fly tying

DH caddis

In a world of ever more complex fly patterns there are a few easy to tie old favourites which still catch fish. The Deer Hair Caddis has been around for a lot of years now but is remains as effective as ever. The real beauty of this fly is its adaptability, it can produce a trout in almost any circumstance. A dark variation has caught me trout on lough Mask and one tied with a green fur body worked treat on the Keel a few summers ago. For fishing the hill loughs in summer a brown one is very hard to beat. Ginked up they are good dry flies or left unadorned they work as wets.

the Keel, formally a wonderful fishery but now sadly overfished.

Tying is simplicity itself. I use size 12 – 16 hooks but you may decide to go bigger or smaller to match your local hatches. Dark 8/0 silk (black, brown or olive all work) is started at the neck of the hook and run down to the bend. Dub a fur body and run this back 2/3 of the way to the eye. Now prepare a thin noodle of deer hair, either natural or dyed as required. Align the tips of the hair using a stacker and position the hair on top of the hook with the tips in line with the bend. A couple of loose turns with the silk are taken first then more, tighter wraps to firmly secure the deer. Now remove the waste ends of the hair. You can use the fly like this or you can add a hackle. A cock hackle can be tied in front of the wing, a couple of turns is usually sufficient. Form a head and whip finish before varnishing.

I have deliberately avoided giving colours here. This pattern is a template for you to use and you match colours depending on the local requirements. For Irish hill loughs I like a brown fur body, natural deer hair wing and a ginger or furnace hackle. A darker version with a chocolate colour scheme is good on Mask in late summer. One with a black wing is good for fishing into the darkness.

This is my last post of 2020 so let me wish all of you kind people a healthy and prosperous New Year. I hope 2021 is better for us all!

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Fishing in Ireland

DAERA licence

I almost forget to send in my DAERA annual catch return. In all honesty this was an easy mistake to make as I never made it north of the border to do any fishing this year what with Covid-19 lockdown travel restrictions. Just thought I would clarify for you guys what you must do regarding Northern Ireland catch returns. You do this online and it only takes a few seconds if you have been diligent in recording your catches through the year. Simply go to the website and follow the instructions:

https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/publications/application-anglers-catch-return

You need to record all your fishing trips and what you caught. By far the easiest way of doing this is to add each trip at the time instead of waiting until the end of the year. Trying to remember dates and exactly what you caught is a real pain so do yourself a favour and get into the habit of filling in the form promptly. Once you have completed the form you will receive an email from DAERA like this –

Greetings!

We wanted to inform you that we received your fish catch submission made on the DAERA license/endorsement/permit number.

Have a nice day and enjoy your fishing!

This year I wasted good money because I bought the annual licence and permit in early January, before the pandemic had struck. I will wait until the situation improves before purchasing the paperwork in 2021! The same goes for my annual salmon licence here in the republic, who knows what restrictions we will be living under in the months ahead. It’s a shame as I enjoy the ritual of popping in to buy my licence. It feels like the year is getting started and the winter is coming to an end.

While I am at it let me remind you that in the Republic you can fish for coarse fish with a maximum of two rods. In the north you but a licence for one rod. If you want to fish with more than one rod you need to buy another licence.

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32, coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

32 – Episode 8, Westmeath

There is a tiny window of opportunity to sneak out for a day’s fishing between lockdowns. The government have lowered travel restrictions for Christmas so I am taking this chance to attempt to catch a fish in another one of the 32 counties. I won’t be meeting anyone so I pose no threat of spreading the contagion.

It’s the night before and I am sipping a whisky in front of a fire. The thoughts flow through my mind about what I am going to do come the morning. It will involve coarse fishing and this alone is enough to peak my interest. My increased enjoyment in all forms of angling has been driven by my new found love of all things roach and perch. That alone would be fine, just fine. The thing is my mind is now buzzing with all kinds of ideas about other forms of angling. It is like someone has strapped me up to a couple of jump leads and tuned the key in the ignition. I am energised and have found a clarity of thought which I have not seen for many a long year. Learning new techniques and methods, experiencing new waters and catching different fish have stretched me and this in turn has opened me up to new ideas for my game and sea angling. Suddenly I am back to being this wide-eyed and open minded being of my youth, wanting to find out the things I didn’t know and to bring my own slant to the fishing. Esoteric? Possibly. But it is how I feel these days and I don’t believe that is a bad thing. So the whisky may be opening up my mind but there is an underlying and ultimately fundamental change going on in me. I am really enjoying my fishing now, much more than I did even last year. And now I am going to county Westmeath in the morning.

