my knowledge of North Country Spiders with you all. To avoid any confusion please note that these style of wet flies originate in the North of England, hence the name. Here in Ireland we simply call them Spiders and in America they are known as Soft Hackle Wet Flies. Although technically a wet fly they are actually more like an emerger really in that they imitate an emerging hatching fly.

Hopefully some of you might find this useful.

So here’s a list of some of the most useful spiders there are for Irish rivers and the sizes to tie/ fish them .

It’s by no means a comprehensive list of all spiders and of course you don’t need to have this many spiders in your box to catch trout but If you had all these spiders in your box you would catch fish on any Irish river in any conditions any time of the year. Pretty much everything is covered by these.

  • Snipe and purple #14, #16, (iron blue)
  • Partridge and Yellow #14, #16 (pale wateries and other pale ephemera species)
  • Partridge and orange #12, #14, #16 (stonefly)
  • Black spider #14, #16, #18 (midge)
  • Black and silver #14, #16, #18 (midge)
  • Straddle bug #10, #12 (Mayfly)
  • Greenwells spider #14 (various olives)
  • Claret and black #14, #16 (iron blue)
  • Woodcock and green #14, #16 (various olives. Can also be taken as a sedge)
  • Snipe and Yellow #14, #16 (all pale upwinged ephemera )
  • Black quill #14, #16 (various olives)
  • Olive Partridge and olive quill #14 (various olives)
  • Endrick Spider #10, #12, #14 (march brown. Also great for sea trout and salmon and works great for loughs as well as rivers for big brown trout)
  • Hares lug and plover #12, #14, (large dark olive)
  • Dark Watchet #14, #16 (iron blue)
  • Gravel Bed #12, #14 (daddy long legs)
  • Partridge and dark olive #12, #14, #16 (various olives)
  • Poult bloa #14, #16 (spurwings, pale wateries and blue winged olive)
  • Olive bloa #12, #14 (large dark olive)
  • Waterhen bloa #14, #16 (iron blue and large dark olives)
  • Iron blue #14, #16, #18 (iron blue)
  • February Red #14, #16 (emerging baetis nymph)
  • March brown #12, #14 (march brown)
  • Partridge and hares ear #12, #14, #16 (sedge)
  • Peacock and red #12, #14 (alder and sedges)

These are all very well known famous patterns and tried and tested for generations. Obviously you can easily reduce the amount of patterns but these cover everything.

Another thing worth knowing is that all nymphs are at least a size bigger than the natural dun when fully hatched. The spiders should also be a size bigger than the natural duns you see in the air. And at the start of the season the natural flies are big then as the season goes on they decrease in size. Also early season their wings are darker and they get lighter in colour as the season goes on too. So keep this in mind: early season- larger and darker, mid season smaller and lighter and at the end of the season they are bigger and darker again. I hope this information is of use to some of you.

Upstream Nymphing

Learn how to improve your technique for upstream nymphing which will in turn improve your understanding of watercraft, your presentation, stealth and approach.

Up to 90% of a trouts diet is subsurface so it’s no surprise why fishing with nymphs is such a successful method. And often the bigger trout will mostly be feeding on nymphs.

Most modern anglers often only fish nymphs when the conditions are not suited for dry fly fishing. And some even dismiss it as a chuck it and chance way of fishing with very little skill which really couldn’t be further from the truth. To be consistently good at catching trout on nymphs takes a lot of skill.

Nymphing is getting very popular in recent years which has really given the tackle industry the kick up the arse it needed to produce more suitable tackle for upstream nymphing such as dedicated nymphing rods and proper suitable nymphing leaders. I’m not going to get in-depth into the rods and tackle needed for upstream nymphing other than to say that you are going to want a good long 10 or 11 foot rod in the 2 or 3wt class and a lightweight reel to accompany it. Essentially you are looking for something that is long and sensitive enough to give you more control of your drift and keep you in touch with your flies at all times and it has to be light enough to not cramp your arms from holding it up all day. Soft rods are essential for the sensitivity needed for upstream nymphing.

