Are there places in the world with more fish? Yes! Is that relative to anything? Not to me. Are there places more beautiful, more able to please a poet's soul, or where a ghillie can better make you laugh over a long, rainy, windy, fishless day? None that I know of. Yet the fishing by my definition is better than good, in fact, taken as one component of a 'compleat angling,' adventure, for me it's downright wonderful. Sonia my wife says:
"Ireland is the one country we've fished, besides Chile, where I would be happy to live!"
First though let me make something clear. Northern Ireland where all the trouble goes on is not in the Republic of Ireland. It's a separate English state, and only encompasses a small part of the Island. The Republic is free and independent, belonging only to itself, and has been for a long while. It's a safe, gorgeous country with unending things of interest, from fascinating history and sports, to unequaled scenery, and fine fly fishing. For traveling couples it's as good as it gets. What follows is only a handful of the choices available, ones that we have experienced and can vouch for, but please understand, there are dozens more, as Ireland is a true fly fishing/vacation haven.
"500 WILD BROWN TROUT IN A WEEK'S FISHING!"
| The River Erriff|
How's that for an angler grabbing headline? Montana? Patagonia? A private water hideaway in Colorado? Nope! It happened in Ireland, on the old sod itself. Four French fly fishers angled not long ago for six days on the River Boyne, releasing those one to three pound trout less than an hour's drive from Dublin International Airport. Those are details I've verified. What I don't know is where they stayed. Here are typical options. They probably rented a car at the airport for about the same as it costs in the States, slept in a clean, comfortable Bed & Breakfast with private bath, TV, and phone, plus this planet's best breakfast, $30-$50 each per night. And if they made their plans well ahead of time, the B&B arranged their fishing, another $100 each for the week.
Then there are the 3 to 4 star Hotels, $60 - $100 per night, with a wider gamut of wife pleasers, a larger room, larger screen TV, more luxurious bath, a couple of phones, blow dryers, and ironing equipment; room service, a dining room, with breakfast included as well. They can arrange for your ghillie (guide) who will have your Boyne River fishing all sorted out and waiting for you.
There are also 5 star hotels and resorts at $250 per night and up. Irish top of the line facilities compare well with like level offerings anywhere in the world. That and a river capable of giving up 500, up to 3 pounds, wild native brown trout in a week's stay, makes for an angling holiday unequaled for comfort, and luxury. Add extraordinary cuisine, surrounded by nearby ancient battle sites, castles, hand blown crystal, Irish wool, famed linen goods, with myriad lively arts opportunities in nearby Dublin, and the picture gets even better. The cost is half or less of the price of high end angling lodges anywhere else. Pubs from good to excellent are literally everywhere, most serve food (snacks to full dinners), many feature live Irish music in the evenings, and some have overnight facilities.
The Boyne drains beautiful and historically fascinating Boyne Valley. Close proximity to Dublin, the Republic of Ireland's largest population center, and early urban sprawl did its vile work. Pollution, poaching, thoughtless overkill, and myriad other human abuses held sway for a long time. But ongoing restoration by the Irish Fisheries Board has turned it around. Well enforced, ever more effective regulations, growing public awareness, and a change of heart among more and more anglers have brought about the predictable. A once ailing river, is healed now and benefiting everyone. The insider secret: Contact ghillie Pat McLoughland, a River Boyne specialist. Telephone 046-41807 or Mobile phone 087-628 2905. Pat can have everything planned, reserved, and waiting for you. I've fished with him twice now, and he really knows his stuff.
| Aasleigh Lodge on the River Erriff|
The Irish Fisheries Board is one of the best such agencies my travels have shown me. Their increasing successes are shining proof of what I'm saying, and there are several dramatic examples. The River Moy story where a happy combination of hard working, skilled professionals and a timely EU grant transformed a polluted, heavily poached, and legally over harvested salmon population into an impressive, world class run of returning fish. And it comes with a business boom for everyone in tourist related commerce from one end of the river to the other. Insider secret, call the NW Regional Fisheries Board in Ballina. Tel 353 96 22788, Fax 353 96 70543.
