Old school on the Keel

Sunday morning:

No wind. Not even a faint zephyr. Glassy surfaces on the loughs meaning every cast causes fish scaring ripples. The thought of a day spent chasing corduroy ripples across the vastness of Lough Conn did not appeal so I demurred on my planned visit to the Massbrook shoreline. I needed a plan ‘B’ so I made some coffee and mulled the options. Recent rains have enlivened the rivers and there seem to be a few salmon in the River Moy. The problem is that a weekend day on the Moy after a rise in water levels attracts anglers in their hundreds. Health and Safety professionals would have a heart attack seeing quantities of sharpened treble hooks being flung around with so little regard for human flesh. Pushing through crowds of rod wielding fishers is both unproductive and testing. I can find little in the way of relaxation when confronted with lines of anglers casting into the pools. Sure fish will be caught but when the river is so busy I’d rather toddle off to somewhere less infested.

Wickhams

The river Robe saw some much-needed water and this will have livened up the local trout population no doubt. Half way through June means the BWO hatches will be in full swing and there is every chance of some hectic sport as the westering sun dips below the Partry hills. A possibility…….

The Keel Canal. This enigmatic stretch of unlikely looking water is also on my radar at this time of year. The main road from Ballinrobe to Castlebar (N84) crosses the Keel and the visitor could easily miss it. The channel is narrow and straight. Reeds crowd the banks where the water exits Lough Carra and these give way to high banks for the rest of the passage to Lough Mask. Its crystal clear water is populated with wild trout equipped with telescopic eyesight. If you enjoy a challenge then the Keel canal is ready to provide it both in terms of technical difficulty and the potential size of the quarry. I have landed trout to nearly 5 pounds here and lost fish that have simply disappeared at the end of scintillating runs, leaving me shaking and awestruck at their power. Yes, I think I will hit the Keel this evening. Fist though, I need to get the right gear together.

The most important piece of equipment every angler needs for an evening’s trout fishing in Ireland is insect repellent. Don’t even think of venturing out on the river bank without some. Trillions of biting midges are out there waiting for your succulent blood. Failure to prepare accordingly will ruin your fishing, so invest in some good insect repellent and apply liberally.

Leaders need to be made up too. I generally don’t make up leaders ahead of time as I have had experience of catastrophic failures when using old casts with all the strength of cotton thread. But an evening on the Keel requires quick changes in the darkness, so I want to keep knots to a minimum. 5x casts for earlier on and some 6 pound mono ones for the sedge fishing in the dark.

my Ginger Sedge

Normally I get by with very few patterns, especially dry flies. An Adams, a small red sedge, a red spinner – I’d be pretty confident if I only had these three in my box for ‘normal’ dry fly fishing on Irish rivers. The Keel is different though and the fish seem to switch quickly between different food forms, meaning you have to keep watching and adjusting your approach constantly. One pattern I have used to good effect is a small dry Black Sedge. I have tried this pattern elsewhere with a conspicuous lack of success, but on the Keel it works and occasionally works extremely well. I tied this fly up after seeing a trout feeding on the naturals one evening a few years ago. We have all seen those small dark/black sedges in large numbers dancing over the surface but the trout steadfastly ignore them. I have read about this and my own observations concurred that the fish simply did not like these insects, until I clearly saw that fish on the Keel chomping them.

My plan is simple, arrive on the water around 8pm and await developments, possibly amusing myself by targeting roach on tiny nymphs until the trout come on the feed. Fish into the darkness with dries until I can’t see them and switch to skating sedges. It is like a game of two halves; the first is sight fishing, casting to specific trout on a short line. The second half is completely different, inky blackness enveloping you, listening intently for the noise of a rising fish and directing your casts accordingly. The big lads come out to play once the sun has completely set so the excitement is cranked up a few notches knowing any take is liable to be from a monster.

Sunday evening:

The day, which had started dull and overcast but very warm, had blossomed into a glorious summer’s afternoon. We went to Westport, had a bite to eat and enjoyed the grand weather. I had some things to do around the house and it was nearly 9pm before I hit the road. As I was setting up at the roadside an old work colleague stopped for a chat and so it was gone 10pm before I cast my first line.

very low water on the Keel

The air was alive with flies, buzzers, some empherid spinners and a host of small sedges. I fished dry with spinner patterns and took some small trout off the top. Although the fish were small this was very challenging fishing as the flow moved around constantly, making drag a huge problem. I missed dozens, pricked a good few and half-a-dozen or so came to hand.

small but still hard to catch!

Eventually I decided to change to sedges as they seemed to be by far the most numerous species on the wing. My Ginger Sedge occupied the dropper position while a size 14 Wickham’s Fancy was attached to the end of the leader. I dropped down to the lower pool and on the very first cast hooked a nice trout.

a good fish on the Wickham

The Wickhams was buried in his scissors. Fishing out the pool proved to be unproductive so I went back upstream to find the surface pock-marked with rising trout. Great sport ensued as fish hurled themselves at the flies I dragged over them. None were massive but each was welcome in this season of poor fortunes. By now it was getting pretty dark so once again I sauntered down stream and combed the lower pool with the cast of two.

The take, when it came, was the stuff of fishing dreams. Out of nowhere the line tightened as the surface broke. All the slack I was holding vanished in the blink of an eye and the reel gave a screech. The rod bent as out there in the darkness a hefty trout dashed for cover. It didn’t jump but I reckon it tried very other trick in the trouts repertoire. I stumbled across some large limestone boulders to gain a landing spot on a narrow gravel bar, unhitching my net as I went. The landing went according to plan and a fine fish slid over the rim and into the mesh.

I was in a hurry to get this lad back into the water so I am afraid the photos do not do him justice. This was a fine fish of perhaps a couple of pounds, beautifully marked and the shape of a rugby ball. And the successful fly? That old school Wickham’s again!

I fished on for a bit more but without any further success. The midges were beginning to bite despite my insect repellent (why do they always bite my ears?) and I had work in the morning so I called it a day and negotiated  the meadow between the river and the car accompanied by numerous bats enjoying a midnight feast. I mulled the events of the evening as I drove home. I had done OK but I should have done better. My ratio of fish risen to landed was very poor. As it used to say on my school reports ‘Colin can do better’

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