The White Tail

I spent many years fishing Gilford Angling Club water as a youngster and teenager in the days before the Internet, online forums and social media. Advice, tips and reports were shared in more analogue ways and there was less distraction. The quieter, and softer, communication of those days is often appealing. The Lough I fished most was Kernan Lough in the hills behind Gilford, a Lough with an interesting history which I did not know at the time but which now helps me understand the eerie feelings walking back from McEnerney’s Point in the dark on a summer’s night.

There were many characters that I recall from that time who were generous with their time and who often readily shared fly patterns when they had success. These flies were often elevated to mythical proportions as I did not tie flies and had never seen them in the shops. After watching one man, Derek, catch his bag limit in 20 minutes I was once offered his fly and location before he left. 15 minutes later and with my three fish landed on a ‘Red Arsed Bastard’ I though that I had fly fishing sussed. That particular fly accounted for over 100 trout in one season for me until I lost it after getting broken in a lilly pad tangle.

There was a man in the club at that time called Snowy and I hope he is still fishing the Lough. He was a reserved man and a dab hand at winkling trout out of the Lough when all around was quiet. Snowy did not drive and would set off home on foot towards Gilford, a distance of about 4 miles after his evening’s fishing. My mother would often drive out to pick me up, bringing my grandmother for the run and if Snowy was walking back I would ask if he wanted a lift. The information he shared was often scant but when he spoke I knew to listen as he was a talented and thoughtful angler. I believe it was Snowy that introduced me to the ‘White Tail’ a beautifully simplistic dry fly that accounted for a lot of fish during my years fishing the Lough and River. Two memorable fish come to mind when I think of the fly; a beautifully spotted 14 inch brownie from the runs below Tullylish Parish Church and a rainbow taken from a previously unfished spot just before dark on a summer’s night. I had been fishing McEnerneys and left it to walk back to the car when I saw a fish rising on the edge of a big bed of lilly pads and I thought it might just be at the limit of my casting range, the cast was sent out and unexpectedly worked perfectly with the leader unfurling over the edge of the lilly pads and the White Tail landed gently on the water beyond. The situation could not have been more perfect as it was in line with the cruising path of the fish and with a gentle sip the White Tail was gone and more importantly there was a weight on the end of the line when I lifted which was not a snag. The fight was unremarkable, the fish small but the number of elements that unexpectedly went right together makes this one of my most memorable catches.

So, the tying of this pattern could not be more simple, the materials I used to tie this one were mostly bought from a small tackle shop I used to frequent in Lurgan. The Antron wool is my favourite material for the tail but doubled over floss would work well. Sprite hooks were my choice hook in the 80s and I still like to use those I have left. The shop used to have a bargain bucket of old capes and this particular type was one I would buy if I saw it. Tying is simple, small bunch of Antron for a tail, peacock herl body and a straggly hackle of whatever brown/ginger cape you have. I would fish this fly with confidence for trout wherever they swim.

The Pike that got away

There are a lot of myths about Pike, as a child growing up near the River Bann I often heard stories of missing fingers, vanishing ducklings and legendary thirty pounders in the reeds of the Newry Canal – incidentally that fish was called Moses.

Roll back to the mid 80s and my tackle in those days was utilitarian and used for all types of fishing something I often lament when I look at the variety of rods, reels and lines that I now possess. The setup was a Daiwa spinning rod, Shakespeare reel and mackerel spinners left over from the occasional rock fishing outing to Bangor. The first pike came from a fishing peg near the Bowling Green in Portadown Town Centre. A small pike, about 5lbs, was tempted by a red and silver Toby and the rush of excitement was soon dulled when I realised I had neither a landing net nor appropriate unhooking tools. We somehow managed to bank the fish, with a questionable approach to welfare, and extracted the hook through a stubborn desire to avoid losing a favourite spinner. The whole process was a little frantic and stressful heightened by the myths of the creature.

A few weeks later, following the purchase of a Vibrax spinner in Tedford’s tackle shop, I cycled up to the Point of Whitecoat where the River Cusher, River Bann and Newry Canal meet. I started in the mouth of the Cusher a cast of about 12 feet and on the first cast a pike which I now know to be about 8lbs, but which felt much larger, engulfed the spinner and led me a merry dance out of the Cusher in to the canal and back to where I hooked it. The bank sloped gradually at this point and I was able to beach the fish and drag it up the bank. The Vibrax spinner had been engulfed and I could see many weeks of pocket money well down the throat of the pike. What I did next still stings and I am a little ashamed but I dispatched the fish with a nearby rock.

The commotion had attracted the attention of a young lad and he came over to have a chat. He asked me why I had killed the fish and then showed me photographs of the many large pike he had caught and released on that stretch of water. He was calm and respectful of my youthful enthusiasm, something which I now know must have been difficult for him and so very different from the reactionary social media posts that are so common nowadays concerning fish welfare and techniques for safely handling fish. We all start somewhere.

It was this background and context that perhaps prevented me from Pike fishing in the proceeding years and I joined a local trout club (Gilford Angling Club) which influenced my fishing direction as I grew older. Twenty years later, and in a work meeting, I noticed a colleague had a tell tale phone cover with a fishing influence and saw the opportunity to improve the meeting greatly. Soon plans were hatching and photos were being shared and, as it was Autumn, consideration was being given to trying for a hungry predator. Neither of us felt that confident handling pike so we needed someone to help. Anyone active on social media fishing circles will be familiar with Gerard Smyth of Border Fishing Guides and we quickly identified him as the person that could help us. Thus followed a number of pretty incredible Pike sessions thanks to Gerard’s expertise and work ethic. More posts will follow about these experiences but the ‘Pike that got away’ is one of my favourites, particularly as it has been caught on camera for posterity.

As is often the case with Gerard we were on to fish quite quickly and had a good start with a couple of good runs on the Shimano reels, is there any nicer sound in fishing than the click of those reels as your deadbait slides out in to the morning mist? Things slowed and the wind started to get up so we moved to a new spot, anchored and cast the baits out. A run followed quite quickly and I stumbled towards the rod, the excitement was building as the fish went out on a long first run and I kept calm under Gerard’s instruction and waited as the line peeled off the reel. And then a pause and Gerard’s command to hit the fish, I lifted the rod swiftly without first disengaging the free spool and ended up with a monumental braid tangle which I am told has never been matched. Somehow the fish remained hooked as Gerard sorted out the mess and I was still attached to the fish.

The fight was rather lethargic, perhaps not surprisingly, but the fish certainly was full of beans as it was lifted over the net. The video below shows the calamity unfold.