Jim and Mary Stafford, who manage and host the lovely Aasleigh Lodge on the River Erriff near Lenane have headed Fisheries Board efforts there. The Board took a badly abused water system with a fast dwindling salmon and sea trout population to an annual catch average, over the last 10 years, of 564 salmon, and several hundred sea trout. Along with improved angling has come an entire renovation of the beautiful, very old lodge to the highest level of quality and comfort. If there was a 6 Star rating Aasleigh lodge should have it. The insider secret is Jim Stafford's phone number. Phone 353-95-42252. Fax 353-95-42361.
| Delphi Lodge|
Not far away is Delphi Lodge where an amazing man, Peter Mantle, holds court. In environs too lovely to describe, your first misty morning will rekindle lost beliefs in fairy tales, lake dwelling dragons, and the like. Financial journalist and non practicing Barrister, Peter was born in Cambridge England, and reared there with summers in Ireland, where the local village postman became his tutor. The man was also the local village poacher. He tried to teach his student everything he knew. The first night they went out Peter recalls catching three tiny sea trout, while his Guru caught forty one:
"I thought this was Nirvana. He was a God! I got hooked, really hooked, and this went on summer after summer, until I discovered girls."
The Delphi saga began when he and a partner purchased the property from the Marquis of Sligo.
"I went to the States, in fact I was living in Washington DC at the time. Then I made the mistake of coming back to Ireland for a fishing holiday meeting up with a mate from London, and well, we discovered Delphi, this derelict house, in this incredibly beautiful valley. I couldn't think why anyone would have allowed it to fall into
"We stopped, and poked around, and had a picnic on the lawn. There was some guy on the lake who appeared to be catching fish after fish after fish. I'm sure he wasn't, but he appeared to be. Then we wandered north to the Moy and stayed for a few days. Later in Dublin we had a few hours to kill before my friend headed on to London and me back to the States, and he said:" "Why don't we try and find a cottage in Ireland with, or near to, a bit of fishing?"
It seemed providential when these two visited a real estate office later and discovered that Delphi and the surrounding fishery were for sale. The cottage idea suddenly expanded several times over into the Delphi Project, and was brought about by forming a syndicate of any and all friends, associates, and family members, who had the slightest interest in fishing. I often say (out of Sonia's hearing) that the quickest way to make a small fortune overnight is to take a large fortune and open a fishing lodge. From that point until now is a book length tale of disappearing fish runs, doubtful spouses, the bottomless money eating black hole that most lodges are, and in spite of all that, the eventual high success that Delphi has now become.
Peter credits a list of biologists, partners, friends, and others who contributed to the epic struggle. Yet it was his own imagination, perseverance and grit (madness?) that kindled the spark, fanned it to flames, and kept it fueled long enough to come to fruition. Like, when improved salmon runs seemed a part of the solution, he built his own hatchery. Peter Mantle is that kind of guy. When I was there in early September, they had just recorded their 700th landed salmon for the 2001 season. With exquisite food served at one huge table, dinner is a nightly event, lively and very pleasant. The insider tip is Delphi's telephone: 353 95 42222 or Fax 353 95-42296.
| Ballynahinch Castle |
"The most luxurious fishing lodge on the Planet Earth," was how I described Ballynahinch Castle after my first visit a few years ago. Surrounded by an exotically gorgeous winding river system famous for centuries as a sea trout and salmon Mecca, and after a number of superb worldwide lodge stays since then, I still say the same. It's that level of facility where the dining room description reads:
"Coats and ties are not required in the dining room, but everyone wears them."
And they do. Service is never ending, my bath tub was large enough for a float tube, and my only problem is that the entire set up is so picturesque, it's difficult to put down the camera long enough to fish. Yet with such opulence, Patrick O'Flaherty, the manager, and his staff are especially gifted at putting everyone at ease and feeling welcome. It's a large place (they didn't build cozy castles), and all guests aren't there to fish, but the bar is homey, the halls never chilly, and a huge fireplace or two keeps things warm.
If you want to make your non angling wife or favorite lady friend glad you're a fly fisherman, bring her with you to Ballynahinch. After a leisurely breakfast you take your fishing tackle, give her the credit cards and rental car keys, and both of you spend pleasant hours at what you each do best. She can slip over to places like Kylemore Castle with it's large gift, clothing, crafts, and souvenir store, while you harass salmon and trout from the most beautiful water you can imagine. And there are many other things for her to enjoy, once the cards are maxed, from mapped hikes, sight seeing, biking, and horseback riding to simply relaxing and strolling around the gorgeous castle grounds. After two or three days, or a week, you will both come away from Ballynahinch Castle happy. Insider tip, call Patrick O'Flaherty at Telephone 353 95 31006 Fax 353 95 31085.