The obvious venue to fish in this midlands county is Lough Sheelin. Sheelin is home to a stock of large brown trout and is a mecca for dedicated fly anglers. The thing is, for my purposes tackling a difficult water like Sheelin was a chancy option with a high probability of failure. Sure, if I boated a good trout it would be great but I have blanked on Sheelin too often to take it lightly. The other great trout loughs of Ennell and Owel are very demanding waters too, so instead of waiting for the trout loughs to open again next spring I decided to fish the Royal Canal now and try to tempt some coarse species. Closer to Dublin there are some very productive stretches of the canal but in Westmeath info was a bit patchy regarding hotspots. There is good access just off the M4 motorway near Mullingar which was tempting but in the end I settled on a stretch at Ballynacargy. At this point I have to confess I had pencilled this trip in for late spring next year and not the week before Christmas. Only the temporary easing of lockdown has tempted me out.

The Royal Canal apparently holds bream, roach, hybrids, perch, tench and pike. Not sure if there any rudd if there too. I read that local anglers were deeply concerned about plummeting stocks of fish due to poaching but it sounded like there were still some fish there to be caught. I packed a float rod, a leger rod and a spinning rod in the car, hoping that would cover any possible eventualities. The rough plan in my head was to travel light and keep moving with just the float rod, hoping to run into some bream or roach. If that did not work then I’d switch to the feeder and if that failed to produce the goods I’d try the spinning rod for pike and perch.

As usual, I had a back-up plan in case Ballynacargy was a failure. Along the road to the east lies the town of Mullingar and the canal passes through there too. It has fished very well in the past so I planned to head over there if Ballynacargy was blank. To be honest, I was expecting a tough trip this time. I am still very much a beginner at canal fishing and I would be guessing where the fish might be at either location. Added to that the time of year and I was certainly going to be stretched this time around.

Yesterday I poked around in my relatively new compost heap to see if there were any worms to be had. I was none too hopeful as it still looked woody on top but as I got near to the bottom of the pile I found some lovely worms. I gathered about 30 of them and left the rest in peace (for now). All the worms were the same size, around 3 – 4 inches long meaning I would get two baits out of each by simply cutting them in half. Enough to last me for the duration of this session I figured. There is always a tin of sweetcorn in the bag in case of emergencies.

The new rucksack/stool would get its first airing. This exactly what I bought it for, roving along a towpath with the minimum of gear. My trepidation at fishing canals, while still very real, has abated somewhat on the back of success in Offaly last autumn. There is nothing like catching a few small fish to settle the nerves and the snippets of knowledge I am gradually picking up have given me a sort of platform to work from. Just having the basics to set up and know broadly what to do is comforting. I am no expert, nor will I become one anytime soon, but I am learning as I go and thoroughly enjoying every minute of it. I have planned as much as I can so I head off to bed.

Light. It is light. I waken slowly and am disorientated. Why didn’t my alarm go off? Probably because I forgot to set it! OK, so I am starting later than planned but that is alright, there is no great panic. While it is a fair distance to Westmeath it is not the longest of my trips. I’m hoping against hope the roads will be quiet for a Monday. It’s very wet and the temperature is hovering around freezing as I set off into the grey gloom.

The usual road east along the N5/N4 brought me to the long straight between Rathowen and Ballinaleck. Here I turned off on to the L1902 and followed this road, across the river Inny, down to the village of Ballynacargy which is right on the Grand Canal. This part of the country is rarely visited by tourists. It is prime agricultural land but it lacks the grandeur and romance of the west, the history of Ulster or the city life in Dublin. Here there are cattle chewing the cud, lazy rivers and canals winding amid low lying green fields. Large tracks of the land around here were devastated by Bord na Mona as they ripped the peat bogs apart to fuel power stations in the last century. This practice has largely stopped and there is a degree of remedial work being carried out on the damaged bogland. It will take generations for that effort to come to fruition but at least a start is being made. Hamlets and small villages dot the middle of Ireland, places where the pace of life has barely altered for a hundred years. Those within commuting distance of the city can tell a very different tale though as thousands of people flocked to live within striking distance of the well paid jobs in Dublin. Today I was beyond that belt of blighted towns, out in the silage scented air of Westmeath on the banks of the Royal Canal.

Truth be told there is not much too the neat little village of Ballynacargy. It consists of two streets, a fine church, one shop, a petrol station and a few pubs. I ducked down a lane beside the church and parked near a small stone bridge over channel which fed the canal. Mallards were noisily poking around in the shallow water, untroubled by the rain. Beyond, the wide basin looked pretty desolate in the watery vista. I am afraid I know little about canal construction but I am guessing basins like this one were built so boats can turn around. To think that these canals were dug by men with just a pick and shovel amazes me. An hour digging for worms exhausts me so how men could keep it up hour after hour, day after day seems to be superhuman. Working the barges which used the canals was dangerous, low paid work too and many men died transporting goods across the country. This article gives some insight into the conditions at the time:

The mist was drenching from the moment I stepped out of the car. This was going to be far removed from my day dreams of balmy summer days on the towpath. There is a lock at one end of the basin so I decide to start proceedings immediately below it. First I put the light leger rod together and cast half a worm out. Setting up the float rod next I plumbed the depth. I mucked up this process by putting on shot which were too heavy and it took me a while to cotton on to my mistake. Split shot sizes and weights utterly confuse me but I need to learn about them to avoid wasting time again. There is a steady flow here and the float trots nice and slowly down into the basin before I wind in and recast. A small rivulet feeds into the basin at my feet, the muddy water gradually discolouring the canal. Will this put the fish off? I nip back to the car for something or other and as I return I see a mink on my bank. He is too quick for me and he escapes before I can reach for my camera (a gun would have been better). Taking a look around me I see the pike anglers have been a bit careless with their casting. I feel very safe as there is nobody around here. The small village behind me is quietly going about its business but nobody comes near me at the canal.

