In this week’s blog, we popped over to one of Northern Ireland’s busiest and most popular fisheries, Craigmore. Lying on the outskirts of Randalstown, overlooking the shores of Lough Neagh, Craigmore is a spring fed lake, offering some really good natural fishing for anglers at all entry levels.
This is a fishery I have been visiting for at least 18 years. In that time, it has done nothing but improve. In that period, the surrounding vegetation has grown, the quality of fish have improved, the amenities have improved, the variety of food and drink and more importantly the fishing has improved (or maybe my own angling skills have!).
Amenities and Hospitality – As soon as you come down the lane, the chances are that your car is never going to be the first one here. This is a popular spot, and you will find out why. The carpark on your right, has been extended and can accommodate plenty, as can the lake itself, which is around 5 acres in size.
There appears to be a very welcoming atmosphere here on arrival. Except for the day I was here, I was welcomed by a bloody wasp which had crawled up my sleeve and stung me as others proceeded to infiltrate my jacket in their creepy and hypnotic little flight trajectories. I proceeded to live up to my Naked Fly Fisher tag, as I stripped down to my boxers, flapping wildly in the car park. Of course my fishing buddy was in stitches and I was grateful the owner Clare, didn’t catch sight!
That little episode didn’t put me off as there was still fishing to be done as i made my way to the lodge. There always seem to be anglers around the lodge, just hanging around for chitchat with whoever is manning the lodge and handing out some helpful hints for anybody coming in the door. This is always a good start in any fishery, rather than the awkward wall of silence like you have walked into some dodgy pub.
Within the lodge area itself, there are some fantastic amenities on site with the lodge having a table, a few chairs, central heating, electricity, a small kitchen and shop facilities and outside toilets in the portacabin. The central heating sounds like a gimmick, given that you have come to fish, but trust me, there was one day around Easter that I came here and was more than grateful to stand in here for a few minutes with cupped hands rather than go up and sit in a car, turn the ignition and wait an eternity for it to heat up!
While fisheries will offer you a standard pot noodle as the staple diet, Lough Fadden will offer you (probably) the greatest burger in the world, Craigmore will tempt you with a smaller menu selection of fries, toasties, stew alongside general confectionary items, which are prepared as you wait. I haven’t even started about the fishing yet!
Going back to the lodge, I tend to avoid this as much as possible when I am here, as I tend to end up spending a lot of time here, getting side-tracked by networking and chatting with other regulars and anglers. It really is a hub of activity and you have to remember why you have paid to come here…for the fishing
The Fishing – This is what you came for. Craigmore caters for all anglers of all age and ability. The absolute beginner can avail of the bait pond which sits just outside the lodge. The fly angler can target fish by boat or bank by a variety of patterns within deep water or shallow, gin clear water. The fish are very visible and will take natural flies, as you watch. The surrounding habitat and natural ecology sustains some incredible invertebrate life above and below the surface of the lake, with the fishery garnering an impressive reputation amongst dry fly anglers.
The Tactics – I came armed with the Wychwood RS 9ft 6 6wt, Wychwood Truefly SLA Mk 2 reel and Wychwood Rocket Floater. Given the wind up here at times, I felt this would get my flies out far and with little effort needed. Both rod and reel can be purchased from reputable dealers such as Fishtec (Click to follow link).
We always used to say that if you caught on your first cast, it sets up for a bad day. The reason being that it can give you a false expectation of the day ahead. This was not the case on my visit. I arrived in the morning and in fairness, the place was busy and the fish were under the surface still. Given that there was little on the surface, I opted to set up with a hare’s ear variant and a pale coloured FNF daphnia blob (Check out my FNF blog for more info). I knew there was great natural feeding around here and given the weather that week I wanted to provoke some fish into a take with the blob, as an attractor. I encouraged my colleague to setup the same and the approach worked as my colleague hooked on his second cast
Not to be outdone, I went with the same setup and seeing a great fish eye up the blob and then take the dropper, i watched another fish get agitated with the commotion and take the blob on the point, I ended up with a double hookup on my first cast with 2 very large fish, swamping the Wychwood Rover Large Trout net. This is a feat alone, as the net is huge! Instant result and 2 on the first cast!
