To the waters and the wild

Outdoor Living

WORTH IT Battles with bogholes, briars and midge bites can yield rich rewards in the Mayo hills.

Country Sights and Sounds
John Shelley

A flyfisher looking for the angling experience of a lifetime might have his mind on the giant rainbow trout of New Zealand, the cultured brown trout of an English chalk stream or the huge runs of salmon in Norway or northern Russia.
There is, however, something special available right here in our own land, in the form of hundreds of little known hill loughs that contain enormous numbers of free-rising, purely wild brown trout, most of which have never seen an angler in their lives. Much of this fishing is free and discovered only by hardy folks prepared to do a lot of groundwork and not a little hiking.
The challenges are many and varied. The first and by no means least is actually finding the lake one has chosen to fish. An inch on the map might be many miles on the ground, especially when the uncertain nature of the terrain is taken into account. Our friend the cartographer has, by his pronounced lack of contour lines, indicated that we must travel over level ground. What he fails to tell us is that same ground consists of hundreds of acres of sphagnum bog.
It starts off dry, then we must circumnavigate a particularly wet and spongy spot which, if we should be so unwise as to attempt to cross, would swallow us up in its cold embrace and commit us even to eternity. If we get around the first boghole, another soon appears. Before long we force ourselves to acknowledge that even if we should succeed in travelling one way, the return journey has also to be made, and that possibly in the fading light of evening.
It is unwise to try and cross a quaking bog, we are forced to conclude. There must surely be another way in. and so we resort to the map once more and, yes, if only we drive a mile to the north we should find an ancient track to take us within a few hundred yards of our destination. We discover our path alright, only to find it so badly overgrown with briars that we cannot possibly walk that way.
Could there be a way around all that unwelcoming vegetation? Perhaps, we must look and see for ourselves. We set off with renewed hope. A wire fence bars our way, and beyond that a five-year-old plantation of spruce, the trees of which reach just above head height and prevent us from seeing where we must go.
There is yet hope. Back at the car we take an early lunch and scrutinize our map once more. A mile to the south a small stream is marked. It drains the lake we want to visit. If we find the stream it might allow us relatively easy access, and we shall yet have our sport. We do indeed find it, a diminutive trickle of water that might be easily overlooked. Again it is overgrown with thorn-filled brambles, but we have now come too far to turn back.
We fight our way upward, going against the flow of water. More than once we must take a wide diversion but manage to find our route again. Then we find our small stream divides into two tiny streamlets, one of which drains the surrounding land while the other issues forth from the lake. They lead in opposite directions. Which is which? The map is back in the car. We must choose.
Then comes ten minutes of uncertainty. Are we going the right way? Should we turn back now, or try just over this next rise? We decide to press on and are finally rewarded with the welcoming sight of a flat body of water that certainly looks as though it must be filled with trout.
The trouble is that the banks, as far as we can see, are lined with reeds. The water close in is a little deeper than the height of our Wellingtons, and anyway, the bottom is comprised of soft mud and rotten vegetation, which must prohibit wading. We are disappointed. Having come so far we shall not give up yet, despite finding ourselves subject to the predations of thousands of biting midges, which converge upon sweating temple, eyelids, and rapidly swelling lips.
At last! A stretch of open water that may be fished from the bank!
First cast brings a small fish struggling to the bank. About eight inches long, it is beautifully marked; dark sides overlaid with crimson spots and brightly white leading edges to its pectorals, a prince among trout. The next hour brings four dozen similar fish to our feet, among them one that is certainly large enough to eat. Did anyone ever know such sport? And this in a wild place in the north Mayo hills with not another soul in sight.