The Virtual Irish Fly Fair 2020 - page header Mickey Toal - An Ordinary Angler’s “Tail”.

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An Ordinary Angler’s “Tail”

When I started fishing, at a tender age in the “Swinging Sixties”, I thought of myself as the “Huckleberry Finn” of Mullaghbawn. Off I would go with my trusty fishing pole to my favourite fishing spots. Sadly, I did not live near a river large enough to float lazily downstream on my homemade raft, but a boy could dream.

My “pole” was the straightest hazel sapling that I could find with a suitable length of catgut attached at the tip, complete with a brightly painted cork from a bottle finished off with a highly prized hook.

My granda Jemmy, the one-eyed village blacksmith in Forkhill, well-known teller of tall tales and my father Johnny, were my “tutors” in those early days.
“You have to find the fish before you can catch them” was the mantra that they reminded me of at every opportunity.

And so, I spent every chance that I had creeping, commando style, along the banks of the Forkhill river that flowed along the bottom of the field in front of our humble abode. When I stayed with my maternal granny I practiced the same art on a small stream, clean and pure, that tumbled down the western slope of Slieve Gullion into the Ballykeel river that met the Forkhill river at the “Y” in the meadows. Their combined journey ended at Castletown where they flowed into Dundalk Bay.

Forkhill river as it runs through Mullaghbawn. The wall in the middle is said to be part of an old mill race

Practice eventually paid off on what I shall call the Adanove stream described above. I spent days, if not weeks, scouting the pools, lies and runs until I had identified a host of trout in various stretches of that small stream that was often no more than a couple of feet wide. Unfortunately, those brightly spotted trout are no longer seen in numbers like that.

The stream in Adanove

By then my tackle had advanced to a length of cane, about seven feet long, with a small centre pin reel, full of nylon, attached by two strips of insulating tape and enhanced by guides made of small staples carefully aligned along it and carefully tapped into place with a small hammer. Hooks and floats were available at the local shop and funds to buy them were obtained by picking blackberries and doing small jobs for the local farmers.

 


Adanove stream. The pool at the top once held some lovely trout.

I waited patiently for rain and then for the stream to clear and set out, filled with hope, to pit my wits against the wily trout. It was a day never to be forgotten! Armed with a jam jar, full of clay covered worms, freshly dug from granny’s garden I ventured out, more in hope than expectation but my hopes were more than realised! I caught six trout and each time I ran back across the field, wellies slapping against bare calves, for my granny to remove the hook in case I would hook myself!  One trout survived that perilous journey as it was lightly hooked and carefully placed in a bath of fresh water in the cool of the milk house.

My dad came to take me home that evening and granny proudly told him that I had caught six fish. “I only see five” he said. “The other one is still alive” I boasted. What a mistake that was, five soon became six. My disappointment dissolved the next evening when the aroma of frying fish filled our small kitchen.

In those austere times anything that was furred, feathered, or finned and edible soon found itself on somebody's plate. Times have changed, thankfully, and so has my approach to fishing which has now become angling. I have “matured” like a good wine and am now a senior citizen, with a wife, three sons and three grandsons. My ordinary “tail” as a fly fisherman is for another day.



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