I have been fishing for about half-an-hour when the leger rod gives a slight rattle. Letting it develop, I finally lift into a small fish which quickly comes to hand. A nice 6 ounce roach to start with and he is released after a snap. It doesn’t matter what else happens today, I have my fish from county Westmeath and I am delighted.

It goes quiet again so I start casting in different directions. I flick the float ‘upstream’ towards the locks and almost immediately it disappears. I miss that one but the very next cast produces another firm take and this time I set the hook. This is a much better fish and it fights really well all the way to the net. Out of the water I am unsure of exactly what I have just caught. Initially I figure it is a good roach but the colour is golden, like a rudd. I check the mouth (up for rudd, down for roach) but this just adds to the confusion, both mandibles are the same length. I invite you experts who read this blog to put me right but I think this fish is a roach/rudd hybrid? I am happy to hold up my hand and say I don’t know and I look forward to you guys enlightening me. I popped the fish back and it swam off strongly. I reckon it weighed around a pound.

Now the perch show up and I land a couple of small lads. Perch in Irish canals don’t seem to grow large, unlike some in English canals. I don’t care, it is always lovely to see these aggressive little fish in their brilliant colours.

It all goes quiet for a long time and I try searching along the bank but without success. Returning to where I started I pick up another three roach over the next hour, hardly scintillating fishing but hey, I am out in the fresh air so I don’t mind. All the time the mist gets heavier and heavier, soaking everything. In the end I decided that the return for getting so wet is not worth it and I pack up. Four roach, one roach/rudd hybrid and two perch for the session. I have had a lot worse days!

The last roach. Lovely fish isn’t it?

I toss the sopping wet gear in to the car and head off on the long road west. Back at home I returned the unused worms to the compost heap where they can do what worms do for the next few months. The wet tackle is given a rudimentary drying but I will sort it out properly in the morning. For now I want nothing more than a bite to eat and to unwind after the drive home. Oh, and there is the little matter of writing this post to be taken care of.

We can expect a severe lockdown to come into force almost immediately after Christmas Day and not the 6th of January as previously stated. My take on it is that this next lockdown will go on for many weeks so there will be no fishing for me in the near future. Added to the lockdown, I have taken another interim management role which will last for the first 3 months of 2021, meaning I will be kept busy making some money instead of angling.

Taking stock of where I am on the 32 journey I see that I have caught 49 fish in 8 counties to date, exactly a quarter of the total. I am well pleased with this, given the horrible year we have all had. Here is how it looks so far:

County venuefish caughtmethodkm travelled
Antrim     
Armagh     
Carlow     
Cavan5Garty Lough, Arvagh6 x Roach, 4 x Perch5 on touch leger, 5 on waggler262
Clare4Cloondorney Lough, Tulla3 x small Rudd, 1 x skimmerfloat,  fished shallow274
Cork     
Derry     
Donegal     
Down     
Dublin     
Fermanagh     
Galway     
Kerry     
Kildare     
Kilkenny     
Laois     
Leitrim3Drumgorman Lake5 Roach, 2 x Perchfeeder and ledger200
Limerick     
Longford7Shannon, Lanesborough1 x perch, 1 x hybridtrotted float and feeder280
Louth     
Mayo     
Meath     
Monghan     
Offaly6Grand Canal at Shannon Harbour3 x roach, 3 x perchtrotted maggot and legered worm216
Roscommon2Cloonahee lake1 pikefeeder184
Sligo1Lough Talta dozen Brown troutfly100
Tipperary     
Tyrone     
Waterford     
Westmeath8Royal Canal4 x roach, 2 x perch, 1 x roach/rudd hybridfloat fished worm286
Wexford     
Wicklow     
1802

A few fish landed on the solstice felt like a fitting end to 2020. From now on the days will very slowly lengthen, the darkness gradually retreating as it has for the millennium. Maybe the strange times we are living in heighten our appreciation of the simple things in life we all took for granted before the lexicon of new words ruled our every day – covid, pandemic, lockdown, furloughed and all the others. I know I am grateful for every outing with the rods now and cherish the sights and sounds of a day on the bank.

