Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

The Iron Blue Dun

I want to discuss the Iron Blue Dun (it is too much hassle to write Iron Blue Dun all the time so I will refer to it as ‘IBD’ in this post). For such a tiny insect it has generated a huge amount of words in  angling literature, and rightly so. From the earliest history of fly fishing the IBD has been recognised as a hugely important species. I won’t bore you with the minute differences between the three separate species as they so closely resemble each other it requires a magnifying glass to differentiate. I am more concerned with the practicalities of catching trout when the IBD hatches out.

IMG_6875 There is a common misconception that the IBD only hatches out on cold, windy days when no other fly life is active. While I have certainly seen them hatch in just such conditions I have also seen them coming off the water on mild and calm days too so I am inclined to treat the whole ‘bad weather fly’ theory as highly dubious. What is not in doubt is the high regard the fish have for the IBD. Back in the days when I fished the Aberdeenshire Don it was not unusual to see heavy hatches of Large Dark Olives, March Browns and IBDs on the same day. The Olives would come down the rivers in a pretty steady trickle and the March Browns would just appear in explosive bursts, none on the surface one minute then a host of them like miniature speckled sail boats the next. Within the space of a few moments the March Browns would be gone again only for the process to repeat itself  20 or so minutes later. The IBD hatch can vary widely. Some days they would gradually build from one or two flies to a heavy hatch over the period of up to an hour while on other occasions they never seemed to appear in more than a trickle.

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The problem for the fly fisher is to initially spot the IBD when the hatch starts. They are tiny and in moving water can be hard to spot, especially when other species are present at the same time. I have been guilty of missing the start of an IBD hatch more than once because I simply didn’t see them. Surely an experienced fisher would not not caught out like this? Well, let me tell you that when olives and March Browns are drifting down the stream and trout are rising all over it is very easy to fix your concentration on what seems to be the obvious and automatically cast your olive or March Brown copies at the risers without stopping to study the water for the possible appearance of something else. I have been fooled many times into thinking I knew what was happening because I had seen fish actually take a few olives. Trout will accept the olives all right but they much prefer the IBD when it is available in my experience.

Iron Blue spider pattern

That brings me to the question of tactics and fly patterns for fishing the IBD hatch. There are a number of traditional spider patterns which imitate the IBD such as the Snipe & Purple and the Dark Watchett. Fished up or downstream as the situation dictates these are very effective cathers of trout. Avoid the temptation to use flies bigger than a size 16. the naturals are very small and size seems to be one of the triggers for the fish. Some IBD patterns sport a crimson tag and while I have netted numerous fish on flies with this adornment I remain sceptical they add significantly to the success rate.

Personally I prefer to tackle trout rising to IBD’s with a dry fly. I find that they take a floating dun imitation well and will come to it even if the hatch is light. Tiny klinkhammers and parachutes are ideal for this job. Brightly coloured wing posts are a real help to those of us with dodgy eyesight.

You can expect to find the IBD in numbers from now until mid-May so be prepared to scan the water closely for them. It is so easy to miss them but you can be sure the trout won’t. Those minute flies which resemble spots of ink in the water can provide you with some unforgettable sport if you keep your eyes peeled.

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The Gold Head Daddy

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Most of the flies I describe on the blog are generally designed or used for Brownies, sea trout or salmon. We don’t have any rainbows around here so my boxes of lures and other rainbow trout flies lie gathering an accumulation of dust. Every now and then I take an urge to make up some more of  lures kidding myself that they will be used one day in the near future. One of my favourites is the Gold Head Daddy.

I have often asked myself what the hell the trout take this fly for? Do they really think it is a daddy long legs? I assume that they do on occasion as this fly has produced a good catch one day many years ago at a put and take fishery in Fife. It was late in the season and some naturals were being blown on to the surface where they were greedily snapped up by the fish. I caught a limit using a Gold Head Daddy and there is every reason to think this was due to it resembling the live beasties. However, many other times there has been no sign of a natural fall of daddies and yet the gold head was effective.

