2018 Spring International, Lough Mask
England International Charlie Abrahams reports on his experience in the spring international on Lough Mask.
Representing one’s country is a special privilege, but to do it on a stage where the most traditional forms of fly fishing typically hold sway is even more special, so I was delighted to be selected for the Lough Mask team after qualifying via a tough and extremely close fought National Final on Rutland last year. Having been part of the gold medal winning team at Lough Leane, two years ago, I also had confidence we could win there, but also recognised that a very unusual flat calm had effectively neutralised the home team’s preferred tactics on that occasion.
Preparation And Practice
With this in mind, myself and the rest of the team were watching weather forecasts a few weeks in advance as well as sharing proven patterns for the venue and gathering whatever intelligence we could on a “members only” Facebook page which is now the most common medium for team preparation and information sharing.
On the Sunday before the match, an advance party of five headed over, myself traveling with Iain Barr, last year’s captain and Brown Bowl winner as well having previously won the World Championship – a really interesting person to share a car for eight hours, talking all things fishing. On the Monday and Tuesday we were out with local boatmen and gradually started to build up a picture of the fishing and the phenomenon that is Lough Mask – 22,000 acres, 10 by 4 miles and equal to seven Rutland Waters! Fortunately the boats have 15 or 20 HP engines and are slimmer than those at our local waters so they can reach either end in about 30 minutes from Cushlough Bay, the starting point, given reasonable weather.
By Tuesday evening, the rest of the party were there and we were gathering a lot of information which captain Ron Gent and manager, Steve Peart, were assembling on large laminated maps of the venue – essentially there were a couple of areas where shelter and the terrain made nymphing feasible and the rest of the lake involved looking for shallows and fishing wets or smalls lures on some sort of intermediate line. The important point was that deep open water was a waste of time, although even the middle of Mask has tons of craggy structures which hold trout. The sheltered area around Ballinchalla Bay seemed to hold better fish in the 2-3lbs class and they could be caught straightlining Diawl Bachs or even on Buzzers under the bung, with one of the team having five good fish to that method. Our challenge was that, apart from Iain, who was catching at a much higher rate, the rest of us were getting a handful of fish per day to pulling methods but only one or two of those was typically a “measurer” (the scoring system for this match was to be entirely catch and release with only fish over 30cms counting: 20 points per fish measured plus a point per centimetre ie a 30 cm fish = 50 points)
Preparing for the off
By the time Friday’s match day came we had refined flies, lines and areas somewhat and so were waiting on the weather outlook, which at one point was looking truly biblical (40 mph+ winds) but eventually refined to show that slowing by 10.00am start time and then dropping off altogether as the day progressed. With that in mind, I decided to start with a Snowbee ND line and three flies – two Dabblers and a mini-Humungus, which had been Iain’s top fly, my thinking being that I would pull wets for a couple of hours and then switch to nymphing as the wind dropped. My boat partner was Pete Thurnall, on his twentieth cap and a very amiable chap who agreed to work with me and go pretty much where I wanted so I asked our boatman to head for the craggy areas in the middle where I had found fish the day before. When we got there, the wind was actually much softer than expected and the cloud cover was excellent – just right for nymphing but we were now in the wrong place for that! Anyway, we both got started and as we approached the first set of rocks Pete pricked a decent fish which came off and about five minutes later my rod buckled over and I got a fish into the net which looked close to making the measure. Sadly it was close – 29.5cm, bummer! We fished on for an hour or two with a couple of offers but no solid takes and then just before the compulsory lunch break Pete hooked something large, and I mean LARGE, on his 5-wt outfit and a couple of minutes later a fish in the 3-4lbs category graced his net – 48.3 cms; a lovely looking fish. At the break, I ran into both “Dangerous” Dave Bromley and Mark Withyman, neither of whom had a counting fish and several Welshmen with between one and three each. Things were not looking good…
4pm And A Blank On The Cards
Immediately following lunch we used the information we had from Pete’s team-mates and went searching some new areas but the wind had got up (rather than dropping as forecast) making the fishing pretty hard and neither of us had a solid hook-up. After another hour or so we decided on a big gamble to go to an area I had not seen but where some of his team had caught on the buzzer in practice – Lively Bay. A short ride down wind later and we got there only to find the wind blowing right down it, which was frustrating as a large number of gulls suggested a hatch was on. We did a couple of drifts with me on nymphs but, with no drogue allowed, the boat was moving too fast really and I reluctantly switched back to the wets rig and asked the boatman to try rocky areas in the vicinity. By now it was 4pm and a blank was looming for yours truly, but on our very first drift I had a good pull on the dabbler and lo and behold got one in the boat that just made the measure. This raised our spirits and enabled us to fish on hard in spite of some torrential showers and every drift requiring a move upwind and associated soaking.
As we headed home for a last drift in Cushlough Bay, I ran into a number of the England team, most of whom had just one or two fish, and I realised it was not going to be our day. On landing, we found that Tim Joyce and Martin Burgess had had some fish on nymphs, crucially starting in Ballinchalla and a couple of Tim’s fish had been really good at 50 and 51 cms (close to 4lbs) and the incredible Mr.Barr had six measurers but had lost out for the Brown Bowl to his boat partner Dave Egan of Ireland with an awesome eight. The Irish team as a whole had clearly won by a distance having forty-five fish and the other countries scrambling for places in the low twenties. In the end the Welsh won the “best of the rest” battle to take silver and we took bronze.
Overall, it was an excellent and fair match and the Irish definitely deserved to win, the rest of the places were up for grabs. Congratulations to them and everyone that participated in a what was really the prime example of a true loch-style contest.
I would like to thank Snowbee and Craghoppers who provided our clothing and Fulling Mill and Guide Fly Fishing for their continued support of the team, as well as our families and partners who put up with us being away on such a long trip, a memorable experience for sure!
• Ireland 45 fish 1552.3 cms 2469 pts
• Wales 25 fish 905.8 cms 1415 pts
• England 23 fish 805.3 cms 1273 pts
• Scotland 20 fish 681.2 cms 1090 pts
Best Basket: Dave Egan (Ireland) 8 fish 273.2cms 438 pts
Biggest Fish: Andy Dunn (Scotland) 51.2 cms
For the last fifteen years Charlie has been an active stillwater fly angler. He became involved in the competition scene about ten years ago, applying many of the principles learnt in his earlier years. He was part of the England Loch Style team that won gold on Lough Leane in 2016 and the Bank team that won bronze at Garnffrwd in the same year. He will fish for England again in 2018.