After some good sport with the same setup, more fish followed suit and at any one time that you would look around the fishery, at least somebody was playing a fish! A very good sign if you are a visiting angler. As the fishery began to stir up a little, the fish actively cruised the bank, chomping on small flies and I changed tactic and began to have some success on some pheasant tail patterns.
As it quietened down a bit, I watched as the boat men began to have some major success on cdc patterns. This was now my cue to change tactics and I went right for the jugular and put on a size 20 black F fly pattern. This worked to deadly effect as I practically began to turn fish with almost every cast. This fly worked particularly well to the fish that appeared to be aimlessly cruising the banks as I successfully targeted almost every single one on the bank which I was fishing.
I know a lot of anglers like to use a lure, which is quite effective at this time of year, given that some fish get lethargic in warm weather, and a bit of bright colour often provokes a reaction. Damsel nymphs should be effective at Craigmore and given the sheer amount of dragonflies and damselflies you see darting around your rod tip. A lot of anglers get hung up on a false taboo around using lures, which I feel is wrong. These often imitate small fish and the summertime often sees large fish attacking small shoals of minnows and sometimes if the fish aren’t feeding, it’s as effective to provoke their aggressive predatory instinct with a lure or streamer pattern.
With all types of fly, I was not left wanting or disappointed. I did find that the best approach as the day went on, was to target fish on the surface with natural patterns and that seemed to be the general approach from the regular anglers around the lake. The best approach favours a floating line, 12 foot of leader and a team of nymphs or single minuscule F fly or shipmans dry pattern.
The Fish– This fishery has a reputation for good quality fish, and when hooking one, you will soon see why. The majority of the fish appear to be on steroids, quite muscular and well built. I am pretty sure the odd one even had a six pack! Some were so silvery; I thought I could see myself in the scales. All joking aside, they are nearly all fin perfect. This adds to the blossoming reputation of the fishery and I think that’s only a good thing. I don’t think there’s anything worse when you hook a dark, lethargic fish without a tail. It just doesn’t feel right and if I was on a one fish ticket, I wouldn’t feel comfortable eating it.
I said the same with Lough Fadden, but the fish here will take off. I don’t know if it is down to their generally healthy lifestyles, elite selection on stocking or the natural feeding, but it works for me. It could well have been the cruising bank fish which I had been targeting! They were so cautious with the fly patterns presented to them, that they did not expect to be hooked, making for some great action.
Personal Opinion – So why should you come here? What does Craigmore offer that would encourage me to return?
- The customer friendly approach. At no point are you likely to struggle. Head to the lodge have a chat with the employees, or fellow anglers, who will no doubt put you on a fish. One of the employees, William made every effort to put people onto fish while I was there. A nice customer friendly approach.
- The invertebrate life. The fishery is absolutely crammed with fly life above and below the surface. At least you have plenty of patterns to match. There were many times that I stopped to just take in some of the acrobatics of the emerging damselflies.
- The athleticism of the fish.
- The gin clear water.
- The dry fly fishing.
- That personalised touch to your lunch.
- Access. It’s clear that a lot of general maintenance takes place with banks strimmed, paths cleared and weeds cut and removed. Making accessibility of anglers a priority.
To summarise, this is well worth a trip. The area is central to Northern Ireland with direct routes to the airport and neighbouring Antrim, Ballymena and a short drive from Belfast.
- Go high and go dry – Surface fishing with dry fly is a must (in the right conditions)
- Stick to the surface
- Go natural (we mean flies!)
- Polaroid lenses are a must for the gin clear water.
- Visit the lodge
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