Capturing a Unicorn

a mythical river fish typically represented as a large predatory brown trout with a big kype and an aggressive attitude.

Last Wednesday evening, I made a quick dash from Dublin to Navan anglers stretch on the River Boyne.  I always enjoy travelling to the river with the anticipation of finding a magic days fishing where big wild trout throw caution to the wind. Those opportunities can be rare…it’s a bit like unicorn hunting!

I arrived at the river to find reasonable fishing conditions as there had been a small rise in height following recent rain but after an hour or two, I had covered a number of pools without any sign of fish.

Targeting larger trout in the river with streamers can be a fruitless pursuit and my mind began to wander a little from the fishing. I had almost resigned myself to another one of those blank days, when a fish moved to the fly and snapped me out of my daydream. I cursed to myself thinking that I had missed the chance.

It is very rare in my experience to move a big brown trout twice in quick succession but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying. I made a few more casts to the general area with no response. I was almost out of ideas when I cast the fly above where he had shown and made a big downstream mend so that the fly ran head first downstream alongside where the fish had showed. One strip and the fish hit the fly aggressively and took off downstream with fly firmly attached. I knew immediately that it was an exceptional fish. Sometimes the fight from a big river trout can be disappointing but on this occasion the fish went absolutely berserk running downstream.

At this time of year there is a lot of weed in the river and I have lost a number of good fish as a result of them burying their heads and leaving the fly attached to weed. I jumped into the river and made an attempt to follow the fish, I soon realised that it wasn’t going to be possible go after him due to the water height. I applied as much pressure as I could in order to bring it back across and upstream to me. After a short tussle, I lifted the net on the fish and let out a roar of victory! It weighed 7lbs 4oz and measured 27.2 inches long. For a resident brown trout in a river in Ireland this is a fantastic fish and I am delighted to have been lucky enough to catch it.

Amazingly, my friend Ciaran O’Kelly (who’s developed a serious streamer problem) from Kells caught this same fish in May and he weighed the fish at 7lbs 10 oz. Since I first divulged my streamer madness to Ciaran a number of years ago, He has spent a huge amount of time developing and fine tuning tactics for big trout in Ireland. We share plenty of ideas and some victories and failures, So we had a good laugh when I told him I’d poached his fish!

The capture was bitter sweet as unfortunately the fish died, despite spending a considerable amount of time trying to revive him. Scale samples have been sent to Inland fisheries for DNA analysis. Hopefully this will yield some interesting information about the fish.
One could say that it is the fish of a lifetime but I hope not as a 30 inch plus trout from an Irish river is certainly a possibility.



large boyne trout


river boyne trout


Why I Fish

buzzer fishing for irish trout

I’m often asked why I fish as it is apparent to anyone I meet that I am absolutely passionate about Fly Fishing. I think it appeals to me so much because for a short time, I can switch off from everything else in my life. I can arrive at the water and in two minutes be thinking only about the best way to outwit my quarry. At times when I can’t get out fishing I can easily pull out some memories of the beautiful places I’ve visited or remember a significant capture or escape. We live in a fast paced stress filled world with people spending considerable time doing things that they dislike. Fly-fishing is more about solitude when compared with conventional types of fishing. Although I enjoy a fishing adventure with friends while actually fishing we generally fish alone and will meet in the evening to eat, drink and brag about big fish!

Then there are the rewards, If I have read the water correctly, chosen the correct fly and presented it well and then the fish takes, it is like a shot of adrenaline into your heart. To capture a fresh run bright silver Salmon or a large wild Trout is something that cannot be bought, it can only be earned through patience and dedication and the sense of achievement is immense.

There are many facets to the sport that appeal to me; fly casting itself is an art form, fly tying, photography, conservation and fish art. Yes I also paint fish!, I know I am obsessed with fish and their environments but as the author Robert Traver once wrote:

“I fish not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important, but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant and not nearly so much fun.”

Jumping Salmon and Trout on the East Coast

I haven’t posted any updates for some time, but it has been on my mind to share some of my efforts in capturing leaping fish on camera. I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time on three occasions during autumn just past.




















Its not easy to get a shot in focus as the fish are only in the air for a fraction of a second. Out of over 100 shots there are probably only 1 or 2 that I managed to get the fish reasonably sharp.