The dressing is pretty simple  and can be knocked together in a few minutes. I like to tie mine with a fl.lime or yellow tag and also give the pheasant tail body a rib of fine copper wire for protection. These days the colour of the bead can be varied to with copper, fl. orange and fl. green all worth a try,

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When it comes to actually fishing this fly I have a very effective trick for you to try out. Find a rising fish and cast into the rings of the last rise. You need to have your wits about you and reasonable casting skills to change direction and distance quickly to do this effectively. Once the fly has pitched into the diminishing circles of the rise do – nothing. No movement, no pulls or jerks, just let the fly sink freely. You will be amazed how often the line simply tightens and the rainbow is perfectly hooked in the scissors. Other techniques include a figure of eight retrieve and a fast strip on a sinking line, so you can see this is a versatile pattern to have in the box. I can’t say that have ever caught anything other than rainbows on the Gold Head Daddy but maybe it would be worth a go on some waters stocked with browns. Gartmore near Alloa springs to mind as a likely candidate.

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salmon fishing, trolling

Trolling, the gentle art of doing not much at all

Trolling, the not so fine art of dragging spinning and wobbling lures behind a moving boat is not everyone’s cup of tea. If my fishing was confined solely to days spent trolling I would long ago have sold the rods and taken up computer gaming or amature dramatics instead. As it is though, I indulge in the occasional outing when conditions or specific situations arise based on the premise the some fishing is definitely better than no fishing at all.

Each season a few of us troll the lower section of one of the local rivers for salmon. This particular piece of water is deep and slow-moving with high banks intersected by large and deep agricultural drains. On top of these already formidable obstacles the river is a bit remote and hard to get near to by car. So to fish it from the bank would entail a long tramp in to fish a very short section, then a walk out back to the car, drive down some more lanes, park up and repeat the process. Instead of that messing around we troll the river from a small boat, thus negating the problems of access.

pulling awayTrolling in my opinion is best performed by two in a boat. Handling the boat and the rods on your own does have its own satisfaction but the hours of not much happening are easier to bear when there is another living being in reasonably close proximity. And that is the thing with trolling, there tends to be a lot of nothing happening. As an exercise in getting some fresh air into your lungs and taking time to see the local wildlife it is very good but do not expect hectic sport.

Anyway, my mate and I launched the boat, fired up the engine and motored up to the starting point. The water level was high but clarity was pretty good with only a tinge of brown on the day. Rods were armed with suitable spoons and they were trailed some 20 to 30 yards behind us as we made our way upriver at a sedate pace. The rod tips dipped and nodded in response to the action of the spoons and there were occasional moments of action when one or other of the baits snagged on a sunken tree or other such impediment. Regarding baits we use things like Tobies, Swinford spoons, Rapalas and that sort of thing.

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Typical baits for trolling

Bites were at a premium shall we say (ie non-existent) so once we had covered the water up as far as the confluence of a tributary we pulled into the back for a spot of lunch.

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Here we are looking for somewhere to pull in

Out of the cold wind the air was pleasantly warm and springlike. Herein lies the attraction of a trolling session for me, it forces you to slow down. All actions until a fish strikes are unhurried and deliberate. Lunch was a leisurely affair of soup, sandwiches, coffee and chat. Different baits were tied on but to be honest neither of us thought the new ones were any better than the ones we had taken off. Then we pushed off back into the steady flow and continued upstream once again.

heading downstreamAn unassuming straight stretch, no different from miles of similar water yielded a small pike to my rod and I had so sooner got that in the boat than a second, larger pike grabbed the other bait. This river is full of pike and it had been a surprise not to meet any before now. Before the day was out half a dozen small pike would be boated. I know some anglers love pike fishing but I fail to see the attraction. I have seen videos of fishermen in epic battles with pike but to me they are usually just a dead weight on the end of the line and an awkward customer to unhook without being bitten.

the castle

We pressed on up to the furthest extremity of the fishable water near a ruined castle then turned around and started heading downstream again. The afternoon was wearing on now so we motored down through some of the less likely looking water and then fished through areas where fish have been taken, lost or at the very least observed in the past. The baits wobbled seductively enough but no salmon were in the mood for seduction that afternoon. The wind was strengthening and growing perceptively colder so it was with some relief we gained the mooring point and called it a day.

