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Trip Report, North Donegal, Ireland, July 1998


By Arthur Greenwood


To give you a flavour of fishing in Ireland, I thought you might be interested to read a report of a typical weekend's fishing for us here. The county of Donegal is in the extreme North West of the country and is wild and remote, sparsely populated and great for fishing wild browns, salmon and seatrout (you guys may call these searun browns - not strictly accurate, but you get the idea). Here's the diary:

My mate Dabbler and I had some good fishing. We started on Friday morning, fished a tiny mountain stream called the Bullaba, got nothing huge, just plenty of wild browns up to 12" - 14" but very obliging little fish and very therapeutic! Mostly wet fly fishing there with softhackles and traditional Irish wetfly patterns - size 14 Wickham's Fancy, Donegal Blue and Briggs' Pennell did most of the damage. Moved from there to a tiny mountain lake called Lough Naboll under the shoulder of Muckish Mountain. Hell of a climb up there but well worth it, lots more wild (and I mean wild!) browns of much the same size - but what fighters! On my 8' Fenwick 4wt they fought like tigers. Strange that we didn't have much success when fishing a single fly but when I changed to a 2 - fly leader they expressed a great interest to the dropper fly worked along the surface - a traditional Irish method.

We had a meal in the little village of Dunfanaghy, a really picturesque Irish village with thatched cottages and the smell of turf smoke all along the single street. The tide was right to enable us to fish the estuary pool of the Lackagh River for seatrout, although we reckoned that we would be pushed off just after midnight by the incoming tide. We can only fish this pool when the tide is low. If this doesn't coincide with dusk, we stay in the pub! Conditions were OK when we arrived at the river and we flipped a coin to see who got prime position at the head of the pool. I won and took up my stand just as darkness was falling. Like it says in all the seatrout books, don't start to fish too early. An old-timer once told me, "Don't even think about starting until the green drains out of the grass" and he was dead right. You know that time at dusk when you can't distinguish colours in the landscape anymore? Well, that was what he was talking about.

Seatrout were splashing around in the gathering gloom, running in to the pool with the tide as I set up my gear - a 10' rod for a 6 weight, 12' level 6 lb leader and a single fly rig. I lengthened my cast over the pool and let the single size 8 Peter Ross on its stainless steel hook swing round with the current. Suddenly - biff! The rod tip dipped and I lifted into a lovely seatrout of about 2.5 lbs. This fish spent the next five minutes giving a display of aerobatics like you would see at an air show. Finally netted him, took a pic and released him safely. I got several other smaller fish then at 12.30 am, with a deep red glow still in the western sky, I felt the cold slop of the incoming tide find its way down both my hip waders! Time to go. I waded ashore and found Dabbler at the tail of the pool where he had only 2 small seatrout but was happy enough with the result.

Night fishing

Rather than drive straight back to Dunfanaghy where we were staying we headed up to Glen village - 1 grocery shop, 3 pubs and a post office. At 1 am, Mary's Halligan's pub was still packed to the rafters with locals, the sound of the fiddle and riotous singing coming from the back room. The local police force was in there too, drinking a bottle of Guinness and we bought him another, so closing time wasn't going to be a problem tonight.....Mary herself produced 2 hot Powers' whiskies without being asked as she knows that we usually arrive either cold or wet or, more often, both. As we dried out beside the roaring turf fire and made plans for our day afloat on Glen Lough the next day, the Powers just kept coming unasked and we kept downing 'em until Dabbler reminded me that it was 3:30 am and we had to collect the key for the boat at 9 o'clock in the morning. The place was still jumping as we dragged ourselves away.....

Two bleary-eyed anglers tackled up at the landing stage on Glen Lough at 9:30 am the next day. It looked like a good day to be afloat - nice westerly breeze, high cloud, brown trout rising behind us - and salmon and seatrout in the lough too, we'd been told. Different gear today, my 10' 6" Loomis with a 7wt lay in the 19' boat ready for action. We had trolling rods and a dapping rod too for emergencies. First drift was Home Bay, along by the feeder stream where the seatrout lie ready to run and spawn in the autumn. A 2 - fly leader once again.

I had a Zulu on the dropper, a Connemara Black on the tail, both size 10s. The small browns kept fussing around the dropper fly as it tripped through the wave tops, but I was ignoring them, not striking, watching for a bigger swirl at the fly. Sure enough, it came, sooner than I expected and I missed it. Alerted by the foul language, Dabbler dropped his tail fly neatly in the diminishing swirl and stuck it in a surprised and angry seatrout which may or may not have been the same one I released last night! Same size, anyway, and had been to the same flight school as the other guy! Netted and released, we'll compare 'em when the photos are developed.

Covered the bay a few times more, only small browns showed an interest, so I fired up the Johnson and motored a mile across the lake to the Owencarrow River inflow, a wide reedy bay where the migratory fish rest before continuing their journey upstream to Glenveagh Lough - a wild and beautiful place which we fish later in the year when the salmon and seatrout have completed their journey. Lots of stories about Glenveagh, but for another time. One boat just leaving the bay as we arrived, we exchanged greetings and they called across that some salmon were showing at the top of the bay. Killed the Johnson, into stealth mode with the Minn Kota electric. Began the drift out of the bay but no sign of any fish. We reckoned that the other boat had disturbed 'em, so we went ashore for an early lunch. Ham rolls with English mustard on fresh crusty French bread, still warm from the oven washed down by strong tea boiled up from fresh lake water in the Kelly Kettle - fit for a king!

