I’m Alan Molloy, and I’m three things: I’m the lucky, proud member of a family comprising of Miriam, our two boys Tom and Joe, our black lab Billy and Zeb the Rabbit. I’m SVP of Engineering at Cainthus, a machine vision company that uses really cool technology to track what cows get up to, enabling farms to become more productive, and hence, more sustainable. And I fly fish.
Ireland is home for me and my family. Dublin is an amazingly vibrant technology cluster, not just because of the foreign direct investment from US tech firms, but also because of the start-up community. Longer term though, my roots go back to rural Ireland. I grew up surrounded by cows, and I love leading high performing teams that build great technology. When I met the founders and team at Cainthus, I felt really drawn to them. Everyone is excellent at what they do, yet they’re very humble and self-aware. I also love applying leading-edge technology and skills to the purpose of sustainable agriculture.
I grew up on the banks of Ireland’s largest river, the Shannon. There, I caught fish using bait, not through fly fishing. But when I started working abroad in my early 20s, I found it impossible to bait fish because I had no access to bait. So for convenience, I bought a fly fishing rod and decided to teach myself how to fly fish. This opened a whole new world to me because fly fishing is all about mastery of a craft. I’m only 25 years fly fishing, so I have hardly scratched the surface in the mastery of fly casting yet – I take lessons every year to improve my technique. Where I live, I can catch wild brown trout within 100 metres of my door. But more importantly, I can be in complete wilderness on wild limestone rivers and lakes within less than an hour. This means I can fish in beautiful places without the need for overnight accommodation and being away from family. With a night or two, I can experience the best fishing Ireland has to offer.
I caught my first fish 40 years ago, when I was 7, in the Shannon at Lanesboro. It was a perch I caught with my older brother Tommy, who taught me how to fish (and I owe him for a lifetime of wonder as a result!). For the first 20 years of my fishing life, I was mentored by my brother Tommy. He moved to New York 20 years ago, so I had a few lonely years, but then I met Dave Dunne and had the most wonderful years of fly fishing on the lakes and rivers of Ireland. Tragically, Dave passed away recently. I’ll miss him, but every time I catch a fish, I’ll give him a nod, because I learned so much from our time together.
When it comes to my equipment, I believe that I should have as many fishing rods as my wife has shoes – I have a lot of fishing rods! When I fish for Atlantic salmon on the bigger rivers, I use a double-handed 14ft 9-weight Sage rod, and when I fish on smaller rivers or on lakes for trout, I use a single handed 10ft 7 weight Hardy Syntrix. I equally prefer fishing completely alone walking a river, or with just one other person in a lake boat. Two people drifting in a boat are each others’ captive audience. Over a long day, with the atmosphere of the lake setting and the zen-like activity of fly-fishing, the conversations turn deep and philosophical. Over the expanse of decades fishing with a loyal fishing buddy, the bond grows deep.
My favourite river shifts with the seasons. In early spring, the Bundorragha River in Delphi Valley in the west of Ireland is magical – big salmon in a small river with beautiful scenery. In late spring, it’s the river Boyne in Navan – a big rich river with a huge history, less than an hour from Dublin. In the summer, it’s the limestone lakes – fly fishing from a drifting boat across Lough Sheelin with the mayfly dancing in the air above our heads and trout porpoising out of the water gorging on nature’s bounty. And finally, as autumn approaches, I love the Cork Blackwater, with the sound of the cattle lowing in the rich blackwater valley and the salmon getting restless moving upriver to spawn.
I always try and get a guide on my first visit to new fishing places just to learn and get a bit of a head start, but I have fished many waters in Ireland where no guide is available. Even after getting a guide, I find there is enough incremental learning on my own to keep me going for years, because there are so many variables: the water height, the temperature of air and water, the wind, the air pressure, the light intensity, whether its cloudy or sunny, how many fish are present, their mood! The most challenging thing about fly fishing is getting the time to go when the conditions are good for fishing. My wonderful wife Miriam will still ask me every January which days I plan to fish in the year. My answer: “When the conditions are right doesn’t really help with the planning!”
It’s a cliché, but the ones that get away are always the most memorable. I’ve lost large salmon on both the Boyne and the Slaney rivers after epic battles. Probably the most memorable was when Dave Dunne and I went out fishing in Delphi in hopeless conditions: bright sunshine and low water. No salmon had been caught by anyone on the river for the entire week. In fact, for the previous few days, no-one had even bothered to try, with people resorting to visiting the beach. What people didn’t realise is that the salmon had sneaked in overnight in the really low water, so we caught three salmon in an hour, the most productive session we’ve ever had, and we became equally loved and hated by the other fishermen!
There are lots of similarities between my career and my time fly fishing. Being an SVP of Engineering is all about continuous learning. Similar to fly fishing, I don’t know what conditions I’m going to encounter each day. Even though there are significant unknowns, there is an ever-evolving pattern, emerging from experience, of what works and what doesn’t work in certain circumstances. To get better at it, you need to research and you need to practice. It’s discovery with some creativity, but mostly discovery. The aspect of fly fishing that provides the most benefit is the experience of learning. Learning in fly fishing often involves trying things that don’t work. This teaches you patience. Patience is a great skill for a technology career, and in particular, a technology leadership career.
Fly fishing is like learning an instrument, but with the added variables of weather conditions, river conditions, and the mood of the fish. Getting some instruction early on is a good idea. There are professional bodies in most jurisdictions who provide expert tuition. In Ireland, it’s the Association of Professional Game Angling Instructors (APGAI). It is often said that the three ages of a fisherman are: 1. Catch lots of fish 2. Catch the biggest fish 3. Just fish. So start with some instruction and catching a few fish – after that, just enjoy the experience. My advice would be to savour the experience, not just the catching of fish. The experience includes the environment, beautiful locations, the mastery of the art of fly fishing, and of course lastly, the fish. But it is important to remember that it is not just the fish.