one pike

It was hardly a day of frantic sport but it was nice to be out on an afternoon in March, seeing the willows beginning to bud and feeling the push of the river under the keel once more. Springers are a rare commodity these days and there is a high probability we did not even cover a fish all day. Rumour has it that one was caught down near the estuary earlier in the week but disinformation is a fine art in angling circles so a large dose of sodium chloride needs to be taken with such reports. Unless I hear that salmon have been seen or landed in the system I will return to trouting next week.

spoon

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Scratching a dry itch

The fickle March weather has turned cold and wet again. The balmy few days we had last week have been swept away by mean winds that seek out every opening to send a chill through me as if to remind me of my advancing years. Looking back over the season so far the rod has bent into a few nice trout already but I need more. That old itch to catch trout on the dry fly needs to be scratched. Like an addict missing a fix I prowl the house these days wishing for a break in the weather so I can sally forth with the dry line and actually see the fish swallow the fly.

Adams

The Adams, my favourite for the spring time

I managed to fool one trout on the dry last week and the feeling of satisfaction when he rose to the fly and I tightened into him remained as strong as ever. The process of spotting the rise, matching the natural, casting to the fish and finally setting the hook is surely one of the highlights of the fly fishing experience. The wet fly can be extremely effective and nymphing is an art unto itself, but the dry fly remains for me the most exciting branch of our sport. That visual element makes all the difference and engaging that sense turns an already absorbing pastime into something very special.

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For dry fly fishing in these parts I use either my 10 foot, no. 5 Orvis or a 7 footer which is rated for a no. 3 line. I accept that the Orvis is over gunned in most situations but I have landed tout up to nearly 5 pounds on the Robe and lost bigger fish, so the longer rod has its uses. The seven footer is lovely to fish with but struggles badly with anything over a couple of pounds in weight. I use a heavy butt section on my leader set up to give me some assistance when trying to push a fly into the inevitable wind. I then steeply taper down to a tippet of between 2 and 4 pounds, depending on the situation.

Dry patterns are centered around the ever popular Klinkhammer design and the more traditional spider and upright winged flies. I like wings on some patterns as they help me to spot them in turbulent water.

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A winged GRHE on a size 14 hook

Adams and GRHE tend to be the ones I gravitate to in the springtime. These are general patterns rather than specific imitations and they provide me with sufficient sport to encourage a high level of faith in them. I mess around a bit with both patterns so they can be found in my fly box as conventionally winged, spider, klinkhammer and even Irresistible versions to cover a wide range of situations.

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Irresistible Adams, a high floater for rough water or a windy day

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My Adams variant with an olive hares fur body

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Adams/GRHE/klinkhammer thingy (it works too!)

Outside the trees are bent in the blustery westerly and the rain is hammering down. but by the weekend conditions should have improved sufficiently for me to dust down the dry fly box and give these lads a go. I am not looking for a cure to this particular itch, I just need to scratch it some more.

Tight lines!

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

A couple of old spiders for this time of year

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OK so there is nothing even remotely new about these two patterns but they are so effective that I think there is no harm in reminding you about them both.

Let’s start with the Poult Bloa. Yellow tying silk with the faintest mist of water rat or mole’s fur dubbed on it form the body and the hackle is a turn or two of the shiny under covert feather of a waterhen. That’s it, the only hard part of making this fly is making sure you don’t put too much fur on the silk or take too many turns of the hackle feather. Light and slim are the order of the day with all spiders. This is a really excellent pattern when the Large Dark Olives are hatching so please make some up and have them in you box.

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Next up is the Plover and Hare’s Ear which has been particularly good already this season for me. Yellow silk again (Pearsill’s for preference) this time dubbed with fur from a Hare’s ear and then ribbed with fine oval gold tinsel for the body. the hackle comes from the outside of a Golden plovers wing, a lovely gold spangled feather with a natural curve in it. Only one turn or one and a half at the most. I think this fly is taken as hatching stonefly but it is a general copy of a wide range of insects.

