An Irish Anglers World

Wild Trout Fishing in County Wicklow

Flowing water and bridges have a magnet like attraction, one just has to lean on the parapet and take a look over. It was my leaving cert year 1979 when I first set eyes on that trout. For weeks I just observed, sometimes it wasn’t there most times it was, holding station oblivious to my surveillance. Easily three quarters of a pound the trout floated zeppelin like in the current, sitting in the V where the narrow streams merged downstream of the bridge behind the old Post Office in Kilmacanogue.

Spring fly fishing for wild brown trout on the Avonmore River County Wicklow, Ireland.

A tributary of the nearby River Dargle, the brook, for she was barely six foot wide, was diverted adjacent to the Post Office through a culvert under the now N.11, took a dog leg left behind a garage before flowing towards and connecting with its parent a mile away. Exploring this short length I happily took note that a number of sizable trout resided within each small pool, darting under banks for cover if I disturbed them.

I wasn’t unduly surprised at trout being present within such a small waterway having earlier in that same year taken a number of good trout and a grilse from the Shanganagh River, an equally narrow and seemingly insignificant brook which flows off the Dublin Mountains past Loughlinstown before meeting the sea at Killiney Bay just south of Ballybrack.

Wild County Wicklow Brownie.

Subsequently fishy thoughts began to take root, a plan was hatched, brandlings, those small wriggly red banded worms so beloved of trout were dug from the manure heap, and after tea one warm May evening I set forth with a particular eye on that spotted beauty holding court in the confluence behind the Post Office.

Peering over the wall my quarry was not present, had someone else had a crack or was Salmo trutta resting under the bridge. Tackling up with a light six foot spinning rod and reel combo, four pound line to a size 14 hook with a couple of split shot pinched on 18 inches up the main line, I attached a couple of brandlings through the head so letting their tails wriggle enticingly, before placing the offering gently into the water from the upstream side of the bridge.

Wet flies for a Wicklow stream.

Feeding line in unison with the flow while controlling its position with my rod top a double knock signalled interest. Giving another foot of line encouraged a more confident bite which I struck into. My light rod hooped, tip disappearing under the arch, pulsing transmitted through the line matched to unseen splashing sounds emanating from under the bridge. Quickly gaining control I admittedly horsed the trout from its haven, taking a chance that my light line would withstand the fishes chucking as I unceremoniously lifted it up and over the low wall. A little over half a pound, definitely not the zeppelin but welcome nonetheless, a quick bump on the head and into the creel.

Baiting up again the exercise was repeated with a similar result. At this point I was joined by a man who it transpired lived in a house adjacent to the stream. In fact yours truly was fishing from a bridge that gave access to his drive. “What are you doing?” the man asked. “Trying for a few trout from the stream”, I innocently replied opening my creel to show off the two half pounders. On observing the brace his face visibly sank, “I feed those trout every morning with bread, they’re like pets to me”. Thinking on my feet while applying a major dollop of discretion I apologised profusely for his loss while promising that he wouldn’t see me on his bridge again, and bet a hasty retreat. The trout I have to say were very tasty, baked with butter and herbs stuffed in the belly.

Weir pool on the Aughrim River, Co. Wicklow, Ireland.

The above account is typical of my early forays trout fishing within Co. Wicklow, not taking up fly fishing until around 1994, upstream worm and light spinning with small bar spoons being the modus operandi that I employed. The River Vartry became a particular favourite early and late in the season where I recorded sea and brown trout to a pound and a half respectively employing size 1copper Mepps. A couple of memorable River Dargle days stand out also, upstream worming for brownies through the Powerscourt estate. The trout were not large, no bigger than half a pound, but the surroundings were beautiful.

On taking up fly fishing the Avonmore river became a fixture, and for a fledgling exponent of the art yielded plenty of 4 – 6 ounce brownies, an occasional 8 – 10 ouncer, and one memorable 2.oz April fish to a deep sunk kill devil spider. Dusk on summer evenings proved a great time to cast a fly, especially into pool head runs where the bigger trout seemed to take station as night closed in. The Aughrim River also produced a good fish or two as did the Derry water around Annacurra.

Wild Wicklow brownie from an upland stream.

Since taking up trout fly fishing on the Wicklow streams I’ve been happy to practice catch and release, fully aware that the trout I was targeting were early maturing and short lived. Sadly there has been a marked reduction in trout numbers over the intervening years on both the Avonmore and Aughrim Rivers which in my opinion is definitely linked to angling attrition. Today the Avonmore and Aughrim rivers flatter to deceive, great places to walk, wade, and cast a line but unfortunately delivering few sizeable trout relative to the effort involved.

That said if one is prepared to rough it through the less accessible stretches of the Avoca system, or walk and wade the various headwaters of rivers such as the Slaney or Liffey sourced high up in the Wicklow Hills, then some interesting fishing can still be found. Ok the trout are not large, weighing 4 – 6 ounces on average, however fished with a four weight set up they do provide good sport.

Commando fly fishing.

For me there’s nothing better then packing all requirements into a rucksack and setting off into the forest, across farmland, or following a stream up onto the moors. Surroundings can be stunning, the sense of isolation fun, and given that the waters are rarely fished an occasional larger then average trout can surprise the intrepid angler. Let me take you there.

Setting up an eight foot, four weight rod I make my way upstream to work a team of wets back down. Overcast, a cool steady north easterly breeze blows down the valley making it impossible to upstream dry fly. Nymphing may be an option but even that could prove difficult. So putting up a beaded pheasant tail on the point and a Greenwells spider on the dropper I commence working the runs and pots downstream.

Upland stream in Co. Wicklow showing its bones.

Very quickly I connect with a nice 10 inch fish to the Greenwells, closely followed by a similar trout on the pheasant tail. The first held station along a seam on the far bank, slashing at my flies as they swung across, the second fish took deep in the run tail, both giving a good account on the light rod. A taking pattern develops criss crossing between the pheasant tail and the Greenwells with at days end the Greenwells just shading it.

An interesting aspect of fishing upland streams is how they change from visit to visit, no two days being the same. Given their rain fed almost spate like nature water levels rise and fall all the time, steady flow maintained to a degree by the sponge like blanket bog higher up. However in long dry spells this natural sponge can dry out with subsequent dramatic effects on the rivers below, when optimum water levels and good weather combine though fishing can be magical.

Wet flies for Co. Wicklow streams (L - R) Kill devil spider, Greenwells spider, Coachman.

Trout move out of the deep slacks and position themselves in ambush points behind rocks, along seams and guts, in fact just about everywhere you might expect to find them. Two fish in quick succession here, one trout there, head and tail rises, pulls, the day can whizz by in a blur, only a gnawing stomach signalling that it might just be time to go home.

A good session could see a dozen trout caught and released with as many more slashing, pulling, and cavorting. These youthful rivers are special and I never tire of them, granted the trout are not big, but they are beautiful, red spotted and yellow bellied providing wonderful sport in breathtaking locations. Most definitely, and quite correctly river trout fisheries such as the Boyne and Suir get all the tourist plaudits, but in my opinion don’t right off the smaller streams, they will provide an equally enjoyable experience as long as expectations and tackle are adjusted accordingly……

Ashley Hayden © April 2013

Further reading: In the Footsteps of A. A. Luce.