We met Rick Taupier at an angling show recently. Unusually for an American angler he is passionate about lough style fishing and his favourite desitination is Lough Corrib. We asked Rick to write more about his take on the traditional approach to fishing the lakes and his experience of Lough Corrib…
It was our sixth and last day fly fishing on Ireland’s Lough Corrib. I was intent on landing another and hopefully larger Corrib brown trout, but the weather was far from ideal and we were fishing buzzers in about 20 feet of water, not far from Greenfields on the eastern shore. I had cast my three flies about 60 feet from the boat and let them sink, counting to twelve before beginning a slow figure-eight retrieve. A fish took the middle nymph hard and I lifted the rod tip to ensure a good hook set. A trout rocketed about three feet out of the water heading to my right as I sat in the bow of the lough boat. It was a very nice fish and quickly reversed direction. The reel screamed and anglers in a near-by boat turned to look. The fish stopped taking line and swam across the stern of the boat, circling 180 degrees from where I first hooked it. It began to give way and the boatman readied the net, warning, that when it saw the net, it would make another run or two. After three such runs, I was able to lift his head slightly out of the water and draw him into the net. It was in hope of a moment like this that I had returned to the Corrib with five companions. At 20 inches and 3.5 pounds it was my largest fish of the week, and it was spectacular.
I first fished Lough Corrib in early May of 2018. It was a miserable day; cold, windy, and rainy. Yet the lake olives (Cloeon simile) were hatching in large numbers, creating flotillas of what looked like tiny green ships with grey sails. The wild brown trout were feeding with abandon, yet I failed to catch even a single fish on the olive dry fly pattern I had selected. But I was hooked. My research soon revealed that Ireland’s limestone Loughs of Corrib and Mask are among the world’s greatest wild brown trout fisheries. These lakes are exceedingly rich in nutrients and insect life, and the trout grow large and fat.
Markings can vary greatly from fish to fish, perhaps reflecting the river where they spawned. Their feeding habits accentuate aspects of their appearance. Ferox are also to be found. These piscivorous trout, live long, and grow large; up to 20 pounds. They can be targeted by anglers at some times of the season. Sea run browns and salmon also have access to the Lough and are salmon caught with some regularity from July through September.
County Galway’s Lough Corrib is a large limestone lake, over 30 miles from south to north, in one of western Ireland’s most beautiful landscapes. Galway City is only a few miles south of the Corrib. Shannon and its international airport, less than an hour and a half away, make it easily accessible to international travellers. To the northwest of the Corrib is the famed Connemara region. The villages of Cong, Headford and Oughterard on the lake shores are important angling centers. The Corrib’s irregular shore and many islands create a sense of intimacy; no matter where you are, shoreline is fairly close. Mid-water shallows are numerous as well and only seasoned boatmen know their locations. It is in all these shallows along the shores and islands as well as in mid-lake shoals where insect life is most prolific and where the Corrib browns prefer to feed.
The hosts for our visit were Michelle and Larry McCarthy of Corrib View Lodge in Glencorrib. Larry is considered by many to be the best guide on Corrib and employs several other guides for much of the season. And I doubt there is a kinder, more considerate hostess than Michelle in all of Ireland. The six anglers in our group from Massachusetts could not have been more pleased with the hospitality. Michelle and Ann served a hardy Irish breakfast each morning for up to 16 guests. A double occupancy room with breakfast is 40 euros per day per person and the huge shore lunches Michelle packs each day are another 6 euros. Each angler pays 75 euros per day for boat and guide fees. Thus, a day cost less than $150 per angler for bed, breakfast, lunch, guide and boat. Dinners at local pubs ran 30 euros and tips for guides and house staff according to Irish tradition averaged about 80 euros for the week. It is one of the most affordable, enjoyable weeks of guided fly fishing anywhere in the world.
