It’s been a busy few weeks lately. Getting ready for game fairs and chasing salmon in Donegal. The shop is currently in the early stages of being put back together after this years Game Fair at Shanes Castle and we are planning out new trips for customers coming over to try out the fishing that Ireland has to offer.
Last week I picked a guest up from the airport and headed for the River Finn. The great statement ‘you should have been here last week’ proved to ring true. Low water, bright sunshine and the warmest day of the year so far proved to be tough conditions indeed, but, there is always a chance. Early mornings and last thing at night have always been my favourite time to fish, especially that last half hour of daylight, there’s just something about that time that always gives me enthusiasm regardless of what the water conditions are like, a good dose of midges late in the evening always lets you know that it isn’t getting too cold too quick.
I have been in Donegal for as long as I can remember, being located near rivers like the Finn has really been a blessing but despite that I never really appreciated the services Glenmore Lodge provided, good breakfast, plenty of coffee, a place to rest the head and even a replacement pair of socks when the river ended up inside the waders, the evening meals were really top notch and the banter with the guests at the table was great fun to be a part of, a top place and somewhere I must stop by more often instead of just focusing on the fishing.
The fishing was indeed tough, but there is always a tactic you can put in place to make contact with a salmon each day. In normal circumstances, with good water, good overhead conditions salmon fishing really is quite simple. We all know what flies work, where the fish are likely to be but when faced with extreme low, bright sunshine then it requires a different mindset. Approach the river as if you are fishing for trout, be as stealthy as possible and start thinking logically about where the fish are going to be holding.
During the few days we tried multiple lines of attack. The first approach was always to go through the pool or pot with the least invasive method, a floating line, long leader and small flies, this approach was the stealthiest of the all, long casts from well out of sight made sure the line never crossed over the target fish, fishing with a lightweight single hander really makes the difference in low conditions, just make sure you make the most of the first cast as we usually started casting and fishing above the pool we wanted to fish, so when the guest stepped in to ‘the hot spot’ he was relaxed and casting well.
Next tactic would have been to present the small flies closer to the fish, so yes, even in the low water we use sinking lines, when the fish are dour and don’t want to move you have to go to them, every time you get your fly closer to them you are upping your chances. A long leader on the sinking line, small fly has produced some great results for me in the past.
if the small flies have failed to provide a reaction then we lifted a rod with something a bit bigger. Long winged flies are a firm favourite with me, it might be because I like to fish the fly fast but flies like the Sunday shadow, collie dog or samurai just give me confidence and in tough conditions you have to stay confident. Over the days this actually proved to invoke the best response from the salmon, multiple times we simply ran out of room to strip the fly as the face came charging after fly, bow wake bulging across the river. Different angles, different speeds, different types of water, yes, even give them a cast upstream and strip them back, you might be surprised what comes up behind it!
We tried a few hitched tubes over the days as we picked apart each piece of pocket water, its not always about fishing the big pools and often in low water conditions the fish will hold in small ‘pots’ only a few feet wide. A fly hitched across them can often result in a rise. A method I have fallen in love with since visiting the Corrib is dibbling the flies, which provides a similar presentation to the hitch as you draw out the flies on the dropper across the stream, this actually rose two fish in the middle of the day when only a mad man would be out salmon fishing. Very exciting and something I will be experimenting with a lot more, especially for that pocket water, just remember to keep those droppers long!
If no results have been achieved with those tactics you have to go big or go home! Its only at this stage do I consider the ridiculous, double sunrays, a big Francis, a Sunray set on top of a Francis, maybe even a Francis shoved inside a snaelda. There are numerous concoctions you could come up with in order to show the fish something so outlandish or scary that they just have to take it or get out of the way. But be warned, this will finish the pool! Etiquette is an important part of fishing so if there are other anglers around be mindful of them as this can really scare the fish. This week we ran a Francis through a particular lie and two fish exited the pool, one downstream and one upstream, finished!
Salmon fishing can be a tough thing to organise, watching the weather, checking up tide times and crossing the fingers in the hope you get it just right. I used to get really worked up about the conditions, but you just have to accept them, be willing to learn, adapt and get on with the challenge. The guest might not have banked a salmon, but I know for sure he learnt plenty of techniques to put into practice wherever he may fish next.
During the warmest parts of the day we always did a mini tour of the North West, it just reminded me of how lucky we are to have so much great fishing in such a small area, salmon rivers flowing in every direction, small trout in every hill loch, sea trout in the estuaries and enough scenery to make up for the tough conditions.