Thursday, 18 April 2019

The Luck of the Irish!

A recent work trip saw me travelling to Waterford in the south-east of Ireland; and schedule demands meant I would be losing part of the weekends either side to travel. Keen to make this work in my favour it took no time at all for my mind to jump to trout fishing. Asking for advice on a few facebook groups I was quickly put onto Ardaire Springs near Mooncoin. It was well located and promised a good head of large trout, both rainbows and brownies. I was yet to catch a brownie on the fly and still had two outstanding blog targets for trout - a 5lb fish from each of the brown and rainbow stables. Many a purist would consider it sacrilege to visit Ireland, home of some of the best natural trout fishing rivers in the world and then target a commercial fishery. However, time was against me and I would only have three short sessions - a Sunday afternoon, Friday evening and Saturday morning. With guiding relatively expensive and fishing in Ireland being uncharted territory for me, a spring fed commercial fishery with a chance of seeing a few specimen sized fish fitted the bill perfectly.

Ardaire Springs - 2.5 acres of pristine gin clear trout water
(Photo courtesy of
An early morning flight saw me arrive into Dublin for 9 a.m and onwards to Mooncoin for just before midday. The fishery was surprisingly busy. With some of the world’s finest natural brown trout fishing available on the rivers, I didn’t expect a commercial trout lake to be quite so popular. A good sign perhaps! There was plenty of space to fish and a little company would give me someone to seek advice from later if I was struggling to find the right fly pattern.

Making my way to the fishing lodge I met the fishery owner, Ned, and enjoyed a much-needed brew. A quick chat provided me with some valuable information and some insight into the water I was going to fish. The fishery had been established by Ned around eight years earlier, having been dug out, spring fed and then stocked with mature fish in a range of sizes. Ned further informed me that the fish ran over the twenty pound mark and my targets of a 5 lb rainbow and 5 lb brownie were certainly achievable, although the latter could be somewhat unpredictable and difficult to target specifically. Ned advised that fishing buzzers would be his recommendation or a large moving target stripped quickly at depth, with olive damsels working particularly well into the evening. With restricted luggage for the flight I was limited to an intermediate line so buzzer fishing would be tricky.  
Olive Zonker
With this in mind I opted for a Size 10 Olive Zonker to open proceedings. Big and brash with plenty of Maribou, the feathers look fluffy on first inspection but take on a pulsing motion when worked under the water and effectively imitate the movements of fish fry. Surveying the water before me, the near corner was unoccupied and the wind direction was favourable to aid rather than hinder my casting. There were fish rising, mostly feeding on emergers from what I could tell – ‘porpoising’ through the surface film with just their dorsal fins breaking the water. Knowing that I would be covering fish was a great start, so I was happy to fish this as the first spot I had come to. Whilst setting up I made a point of noting how nearby anglers were fishing and their degree of success. The occasional fish was being caught and there was a group of friends clearly enjoying the Craic with warm irish tones of laughter infrequently filling the air. I set up with a 6ft slow intermediate tapered leader to match my fly line and 3ft of fluorocarbon tippet. To the end I carefully tied the zonker and neatly dressed the feathers. 

Paying out as much line as I felt I could cast and turnover I flicked the line up and hauled it backwards. Having not picked up a fly rod in a little over a year my casting was a little clunky, but a few consecutive backhauls later and the fly had turned over and dropped down to the surface with elegance. Zonker’s are designed to fish ‘wet ‘, but sit on the surface on the first cast until the feathers are drowned with a short sharp tug. Alas, I was afforded no such opportunity. Barely a second passed from the fly hitting the water before a huge trout full-breached and engulfed the green fluffy feathers of the Zonker. With this sort of take a gentle lift into the fish is all that is required to set the hook; and yet, partly as a coarse fisherman and partly from sheer panic not expecting such an immediate response, I struck. The briefest moment of connection was followed by complete weightlessness. In my panic I had not only struck against the fish, I had also trapped the fly line between my hand and the rod. With an unforgiving 8wt rod and considerable momentum behind the breaching fish, fly and fish parted with the fluorocarbon leader and the fish was gone back to the depths from whence it came.

Sitting back a moment to reflect, I was both encouraged by the near instant opportunity and disheartened at losing, through unforced human error, the largest trout I had ever seen by some distance. The fish had a head like a Staffordshire Bull Terrier and was remarkably thick-set in the body. In that fleeting glimpse I had estimated the fish to be around the 15lb mark, certainly north of double-figures.

