fly tying

Ginger peachy

Funny how memories come back to you across the years at the strangest of times. I know one or two of you who follow this blog reside in the North East of Scotland and if you are of a certain age you will probably remember an announcer on the telly called David Bennett. He used to round off the late evening shift with his catch phrase – ‘A ginger peachy goodnight to you all’. I was doing a small bit of dyeing this morning when David’s words came back to me. I was trying to get a colour which I could see in my mind’s eye but just couldn’t put a name to it. A light tan/ peach kinda shade, or even a ‘ginger peachy’ hue!

All the dyes and associated gear were fished out and the process started. I have written before on how I do this so I won’t bore you all with the same information. Here are a couple of tips though that may help you if you try this at home though.

The ginger cape immersed in the dye

Firstly, I like to wash the feathers on a solution of Venpol and I gently heat the water. I think this helps to clean more of the grease and dirt, from the capes especially.

Next, I organise the washed feathers into groups if I am dyeing more than one colour. This way I can chuck all the different feathers which are to be dyed the same colour into the pot at the same time.

When you have added the dye put the small canister of dye back into the packet. Veniard dyes are very good but the little grey container does not have any markings on it so it is easy to mix them up if you are not careful!

I add the vinegar just before the feathers reach the required depth of colour as I think the colour darkens a little once the mordant is added.

Back to the ginger peachy colour. I used a very pale ginger cock cape and dyed it in as strong solution of Veniards peach dye (I chucked some French partridge hackles in at the same time). The resulting colour is an interesting one, very different from the standard peach you get if using a pure white cape. I have a notion this colour should work on the small lakes around here. I have tried Orkney Peach colours on these waters before but they were not particularly successful. To my mind the peach needs to be more muted and, well, ‘gingery’.

BEFORE

The pale ginger cape, washed and ready to dye

AFTER

While I was at it I dyed some other colours, a nice Green Olive and then my favourite for river trout flies – Brown Olive.

Ginger Peach, Green Olive and Brown Olive capes
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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, salmon fishing, trolling, trout fishing, wetfly

2019

With Christmas behind us now and the old year only hours left to run my thoughts are firmly fixed on the 2019 season. What will it bring? This used to be a time of mounting excitement but the collapse of fish stocks in and around Ireland mean there is more trepidation rather than anticipation these days.

A drift on Beltra

Looking back over many years, my angling year fitted into neat sections with the focus on wild brown trout and Atlantic salmon from February right through until the end of September. Only when the game fishing ended would I make any concerted effort to go sea fishing and piking was something I only did once a year. How things have changed! Lack of water early in the season reduced the rivers to a trickle of cold water and the trout went into hiding. Fly life was pretty much non-existent, so the joys of fishing a hatch of duns or a fall of spinners never materialise these days. Salmon too have become scarce with even the once prolific runs of summer grilse a now distant memory.

The Ridge pool on the Moy

Much as I try, it is hard to be optimistic about salmon fishing in 2019. Salmon fishers are used to disappointment, it’s part of our DNA. Long hours on the water without so much a tug on the line are the norm and we all accept this as part and parcel of our chosen sport. Dwindling stocks have turned the empty hours into empty weeks, months and seasons for most of us now. I know many good fishers who put in the hard hours over the past couple of seasons but failed to even hook a fish, let alone land one. Why should 2019 be any better when nothing has been done to help the salmon? There are more fish farms with all their pollution and sea lice. Industrial fishing continues unchecked, wiping out the food sources for the fish. Changing weather patterns seem to be having a detrimental effect of the fish and cycle of high/low water has been replaced with flood/drought. I fear another poor salmon season is about to start. Let’s hope I am wrong.

I’m hoping for more like this next season!

The long, painful drought of last spring and summer, combined with a near total lack of fly life ruined my trouting season on the rivers. I need to be more flexible this coming year, look for new venues and try new methods to winkle out the odd fish. So much will depend on the weather of course but the loss of natural flies means the trout must be feeding on other food forms such as small fish and crustaceans.

On the loughs I am planning on doing more trolling and have geared up accordingly. Not my favourite pastime by any means but when faced with otherwise hopeless conditions I needed to have a ‘plan B’.

I am also thinking about doing more Pike fishing if the trout and salmon are a wash out again. This will be a stretch for me as I have never really enjoyed Pike angling but I suppose any fishing is better than none at all. Again, I have invested in a range of lures and will give them a swim when the water warms up sufficiently.

