Fathach glas (Green giant)

The fly I am writing about today is not especially unique. Indeed, many of you reading this post possibly have one or two similar patterns in your box of dry mayflys. What singles this one out is one thing only – it’s SIZE. Let me transport you back in time to the crystal clear waters of Lough Carra, many seasons ago……..

Drifting gently down the shoreline one May afternoon we came across some fish feeding on hatching mayfly. ‘We’ consisted of Ben, my usual boat partner and myself. It had been a slow morning for us with little in the way of action but it was a lovely day to be out and about on the water. A spring day on Carra is always good for the soul. The sprinkling of fly which had started to appear raised our hopes for sport and I swapped the cast of wets for a solitary dry (I forget the pattern). A trout rose followed by another, then another. Tensions rose perceptibly as the trout grew more confident and broke the surface to grab the poor fly as the hatched. Here we were, in every fly fisher’s dream.


As we drifted I covered first one, then a second fish but without response from either. Change the fly! The hatch can end very quickly or the trout get spooked and go down, so if the fly is ignored after a couple of fish have seen it I tend to change the fly rather than persevere. The day had metamorphosed from lazily drifting and stroking the top of the water with calm, ill-defined casting to one of high tension and focussed thinking. Were the fish hitting emergers or duns on the surface? Would we be better to set up on a drift closer to the reeds? Wulff or Fan-wing? Is that leader long enough? Maybe I should add a new tippet? To a non-fisher the detail we fly fishers consider must seem like a form of self-inflicted mental torture but the unravelling of the complexities of a day’s fishing are fundamental to our enjoyment of the sport. I tied on a dry version of a Lough Arrow but it was ignored. So was a Royal Wulff and a Yellow Fan-wing. And still the trout rose, some in a steady, no nonsense roll over the fly. Others, probably small trout, splashing violently as they engulfed the naturals. I was beginning to struggle and the pressure that we all apply inwardly when surrounded by rising trout grew exponentially with each natural rise within casting range.

Why I decided to tie on the Green Wulff is not very clear in my memory. It was not the most obvious choice as I had tied a couple up with Lough Mask in mind and in particular for use on a windy day. Yet here I was fishing a smallish ripple on Carra and yet the green monster called out to me. Like a football manager deep in the second half with the desperate need to find a goal I reached out to the biggest lad on the bench. My equivalent of a six-foot-five-inch centre forward was a humungous Green Wulff. Tied on a size 6 longshank and sprouting squirrel hair wings and tails that made it look even bigger. This was an Fathach Glas – a green giant!

‘What are you trying next?’ asked Ben. I paused before answering, trying to judge if he will be mildly amused or simply turn the boat around and head for the nearest mental asylum where I could be incarcerated for my own safety. ‘Green Wulff’. ‘A big one’. He glanced in my direction then did a double take when the size of my latest offering became obvious. Now Ben has seen a lot on these Irish loughs so nothing much fazes him. ‘Worth a lash’ was all he said but I could tell he was trying to grasp my reasoning for trying this oddball.

I made the first cast, or rather I tried to make the first cast with the Wulff. Damn you physics! The air resistance of big dries can be difficult to overcome and huge hairy Wulffs are right up there among the most awkward flies to present. It took me a few minutes of flailing to find my timing and alter the loop sufficiently to project the fly about 15 yards out in front of me. That would have to do for now. I was feeling a tad self-conscious about this now, a mad yoke of a fly and obvious difficulty casting it out. And now it was sitting on the surface it looked even bigger! It dwarfed the naturals around it and looked absolutely nothing like the creatures I was trying to imitate. Maybe I should change back to something more normal.

Then, in one of those sublime moments which you never forget, it happened. I saw the whole thing clearly and even now, all these years later the picture is fresh and vivid in my mind. The trout broke the surface perhaps a couple of inches abaft the Wulff and opened his mouth to engulf it as he turned down again. My timing was exquisite, the duration of pause perfect for once and the line tightened as the hook found lodgement in his scissors. All of this happened because I was in shock at the sight of the take. I could hardly believe a modestly sized trout had swallowed the enormous fly. After boating the trout I checked the fly and it was undamaged but sodden. Drying it proved to be the next challenge as it had shipped a lot of water and took plenty of blotting and blowing to get it dry enough for a re-application of floatant. More unsightly whipping and hauling finally landed the fly in front of the boat again and I settled back to digest what had just happened.

Not even a couple of minutes had passed when the whole process repeated itself and a second trout was plunging to the depths of the lough with the Wulff firmly attached. By the time the rise was over I had taken five decent trout, all on the green giant. I missed some others but in general the takes were very confident and the hook holds very good. In my limited experience this is very unusual when fishing large mayflys on the surface – lots of splashy rises, misconnections and poor hook-holds seem to be commonplace when using big dries.

Word spread like wildfire and everyone I bumped into seemed to know that I had had a good day on Carra with some sort of green dry fly. I tied up some more and handed them around the fishers who were interested. Amazed laughter was the normal reaction and I could see that most of the lads were not going to embarrass themselves by trying out this ungainly monster. Those that did were just as pleasantly surprised as I was that fine day on Lough Carra. For those of you who make your own flies here is the dressing:

Hook: size 6 long-shank (if you really can’t face the embarrasment of using something this big then an 8 long shank works too)

Tying silk: yellow or olive 6/0 – it needs to be strong for tightly binding the slippery squirrel hair

Tail and spent wings: grey squirrel tail hair dyed bright green. The wings are tied semi-spent. Watch out for tying the wings too long (an easy mistake to make with a long shank hook). Make them barely the same length as the body of the fly and not the length of the hook. If you make the wings too long it makes the finished fly all but impossible to cast.

Green squirrel hair is easily available, Veniards is good though

Body: mix of 50% green seal’s fur and 50% hare’s body fur dyed olive. Taper the body so that it thickens at the thorax

Rib: oval gold tinsel or clear nylon (the original used the tinsel but I think the nylon looks better)

Hackle: Grizzle cock dyed bright green. I clip the fibres underneath so the fly can sit in the surface film.

A good few of the locals around Mayo have one of these beauties in their fly box, and yes, they have caught trout on them too! I have heard it has been the downfall of fish on Mask and Corrib as well as Carra. I carry a couple around with me just in case, one fine May afternoon when the greendrakes are on the surface, history will repeat itself.

I start the tying silk at the bend so that there is a layer of silk along the shank
The hair for the wings is tied in over the eye then split with figure-of-eight turns to form a pair of semi-spent wings
Form the tail from a bunch of green dyed squirrel too
cut the waste ends in steps to give a smooth body shape
body dubbed and wound, then ribbed with nylon
Green dyed grizzle
Hackle wound and head formed. just a drop of varnish on the head now to finish the giant off



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