This is me

Second drift down the bay was exciting. Dabbler extracted a smallish seatrout of about 14" to a Butcher on his second cast, then five minutes later I lifted into a deceptively small rise to find myself attached to a beautiful grilse (1 sea-winter Atlantic salmon). He fought hard and deep with several long reel-screaming runs which caused a little concern when the backing appeared on the Battenkill reel. However, the fish was soon on his side and sliding into the net. Unhooked the Connemara Black and looked at the fish. Six pounds, we reckoned and just arrived in the lake on the flood last week. We debated whether to keep him, but since he was my first of the season, I opted to release the fish. Plenty more where that came from! (I hope!)

Then the rain started. If you've never experienced Irish rain, let me tell you it has a way of finding its way through any material invented by man, be it Gore Tex, PVC, waxed cotton or a hermetically sealed plastic envelope. Within half an hour, we were soaked and the fish didn't think much of it either. The lake went completely dead, even the small and usually reliable browns stopped rising. We trolled spoons for an hour, went ashore for more tea, trolled again, flyfished and swore a lot.

By five o'clock, we had had enough. Mary Halliagn's fire beckoned so we drifted back across Home Bay and wonder of wonders, Dabbler pulled a seatrout of just over 15" to a dibbled Daddy-Long-Legs (Crane-fly) with virtually his last cast! But this guy was Infantry, not Air Force, fought in the trenches and fought to his last bullet. Again we returned the fish and debated whether to continue. The thought of the fire and the whiskies won and so we packed up and headed to the pub. Very quiet in there at six o'clock, just a few tourists. Had a chat with a some nice folks from Kansas City, here doing the "roots" thing. Then back to base for a meal and an evening in the hotel bar.

Sadly, we had to go home on Sunday but we agreed to follow our tradition which is always to fish somewhere new on our last day. We had heard of some lakes high on a hill on the Donegal - Fermanagh border. We checked our small scale maps of the area and found these lakes - didn't seem to be a road within miles of any of 'em. Stuck a pin in one and agreed to fish it on the way back.

Dabbler did some tricky navigation to find our new lake. The roads became tracks and eventually the tracks just stopped altogether. We abandoned the car and set out across wild, boggy moorland for a couple of miles, following the compass. Crested a hill and there below us was a little jewel of a lake, glinting in the afternoon sunshine. It was about 40 acres in size, some little rocky islands in the middle and not a sign of human life anywhere. Half a dozen mallard ducks burst angrily from the reeds and flapped away into the blue sky in annoyance. A fox, which had set up an observation post in a clump of heather for duck surveillance, trotted away in disappointment.

We began to fish eagerly but as time wore on, I got a nagging feeling that this place wasn't going to produce the goods. We both changed flies, using all the tried and tested patterns and sizes for such places. I changed leader size, pattern size, down and down until I could hardly see to tie on a fly. Tried fluorocarbon in case the trout could see monofil - diddly squat.

Dabbler and I had agreed to meet up in a small wood at the far end of the lake before making our way back across the bog. He got there before I did and as I arrived, he asked,

"Notice anything about these trees?"

"Standard issue pine trees," I replied.

"Yeah, with brown needles, in July?"

"Shit, acid rain!" we both said together.

So, even in this remote and beautiful western region, clouds containing dilute sulphuric acid from the factory chimneys of Western Europe had dumped their deadly contents on the hills, wiping out flora and fauna. We grubbed around under the rocks at the lake shore, looking for shrimps, larvae, bugs, any trout food. Nothing. Dead as a doornail. No wonder there weren't any trout in the lake - nothing for 'em to eat. That was a pretty long and thoughtful walk back to the car. ~ Shuck Raider

More Fly Fishing in Europe:
Zulu's - By Alan the Highlander
Teal Blue Variant - By Alan the Highlander
Green Highlander - By Alan the Highlander
North Donegal, Ireland - By Arthur Greenwood
Marble Trout in Slovenia - By Tomaz Modic
Red and Cinnamon Sedge - By Alan Goodwin
Rogan of Donegal - By Arthur Greenwood
Bug Tank Benefits - By Peter Lapsley
River Piddle, U.K. - By Paul Slaney
A Day on the River Test By Mike Pratt
Ladyís Fish Finder Fly By Mike Pratt
Cast Again? - By Mike Pratt
Just Good to be There - By Mike Pratt
Why Fish? - By Mike Pratt
The pleasure of anticipation . . . - By Mike Pratt
A Pleasant and Surprising Day - By Mike Pratt
Donít duck the issue! - By Mike Pratt
To Russia with Love - By Ron Gras
Just Simple Pleasure - By Mike Pratt
Rich - Beyond the Dreams of Avarice - By Mike Pratt
The Good Place (Ireland) - By Jim Clarke
The Elusive Lake - By Jim Clarke
The Big Rod - By Jim Clarke
The Bank Manager's Fish - By Jim Clarke
Catch and Release . . .or not - By Jim Clarke
Fish On Half a Rod - By Jim Clarke
Sockeye the Easy Way - By Jim Clarke
The Odd Couple - By Jim Clarke
Fly Fishing Scotland - By Franz Grimley
The Artist - By Jim Clarke
One to Remember - By Jim Clarke
The Italian Secret - By Ralph Shuey
Opening Day on an English Chalk Stream - By Roger Ellis
Kolpakova River, Western Russia - By Rob Merrill
Fishing in the Czech Republic - By Tim Baldwin
2004 Fishing Season in the Czech Republic - By Tim Baldwin

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