So as this years ebbs away I still have much to be thankful for and a lot to look forward to. I hope the same applies to each of you who have taken the time to read some of my ramblings on this blog. See you all next year!

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sea angling, shore fishing

Recycled reels

In a previous post I discussed my odd obsession for Winfield multiplier reels. I had a large bag of spare parts in a drawer which I have been meaning to investigate for a long time. Being on holiday now I had some time on my hands so I emptied out the bag and poked around to see if I could build a complete reel from the parts.

Because I am frequently messing about with old tackle I keep a tool box filled with the tools I need in the fishing room. There is nothing fancy in this box, just the usual range of screwdrivers, small spanners, punches and files but it is nice to have them all in one place so I know where everything is. The same goes for the assorted cleaning agents and lubricants.

There were a number of parts from old Bassfisher multipliers so I started cleaning them up and laid out all the good bits in order. One of the main drives was busted but the other one was in good condition after it was cleaned and greased. Frame parts were cleaned up using a bath of vinegar and scrubbed with an old toothbrush. I pepped up the vinegar by adding a couple of teaspoons of baking powder as this seems to speed up the process of removing the gunk. The cross bars had mostly shed their chrome finish but the brass underneath will cope with all I plan to use this old composite reel for. The end result, while far from perfect, is a serviceable reel.

The completed Bassfisher

Next, I attempted to make one reel from what appeared to be the parts of at least three different shore caster/surf casters. An end plate and drive had to be completely stripped and various parts replaced. The wrong screws had been used by someone in the past so that gave me a few headaches as I searched for the correct ones and cut down a couple of oversized screws to make up the balance. The drag didn’t work so that had to be taken apart and different washers fitted. The anti-reverse spring was missing but I had a spare so I popped that in.

There was no ratchet on the opposite end plate and this is a problem as the ratchet button is riveted in. I had a near complete end plate with a ratchet from a Surf caster and they are the same size so I used that instead. Once again, the finished reel was fully functional and will live in the back of the car as a spare in case of emergency. I will give them both a final lubrication and clean then spool some new line on to them in the morning.

Why bother? That’s probably what you are all thinking as you read this post. You can buy a cheap reel for a few Euro these days and i could have saved myself the hassle and cursing as I spent an afternoon messing about with the old bits of 1970’s reels. The thing is that I get enjoyment from little projects like this, making something useful from a pile of old junk.

The next day……………….

There was an elderly and much abused Woolworths levelwind reel in with the rest of my junk so I decided to try to resurrect this one too. There were obviously some parts missing and one end plate was badly cracked. The reel would barely turn and it emitted a horrible grinding noise when you did get the handle to turn. Removing the spool end float the cause of the noise became obvious. The cracked end plate had been allowing salt water directly into the bearing, causing the grease to emulsify and the bearing to dry out. The bearing was trashed.

Emulsified grease in the spool bearing

The ‘bag of bits’ came to the rescue and I had a near complete end plate and bearing assembly which I could simply swap into place. Cosmetically it meant the reel now had one side black and the other green but I am guessing the fish won’t mind a jot.

cracked end plate

Next I took a look at the drive and was horrified to see the previous owner had smathered the whole inside of the reel with thick red grease
(‘smather’ seems to be a west of Ireland word meaning to cover in excess). I needed lighter fuel and a bit of effort to remove the worst of this grease then I put the drive back together again.

Talk about over-greasing!!!
Despite the huge quantity of grease the bearing here is for the bin.

The level wind itself was also chocked with thick grease and required stripping down and cleaning. When I finally got it cleaned I found damage to the shaft so that had to be binned. Once again, I had a spare which popped right into place. Re-assembly was straightforward and in a few minutes I had a perfectly functioning reel.

the drawer full of old reels and the famous blue bag of bits
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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Bloody Dabbler

On holiday now so I am busy tying flies for the upcoming season. I have lots of ideas floating around in my head and one of them took shape this morning in the form of a Bloody Dabbler. This is loosely based on the Bloody Butcher, a great old pattern which used to work for me in either the standard feather winged form or busked on a longshank 8 and fished off fast sinker at night for sea trout.

I made the body of the fly from flat silver tinsel body, ribbed with fine oval silver and a palmered hen hackle. This hackle came from a hen cape I dyed flourescent scarlet. Tails of cock pheasant, a cloak of bronze mallard and a pair of jungle cock cheeks were added and the head was formed from the fire orange tying silk. I have high hopes this one will work when the pin fry are on the go in June/July.

