Barsof silver & gold

Lexus Champion of Champions winnerRuss Owen and pals go in search of Irish browns, rainbows and salmon

I’m delighted to have won this fantastic holiday at last year’s Lexus Championship sponsored by Anglers World Holidays who’ve this year taken on the main sponsors role.

I travel to the west of Ireland with Phil Cotton, John Horsey and Martin Founds of AWH, heading for the famous Mount Falcon Estate on the banks of the River Moy and a stone’s throw away from the great lakes of Lough Conn and Lough Mask. The prospect of what lays ahead of us is simply mouth-watering as we board the ferry at Holyhead for the crossing to Dublin and the drive across Ireland.

Phil and myself arrive at the very impressive Mount Falcon Hotel ahead of John and Martin. As is customary we check out the bar area while waiting for their arrival. Sometime later, after they’ve joined us, we’re shown to our luxurious four-bedroom apartment on the estate. Later that evening we meet Stuart Price, the estate’s fishing manager, who helps to organise our fishing for the week.

Our first outing is on Lough Conn, which holds found memories for me being the venue of my first senior international cap some years ago!

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“A few fish move but no olives show. However, we still manage several fish up to 1lb 8oz around the bays and rocks.”

The first day

fawDay one dawns with the usual mix of Irish weather – wind and rain. But this doesn’t dampen our appetite, so after a fine Irish breakfast we meet our guide for the day and a former Irish captain Seamus Kelly along with his brother and fellow international, Patrick.

As we tackle up in Clogans Bay with the imposing Castle Hill looking down on us, I’m as excited as when I first fished this lough many years ago.

Now Lough Conn is not renowned for big fish, although there are many: it’s the free-rising fish and the chance of a salmon that attracts anglers. We head out of Clogans and across a choppy lough to Bog Bay in the hope of an olive hatch and some rising fish. But the cold wind and heavy rain isn’t conducive to a hatch. A few fish move but no olives show. However, we still manage several fish up to 1lb 8oz around the bays and rocks.

Lunchtime looms and we find a sheltered spot for a welcome brew with a sandwich. After lunch we check out Castle Hill Bay – a renowned area, but with so much recent rainfall the water is coloured and we move along again back to the points around East of Mayo. We spend a couple of hours here and pick up two more pound fish before calling it a day.

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Day two

The forecast is for 20-25mph winds today so we take advantage of the one-acre lake in the hotel grounds. It’s shallow with good weed growth and crystal clear water. The stocked rainbow trout seem to be very happy with an abundance of food available.

The fish are feeding at the surface and just below. Phil catches very well using Buzzers under a small indicator. The fish are in perfect condition with big tails and many look like long-term residents. I also catch on Buzzers as well as small Shuttlecock CdC. After lunch the weather improves so we call Seamus and head back to Lough Conn for the afternoon.

It’s windy but there’s no rain so we hope that the sun’s warmth will bring things on a little. We try the Bog Bay area again and pick up a couple of fish but still no hatch of olives so we head down the lough to the Brackwansha shore – an area with some big rocks and a drop-off, a very fishy looking area indeed.

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We catch fish steady all around the rocks and boulders. Best f lies are a Black & Gold JC Dabbler and an Octopus. As we drift along the shore towards Rimore Point, Seamus claims this is a good spot for a salmon.

I put something a bit bigger on the point, a nice Minkie with jungle cock cheeks. Of course, first cast, it hooks up solid and my heart skips a beat. It’s a nice brownie just under 2lb, my best of the trip so far.

We drift on across the point. I make another cast, straighten the line and a large back then fin and tail appears before my line tightens. It’s a salmon. I’ve caught lots of salmon but not on the f ly. I’m not sure who panicked the most, Seamus or me, but I think Seamus edged it. It’s a great fight with the fish going 50 yards and jumping out of the water twice before we slide the net under my first f ly-caught salmon around 9lb – what a perfect end to the day.

Third day

We head off to Lough Mask and a rendezvous with Mike Keedy, another top angler who knows the lough well. Due to the very strong wind we are going out from the western shore so the wind is at our back and we can get some comfort in the more sheltered bays. The wind is strong, 20mph-plus and gusting.

John and Martin decide not to go afloat with camera equipment and instead take some scenic pictures. We struggle in the morning in unfishable conditions before meeting up again at lunch. We feel the wind is dropping enough to give it another go so we try a change of area further up the sheltered shore. We drift by some nice sandy bars off one of the points and pick up a couple of fish, much more yellow and spotty than the fish we caught on Lough Conn. It always amazes me how trout differ in appearance from water to water.

Mike loses Seamus and Phil in the other boat so as not to show Seamus his secret spot for an Irish team eliminator the following weekend!

We motor slowly through a shallow entrance into a bigger bay, where I’m told there are some big fish to be had on the Buzzer. We both set up with a team of Superglue Buzzers and drift through the bay. Mike strikes into a fish, which instantly looks like a good one and after a few minuets I net it – a beautiful 4lb Mask brownie. I don’t want to spoil Mike’s sport for his match at the weekend so we head out and back to the moorings. Even though the weather is tough going, Phil and I thoroughly enjoy our day.

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Day four

On our last day we get to fish the famous River Moy. Due to the heavy rainfall during the spring, the lower beats at Mount Falcon are a bit high so our guide takes us to a stretch further up the Moy above Foxford. I’m certainly no expert at flyfishing for salmon, not with a double-hander. I watch John for a few minutes and can see that he’s been fishing with a double-hander for some time and his casting is very good. It’s all about timing and both myself and Phil, although very experienced with a single-hander, are novices with two hands. We give it a go and both follow John down the beat. A couple of salmon roll but as lunchtime comes and the sun shines none of us have any chances of a fish – this is in no way uncommon with salmon.

We enjoy our lunch and give the beat another go before we head off for pastures new. I change my f ly from the orange pink-haired Shrimp pattern to a black and yellow-haired version. I slowly make my way down the run, altering the angle of my cast to get the f ly down a little.

In the middle of the river there’s a small gravel bank and I try to sink my f ly quickly just off the gravel into a deep run. Occasionally I drag bottom but, as the line tightens, it bumps back instantly. I get that feeling of excitement and lift the rod into a fish. In blind panic I shout “fish on” to let Martin know, but he’s right behind me filming every second from the perfect cast, to the tightening of the line and including the fish coming out of the water. The other guys gather on the bank behind as my Moy salmon fights hard for freedom.

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“It’s a great fight with the fish jumping out of the water twice before we slide the net under my first fly-caught salmon – a perfect end to the day.”

After we net the fish and pose quickly for the camera with a perfect ‘silver bullet’ only a few hours from the salt, I cradle the fish in the water until she is ready and off she goes back to the river to make the rest of her journey. I’m elated and can’t really fish any more.

The prize was certainly a trip of a lifetime. For as long as I can remember I’ve been coming to Ireland to catch brown trout on an array of fine loughs but the salmon have given this place a whole new dimension for me. Due to high winds we didn’t get to fish the famous Carrowmore Lough where there are lots of salmon to be caught from a boat.

The Mount Falcon looked after us in every way. Unfortunately we didn’t get to sample the spa, but the restaurant was of the highest calibre, as was the accommodation.

>>> Garbolino Club Angler Of The Year Final 2016

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