Spoilt for choice
How to fish Lough Melvin – which hosted the Ladies International this year
EVEN as you’re puzzling over the man on the harbour wall, dressed like TopGear ’s myster y driver, The Stig and waving the f lag of the Irish provinces, another oddity greets you. Just east of the harbour, the boatman turns your boat right and it nudges its way through a narrow channel, between tall grasses rising boldly from the water, towards the main body of the lough and the distant mountains of County Leitrim. It makes for a strange few moments: par t- AfricanQueen, par t- TheField. Should Fate deal you a bum hand and leave you with just one day’s f ishing during a visit to Ireland, there may not be many venues offering more bang for your buck than this one. Dramatic entrances apart, Lough Melvin is also home to salmon, char, perch and four species of wild trout, the latter comprising brownies, ferox, gillaroo and sonaghan. Aside from the range of fish, you could even lay claim to have ‘done’ both sides of the Irish border in your one day af loat, with the lough’s north-eastern corner in Northern Ireland, while the rest of its 16 square miles lie within the Republic. In his definitive book, Loughs of Ireland, Peter O’Reilly makes no bones about it, calling Melvin “… by far the most important salmon and trout fishery in the
north-west”, given its status as one of the few lakes in northern Europe to have remained relatively undisturbed in the 12,000 years since the last Ice Age thawed. A Royal Irish Academy report in 2004 called for urgent conservation of the lo ugh’ st rout types( all of which are indigenous to the lough) given that they are genetically distinct, due to
independent ancestr y and separate spawning areas. None of which was likely to have been at the forefront of anyone’s mind when women anglers of the British Isles convened here for the Ladies International Fly Fishing Championships in June, hosted by the Garrison & Lough Melvin A nglers’ Association. A fter ‘Stig’ and his fellow f lag-bearers waved the competitors off in bright sunshine, the morning gave way to diagonal lunchtime rain and an afternoon beset by winds which the Belfast
Telegraph reported as reaching 35mph. Anyone treated more charitably by the elements when visiting Melvin, however, will find the place at re at for the eyes. If the shores to the north and east are low and unremarkable, ample compensation is found on the southern bank, where the Leitrim Mountains “throws its dark shadow over the deep waters ”, in the words of one 19 th century writer. On this occasion, few will have expected bumper haul sin such difficult conditions and ultimately 15 fish were enough for England to take gold, a single fish ahead of their hosts, with Scotland’s nine trout earning bronze, four fish clear of Wales. There was consolation for Ireland’s near miss, as Co. Armagh’s Linda Straghan won her second Brown Bowl in four years as top rod, with three fish for 88 cm. Spare a thought, however, for Scotland’s Kathleen Sheppard, who caught her first-ever sonaghan and gillaroo, a long with a stunning 8lb brownie, all on the same practice day, making her merely the latest in a long line of sportspeople to be painfully schooled on the subject of peaking too soon… Once the dust settled on the event, we caught up with three of the day’s protagonists - one of the victors, one of the locals and one of the boatmen - to discuss what constitutes a winning approach to Lough Melvin. Read their views elsewhere in this article.
“...any gillaroo have to go back, which can be tricky because even I struggle to tell them and brown trout apart sometimes, so be careful...”
The Ladies’ International gets under way, in the shadow of the Leitrim Mountains.
Early signs of the gales to come, as the fleet of competitors makes for open water.
The teams are piped down to the harbour.