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Vive la différence

Outdoor Living

 WATER WEALTH Ireland’s clean, rich waters boast plenty of quality fish, attracting anglers from less lucky climes.


Country Sights and Sounds
John Shelley

What a day! Sunshine and the occasional light shower, a scatter of mayflies blowing off the lake and all my chores completed... well, postponed, then. Still, the trout would be hopping fit to clear the water. Days like this are too few to waste.
When I got as far as my favourite stream I was not a little disconcerted to find a car, a foreign car at that, straddling both available parking spaces, as if the driver was sending out a message, not that He owned the parking but that He was angling along the river and since it was He that was angling then nobody else should intrude on his solitude or, indeed, dare so far as to share in his sport.
Unimpressed, I moved to a lay-by some distance away and, after putting rod, reel and line in order, walked back along the road, stepping off several times to let traffic fly by unimpeded (why is everyone in such a hurry on such a beautiful day? Perhaps they’re all rushing to get away fishing, that must be it), got back to the gate with its adjacent stile and hopped over into a different world.
How I do love this place. The instant my feet hit the turf my life is transformed. The sound of traffic is still there if I listen for it, but here are sounds that transcend all those our industrial world can produce. Far above and out of sight a lark spills careless notes into the air, a musical cascade to decorate the warbler’s bower. The warbler sings back from the flowering thorn, repeating the same phrase over and again. The notes might be the same but we could never tire of hearing them; they are so pretty, and to think he comes all the way from Africa to sing especially for us.
There are other songsters too, each adding his own flavour to the mix. The stonechat chips away insistently as he flies ahead of me, his bouncing flight taking him from post to post. My friend the wren explodes with an outburst of tuneful notes from the blackthorn and a blackbird throws the occasional phrase into the breeze. A family of grey wagtails bound across the weir at my approach, and there, at the broken stream a short way down, is the Frenchman.
How did I know he was French? Perhaps it was the tilt of his hat or the way he dropped to one knee as he made to cast his fly. Or could it have been his jerkin of brown, felt-like material and the thin belt that held it together? It was, I think, everything about him, from his calf-length lace-up boots to the pipe that hung, smokeless, from his mouth, beneath that jaunty peak.
Noting he was right handed and anxious lest he spot the trout I had come specifically to catch, a prize a full pound in weight and perhaps a shade more that lived in a deep pocket on the far edge of the riffle, I approached deliberately behind his casting arm.
‘Bonjour monsieur.’ I offered a greeting.
The Frenchman turned his head and gave me a withering glance that let me know he knew what I was up to, then turned his attention back to the water, switched the rod into his left palm and sent an artificial mayfly out to my trout. It lit perfectly where the water bounced over submerged rock and I watched in disbelief as a dark shape appeared from the deep and rose to take his offering with a light splash. The rod lifted, the fish plunged through the fast water and was brought to the net after a brief fight. I was slightly annoyed but said nothing. I had to hand it to him, that was a difficult cast and an admirable result.
The angler took his prize, laid it on the grass and admired it briefly before gently removing the hook. He took a measure from his pocket; thirty-six centimetres from the tip of its nose to the fork of the tail – and then lifted the fish with wet hands, took it back to the river and sent it on its way. We watched it depart with a broad sweep of its tail, down the current and into the roots of an alder, where it would sulk for an hour or two. I would have eaten it, and might do so yet. By tomorrow it will be back in that same feeding spot, a little wiser perhaps, but still catchable.
My French friend gave a non-committal shrug, hoisted his bag over his shoulder and wandered off downstream. Like so many of our visiting fly-fishers, the man was a master of his art. The rivers and streams of his homeland have more fishers than fish and any trout that gets to grow big does so only through experience, being caught and released many times.
How different these Irish trout are. Our waters are clean, rich in invertebrate life and well stocked with quality fish, all of which makes our little corner of the world so attractive to anglers the world over. And, truly, they are all welcome.