As 2020 ages and withers I want to say ‘thank you’ to all of you who have taken the time to read my rambling here on this blog. I hope you found something to entertain, inform or amuse you. Stay safe out there.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, sea trout fishing

Making sea trout flies

Every winter it is the same, I promise myself I will do a bit of sea trout fishing next year and by the end of the season I find I have not been out nearly enough to angle for these fabulous wee fish. A large part of that is because here in the west most anglers have lost interest in the sea trout as a sporting species. They are now so rare that people just want to leave the ever dwindling stocks alone. None of my boat partners fish for sea trout now. I can fully accept this point of view but on one or two systems there are still a small run of sea trout, enough to make it worthwhile throwing a fly at them. Lough Beltra gets a small run of trout, nothing remotely like what it used to get before the fish farms came along of course. A few swim up the Owenmore river while others turn off into Carrowmore Lake.

As an aside, it has always been a mystery to me where the sea trout in the Moy estuary go. Reasonable numbers of them can be found in the spring and summer hunting sandeels in the shallow bays at the mouth of the river but I personally have only ever once caught a sea trout in the Moy system, a small one on Lough Conn one May day twenty odd years ago. Do these trout run the main stem of the Moy or are they bound for other rivers in the area. The Palmerstown River used to have a great reputation for sea trout but these days they are extremely scarce there. Lord only knows where these sea trout go to, it would be nice to find out.

The loss of the sea trout to the pollution and lice of the fish farmers is one of the great Irish eco crimes in my book. Fish farming is a horrible business which only benefits the rich business owners while it wrecks delicate marine environments. I can recall my earliest visits to the west of Ireland back in the late ’70s when every stream which flowed into salt water held big populations of small sea going trout. Irish sea trout were small compared to the ones I fished for on the Scottish east coast but there were so many of them it made for great fishing. Alas they have all but been wiped out for sake of lining Norwegian millionaires pockets.

A glance in my fly box showed it was already stuffed with flies but maybe I could squeeze a few more in. I sat down at the vice and got tying. All of the patterns below are usually tied on size 10 hooks but you can go a size bigger or smaller.

  1. The Silver Doctor. I have captured only a small number of fish on this pattern but it is great fun to tie. A bright blue cock or hen hackle is tied in by the butt at the neck of the hook with red tying silk. A tip of fine oval silver tinsel is followed by a tag made from a few turns of yellow floss. Now add a tail consisting of a topping, with or without some Indian Crow or red feather substitute. I like to add a butt made of red ostrich herl or rough red wool. Now tie in the body materials of flat and oval silver tinsel and take the tying silk up to the eye. Wind the flat tinsel in touching turns to make a smooth body before ribbing it with the fine oval. Wind the blue hackle and tie it in then make a wing from GP tippets with some bronze mallard over them. Sometimes I like to fit a GP topping over the wing but most anglers don’t bother with this refinement. A nice neat red head finishes off the fly.
  1. The Silver Badger used to be a widely used fly here in Mayo but I never see it fished these days. It still catches fish so here is how to tie this one. Black silk is used and a blue hackle is tied in by the butt at the neck before running the silk to the bend where some fine oval silver tinsel is used to form a tag. A GP topping is used for the tail and the body materials of flat silver tinsel with a fine oval silver rib is tied in and wound. Wind the blue hackle. Make a wing from a slim bunch of badger hair taken from the neck of the creature in the springtime. We are talking road kill here ladies and gentlemen, so if you come across a dead badger at the side of the road in springtime stop and cut off some hair from the neck. It is finer and softer than the body hairs. No smelly dead badger bodies to raid? Use some grey squirrel tail hair instead. Make a head, whip finish and varnish.
  1. Claret Wickhams. One of my own patterns (I always sneak a few in!). Dress a normal Wickhams but make the wings from mottled secondary feathers dyed red. Any mottled feather will do, hen pheasant is fine for example. Then wind a claret hackle in front of the wings. A really good fly this one. The one below is sporting GP tippets for a tail but I seriously doubt this makes a whole pile of a difference to the fish.
  1. Teal and Black. Normally when I want a black coloured fly for the sea trout I reach for a Black Pennel but this fly is a good one on the tail of the cast. The tying I prefer is the old standard one but with a little bottle green seal’s fur mixed in with the black, a rib of fine flat silver tinsel and a pair of jungle cock eyes added as cheeks. This pattern works well for early season brownies too.
  1. A Golden Olive Butcher has been a constantly good fly for me for sea trout ever since I started using it more years ago than I care to remember. Tie a normal butcher but replace the black hackle with a golden olive one.

Christmas is fast approaching and the shortest day of the year is almost upon us. I guess most of us want to forget 2020 but there are many more tough days ahead until the pandemic recedes. Until then we here in Ireland face more lock down restrictions and I anticipate missing the early part of the season next season. Hopefully though, late spring will see an improvement and these flies I am tying at the vice today may get a swim next summer.  

