Fishing: Mayflies but wind doesn't
Sunday 25 May 1997
I'm writing this on the shores of Lough Corrib in Connemara. Normally it looks like Waillamea Bay, Hawaii, out there, with waves so big that only experienced surfers are allowed out. It gets so rough that people crossing the lake in a rowing boat take seasickness pills. It's where meteorologists come to study wind currents. But for the past week, the damn pond (all 64 square miles of it) has been as idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean.
You might think such conditions are good news for anglers, and normally you would be right. But at this time of year on Corrib, lack of wind is as disastrous as the Guinness tanker getting lost.
I'm here to dap. A good word, especially if you're a Scrabble enthusiast. It is an ancient tradition, the very essence of fly-fishing. Sometime in late spring, mayflies crawl out of the mud and metamorphose from ugly bugs to gossamer-winged dancers. It's a short life, two days at best, and not an especially merry one if anglers are around.
Trout love mayflies. When it's mayfly time, trout lose their natural caution and gorge themselves on the tiny ballennas dancing on the waves. (Or would do if the waves were here.) At this time, there is only one way to fish if you're a traditionalist: with a long rod and blowline, which carries the hapless mayfly to awaiting trout.
The blowline is merely a short length of wool or similar material, thick enough is catch the gentlest breeze and drift a mayfly to fish in a natural way. It is a very simple set-up, requiring just one thing. Wind.
Oh yes, you can tow a chunk of metal behind a boat (it's called trolling) for salmon if there is no wind. But you only fish for salmon on Corrib in desperation if the trout aren't feeding. And trolling is the piscatorial equivalent of collecting matchbox labels.
What makes it worse is that my wife has joined me over here for the first time, to see what the excitement is all about. She's still wondering, though the five-course dinners have slightly placated her. So has the setting, Currarevagh House in Oughterasd, an elegant, quirky country house with more different carpets than a Turkish bazaar, a tiger skin on the wall of the stairwell and a room numbering system that has totally baffled her statistical mind. (We're in room 16, which is next to 10, next to 9, then 14, 4 and 9. It's like a Mensa puzzle.)
It's the sort of place people keep returning to. It's my fifth year, and I've just met a Dublin lawyer, who first came in 1973. Many regulars are worried that if I write about it, others whom they don't know might come along and spoil the party.
Still, thank God the food and company is good, because the fishing ain't. What makes it doubly irksome is that two weeks ago, the mayfly jumped out of bed unseasonally early and even beginners caught trout. The fish book at reception shows how good it was: Cahill, 10 fish; Lebrun, 11 trout; Brown, seven fish.
Such catches might not strike you as spectacular but they are pretty special. When mayfly hatch in quantity and the trout are feeding avidly on them, the period is known as Duffer's Week.
Elliott K and R have made far less of an impact on trout stocks. In fact, we haven't troubled the scorer, and nor has almost anybody. It's all down to the wind, you see. The ghillies can't remember such a long spell of becalmed days. If wind doesn't blow the line out, it dangles limply under your rod.
The boat sits in the same spot, as if tied to an invisible anchor. No wind, no fish.
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