Leaving it late
Stan Headley and friends seek that most sought-after Irish fish – a Carrowmore salmon
The search for a Carrowmore salmon with Stan Headley
IT’S A STRANGE thing but I often think fishing in the UK is a very solitary thing, even when in company. It is as if one is undertaking an activity ignored by the rest of a totally uninterested community. Fishing seems to be considered a weird, unattractive, esoteric business by the vast bulk of society. Perhaps, not surprisingly, I never feel that way in Ireland. I always seem to have the belief that everyone around is willing me on to success, that everyone I meet is somehow involved. Is it simply because UK fishing is a minority interest whereas across the sea its Irish equivalent is considered a laudable, justifiable endeavour, something well understood by everyone? Sit in a bar and mention a lough, and someone will appear out of nowhere and provide you with all the information you need to locate it and buy a permit, and then recommend what flies to use and where exactly to employ them. Whereas over there, this is a regular, reliable occurrence, in the UK you’d be damned lucky not to get blank or pitying stares, the sort normally reserved for those released back into the community. Even in what one might consider “fishing centres” such as Kinross or Banchory, talk of golf would raise more interest than fishing. I was tired. Very tired. I had been fishing in Ireland for seven days non-stop – two days each on Sheelin, Corrib and Mask, and a day on Conn – and I was running on fumes, mostly Guinness and cognac fumes. The body and mind seem able to dredge up energy out of nowhere when you have a passion – a life’s mission – in which to indulge. When away from the water I was running on autopilot. And today I was due another long shift on Carrowmore Lake.
My life was falling into a simple routine – eat, drink, sleep, FISH, eat, drink, sleep, FISH. But this rhythm has its upside. One becomes very relaxed, peaceful even, and the extraneous fluff that the conscious mind keeps dredging up to confuse the thought process vanishes and you can concentrate on the job in an almost tranquil fashion. Here’s a classic example from my past – I was due to attend a club outing on Harray, but I had an almost terminal head-cold. My brain was full of porridge, and I didn’t know if it was Shrove Tuesday or Sheffield Wednesday, and I thought “There’s no way I’m going fishin’ today!” Unfortunately, I didn’t factor my boat partner, Norman, into the equation. I was going fishin’ even if he had to throw me into the boat! I vaguely remember us setting up the first drift from the Brig o’ Brodgar to Kirk Bay, getting a fish in the first few casts and after that… nothing. When I resurfaced to a state approaching normality, I was stunned to learn that I had won the match at a canter. Norm told me later that I never dropped a fish. Everything that came to me I hooked. Seems I didn’t have to be fully conscious to catch fish. Maybe sometimes it helped. Paul Caslin, Peter Gathercole and I set out from Foxford on the reasonably short journey to the West End Bar in Bangor Erris where proprietor Seamus Henry was going to provide us with the keys to paradise. Ireland seems liberally besprinkled with these havens for fishermen where decades of fishing talk have bestowed a calming atmosphere that truly welcomes brothers of the angle. I love them and their friendly atmosphere. You get a hint of it this side of the Irish Sea when in a fishing hotel, but for the full, undiluted essence of the real thing UK citizens must travel. As we had motored west I saw a gradual change in landscape. The soft, fertile soils of the archetypal Irish landscape were giving way to moor and mountain, a landscape that states sea-trout and salmon with unequivocal passion. The best migratory habitat is harsh and unforgiving heather and rock. The best of brown trout exist in fertility; moorland drives fish to sea. Carrowmore has a strong reputation as a migratory fish water, famous in the past for its sea-trout. But with the universal decline in migratory trout due to the evil that is salmon farming, Carrowmore is now more of a salmon water. Its spring salmon fishing is nationally important, and I had long dreamed of trying my hand on Carrowmore, although this was May not January. Paul was going to do the guiding while wielding a rod, and Peter was going to record the catch if, indeed, there was a catch to be recorded. Every stop was a struggle, a fight against the desire to shut my eyes and drift off to sleep, but when we arrived at the boat dock I got that surge of energy. This was a sight to gladden the heart of any boat angler. Most boat launch sites look like they could be reclaimed by nature in a few man-free months. This one, however, looked like it had been uplifted from a more urban setting. It had a good tarmacked surface and white lines to demarcate the parking slots. A group of people had worked hard to make the facilities at Carrowmore as good as physically possible. This place was loved, if not actually worshipped. I was impressed. But the midgies, and the beckoning water, made it impossible to hang around and enjoy the view. Carrowmore is a shallow lake with loose bottom sediments, and its waters can become turbid in a strong wind. In such conditions it does not fish. We were lucky in that the breeze was gentle, and I found myself in the peculiar position of not hoping for more wind. Salmon and a good wave are synonymous on all my other haunts, but not here. I have two ways of tackling silver tourists from a boat. A two-fly cast with a Muddler up top, and a threefly cast with Muddlers top and bottom and a bushy Palmer in the middle. The former has a 9 ft-8 ft gap between flies, and the latter about 5 ft between flies. The former is for light winds and the other for a good
“The best migratory habitat is harsh and unforgiving heather and rock”
A determined Paul Caslin motors towards a new drift and away from the midges.
has been fishing for trout since he was a boy and is author of Trout & Salmon Flies of Scotland and The Loch Fisher’s Bible.
ABOVE A glowering sky but the storm is moving away.
RIGHT MIDDLE The donkeys weren’t short of an opinion.