Why Upstream? – There’s quiet a few reasons why we fish upstream. Fishing upstream will always give us an advantage and at times we can even selectively target the better fish by singling out and presenting our nymphs to the better fish which with close attention to detail can be observed feeding on nymphs.

Stealth – A stealthy approach is necessary for all types of fly fishing but even more so for nymphing. By choosing to fish upstream we already have an advantage when it comes to stealth, trout have a 30 degrees blindspot to the rear so as long as we are careful and stealthy in our approach we can get very close to a trout without them being able to see us.

While wading if we are wading upstream the gravel, mud and debris is washed downstream well away from the fish we are trying to catch. Take good care to wade slowly and quietly and in shallow clear water crouch down and even kneel in the water if necessary.

Watercraft – Without a doubt watercraft is the single most important thing to learn to become successful at catching trout and it’s something we probably never stop learning no matter how long we’ve been fishing. As important as watercraft is for all fly fishing methods it is even more important for fishing subsurface as we can’t always see where the fish are feeding so we are going to need to learn how to read the water and to identify fish holding areas because simply put if they are not there we can’t catch them. And we can easily scare away the fish by wading through prime fish holding spots to cast to areas that will not hold any fish. While this is an ongoing learning curve for all anglers the upstream nymphing angler will develop a good understanding watercraft much quicker than any other fly fishing method simply because they have to! With no rising fish to give their location away it is more difficult at first glance but over time you will build up a better picture of what to look for to identify fish holding areas.

Presentation – Underwater presentation is a much different affair than fishing above the surface. There’s a lot more involved and a lot more to consider such as water depths, desired depth, sink rates, river bed contours, structure, speed of flow, water clarity etc.

The key to success is to cast your nymphs to the most likely looking spots but it’s not as simple as that. You will also need to make sure your nymph is at the required depth when it passes the likely looking holding spot. Another factor to take into consideration is the weight of your nymph and how quickly it will sink. You want it to get down to the trout. Touching bottom now and then is ideal whereas dredging the bottom is no good because you will just keep getting snagged on the bottom. I’m the summer or months or just before a good hatch an unweighted nymph fished higher in the water is also very successful.

Light tippets will allow your nymphs to sink quicker whereas thicker diameter tippets will offer resistance to the water tension and make your nymphs sink slower. But if you go too fine you will risk losing a lot of your flies in snags and possibly some fish if they take aggressively which sometimes can be the case .

When the rivers are high or flooded or when you are fishing deeper runs extra weight can be necessary to get your get your nymphs down to the fish. This can be done by adding splitshot to your leader but it is not necessary because by selecting a heavy weight nymph such as Perdigones or any nymphs that are heavily weighted with lead wire on the underbody you should be able to get your nymphs down to where you want them.

Opportunistic Feeders – While it is true that trout are opportunistic feeders that does not mean that they will swim around all day looking for food and take anything put in front of them. What it really means is that they will take up station in a lie that will naturally present great opportunities for drifting food morsels and afford them sanctuary from predators. They always lie facing into the current and often the best lies will be in between weed beds, behind rocks or boulders , in deep depressions or holes in otherwise shallow water, around bridges, and other natural or man made structure. It’s no coincidence that the biggest trout will always inhabit the best spots.

These features will offer the trout a few advantages. Safety from predators, respite from strong currents and most important of all it provides them a comfortable place to hold up in and to wait for the current to deliver their food like a conveyer belt without having to waste energy battling the current or without having to keep fleeing due to being visible to predators. Their only concern is survival. And to survive it needs to conserve energy as much as possible. A nymph drifting downstream towards the fish with the current is an easy meal that will require very little energy for the fish to catch.

Sight Fishing – When the river or stream is clear or low we can often clearly see the trout feeding in between the weed beds or in other trout holding areas. It can be a great method during the summer months when the trout are reluctant to rise to the surface on warm sunny days but they will often take a small suggestive nymph delicately cast to upstream of their lie and allowed to drift down to them . Small size 18 or 20 pheasant tail nymphs are ideal for this kind of situation.