I am in negotiations for a short work contract which would tie me up for the first three months of next year, severely restricting my fishing. Thus is the life of an Interim Manager, periods of no work followed by intense efforts over a short time frame to achieve business goals (often away from home). I have been leading this life for many years now and am used to it but it makes planning your life pretty difficult. I’m not complaining, a lot of people are significantly worse off than I am these days.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Monkey-faced Louise

This is not a pattern I guess many of you will be aware of but it has caught me a few trout over the years so here is my take on an old fly dating from the 1930’s. It masquerades under a few different names and has been the subject of numerous variations over the years. I believe it may be better known as a Carey Special in some quarters. This is not the original nor is it intended to be, it’s just my take on it. I like to use it on a slow sinking or intermediate line for Rainbows in the spring and early summer.

I use black or brown tying silk for this fly and dress it on a size 10 long shank hook. Start the silk and catch in cock pheasant rump feather. Now run the silk down to the bend catching in some fibres of the same feather to make a tail and a length of fine gold wire.

Dub the silk with some brown olive seal’s fur or a suitable substitute and form an abdomen to cover about 2/3 of the hook, leaving space for a thorax. I mix my own seals fur by using olive and fiery brown dyed fur with just a pinch of orange and blue added. Don’t fall into the trap of making the abdomen too thick, keep it nice and slim. Now the original didn’t have a thorax but I think this adds something to the fly, giving a bit of flash and an aiming point for the fish. In this case the thorax is made from glister or any similar material in a dark olive colour. Once you have made the thorax run the gold wire up the body in open turns. Tie down and remove the waste end.

Wind the hackle a full three turns then tie down and cut off the waste before forming a neat wee head. Varnish as normal and there you are!

I know of one variation which sports a body made out of fine olive chenille.

Shallow water, along the margins and around reeds or weedbeds are where this fly does its best work. Fish this fly by giving it vigorous twitches as you retrieve. Takes can be quite vicious!

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Fishing in Ireland, sea trout fishing

The Ugie Bug

I buy a lot of fishing gear on line just like many of you do. It is convenient and you can find pretty much anything you want out there in internet land. At the same time I make a conscious effort to support my local tackle dealers as without them we anglers are going to be a lot worse off. So for me at any rate there is a mix of online and local fishing tackle suppliers. It was not always so and during my early years all my tackle was bought from the fishing shops in Aberdeen where I grew up.

Sharpes had a fancy shop in Belmont Street but it was way too expensive for the likes of me so I hardly ever crossed the threshold. Rows of ‘Scottie’ spit cane fly rods and trays of beautifully tied salmon flies shared the hallowed spaces with tweed jackets and sturdy leather boots. It was all very refined and posh. I was like a fish out of water in there.

That shop closed down sometime in the late 70’s or early 80’s and one of the guys who worked there, Richard Walker, set up his own shop down on King Street. A large, bearded and lugubrious fellow, he presided over an eclectic mix of tackle. If Richard wasn’t there his mum covered for him. My heart sank any time I went in and found Mrs Walker behind the counter, the poor thing had no idea where anything was, leading to a lengthy hunt in all the cupboards and drawers for the right swivels, hooks or whatever. That shop shut down after a few years but I have no idea what became of the big man.

Most of my time (and money) was spent in Thistle Street where the small Somers shop was positioned. The old man only rarely popped his head into the shop by the time I was on the go but his son, Jim, ably assisted by Horace helped me enormously as I grappled with learning the arts of angling. I still own and use some of the gear I bought from them back in the late ‘70s. The shop was later sold and the new owner moved to bigger premises in Bon Accord Street.

Today I want to tell you about unusual flies which tied for use on the rivers of the extreme north east of Scotland, the Ythan and Ugie. The patterns were not that odd but the hooks they were tied on were. I only ever saw these hooks for sale in that stalwart of Aberdeen tackle shops, William Brown and Co. of Belmont Street. ‘Broons’ as all and sundry knew it in the city was one of those old fashioned fishing shops, replete with the trappings of such fine old establishments. Ancient dark wood everywhere, glazed cabinets on one wall, racks of shot guns, a green topped counter like a bar and usually a couple of venerable old anglers sitting on stools talking about the good auld days. Glass cases of stuffed salmon hauled from the Dee or Don by lords and colonels adorned the walls. Behind the counter was the domain of two characters, old Tom and George Denholm. Lord only knows how old Tom actually was. By his bearing I marking him down as an ex-military chap who probably fought for king and country in the Great War. George was middle aged, fond of a dram and could put his hand on anything in the shop at the drop of a hat. He knew where to find those long-shank pennel hooks alright.

The Ythan and the Ugie are narrow rivers which flow through the lush green and gold pasturelands of North East Scotland. They both get runs of salmon but the main quarry was sea trout which used to be extremely prolific. On the slower, deeper sections of the rivers the humble worm ruled supreme but where the current speeds up or there is some broken water anglers used the fly to good effect. It has always surprised me that the angling on these rivers has never been fully covered in print despite a long lineage of sport fishing on these rivers. I don’t know the Ugie but I spent a big chunk of my early life fishing the Ythan. Hence my acquaintance with the pennel hooks from ‘Broons’.