Our group of six fly fishermen ranged from 57 to 80 years of age. Not one of us had any significant experience with lough fishing and we were all eager to learn the techniques and land a few Corrib browns. The guides, known locally as boatmen, were up to the task. There were no eager young bucks among them, they were all very experienced and exceptionally dedicated to helping us catch fish. This is not so much a job for them as a lifestyle. Gary was still in the Irish military and on a month-long holiday. His instructions were always clear and he explained what he was doing and why at all times. Pat is to me the quintessential guide; immaculately groomed, a bit reserved, and very fit. He is quieter than Gary but his desire to catch fish is palpable. Joel, an older gent, is a wild man. He runs his own guide service when not working for Larry and curses often in his local accent, which makes it sound a bit endearing. But as skilled as they are, it was a difficult week of fishing. It was colder than expected and the sun too bright on the water much of the time. The wind was often too light and that did not bode well for fishing dry flies or wets, the methods we would have preferred. There were often a fair number of lake olives on the surface but if the fish were feeding on them, we could not attest to it. There were fewer mayflies (Ephemera danica) but we did take a couple nice browns stripping wet flies and a couple of others on large dries, size ten, green mayflies. But the majority of the fish we took were on large midge nymphs (chironomids), known in Ireland as buzzers.
A cast of buzzers consists of a point fly at the end of a 12 to 20-foot leader with one or two droppers. Until a couple of fish are hooked it is unclear at what level they are cruising and feeding. Buzzer nymphs drift throughout the water column but the fish feed at different levels depending on the intensity of the sunlight. The browns also feed on buzzers in low light as they hang in the surface film and prepare to hatch. One day Joel and I made four drifts across a shallow cove with a good number of olives hatching and fish rising with regularity. But they were feeding on buzzers, not olives, and we got only one take. I learned that the lake olives and buzzers hatch from the same bottom type and often at the same times. The rise forms give away which fly the trout are taking but it takes an experienced angler to differentiate between them.
We arrived in Glencorrib at 9 AM on April 30, took a late breakfast at Puddle Ducks in the village of Cong (where The Quiet Man was filmed), unpacked and rested a while, took a lovely walk to Ballynalty Bay and an early dinner at the Anglers Rest in Headford. The next morning, we were up by 7, breakfasted at 8, and gathered to meet the guides at 9:30. Four members of the group followed the guides to Greenfields while Kevin P. and I headed to Limnaugh Pier to meet up with Joel. The day was cold, cloudy and windy. I put on my boots and waders and four layers on top. I was still cold but fished the day out. We fished wet, olive and mayfly imitations, a cock robin on the dropper and a dark olive at the point. We would cast sixty to seventy-five feet, draw the line straight, let the flies sink a bit, and strip the flies back, varying the speed to try and produce a strike. But we could not locate feeding fish and had not even a single take. The other two boats did equally well. It was a somber start for the week; a hot shower, a fresh pint, and a good dinner had us up early the next morning, looking with optimism to the next outing. The walls of the dining room are lined with photos of fish and fisherman. Seventy-six are of anglers holding brown trout of four pounds and up. No lesser trout grace the walls and the photos serve as silent inspiration. It is pleasant to imagine that we could someday be among them.
Nearly all lough fishing is done from beautiful, traditional lake boats, built of fiberglass and nineteen feet long. Their clinker (lapstrake) construction makes them nearly ideal for drifting before the wind and maintaining a straight course. That is critical, as more than 90% of fishing is done as the boat drifts across a feeding area. When fishing buzzers a drogue (sea anchor) is often used to slow the drift. During a faster drift, such as when one is stripping wets, anglers have to account for both the drift of the boat toward the flies and the need to move the flies through the water in a life-like manner. On the second day I missed a good take when my attention wavered and I failed to keep the line taut. Kevin G. and I were fishing with Gary in an area known for the tap, a faux water faucet on a pipe stuck into the rocks far from shore. One has to love Irish humor. On one of the drifts near the tap Kevin G. hooked and landed our first Corrib brown of the trip, a fish of about 1.5 pounds. As Kevin had anticipated this as a bucket list experience, I could not have been more pleased at his success. He took another similar fish before lunch. He is probably the best angler among us. I have learned much fishing with him over the years.
We lunched on a small island where Larry and a couple of friends had recently placed a small bench dedicated to Larry’s father Tom, at the location he loved best for his own shore lunches. The reverence these Irish anglers have for this great natural resource is quite tangible. After a lunch that could have served 8 rather than 4 anglers, Gary took us to fish near Ballycurrin Lighthouse, the only working, peat-fired lighthouse remaining in Europe. The shore and near shore bottom are very rocky but at twenty feet from the shore the bottom drops quickly from 4 to 12 feet. Green drake mayflies hatch in the shallows and drift over the deep drop-off. Brown trout lay in wait at the drop-off and sometimes charge surface flies, taking them as they leap from the water. Kevin G. took a two-pound brown that ambushed a size 10 dry green mayfly pattern and headed back to the deeps. I missed a nice fish that came up and blasted my fly into the air but did not circle back to eat it. A couple of salmon parr from 6 to 9 inches took my dry fly when it drifted into the shallower water. I learned also when we returned to the Lodge that another of our party, Gary, had taken a 2.5 to 3-pound brown on a dry fly as well. Anything more than that, he declared, would be icing on the cake. That second day proved there were fish to be caught and that a couple of us were up to the task. We all caught trout before the week was out.
