€5. A fiver. That’s all I spent to buy a box of old flies and lures on fleabay. There were some photos to accompany the listing and staring at it I homed in on one fly in particular. It was tied with feather which are rarely available these days. The blue elver fly is a pattern now difficult to make as the Vulturine Guinea Fowl which supplies the feathers is a very rare bird, so when I saw this one in the corner of a box in the photos I placed a bid. All I really wanted was that one fly, anything else that I could salvage would be a bonus. Although a little bit of the electric blue barbs were missing from the wing feathers the elver was in good shape and it will be given a swim on Carrowmore next season. Who knows, it could be a good fly for the sea trout on Beltra?
When the package arrived it turned out to contain no fewer than 6 metal tins, one full of old baits and the other five all filled to the brim with flies. I know it is not everyone’s cup of tea but rummaging through forgotten fishing tackle is a great pleasure to me. Finding old fly patterns, using ancient baits after they have been cleaned up and simply handling gear which was once used on famous beats or lonely lochs off the beaten track gives me a lovely feeling of connection with the past. Now the fun could start!
First up was the biggest tin which contained old baits. Now most of them were junk, badly damaged or rusty beyond redemption. However there was an ABU Tylo which could be cleaned up and used again (18 gram, Zebra coloured). There were 4 thin plastic sandeels which I will try out next summer when the mackerel are shoaling in the bay. A pair of Mepps with plastic fish were given a swift clean up and deposited in my box of Pike baits. A small wooden plug, two wooden devons and a big silver wobbling spoon were thrown into my big plastic box marked up ‘REPAIRS’ to be dealt with later. Then there were a pair of enormous spoons, chromed on one side only. I’ve never seen metal spoons this size before and they appear to have been handmade. No swivels or hooks adorned these giants and I really don’t know what use they would have. For now they have been put aside. I’m toying with the idea of painting the concave faces and trying them for pike. Bloody BIG pike! The rest of the contents of the large tin went in the bin.
Next I opened a battered old flat metal fly box which was lined with cork. First impressions were none too positive, there seemed to be nothing exciting inside. But some poking around the 50 or so old patterns in there revealed a handful of hidden gems.
There was a pair of huge Green Highlanders tied with yellow bucktail wings. I wonder which pools this was fished through all those years ago? Flies this size might have seen action in the deep flowing waters of the river Tay or maybe the rock-girt runs on the river Awe. Like most the flies in the boxes these Highlanders were not going to be useful for actual fishing anymore. The colours had faded with the throat hackles in particular showing signs of age.
A big March Brown was in remarkably good condition but the hackle was well worn and was now too short in fibre. Not a pattern I would have any faith in, I plan to salvage the large, bronzed up-eyed single hook. The mottled grey turkey wings can be cut off and used on a Grey Murrough.
Some of the flies were chewed to bits, either by fish or moths! There were broken bends and dulled points aplenty but some of the hooks could be reused once the old dressing had been removed.
Another large fly was lurking in the flat box, it had once been a Beauly Snow Fly, something you don’t a lot of in these days of modern tubes and articulated shanks. Not many patterns boast a blue body. Sadly this example was beyond repair so I took a photograph before wielding the scalpel to free up the big old iron.
Next up was a river Dee favourite of yesteryear, the Akroyd. The simple strip wing made of cinnamon turkey tail and the downward pointing Jungle cock made this fly easy to identify.
The next two tins I opened up contained tube flies. Some were well tied examples of standard patterns but there were a lot of homemade efforts mixed in with them. On the plus side, many of the tubes were adorned with Jungle Cock cheeks. Some were a bit tatty but still useful after a bit of trimming here and there.
I got some Veniard ‘slipstream’ tubes out of this lot, the plastic ones with the hidden hook connection point on the end. They are on the long side but I will tie up some flies on them. There was a lot of good hair which I salvaged too, using it to make a variety of salmon patterns. Then there was the embossed tinsel which had been used as a rib on some of the tubes. I carefully unwound this and then used it to make some Delphi’s. I’ve never landed a salmon on a Delphi but it works well for sea trout around here.
A triple hook ‘demon’ type arrangement had been residing in one of the round tins. Three size 10’s, the one on the tail an eyeless double, were joined with stiff wire. Gold metal tinsel bodies on all three hooks was actually in really good condition so I kept the dressed bodies and clipped off the orange cock hackle wing. I was reminded of a dressing I had seen years ago so I unearthed my old Tom Stewart books and found the fly I was after, something called a ‘Mary Ann’. I made a small change to the pattern in Tom’s book and swapped out the red cheeks for a pair of salvaged Jungle Cock. I’m quite chuffed with the result!
Two more old tobacco tins remained. More dodgy old flies were in residence inside them, again a mixture of trout and salmon patterns from long ago. I recognised many of them but some had me baffled.
Half-a-dozen nicely tied palmers caught my eye and I plan to try them next season. They are tied on wonderful sneck hooks! I can see them working on a windy day on the lough, ploughing through the waves leaving a tempting wake for the trout to see.
Judging by the range of patterns I suspect the previous owner had a long angling career and he or she fished mainly on big Scottish rivers. The predominance of feather winged flies leads me to suspect they date from the 1950’s, around the time that tube flies and hair wings started to appear. They (or someone close to them) also tied flies as many of the patterns were non-standard and some were roughly tied. The trout patterns suggested he/she also fished on Scottish lochs too. In amongst the bigger flies there were a sprinkling of tiny doubles, size 16 and smaller. These reminded me of similar sized flies which were so popular in the North East when fishing for sea trout. Had this angler fished the lower Dee or Ythan?
I ended up with about 100 flies which were too worn to use but were tied on good hooks, mainly salmon singles and doubles. I’ll work my way through them, stripping off the old dressing and reusing the hooks to make new flies. Another 30 or so flies were in good order and are now in my fly boxes. I rescued around 80 Jungle Cock eyes a pair of kingfisher feathers, lots of bucktail, a little bit of bronze mallard and the embossed tinsel. Not a bad haul for a fiver!