The hooks I want to tell you about are roughly the same length as a size 8 long shank trout hook but they are made with an additional hook pointing upwards in the middle of the shank. I had purchased some of these odd hooks before, maybe 10 or 12 of them to make some Ugie Bugs for myself but there was a sale in Broons one time and I bought a box of them. The box was opened and it was not full but for a small sum I purchased what remained and I still have a few of them left. The box itself is sadly lost so I can’t tell you too much about the maker. I seem to recall they were made by Partridge but I could be wildly wrong about that.

Sadly Broons closed it doors many years ago. Tom and George have long since departed this world. The circle of life keeps turning and all things come to an end at some point. The bedazzling range of fishing tackle available online or from the angling hypermarkets are incomparable to the likes of Broons with their handful of split cane rods and rimfly reels. The competition was just too strong for them. It is a shame as those old tackle shops possessed a charm all of their own. Like many other anglers of my vintage I miss the sights and smells of the now defunct old tackle shops.

The Ugie Bug

Akin to a long skinny Alexandra, this was a very popular fly in the middle years of the last century. It will still tempt the odd fish so I keep one or two in my box. It is very easy to make, only the top hook getting in the way when winding materials is liable to cause you any distress. Use black tying silk and start it at the eye of the hook and wind towards the bend. Catch in a short length of red Ibis substitute such as a slip of dyed swan or duck. I piece of bright red wool works just as well. Now tie in a length of fine oval silver tinsel and some black floss silk before running the tying silk back to within a few millimetres of the eye. Wind the floss to make a tapered body, tie off and remove the waste. Now rib the floss with open turns of the oval silver tinsel. Tie in and remove the waste as usual.

Tail and body completed

Take a bunch of cock or hen hackle fibres dyed black and tie them in under the hook to form a beard hackle then remove the waste ends. Alternatively, you can tie in and wind a black hackle in the conventional manner. The wing is made from peacock sword and I like to take a few fibres each from opposing tail feathers. This is tricky stuff to work with so take your time and aim to get a wing which sits straight on top of the hook and is the same length as the tail. Remove the waste.

Wing tied in

A pair of small jungle cock eyes are tied in, one on each side of the wing. Cut off the waste, wind a neat head with the tying silk and cut off the silk. Varnish the head to complete the fly. Fish this fly either on its own or on the tail of a wet fly cast. I prefer it on a sinking line as the light goes and on into the darkness. Could you simply tie this pattern on a normal long shank hook? Of course you can! I reckon you could pep this fly up a bit with a couple of strands of flash in the wing too.

the finished fly

The wormfly

These hooks are grand for tying another very old pattern, the Wormfly. I think this fly was originally tied on two separate hooks joined together with gut. That then progressed to either the pennel hooks I am discussing here or simple long shanked hooks. This is an old stalwart which works in poor light, in the dark or in a good wave on the hill loughs.

The wormfly

Start the black tying silk at the eye and tie in a red game hackle. I prefer hen hackle but use a cock hackle if you wish. Now run it down to the first bend where you tie in a second, slightly smaller red game hackle. Keep winding the silk to the bend and tie in a red tail. Select whatever material you fancy, feather, floss or wool spring to mind. I like to add in a length of fine copper wire but this is not in the original dressing. I just want to give the weak peacock some protection. Tie in about 6 herls of peacock and take the tying silk up to the hook in the middle of the shank. Now twist the herls into a rope and wind this up to the tying silk and tie it in. Remove the waste and rib the rear body with the copper wire. Wind that hackle which you tied in earlier and remove the waste. Repeat the same process for the front of the fly. Form a head with the tying silk, whip finish and tie off before varnishing.

Variations

The most common variation is simply to swap the natural red game hackles and replace them with black hen hackles.

Black wormfly

I also tie the Alexandra on these hooks to give me a good imitation of a minnow.

Just about any hackled loch fly can be adapted for tying on these hooks. Flies like the Ke-He, Zulu or bumbles lend themselves perfectly to this simply by tying two of them on the one hook. I realise that getting your hands on these vintage hooks is going to be virtually impossible for everyone else, I was just lucky to buy some all those years ago. Use a normal long shank hook and you get the same effect.

I seriously doubt if the additional top hook makes a huge difference to the fly. Over the years I have caught a good few trout on flies tied on these hooks and not one of those fish was hooked solely on the middle hook. I just like using them for old time sake. I suspect old Tom would approve.

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coarse fishing, Fishing in Ireland

Making plans

The cabal of fools who run Ireland in a poor approximation of a government have decided that travel outside of your own county will be permitted between 18th December 2020 and 6th January 2021. A lot will depend on the weather but if there is a dry spell I am plotting a couple of short fishing sessions. Initial thoughts are that I might try the Ballinamore canal in Leitrim which could throw up a few roach. The Rinn river, also in Leitrim, might also be worth a try as the roach move up into it seeking warmer water around this time of the year. Failing that, I will try a shore mark in Galway in case some whiting are in. It is all a bit sketchy right now but I need to give myself some hope of getting out with rod and line soon.

