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Sheelin smiles

By Patsy Deery

Patsy Deery says Sheelin's fortunes are looking up, and shows us how he ties his Dry Sheelin Daddy that took a 51/2 pounder

The author displays his 51⁄2lb fish, which unfortunately was too deeply hooked to return.
The author displays his 51⁄2lb fish, which unfortunately was too deeply hooked to return.

Beautiful Lough Sheelin, this magnificent limestone lough of 4,500 acres is, I’m happy to report, on its way back ... again. Once one of the finest limestone loughs in Europe (some would say in the world) its attraction as a Mayfly venue was legendary, and it was not unknown for anglers from North America and Canada to make the trip to what was then Ireland’s jewel in the fly-fshing crown.

There was always a carnival atmosphere on Sheelin, with good-humoured bonhomie among the anglers and gillies alike. In those bygone days there was an overwhelming sense of what was happening there was special, and you were privileged to be a part of it.

Each day, as you set out in your boat, it was as if there was a communion of your senses with the lough itself. A fly appearing here, another there. Birds beginning to swoop on the easy pickings, then a fish here; one there; a splashy rise of a small, not yet proficient fish; then the occasional suck of a bigger fish more up to the task. What memories! Sadly, that’s all they became – distant memories.

The threat that had been lurking in the surrounding farmland of Sheelin was suddenly with us; that word that strikes terrible fear in all anglers; pollution. The pollution we suffered was an amalgamation of intensive pig farming in the catchment and obvious problems of disposing of effluent, plus archaic sewage treatment plants in local towns which became overloaded. Very soon our wonderful lough became a sorry sight.

The whole ecology of the lough began to change; the Mayfly with its need for clean water soon became very scarce. The appearance of different species of fly soon became widespread on the lough. We then got our first taste of buzzer fishing, the chironomids seemed to thrive in the less than clean conditions. For quite a number of years Mayfly was sparse and never really looked like returning in quantity, however Mother Nature and commonsense prevailed and the powers that be began to think perhaps the anglers weren’t such a load of cranks. Mother Nature and the Lough Sheelin Trout Protection Association are a formidable duo.

The hatchery was opened and a stocking programme of around 60,000 fingerlings a year has been in operation now for the past three years. The Mayfly is back in abundance, and the numbers of small fish in evidence is encouraging.

A stream enhancement program is also showing positive results and various money-raising events have been undertaken by the LSTPA including a boat competition. Michael McCabe, a long-time supporter of the lough, sponsored the first prize a Lough Sheelin boat. Mr Eamonn Ross, secretary of the LSTPA is an inspiration to his committee and anyone who will give him an audience, lots of credit are due to him.

It’s true Sheelin has some evidence of zebra mussel being present in the lough. It’s not known what their long-term presence will mean to the ecology of the lough. Water clarity is very, very good, this was in evidence before the appearance of the zebra mussel. What is known is that various loughs that have had the zebra mussel have shown no signs of the angling being affected, so let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Drift of a lifetime
On October 12, 2006  some friends and I paid our annual last day of the season visit to Sheelin. We all had a fantastic day’s sport, but I had what I believe will be the drift of my lifetime. Putting up my Dry Sheelin Daddy, I was very proud to land a five-and-a-half pound Sheelin beauty, but I had not anticipated that ten minutes later I would also catch an even bigger fish – one of six-and-a-half pounds. A brace of Sheelin specimens: wild brown trout with sharp-edged shovel tails, deep golden sides and huge black spots. What fish! What a day! What a fly!

In general, it appears that Sheelin regulars were impressed this year by the number of smaller wild brown trout they caught and released. Catches are reckoned to be up threefold on previous years. For instance, during that same closing day outing we must have released 13 smaller browns - this is a marked difference to past seasons when smaller fish were rare. And 86-year old Pat McCall released five fish from 3⁄4 lb to 2lb. In keeping with this trend, so the number of fish showing at the surface appears to have increased. This autumn, the fish traps were once again in position on the spawning streams to collect broodstock for the stocking programme. Again, they reported good numbers of fish in the 11⁄2 to 2 1⁄2lb range moving into the traps, as well as the traditional cluster of double-figure, typical Sheelin monsters.

Another change that has happened on the water is that the once massive roach population has peaked and now almost disappeared. This may have brought about a significant change in the ecology of the lough.

This year the Mayfly on Sheelin wasn’t particularly noteworthy, but the weather was cold, and Sheelin is a peculiar lake with regards to this fly. It might go for two seasons with hardly a fish looking at the newly hatched fly, yet on the third season they go mad for them! As ever, it was the Spent Mayfly fishing that pulled up most of the large fish - the spent fishing on this lough is usually good.

However, the wilier Sheelin fishers have adapted their approach to the lough. The buzzer hatches have increased in recent years and often the regular boats will stay out late, after the spent fall, and fish the buzzer hatch into the darkness. There are also a group af anglers that are always aware of the lough’s excellent sedge hatches. Vaughan Ruckley, from Edinburgh, is a regular visitor who primarily looks for dry fly action at the surface with Caddis patterns whenever he is out.

After long bouts of depressing news about Sheelin, it is refreshing to hear a buzz of enthusiasm from anglers on the water and hear of the encouraging work by members of the LSTPA on the spawning streams. Sheelin is smiling again, and the future looks bright. It’s just like the old days.


The Lough Sheelin Trout Protection Association is open to membership. Contact: Eamonn Ross, Dring, Ardlougher, Ballyconnell, Co Cavan. Tel, 049 952 6602.

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