Polarised sunglasses should be worn for any kind of fly fishing really but they really are essential for upstream nymphing. They cut out the surface glare and allow you to see into the water much clearer than what the naked eye can see.

Sometimes you will be able to see the whole drift and the take depending on water clarity but often you will just see the white of its mouth opening to take the fly.

This type of upstream nymphing is every bit as satisfying as dry fly fishing and every bit as skillful too.

The Drift – As with any other method of fly fishing the drift is of utmost importance as it is how the fly drifts that determines wether a fish will eat it or refuse it and in the case of fishing with nymphs even be able to see our nymphs .

We need to track our nymphs downstream with our rod tip and make sure our rod tip is always downstream of our nymphs as they drift downstream and that we always maintain a taut line to our nymphs throughout the drift.

Indicators – Throw them in the bin!!! Seriously, indicators will only prevent you from becoming a better nympher. They will cause your nymphs to drift at the speed of the surface which is faster than the current on the river bed thereby hindering your presentation. Also they won’t help you in the long run when it comes to being able to detect takes and they can also slow down your ability to learn watercraft and become a better nympher.

By indicators I am taking about those bobber style indicators and not the indicator line used for euro nymphing, French Nymphing, Czech nymphing etc. Those indicator lines are a different story as they don’t hinder your presentation and you don’t become reliant on them to be able to detect takes.

The Take – Unlike fishing with dry flies we can’t always see the take with nymphs so we need to be in tune with our other senses. By touch we can feel the take and this is the essence of upstream nymphing. To be able to do that we need to keep in contact with our flies at all times. This is another reason why we make sure our rod tip is always downstream of our nymphs as they drift downstream and that we maintain a taut line to our nymphs throughout the drift.

Sometimes takes can be very aggressive, sometimes they can be explosive splashed on the surface as the fish takes the nymphs but more often than not they are very subtle and usually you will just feel a slight pluck and other times you will only see a slight hesitation on the leader or fly line on the surface. When upstream nymphing always strike at anything out of the ordinary no matter how subtle. A good upstream nympher will have what can only be described as a sixth sense. Someone watching might be wondering what they are striking at and how they knew there was a take but somehow they just knew . It’s impossible to explain but in time most successful nymphers develop this skill.

Matching The Hatch – When we talk about matching the hatch most anglers only think about dry fly fishing or to some extent wet fly fishing but it can be equally as important with nymph fishing. There’s certainly times when trout are selectively feeding on a specific species of nymphs.

Size Matters – The size of your fly is always of the utmost importance and it’s no different with fishing nymphs. For early and late season the majority of nymphs will be on the large side , size 14 and 16. Mid season and high summer the majority of nymphs will be very small , size 18 and 20 and sometimes even smaller! Naturally there’s going to be a few exceptions such as caddis nymphs and especially the cased caddis which is generally around a size 8 or 10 . And the Mayfly (ephemera danica) nymph which again is usually around a size 8 or 10 .

Fly Selection – Nymphs generally fall into 3 categories: realistic, suggestive or attractors. Realistic nymphs are to exactly imitate a particular nymph species. Suggestive nymphs are ones that are suggestive of a wide range of natural nymphs such as the well known classic Pheasant Tail nymph or Hare’s Ear Nymph. They will have characteristics of a few different types of nymphs but without exactly matching any one in particular. Attractor nymphs are usually bright flashy nymphs such as Perdigones and are often more designed to sink quicker rather than to imitate any kind of natural nymphs although sometimes they can loosely do so.

In recent years due to water pollution, pesticides from farms, siltation of the rivers and other factors, the fly hatches aren’t what they once were and often dry fly fishing and the evening rise can be very hit and miss. This is a big part of why upstream nymphing is becoming more popular. And at the rate the fly hatches seem to be deteriorating it is highly likely that the future of fly fishing in our rivers and streams will be more nymph fishing than anything else. The competition scene is already dominated by nymphing these days and the reason for that is simple, upstream nymphing gets the results.

Some suggestions for nymphs:

Cased caddis:

Mayfly (ephemera danica):

Gammarus:

Hare’s Ear:

Perdigon:

Beadhead PTN:

Copper John’s:

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