From the Vol. 8 No. 4 - October 17, 2007 Issue

Fishing for trout in Western Ireland

Reel time
Irish fishing guide and conservation activist Brian Cullen shows a sea run brown trout he caught while introducing Sun Outdoors Editor Rusty Chinnis to fishing on Boluisce Lake.

By Rusty Chinnis
sun staff writer

Western Ireland is a mysterious land of fog shrouded bogs laced with strings of lakes (loughs) strung like necklaces from their North Atlantic origin. In the past, Ireland was known as one of the most prolific salmon grounds in the world and the sea run brown trout that are native to its lakes and rivers are highly prized. Both salmon and trout species have been greatly diminished with over grazing, run-off, over harvest and changing farming practices. While the stock of both species are in a precipitous decline, measures are being instituted that will hopefully bring these great fish back from the brink.

On a recent trip to Spiddal, a small town near the west coast city of Galway, I had the pleasure of fishing with guide and conservation activist Brian Cullen. Cullen is a member of the Cumann Iascaireacht Chonnamara Theas (Gaelic for: South Connemara Angling Club). I had contacted Cullen before my trip and he was gracious enough to offer to introduce me to trout fishing on Boluisce Lake. The weather finally cooperated on a Friday afternoon, and Cullen picked me up and took us to his club’s land on the lake. It was a beautiful late afternoon, one of only a few where the sun managed to break free of the low clouds that shroud the western coast. After mounting a gas engine and a trolling motor to one of the club’s 24-foot fiberglass dories, we headed out on the lake. Cullen had rigged both of us an eight-weight rod with three Irish Wet Flies. We worked a shoreline on the upper end of the lake where it was fed by the river and cast our flies to the shorelines that featured a pronounced drop-off.

While we were working our flies, Cullen answered my questions about the health of the fishery and the migrations of the brown trout and salmon that inhabit the river and lake. The brown trout are sea run because the waters of the lake are fed by bogs that make the waters slightly acidic and inhibit insect life. The lack of insect life forces the trout to the ocean where they feed on minnows and shrimp. The dearth of local food also makes the brown trout very aggressive.

When we fished in mid-September salmon were off-season, so we concentrated on trout. Cullen explained that Ireland was the last nation in the European Union to outlaw drift nets in the ocean. The over harvest of salmon, as well as the degradation of the streams and lakes, have resulted in only 5 percent of the native salmon returning to their native waters. Cullen and others worked diligently to get the nets out of the water and are now fighting to protect the quality of the streams and lakes. In the past decade, tree farms have sprouted on former bog land and the run-off has created pollution and started to change the traditional PH of the water.

As luck would have it, Cullen was the one who caught most of the fish that afternoon. While I managed to get a number of hits, the only fish I managed taped out at about three inches. Cullen caught several native browns in the 16-inch range, very fine fish by their standards. While the fish were small, they put up an amazing fight on the fly tackle.

The sun finally sank below the horizon on a distant bog, lighting the sky up with deep rich colors. As we motored back to the launch, I was mesmerized by the vastness and beauty of this ancient landscape. When you make your plans to visit Ireland make sure you spend some time on the water of this beautiful and mysterious land. Cullen can be reached by e-mail at, and his Web address is


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