Kilcoleman has featured on a number of occasions in Trout & Salmon magazine. Here is:
Ireland! by Jim Repine
I had read and dreamed about Ireland for a couple of decades. After all, the fly-fishing tradition began there a century or so before it found its way to America. Funny, but the older I get the more interest I have in tradition and history. And finally! Here I was in the Cork airport, looking for my Irish host David Lamb.
The first thing to grasp, before you start packing, is the answer to the question that most people ask: “But what of all the troubles?” What is so little understood world-wide is that Ireland is two countries.
Northern Ireland, population 1.5 million, is under British rule. It is a very small portion of Ireland–being about the size of Hakkaido, Japan’s northern island. Northern Ireland is the part of Ireland that has the troubles that get so much press.
The rest of Ireland is a free, self-governing nation–the Republic of Ireland, population about 3.5 million. I found the Republic of Ireland a happy land of warm, friendly people, gorgeous scenery and fine fishing. If you live in any stateside urban area, your threat of violent crime is many times higher at home than in this peaceful country.
Ireland is to Northern Europe what Alaska is to the United States, though comparatively much easier to get to for European anglers (especially the English). It’s a low population, large island paradise of relatively unspoiled rivers, loughs (lakes) and streams. For Brits, it’s their nearest chance to cast over wild fish populations that include landlocked, sea-run and stream resident brown trout, huge pike and both landlocked and sea-run Atlantic salmon. And the European community takes advantage of this excellent fishing at its doorstep. I encountered French, Germans and Scots during my visit.
Good quality angling accommodations, guides, restaurants and world renowned pubs are all accessible and available in Ireland. For hundreds of thousands of U.S. fly-fishers east of the Mississippi, it’s a simple, economical and comfortable trip by any comparison.
The River Bandon
The first part of my trip to Ireland was spent with David Lamb, owner and host of the Kilcolman Fishery on the River Bandon, near Cork. David has a certain leprechaun’s twinkle in his eye when he tells ghillie jokes–and he knows many
The river Bandon flows forty miles form its source in Nowen Hill till meeting the sea off Kinsale. In Celtic mythology Bann was the Goddess of water, and this river was dedicated to her. Like so many salmon rivers elsewhere, the Bandon once hosted fish runs of staggering proportions. I saw three or four stretches of the river and each one held salmon.
Higher reaches of the Bandon are stream-like, bouncing and bubbling through long riffles and dropping into occasional slower moving runs and pools.There are small trout and even a few salmon on any one day. Throughout its middle portions, the Bandon widens. With the added water of several tributaries it still meanders but becomes a bit more placid. Then finally, the lower areas widen still more and eventually, near its mouth, becomes affected by tidal changes. From beginning to end the Bandon is scenically intriguing.
Our fisher is privately owned and has been with our family since 1748. It’s 1.2 miles and makes-up the northern boundary of Kilcoleman Park estate which is 240 acres,” David explained as we bounced through the 5 minute Jeep ride from his home to the river. Within 10 minutes of our arrival we were greeted by a huge salmon boil. Then we began spotting dark forms resting near the bottom. There were many. The annual average salmon catch from the Bandon is about 1,300 fish. Not like the good old days, yet still pretty fair odds for a relatively small river.
I came to Ireland to write and photograph, and thought two weeks sounds like enough, that’s not much time. It was hard on my conscience not to put the rod away for the cameras, but my fishing soul whispered just the right things. The Nikon stayed in its bag. Instead, I found a number 8 Futa Bugger, strung-up to my 8 weight Hexagraph. To add to my delight, I discovered that Wellingtons were all one needed to fish the Bandon. With the weather warm and sunny, not having to struggle into and later out of chest waders was like receiving a pardon from some terrible crime. It was hard to believe. Here I was doing something as keen as fishing gets-angling for salmon on the Emerald Isle.
Futa Buggers On The Bandon
As we approached the water David gave me an alternative version of ‘You should have been here yesterday.’ “The Damned water is just too low!” he snorted with agitation. “We’ve had no rain now for almost all of the summer. It just isn’t likely that a salmon will take with the water so low.”
