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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Where do I start!
- Add a small red fur thorax
- Make the wings out of a pair of pure white hackle tips
- Use tippets for the tail instead of the ibis subs
- Add a pair of tiny Jungle cock as cheeks
- Use gold wire for the rib instead of silver
- Swap the black hen hackle for a badger hackle
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.