Monkey business

Fly fishing is a strange sport when you think about it. We deliberately set out to make the process of catching fish as difficult as possible so we get the maximum pleasure when we actually hook something in the face of the overwhelming odds we have placed upon ourselves. I am sure we all agree that the occasional red letter day is welcome, but if we hauled out bags of fish every time we went fishing, or if every trout/salmon we hooked stayed on the line and never came off at the net we would rapidly take up another sport. Imagine soccer if the goals were 30 yards wide and 20 feet tall, no one would go to watch a game if it was too easy to score. We humans are an odd bunch.

Taking the soccer analogy further, we anglers also delight in dropping our star centre forwards, ie our flies, in a very cavalier manner. Each season some new ‘wonder fly’ using synthetics which were probably invented for astronaut’s jock straps, appears on the scene and last season’s prodigies are relegated to the spare fly box or unloaded on ebay. When I was knee high to a grasshopper the killing fly was the Grey Monkey. Nowadays this great pattern is almost forgotten, which is a shame as it still fools trout. So let’s take a look at this venerable old campaigner and try to give it a new lease of life.

My introduction to the Grey Monkey took place in Somer’s tackle shop in Aberdeen. Not the fine establishment in the west end that is doing such great business these days. No, this was in the old shop at the end of Thistle Street, run by Jim Somer (may he rest in peace) and his side-kick Horace. I was in my mid-teens and as keen as mustard to improve my fishing. My fly tying was pretty good and Jim asked me if I would tie some flies for the shop, an opportunity I grabbed with both sweaty paws. Soon I was making Greenwell’s, Dunkelds and the like, mainly on size 16 double hooks for use on the local sea trout. Jim would give me the materials and tell me the patterns required. One day, not long after I had started this ‘job’, Jim gave me some rather odd materials and explained he needed some Grey Monkeys. What the hell were they!

Somers Fishing Tackle shop on Bon Accord Street in Aberdeen

It turned out that the Grey Monkey was THE pattern that season and they were disappearing from the shop as fast as Jim could buy them in. It is an easy fly to tie with one exception, the Jungle Cock cheeks on each side of the wings. Back in those days though Jungle Cock was impossible to come by, so I was tasked with making them without cheeks. A few days later I dropped in the couple of dozen Monkeys and received a repeat order. So it continued for the next 3 or 4 seasons as the GM seemed to be the only fly Aberdeen anglers wanted to use. I confess to being heartily sick of tying those damn Monkeys.

The odd name is derived from the material used to make the body. Apparently the original dressing asked for fur from a grey monkey to be dubbed on to the silk but this, quite rightly, is unobtainable so some substitute fur dyed light grey does the job in these more enlightened times.

The reason for bringing up this fly when I live and fish in Ireland now is that it works well here too when the Grey Boy buzzer is hatching. I mentioned earlier about omitting the cheeks but over here I regards the Jungle Cock as vital.

To construct the fly start by securing some yellow tying silk behind the eye of a number 10 or 12 hook. Prepare and tie in a grey cock hackle and continue to wrap the silk towards the bend, stopping opposite the barb.

The tails are made of a few fibres of teal breast feather and after catching them in cut and tie in a length of gold coloured floss silk. At the same time catch in a piece of oval silver tinsel.

Wind the tying silk towards the eye and stop at a point opposite the hook point and then wind the floss to make a tag; tie in and remove the waste end of floss.

Dub the grey fur thinly and wind up to just behind the eye, leaving sufficient space for the hackle, wings, cheeks and head. I don’t like a heavy body on this pattern, so don’t overdo the dubbing.

Run the oval tinsel up the body in open turns, tie in and snip of the waste end. Now wind the hackle, about 3 turns is sufficient. Prepare matching slips of blae coloured primaries and tie in wet fly style. I like Jay for this pattern as it is lighter than other wings such as moorhen or starling.

Now we come to the cheeks, a pair of matching Jungle cock are prepared and tied in by doubling the stems back to stop them pulling out. Trim the waste and form a neat head, then whip finish and varnish.

Fished in the traditional wet fly manner from a drifting boat and cast to rising fish this fly will work from April right through to the end of the season. I have toyed with the idea of tying some on bigger hooks than the 10 – 14’s I normally use and trying a size 8 during the mayfly hatch.

There is also a green version of the monkey, tied originally with fur from a green monkey no less. Now you can use dyed substitutes and green highlander shade seems to be the right colour. I have never used the Green Monkey but it should work during a hatch of olives you would imagine.

Link to Somers Fishing Tackle video:


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