Then he spotted the Futa bugger (one my creations–it is a bread and butter fly at my Futaleufu Lodge in Chile). “What on earth is that?” he groaned and then made a face like he had stepped in something. A congenial man by nature, my host probably wasn’t sure that such a fly wouldn’t foul the crystal clarity of his river. But like good lodge hosts everywhere…he remained calm friendly. On my fourth cast in Ireland a salmon made a lunge for the bugger. David saw it. I lifted the rod to strike way too fast, and never touched the fish. First my crazy fly and now a striking blunder worth of an over-eager youngster on his first trip. I was sure that my angler rating had fallen several points with my host. Then the unbelievable happened. The salmon jumped about 15 yards upriver, an honest 12 pounder. I began casting again and-whump!–he came back down river and grabbed my fly like a hungry bulldog snatches raw beef. Second chances don’t come often in salmon fishing. My reaction? The strike this time was even quicker. I jerked it right out of his mouth. The fish gave-up in disgust and swam away, probably rolling his eyes and muttering to himself about ‘Yanks’. I’m sure that David Lamb was having the same thoughts.
There were no takes after that. I eventually gave-up fishing for early evening light photos. David was now the owner of several Futa Buggers and we returned to home and hearth with a tale to talk over as we sipped wee drops of Jamieson.
The Kilcolman Fishery with David and Pat Lamb is a perfect place to begin an Irish fishing adventure. Guests are housed in a centuries old stone gatehouse, modernised with bath, kitchen, comfortable beds for four in two rooms and filled with ghosts of fishermen past.
Atlantic Salmon Journal Summer 1997
Story and photographs by Jim Repine
” ‘Paddy, do you realise that this one fish has cost me the best part of four thousand dollars?’
“‘Oh is that so Sir?’ says the ghillie. ‘Sure and begorra at that rate then I suppose it’s lucky you’ve only had the one!”‘
IF IRISH EYES do smile, that would explain the twinkle I saw in David Lamb’s eyes as he told me this story. He has a hat full of them. It was mid-September, the season on the fabled river Bandon was closing at the end of the month, and I was David’s guest for my first week ever in Ireland. There couldn’t be a better introduction.
“Are you bringing your wife?” he had asked over the phone during our last conversation before I left home in Chile. Sonia and I often travel and fish together.
“No. Not this time. We may become first-time grandparents before I can get back. Besides I’m coming for serious work, photos, story material, and…” He interrupted with a chuckle.
“Oh Jim, you’ll have a hard time being serious about anything in Ireland!”
In a way it turned out to be true, though not just as it sounded. I haven’t been anywhere where a quick sense of humor is more evident, yet the Irish take their fishing seriously. And not without reason. The Republic of Ireland is a salmon and trout angler’s paradise.
After 30 years of fishing Alaska, multiple visits to Montana, annual trips to both Eastern and Western Canada, weeks in Australia, months in Japan, 10 years in Patagonia, and 50 years of one-time angling adventures in other environs, I know of no area more uniquely attractive to salmon and trout fly fishers than the Republic of Ireland. (The Republic is independent of the at-times-embattled Northern Ireland, a possession of Great Britain.)
Medieval castles and churches stand over gorgeous countryside. There are hundreds of rivers, streams, and loughs serviced by ghillies, hotels, lodges, and bed and breakfasts at every level from humble to opulent. Fly fishing is emerging quickly as a satisfying way of seeing the world. Why not?
THE RIVER Bandon with both Atlantic salmon and sea trout is only 27 miles from Cork International Airport. It’s easy to rent a car, spend concentrated time convincing yourself to drive on the left side of the road, and have a pleasant trip to the Lamb’s Kilcoleman Fishery. The fishery is privately owned; in fact it has been in David’s family since 1742, and comprises more than a mile of private water But you can fish there. It works like this.
Accommodation is in a quaint, very old but modernized Irish gate house. Only four rods fish on a given day. There is a lounge with fireplace, and a dining room/kitchen on the ground floor, with two twin-bedded rooms upstairs. It’s complete with shower and toilet. Very cozy.
