Spate river tactics, part 2

OK, so in the first part of this post I discussed my views on the basics of rod, reel and line for fishing small spate rivers here  in Ireland. Today I want to talk about what we tie on the business end of our lines – the flies to use and how to fish them effectively.


Choice of fly is purely personal and what works for one angler may be useless for another, so all I can do is give you some patterns which have worked for me over the years. Some you will be familiar with, others may be new to you. Let’s start with an old reliable – the Cascade.

Standard Cascade
Standard Cascade. This one is dressed on a size 12 treble

There are more variations of this fly than you can shake a stick at, but the standard half black/half silver bodied original with yellow and orange hackles and a slim, long tail of yellow and orange bucktail is as good as any and better than most. A couple of strands of pearl flash in the tail add something I think but any more than that just looks wrong to me. If you really have no idea what to tie on you can do a lot worse than plump for this guy.

Black and Gold Shrimp

I suspect this is actually a recognised pattern but I have not seen it written down anywhere so I just call it my Black and Gold Shrimp. A wound GP body feather tail, half black and half gold body with an orange cock hackle wound at the joint and both halves ribbed with oval gold. A head hackle of soft black cock and optional JC cheeks. Finish off with a red head. I love this fly!

Eany Tailfire (Light)

I save this one for high/dirty water and tie it with a very long tail. It has been a great executioner for me tied on size 8 and 10 hooks and fished off a slow sinker.

Hairy Mary

They don’t come much more traditional than the Hairy Mary. I like to wind my hackle after applying the wing so there is plenty of movement in the fly. Small sizes are definitely the best.

Gold Bodied Willie Gunn (GBWG)

One from my homeland now. The GBWG has landed me many, many salmon over the years tied on tubes, waddington shanks and normal doubles and trebles. I now tie it cascade style for small rivers.

Silver Garry

Another exiled Scot now – the Silver Garry. I like this one on bright days when the silver body looks good in the water.

Shadow Shrimp

This fly is an ‘all or nothing’ pattern for me. I tie it on not really expecting any results and that is normally the case. BUT, some days the fish go mad for it so it earns it’s place in my box for those red letter occasions.

Black Pennel variant
Black Pennel variant

I have mentioned this fly elsewhere in my blog but it bears repeating just how good this simple fly is. A Black Pennel on a size 10 Kamasan B175 with a slim tail made of a few fibres of red bucktail will catch you grilse until the cows come home. I almost always fish it on a dropper where the small fly doesn’t seem to tangle the leader as much as larger flies.

4 lb grilse

Enough about patterns, how do you fish these flies? Simple down and across with a very slow retrieve works most of the time. Some days the fish prefer a quicker retrieve, so it pays to vary it a bit until you find what is working. Backing-up a pool can be extremely effective, especially on the long, deep flats we have on some stretches here. A strong upstream wind can make fishing these pools difficult but here is a wee trick which sometimes works – cast up and across for a change. I know this goes against everything you know about salmon fly fishing but trust me, on the flats in a big wind the upstream cast followed by a brisk retrieve works a treat.

low water, looking upstream on the straight run

Mending line is also something which I don’t see too many anglers doing and this is a pity as it can make the difference between success and failure. The mend is usually upstream (to allow the fly to travel slower through the pool), but when the grilse are in the mood to chase the fly a downstream mend can work a treat.

all you need (plus some decent water)

So, to sum up – Timing is everything, dropping water is best. Wear chest waders so you can access the river when required. Keep it simple, no need to swap line densities or flies every five minutes. Use small flies. Drop into the local pub for a pint or buy something from the shop in the village (they depend on passing trade). Talk to the local anglers, they have that vital knowledge and are usually willing to share it. That is about all I know!


2 thoughts on “Spate river tactics, part 2

  1. Fit like Colin, I found that fishing an upstream wet often worked far better than the usual down and across. The late Davy Grant preferred that method to anything else. The other thing I was surprised at the success of was fishing barbless. The first time I tried it was with you at Auchnagatt and when we tried to get them off the hook throwing slack line they stayed firmly attached to the lure, Vivas if I remember correctly. I used barbless hooks on the boat, this was a blessing when I hooked myself in rough weather. Fishing from the shore, the hooked to landing was much improved with a barbless hook. No striking required, not that you were going to do much at that range, the fish hooked itself as soon as it came up against the weight with the pulley rig that we fished. Awfy bonny fleas as usual.


    1. Hi Ally, I have use barbless sometimes and can’t say I land more or less fish because of it. I prefer to fish for brownies barbless due to the number of small fish which grab the fly but I fish with conventional barbed flies for salmon (just to hard losing them!). I never even considered them for sea fishing but now you have sown the idea I will give them a try.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s