Mick Kelly: Balbriggan has man spent a lifetime fishing for trout on Lough Sheelin

I CAUGHT up with Michael in the Balrothery Inn in north Dublin before he headed off to Lough Sheelin in Co Cavan for the entire trout angling season. “Tomorrow I move down, the jeep is already packed and ready to go,” he said.

The name Michael (Mick) Kelly is synonymous with Sheelin. Surely there is hardly a trout angler in the country or indeed, further afield, unaware of his association with this famous fishery? For the past 42 years he lives its every breath.

Michael lives in Balbriggan, Co Dublin, with his wife Anne and has three grown-up children. A former garage owner in the town, 10 years ago he decided to sell the business and devout his time instead to fly fishing for trout, with Sheelin his first choice.

He is a life member of the local Gormanston and District Anglers’ Association club who retain fishing rights on the River Delvin and Wavin Lake. “In the early days I would fish two days a week, then five days. Many a good sea trout I had on that small river,” he said.

One day at the garage, a man drove up and gave him a logbook of catches from Sheelin dating back to 1875. Dapping was the order of the day back then and entries by the Tunstall Moore and Mitchell family showed phenomenal catches of trout, many exceeding 3kg (over 6lb).

The family were obviously wealthy because some entries include fishing trips to New Zealand and other far-away destinations. “I wouldn’t part with the book for any money and the man wouldn’t take any money either. I said: ‘pull over and gave him a full tank of petrol’.”

Michael’s affection for Sheelin started in 1969 and he’s been going back ever since. “Sure it’s the best fishery in the world. It’s a real lake, you couldn’t design a lake like it.” In the 1970s he qualified for Ireland on four occasions and also made the interprovincial team. “Never bothered after that.”

He was there when the lake went down with phosphate pollution. In the bad old days, pulling wets would leave a streak and "you couldn't see a foot down". Thanks to Trevor Champ and staff from the then Central Fisheries Board, it is now back to its former glory.

Today, Michael has a place at Kilnahard and last year fished the lake on 121 days, only to break for holidays and a hospital appointment. He spends any free time tying flies, thousands of them from tiny midges to dabblers. All top quality and very suitable for Sheelin.

Michael has a theory on flies. “Take, for example, an angler catches a salmon on a silver stoat. That evening he’s asked by his mates what did you catch the fish on. A silver stoat. So, the following day they’re all fishing a silver stoat.

“By the end of the week everyone is fishing silver stoat. Then the fly-tyer gets the phone call ‘we want six dozen silver stoats urgently’. There’s a lot of codology about flies. Every time you look in a fly-tying magazine there’s a new fly.

“The reality is that there is no secret when it comes to fly choice. If there is no natural fly on the water, by and large, anything goes. You can come across fish on any part of the lake and at any time of the day,” he says.

Michael’s biggest fish to date is 4.1kg (9lb) and “I have a lad of 8.5lb in a glass case at home”. However, his iPhone is almost jammed with quality Sheelin trout caught down through the years. A real tribute to his angling skills.

In 2001, he fished the Kuskokwim River in Alaska. “What an experience – hundreds of salmon, grayling and arctic char all on the fly. I also had rainbows to 8.2kg (18lb). The method entailed casting across the river and bending the line fully. Result, a fish almost every cast, hooked in the side lip.”

A week into the season and already Michael has a five- pounder to his credit. An invite for a day’s fishing the Mayfly on Sheelin is on the cards. Can’t wait.

Mask competition
Ballinrobe and District Anglers' Association is hosting a two-day open boat development competition on Mask on May 3rd and 4th from Cushlough Bay. Entry fee without boat and engine is €65 and €45 with boat and engine. Light food available on Saturday evening at Cushlough. Prizes include €1,000 first prize. Closing date is tomorrow. Entries to Marie Walsh, Cloongowla, Ballinrobe. Tel: 094-954 1165.