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Robert Gillespie returns to where it all began at NW Angling Fair

26 March 2018

The 2018 North West Angling Fair will welcome a man widely regarded as the finest casting instructor in Ireland when it returns to the Melvin Sports Complex on Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th of April.

Robert Gillespie has spent the majority of his life in County Mayo, where he has worked as a professional Ghillie, Guide and fly casting instructor since 1985 but the Armagh man has been fishing local waters since childhood.

Robert will deliver a number of double and single handed casting demonstrations over the two days of the free admission Derry City and Strabane District Council run event as he imparts the wisdom he has built up from a lifetime in angling.

His career has included over 30 years as Ghillie and Instructor at Mayo’s Mount Falcon Hotel as well as his current role as instructor to one of the most famous fisheries in Ireland, the picturesque Delphi Lodge FlyFishing School in Connemara.

“It is nice to get the opportunity to go back to the North,” he admits. “I did a lot of my fishing as a youngster in the North West in the Mourne and particularly the River Roe where I first learned to fly fish for Salmon when my late father used to take me there in the 1970s.

“There is so much to both the single and double handed fly casting technique and I find it an extremely subtle and endlessly interesting aspect of game angling, how the different techniques and equipment yield different results and suit different applications.

“It’s a bit like golf, they say you will never be the complete golf player and fully master that game, but if you put the time into it you get much better and gain a lot of satisfaction from your improved results which is just like fly casting.”

Although he had an interest in game angling from an early age, it was a chance meeting with the manager of the Mount Falcon Estate that changed fishing from Robert’s past time to his career.

“I met a man with a young boy on the Moy system in the Spring,” he recalls. “I had just caught a fresh fish and he then told me they hadn’t caught anything all week.

“I then set up their gear correctly and showed them exactly where and how to fish the particular place and they caught a 12 pounds fish shortly after.

“It turned out that he was the manager of the Mount Falcon Hotel in Ballina and the boy was a nephew of his.

“He was so grateful for the success that he invited me to the hotel to meet the owner and to have dinner with them that evening.

“From then onwards they contacted me for guiding, and eventually offered me a job as their Resident Ghillie and Instructor.

“That’s cause and effect in action for you!

“I had to have a think about it because it would involve relocating and it would be a change of lifestyle to live in a hotel but I decided it was a great opportunity to do something I love as a career.”

For many, living in a hotel and fishing every day sounds like a dream scenario but Robert warned any young people considering a career in the Game Angling industry that they have to carefully consider the seasonal aspect of the work.

“It depends what you want from life, you won’t get rich but for experience and quality of life I’d highly recommend it as a lifestyle.

“It was like living in a bubble at first, everything is done for you from the changing of your bed linen to the preparation of your meals.

“It was only when I got married that I began to learn that these things don’t appear by magic.

 “It can be a difficult career as its seasonal work, the difficulty is finding work to get you through the winter. You could potentially go and work in places like New Zealand or South America during the winter months if you had the contacts but that only suits a single person who has no commitments at home.

“My advice to young people is that you need a Plan B for the winter months, I have a background in carpentry so I had been able to get work but a lot of that dried up after the construction crash and physical labour is a young man’s game. 

“I wouldn’t change anything as I’ve met so many different people over the years and heard so much about life that I would not have otherwise and importantly have experienced some very special salmon fishing, particularly in the Atlantic.”

Robert is a regular visitor to Scotland where he learned fly casting instruction in both single and double handed casting techniques from the legendary Peter Anderson, and from others including Alastair Gowans and James Chalmers.

He is a fully qualified GAIA APGAI Instructor, a member of E.F.F.A. (European Fly Fishing Association) and was the first person ever to successfully take all three FFF (Federation of Fly Fishers) examinations at the one testing event in November 2004 on the Beaverkill river at Roscoe, New York State.

Robert will join a wide range of high-calibre celebrity fishing experts at the North West Angling Fair to share their expertise and offer advice to angling enthusiasts.

Other special guests at the outdoor casting demonstrations on the River Mourne will include Stevie Munn, Robert Gillespie, Scott MacKenzie, Andrew Toft, Glenda Powell, Pauline McClenaghan, Jo Stephenson and Gordon Armstrong. 

There will be a range of talks upstairs in the Mourne Room each day from the experts including; Glenda Powell, Jo Stephenson, Noel Carr from FISSTA, Dr. Pauline McClenaghan and a daily showing of Dr. Ken Whelan’s riveting film ‘Atlantic Salmon – Lost at Sea’.

The event will also welcome a host of world class fly dressings onto the ‘Fly Dressers Row’, providing demonstrations and advice from a series of champion fly casters.

The full programme of events for this year’s Angling Fair can be viewed at www.derrystrabane.com/anglingfair and further information is available by e mailing [email protected] at the Festival and Events team at Derry City and Strabane District Council or calling 028 71 253253.