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A very surprising lake

Outdoor Living

Country Sights and Sounds
John Shelley

Bunaveela will surprise you.
I had heard of it, and read a little of it too, in the late Peter O’Reilly’s Loughs of Ireland, and had promised myself that one day I would go. I finally did, having been blown off my choice of fishing venue by yet another squally August morning and finding myself at a loss.
The first surprise was how far it is. After all, it was only an inch on the map, and that along a reasonably straight and level road. In reality the road is little more than a track. It starts off right, until one gets beyond the church at Keenagh, when it narrows considerably. With one blind crest after another, some flanked by precipitous drops, this is not a place to be late.
Thinking I had travelled much further than needed, I flagged down a passing van. The driver pointed to the next bend and there it was, a broad sheet of water much larger than I had expected, the circumference of which was blotted from view by heavy mist rising from the heather banks.
I stopped on the hill to take in the view. The lake was flat, holding a perfect reflection of blue and broken cloud, the mist thick and intriguing. The sudden splash of a trout was too much: I drove down the bumpy road to park close by the only access point and climbed out of the car.
Midges converged upon me as if they hadn’t tasted blood in a month. I didn’t care, for more trout were rising close to shore where good numbers of small sedge flies were hatching. I cast a small imitation in front of the nearest one, fully expecting it to be engulfed. Another surprise: the fish came and nudged it with his nose as if to say ‘Is this the best you can do?’ and turned aside.
Just a few feet away another trout came to the top, leaving that familiar expanding circle of ripples for me to aim at. I landed my fly close enough – he must have seen it. Indeed he had, for a second later he took a very close look. I saw the fly rise as the fish bulged the surface beneath it – but again it wasn’t taken.
I expected the trout to be hungry, and they were, for the lake was dotted by the marks of feeding fish. I didn’t think they’d be that fussy. I tried a few different flies before settling on an old favourite, the Cinnamon and Gold, a traditional wet fly that looks nothing like any kind natural food item. The trout didn’t know that and one after another was brought struggling to the bank.
So why would the fish refuse a cleverly crafted imitation of what they were eating, yet throw themselves at an item looking like something they’d never seen in their lives? Surprising.
Just to the right of where I parked the car was the outflow of the lake, a small, swiftly flowing stream just about a foot deep. I waded carefully across with the water lapping the top of my wellies, and stepped up onto the opposite bank, not thinking the bank might be undercut. Once my full weight was on it, it collapsed and dumped me half in and half out of the water. Surprise!
While I was emptying my boots the wind picked up and dragged black clouds from some place unseen. Rain lashed down for a few minutes, with such intensity that my waterproof coat was rendered useless. Then the sun came out: trout were feeding merrily and the midges returned. At least the Cinnamon and Gold was working.
By the time I reached the right-hand corner I’d brought at least a dozen to the bank. None of them were big – in fact they were all small, with the best pushing a mere half pound or so. They were beautiful though. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such variety of markings on trout anywhere.
In two hours and a few hundred yards I had at least 40 fish, together with half a dozen near drownings-by-deluge and a couple of ten-minute heatwaves. The greatest surprise was reserved for last. When I returned to the outflow, which I needed to cross to get back to the car, I found it swollen by the intense rain and fully twice as deep as when I had crossed before. There was only one thing for it: I was wet through anyway.
Bunaveela. I’d surprise myself if I wasn’t back soon.
The Burrishoole Fishery, which includes Lough Bunaveela, forms part of a catchment dedicated to scientific research. For permission to fish Lough Bunaveela, contact the Marine Institute on 098 42300.