Joyce and I had just arrived in Oughterard, a typically tiny and touristy Irish town on the banks of Lough Corrib in County Galway. After a week of Irish music, smokey pubs, and midday morning-after breakfasts in East Clare, we were ready for some fly fishing. The main road through town crossed an arched stone bridge over the Owenriff, a small river running at full tilt down through town and out to the lake. According to the locals we had spoken with, 2002 was the rainiest year they had experienced in 100 years, and the streams were running high as a result. (Overheard on the trail at Craggaunowen: "My favorite two days in Ireland are Christmas and summer.") But when it rains over here, the rivers don't turn to latte-mud as they do back home--instead, they turn an espresso-black-coffee color--and that's when the fish move.
We stood on the bridge and looked over. It was a trouty-looking stream, and a man was bobber-fishing a worm in the only real hole in sight--the rest was riffles. There were two older men lounging behind the counter of the tiny grocery store at the end of the bridge. We asked them if we could fish in the river, and they suggested that we wander upstream about a quarter mile to the Cascade Walk, where we could see the fish jumping. As usual when I conversed with the older Irish fellows, I was only catching about every other word. I asked if we needed a license to fish for trout. They said they didn't think so, but even if they were wrong and the bailiff caught us, he wouldn't hang us for it anyway. I should have known, that was an omen of events to come.We wandered up to the cascades and looked over the bridge at the roaring falls. Indeed, fish were jumping--salmon and trout of all sizes were trying to get upstream with all their might. Occasionally one of them would land on a rock with a wet, resounding SMACK. Ouch. Three Irish boys, aged about 8-10, were fishing worms on the far bank, and catching fish. I went down closer to see what they were catching, and they allowed me to photograph the three trout they had lying on the bank. The fish were fat and firm, much more so than the browns we are accustomed to catching in California, and the variations in color and pattern among the fish were gorgeous.
"What kind of trout are these?" I asked, curious to know how Irish brown trout were called by the locals.
"Carb trout," said one of the boys, who looked a little scared of me for some reason. I was about to learn why.
I had to ask him again once or twice, before I put it together. Lough Corrib was just downstream a mile or two. "Carb" is Corrib, just as "Scarf" is Scarriff and "Born" is Burren. Stupid American tourist.
I went back up on the bridge with Joyce to watch them fish. Before you can say "snagging fish is illegal," one of the boys had another fish on, this time a big one. I was wondering why they were using such heavy equipment. I guess those salmon can get pretty big, and they like worms too. A wild battle ensued, with much shouting, net-waving, and running up and down the river as the lad and the salmon pulled as hard as they could in opposite directions. Suddenly, the lad's line went slack--the monster was gone. He threw down his rod and kicked it in the rushing river. His big brother smacked him on the top of the head, as big brothers all over the world are inclined to do when little brother blows it. You could see him scolding his little brother as the three of them fished his gear from the torrent.
They went back to fishing, while we booked a room at the Waterfall Lodge --the B&B that owned the fishing rights for the other bank, just below the falls. Later in the day, after an afternoon of sightseeing in the hills of Connemara, we returned to find the lads still fishing. Suddenly they all grabbed their gear and fish, and hightailed it up the hill and through the woods like bats out of hell. The bailiff was on the bridge!
Next day, we got the full story: in all, the lads had "snatched" (snagged or foul-hooked) a total of ten fish. The bailiff caught them at the top of the hill and confiscated the fish as well as their gear. And gave them an earful as well, I suppose.
Now, it was our turn to fish for those beautiful, leaping Atlantic salmon and Corrib trout in the raging Owenriff. But that's another story, and one I'll tell soon enough.
Text and images ©2002 by Stuart Helmintoller @Streamside.
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