As scenically stunning as some of the most remote places I know in northwestern Alaska, a vast wild valley lies between the Twelve Bens and the Mounturk Mountains in the very heart of Connemara. The top of the Ballynahinch watershed bisects it all, passing through two outstanding loughs, Inagh and Derryclare on its way. The same salmon and sea trout runs that pass by Ballynahinch Castle find their way through this upper system as well. Colin Folan heads the fish guiding at Lough Inagh lodge, and has for several seasons. He's a young guy, but he started early.
Born in Galway, as lovely a town as I've been in, he credits his father for taking him to the water young. He tells of a time when he should have been in school but was at the Shannon River Weir watching salmon that congregate there. He saw his grade school English teacher - fishing. Suddenly the man hooked a huge fish, over 20 pounds.
He struggled for a time, and finally wore the great salmon down, but his position on the bank made it impossible to land it by hand. Young Colin, already no stranger to nets, or fish landing, climbed down to the water with a net. He admits even now that luck was with him and he netted his English teacher's lifetime largest fish. The man, too excited to say much, took his prize and started walking away. The boy said: "I done that well, didn't I Sir?"
The elder angler looked at the boy, and spoke:" You did indeed. Thank you. And I'll give you something for it that will help you all the rest of your life." Before the lad had time to dream of what a man would reward him for landing his fish of a lifetime, the teacher went on. " The word is 'did,' not done."
| Typical Atlantic Salmon from Irish waters.|
"If someone wants to come here to fish for salmon, when should he come?" My first question to Colin.
"They usually come in first about the second or third week of June through to maybe the second week of July. So you have those four weeks when the fish first come in and they're fresh. You get them in the rivers, providing there's water. You would get them then in nearly all the beats, in all the rivers in the west of Ireland."
"There is some spring fishing," He went on, "But it's hit and miss. Usually in March until April."
"And what about trout at that time?" I asked.
"Only resident brown trout. We have them in Lough Inagh. There's a good stock of resident browns there. They range in sizes from 8-10 inches up to about four pounds, five pounds is the biggest I've ever had, but it was quite a unique fish."
"Would you have evening hatches, that sort of thing going?" Four to five pound brown trout sure rang my bell.
"You would have some small hatches. There's not a great hatch of flies in this lake. The water is acidic, so there isn't a great fly hatch here. There are some olives, a few mayflies, but generally most of the insects that the fish are taking are terrestrials, moths, grasshoppers, and Daddy longlegs."
Now it was four pound brown trout and grasshoppers. The iffy spring salmon fishing didn't seem so bad.
"You have grasshoppers?" Colin seeing me light up was quick to add: "Oh we have lots of grasshoppers, but they don't appear until maybe the last week of July or the start of August when the sun comes out."
According to Colin a stiff, powerful 10 foot rod throwing maybe a 7 weight line will do it all. You could bring a double hander for windy conditions, but the river isn't wide. He feels you can cover everything with one rod. You would want to bring a range of fly lines though, for different conditions. An intermediate or slow sinking, a floater, the number one fly line to fish, and when there's a good flow of water in the river he likes a sink tip. For the river, ten foot 8 weight leader is about right.
Irish/English lake fishing is unique. With the boat free drifting sideways to the wind, you cast with the wind, in the direction the boat is moving. 30 to 40 feet seems about right, and spend your time moving the fly/flies (as many 6) back to you with a variety of retrieves. Long time Stateside still water anglers will find it odd, though if they're patient enough to give it a chance, they will also find it effective. Like casting upstream only with dry flies, whenever I ask why, the answer is automatic;" Because it's more effective!" Hmmmm!
For flies my friend suggests:
"The Americans, they bring their own patterns with them and they have great faith in them. They assume that they will catch fish here, and the dries will do that. Most of the dries I use myself are American patterns, Adams, Cahill, Elk Hair, Humpys, but most of our fishing is wet fly fishing and American wet flies at times catch fish, but you're better off with traditional Irish wet flies. They're better off in fact coming with no flies, and getting local patterns here, regular flies that have been fished here for a long time. You can look at the catch book today and see what's been catching fish for the last few days, sea trout, brown trout, and salmon. You can go back thirty years, and see that very little has changed."
I asked for the name of the top 6 salmon flies. He couldn't keep it at 6, but without hesitation Colin replied:
"The top six, in my view, for this fishery, three for the early season and three for the late season, would be; early season the Silver Badger, Silver Rat, and the ordinary Badger, and Hairy Mary, generally tied on double hooks, 8 to 12. 8 on heavy water, 12 on lower water. Then, as the season progresses, and the fish get a bit staler, we go to red, black, claret, and orange. Stoat's Tail, Silver Stoat, Ally Shrimp, various shrimp patterns, and black flies usually."