Give both of these flys a try over the next few weeks.

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Fishing in Ireland

A difficult day

Robeen Bridge as a handy entry point on the River Robe. Both banks are clear downstream of the bridge but there is a heavily wooded stretch immediately upstream and this means that you have to get into the water and wade upriver to fish this part. The bottom is very slippery and there are some deep holes to watch out for so it makes for exciting fishing. Well it did, because now some of the trees have been cleared from the left bank. I decided to give this newly cleared section a try today.

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Notice the stumps of the chopped down trees

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The branches were piled up in the field

This is always a challenging piece of water and today it proved to be even harder than normal. There was very little fly life and a horrible cold, blustery wind made the fishing uncomfortable. After an hour of fruitless casting I gave it up and packed the gear up. Time for a change of scene.

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A few miles upstream I parked up and headed down to a series of small pools which had provided good sport in the past. The wind had increased in strength and was now a major problem for me. Casts had to be kept short and each one finished with the rod point very low to push the line into the teeth of the gale. Some Large Dark Olives were hatching and some stoneflys were also being blown past me in the wind. Time was against me as I had been late in starting so I fished quickly downriver. Not long after I started I had a lovely take and a brightly marked brownie gave an acrobatic display on its way to the bank. He has taken a Partridge and Orange tied on the bob.

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With no signs of surface activity I stuck to fishing wet fly. I covered the water quickly and passed many smaller lies which would have taken time to access. Tangles were becoming a problem as I pushed each cast hard against the wind. I spotted most of them quickly and they were easy to clear but one took me ages to untangle and on reflection I would have been quicker to cut the old leader off and replace it with a complete new one. I also swapped flies a few times but nothing seemed to be working today. The already sparse fly hatch also seemed to be petering out. One LDO did land on me, giving me the chance of a decent photograph.

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I stuck a Plover and Hare’s Ear on the middle dropper and it produced a wee trout after only a few casts. Any thoughts that I had finally cracked it were cruelly dispelled during a 30 minute period of intense fishing without eliciting a single response. This was proving to be a tough day!

Off I went down to a long, deep pool which was slightly sheltered from the cold wind. I fished this carefully but once again came up empty handed. Around the corner was a deep run under a bush, hardly a pool really. I rose a fish (which I missed by a country mile) before finally setting the hook in a nice trout.

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Another smaller fish took me a few yards further down taking the total for the day to 4. I doubled back to go over the last two pools again but before starting I sat down and tried to think through what was happening. With no surface activity it was logical any trout on the feed were taking nymphs. I was seeing many more stoneflies than olives, so there was a reasonable chance that a wet stonefly copy could do the trick. I found one in the box and tied it on the bob, adding an Endrick Spider on the tail.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first pool was still dead. Down on the bottom pool it was a different story though. I rose half a dozen trout, losing a couple and landing two more. All were on the stonefly.

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The wind was blowing a gale by now and I had chores at home so it was time to call it a day. I failed to hook any monsters today. The problems were many and it took a bit of work to seek out some sport but it was satisfying to catch at least a few modestly proportioned fish. It’s still only March so there is time for the fishing to pick up.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Messing around with the Hare’s Ear

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A standard Gold Head GRHE nymph

The GRHE gold head nymph is one of my standard patterns but I thought I would tie up a variation, so here it is:

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This is dressed on a curved grub hook and I added some chopped up fl. lime floss and red fur to the HE to form the body. I also added a partridge hackle dyed brown olive for movement. A copper wire rib and a thorax cover of opal mirage add a bit of flash. I will give it a trial the next time I am out.

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Fishing in Ireland

As good as it gets

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The bridge, good water below here

19th March. The bright and warm weather is unusual for this time of year and I decide to go fishing, hoping the good weather will have raised water temperatures and brought the trout on the feed. So with Bob Seger blasting out on the CD in the car I motor down to the River Robe again.

I park up near a bridge and take a peek over the parapet. The water is at pretty much at a perfect height and colour and even at the first glance I see Stoneflys hatching. There are lots of them in the air already and it is only 10.30am, so it could be a heavy hatch today. I set up a team of wets, tying on the same three I used the last time I was out, then I head down to the first pool.