I have been reading some ideas from Rob Denson and in particular his use of hen hackles for palmering dabblers and bumbles. This gives a very different look to these flies and I like the idea they will move better in the water than our normal stiff cock hackles.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Western Lakes Dabbler

Here is a dabbler pattern I created some years ago to use during the mayfly hatch on Lough Carra. It’s proved to be a consistent killer and has taken trout from the other lakes too, so I can vouch for its effectiveness.

A calm start to a day on Lough Carra

I used to keep a boat at Moorehall on Lough Carra and enjoyed some great fishing on that lovely water but these days the fishing on Carra has deteriorated to the point where I no longer leave a boat there. It’s easy for me to get a loan of a boat on any of the local lakes so I fish Carra occasionally these days when I hear the trout are rising. 

Carra has long been famous as a lake with a massive hatch of mayfly. Sadly, there are fewer and fewer mayfly each season now but the fish still respond to a well fished artificial. I prefer Carra on a day of big winds when large waves roll the length of the lake. Big winds seem to stir the bigger trout in my experience. This pattern was designed to be fished in just such conditions.

Tying silk: brown

Hook: heavy wet fly, size 8

Tails: Cock Pheasant tail fibres, about half-a-dozen

Rib: thick brown silk. I use rod whipping silk which has a nice colour and is very strong.

Body: natural seals fur

Body Hackle: a dark red game cock hackle, palmered

Shoulder hackle: a grey partridge dyed golden olive or yellow

Cloak: well marked bronze mallard tied all round

As you can see, this is a simple dabbler style pattern and it is easy to tie. To my eye the natural seals fur is an excellent match to the ivory coloured body of the naturals. The trout certainly approve and it has been a very consistent pattern over the 20 odd years I and my friends have been using it.

The natural fur
Heavy rod wrapping thread for the rib
Tapered dubbed body

I recommend that you fish this fly as part of a three fly team. It has caught me trout in all positions on the leader but if pressed I would put it on the tail in preference to the droppers. Many times I have boated trout on a wide range of patterns on the same drift, so exact copies are not usually required in a big wave. The secret is to find the fish where they are feeding and this is not always easy. Experience plays a large part in finding the trout but you cover a lot of water in a big wind so keep flogging away safe in the knowledge you are going to cover fish somewhere on your drifts.

The only drawback with this pattern is the weakness of the pheasant tail fibres. These break off easily and the resulting tail-less fly is not effective. Try replacing the pheasant tail fibres with some moose main hair – it is much tougher and longer lasting.

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, sea angling, sea trout fishing, trout fishing

Why do we go fishing?

Many anglers and writers have addressed this question over the years but I thought I would chip in with my own thoughts on the matter. People who have never fished frequently fail to see what all the fuss is about and it can be hard for us anglers to articulate exactly what we see in our sport. The image of the dedicated angler, alone on the bank in all weathers, usually catching nothing or at best the occasional slimy, smelly fish are firmly stuck in the national consciousness. Anglers are seen as either working class coarse anglers, all maggots and flat caps or toffs with split cane rods and garbed in Barbour jackets. I personally don’t know anybody who fits either of those outdated stereotypes!

For me, fishing is about communing with the natural world. Being part of the natural order. Immersing oneself totally in a world older than our own. As a kid I used to think it was all about catching fish, bent rods and screaming reels. A blank day was a disaster and I fished very hard to avoid the ignominy of returning home fishless. The basic hunter gatherer was near the surface with me and I really loved the actual ‘catching’ part of the sport. That excitement when a good fish took the fly or bait was like a drug to me and the long, seemingly empty hours between those hallowed moments were the price I had to pay. Yet just under the surface there was an altogether deeper set of emotions which kept me returning to the river or sea. A longing to be immersed in nature. I strongly suspect this is a key driver in many fishers so let us examine this in greater detail.

the Claddy river before the dam

There are lots of pursuits which take us humans back into the natural world. Some of us live in the countryside either through choice or birth. Other work in the great outdoors, making their living on the seas or from the very land itself. For these people the countryside is the backdrop to their every day, they cannot help but be immersed in the ever-changing dramas of the natural world. For the rest of us, time in the countryside is usually at a premium. Let’s just take a moment to let that sink in – modern life has moved the vast majority of us humans into towns and cities and away from the natural world. We possibly experience nature more through the medium of television rather than first hand. Watching David Attenborough may be highly entertaining and informative but it cannot replace actually feeling the full force of nature. Angling brings us back to nature.