The next morning, I fished with Pat, by myself, as Kevin P. had opted to golf and meet us later. The wind was up. Pat, who had not had much luck earlier in the week, decided to head all the way across the Lough to fish the shore near Oughterard, where some good fish had been recently taken. We got pretty wet. We fished a cast of two wet flies but failed to move a single fish. We tried a couple of drifts near the tap with the same result. We met the other boat fishing in our area for lunch and I was badly chilled. In an effort to get out of the wind I crawled into the bottom of one of the boats and feel asleep in the sun. There are a few photos circulating of my slack-jawed moments of repose. But it did the trick, and I was able to fish through the afternoon in relative comfort. Gary’s boat took some good fish, again near the Ballycurrin Lighthouse. There was no doubt that he had the hot boat that week; he took fish every day but one.
Evenings at the Lodge after dinner were always interesting. There was a Welsh fishing team there, associated with a fly-fishing tackle maker. It was their sixth annual trip to the Corrib and they were a wealth of knowledge. Garreth in particular was an excellent angler, boating as many as ten fish per day compared to the four to eight that we were landing in three boats. There were always a couple of bottles being passed around, often of excellent Irish whiskey. It was remarkable to meet so many anglers so dedicated to the Corrib. Over the week we were the only group there on our maiden trip. We had a lot to learn. After three days, three members of our group had landed Corrib brown trout and three of us were still in search of the experience. We fished hard but success for some of us was elusive. On day four I was alone with Joel and though we saw quite a few feeding fish we failed to get but one hook-up, and that was on Joel’s rod on a buzzer. As if to emphasize my poor luck, I somehow managed to trip getting out of the boat at the end of the day and landed on my face on the stone pier. I looked like I had been in a bar fight even after I returned home. But the fourth member of our group took a nice first fish that day and I was pleased that our success was improving even if the distribution was uneven. I had long ago learned that it was best not to dwell on not catching fish but rather to stay positive and concentrate on good technique.
The weather on day five was rather different. The wind had dropped and brighter sunlight indicated that fishing buzzers was our best bet. The guides were guarded in their expectations. I fished with Dan, another member of our group, on days five and six. He is a cheerful and capable angler. We were fishing from Gary’s boat, and as he had the hot boat that week, we were optimistic. In the late morning, drifting only a short distance from the Greenfields causeway, Dan and I each landed a fish. Mine was a bit of a wanker, as they call Corrib trout under 13 inches, but it was my first legit wild Corrib brown. Gary was amused when I kissed it on the head before the release. Dan’s fish was a wonderful 3-pound fish and I highly enjoyed watching the fight and observing the trout in the clear water as it tried to avoid coming to the net. A short while later I took another brown of about 1.5 pounds. My relief was evident and Gary thought that the kissing of the first fish was key. Michelle had packed lamb burgers and steaks for lunch and all three boats met for a barbeque. The guides were good cooks, the steaks done to perfection. We lingered to enjoy the sun and watch a heron feed her young in a nearby tree. As with many wild trout fishing venues, the surroundings were incredibly beautiful. Curlews perched on rocks, small gulls and terns fed on lake olives. The green Irish countryside graced the shoreline, yellow gorse and white hawthorn bloomed in abundance.
On day six, Dan and I expected to fish with Pat, but he had some clients from the previous year and we fished instead with Paul, with whom I had fished the year before. He is a very friendly chap who had moved there from England to be near the lake. We had not taken fish the previous year and he was eager for the chance at redemption. We fished the same area as the day before, again with buzzers. It was a bit after noon that I hooked and landed that lovely 3.5-pound brown described at the opening of this story. Dan took two more nice fish and Paul was thrilled to have both anglers hook up. Jerry, who fished with Joel that last day, took 4 nice browns on buzzers and Kevin P. took two.