First Fish - A welcome stocky
Re-tying a new fly with similar pattern I found myself struggling to repeat the same emphatic response, instant or otherwise. Varying the fly, depth and retrieve made little impact with those around me catching. Matters didn't improve when another angler pitched up directly next to me and caught four fish in quick succession. Checking his pattern, he had caught on a yellow and white bung. Setting up with a floating leader this time and a highly buoyant sight indicator, I felt that I should be able to fish dry as long as I made a very slow retrieve to keep the line taut. I received a number of rises in quick succession throughout the next half hour or so, with fish seemingly trying to drown the fly rather than consume it. Eventually one of the fishes didn't just succeed in doing so, it returned as the fly dropped through the water column to finish the job. Striking the fly a second time, this time the fish connected with the hook. Only a small stockie but a fish that gave a good account of itself and a welcome sight in a tough first hour.

Hot-headed Olive Damsel
With a warm buzzer-inducing breeze changing to a cold wind, the rises slowed dramatically and I was thereafter forced to fish wet flies again. Trying some half a dozen different patterns... snakes, gold ribbed hairs ears, minkies and buzzers... all produced the same response or lack thereof. By this time I had made a full lap of the fishery and those around me were still catching. For the next half an hour I tried flicking flies out in front of visible fish moving in the margins only to watch them instantly be rejected. There was evidently something wrong with my set-up. I was fishing a relatively strong 4x fluorocarbon (~7-8lb) and wondered whether this was the culprit. Retreating to the lodge for a chat with Ned and one of the locals we inspected my set-up and concluded that the 3ft tippet was far too short and a change was made to extend the tippet to 9ft in addition to the 6ft tapered leader. With only a couple of hours fishing left, Ned also advised that now would be as good a time as any to switch to a damsel and kindly provided a hothead olive variety with a hint of blue flashing for me to try.

With a renewed sense of hope replacing my downtrodden demeanor I made my way back out and re-cast, taking care to ensure the fly turned over with the longer leader. Allowing the fly to sink for thirty seconds I began to retrieve in a short steady rhythm. Roughly half way back there was a short sharp trout-like tug... Tightening my grip on the line I lifted into the fish which subsequently shot out across the lake. Fish on! With the water being clear and deep the fish here fight hard and for considerably longer than the trout I'm used to catching. A fine fish of around the 3-4lb mark was a joy to behold as the same local who had investigated my set-up netted the fish with a large congratulating smile.

At 3-4 lb this fish was likely a person best, but flustered and delighted I forgot to weigh it!

A further three fish followed (and another two lost) in the final hour to confirm that this wasn't a fluke and the correction to my set-up was a sound call. I left for the evening contented that I had learnt valuable lessons and seen a few fish, yet tormented by that magnificent fish lost barely moments into the session.


It was the best part of a week before my second days fishing came, late on Friday afternoon. The weather had been characterised by bitterly cold winds and even a frost on two mornings out of five. Between the cold weather and salmon running in the local rivers I had the water to myself and despite no fish rising I approached the water with new-found confidence. Setting up with the same long leader and hot-headed olive damsel I targeted a narrow section of the fishery which links the two main bays. My feeling was that I could target fish patrolling both the near and far bank shelves as well as provoke those passing through between the bays. A double-figure brownie being caught from this same area by another angler on my previous visit may also have carried some influence!

It took fifteen minutes of searching the water column but eventually I picked up my first take, deep from the bottom of the far bank shelf. The fish took off along the far bank, quickly stripping the reel down to the backing. No sooner than the fish had charged off in one direction, it had turned and charged back towards me. Fishing barbless I reeled frantically to keep in contact with the fish, needing to walk backwards simply to keep up. Further screaming runs followed, each with the same impressive pace as the last. Hoping that this was a better fish, my pulse quickened as I caught a first glimpse of the fish - a big beautiful 'bow with a deep flash of iridescent pink along its flank. Finally netting the fish I let it rest and set the go-pro up for a photo. By taking the time to set-up the photo and weighing in advance whilst the fish rested, I was able to complete both tasks in just a few moments and the fish was quickly returned. The fish had weight an impressive 8lb 12oz not just eclipsing my personal best but smashing my target of the 5lb fish I had come for. What. A. Start. It was fair to say I was absolutely buzzing.

8 lb 12 oz and a Personal Best! 

A small over-wintered fish - in pristine condition
Composing myself I targeted the same area and another modest over-wintered fish around the 2lb mark quickly followed. Fin-perfect, brightly coloured and with vivid spotting, over-wintered fish can be differentiated from stockies typically by their condition.