"Sea trout would be similar to the salmon. When they first come in you want to be fishing silver bodied, fresh looking flies, Butcher, Alexandria, flies with jungle cock, Watson's Fancy, that kind of attractor, bright, sparkly. Later go to Clarets. Claret will be the top color, some black flies, like Biblio, and they will all catch brown trout as well."
As remote as the area is, Lough Inagh Lodge isn't exactly a wilderness log cabin with bears running anglers off the water during peak salmon runs. To the contrary, and then some, if the perfect mix of open warmth, and understated elegance exists, this is it. In forty years of fly fishing travel from Japan, to Ireland and England, south to Tierra Del Fuego, including both sides of Canada, twenty years in Alaska, and all of the western U.S. states, this extraordinary lodge is where it all seems to come together. Tasteful decor, spacious bedrooms, large bathrooms, evening turn down service, etc., come with exquisite dining and constant, caring service. All direct reflections of the fetching owner/manager, Maire O'Connor. Insider tip. Call her at 353 95-34706 or fax 353 95-34708
Close to Shannon Airport, just minutes away, beside the longest water system in Ireland, the River Shannon, is Castle Oaks. It's a large capacity vacation complex where you can choose between superb hotel accommodations, or attractive, comfy, family size house keeping apartments. It's like a gorgeous riverside park, very scenic, and offers something any fly angler would be pleased about, an excellent guide service. I was impressed with everything there, not the least being the hotel dining room, but the best thing that happened to me at Castle Oaks was meeting Jim Robinson.
If I have enough time in an area to leisurely poke around, as rare as they are, I sometime find guys like Jim. In England there's Devon's Brian Easterbrook, and Tony Bridgett at the Izaak Walton Hotel near Dovedale. On the Miramichi it's Willy Bacso, and Jimmy Colford. In Patagonia its Bill Bernhardt. They are all pro guides with a special knack of notably enhancing any angler's day on the water. And they are all gentlemen in a sense that has nothing to do with class or circumstance.
| Jim Robinson on the River Shannon, Ireland|
I met Jim Robinson early during the trip, and made arrangements to spend another day later, mostly interviewing him. He heads the guiding program for the hotel, really knows what he's about, and has no need to brag or BS, especially not about himself.
"I was born in Limerick - ah, ah - let's just say, a long time ago."
Jim is a big guy who laughs easily. "My mother is actually from this area, and all my family came from here and the other side of the river."
"Who started you fishing?" I asked.
"It was my Dad, he was always fishing and my grandfather too. I was introduced at a very early age. I took my first salmon when I was fifteen, on a fly rod."
When I asked him about sizes, Irish saltwater opportunities came up. As is fly rodding for pike, it's a new facet for local fly fishers, and gaining popularity quickly.
"The largest fish I've taken on a fly rod was a ninety pound blue shark, but we fished for everything, by all the different ways, pike and sea fishing, but fly fishing is my first love."
I asked how far the saltwater fishing was from there and learned that the Gulf Stream and the outflow of the Shannon meet not far out. There's good to great sport for a variety of species, from streaking fast mackerel to gigantic garfish, as close as the estuary. That afternoon though he took us trout fishing in a nearby tributary, wild brown trout up to three pounds in breath taking environs. However, new catch and release regulations for spring salmon, and pike tales took my interest. Jim told me: "From next season until the first of June, you'll only be allowed one salmon per day."
"Are you in favor of that? And does that mean after you take a salmon you can keep on fishing catch and release?" Some places I fish you can't continue.
"Oh yes, I think conservation is very important. And yes, you can keep on fishing catch and release, but I think more and more people are practicing voluntary catch and release anyway. There's no regulation in relation to trout, but I haven't seen a trout killed in years. It's becoming the same with pike. It's very seldom you'll see a dead pike now."
I was happily surprised to hear that pike fishermen were also letting their fish go. Ireland has a lot of pike, some very large, and for me, fly fishing for them is great sport. Nothing that swims strikes with more explosive ferocity, and taken on the surface, they can be as nerve jolting and exciting as their saltwater look alikes, Barracuda. Insider tip: Jim Robinson Fax/Phone 353 61-453 808 or Castle Oaks, Niall Dooley Manager, Fax 353 61 377-717, Phone 353 61 377-666.
