Slainte! Happy St. Patrick’s Day to the Fly Talk nation!
This is a special holiday for me, partly because I am of Irish descent (on my mother’s side), and also because it gives good cause to tilt a pint or two and remember one of the best fishing trips I have ever taken. I spent a week in Ireland a few years back, playing golf and fishing with my good friend Chris Santella, author of the “Fifty Places to Fly Fish Before You Die” books. Ireland was tops on his list, and it is now also tops on mine. We didn’t catch a ton of fish that week, mind you, but I’d go back tomorrow. And next month, and the month after that, if I could. The fishing in Ireland interests me almost more than anywhere else. And the more you fish, the more you realize there are many factors that make a “lifetime” trip.
Here are my 10 reasons why Ireland should be on any serious fly angler’s list of dream destinations:
1. Good Craic**
Pronounced “crack,” the Irish have a totally different meaning for this word. There, it means good conversation, good company, and good times. You’d have to try hard not to find that in Ireland, especially when you travel in angling circles. The people here are, by far, the nicest I’ve met in my many fishing travels.
2. Atlantic Salmon
“Leapers” are among the most special fish that can be earned on a fly, and Ireland, by virtue of strict regulations put on commercial netting not that long ago, is starting to see a rebirth in terms of big runs of bright, tough fish in its rivers. For those who keep these fish, it’s a very strict, fair game.
After some careful, diligent research, I was able to determine that Guinness does indeed taste better in Ireland than does in America. It even tastes different in various pubs in Ireland, but never better than at the V.J. Doherty Ridge Pool Bar in Ballina, County Mayo, where you are welcome to wear your waders and enjoy a pint between casts on one of the River Moy’s most famous beats.
I’ve said before, for the record, that I think golf and fly fishing are essentially the same sport: one version played wet, the other played (mostly) dry. Ireland’s true links golf courses, like Enniscrone and Belmullet (Carne), are not only among the world’s best — and reasons to bring a golfs-but-doesn’t-fish companion with you — they’ll teach you some lessons (vis a vis playing the wind and appreciating the short game) that you can transpose to any river you fish.
I love guides. I am a guide myself sometimes. But there’s a difference between the Montana River bum and the Irish Ghillie who serves as shepherd to the fish in a given beat; they’re a coach for the angler. Some beats cost a pretty penny to fish, but others are surprisingly affordable. It’s worth ponying up the dough to fish a classic beat if you go to Ireland, just so you can spend some time gabbing with the Ghillie.
6. Classic Flies
When you throw enough foam hoppers and itty-bitty size #20 nymph patterns, there’s something to be said about swinging a traditional pattern like the “Thunder and Lightning,” the “Blue Charm,” or the “Red Arse Green Peter” for trout and salmon. Here, it’s about the “why” and the “how,” which have been rooted in tradition for generations, and not about the “what” or “how much.”
Yes, the beer is fine, but trust me, when lunchtime rolls around, after floating the lake (lough) or wading the river in the cold (even in summer), you’ll appreciate a good spot of tea during break time. In fact, if ever you fish with me in the cold, by mid afternoon, we’ll take a tea and cakes break… and that came straight from Ireland.
8. Brown Trout
You know… there’s something to be said for catching any trout or salmon species, of any size, in a place where they originally come from and still belong.
It’s pretty humbling and thought-provoking to be casting flies near a ruin of a church that was built hundreds of years before you were born. Fly fishing, after all, is deeply rooted in the ideal of letting the mind and imagination wander. Fishing in Ireland frees the mind better than anywhere else can.
10. Traditional Irish Breakfast**
Maybe you didn’t wake up today and celebrate with blood sausages and a fried egg. But you can do that when you go fish in Ireland.
Seriously, folks, if you’re wondering about a “life trip” beyond American borders, I encourage you to put some serious thought on Ireland. The fishing is getting better and better by the day, and the people and culture have always been remarkable. If you want to plan a life trip, I’d suggest contacting Mt. Falcon hotel in County Mayo, as the northwestern part of Ireland offers some of the best fishing, and the people at Mount Falcon are the best at what they do.
Enjoy St. Paddy’s day… Erin Go Bragh!