22nd September

Upland trout: small and aggressive

Brendan Connolly 

Ireland’s countryside can roughly be divided into fertile alkaline lowlands and poor acidic uplands. The rivers and lakes of these two contrasting landscapes are also either alkaline,and rich in nutrients, or acidic and nutrient poor. The heather and gorse-covered hills of the west of Ireland are not fertile but they are very scenic, with glittering lakes and rivers adding an exotic sparkle to this rugged landscape.

An upland trout; small but mature

An upland trout; small but mature

Walking on blanket bog, one can cross the brow of a hill and suddenly look down on a quiet lake, cradled between rough hillsides, wild and unaffected by modern development. These small lakes appear so untouched you feel as if you have just made a discovery. Their dark surfaces exude a calm that seems to have been undisturbed since the last Ice Age.

Slow growers

These lakes are home to Ireland’s upland trout. Here, small but fiery fish of around 100g grow slowly and mature at less than one-third in size compared to their faster growing lowland cousins. If you take a moment you can see the lake surface dimpling with surreptitious rises of small trout.

Casting a fly on these small upland lakes is a revelation; the sudden hard take of these trout belie their small size. Armed with a fly rod and a dapping rod, an angler prepares to step into a boat on an upland lake. This lake contains many small trout and is fished no more than two or three times a year.

The wetflies are carefully selected; two of the three have bright red tails with brown bodies. The third fly is smaller and light grey in colour. The dapping rod has a bushy, artificial daddy-long-legs on the end of the line, ready to scamper over the water surface.

The angler steers the boat parallel to the shore and casts the wetflies towards the shore, retrieving as the boat slowly moves along. The cast of flies creates an arc in the water as the line is gradually drawn in a straight line behind the boat.

On the third cast he feels a sharp tug and the fish pulls the rod tip into a very respectable curve and makes a dash from the shore into the deep. The angler stops the engine and turns to play the small trout. It dashes around with great energy, staying surprisingly deep. It then comes to the surface and creates splashes that you would expect from a trout of twice its size. It has taken one of the flies with the bright red tail; the fly has not damaged the trout so it can be returned unharmed.

Rocky lake shore

Starting the engine, the angler resumes along the rocky lake shore. A headland is coming up and, predictably, another small trout swirls below the surface. The strong fight the fish puts up lures the anglers into thinking this fish may be a bit bigger than average; however when landed it is almost the same size as the previous one.

More trout were hooked, lost, and landed as the day progressed; at one stage two trout were hooked at the same time on two of the three wetflies. Then the angler then changes to the dapping rod and motors upwind to allow the boat to drift across the mouth of a small bay.

The wind scuds the artificial daddy-long-legs across the surface, leaving a tiny track in its wake. This tiny disturbance seems to attract the fish, because almost immediately one aggressive little trout rises at the fly and misses.

Immediately it rises again and misses again. It then jumps clear out of the water over the fly, and repeats the jump two seconds later. The angler laughs out loud at the frantic efforts of this red spotted attacker.

Dap teaser

Eventually as the dap is close to the shore, a trout makes a determined rise and takes the fly. This fish is netted and brought into the boat, but the hook falls out as the fish is still in the net. The hook may be too big for these small trout. The angler continues to tease the trout with the dap, and chuckles at the efforts of the fish to take the relatively large fly.

Just a couple more fish are hooked; many others rise to the dap and miss, to the angler’s amusement. Some 15 trout were landed that day and many more were risen and lost. This is the angling fun that is concealed in these pristine upland lakes in their beautiful surroundings.

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