Happily married

Fashions change. Clothes which were de-rigour only a few short months ago now languish in a bin liner awaiting the next trip to the charity shop. This is not always a bad thing, those ridiculous flared trousers of my own youth are not mourned (and no, there is no photographic evidence of me so attired).

It’s the same with flies, yesterday’s killer patterns fade away into obscurity, their past successes quickly forgotten and their place in the fly box now occupied with the latest poly/glitzy/foamy killer. A Luddite at heart, I find this sad and I like to fish with the old patterns  from time to time. As you all know, I love simple spider patterns made of little more than a hackle, real silk thread and maybe a pinch of fur. The recent resurgence in interest in the old spiders has been both heart-warming and instructive. As more anglers tied and use the spiders the more their versatility become apparent and the range of applications where the can be effectively used broadened significantly.

Now let me float an idea past you. I think some of the old, mixed wing patterns deserve an occasional swim. Yes I know they are time-consuming to tie. I get the disappointment when, after only a couple of fish the wings are reduced to a mangled shambles. I certainly empathise with you all when that damn thread snaps just as you are tightening it down to secure the oh-so-carefully built wings in position. Surely those built wings are only for show at fly tying competitions these days? Well I beg to differ. I love using mixed winged flies and at times they can be pretty good at tempting the fish. Would a modern fly catch more fish? Probably, but that’s not the whole story. Keeping traditions alive in our sport is a good thing in my book.

I don’t have boxes full of patterns by Kelson nor do I possess a range of exotic feathers garnered from nearly extinct species. Just a few pairs of dyed swan of goose, available from Veniard at very little cost, that’s all you require. That and some imagination goes a long way to creating some variations of standard flies. So here are a couple of patterns to test your tying skills and add some tradition to a corner of your fly box.

Let’s start with a pattern for brown trout. The Welshman’s Button has been copied so many times over the years that you could tie on a different fly every day of the season and still not use them all. I use this one on days when there is a high wind and a good wave on the loughs. I would wager that is no use at all in a flat calm but, a rolling wave hides many indiscretions and this lad does the business in a force 5 or above.

Hook: I like a size 10

Tail: a golden pheasant topping dyed red or orange

Tying silk: Olive

Rib: fine oval gold tinsel

Body: make this from golden olive seals fur

Body hackles: a golden olive and a red cock hackle palmered together

Throat hackle: Natural blue jay

Underwing: paired slips of Woodcock secondary

Overwing: matching slips of green, yellow and orange swan or goose (in that order from the bottom).

Keep the slips of swan or Goose narrow and don’t hide the Woodcock. Does this fly look like some sort of winged Golden Olive – yes, I think it does, but no harm in that.

Now we will take a look at a pattern for sea trout. The faithful old Teal, Blue and Silver is an excellent fly for fresh trout. After a day or two in the river though they begin to lose their rashness and with each successive day they grow more and more wary. This variation is something I tied up many years ago to chuck at sea trout when the TB&S begins to lose its charm and it still catches sea trout to this day.

Hook: from a size 6 all the way down to as small as you think you can tie!

Tail: GP tippets

Rib: fine silver wire

Body: flat silver tinsel

Hackle: bright green cock hackle, slightly long in fibre

Wings: Yellow, green and blue swan or goose. Teal over the swan, not too much though, you don’t want to hide your handiwork! I tie the wing slightly on the long side too.

Cheeks: Jungle Cock (optional)

hackle, tail, rib and tinsel have all been tied in and the silk returned to a little behind the eye
the green hackle has now been wound


3 colours of goose


the slips of goose cut and laid out ready to be married


The goose positioned on top of the hook and tied in with a soft loop


Narrow slips of teal on each side then a whip finish…………

Swapping the green hackle for the Cambridge blue one and adding the married swan creates a lovely fly, one which the sea trout seem to appreciate. Here in the west of Ireland the sea trout tend to be small and you must accept that your lovely creation will be well and truly ‘flittered’ by small lads in no time at all. But this pattern, nestled in the scissors of a 3 pounder is a thing of untold beauty, so persevere with it.

Not convinced yet? Imagine this – it’s winter, outside the wind batters the windows and the driving rain/hail/snow makes any thoughts of venturing outside seem like insanity. The fire is on in your fishing den, it’s warm in here and the bright light illuminates the bare hook in your vice. There may be a whisky in a tumbler within reach or possible just a strong coffee freshly brewed in your favourite mug. The door is shut, barring the rest of the world and you have a precious hour to yourself. 60 minutes to indulge in your guilty pleasure of fly tying. Now wouldn’t you rather spent some time lovingly crafting a beautiful married wing pattern or just whipping a piece of plastic/foam/glitz to the shank of that hook? I know which I would rather make!





2 thoughts on “Happily married

  1. Ha, I was commenting on the old Trad wets on my own blog a few weeks back. I came across a box of old winged wets some dating back to my initial forays into fly fishing back in the late 70s and early 80s. I decided to give them a swim on a couple if recent outings. I caught fish on a Butcher and on a Grouse and Claret (though the latter proved to be something of a Perch magnet). The old flies still catch (why shouldn’t they?) it is merely us anglers whose taste has changed, not the troots. Great post.


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