As summer kicks in and some of the well-known Irish loughs slow down, Tom Doc Sullivan heads to the beautiful Lough Carra, where its wild brownies are keen to play…
From the end of June through July is the time of year that I love to get a handle on one of the lesser known great western loughs, Lough Carra. This time of year can sometimes see Corrib and Mask slow down a bit, so that gives me a chance to visit, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful loughs in the country; its crystal-clear waters are a delight to fish. Introducing Carra.
It is the smallest lough on the Corrib catchment (4,000 acres) and it is the first on the system. It is a completely different water from her two bigger sisters and much better known Mask and Corrib. It drains into Mask through the Keel River at the southwestern end of the lough.
What sets her aside from the other two is the structure of her bed. The lough sits on a carpet of limestone marl, which is an off-white colour. This gives the water its fantastic opaque colouring of blue and green shades and when the sun shines on it most anglers remark that it is almost like fishing the flats on a beach.
As a smaller lough with no large area of open water and very few rocks, it is very safe water. It is the one lough on the system that it is reasonable for anyone who has good boat-handling knowledge to take one out on it themselves for the first time. This is something not recommended for Mask or Corrib. Indeed, a lot of Mask fishermen would fish Carra when it is too rough to go out on Mask!
Like its sisters, Carra holds a big population of wild brown trout. Interestingly, though, the fisheries board once stocked it with takeable trout over 30 years ago but any remnants of these fish will be long gone. The average size of the fish to expect is around the 1lb to 11/2lb mark and there is always the possibility of a fish in the 3lb to 4lb class. While the record for the lough is 17lb, it does not produce many specimen fish of over 10lb but there are trout taken between 5lb and 10lb every year – fish of a lifetime.
A typical Carra trout of just over 1lb. Traditional wet-fly tactics are Tom's preferred method.
Owing to the chameleon effect that is inherent in trout they adapt to the colours of their environment. This makes the coloration of Carra trout the most beautiful shades you can imagine. Their backs have a gorgeous olive hue and their flanks are bright and silver.
Tactics For Carra
I like to fish traditional style on Carra. Naturally, you need conditions to suit this but Ireland and ‘summer weather’ can be a bit of misnomer, so cloud and wind are as likely a prospect as sunshine. I tend to stick to wet flies as my go-to method. A 10ft rod for a 6-wt line, either floating, slow intermediate or midge tip, is all you need. You can have some tremendous top-of-the-water action, so there is no need to go trawling the depths. I fish a three-fly cast of 6lb test tippet no longer than 15 feet. Be prepared to fish dries because with the clear water, fish will be prepared to have a go even if there aren’t many naturals on the surface. There doesn’t tend to be much buzzer activity by this time of the year so I don’t tend to concentrate on this method, but I remember one-day having fantastic sport fishing Diawl Bachs and Crunchers on straight-line nymphing tactics.
A 10ft, 6-wt rod and either a floater midge tip or intermediate line is all you need to tame Carra's wild brownies
For this time of year there is no set pattern on what to flies to expect on the lough. Carra’s mayfly hatch has diminished over the last number of years, for reasons unknown, but there is always the possibility of some hatching in July, so be prepared. I never go without a size 10 Olive Bumble close to hand and this covers that eventuality. Sedge feature heavily and I once spooned a fish that was gorging on cased caddis. Green Peters appear at this time too, and fish will target them.
The lough also holds a lot of fry so it is important to have something that can be taken for this. I would always go for a Silver Dabbler or Silver Invicta on the point but for the last couple of seasons my fishing buddy, Mike Shanks, has come up with a pattern that has really proven successful with fry feeders, the Shaggy CDC Fry. This is the new star striker when it comes to imitating fry.
It's possible to catch 3lb-plus fish from Carra. Note here the gorgeous olive hue to the back and the bright silver flanks brought about from Carra's opaque colour of blue and green.
Tom’s Hotspots For Carra
Due to the nature of Carra and the fact that it is not a deep lough, there are fish everywhere on it and you can expect to catch them all over.
That said, over the years, naturally, I have found more success in some areas over others and these spots have consistently produced for me.
Quinn’s: The bay in front of Castleburke fishes well in a westerly or easterly.
Church Island: The shore opposite Church Island holds some very good fish, a great spot on a southwesterly.
Castlecarra: A magnificent spot to fish in under the imposing ruins of Castlecarra and its natural limestone blocked shoreline. Can be fished in all wind directions.
Kilkeeran Shore: Tight along the reeds under the graveyard on a southerly breeze is the place to try here.
Islands opposite Kilkeeran Shore: I like fishing into these on a westerly breeze. I have picked up some real beauties here.
The Twins: Probably one of the most productive areas on Carra. It can be busy if there are other boats on the lough but it repeatedly produces fish. It can be fished in all wind directions but I do tend to concentrate on the western and northern sides.
Moorehall: Another very productive area and it holds some very good fish. I like it in a westerly so as to drift across it. It is also very good in the evenings.
I am lucky enough to get fishing on Carra with Mike Shanks, who shares the same love for the lough as I do. A fly dresser par excellence, these are some of his most successful wets for the lough.
Hook: Wet fly, size 14-12
Tag: Gold oval tinsel
Tail: Olive hackle fibres
Body: Olive seal’s fur dubbed on fluorescent orange tying thread
Hackle: Olive cock
Wing: Grey mallard feather rolled
Use on the point of a team during or without a hatch of olives.
Haul a Gwynt
Hook: Wet fly, size 12-14
Body: Black ostrich herl
Hackle: Cock pheasant neck
Wing: Crow rolled
Works well when small dark sedges are on the water.
Red Arsed Green Peter
Hook: Wet fly, size 12
Butt: Red seal’s fur
Body: Olive seal’s fur
Body hackle: Natural red cock
Rib: Gold oval
Wing: Hen pheasant wing rolled, dyed in picric
Head hackle: Natural red cock or hen
Excellent all-rounder on Carra.
Golden Olive Bumble
Hook: Wet fly, size 12-10
Tail: Glo-Brite No4 and Golden pheasant crest
Body: Golden olive seal’s fur
Body hackles: Golden olive and natural red cock
Rib: Gold oval
Head hackle: Blue jay
The red part of the tail is optional. This is an excellent top dropper pattern.
Shaggy CDC Fry
Hook: Wet fly, size 12-10
Tail: Two small CDC feathers with two olive flashabou fibres on either side
Body: Silver tinsel overwrapped with pearl mylar
Rib: Silver wire
Gills: Hot orange seal’s fur
Back: Two CDC feathers with two olive flashabou fibres on either side
Head: Hare’s fur spun. Use GSP tying thread and split it with a needle. Place the fur in the split and spin the bobbin holder
The hare’s fur makes this fly look a bit bulky in the vice, but when wet it has a very lifelike fly profile.
Tom 'Doc' Sullivan offers a guiding service on loughs Corrib, Mask and Carra.