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When the River Lied: A Very Big Brown Trout on the Dry Fly.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY CIARAN O'KELLY & KEITH MCDONNELL

The weather forecast screamed heavy rain and high water all week and I was excited, but when Saturday afternoon arrived and the heavy rain had become just a few showers, the river mocked me with its stubbornly low, clear flow. I was ahead of Ciaran in the morning and was suggesting that he didn’t bother travelling as it looked like it would end up like the kind of day to go to the beach. An hour later I could see that low cloud had moved in and there was no wind. I was nearby for an errand anyway, and at least there was some cloud cover so I set out for a long walk, thinking that at very least I’d get a chance at dusk. The persistent northerly winds we have had since May have made both dry fly and streamer fishing difficult. Feeling slightly more optimistic, I updated Ciaran with: No wind, low cloud. That was all the encouragement he needed to make the drive.

Spent mayfly

On this day, nature had determined that a window of opportunity would see trout feeding at the surface. By early afternoon I had landed five beautiful trout, a 5.25-pounder and a 3.5-pounder, along with three other fish between 1 and 2lbs, making it an afternoon fishing bonanza to be absolutely thrilled with.

Beautiful colours

Normally, these trout are shy in low water and this river in my experience rarely sees a fall of spent mayflies, yet that day, they blanketed the water like confetti. This unusual occurrence, combined with the low cloud, lack of wind and warm air temperature, goes a long way to explain the trout coming to the surface. 

Low cloud and no wind

The beauty of fly fishing is that you can learn every time you go fishing.  When you get into looking very closely at weather and water conditions for trout fishing, it can be easy to dismiss a day that isn’t ideal. It reminded me that sometimes the results are a surprise even when conditions aren’t perfect, having some of the common factors and a resulting lucky hatch can turn a dud trip into a legendary one. And of course, having a friend there to share the experience who happens to be a great photographer makes the whole thing even sweeter.

What a stunning shape!
Slick drifter spent was fly of the day

I caught up with Ciaran and he’d had some good success too. We walked and found a fish rising in a corner and it was Ciaran’s shot. He soon had a nice fish in the net.

We were standing on a high bank chatting and I spotted a fish rising in the distance. We didn’t hang around after the fish took a second fly and as I crept closer, I noticed a path of spent mayflies being funnelled into the slow flat eddy.

Nearly there!

I got down on my knees and positioned myself behind the tall reeds. At this stage the sun was out so I needed to be very careful not to spook the fish. I decided to drop the dry fly a meter from the fish and waited for him to find it. If I’d cast close to his last rise there was a danger that the leader glistening in the sun could put him down. The take was perfect, immediate, powerful. I set the hook at the right time, the water erupting and a heavy fish tore downstream. 

Cartwheel!

The fight was on – me versus a magnificent brown trout, with a menacing weed bed lurking all the way down my bank as a potential third opponent. Thankfully, after just four tense minutes, I managed to net the fish, securing an unforgettable afternoon victory. The fish was released after a few quick photos. We spent a few more hours looking for rises and Ciaran managed another fish but the evening got so cold you could see your breath!

An Irish Wild brown trout of 7.75lbs

The post-adrenaline haze settled, leaving my mind buzzing with the replay of the take, the fight and the improbability of it all. Each time I go fishing it holds the potential for such experiences, a new opportunity to chase magic on the water. It is a pursuit that feeds the soul.

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