The above overview took more than a month to do, a wonderful month, yet just scratches the surface. After five Irish trips, I'm convinced that fly fishing in Ireland offers the most variety of high caliber angling adventures I've found so far in one country. Lodges are well run and pleasant, guides generally expert and fun to be with, and food quality is high.
"Yeah, yeah, so you found Irish lodges with good food, clean sheets, and all that other stuff, but fishing, just the fishing, is it really good? How many fish will I catch per day? How big will they be?"
If these are your ultimate measures of good, as in "good" fishing, I haven't any answer for you about Ireland, Patagonia, Alaska, or anywhere else. Irish lodges usually keep catch logs from season to season, and they seem happy enough to quote from them or show them. What is "really good" fishing? Would a concrete pool of water filled with ravenous, grab anything, five to ten pound trout be "really good" for you? Does fishing for twenty pound sea fish taking on every cast for hours at a time sound "good?"
The first place is a hatchery holding tank. The second is a week or two working on a commercial tuna boat. Fly fishing for me isn't about those things. Ireland isn't Alaska, though lately the River Moy salmon run looks like something in Bristol Bay.
Ireland isn't Patagonia either, with massive runs of ten to twenty pound, sea fresh brown trout, though spring run Atlantics ten to fifteen pounds are not untypical. On the other hand, I've seen castles there (Alaska doesn't have those) and fished from two of them. And I've rarely seen other anglers on water I was fishing. All the facilities in this article own or control the rivers and loughs they offer, and you spend your angling time on your own assigned, private beat. Sound too aristocratic? Try it for a week or two. Whatever it sounds like, it's heavenly.
I've seen my wife and other ladies thrilled with every aspect of a two week "fishing trip" because in every corner of the island, a wide variety of other activities are never far away. Every village large or small has something of interest. Cultural fascinations are everywhere, along with shops and shopping - often quite unique. And if there is a grumpy person in Ireland, I haven't met them. Warm, friendly, and eager to help, is the norm. Now here are the two best of all the insider's tips I'll share with you.
| Peter O'Reilly teaching the fine art at Delphi|
First is the name of my best friend in Ireland, Peter O'Reilly. Peter is in fact the best Irish friend of all of us who fly fish, because of his wonderful books.
"Rivers Of Ireland," "Loughs Of Ireland," "Trout and Salmon Flies Of Ireland," and "Fly Fishing In Ireland." Reading all four of them would take too long, you say? Maybe, but they will save you the forty years or more it takes to discover for yourself what they have to say. You may want to start with the latest, "Fly Fishing In Ireland." Careful perusal of this well done work will prep you well for doing what the title indicates. This book will prepare you in fact for fly fishing anywhere.
The other 'best of all' insider's tips is a service called Ciaran Ganter's Chauffeur Drive. Call Ciaran (Ke-ran) Ganter, Tel: 353 1 296 4070, Fax: 353 1 296-4110, Mobile 00 353 86 230 2173, Web Site: www.irelandchauffeuring.com - chat with him about just what you want to do, and how much time you have to do it, fishing and/or other activities, and let him put it all together in a package. Combination weeks at different lodges are easy to do. Here's what will happen. You will be met at Dublin, Shannon, or Cork International Airports, privately transported to and from any and all of your destinations, in a safely driven, late model, air conditioned vehicle.
No need to worry about maps, filling stations, routes, driving on the left hand side of the road, or anything else. Your personal driver will take care of every detail large or small, including luggage hustling. At the end he will deliver you back to the airport at the appointed time, get you all set up at the ticket window, and say good bye. Most Irish lodges aren't accustomed to airport pickups. They prefer you use a rental car, which cost nearly the same as the private chauffer. I used this service, found it quite affordable and restfully carefree, and I don't think now, knowing it's available, I would consider anything else - ever. So that's about it, one of fly fishing's highest and best adventures offered by some of the world's nicest people, and not too far away. With a steadily improving fishery, and economical at all levels, for most fly anglers I know, it would be a high value angling adventure of a lifetime.
|A very special thank you to the great ladies at the NY Tourism Office, especially to Orla Carrie. For additional information contact: The New York Office of the Irish Tourism Board Tel 212 418-0800, Fax 212 371-9052, Peter O'Reilly Tel/Fax 353 46 28210 Leo Gantner Dublin Office, Irish Tourism Board Tel 353 1 602-4164, Fax 353 1 602-4372|