The recent upsurge in ‘urban’ fishing is to be applauded as it provides an introduction to angling for countless thousands of predominately younger, city dwelling anglers. I have never been drop-shotting on an industrial canal but it does look like fun. A world removed from my playgrounds like Lough Conn or the small spate rivers of western Ireland maybe but if it encourages young people to pick up a rod and try to catch a fish then it is no bad thing in my book. Does this negate my argument that it is the interface with nature that attract us to the water’s edge? I don’t think so as there is a common thread here – the water itself. Be it a rushing mountain stream or a concrete channel through an industrial estate, if there are fish swimming in it the water will always keep us anglers coming back. That natural element and all its mysteries is a world we only barely understand. The lives of our quarry and all the small creatures therein fascinate us. Nature, it’s all about nature.

There needs to be an acknowledgement that actually catching something is a huge driver when it comes to getting out of a warm bed in the early hours to brave inclement weather. A bent rod is always in the thoughts of any angler, that glorious moment when battle is joined with a good fish. The scenery suddenly fades when you set the hook, the glories of the natural world take a back seat until the fish is safely in the net. Yes, the catch is part of the picture. I am guessing that most anglers were mad to catch fish as youngsters and as the years roll by the need to catch a fish at any cost diminishes somewhat. Possibly the competition anglers buck this trend as they live for catching more than the other guys, but the majority of us lose that edge, that necessity of bringing the corpse of a fish home with us.

this one was around 7 pounds

A coloured fish about to go back

The advent of C&R shows us that the catch is not the main driver for us anglers. We still spend huge sums of hard-earned cash on the latest tackle, travel inordinate distances, brave inclement weather and then return any fish we do happen to catch back to the water unharmed. That all sounds like a definition of madness! Yet the basics of being a part of nature remain the same. The assault on our senses which accompany every fishing trip combine to provide experiences which resonate with something deep inside us. The push of a swollen river in spate, the high, blue skies of August, mysterious tangled vegetation, the stars shimmering over an October beach or the Atlantic swell under the keel. Evocative sights, sounds and smells which connect us with a common past, long-lost but still remembered.

Doo Lough

Of course there is more to it than just the reconnection with nature. The company of good friends, the craik, learning new skills, the joys of boat-handling and all the myriad other facets of our sport are part of the mix. You could sum it up by saying ‘its complicated’.

Boats at Cushlough

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Blae and Black

There are some flies in every angler’s box that they have next to total faith in. Those ‘fail-me-never’ patterns we reach for either when nothing else is working or specific conditions demand their use. A big brown Murrough late at night in July on Lough Carra, a size 14 wet Wickhams fancy in a fast run when I have failed to match the hatch during an evening rise, a red-headed Silver Dabbler when the trout are on pin fry………….. the list goes on. Near the top of my list is a small fly we all know but may not realise its effectiveness – the Blae and Black. Let’s take a closer look at this unassuming wee fly.

I believe the Blae and Black is a Scottish pattern by birth. ‘Blae’ to we Scots means a flat grey colour which perfectly describes the shade of the wings. Just like the ‘Mallard’, ‘Grouse’ or ‘Teal’ series of flies there is an extensive range of ‘Blae’ winged patterns but none ever reached the levels of popularity of the Blae and Black. An old fly, over the years it has been used and abused by generations of us anglers. The original is still the best in my opinion but there are many options for changing this fly. Here is a breakdown of how it should be tied.

The Hook

Most writers seem to suggest the Blae and Black can be tied on hooks ranging in size from 10 to 14. I beg to differ about this. For me the Blae and Black is always a small pattern, size 16 is by far the best in my humble opinion. A 14 has produced a smattering of trout for me over the years but it is a size 16 (or smaller) which mainly does the business for me. With such a small hook you need to think carefully about the hook design. On waters where the fish are small you can get away with lighter wire hooks but this is dangerous where bigger trout might be encountered. I personally use heavyweight size 16’s for this fly.