I have exhausted all the small tasks of cleaning, lubricating and repairs and badly require some time on the bank now. I will have to figure out where I can get some bait before next Friday though. Nobody around here stocks maggots or worms at this time of the year so I think it will mean me digging around in the garden to see if I can locate a few worms. I have not done that since I was a kid! I have read that bread can be an effective bait for roach but have never tried it. Maybe next weekend will see me slinging bits of loaf into a swim.

If, and this is a very big ‘if’, the weather is very good I might risk the long trip down to Athy in county Kildare to fish the marina there. During periods of high water the marina apparently fills with fish seeking shelter from the fast flowing river Barrow. It would certainly tick off another county from me in my rudely interrupted task of completing all 32 counties, if I could tempt a roach or a perch down there.

Talking about the 32 project, I have spent a fair chunk of the lockdown researching possible venues across the country and I now have a list of places I want to fish in every county. In most cases I have two or more options. During this process I also unearthed a lot of fisheries in counties I have already visited, giving me a useful database to work from even once I have completed all 32. Tapping the keyboard is little compensation for not actually fishing but it has provided me with some comfort knowing all this angling lies ahead of me over the coming years.

Let’s wait and see what the weather does but I am hopeful of managing a few casts soon.

Update- Out of all those ideas I only managed one outing, to Westmeath for some canal fishing. The lockdown was re-introduced early of course and level 5 restrictions are in place at least until the end of January.

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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing

How I make devon mounts

I have been asked to go into the detail of how I make mounts for devon minnows so here is a short post on the subject. Devons used to be hugely popular. 2 – 4 inch ones for salmon and tiny 1 – 1.5 inch ones for the trout. They came in metal, wood or plastic, some were weighted and others were floaters. These days you can pick minnows up very cheaply secondhand and they still catch their fair share of fish. The usual problem is finding mounts to fit the devons and it is often the case you need to either buy mounts (expensive) or make your own. Let’s run through the process I use to fashion devon minnow mounts.

Tools and materials

You will need only a couple of basic tools.

  • A small pair of fine nose pliers
  • Small side cutters or similar tool to cut the wire
I keep all the little bits and pieces for making up mounts and traces in one box.

For materials you require:

  • Wire. Use as strong, stiff wire. Anything too flexible will be very hard to work with. I use a thin stainless steel wire for my mounts. Avoid the supple multi-strand stuff used for making pike traces. Finding good wire is probably the hardest part of this job!
  • Small barrel swivels. These need to be small enough to pass through the hole in the middle of the bait. Check the swivels are small enough before making the mount!
  • Treble hooks. I use a size 4 treble for 3 inch devons and drop down in size for the small baits
  • Either beads or tulips. You can buy tulips online very cheaply and they hold the hook in position well so I recommend using them. They come in different colours so you can play around with them a bit.

1. Gather all the tools and materials together as well as the minnows you are going to making the mounts for.

2. Start by cutting a length of wire this needs to be 4 to 5 times the length of the minnow.

3. Thread a swivel on to the wire then fold the wire in half with the swivel at the bend in the wire. Now twist the wire a few times to keep the swivel in position.

4. Take a tulip and slip it up the twisted wires. The thin end of the tulip goes towards the swivel. Push it up to the swivel for now to keep it out of the way.

5. Select a treble hook of the right size. Feed one end of the wire through the eye from one side then the second wire from the other side.

6. Now for the tricky part. Lay the minnow in front of you and measure the wires so the hook is in the right position. Remember to allow for the tulip. With practice you get really good at judging this but to start with you will find this hard. You want the finished mount to have the body of the swivel at the end of the minnow.

7. Bend both ‘legs’ of wire around the hook and wind them up the shank. Use the pliers for this job. Try to be as neat as you can.

8. With the shank covered in the wound wire snip off the excess ends of the wire and dispose of safely.

9. Slide the tulip into position over the eye of the treble. Now twist the mount by holding the hook in one hand and the swivel in the other.

10. Finished! If the mount is very slightly too long give it a few more twists to shorten it by a few millimetres.

That is how I make my minnow mounts but there are plenty of other ways of doing it so look around if you don’t fancy my method. Key points are: choice of wire is critical, too soft or springy will make this method next to impossible and you will need to use whipping thread to keep everything in place. Use only good quality hooks, there are some very poor quality cheap trebles out there, avoid them like the plague. Treble hooks are fine for fishing but don’t mix with pets and smallies. Make mounts somewhere secure where little paws/hands can’t get at them.

I hope that helps a bit. Now is the time of year for doing these sorts of jobs. There is great satisfaction to be had mending/repairing/fixing bits of tackle in the winter so you are ready for the new season. Stay safe out there!

