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Rachel Gaffney's Letter from Texas

Doug & Regan

Recently I was introduced to a new and thrilling world, one that I would never have imagined I would enjoy quite as much as I did - and I have a Texan by the name of Doug Deason to thank for this. Although a native of Arkansas, he now resides in Dallas, Texas.

He began flyfishing at the age of ten and has fished all over the world. This was his first time fishing in Ireland and it was their first time visiting Ireland. They, being father and daughter, as Regan, his 18 year old daughter, accompanied him. Regan too had fished a little over the years and here I was about to attempt fishing for my first time with this experienced group. The only fish I had ever handled was at the fishmongers.

County Cavan, is known as the ‘Lake County’ and that’s fitting as it is said there is a lake for every day of the year with 365 lakes. However I discovered while staying at the Radisson Blu Farnham Estate (see below right) that there are in fact closer to 500 lakes in Cavan. George, who works there, had spent years with the department of forestry and was quite the historian.

With so many lakes to choose from, the challenge was where to start and more importantly where does a girl like me take an avid and proficient fisherman? The answer was to find people who know people and you are good to go.

Radisson Blu Farnham Estate

My two forces of nature came in the form of Catherine Fox and Joanne Hayes,  who introduced me to Alan and Audrey Kells from Castlehamilton which is a destination unto itself so you should check their web site out for further information. Our guide, Bernard Engle, was arranged through them.

At 9.30am Bernard arrived at Farnham Estate, to take us fishing on the River Annalee. The drive was a short and scenic 20 or 30 minutes to our spot on the river. Once there it was time to don our waders and pull up our britches. I wear a size 5 shoe but the only remaining waders were a size 10, close enough!

Doug took one look at me in my waders and reached in to his backpack and pulled out some old belt and tied it around my waist. I asked why he was doing this when these pants were almost up to my neck. Do you remember that old tv show MacGyver? He was a resourceful agent who could make a bomb out of an old radio! Well, this is who sprung to mind when Doug suggested I would know all too quickly why I needed this belt if I fell in.

Ballyhaise Agricultural College

As we wandered along the road, sauntering past the 300 year old Ballyhaise Agricultural College (right), my first mistake was pointed out to me. I was carrying the rod incorrectly. We made our way through brambles, raising our arms in the air as we strode through a sea of nettles and ambled precariously down the river bank as it had been raining furiously for days and the banks were muddy and slippery.

The River Annalee was spectacular. She had risen approximately 6 inches due to the heavy rainfall. The current was strong and we followed Bernard, albeit precariously initially until he brought us to a steady spot in the river. I stood there not wanting to move. Truth be told, I was perfectly happy to stay there and not budge at all as wearing waders that were too big for me presented enough of a challenge, let alone trying to wade through a gushing current. But alas I had to move.

Bernard wandered over to the far side of the river with Doug. Regan and I waited. He would return to us, as soon as he had set up camp for the seasoned fisherman.

Technically, I had no idea what I was watching. It’s like watching Jordan Spieth drive the ball down the fairway, you are not quite sure what he is doing to make it seem so effortless but you know there are separate motions and mechanics involved in producing one fluid swing.

Watching these two calmly and quietly flick their wrists back and forth was so calming. And this is where everything changed for me in an instant. Now, everything was quiet and calm. The sound of the water gushing by me from under the stone bridge, the strength and concentration it took to stand with legs slightly apart so as to balance and not fall from the rushing current required focus and concentration and this was only the beginning.

I watched as they cast back and forth rhythmically, envying the ease and simplicity of each movement, knowing that it was not as easy as it looked. Soon I would be getting my first lesson and I immediately remembered that very first golf lesson all those years ago when you are given so many commands and you try to put them all together to make one swing. Not easy. It takes time. It takes years of practice, experience and muscle memory before it becomes one motion. I wondered if I was going to regret this. After all, it was enough battling with a current let alone taking on a new set of instructions where the margin for error was pretty great.

Bernard moved effortlessly through the river and made his way to Regan. You could tell that this was not her first time either. She moved gracefully and silently. He did not have to show her much at all, but to point out the best and safest spots to stand.

Then it was my turn. He showed me how to cast. How to move my arm and wrist and where to cast. I did this over and over again, simply trying to get a feel for the river and get used to this fishing rod in my hand.

First Fish

Then something happened. It was about thirty minutes in to this activity that I noticed what was occurring. My mind was completely and utterly focused on this task at hand and everything else on my mind simply vanished. It was the mental respite I needed. As women, and especially as mothers and wives, we tend to be planning and thinking about what we have to do next, often juggling many thoughts and emotions simultaneously.

Now, out here on the River Annalee, where the air was crisp and clean, this had all quite simply disappeared. It was now all about the rhythm and the sound of the water. I live in a city where ladies play a lot of tennis, including myself. Now I began to wonder is this the sport that women should be doing. Away from it all, at one with nature and most importantly giving you the opportunity to have a free and clear mind.

I glanced over at Doug and noticed he had caught a trout. When I glanced back again a few moments later he had caught another. He unhooked them and released them like it was no big deal. Like it was just so easy. Was there indeed skill required to catch a fish ? Surely if I just stood there, I too could catch a fish? It really isn’t that simple.

As time drew by I learned a little bit more and then a little bit more and like all kinaesthetic learners I started to piece together the advice given to me by Bernard with the instruction and signals the river was giving to me. I stopped trying so hard. I sincerely stopped trying to catch a fish and concentrated on the flow of the river, feeling the tug at times from weeds below on my hook.

Once cast, I followed that fly with my eyes and, when it was time to repeat, I re cast further towards the river bank. Bernard explained that trout are a little like us. They really don’t want to have to work so hard in the current so they tend to move away from it and swim closer to the riverbank, where the water is not as rough. It was then that I caught my first fish. I knelt down and Bernard helped me unhook this brown trout. I asked if he weighed more than 2 or 3lb. “No” was the reply. “Maybe 1lb?” I asked. Again, the answer was no. “But close to 1lb” he said!

By now we had worked up quite the appetite and it was time to enjoy our picnic lunch. We waded upstream. Doug was perched on the river bank. I was proud as punch to have caught a fish. I asked him how many he had caught. He had lost count after 20!

I moved to step backwards and with what seemed like one swift movement the current knocked me over on my derriere ! My feet were above water but the rest of me had not escaped. So this was why Doug aka MacGyver had tied the belt around my waist. I floated downstream and all I heard was laughter and this South African accent yell… “Doug, I won the bet” I guess Doug did know what he was doing after all, but please don’t tell him I said that !

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