An old college mate of mine called Tony asked me whilst we were wetting a line at the fantastic Bury Hill Fisheries in Dorking, Surrey if I fancied a bash at fly fishing. He was a bit of a dab hand already, he is in fact one of the best all-round fisherman I’ve ever known. “Sounds like a plan,” I said, where shall I cast my first fly? How about Lough Corrib in Ireland?” was his intriguing reply.
Being a great fan of the Emerald Isle I promptly agreed to the trip, scheduled for the following March. I had about five months to hone my fluff-chucking skills.
As is typical of me, I waited until two weeks before the trip to purchase an entry level fly rod, reel and some little hooks with colourful, tufty bits attached and names like “orange booby,” as well as to book a casting lesson at my local trout fishery.
On the day of my one-hour lesson I was greeted by a Jack Hargreaves’s doppelgänger, the man was a ringer for my boyhood “Out Of Town” hero.
He even had a pipe clenched between his teeth and that patient, amiable delivery that Jack was famous for. I never mentioned this uncanny resemblance to the man, I suspected he was reminded of it all the time, I just enjoyed the moment as best I could in between my utterly fruitless attempts at casting a fly. The Jack lookalikey even chuckled “you’re casting like a dead man” when it became apparent to him that I was a no-hoper. At the end of the lesson he was even reluctant to take my twenty five quid as I’d made no progress whatsoever. And this, sadly, was to be the my fate. Despite several trout, sea trout and salmon fishing sorties in England, Scotland and Ireland, I never got the hang of casting, despite catching numerous trout and an 8.5lb salmon. It was made worse by the fact that I was accompanied on these trips by anglers, including my mate Tony, of enormous technical and entomological skill that could cast to the horizon, or to a tight spot no bigger than a dinner plate, and could “match the hatch” with enviable accuracy. But they were good friends and never once mocked my fly fishing inadequacies, not to my face anyway!
My first trip to Corrib, a vast glacial lake covering an area of sixty eight square miles, was a highly enjoyable, but fairly frustrating soirée into the deep and windswept end of wild lough fishing. We’d rented a lodge on the northern tip of Corrib in a hamlet called Cong and the king of Cong was the lodge owner Roy, as Celtic as a man can be. Roy was as big as a house with a shock of fiery red hair and a matching thicket of a beard that cascaded almost as far as his chest. He had piercing blue eyes that spoke a thousand words, which was just as well because he barely said a word. If he’d turned up to greet us naked to the waist, covered in wode, wearing a kilt and swinging a shillelagh around his head it wouldn’t have surprised me.
In stark contrast was his wife Sorcha, a diminutive, dark haired lady with a sweet nature, a sharp wit and renowned creator of some the best packed lunches I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat. One night after a exemplary dinner enlivened by the odd glass of Black Bush, I called her Scorcher instead of Sorcha, a slip of the tongue she found most amusing. Roy, however, just stared at me from a dark corner of the dining room. That night I wedged my bedroom door shut with a chair, just in case.
Fishing Corrib is wild fishing at its wildest. The quarry was pristine brown trout pursued from a nineteen foot Irish fishing boat, allowed to drift with the wind to cover as much water as possible.
I’ve no recollection of the names of the flies we used to fish for the brownies, but I do know they strongly resembled the multitudinous hatches of flying insects emerging from the shallower water surrounding the Lough’s many islands.
I fished every day for four days from one of those boats, and I never caught a thing. My fellow ship mates, however, often caught fish into double figures. It was a bit humiliating, but then I couldn’t cast far enough to fish effectively.
Despite my complete ineptitude, the trip was great fun, and on one occasion, dramatic. The anti-English sentiment still simmers amongst a very small Irish contingent, and a member of that contingent decided to drive his very fast motor boat through all of our lines one day, simply because we were English. He lived to regret it though, because when Roy found out what he’d done, he persuaded him in no uncertain terms to never do it again, so Scorcher said anyway.
I’ve no idea if it was the same guy but during a visit to a tiny local pub alive with laughter, music and excellent Guinness, I was threatened, up at the bar in front of everyone, by an extremely scary Irishman who stood well over six feet, with a bushy black beard, a battered donkey jacket and a look in his eyes that screamed death to the English. It was like a Western, the music stopped and everyone looked our way, there was total silence. I could feel my bowels turn to water, (the four pints of Guinness didn’t help), but in a flash Tony was by my side and we fronted the guy out best we could. He was obviously pissed and, thankfully, unintelligible, but his guttural voice held real menace. The landlady, with a quiet word and a hand on his arm, diffused the situation and he slammed his pint down and left. Instantly, the laughter and music flared up again as if nothing had happened. Two pints of Guinness, on the house, were placed on the bar for us and not a word was said. As I say, it’s a wild spot, Corrib.
Despite my near death experience, I had unfinished business with the place, so exactly a year later I returned to redeem myself. My casting skills were much the same but due to the concerted and kindly efforts of an excellent ghillie called Tom, I managed to catch twelve brown trout over the course of four days, which resulted in a congratulatory grunt from Roy, the most the man had said to me in two trips!