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Camasunary Killer

Here is my wee variation of a well-known and well-loved wet fly that hails from the beautiful Isle of Skye. The Camasunary Killer takes its name from the area at the foot of the Cullin mountains. I am afraid I know nothing about who invented it but it became a popular pattern for sea trout over in Scotland and from there it has grown to be used for brown trout and salmon too. I don’t see it used too often here in Ireland which is a pity as it catches fish on dull, windy days.

Hooks size can range from a meaty size 6 right down to 14 depending on your target quarry. I use black tying silk and catch in a long fibred black hen hackle at the neck of the hook. Now for my twist – I then tie in a fluorescent red hen hackle. Catch in a length of oval silver tinsel and wind the silk back to the tail, binding the tinsel down as you go. At the bend of the hook you tie in a length of blue wool. I have seen just about every conceivable shade of blue used for this pattern. The original I believe used royal blue but you may want to go lighter or darker. Personally, I like a lighter shade. I guess you could use globrite blue wool if you want a really bright fly. The end of the wool forms the tail so leave that sticking out over the end of the hook and bind the rest down on to the shank as you run the tying silk back up to the middle of the shank. Wind the blue wool up to the mid point, tie in and cut off the waste. Catch in a length of red wool now then return the tying silk to where the hackles are tied in. Wind tight turns of the red wool up to the neck. Cut off the waste end of the wool neatly. Cut the tail to the desired length, roughly about the same as the body is about right. Now it is time to wind the silver rib in open turns up the shank. Again, tie in and remove the waste.

The body formed, now time to wind the hackles

Wind the red hackle, say about three turns. Tie and then wind the black hackle in front of the red one, again about three turns. Tie in and tidy up the head before whip finishing and varnishing the head. There you are, all done! I like this fly tied on smaller sizes for fishing hill loughs, a 14 can be deadly some days. The mystery is what the fish take it for. I know of nothing that lives in lakes which is blue and red!

The finished fly
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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Copper experiments

Over my long and varied angling career I have caught lots and lots of game fish on copper coloured metal lures. In the long past days of my youth spinning a tiny copper Mepp or Droppen was a sure fire way of bagging brownies on the river. Copper Toby spoons in the 10grm size used to be a deadly bait for sea trout in the brackish waters of the Ythan estuary in Scotland years ago, often out-fishing the more usual silver ones. Larger copper Toby’s, the 12 and 18 gram sizes, are very effective when trolling for salmon here in the west of Ireland. So copper is an attractive colour to salmonoids, but we virtually never used copper when constructing flies. Why is this? Here are some old and new patterns, all of which incorporate some copper in their dressings.

  1. Cinnamon and copper – I first tied this fly when I lived in Aberdeen and it caught a few sea trout on the Ythan. At the time the Cinnamon and Gold was probably the most popular fly in the area so it was not a huge effort to make a small change and tie the same fly with a copper tinsel body. I can remember that copper tinsel was very hard to come by back them and when I did find some it was very thin lurex. This material was incredibly fragile and the copper body did not last very long in use. GP tippet tails, copper tinsel body ribbed with fine copper wire, light red game hackle and cinnamon hen quills for the wings. These days I tie this pattern on size 12 hooks and make the body from copper Mylar which is much tougher. I also tie a variation with the wings made from matching slips of swan dyed claret.

2. Copper Bumble. Nobody is going to be greatly surprised that I have made a bumble using copper colours! A body formed of flat copper mylar and ribbed with red wire. A tail of GP tippets dyed orange over a globrite no. 4 tag. Body hackle is a natural chocolate genetic cock. I then added 2 or 3 strands of copper crinkle flash to pep things up a bit. The head hackle is guinea fowl dyed orange. Untried so far it looks like it should work for both trout and salmon in sizes 8 and 10.

3. I also tie a variation of the Claret Bumble by simply switching the normal claret fur body for one of flat copper mylar.  You can go a step further and add some legs made from cock pheasant tail fibres dyed claret and knotted if you feel this will add to the attractiveness of the fly.

4. The Copper Ally’s is an old pattern now, a simple variation on the ever-popular shrimp pattern. I tie it with a tail made of orange, yellow and red bucktail plus a few strands of copper flash. The body is copper tinsel with a red wire rib and the wing is short brown squirrel hair. Some copper flash can be added to the wing if so desired. The hackle is hot orange, either cock or hen depending on what your personal taste is. Tied very small this can be a good fly for the grilse especially if there is a wee touch of colour in the river.

5. Now for a fly I would not use normally here in Ireland but is a good one for the big Scottish rivers. Like many other anglers I rate the Gold-bodied Willie Gunn as possibly the best all round pattern for spring salmon on rivers like the Dee and Spey. By changing the body to flat copper mylar with a silver rib you have a subtle variation which might just make the difference some days. Tied on a waddie or tubes or different weights this gives you a few more options in the box for those days when the fish are hard to tempt (ie most days).

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