Back in Scotland the Blae and Black was often tied on wee doubles and bloody effective they were too! Early season outings on lochs and reservoirs would inevitably see me fishing this pattern if there were dark buzzers hatching. I never see them being used here in Ireland but there is no reason why tiny size 16 doubles would not work. I would not dream of using wee doubles where there are populations of small trout or worse still salmon parr/smolts. The wee double bites deep and should only be used where you expect good sized trout. The nice thing about the double hooked fly is its ability to sink quickly. That alone can make the difference some days.

The Tail

A wisp of red on this well chewed size 18

On the original fly the red tail was made from fibres of a red feather taken from a Scarlet Ibis, Eudocimus Ruber. These gorgeous birds inhabit coastal regions in South America. The trade in Ibis feathers has long gone and instead we now use a few fibres of swan or goose dyed scarlet instead. I have a dislike for ibis subs which are too ‘pinky’ in shade, I want a strong, vibrant red for the tail. While it is easy to dye some white feathers yourself the cost of a packet of dyed goose is only  a few cents. the same material is used for the tails on a huge range of traditional wet flies too.

A Scarlet ibis. Like so many other rare and beautiful birds they were shot so their feathers could be used for making ladies hats and as a by product they found their way into Victorian flies.

Another option for the tail is a short length of floss silk dyed red. Modern tyers also take this one step further and use Glo-brite no. 4 floss to form the tail.

 

The Rib

the silver wire rib tied in at the hook bend

You have a couple of options for the rib, either fine oval silver tinsel or silver wire. I am a huge fan of oval silver tinsel usually but for this pattern I generally favour the fine silver wire instead. It just ‘looks’ better to me on the very small hooks. An important point is to make sure you wind the wire rib counter to the direction of the floss silk wraps of the body. This makes sure the rib sits on top of the floss and doesn’t dig into to it.

The Body

I guess you could use a lot of different materials to form the body but I stick to the old traditional floss silk. I like the shiny nature of the silk and it makes a nice slim body, just like the buzzers the fly represents. If your floss is too thick then split it down, you don’t want a bulky body lads! Floss used to be made from raw silk and older tyers may have a spool or two of the real stuff still in their kit. These days rayon floss is the one you buy and it is just as shiny as the real silk.

The Hackle

a small dyed black hen hackle, just the job!

Cock or hen? That is the question. Me, I  personally plump for a hen hackle but I will concede this is purely a personal preference and that the fish probably don’t give two hoots.

Winding the hackle before the wings are applied is the norm but I sometimes tie the fly with the hackle wound in front of the wings and it looks good. I insist on winding the hackle, none of your ‘beard hackles here please. Don’t go overboard when winding the hackle, a couple of turns is ideal.

 

The Wings

Starling. For me it has to be starling. Other options include Jay (lighter and difficult to work with) or Waterhen (darker but still look good).

Now do you tie the wings inside or out? By this I mean do the wings have the shiny side facing outwards or inwards? For me there is no right or wrong way and I tie both.

 

Variations

Where do I start!

  1. Add a small red fur thorax
  2. Make the wings out of a pair of pure white hackle tips
  3. Use tippets for the tail instead of the ibis subs
  4. Add a pair of tiny Jungle cock as cheeks
  5. Use gold wire for the rib instead of silver
  6. Swap the black hen hackle for a badger hackle

Blae and Silver

A small red thorax tied under the wings

The list goes on but each one just takes you further away from the original and best version. The Blae and Silver is the same fly but with a solid silver tinsel body. Then again you can veer off into the world of Saltoun’s with ginger hackles.

As I said earlier, there is a whole range of blae-winged flies to tie. Different coloured bodies and hackles produce flies for a wide range of occasions. Probably the Blae and Silver is the most common. I’ve caught trout on a Blae and Ginger before now too.

How to fish the Blae and Black

One of the beauties of this fly is its sheer versatility. It works on rivers as well as on still waters and it can be very effective when any of the small black naturals are hatching or falling on to the water. When occupying a position on a wet fly leader I prefer to place it on the tail. However, I have found over the years that this is a fly which works best on its own on the end of a light cast. Cast to rising fish and twitched back ever-so-slowly it can be absolutely deadly. Another trick is to cast directly into the rings of a rising trout and do nothing, just let the fly sink. You will be amazed how often the line will suddenly straighten and a trout is on the end.The temptation to start pulling the line back through the rings needs to be suppressed as the delay between the fly landing in the water and that glorious instant when the line tightens can be quite long

In these days of mop flies the art of applying a pair of tiny starling wings to a size 16 wet fly may seem like too much trouble to master but I can assure you it will be worth the effort.

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