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The first pool below the bridge

Half way down the pool the line tightens and a 12 oz trout comes easily to hand. It had taken the Plover and Hare’s ear on the middle dropper. A good start.

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The first of the day

I work my way downstream, fishing carefully and searching out all the likely spots. Having fished this stretch many times I know these pools well and am full of confidence that more trout will come along. This confidence begins to evaporate though as no further offers are forthcoming. More of a concern is the total lack of surface activity despite the now heavy hatch of stoneflys and a steady stream of Large Dark Olives. One or two Iron Blue Duns are also hatching so it is unusual for the trout not to feed on or near the surface. By now the sun is very strong and maybe this is keeping the trout near the bottom.

Break through!

I change the top dropper for another beaded nymph and try to pay more attention to any shaded lies under the far bank. This requires a lot of concentration to avoid hanging the flys up on bushes and branches on the other bank. I am absorbed in this task, watching where each cast lands and making small adjustments to angles, mends and speed. I’m happy the flies are fishing properly and I slowly make my way down river either crouched down to keep of the skyline or wading close to my own bank when required. It’s hot and bright and I am in a world of my own here.

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I cast as close to the far bank as I dare (the actual spot is above) and as soon as my flies touch the surface a large brown head appears and then promptly disappears as my line tightens. It is obviously a good fish and he tugs and runs with spirit but I get him to the net without much hassle.

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The Plover and Heare’s Ear has done the business again. I was lucky on this occasion as my cast must have landed just as he was looking up. I estimate his weight at nearly a pound and a half and after a quick couple of pics he is popped back into the water.

I continue to work my way down the river. A kingfisher darts past, a flash of azure and orange. Another couple of smallish brownies are caught and released, then one of nearly a pound comes to the net. 5 so far and it is not even noon yet.

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 Poult Bloa. This one is heavily dressed for fast water

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have only seen 2 fish rise so far, hence the reason I am sticking with the wet fly.

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I lose two fish in quick succession, both of them hooked at reasonably long range (for a small river). To mitigate this I find a gap in the thick gorse and bramble bushes and try again but this proves to be a mistake. The line catches on a bramble bush and I spend ages retrieving line and flies.

I pick up a small trout and lose another of similar size and I push on down to a good pool I know.

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Another small lad is landed quickly after only 3 casts in the neck of the pool and I rise another soon afterwards. I cast again and the fish has another go at the fly but fails to make contact. Lift, cast, mend and lengthen the line so I can try to induce a take with a slow pull as the cast reaches the trout’s lie. Bang, it works like a dream and the reel loses 5 yards of line in one rush. But there is something wrong – I see the trout as he comes to the surface and he is no more than 8 inches long. Then is dawns on me, I have hooked two at the same time!

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A good job they were not bigger!

They are like 2 peas in a pod and both are safely returned. It has been years since that has happened to me. The rest of the pool is fished out with further action and I trudge on again to a tricky little pool below. There are very few flies hatching now and I have already decided to call it a day after I fish this one

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Half way down the pool I catch a lovely 12 incher on a Poult Bloa which I had just tied on. Every fisher knows that warm glow of self satisfaction when a newly wetted fly does the business. It must be like a football manager making a substitution and the new striker goes and bangs in a goal right away.

I check everything is in order and re-cast. This is an awkward pool, there are multiple flows and a big back eddy at my side. Keeping the flies moving and controlling the line is difficult. To get under the bushes on the far bank I have to side cast too, so this rapidly degenerates into some kind of technical examination of my skills. To be honest I had all but forgotten about the trout until an almighty wallop brought me back to reality. Fish on!

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Safely in the net

This turns out to be a cracking brownie of around a pound. Back he goes and I wind in and start the long walk back to the car. As I re-trace my steps I ponder the day. 11 trout, all on wets. No surface activity. A good ratio of hooked to landed. I pack the gear into the car and take one last look at the river. For a river trout fisher days like today are just about as good as it gets.

