Every serious angler should have a bucket list, a select wish-list of places to be fished before we head off to the great rivers and waters in the sky. Here Chris Ogborne ticks another one off his already impressive tally. He packs his fly fishing gear and jets off to Ireland’s mighty Lough Corrib to sample the infamous early spring duck fly fishing. Read on to find out why this place is so special and how he gets on!
Although I’ve been privileged in my angling life to fish so many amazing places, traveling literally all over the World with the England Teams and also on business, I’ve never managed the infamous duck fly on Corrib. It’s partly oversight but somehow the diary has never been free enough. I’ve always meant to go, I’ve always wanted to go, but pressure of life has conspired against it. Until last week. Some very special friends said ‘lets do it’ and so I did!
Nothing prepares you for the first time you see Corrib. At just under 40,000 acres it’s over ten times the size of Rutland and you could fit the whole of Chew Valley Lake into one of its bays. It’s a vast body of limestone lough, a huge expanse of water that is overwhelming at first, daunting at best, and one of the few true remaining challenges in our sport.
I’d fished it once before when the World Championships were held there in ’95, but that was in ‘normal’ months when traditional wets and pulling flies were the order of the day. This time it’s early season and we’re here for the explosion of fly life that takes place every year in March and is known the World over as ‘duck fly time’. To quickly dispel any myth about it, the duck fly are simply buzzers. Black ones. Millions of them. It’s a miracle of nature that this phenomenal hatch takes place each year, providing the first real feast of the year for the trout, the birds (the Ducks love them, hence the name) and various other forms of life in the lough. The numbers are beyond definition or imagination, as columns of the insects rise like smoke above the islands, trees and bushes in their mating dance. Clouds so dense you feel you could cut them with a knife. And when the breeze takes them out over the lake they fall to the water and occasionally, in those elusive moments when conditions are just right, the trout go mad!
There are many schools of thought on how to fish for them, and that’s not the purpose or intention of this article. These words are intended as a simple tribute to the place. Dry fly works well, and so does imitative nymph. Some suspend a buzzer beneath a floating dry, whilst others fish just a singleton. Some cast far from the boat or bank, others fish a short line with great stealth Fine leaders are a must for me, although stories abound of fish taking happily on heavy lines. In truth it matters not – you’re there, and you’re fishing the duck fly hatch. That’s all that really matters.
The key is weather, and thankfully I just happened to get lucky last week. Amidst a period of high wind and rain there was a day, just one day, when it all fell calm. Intermittent sunshine was coupled with a mix of gentle breeze and flat calm. Temperatures rose and in the afternoon it felt more like June than March. The flies drifted onto and over the water and if you had a good boatman. as I most certainly did, then it all came together. I took fish of 2lb, just on 3lbs, and one trophy fish of 5lbs 1oz, the latter being one of the most beautiful browns I’ve ever had in my life. After weighing and a picture, it was returned to the water to fight another day.
The amazing backdrop of countryside and stunning scenery makes an impact and enhances the day. At every turn of the boat a whole new part of the lough becomes visible, with the vista changing completely in the space of a hundred meters. Islands appear, large and small, some covered with vegetation and trees and others little more than a collection or rocks. You’re constantly amazed at the skills of the boatman, guiding the boat with innate skill and avoiding submerged rocks just inches beneath the surface. The micro climate changes, as does the clarity of the water. You drift past spots with evocative names, some famous for generations an others merely a private mark stored carefully in the boatman’s mind.
It was over by late afternoon as the chill returned to the water, but that didn’t matter. I’d had the red letter day, fulfilled the big tick on my bucket list, and enjoyed one of the ultimate angling experiences of my life. With the very best of company and a little – OK, a lot! – of the black nectar known as Guinness it was, as they say in Ireland, a great Craic.
Beyond that it was emotional, and I use that word carefully and in full knowledge that not everyone will understand. Fishing Corrib is a humbling process, as you’re always aware that the lough can and will have the final word. But if it goes right, just once in your life, then you are a happier angler and a richer man for having been there.