Fishing the Corrib is a remarkable experience. I have never been so moved by a fishing trip, so intent on learning to use new methods, and on catching and releasing a new species of wild trout. I had not previously taken wild browns in their native territory and I thus added a new native salmonid species to my life list. While the trout are the central attraction the context is inseparable. The beauty of the Irish countryside is unique in all the world, the Corrib a natural wonder, the culture nearly intoxicating, the people friendly. Though I am genetically a Celt from France, 72% of the men in Ireland and I come from the same human genetic haplogroup. So, in reference to my genetic heritage, these are my people. On the last evening of our stay, Dennis Moss, author of Trout from a Boat and Irish Rise, stopped by the Lodge to meet us. We had all read Dennis’s books in preparation for the trip and three of the party had brought their books for Dennis to sign. Now we too were Corrib anglers. As of this writing, four of us plan to return next year and I will recruit others to join. One sip of Corrib’s fishing nectar absolutely invites another.
Rick Taupier holds a PhD in History and owns Swift River Fly Fishing in New Salem, MA.
Go fishing with Rick
Lough Corrib Trip
A Six Day Fishing Holiday on Lough Corrib, Co. Galway, Ireland
Corrib View Lodge – May 10 – 17, 2020
Ireland’s Famed Wild Brown Trout Fishery
May is considered the best month for dry fly fishing on Lough Corrib, when wild brown trout rise to Lake Olive and May Fly hatches. Anglers have an excellent opportunity to catch wild brown trout up to five plus pounds in the shallows of one of Europe’s most productive limestone lakes. This traditional fishery is built around the use of the nineteen-foot Irish Lough Boat, a light, clinker-built (lap strake), fiberglass (formerly wooden) fishing dory, optimized for the Corrib’s shallow and sometimes choppy waters. The design allows long drifts before the breeze, over the Lough’s broad limestone shallows, while casting to brown trout that average 15 to 16 inches.
Lough Corrib is the Republic of Ireland’s largest lake and along with Lough Mask considered the heart of Ireland’s famed wild brown trout fishery. It is over thirty miles north to south, but its narrow shape, many bays, and 1200 islands create a sense of intimacy nearly anywhere on the lake. The average depth of the Lough is about two meters and much of the water you will fish over is from two to four feet. Larry McCarty and his guides from Corrib View Lodge are among the best on the lake. This trip includes double occupancy lodging, breakfast and lunch on each of six full days (seven nights), and all boat and guide fees, with two rods and one boatman per Corrib dory.
I have reserved space for six (or guests) in double occupancy rooms with private baths. The group will leave Boston on May 9 and arrive on May 10 at Shannon Airport, then car pool to Glen Corrib and Corrib View Lodge, about 18 miles north of Galway City. Fishing begins on May 11. Costs for the six days with double occupancy, 2 meals per day, two dinners, all boat and guide fees, and car rental will be $1500. A deposit of $300 is required to hold your spot with the balance due by April 1. Costs for 5 dinners at local pubs are separate and average about $30 per night. Tips for guides and lodge staff will be another $100. Air fare from Boston to Shannon Ireland is currently running about $750 but that may go down. Round trip transport by Valley Transport to Logan is about $150. You are free to make your own travel plans and keep us posted as to when and where to expect you. You should count on total costs about $2500 for the entire trip.
You should prepared for cold and wet weather. Boots, waders or rain-pants, and rain coats are vital. Some days can require up to five layers to stay warm and dry and others only a shirt. Rods of 9.5 feet for 5/6 weight lines are the standard. If you do not have a suitable rod you can rent one from me or buy one of my custom fiberglass Lough Rods, a four-piece, 9.5-foot, 5/6 weight. Flies are often supplied by the guides but you can buy some in advance if you wish. Leaders are 9 to 12 feet and tippets usually 4x. Wet flies and buzzers are often fished 2 to 3 to a cast.
There are some web sites on fly fishing in Ireland that are worth checking out. You might start with https://www.fishinginireland.info/trout/west.htm and then navigate to some of the other regions to get a broader picture. Info on Corrib View Lodge can be found at http://www.corribangling.com There are also some fine books on fly fishing in Ireland and you might start with Fly Fishing Still Waters for Trophy Trout by Denny Rickards or Trout from a Boat by Dennis Moss.
Those who might like to bring a non-fishing partner or friend are welcome to do so. Opportunities abound for day trips along the Wild Atlantic Way and places such as Galway City, the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, Conamarra National Park, the Aran Islands and even lovely Donegal.