Leav­ing it late

Stan Headley and friends seek that most sought-af­ter Ir­ish fish – a Car­row­more salmon

Trout & Salmon (UK) - - Contents - PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: PETER GATHER­COLE

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”

10

A de­ter­mined Paul Caslin mo­tors to­wards a new drift and away from the midges.

STAN HEADLEY

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.

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