David Lamb can arrange a ghillie by day or week, yet I would suggest a little time on the water with his nibs at the beginning, and an evening chat or two as you go along will give you all you need. I didn’t find Irish fish uniquely nationalistic. They were in typical lies behaving quite salmonidish. Nor did I find any convincing reason, other than tradition, for exchanging nine foot rods for fourteeners.
David did have some suggestions about flies. “I don’t believe pattern matters very much,” David said with the quiet assurance of time tested knowledge, “”but the size of the hook I think is very important. There’s an old saying on the Bandon River, ‘You can never actually fish too small.’ Anglers do tend to choose flies they can see, and that attracts them rather than what the fish will actually take.”
“What would be a small fly on the Bandon?” I asked. “Fourteen.” David replied.
“Back in the late fifties, early sixties when I was coming home from school and college and things, salmon were very, very plentiful compared to nowadays. In all my salmon fishing, to be honest, as a youth, I had a Teal Blue and Silver, and a Hairy Mary stuck in my hat. I didn’t even have a fly box. I had three sizes of each, and I always had a March Brown and I caught as many fish as anyone. If a salmon came and didn’t take, I would go down a size. And invariably I’d have my fish. If I found a fish that came at me two or three times having tried a lower size, I would put on my March Brown and I would have him. It was my grandfather who passed on that tip.” Tales of the old days and thoughts of his grandpa had the smiling eyes almost misty.
I didn’t fish the Bandon much. Busy with photos and note-taking, I really only got serious for an hour or two on one especially beautiful afternoon. There were salmon visible, in fact every time I looked into the river with Polaroids I saw fish. (Recent catch records show an average of 1,300 salmon caught per season on this small river.)
Having neither Hairy Mary, Teal and Blue, or March Brown, I put on a #8 Futabugger (What’s that? If you tied a black Wooly Bugger using a rabbit strip for a tail, added a heavy peacock herl wing case with a mylar body wrap, you would come pretty close. I developed the pattern for Chile’s Futaleufu River trout, but have now taken everything with it from Steelhead, Pacific salmon and Atlantic’s, to brown, rainbow, and brook trout. Like its wooly cousin, it has turned out to be a universal attractor.) Through no fault of fish or fly though, I didn’t catch a salmon.
A nice fish rolled two or three times in an easy-to-reach pool. The wind even settled. It looked foolproof. Two false casts and the bugger was on an ideal drift. A deft mend and everything was in place. I have cast a lot of flies over a lot of Atlantic salmon. I have raised several, and even caught a few, yet each swirling grab still shocks the begeebers out of me. And this time it happened on the first drift.
As any good trout angler would, I struck instantly, a life long instinct honed over five decades. Wrong. He was gone. I never touched him.
“What do you do when a salmon strikes?” I asked myself out loud. “Nothing!” I answered.
Next an amazing thing happened. The fish jumped, maybe a 10-pounder. It happened pretty fast, then it circled back and grabbed the bugger again. Totally befuddled, I outsmarted him again with more instant reflex. The fish gave it up and went on his way. I sat on the grass beside this wonderful, small jewel of a river, mentally licking wounds, while David Lamb boiled us a spot of tea.
A rich American came to a certain lough to fish, arriving each morning with a huge hip flask of whiskey and an ample supply of big Cuban cigars. He fished diligently enough, though never without the smoke-belching stogie or long between generous pulls from the flask. There was almost no conversation between him and his ghillie, until on their fourth and final afternoon there came a drenching downpour. When the rain finished the fisherman revived himself with a long drink and broke out afresh cigar, but with everything so soaked couldn’t find a place to strike a match.”Say Paddy, “he asked his wet and shivering guide, “is there no place on this boat dry enough to strike this thing?” Paddy who for four days now had not been offered smoke nor drink replied: “Well sir, you might try the back of me throat!”
MY FIRST week in Ireland sharing the fine country home and lives of David, Pat and Granny Lamb were marvel filled days and evenings of new impressions, feelings, and emotions. Fishing lessons blended with geography, politics, history, excellent food and a wee dram now and again of ambrosial Irish whiskey. More than all the rest, I was treated to the warmest, most relaxed hospitality I can recall.
ATLANTIC SALMON JOURNAL SUMMER 1997