Tom ‘Doc’ Sullivan recalls the evening he tackled the mighty River Suir and its tributaries and came across one of its big resident brownies…
Come the month of April the Irish flyfisher’s window just gets bigger and bigger. At this stage of the year we should have already had some decent action on the loughs, but it can be a different story on the rivers as they take that little bit longer to come to the fore. However, the advent of the longer days and a gradual increase in temperatures (although this can be sometimes just mere hope) will see them come into play.
Ireland has some fantastic river trouting and this often gets forgotten about as our loughs take the centre stage when it comes to wild brown trout. There are some tremendous rivers in Ireland, giving the angler a chance to catch some beautiful wild brown trout. From April onwards right through the season they offer premium fishing.
For lough fishing I have been blessed in where I was born and raised and to this day still abide. I have over 70,000 acres of lough trout fishing all within a 30-minute drive for me, so I have gown up with the loughs. However, I do love river trout fishing; it is a different world to the loughs but no less beautiful and every bit as challenging.
For me, though, it involves a bit of travelling. The majority of the better Irish rivers are situated away from the mountainous seaboard and concentrated more in the flat vales and pastureland of central Ireland.
Introducing The Suir
One of Ireland’s most famous rivers is the Suir, which is located in the southeastern part of the island. It rises in the Devil’s Bit mountains in Tipperary and a course of 185 kilometres, or 115 miles, brings it to the sea at Waterford, but not before it converges with two other great Irish rivers, the Nore and the Barrow.
It has a rich history of angling; the noted Victorian author Francis Francis wrote of it in the late 1800s that it offered sport equal to any of the southern English chalkstreams.
One of the most notable features about it is not only the fishing that the river itself offers but also what is to be had in some of the many tributaries that join it on its continual journey to the sea.
Over the last couple of years, I have had the opportunity to fish this marvellous water and been lucky enough to have done so in the company of Andrew Ryan. Andrew owns and operates the successful Clonanav Fly Fishing guiding operation and tackle store, situated in the village of Ballymacarbry just on the Waterford side of the county border with Tipperary. Andrew has been guiding here for a good few years now; growing up beside the river he was on it from a very early age. He has fished further afield as well and recounts with relish the couple of seasons he spent while guiding in Argentina’s Patagonia region.
He has his own stretches of water on both the Suir itself and the River Nire, which are only minutes away from his impressive and well-stocked shop. As I mentioned earlier, the quality of some of the tributaries are fantastic and the rivers Nire and Tar, which is also close by, are proof of this.
There is a strict catch-and-release policy on Andrew’s stretches and there is no doubt in my mind that this has allowed the fish to flourish and reach a much bigger average size
Ticking All The Boxes
Think of all the major river flies and the Suir will tick all the boxes. All the olive hatches are present; the iron blue is a particular favourite. Mayfly are there and in certain areas they are in good numbers, local knowledge plays a big part here. During the summer month the hatches of sedge are phenomenal and give the fly angler some great top-of-the-water action.
On the last occasion I fished the Nire there was a decent hatch of pale olives and the method that was working was ‘klink and dink’ (New Zealand-style). We were fishing a size 16 Goldhead Flashback Pheasant Tail under a foam post Olive Klinkhamer, which is great for buoyancy. This style is Andrew’s go-to method for the river, giving him a chance to see what the fish are on. The fish were really on the go for the nymph and it accounted for 90 per cent of the action. The takes were subtle in the low water and sharpness was required.
The Suir has a wonderful reputation for big brownies. Down through the years this has always been the case. You can target these fish with streamer patterns, working the fly down and across the current and then searching the bank in under you. Erratic retrieves are the order here, short spurts followed by dead drift and quick retrieve again. The takes on this method can explosive as the fish hit the fly with aplomb!
It is a good method when the river is running a bit higher or has a bit of a colour in it. Andrew has successfully targeted the bigger fish on this method and has accounted for plenty of fish in the 2lb to 4lb class. His best trout on streamers was a cracker of about 7lb.
Never To Be Forgotten
I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a red-letter day one evening on the Suir the season before last, with regards to big trout. It was midsummer’s evening and I was there at a demonstration event at Andrew’s shop, with well-known anglers Stevie Munn and Ian Gordon.
When the show was over we decided to throw a line on the Suir. When we arrived there was a good fall of olive spinners dancing their way down on to the river. The water was high enough as it had been a typical Irish summer.
Fishing the open water of the Suir can be very productive, especially if you target either bank with your flies.
We had accounted for only a couple of small trout as the trout were strangely quiet on what was a glorious evening. Then at about 10pm it was as if someone flicked a switch and the trout awoke; fish started moving everywhere. We were on our way up to the flat glides at the head of the pool when Andrew said he was after seeing a good fish move in a channel in among the riffles. He said it was a good trout and on that it rose again. “He’s a couple of pounds if not more,” he added.
I clambered down the bank with my 9ft 4-wt rod at the ready. On my descent he rose one more time, about 10 metres upstream of me. I took note of his position with some adjacent vegetation on the bank and covered him. Three times I put the fly over him with no response. I let it go then and really ought to have waited inactive for him to rise again; however, some fish started moving directly out from me so I decided to have a cast at them. Thankfully (in hindsight) none of them looked at my fly.
Five minutes later, in the exact same spot, up he rose again, once then twice. I steadied myself, gauged my cast and landed my Para Dun three or four metres ahead of the spot. The anticipation that you feel as you watch your fly approach the spot where you know there to be a fish is mesmerising and, as the fly passed over his lie the black neb of his nose appeared and intercepted my size 16 V-Winged Mahogany. I waited that half second or so that you should always give a bigger fish and tightened.
A Fish Of Pure Beauty
What happened next will stay with me for the rest of my days. As my rod buckled I was looking westward over the river into a crimson and orange skyline truncated with the silhouette of the Knockmealdown Mountains, behind which the sun had just sank on that midsummer’s evening. Then this vista was shattered by the eruption of a mighty trout leaping high into the air, gyrating as he did so, furious at having been deceived!
There is a strict catch-and-release policy on the rivers under Andrew's control, which allows these wild fish to grow on.
On the bank the guys, who were watching, shouted, one of them uttered: “That’s more than 2lb!” A hectic battle ensued as the fish swam straight out midstream into the main flow. I was blessed with the fact that with all the major snags the fish didn’t venture towards them, preferring to stay pumping in midstream. After a battle that lasted 15 minutes or more the great fish finally tired and I was able to draw him nearer the bank. Stevie slipped the net in under him and I do think I let out a roar of exultation.
The fish was a beauty, unfortunately we didn’t have scales on us to weigh him in the net so we worked on the estimations among us and concurred that the trout was about 8lb; lowest estimation was 7lb, highest was 9lb. The fish took a couple of minutes to get its breath back but as we pointed him towards the gloaming in the river that evening, he gave a sudden kick and was back swimming again.
To me that was probably my fish of a lifetime; funny for a guy like myself, who is steeped in lough and lake fishing, that this trout should come from a river!