FishPal’s Sam Carlisle takes a trip to the Emerald Isle to enjoy a pint of black and a dance with silver

Feb 9, 2024 | Blog, Locations, Travel

After nine days of blank salmon fishing, my friend Tom and I tipped up on the banks of the river Blackwater. The previous night’s haze of Guinness and learning Irish drinking songs in Lismore’s Red Posts Bar was wiped away by the sight of a jolly elderly gentleman walking back towards the hut, dragging a gleaming 12lb fish behind him. The fish were in, some at least were taking, and the early bird had caught the silver.

Jack, a retired vet from County Cork, smiled kindly at my fumbling haste. “That’s alright lads, I’ll be off now. I’ve caught my fish and I’ll be home to cook it.” In his lovely Irish lilt, he shared where he’d caught it (in the Island Stream) and what fly and sink tip he’d been using (a small Willie Gunn with only an intermediate tip, surprisingly light considering the high water).

The Blackwater’s Irish name is An Abhainn Mhór, which means ‘The Great River’. Rising in the Mullaghareirk mountains, and flowing through four counties before draining into the Celtic sea, its greatness probably stems from its size, but it could equally be down to its prodigious population of Atlantic salmon. It remains one of the most prolific salmon rivers anywhere.

I was fishing on the Blackwater Salmon Fishery beat, run by angling tour de force Glenda Powell. It is a fly-only beat of 1.3 miles that fishes four rods, and averages around 300 salmon a year. Much of the beat is about the size of the middle Spey, and one corner pool – the Lugg – requires deep wading and laying out the longest line you can. Another angler I met on the bank assured me that from July onwards it is not unusual to see seven or more salmon landed on one run down this huge holding pool. At the top of the beat, a large island halves the size of the river, and suddenly you’re fishing a small tree-lined highland stream.

Encouraged by Jack’s early morning success, I marched to the Island Stream, at the very bottom of the beat. Layered in fleece and Gortex, I broke into a clammy sweat, so slipping into the water and unfurling metronomic Spey casts was a soothing relief. The pool ends when the flow peters out, and towards the tail I started to strip in my line to speed up the swing of the fly.

Mid-strip, my steady pull was interrupted, and the weight of a salmon started to swim downstream. It was a lively dance before I managed to tail a double figure fish, still with flanks of oceanic chrome, admire it briefly, and then send it back on its way.

For fairly minimal effort, a quick trip to Ireland is often easier than a trip to Scotland, and you can fish on a Sunday. While there, you’re almost certain to learn the words of a folk song in the local hostelry, and you might just land a salmon to boot.

Careysville Fishery

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