Warren Zevon seems like a suitable choice of music for the journey home and I join in heartily as I head first west to Ballinrobe then north to Castlebar. I don’t think the smile left my face the whole way!

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Bibio’s

Bibios are so widely used that you may be forgiven for thinking that you know all about them. A great fly early in the season when you need something dark and a handy pattern if there are salmon around. What else is there to know? A hell of a lot is the answer!

Let’s start with the basics. Here is the original pattern:

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Hook: 8 – 10 wet fly hooks

Tying silk: black

Rib: fine oval silver tinsel

Body: 3 parts, 1: black seals fur, 2: red seals fur, 3: black seals fur

Body hackle: black cock hackle, palmered

Head Hackle: A black cock or hen hackle

This is still a fantastic fly which catches thousands of fish every season. Sizes have gone from big salmon irons like the size 4’s used on Beltra in the spring right down to tiny size 16’s for copying small midges on hill lochs. Some tyers prefer a claret instead of red centre band.

Somewhere along the line somebody had the bright idea of adding jungle Cock cheeks to the fly and the Jungle Bunny was born. It is normal to position the JC cheeks so that they sit up a bit.

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The Jungle Bunny

Then the body colours began to get some attention and we saw the introduction of the four banded Bibio:

Hook: same as above

Tying silk: black

Rib: fine oval silver tinsel

Body: 4 parts, 1: orange seals fur, 2: black seals fur, 3: orange seals fur, 4: black seal’s fur

Body hackle: black cock hackle, palmered

Head Hackle: A black cock or hen hackle

The lads from Kerry came up with this variant:

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Hook: as above

Rib: fine oval silver tinsel

Body: 3 parts, 1: black seals fur, 2: bright green seals fur, 3: black seals fur

Body hackle: black cock hackle, palmered

Head Hackle: A black cock or hen hackle

When pearl tinsel first became available it was quickly incorporated into the Bibio.

Tying silk: Black

Ribs: 2 ribs, first is medium width pearl tinsel wound opposite direction, rib 2 is fine silver wire wound normally and used to secure the body hackle

Body: in 3 parts, 1: black seals fur, 2: red or orange seals fur, 3: black seals fur

Body hackle: Black cock hackle, palmered

Head hackle: a brown partridge hackle

Next the fur body itself was change to include tinsel. Thus was born the Pearly Bibio, a widely used variant of the standard dressing

Pearly Bibio

A Pearly Bibio

Hook: 8 – 14 wet fly hooks (Kamasan 170 is fine)

Tying silk: black

Rib: fine oval silver tinsel

Body: 3 parts, 1: pearl tinsel, 2: red seals fur, 3: pearl tinsel

Body hackle: black cock hackle, palmered

Head Hackle: A brown English partridge hackle

Of course you can add jungle cock to a Pearly Bibio and make a Pearly Jungle Bunny.

From the English competition scene we learned of the snatcher design and the Bibio was quickly given that make over too.

Hook: curved grub hook, size 10 – 12

Tag: Globrite floss, no.4

Rib: silver wire

Body: Black synthetic dubbing

Body hackle: short fibred black cock hackle

Thorax: Red fur

Cheeks: white turkey biots (yellow, sunburst or red biots are also alternatives)

Head hackle: Black cock, longer in fibre than the body hackle

Of course all of the foregoing patterns can be converted to snatchers with a little thought.

Oh, then we have tails. Some people like to have tails on all their flies so the Bibio grew a lime green tail which is particularly attractive to Rainbows (I can’t confirm this myself having never tried it but the fly certainly looks good)

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Lime Tail Bibio

Still with me? OK, now it gets interesting because one obvious addition to any bushy fly destined for the top dropper position on a cast is a muddler head. Tying a deer hair head on to the Bibio turned a good salmon fly into a great one. The choice of colour is usually between natural or dyed black and I much prefer the black option.

I could go on! Every season there is a new twist on the Bibio theme and they all catch a fish or two on their day. The essential essence of the fly has not changed though, black body with a dash of some colour in the middle and black body and head hackles. If I was restricted to just one Bibio it would be the Jungle Bunny for me.

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