Ever since i was a young lad i have been hearing about and from anglers who fish for Twaite Shad at Saint Mullins in Carlow. Over the years i have thought many times of heading down to Saint Mullins and having a go at fishing for the Shad. Each year has come and gone since then but alas i have never got to fish for them. During last year i drew up a list of places and species to fish for my “wish to fish list”. I have ticked off a few places on the list so far and Saint Mullins and the Shad have now also been ticked off the list.
I had been doing lot of research on Shad fishing over the past couple of weeks and what i found out was that most anglers use light spinning gear and the most popular lure seems to be a blue/silver Tasmanian Devil. While i was researching I did not come across much information regarding fly fishing for the Shad. My thoughts were of fishing for them on the fly rod, but how would i go about doing this? I started preparing for my planned weekend trip to Saint Mullins in the week prior to it. I checked out for the times of the tides and the weather forecast. Everything was right with the exception of what type of lure would i use and which weight of fly rod would suit for the day.
My thoughts on a lure for Shad were based on tying up some type of minnow fly but i had to decide what materials and what colors would be best suited to use. I eventually settled on using Bucktail along with crystal flash tied up in an assortment of colours on a size eight straight eyed lure hook. I tied up three different color combinations of lures to try out on the Shad. I wanted to use as light a rod as i could but i was restricted to using a minimum of a seven weight as i needed at least that weight to turn over the large lures i would be using. I matched the rod with a fast sinking line as this would get the lure down in the water quickly. The night before my outing i got everything ready for an early start on the following morning. The morning started off with clearing the ice from the windscreen of the car. It was a clear cold morning with no breeze at all and the air temperature was at minus one degree.
After a drive of an hour and a half i arrived at Saint Mullins and i was not the first angler there. I was greeted with the sight of several anglers setting up their gear beside the tents they had pitched on the green. I drove on down the hill to the river and met with more anglers who were already spinning away. As i had checked on the tides i knew i had a few hours at low which according to all reports is the best time to fish for Shad. Before i got set up i had a chat with some of the other anglers enquiring about how the fishing was going. I must say i was a little disappointed to hear there was very little action about. I was feeling a little disheartened as i set up the rod but it was a nice day and i was in a beautiful place so i carried on getting ready. As i always say “if the fly is not in the water you are not fishing …. so get fishing”.
I decided to use a short fluorocarbon leader of six pounds breaking strain about a meter in length. My thinking on this was a short leader would help turn the heavy fly over and i would also help with getting the fly down quickly in the water. The first minnow fly i tied on was a Blue and white one. I cast this up and across the river to give it a chance to sink before i started to retrieve it using various retrieves from slow to fast and including a figure of eight. I fished with this fly for about half an hour without as much as a pluck on it. I changed over to a Black and Yellow one and had the same result with this one, things were not going as i thought they should. I took a break and went for a wander up river to see if there was any fish getting caught up that way. Reports were not good with only a few fish getting caught. I again changed over the lure, this time choose an Olive and White one. I fished on with this for another half an hour or so but this time i did get a small pluck on the lure. I could see the tide was now rising behind the Scar and thought my time was running out for catching a Shad. I fished on for a while more and then just as the tide made it over the Scar i hooked into a fish. Was it a Shad i wondered? I soon knew it was a Shad as it leaped clear of the water and tail walked, much like its larger relation the mighty Tarpon. After a good fight i soon had my first Twaite Shad safely in the landing net. I took a few pictures of it before i released it back to the Barrow.
In the next ten minutes i hooked and landed two more Shad before all went quiet again. The best fish on the day tipped the scales to nearly three pounds in weight. It was a new experience for me to catch a Shad and especially catching one on the fly rod using a lure that i tied up myself. It gave me the lift i needed. These little fish arrive in the River Barrow to spawn each year around the time of the first spring tides near the end of April into early May. They should be treated with care and make sure they are fully recovered in the water before you release them. Some of them will take time before they are fully recovered after they are caught. Treat them with respect as they are a rare species. I certainly will be looking forward to their arrival again next year. It turned out to be a great days fishing for me in the end.
This was not my first time being in Saint Mullins as i spent a few hours there last year although i was not fishing that time. I spent a morning there taking photos of the wildlife and wild flowers as i strolled up though the Barrow Valley towards Graiguenamanagh and back then to the Mullicháin Cafe. I passed some time outside the cafe relaxing over a Coffee and a hot fresh scone while reading the complimentary broad sheet. It is worth while visiting St. Mullins even just to admire the beautiful scenery that it has to offer along the Barrow valley.