It was another half hour before my next fish, but this one was to draw the biggest grin of any that I would catch during the trip. Letting the fly sink completely through some 30 seconds or so, I made a steady retrieve, and at the base of the near shelf felt a gentle pluck. Lifting the rod only connected with thin air and so I cast out once more at half-distance and repeated the same slow patient sink and steady retrieve. This time the take was more committed and a fish tore off from barely under the rod tip. A slower and more considered fight, this felt different to the rainbows I had landed up to now and on bringing the fish into the shallow clear water of the near bank I caught the first outline of bronze, punctuated by large dark spots. A Brownie! and my first ever on the fly. I felt genuinely nervous as I played the fish under the rod tip, my heart in my mouth each time the fish tore back out with the leader knot catching on the rod rings. With the fish finally subdued I grinned from ear to ear as I inspected the intricate patterns on the fish in the net before me, Bold spots, a deep bronze flank and a bright yellow belly, I'm so glad my first brownie was a looker, the fish I always imagined it would be! The fish weighted 4 lb 2 oz, just short of my 5lb target, but I didn't care one jot. I could have caught nothing else all trip and it would have been a success. Magnificent!

My first ever Brownie! 4 lb 2oz.
Six more fish followed suit as evening came. Averaging 3 lb with the biggest around the 4lb mark, I had also been snapped off by another good fish. Three fish had succumbed to a steady retrieve whilst another was taken following a targeted cast to a buzzer-feeding fish and very fast through the upper layers of the water column. Of note, two (plus the lost fish) had come 'on the drop', with connections made simply by keeping in touch with the fly as it descended. Presumably these takes were on account of the hot-head to the damsel - resembling perhaps a failed emerger sinking back down. Either way, these fish emphasized the importance of keeping a taut line between angler and fly at all times to detect and set those unexpected and sometimes delicate or wary takes. 

Camouflage! Ever wondered why trout carry such pretty patterns?
Fishery Owner - Ned - with a huge Rainbow!
As afternoon turned to evening, Ned had come out to wet a line and it wasn't long before he beckoned me over to help him photograph a huge rainbow. The fish was thick-bodied and estimate my Ned to be around the 12lb mark. The fish was thick-set and had a huge head. It was an absolute brute of a trout and had been fooled by a near static buzzer fished on a 12 foot leader. Deciding to take a moment to sit and chat with Ned, he talked me through a little more about the fishery and gave me some much welcomed lessons on how to properly fish with buzzers. It seemed fate had a hand in the next fish as it was barely a moment after I'd told Ned that I only had one target left to catch - a 5lb Brownie, when his line pulled straight
The Luck of the Irish! Ned's Big Brown!
and Ned lifted into another fish. Watching as he calmly played the fish to net, I was green with envy as we peered down at the big brownie of perhaps 6-7lb. With my appetite suitably whetted, and Ned not in the least bit smug, we agreed that with the brownies on the feed I should perhaps get back to it and I made my way back to my gear. As if Ned had somehow prophesized what might come next, my first cast connected with a much better fish. Again that first flash of bronze had my heart a flutter and this time it was my turn to beckon Ned over to take the photographs. Weighing 5lb 5oz it was another blog target met.

Big Brown! 5 lb 5 oz of Irish Brownie!
After taking a moment to congratulate me on meeting my objectives, Ned suggested that I should spend a little time practicing what I had learnt about buzzer fishing and kindly lent me his 6wt Mazkenzie FX1 with Rio midgetip line. It was a beautiful tool, effortless to cast and as light as a feather. My only disappointment was that I wasn't able to find a fish with it to feel a bend through the blank, evidently I still have much to learn with buzzers!

With the light fading I decided to have one last cast with the olive damsel. Hauling for the horizon I cast as far into the centre of the lake as I could manage and let the fly slowly sink. Once again, it was a steady retrieve that provoked a response from a fish that tore off towards the far bank stripping the line down to the backing and then some. Frantically trying to get line back onto the reel, I had half of the fly line back on when the fish stripped it all the way off once more. And then again for a third time. I was astounded. For me, a fish running down to the backing is a rare event, and one where I've always said (when not fishing catch and release) would earn my quarry a reprieve from the pot! To have it stripped down twice was unheard of. By the third time the fish certainly had my attention. What got my attention even more was the pauses in between those runs. No amount of leaning into the fish made the slightest amount of difference to it's position. This fish didn't just have power it had inertia. Some 6 or 7 minutes later I eventually caught sight of the fish. It resembled a salmon. It. Was. Huge. With the excitement of a 5 year old on Christmas Morning (and perhaps the nerves of the parents creeping around the night before!) I continued to play the fish, doing my utmost to keep in contact with it, to usher it to the near bank and towards the net. It was some 15 minutes, an eternity in trout fighting terms, before I finally managed to net the fish. I could scarcely believe my eyes and barely lift my arm. With the fish as tired as I was, a long resting period was given before Ned helped supervise the weighing and photography in the fading light. At 12 lb 6 oz it was a fish of a lifetime and one I will be surprised if I every surpass on a fly rod.