I found the best way was to keep the shutter button half pressed and focus on a point on the waterfall where I expected the fish to jump next and wait. In any one hour period I probably got about 10-15 opportunities.














I used 1/1000 shutterspeed and the biggest mistake I made was to use f2.8 as this made it harder to get the fish sharp. I’ll know next time!


























































Note the large sea trout running with the salmon!

Atlantic Salmon fishing Ireland

Lough Fishing for Salmon

I’m just back from a super two days fishing on Carrowmore lake with friends. Between our two boats we had ten salmon over two days and we rose and lost a few more. I managed four fish and had one amazing drift where I rose four fish, hooked three of them and landed two. Sounds like a numbers game? In reality, on the second day we left the taking salmon to try for some sea trout as it was starting to get silly with the salmon and we aren’t a greedy bunch! 🙂 A few of the fish we got were coloured springers that looked to have been in for a couple of months. One of the highlights for me was seeing a very large fish head and tail on my boat partners top dropper and absolutely empty his reel of backing in 10 seconds flat. Unfortunately this ended in a slack line before we even had the engine started to chase the fish. A well rested springer is an incredible fish and in such a shallow lake it requires a bit of luck and coordination between the people on board to land one of these fish on a single handed trout rod! All fish were released without harm.

Atlantic Salmon fishing Ireland

The biggest fish of the trip ran me into the backing twice.


Atlantic Salmon fishing Ireland Carrowmore Lake

One of the most important things on any fishing trip is teatime as this provides the opportunity to belittle a friend’s angling prowess and the size of his fish!

Salmon fishing Ireland

Playing with an ND Filter.

Irish Salmon Fishing catch and release

Catch and release is becoming an important part of Irish Salmon Angling.

Salmon Fishing Ireland

Fish on!

Lake Fishing for Salmon Ireland

Relief! A fish safely in the net for Alan Cahill.

Salmon Fishing Ireland Carrowmore Lake

A quick photo before release.

Salmon Ireland

Funsize for Falkus! The man behind the dark glasses has a reputation for catching Carrowmore’s biggest fish. This little fella grabbed the dropper after a much larger fish had taken the point fly!

Spring Salmon Carrowmore lake Ireland

Another springer that ran like a Bonefish!

Fly Fishing for Salmon Ireland Catch and Release

Fly fishing for lough Salmon

A fresh fish just off the tide.

Spring Salmon Carrowmore Lake Ireland

McGuidger with another handsome Springer.

Fly Fishing for Salmon Ireland

Fly Fishing for Salmon Ireland

Fly Fishing for Salmon Ireland Catch and Release

Fly Fishing for Salmon Ireland

Grip and Grin! 🙂

Fly Fishing for Salmon Ireland Catch and Release

Fly Fishing for Salmon Ireland Catch and Release

Fly Fishing for Salmon Ireland Grilse

A Gilleen for a very serious looking angler!

Fly Fishing for Salmon Ireland Grilse

Fly Fishing for Salmon Ireland Carrowmore Lake Mayo

Drift Boat Fishing for Big Trout

I brought my new drift boat down to the river Suir yesterday to give it a test run. I recently imported the boat from Dave Scadden in Utah, a very clever boat designer and pioneer of this style of craft.

I bought the boat in order to access more water in my bonkers pursuit of big river trout. Philip Maher was given the honour of riding shotgun on its maiden voyage. I tied on my favourite big fish fly, handed him the rod and invited him aboard. I think he was scared! But 10 minutes into our first drift down at Kilsheelan his sceptisim at the scruffy chewed up fly and blow up boat disappeared when we hooked this stunning trout.

The fish weighed 7lbs 4oz and put up an incredible fight: tail walking, jumping and taking us a long way downstream before finally netting him.

The fish was released unharmed. We also got a 6lbs Salmon but we didnt care too much about that!

I’m thrilled with how the boat behaved it handles like a sports car!

Philip’s new deck shoes also performed well!

We also managed a few Small Fish!!

For Dave Scadden Pontoon Boats:
Philip has extensive Fishing rights on the river Suir and runs an instruction and guide service and fly shop contact him through his website:
Keith McDonnell is a guide and instructor and big trout nut based in Dublin.