Monster! 12 lb 6 oz and a Personal Best that I expect to last a lifetime

When in Ireland...
With no strength left in my arm and my hopes and dreams for the short evening session surpassed, I shook Ned's hand to thank him for running such a fantastic fishery and headed back in the direction of the hotel. 11 fish in a few hours, including my first brown on the fly, both 5lb+ targets met, personal bests obliterated and a leviathan double figure fish were well worthy of a celebratory Guinness by the log fire. Reflecting on my second day, perhaps the most pleasing thing were the fish that felt earned. One was stalked, two were taken by staying in touch with the fly on the drop, another was an improvised retrieve to catch a fish feeding just below the surface. My first Brownie was taken through having the presence of mind to cast immediately back to the same fish after detecting the most delicate plucks on the fly. The big brown came from 'getting back to it' and the big rainbow from making a change for one last effort. Considering this, 11 fish could easily have been 4, with no browns and no big rainbow. I'd have still chalked it up as a successful session, but it wouldn't have been the red letter day I was privileged to have enjoyed. I had also banished the demons of 'the one that got away' and cemented the need to fish a longer leader firmly in my mind. A few text messages to angling friends about the evening's exploits and it was time for bed.


An early start the following morning would gift me one final session before heading north for an afternoon flight home. The weather had changed again and was best described as moody as I arrived back at Ardaire Springs. With such a successful evening behind me, there was no pressure to catch, no targets, just bonus fish to be had on an already memorable trip. A double figure brown would be the icing on the cake, though Ned indicated these were fickle beasts and I decided to simply relax and enjoy the morning rather than embrace hope and taste disappointment.

Changeable Weather - can bring bountiful changes in fish feeding behaviour

5 lb 0 oz - another hard-fighting rainbow
Despite this relaxed approach Day three began at a frantic pace. Walking to the main lake I couldn't resist flicking my fly across to a stockie in the smaller of the two lakes as I walked past. Three seconds into the day and I was playing my first fish. A small but pretty rainbow which pulled back hard enough to iron any memory from my fly line. Completing my journey to the main lake, a second fish followed in short order, casting ahead of another buzzer-feeding fish and inducing a take with a fast strip of the fly. Within the hour I had taken a further 5lb rainbow and a beautiful brownie, small but perfectly formed.

Another brownie... Small but perfectly formed
Delighted to have banked another brownie on the trip, the next fish was another personal best I think I'll struggle to beat for years to come. Taken deep at the base of the  near shelf, a big brownie had hammered into the olive damsel and taken off up the near bank. Several runs later it was another nervous landing and huge grin as I surveyed the spoils in the net before me. Weighing 6 lb 14 oz it was another personal best, surpassing the 5lb fish of the evening before.

6 lb 14 oz - another Personal Best!

5 lb 0 oz. vividly spotted rainbow
5 lb 13 oz - not a bad final fish!
A further five fish followed before I had to call it a morning and head northwards for my flight home from Dublin. The first was a 2lb stockie, tempted by drawing the fly along the length of the shelf edge. The remaining fish were all of a better stamp, 4lb 14 oz, 4lb and 5lb on the nose and a final fish just shy of 6 lb. 
As I packed away my gear it was a wrench to leave such a fantastic fishery. I made a point of buying some more of those hot-head olive damsels from Ned too! Not necessarily one for the purist, but I can see myself reaching for them time and time again on a hard day when the fish won't take a natural pattern. In three short sessions, fashioned around a work trip I'd managed 26 fish, including 7 over the 5lb mark I was originally aiming for. I'll certainly be back to Ireland in future to sample more of the world class fishing it has to offer; and whilst a future trip might focus on wild brownies and salmon from some of it's rivers, I'll find it difficult to resist a repeat visit here to pursue more of those double figure fish that lurk in the deep clear waters of Ardaire Springs!

The Highlights Reel - 26 Fish including 7 over 5 lb, a 6 lb+ Brownie and 12 lb+ Rainbow!


  1. Loved that mate been a long while since I chucked fluff for trout last fish I had on flies were zander fished on a cheb rig .

  2. Nice read Tim. I havn,t fished for trout for many a moon, only live a few miles from Hanningfield reservoir so was rude not too, but loved the scrap they gave on the fly rod. Never managed a brownie though, although saw some monsters in a Yorkshire water which i couldn,t tempt for love nor money.
    Maybe its time to dig out the old fluff chucking gear...